He is the ultimate man of the people. Senator Musiliu Obanikoro has seen it all. From being a local government chairman to commissioner and later senator, ambassador and minister, Obanikoro has consistently serve his people. Though he is not holding any office now, he is not done with politics. And it seems somebody in the family is ready to carry on the tradition of service. His son, Jide, has just been elected as a member of the House of Representatives representing Eti-Osa federal constituency. In this candid interview, Senator Obanikoro spoke to GLOBAL EXCELLENCE about his political philosophy, his opinion about his son’s involvement in politics, and more. Excerpts….
Your son is now at the House of Representatives. Do you see that as a dividend for moving from PDP to APC?
Glory be to Almighty God, I’m grateful that while alive and still active, with the benevolence of the Almighty God, my son is now a member of the House of Representatives of this country. I must also express my gratitude to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Omoba Murphy Adetoro, Oba Saheed Elegushi, Hon. Yahaya Dosunmu and all the good and strong leaders and members of APC in the entire Eti-Osa Local Government. Without the support of these people that I have mentioned and those that I didn’t mention, this would not have been possible. I also thank Hon. Akinloye, his predecessor. Rilwan Aleshinloye, Rilwan Akinjagunla, Peregrimo, Wale Edun, Prince Arobadade including all serving chairmen of local government councils and others too numerous to mention, I thank all of them.
Now, to me, this is a challenge to serve the people of Lagos State, I don’t see it as dividend on a personal level but rather a call to service and a reward for Jide’s contributions over the years. God has a way of rewarding people. Sometimes, when you are seeking a position, you may not get it but at a time you might think that it was all over, then God Almighty would strike and say this is your time. If I look at the totality of it, I still go back to thank the Almighty God for making it possible. As we all know, God uses human beings to actualize whatever grace He wants to bestow on you. I thank Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, God used him to make it possible.
There was a time he contested for the chairmanship of the council which led to the tribunal. At what point did he decide to move to APC and come out again and did you have an influence on that or it was his sole decision?
If you look at the mismanagement that has gone into PDP, anybody that is hungry to serve would definitely move out of such environment. Chief Bode George literally turned the PDP into something else and he has ruined the party in Lagos. For any ambitious young man and anybody of substance who feels strongly that he can add value, it won’t make sense to remain in such environment. Babajide as a young man saw the need to find an environment where his God-given talents and acquired skills over the years can be utilized for the good of our people. These are children that we spent a fortune to educate. They are not from my background. We brought them up going to some of the most expensive schools that we have here in Nigeria and overseas. So, of what sense will it be for them to remain in an environment that is stagnant and even going down? The man, Bode George with his malicious disposition has completely killed the party in Lagos, it was just a matter of time to move on.
You are a major player in the politics of Lagos State. do you see Jide continuing or each of you is going to run your political career independently?
I’m still a young man and Jide is up and coming. I believe surely that Almighty God is not finished with me politically, so I’m not about to retire from politics. Jide will be encouraged to play his politics and I would be there to play my politics. I don’t see one disturbing the other. The history of political families is there for us to borrow from. You have enough from the US, Britain and even in Nigeria. When Bukola Saraki started politics, his father was still much into politics and it was even that influence that made him governor of Kwara State. So, I don’t see one affecting the other, rather it should be complimentary. My own experience in life should serve as a guide for Jide and I will also ensure that some of the mistakes that we made, he doesn’t fall into that pit as he progresses.
You seem to have taken a back seat in terms of seeking elective office in the state. Is it deliberate or just an assumption?
Well, at some point you play the front role and at some point you just pull back. Don’t forget that some of the actors now are our younger brothers. And in order to keep your respect or dignity intact, it is better you are not seen as competing with them openly. It is better you pull back and be in the background, support and encourage them to succeed and where they are failing you quietly point it out to them because their success is our success. The truth of the matter is that there is time for everything. There is time to make noise and there is time to be quiet. That is the phase that I’m going through now. It is time to be quiet and do serious reflections and stocktaking.
PDP seems to be steadily staging a comeback at the national level. What do you think has changed?
Let me tell you, what I have seen as a major player in the past in PDP, is that APC is also going the path that PDP went through before its eventual collapse. I pray that would not be the APC portion. But if they don’t sit back and reorganize the party in a manner that is democratic and be more sensitive to the feelings of the people, I’m afraid it may go the path of PDP. So, the leadership needs to be very careful. It is a common saying that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you don’t listen to the people and try to adjust yourself accordingly, you will lose them. And when you lose them in a democratic system, you are gone. I think the leadership should be mindful of that. There are states that we lost that we shouldn’t have lost. Some of the mistakes that were made by PDP are some of the mistakes we also made, and that is why we lost those states. There is a Yoruba saying that ‘eniti o jin si koto, o ko arayoku logbon’ (he who falls into a ditch teaches others to be watchful). Now, we have the opportunity to learn from that mistake so that we don’t relive that nasty experience.
What is your advice for the leadership of APC?
Number one, where there are issues, there should be serious efforts towards reconciliation, the party cannot stay aloof in the face of crisis. The idea of I have power and I can make and unmake in a democracy does not make sense. Look at what is happening in Edo and Bayelsa States now. Concrete steps are not being taken to reconcile the warring factions. Look at what happened in Rivers,Bauchi and Zamfara. It was more or less like throwing the Rivers State away without a fight because two gladiators were fighting and nobody could bring the two of them together. You can’t have that. You must have a process where crisis can be effectively managed, except we are saying that you don’t have men and women of virtue that can bring the two together and reconcile them. I believe we have a good number of them in the party. But I have not seen the party putting together a committee of men and women of timber and caliber who can go to any state and command the respect of our people. Politics is about interests. As long as those interests can be managed and they are structured in a manner that it would give something to everybody, it would reduce friction and it makes the party manageable. Some of the things you read on the pages of newspapers about crisis within the party and the government are mindboggling. Yet the government and the party are supposed to be one and the same. Unfortunately, we are allowing pride to get in the way of managing ourselves. It is said that pride goes before a fall. If you allow pride to get in the way of doing things, you will collapse everything. So, what sense does that make? We are in government yet we are so enmeshed in crises that the rank and file of the party can’t even see the benefit of us being in government. That is tantamount to gaining the world and losing your soul. That is what I think the party should pay attention to because it is getting out of hand.
There was a time the party had Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as head of a committee that was saddled with the task to reconcile people…
That was an ad hoc committee meant for one purpose. If it is an ad hoc, it is not the same as standing committee. We’re talking about standing committees made up of well-respected party leaders who will make this their priority. These people must be given access to the party chairman and the president. People will only respect those who have access to the corridor of power. Politics is about power.
You have been privileged to have a lot of experience in governance; from being a local government chairman, to commissioner, senator to ambassador and to minister, what advice would you give the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu because he has been under a lot of pressure these days with so many criticisms especially in the social media?
Let me tell you, people can be very impatient. There’s no doubt in my mind that the governor and his deputy and the entire members of their team have the capacity to manage the state. A baby can not crawl and walk the day he or she was born. The governor needs time to settle down and I’m sure once he is settled, he will even perform beyond the expectations of our people. He’s been there for four months. This is a marathon not a hundred metres dash. In a marathon, if you use a hundred meter energy, you’re done. So, I see him having a grip of the government very shortly. There’s also the paucity of funds in Lagos and the rain has not helped. I think they are just being careful not to be wasteful. If you roll out your equipment now, fixing roads and other things and they are washed away by the rain, you can’t tax people twice in a year. That is money gone down the drain. And if you don’t want the tax payers to frown at you, you need to be seen to be judiciously managing the resources of the state. I think this is one of the things they are trying to ensure avoid. The level of the rain we are experiencing in Lagos State now is unprecedented. We’ve never had it so bad. This could be as a result of the climate change that we’ve been talking about. So, my advice to the good people of Lagos State is that they should be patient with the government. As soon as we have a dry spell and the revenue improves, we should see a very outstanding performance from the government of Lagos State.
What do you think about governance nationally because things seem to very difficult now?
There’s a lot happening at the centre. And some of the challenges I believe we have at the centre also bother on funds. I also believe that the federal government should be more open. If they are more open in terms of finances, people would show more sympathy. But when you throw out information that may help you in the short run but won’t help you in the long run, you’ll run into trouble with people. Government should let the people know that revenue is not there but they are trying their best to ensure that within the available resources, they are trying to meet the needs of our people. That, to me, would probably assuage the people than giving hope without letting the people know the position of our economy. These are the areas the ministry of information and that of national orientation should help the government. If people don’t have information, they can only act on the information at their disposal. That, to me, is a major issue. If you look at the budget the way it is structured, you can see the problem right there. We have a budget of about N10 trillion. Over N2 trillion is recurrent, over N2 trillion is to service loans and over N2 trillion is for capital budget. In short, you may not even realize the revenue. It is a projection. Once the revenue target is not met, they have to scale down. But you can’t scale down on the interest on loan because it is fixed and it also bothers on your credibility. So, while we’re going to service our loan, service the recurrent, the capital will suffer. It’s only what is realized that can be spent. But regardless of whether you achieve your 100 percent revenue, you have to pay salary. There’s a little you can shave off in recurrent. Otherwise, the whole system would collapse. And the basic minimum within the recurrent you have to do. That is to pay salary of workers and ensure smooth running of the government. In between all that, we have serious security challenges that the government cannot afford to pay lip service to. So, in all these, we have to strike a balance. Striking a balance without money is tough. I don’t envy those who are in government today because as much as the world’s economy is growing, our own economy has suffered. The rate at which we were growing before has gone down drastically yet our population has ballooned. To meet up now is becoming a rat race. So, we have to do something extraordinary to get out of the mess we are.
What could that be?
Part of it, I believe, is the restructuring we are talking about. The cost of governance has gone up astronomically. There are ways which we can shave off that. May be, instead of having a bicameral national assembly, we should have unicameral. There’s nothing wrong with that. If we don’t react or think outside the box, we would just be running circles. More so for a population that is more youthful. God forbid, we just wake up one day and these youths just take over the streets of Nigeria. That would have been a lot of problems. What we’re facing now with Boko Haram, banditry and what have you, would be a child’s play. That is why we must think outside the box, bring the government much closer to the people and get more serious people elected. Those who are within the business community must also pay attention to governance. This idea of sitting down and be talking about politicians should stop. Everybody must be a politician now. If all hands are not on deck to save Nigeria, it would collapse on all of us. It won’t just collapse on politicians. Those who are not politicians too, it would collapse on them. So, if they’re smart, their smartness should let them know that participating in the political process is the only solution to our problems. If the best minds that are available within the country, can’t see the need for them to join this political process, then there’s a problem that we are never going to surmount. So, the restructuring of Nigeria is a must. It’s something that has to be done fast.
May be we should go back to regions…
…whether region or no region, if you have a system for 50 something years that has not worked for you, do you need to be told that you need to change that? We are probably the only democracy without a people’s constitution. Something has to be done. We are too hypocritical. We’re running away from the reality of life. Even from the basics, we have failed ourselves. If we’re deceiving ourselves that we’re a democracy and we don’t have a people’s constitution, people would look at us and say these are not serious people. These are things that must be addressed whether we like it or not. When we had regions, things worked better than they are now. I’m not prescribing going back to regions, it could be states. But let us empower the states in manners that an average person would benefit from the government. Let the local governments also be empowered. I’m not talking about restructuring only at the centre. The restructuring must also get to local governments and states where governors are not God. The way it is now, the governors are playing God with the resources of states. That also has to be adjusted in a manner that will give local governments more responsibilities
to the people and would be structured in a manner that the governors would not treat them as an appendage of their ministry. If Nigeria is going to progress, these issues must be honestly and timely addressed.
Security is a major issue in Nigeria at the moment, what do you think can be done to solve it?
The first question should be, how did we get here? I’ve said that we are hypocrites. The way and manner we manage our Northern borders with Chad and Niger is a cause for concern. Some of these things that are happening here can be traced there because it seems those countries have become a sanctuary to these criminals. And when the crime is committed here, they run back there. That means we’re paying lip service to securing the borders there. Except the government is saying they’re surrendering to bandits and to terrorists. If we’re not going to surrender to them, then we know where they’re coming from. Why couldn’t we do something about it? May be we don’t want to kill some people for personal reasons. Is it religious, is it political? We need to ask ourselves. This is the only nation in the world where some governors are saying they’re going to sit with bandits, negotiating and giving them the resources of the state. The resources that are not even enough to serve the interest of the people. So, you have to be a criminal for you to have a direct access to the coffers of government. That is sending a wrong signal. So, we have to be bold, courageous and mean to clean up the mess that we have now. Are we showing that? No. As long as people can see the hesitation of the people in government to deal with an issue decisively, the more emboldened they are in perpetrating whatever they’re doing against innocent people. Those who are feeling the brunt of what is happening in Nigeria today are more of people who are already disadvantaged. If you’re rich, you can afford yourself personal security. As an average person, you cannot afford that. That’s why I’m saying that I’ve not seen sufficient courage and decisiveness on the part of the government to put an end to these raging crisis in Nigeria. When I see it, I’d be the first person to applaud it. They are taking actions but are they the right actions? All steps you’re taking that are not resolving the issues they’re intended to resolve, then they are no solutions.
As a former minister of defence, do you think extending the terms of the service chiefs was the best decision?
If I were the president, I would let them go because, they have not done anything new in the last three years. If you look at America, all the wars they have prosecuted, they don’t allow the service chiefs to stay for too long more so when they are not getting the desired results. For all I care, there are brighter minds than the ones we’re keeping. But if you don’t give them a chance, how do you find out? Look at the last two inspector-generals of police and look at this new one. You can easily conclude that this new one has done better, relatively to what the last two IGPs did. If they didn’t ask the last one to go, how would we have been able to find out the new one? So, we must be brave to make necessary change needed to drive the society.
On a personal note, how do you spend your time now, outside politics?
Mayor, we are also getting to the age where we should be thinking about our exit, whether we like it or not. My primary concern now is how do I want to live after disengagement from all these because there’s time for everything. If we think we’re going to do this till eternally, we’re only deceiving ourselves. Our life on earth has a limited time not to talk of other activities. I’ve recognized that what I’m doing now I can’t do it forever. I have now decided to be doing other things that will keep me busy when finally I’m off the stage from politics.
What are those things?
I’m getting myself involved in some private businesses but I’m not ready to disclose that to the whole world now. But I’m trying my hands in so many things now. Real estate is one of them and other things that I’m not ready to let out of the bag. By the time I say I’m totally off politics, I won’t have any reason to go back to it.