Q:How did you join politics?
A: We decide to support Sarumi Gradually, I moved from raising funds to getting involved. I brought some money to Nigeria out of my dividends. I was comfortable because my investments in America and London were already yielding dividends. Then came the crisis leading to the ban of Professor Femi Agbalajobi and Chief Dapo Sarumi. I threw my weight behind Yomi Edu.
He lost the election and our group was devastated. I went to Ahmadu Abubakar and IBB. I wrote a report and I was strongly against the Structural Adjustment Programme introduced by the military government. The idea of the new generation banks came from those reports. Abubakar, from being a permanent secretary, became Minister of Finance.
IBB saw the significance of the advice as well as the short, medium and long term vision that were in the report. That man was great. He was a good listener. You could think with him. He is still alive. This probe of NNPC dates back to those periods. You can give the NNPC a bank draft for 120 days and you will still be using that money!
They started touting the idea that intelligent, brilliant and dynamic people like me should be in the Senate and must change Nigeria. The idea gradually started coming into my head. People like Kola Oseni, Alhaji Hamzat, Busurat Alebiosu, Demola Adeniji-Adele, Prince Olusi, who were members of the Primrose Group at that time, started persuading me to go to the Senate.
The Primrose Group was piling so much pressure on Alhaji Kola Oseni to persuade me.
The MD of Mobil, Bob Parker, thought I was crazy when I told him I wanted to join politics. I also told the Finance Director, Akinyelure, that I wanted to join politics and use my brain for my country and that I couldn’t continue to be an armchair critic.
The two of them could not believe what I said. They said, given my career path in Mobil, if there was any chance of anybody becoming something there, then I would be the one. I stood my ground and said I would give it a try.
I told them that people do it in America and Bob Parker agreed. They said they would give me a leave of absence for four years, during which they would not fill my position. They later said that they would not stop me because it would rub off positively on them if I became successful in politics.
They told me to come back and take my position if I found it uninteresting and unchallenging. So I contested the Lagos West Senatorial district election.
Q: Why not Lagos Central?
A: Lagos West was where our weakness was apparent. The political leaders in the Social Democratic Party just assigned Lagos West, which was the most challenging district, to me and said I had the money, personality and the wherewithal. Lagos Central was preparing for me and they wanted me.
In our group, we wanted to help Wahab Dosunmu to stay in Central, so I went to the West. It was a big battle, but I won the
nomination for Lagos West.
Wahab Dosunmu got nomination for Lagos Central, but they got him disqualified. The battle was then left to Shitta-Bey, Towry-Coker and Bucknor-Akerele. Whatever happened in the primaries is history. It was a crude primary election, but a most transparent one. That was how I got into politics, which nonetheless was an adventure for me.
Q: What role did you play in the emergence of Michael Otedola of NRC?
A: I didn’t play any role. I was politically naïve, though a strategist in my own right. Those at the forefront weren’t paying attention and there were a lot of intrigues, which I had never seen before. We could have been flexible and compromised when Sarumi and the late Femi Agbalajobi were disqualified, leaving Yomi Edu. There were two groups then. Baba Kekere (Alhaji Lateef Jakande) would call them “ase”. I recommended that we should have given them the deputy governorship slot.
Democracy is about conflict and conflict resolution. Otedola would not have emerged if each side had yielded. We found out later that some people who didn’t mean well didn’t want Yomi Edu to get there. If they wanted, they would have allowed flexibility and compromise.
The late Prince Adeniyi tried so hard to resolve the impasse up till the night before the election. The impasse was unresolved and the party ended up giving Otedola a chance. I learnt a lot from that experience.
Q: What role did you play in the presidential election of MKO Abiola?
A: We worked hard for Yar’Adua. The SDP platform and the Yar’Adua machine were a phenomenon at that particular time. We had won the majority in the National Assembly. I wanted to become the Senate President because we secured all the seats in the West and we had 15 senators and Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim, a brilliant politician, mobilised some of the senators in the North; Chuba Okadigbo in the East and Albert Legogie in the so-called South-South. Iyorchia Ayu of the Middle-Belt was very active at that particular time. We had good leaders. Olu Falae was in contention, Biyi Durojaiye also.
We had Olusegun Osoba and the rest of them as governors then. We didn’t pay attention to Lagos and didn’t miss anything. We were not looking at any governor to be politically involved. I was just running my vision. I put my talents into being a strategist and I had got the endorsement of 38 out of the 56 senators belonging to the SDP to become the Senate President. So when the leadership caucus of the party met, the problem of the late Yar’Adua and others had crystallised.
It was then believed that Falae or anyone else among the presidential contenders would be the party’s flag bearer after the disqualification of Yar’Adua. They banned the old politicians and asked that the new breed should come forward. Falae, Olabiyi Durojaiye and others were clamouring that the opportunity should be given to the West. Yar’Adua was very consistent about the South-West and the North-West working together. I was confronted in Abuja, because I was already prepared to be the Senate President. I had 15 senators with me and had gotten the endorsement of the majority of other senators. Senators Kanti Bello (he was my partner in the struggle), Kazaure, Kashim Ibrahim, Lawan Buba, Mogaji Abdullahi and a host of others had already formed a caucus that would work for my emergence as the Senate President.
When we met at the leadership level, the late M.S Buhari asked us if we could honestly say that we must take the senate presidency? Okadigbo might be interested and would rather have the East produce the Senate President; the North, the Vice-President; and the presidency in the South-West because they had blocked Yar’Adua.
My position was that a bird in hand cannot fly away; you have to tie it properly. As if it was a prediction that I had seen, that thing was a banner headline on The Punch’s front page at that time. I was adamant. Falae, Durojaiye and the rest of them came to me and said that the leadership of South-West would want the presidency and we could not take the two positions. We had to make a sacrifice. My position was then that if your child would go to the class and come first among 30 students, to whom do you give the best prize in the house?
At the stage, I said I wanted to become Senate President, they said I should review my ambition. I made them realise that out of our 15 senators, the North-Central contributed 12 senators, so I said there must be a reward system for the support and loyalty. I told them that if I were to give up the ambition, the position must go to the zone that contributed the highest number of senators to my support base.
Ayu was among the 38. Meanwhile, A.T Ahmed was on the other side. We had internal caucuses and out of 56, 38 of us bonded together. A.T Ahmed and Okadigbo wanted to be senate president. But it was being rumoured in the newspapers that Babangida wanted to remain in power and that Bola Tinubu – because of IBB’s closeness to our family – would be one of those that would be used for IBB to stay. They didn’t know what I stood for. I was laughing.
We were saying the military must exit and we were angry because Yar’Adua had been disqualified. We didn’t even want IBB to stay.
While that was on, Abiola came onto the scene and showed interest in the presidency. Suddenly, I found him in my hotel room with Jubril Martins-Kuye. I realised he was an accountant like myself and I told him he had been severally abused for being anti-Awolowo. He said no, and that he would go to Ikenne. I told him that he should forget it if he was anti-Awolowo. When you talked to MKO about the country, you saw his vision and everything. If you were well educated and serious about the country, you would be convinced that he meant well. If you were to do an analysis about who was likely to be less corrupt and whose vision would be consistent for the nation, then you would agree with MKO.
We made Ayu the Senate President. Yar’Adua and Atiku got along with us on the choice of Ayu, while Kingibe was very flexible on it. We warned them that we would concede it to the NRC if they refused to let us choose our candidate since they would not be there with us. That was how Ayu won and I became one of the most powerful and influential senators. I was the chairman of the Appropriation, Finance, Banking and two other committees in the Senate.
We started working for MKO to emerge the candidate and we worked hard for him. My corporate experience and the strategic planning I had was brought to bear on what I was doing at the time.
Q: Babangida wanted to use the Senate to stay. How did the Senate respond to that?
A: Ayu, myself and some others knew what the military was up to. The military is politically smart. Don’t underestimate any military officer when it comes to gathering information on any activity. We got wind of their plan and we took a very strong position that the military had to hand over. Equally, the pressure from the media against the continued stay of the military in power was strong. The wind of change was blowing in the direction of a civilian government.
Bagangida made several promises and even declared in a broadcast that the military would disengage from politics in August 1993 and would hand over to a democratically elected president.
So, we strategised and organised a successful joint session of the National Assembly to reach a resolution against military stay. It was very auspicious at the time, because no president had emerged. The NRC and the SDP agreed that they wanted the military to go and, with no apparent successor, the political situation was fluid. In a motion moved by a House of Representatives member and supported by a senator, at the joint session of the National Assembly, it was resolved that the military must hand over to a democratically elected civilian president by August.
The Senate President allowed robust contributions from members at the session, which was devoid of party sentiments and affiliations, and we all jointly agreed to the resolution. That was in 1992, before the presidential election in 1993. Both SDP and NRC were expecting victory. We just wanted a civilian government in place. The resolution was seriously binding because the Babangida administration would have no moral authority to stay, though there were talks about diarchy. It just had to go. So when eventually they brought no-go areas and restricted legislators from discussing certain issues, we went to court. We were determined that democracy must be instituted in the country and that it could not be headed by any military man.
To be honest with you, Ayu was a good leader. I believe I was the only person with computer literacy and I had a big Toshiba laptop and I was churning out all sort of media releases against the continuation of military administration. It was a challenging period for this country and the international community held on to that resolution.
Q: Babangida came to address a joint session of the National Assembly. Was that resolution passed before or after that?
A: Babangida addressed us during the inauguration, where I spoke on behalf of the SDP. I frontally told him that he should not miss the opportunity to leave the legacy of handing over to a democratically elected government. My speech resonated with Babangida and after we finished the inauguration, he walked up to me and gave me a firm handshake. He said I exhibited courage; we had a chat and he left. I did not know what he said after that o! After that incident, I became a persona non grata to the military administration.
We worked hard for the emergence of Abiola. Though there were lot of intrigues, we succeeded in seeing that he emerged as the candidate. I went to 22 states to campaign and the campaigns were very interesting. The election came and we were all celebrating because the election was free and fair. The electoral system was amended and the chairman of the electoral commission, Humphrey Nwosu, was very careful and sincere because of the method employed.
The Option A4 was effective. So was the Open Secret Ballot System. It was well monitored. Voters were accredited, allowed to vote and votes counted right on the spot. There was no room for manipulation and the number of ballot papers could not be greater than the number of registered voters and vice versa. It could be lower because some people could get accredited and not vote. Everybody would vote at the same time. It was the Open Secret ballot system. The two-party system would have been the greatest legacy left behind by IBB. We had that election and Abiola won.
Q: Where were you when it was announced that the election had been annulled?
A.I was with Chief MKO Abiola. A few nights before then, we, including Professor Borisade, were collating the results of the election across the country. Suddenly the crisis started and they stopped the collation. We were waiting for result from Taraba State to make the final run. We had gotten figures from all states, but they banned the announcement until they got to Abuja. Suddenly they stopped. Crisis started. We all did what we were to do. Abiola was using his connections. Then we started hearing that there might be a possibility of a cancellation of the election. The political parties had been divided, with the NRC fearing its loss in the election and starting to talk from both sides of its mouth.
Suddenly, General Yar’Adua’s father passed on. I was in Abuja when MKO called in the dead of the night to say that he was sending an aircraft to Abuja and that he had made moves to ensure that the Abuja and Katsina airports operated at that late hour for the purpose of conveying people. He directed that I went with Shehu Yar’Adua to Katsina to represent him and that he would join us the following morning.
He said he needed to talk to the governors and wanted them to accompany him to Katsina for the burial. We spent the night before the burial in Katsina because Shehu wanted to be with his mother.
We were in Shehu Yar’Adua’s compound when General Babangida arrived; he was still the president. Immediately he came, they had to bury the dead. Abiola had not arrived. He was blocked because the airspace had been closed for Babangida’s flight to Katsina. All I knew was that Shehu and Babangida went inside the house for some time. We thought what was going on inside was the military president condoling with the family, that all of them were praying for the mum.
They emerged eventually and IBB immediately left for Abuja. After he arrived Abuja, the air space was opened and Abiola could fly in a chartered Okada Airlines aircraft, alongside other people who came with him to Katsina. We were full of anxiety. Abiola met us in Katsina and after the visit to the family, the emirs and other key indigenes of the place, we all returned to Lagos. Then we heard the announcement annulling the election.
I was in the panel van of National Concord newspapers because my car was in Abuja. I did not know I was returning to Lagos. Some of my vehicles were in Lagos, but nobody knew that I was in town. We went straight to Abiola’s house and we were locked out because there was chaos in front his gate. What followed was the biggest crisis I have ever been confronted with in my life.
Q: Did IBB explain to you personally, given your closeness to him?
A: No. In fact, at that time, the military had declared me persona non grata! Everybody, except me, got up when he arrived at Yar’Adua’s compound. He touched my head and said ‘you’! I know Mogaji Abdullai walked after him and said: ‘Senator Tinubu, will you not see off the President?’ I did not stand up. I said he was not my president! I did not know about the annulment then. That was how the crisis started.
Q: You spoke about the greatest crisis after the annulment…
A: After the annulment, everything became hot. The crisis began to offer the possibility of an interim administration coming into place. Prior to that, they started the idea that should there be a constitutional crisis, it would be Ayu that would head the interim government. I wasn’t sure if Ayu would start a debate on that or reject it outright.
But I told him: ‘Don’t ever think it would be you.’ Eventually, he agreed. There was suspicion in the public space that he and Shehu Yar’Adua had consented to the annulment. The suspicion pervaded the party. The public was fed all sorts of information. I knew that I approached Ayu that there was no way they would have made him the interim head of government. We knew for sure that Yar’Adua was angry because Atiku Abubakar was not made Abiola’s running mate. It became clear to Ayu that there was deception.
Shonekan was eventually announced as the Head of the Interim National Government. We also learnt that the military had promised Shehu Yar’Adua that they would unban the old politicians and that he would have the opportunity to run six months after Shonekan. They were also touting Obasanjo’s name, but suddenly Shonekan’s name was announced. I remember that I went to Ayu and he said he had been invited and I said: ‘Didn’t I tell you that they would not make you the interim head of government?’ I advised him that the best thing was to challenge them. We were in his house playing and I told Yar’Adua that there was no way the military would make him anything. I advised him that he would have built a great structure to succeed Abiola after his four-year term, and that he would only be 54 years then. I pleaded with Yar’Adua not to abandon the ship. I took my mother, Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, to Abuja to appeal to IBB and there is a picture where she removed her head-tie, using her grey hair to plead with IBB to restore Abiola’s mandate.
It was on the front cover of Newswatch. I mobilised them to go and appeal to IBB. On the day Shonekan was to be sworn in, I was in Ayu’s house to pin him down, so as to prevent him from attending the ceremony. They left the chair reserved for him for a while, before inviting Joseph Wayas to sit. They claimed he was Senate President, whether past or present.
There was a disagreement within our group. They offered me a ministerial position, which I rejected. They offered Sarumi a ministerial position and he said he would accept. We were in the hotel room on the day he said so. He is still alive to confirm or deny what I have said. I begged him and told him point-blank that it would be the end of our relationship because we should not betray the cause we started. I told him I gave up the senate presidency for Abiola to contest as president.
I told him that was not acceptable and I begged Yar’Adua, too. I fell out with Shehu on the matter and I told them that none of us could predict the end of the game. I pleaded with him to be consistent and stand firm. He said I had no guns and tanks and that I was incapable of facing the military.
The floor of the Senate was very hot. There was a sharp division in the National Assembly. Thereafter, Ayu was removed as Senate President; I was almost killed. There was a plan to assassinate me, but luckily, Akintola Benson and my late driver, Mustapha, walked into a discussion where the plot was being hatched to terminate my life. That was unknown to the people planning the assassination. I was to be taken out of the hotel. The assistant head of security at the hotel brought a chef uniform to dress me up as a chef, while he asked a driver to wait for me. I escaped and headed for Lagos in the chef uniform.
Abiola travelled to the United Kingdom to start the campaign for the de-annulment of the election and restoration of his mandate and Kingibe was there as deputy to continue to coordinate the rest of us at home. I had a choice to go back to my job, because I was on a leave of absence. People advised me to abandon the struggle because of the risk involved. They advised me to go back to my work.
Q: When were you arrested?
A: I said we would continue to struggle until we had democracy. We had a group of 30 senators called the G-30. The G-30 was determined to actualise the mandate on the floor of the Senate. Suddenly, Abacha came and General Oladipupo Diya and Babagana Kingibe were also running around. Diya was one of the most respected and credible military officers then, and he later approached us that there might be change in government. Abiola was around. General Chris Alli met us and said there would be a change of government, which would be in favour of June 12, because they were tired of the shenanigans of the ING. That night, Abacha changed the government. He outsmarted everybody. They met with me, Dele Alake, Segun Babatope and Doyin Abiola. We were asked to write the terms and conditions, which they would broadcast after a change of government. We wrote it and gave it to Diya. They are all alive.
On the night the government was to be changed, Abacha outsmarted everyone and installed himself. These people I mentioned are all alive to testify to what I have said. I can say categorically that I was even called to leave my office because, as they claimed, that night was a dangerous night for them and that everyone’s life might be in danger. Abiola was told not sleep at home until the broadcast had been made. We were all fooled! Big time deception.
When we heard the broadcast the next day, there was no mention of June 12 and no proclamation of Abiola. I was mad, but was still determined. I rushed to Diya and he was still saying that there was no problem and that they were planning to announce the cabinet containing eminent June 12 people. Abiola said what? I said no, announce Abiola’s victory.
Diya told me that I didn’t know the military and that things were not done like that in the military. But I insisted that it was deception. I said I know the military.
I called Okadigbo to my office in Lagos and I put the plan before him that we had to confront the military and we had to declare Abacha himself illegal. I got members of our group together; we wrote the script declaring Abacha’s government illegal. Since we could not get to the National Assembly, we opted to hold our session at the Tafawa Balewa Square. We had gotten Dele Alake to be the media coordinator. We told him to get the CNN and other foreign media ready. I put the coat of arms on a rod! That was the mace. We created our own mace.
We reconvened the Senate here in Lagos and declared Abacha illegal before the international media and others. My colleagues had scattered. After we assembled, and having drafted the resolution, they still didn’t know where we would hold the session. I told them to relax, this is Lagos. After the broadcast, everybody took off, because the SSS and other security agents were combing everywhere for us. I went underground, using the 090 mobile phone. I was still granting press interviews to foreign media. The military people were mad. I became a thorn in their flesh and they arrested some of my colleagues, including Abu Ibrahim, the late Polycarp Nwite, Ameh Ebute and Okoroafor. I was still underground, holding press conferences. The military declared me wanted.
Suddenly they granted bail to the arrested senators. I thought I would be a beneficiary, but I was not.
Then, there was a manhunt for me by the police and the SSS. Meanwhile, my late uncle, K.O Tinubu and the present Oba of Lagos, Oba Akiolu, who was then a police officer, were pressuring me to disclose where I was. My uncle called to ask where exactly I was. I did not disclose my whereabouts. I told Akiolu that even though he is my relative, I would still not tell him where I was since he was a police officer! He said: ‘Ha!’
My uncle advised that the military would kill me if they found me underground and no one would be able to locate my whereabouts. He said it was better I surrendered myself because he wanted me to be alive. I told him that I would call him back, that I was to hold a press conference at the time. And he shouted in amazement: ‘You are holding press conference when your life is in danger.’ I told him I would surrender, but would not tell him when.
I disguised perfectly, dressed like a malam, and went to the police at Alagbon. The officers didn’t even know me when they saw me. I went in, deposited my phone and my charger. Senator Abu Ibrahim was with us. The officers were wondering why I, a Mallam, could not speak Hausa! I removed my turban, showed up at the front desk and declared that I had come to surrender.
And there was pandemonium among the officers, as to how I got there.