Lagos Central All Progressives Congress (APC) leader Prince Tajudeen Olusi, who clocked 80 yesterday, spoke with EMMANUEL OLADESU and MUSA ODOSHIMOKHE on the journey so far, his political battles, the Buhari and Ambode administration, and other partisan issues.
How do you feel celebrating 80?
I feel very happy; I am grateful to the Almighty Allah. Life itself is a journey, embarking on a journey means travelling and coming across both pleasant and unpleasant things. For the Almighty God, who preserved and kept me going up to this point, I thank Him abundantly. I am short of words; I feel elated, particularly when I remember those who impacted positively on my life over the years. Looking back, from the family compound, where I started my elementary school, the larger community, the political arena which had taken a large chunk of the journey, I must say I am happy. I thank my colleagues, particularly those who have been with me all my political life, starting from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, who is my younger sister and a daughter. I greet my political associates across the country, in the Southwest and across the country. I greet my political children, some of them are in the National Assembly and others are heading parastatals all over the country. They have all come together, to arrange a befitting birthday ceremony for me; to all of them I am grateful. I will continue to pray for them internally and externally.
How did the death of your father who passed on when you were eight affect your life?
In January 1945, when my father died, I was eight years, because I was born 1936. I was very close to him, because we sleep in the same room and he took care of me like the mother of a child will do to the child. We ate together and he generally pampered me. But, he also punishes me when I make mistakes. Each time the Oba holds court, I would stand there with him and listen, even though I was still very young. Members of the family saw me as a spoilt child, but they don’t know what transpired between me and my dad, who was very fond of me. Whenever I venture outside the compound, he would not rest until I return. That was why people said I was a spoilt child. When he passed on, I did not know the enormity of what happened; I did not know what death meant. Contrary to the Yoruba practice of burying an Oba in seclusion, my father was buried in accordance with Islamic injunctions; my father was a Muslim before he became an Oba. So, he was laid in state for the prayer to be done and I joined the public, watching the remains of my father as the rite was done. I was ignorant of what had really happened. Again, I was lucky in the sense that I had brothers, who were old enough to be my father. In fact, one of them had two children before I was born. They took care of me and gave me the education I deserved. So, I did not miss the absence of my father much.
How did you become a councillor at the Lagos Town Council?
As someone from the royal family (my father was a former Oba of Lagos), we were involved in the royal politics of Lagos. The politics played was supported by the British; they backed Dosumu against Akintoye. They divided the political landscape and ensured that a section of the royal house, the Dosumu family monopolised the obaship of Lagos. Coincidentally, my father reigned with the assistance of the British for a period. My father came from another royal section. Before he ascended the throne, the Dosumu branch of the family monopolised the Lagos throne. My father opened the gate for agitation by other sections of the royal. So, when Oba Falolu died, Oba Adele who became the candidate of the majority of the all the royal houses was supported by them. They came together, got united and presented Oba Adele. When Oba Adele became ascended the throne, while performing his royal duty, he had to get involved with governmental duties, as well as politics. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) obviously supported the Dosumu political linage; Adele had to join the other political group to counter the move. The NCNC supported Oba Oyekan which supported the idea of monopolizing of the obaship by the Dosumu family. They dominated the politics of Lagos at that time. But, Oba Adele, being an educated person with sufficient wisdom, formed the Area Councils in Lagos. As for the Olowogbowo section, where I resided, my father’s palace was made a secretariat of sorts and used for the royal family’s political meetings. Gradually, we were inducted into the arena of the real politics. In Lagos, we had Boys Club, this started social development to ensure that the boys are properly trained; we get together and played table tennis. We were attracted by what the late Obafemi Awolowo and the late Nnamdi Azikiwe did. In the club, we referred to our leader as Premier, instead of Chairman. Eventually, I became Premier of the club. We were involved in communal work; we did this to keep the area clean. I joined the youth wing of the Action Group (AG) led by the late Remi Fani-Kayode. I and other notable people became members of the club. I later became a councillor at the age of 26 in 1952. I was pressurised by my Olowogbowo community to be a councillor.
How did you meet Awolowo?
Mama H.I.D. Awolowo became my mother by her disposition; by her standing for justice and truth. In politics, you face all sorts of intrigues. In 1952, I was very vocal as a young man and that positioned me for the local council leadership. In view of my outspoken disposition, I crossed the path of some of my seniors. I could challenge any suggestion or decision that was taken; I was very inquisitive as well. So, some of those I stepped on their toes resolved that I should not be elected. We had to go through primary, which was the Electoral College; it’s not like the direct primary that we have during elections. The Electoral College was made of 15 people. They tried to obstruct my path, by getting a younger brother to oppose me. But, at the end of the day, I succeeded. Some of the supporters of my opponent kicked against my election and they protested to Alhaji Adegbenro who was the leader of the party at Ibadan. The day they went to Ibadan and they were discussing the issue, Mama Awolowo walked in when they were arguing that I must be disqualified, having won the mandate. It was like I should not be allowed to carry the banner of the party. They requested that he should write a letter to Lagos, to upturn the result, so that Olusi should not be given the symbol. After they had made their case, Mama Awolowo requested to come into the matter. She recalled that I had rendered some assistance to the party in the past. There was a time the Federal Government banned public meetings in Lagos, so that we cannot campaign. I made my father’s palace available for political meetings. They told Mama Awolowo that I like arguing cases and that I like to defend my position; in a nutshell that I will be too stubborn and will not subject myself to party discipline. Mama told them that if these were the reasons for opposing me, she told them that I was eminently qualified, because Papa Awolowo liked people who argued and that he liked people who do not take stories hook, line and sinker. She said Awolowo told her that such people will get results for the party. Mama promised them that she would send for me and that I would apologise to them. And when I got to Ibadan, Mama made a lasting impression, by giving me a warm reception. Since that day, Mama became my mother. When she visited my community, she would branch our house to greet me.
How did you assist Rilwan Akiolu, who is now the Oba of Lagos, into the Police?
The day he was taken to Ita Idunganran and was being interviewed, I watched it on the television. He asked about his career in the police. I heard him saying that he was taken to the police by his royal cousin, Prince Olusi. Since he mentioned it to public domain, there is nothing strange other than to confirm it. There is nothing extraordinary in the issue; he was a younger brother to me. At least I am his senior with about seven years. At that point, I was involved in the Lagos Aborigines Affairs and Egbe Omo Eko. Our members were committed to the improvement and development of Lagos, so it was our priority to help Lagosians. I was interested in the Police, when I was at the Ansar-ud-deen College. I wanted to join, because I was motivated by the anti-bribery group; I wanted to go to the force to promote the anti corruption war. But, when I discussed it with an elder, he discouraged from joining the police, because I am a prince. But, when Akiolu wanted to join the police, I supported him; he I cannot enlist, I was happy seeing my cousin in the force. We assisted about five of them, including Musiliu Smith, Shitta Bay and Kazeem, through the head of the Police College, who was incidentally a Lagosian. They were all successful police officers at the end of their career; they made their mark and I am happy and proud of them.
What circumstances led to your election to the House of Representatives during the Second Republic?
In 1978, we were preparing for the return to democracy by the military and we were operating under what was known as committee of friends. I was calculating that I should take a step; I looked at the arena of politics, where I had been operating at the local government level. Having served as chairman, I believed I had reached the terminal stage at the council level and that I should move to the House of Assembly. That was my calculation, when the party called for nomination to the House of Assembly, about five of us indicated our desire from my constituency. While we were waiting to take the forms officially, the late Papa Salau Onikoyi, who was the constituency chairman for Isale Eko, urged me to go to the House of Representatives. I asked him to inquire from others who were my Egbon (elders) whether they wanted to contest for the position or not. He did that and asked me to apply which I did. At the end of the day, I was the only party member who applied to contest for the House of Representatives. I had earlier applied for the House of Assembly. Alhaji Lateef Jakande ordered me to take one. He said I could not be in two places at the same time. So, I decided to take the one that the coast is clear. That was how I eventually became a member of the House of Representatives in 1979.
How come you and Alhaji Dawodu are not together, despite the fact that you are both progressives?
Our own environment is to look at the development of politics is Lagos. We started nationalism from the time of Herbert Macauley. You have those who did not agree with the politics of Herbert Macauley; they metamorphosed into the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Those supporting Macauley metamorphosed into the NCNC. The NYM later metamorphosed into the Action Group (AG). The AG made improvement at the Area Council, which Awolowo led. The party fought the development of the ordinary people and there was full participation by the people, which was the position of the progressives. The NCNC appeared more dictatorial and sometimes they accused the AG of being of similar disposition too, but the AG worked like a united family. They held regular meetings and discussed issues, as if we are practicing democracy. What democracy means is that the minority will respect the decision of the majority. So, it was not politics of money making or acquisition of wealth. We were inducted into politics of principle and politics of serving the people.
Why were you not able to hold your ground during the SDP and NRC struggle for Lagos governorship?
It’s due to bad advice from some leaders. During the period of the crisis, Alhaji Jakande was the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). There was a disagreement over who should become the governorship flag bearer of the party. Jakande called for a meeting to resolve the matter, but the contending groups did not want to attend the meeting and Alhaji Jakande was annoyed and he asked them if Awolowo were to be alive and summoned a meeting, can any of them counter him? Eventually, the contenders, Dapo Sarumi and Femi Agbalajobi, were disqualified by the military. So, some of their supporters opted to vote for the late Michael Otedola of the National Republican Convention (NRC). I can tell you that they regretted the decision.
When Asiwaji Bola Tinubu joined the fray, did you imagine he will go this far?
I was part of the group that dragged him into the arena of politics. I was the chairman of the Primose that decided over all the issues of the day. At a meeting it was decided that we should drag Bola (Tinubu) into the arena of politics. When we were struggling to fight for Sarumi, we were handicapped because we needed money and we could not provide all that was needed. So, Kola Oseni has very strong contact with Bola, through him he was contacted. Asiwaju was working at Mobil at the time; we contacted him and on two occasions he assisted us. At one of our meetings, someone said if Asiwaju could be brought to our midst, if he can become a member then we will get him committed. He will be willing to assist us to assist us the more. Someone said we should talk to him to go to the House of Representatives. While looking at these considerations, Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat and others pleaded with us to give them Asiwaju, because the issue of the Senatorial seat in the Lagos West was herculean task then. We agreed and it was decided that some people should go and speak to Bola to go to the Senate. They told him to see me, in my capacity as the head of Primose Club. He came to see me with two of his brothers. Coincidentally, he has been of assistance to me, particularly when I was to be elected chairman of the Primose Club. We had information that some people were planning to disrupt the election and were told that unless we got police it may not be peaceful. We called Bola and he took care of that for us and that was how I emerged.
As to whether I imagined he would go this far, I had always known that he is a go-getter. After all the palava, Dapo Sarumi got appointed Minister of Communications, which we advised him not to accept. But, he went ahead to accept it. I told him that the appointment will not help him. After Sarumi had taken that path, contrary to my advice, I called a special meeting and we resolved to move our meeting from his compound to Alhaji Hamzat’s house. The day of the first meeting was the day I will call the day of revelation. Dapo came, he was begging and prostrated for forgiveness, but not quite long Asiwaju walked in and he took his seat quietly somewhere. I told Alhaji Hamzat that something within me told me this man that just walked in is a future governor of Lagos State. I pulled Alhaji Hamzat aside and told him about my feelings, he is my only witness. I told him that something is telling me that one day Bola will be governor of Lagos. There was no reaction from him, but I was convinced that what I saw would become a reality. During the period Wahab Dosumu, Shitta Bey, Rafiu Jafojo, Funso Williams came to me that they wanted to become governor. I told them that I would like to maintain neutral position in view of those involved. But, when Bola indicated interest, I told him those who had approached me for the same issues. I assured him that I will support him, but that I won’t come out openly to do that. I went further to tell him that we must place the issue before the Almighty Allah. I told him to tell Mama Abibat Mojaji to organise regular prayer on the issue. I told him that I am also going to organise a special prayer. So, I am not surprised that he went this far in politics.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration?
My personal assessment is that the administration is moving steadily. It is on the right path. If you are infested by any germ that is destructive, any germ that can take your life, unless the doctor removed the germ it will destroy the person. Our country has been infested by corruption. You could feel corruption in our national life and unless we faced reality, we may not go far. Maybe it is not possible to remove corruption totally, but it is possible to reduce corruption to the level that it will not pose danger to our existence. Let me give you one or two examples, the previous government allowed corrupt people to occupy sensitive positions in the security apparatus of the country and they stole the monies budgeted for defence; as we can glean from the various cases in court. The case of Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) is still being investigated; a panel is still investigating it. We cannot continue run our democracy in Nigeria like this. People have been condemning the Buhari administration, but anyway they are entitled to their opinion. They are free to urge the government to move fast, but the government has to look at the issues critically.
What is your assessment of Governor Ambode so far?
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had a town hall meeting today in my senatorial district. That meeting was held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere. I was present at the meeting and prayed for him that by God’s grace he will spend the constitutionally-provided period of eight years. I expressed my satisfaction of what he has been doing as governor. I thank him for one of the projects particularly; a street that was named after my father. We equally thanked him for the reconstructing roads done by two successful administrations. Sometimes, I try to run away from commenting on Ambode. I must say the man has done well. There are some people among the citizen who easily forget, but we have to remind them that the government has done well in areas of security, transportation, health, education and others that are physical and obvious. That is why I am saying that as a leader of the party, I am not in position to appraise him. It will sound as if one is trying to blow one’s trumpet.
In your view, what is the future of the APC, against the background of what is happing in the party now?
A lot of people are worried about what is going on in the party; some say the party is collapsing. That, to me, is not the true picture of things. The newspapers are merely using it to sell their papers; it is the approach of those running the newspapers to make profit. They want to make money; they want people to buy their papers. In the Yoruba parlance, when the children of a woman that has three or four children begin to quarrel, she tries to prevail on them to calm down; she doesn’t aggravate the matter. She will tell them that she is looking up to them and that they must come together, so that people will not laugh at her. When people outside see you quarreling, they will say mama’s children are not united. I granted an interview to a newspaper and I said Asiwaju has made a complaint. He has been forthright, but it for us and other leaders as the collective managers of party, to sit down and manage the party that Asiwaju has created. We ought to find out the grievances of both parties, Asiwaju and the National Chairman; then sit down and find a way of reconciling them in the interest of our party. But, what we have seen is that people are just shouting and jumping from one side to the other, saying all sorts of things. Reconciliation is part of the system of disagreement all over the world. Where you have walls, you have to have disagreements. Disagreements destroy towns and institutions; they also destroy industries. But, at the end of the day, they have to be addressed. At the end of the day, either voluntarily or force, there must be reconciliation.
That is what is happening to the PDP now; they have shot themselves in the foot and the party is not at ease. The people have not managed it well, they went to war, to destroy the party, but now they say they are doing forced reconciliation. They have now set up a committee, a 24-man committee, to sort out the mess. The committee has started the herculean task of reconciling the warring factions. We in the APC should learn; we should not give room for what happened in the PDP to befall us. They want to jubilate; that jubilation, to my mind, will be short-lived. By the grace of God, we will get over the current challenges. We are just building the thing together; we have to thrive to build the party before we get infested with one challenge or the other. It like you have disciplined yourself for a long time and have been doing things orderly and you now have to associate or work with people who have no orderly conduct. The people who want to betray the party must be educated, so that they can be brought back on course. It is like when you bring some animals together, you must tame them. Owing to the fact that we are dealing with people from diverse backgrounds, you have to talk to them, persuade them. So, my own view is that by God’s grace the APC will get over her current challenges. Those who are looking forward to the breaking up of our country will be put to shame. What do they want to get? They want to take us to zero-level, because if we now have to go to zero-level, we now have to start from the scratch in all facets of national life. I want the people to sit down and look at the matter in the interest of the country. Nigeria is made up of so many ethnic groups and for over 100 years and we were brought together as an entity. We have not been able to come together and see ourselves as one. We still see ourselves from the perspective of our ethnic backgrounds; it only the educated elite who tried to talk about Nigeria and more than 60 per cent of our country men and women do not have that education. If you go to Borno and you are talking, the man from Kanuri would hardly see the one from Lagos Island as his compatriot. Therefore, I will continue to appeal to the people for us to see the country first and work for its interest. The Nation