Former Minister of State for Defence Senator Musiliu Obanikoro recently defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The former Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana spoke with Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU on his senatorial ambition in the Lagos West District, the Ambode administration, national security, restructuring and reconciliation in the ruling party.
What calculation led to your defection from the PDP to the APC?
I figure out that you will start the interview this way. But, let me say that, as far as I am concerned, this is home coming for me. I went on a journey and I am glad that I did. There is a Yoruba saying that bo’mode o ba de oko oloko ri, a so pe oko baba oun to tobi ju. That a child who never visited a far outside his father’s farm will assume that the biggest farm around belongs to his father. Outside that jurisdiction, there must be thousand, if not millions, of farms. With the limited exposure, you will think what you have is the best. I left the family to interact with another family; to realise how important what we have in Lagos is and how important it is for us to protect it. So, my primary concern at the moment is how to preserve what we have in Lagos.
Around 2005 or thereabout, when you left the AD for the PDP, you also said you have come back home…
I never said that. I am a strong believer in Awolowo politics. In fact, I came from a family that worshipped Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I left the shores of Nigeria with Awolowo’s progressive ideas. So, there is no way I would have called the PDP my home. I am a progressive-minded person. For me, this is my natural habitat.
Some people have the feeling that you deliberately returned to the APC to escape prosecution for your activities as a PDP chieftain…
Let me first of all say that I have not committed any crime to warrant being prosecuted. The truth of the matter is that people, for political convenience, will say anything just to malign and reduce your stature for their own political interest. All we did was to play politics and there is no politician in this country today that can claim to be immune from what you can call using government resources for political interests. Politicians in Nigeria are guilty of that. Of recent, South Africa, in order to stop that, came up with a law that made it Mandatory for all political parties to declare every donation made to them. Until we get to that level in Nigeria, we will still have this challenge. But, I can beat my chest to say that I was not given a contract to be executed; I didn’t give out ant contract throughout my stay as a minister. Talking about using my position to divert contract money did not happen under my watch. I stand tall to say that whatever people may be saying, if they look at the mirror, they will see themselves there.
Upon reflection, would you say there is no regret taking the step you took by going to the PDP?
Given my level of exposure, my age at that time, my aspiration at that time, I would have done it over again. But, with the benefit of hindsight now, with my age, I would have done it differently. There are certain things that only age, no matter how brilliant you are, how wealthy you are, it is age that will take certain things away. I do believe that, at my age now, the only thing I want to do is to add value to the society in a progressive and stable manner.
If the APC had not become a ruling party, would you have returned to the party?
Well, let me say that the politics of Nigeria would have compelled me to return. I am more committed to Lagos and Southwest now more than before in my life. That’s what I was talking to you about, that if you don’t leave your father’s farm to visit another farm, you will not have the proper insight to see what is outside there. I have seen it all in this country and I know that the union we have in Nigeria today, the marriage that we have in Nigeria today, if it is not repackaged, as envisaged by the founding fathers of the country, we are going to run into a lot of mess as nation. I have seen that. A new generation of Nigerians are growing up, not as Nigerians. They are growing up, seeing themselves through their ethnic nationalities. That is not the kind of nation that we want to build. So, until we reverse that trend, this country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
Where do you now stand on the clamour for restructuring?
I think we should do it. As far as I am concerned, whether you are saying rearrangement, redesigning, restructuring, it is all about true federalism. Every federating unit should have the autonomy to do certain things without being inhibited by the Federal Government. I think the present arrangement that we have is negatively affecting the progress of Nigeria. We are probably the only democracy in the world that got our constitution from the military. I stand to be corrected. I don’t know of any democracy operating a military constitution. And that is what we have in Nigeria today. We must take a very hard look on the constitution and do that which the coming generation will remember us as a generation that saved Nigeria.
What impact is your defection likely to have on the PDP in Lagos State?
I don’t want to join issues with anybody. The next election is coming. We will see. If I say something now, the PDP will say it is not possible. All I know is that, as far as Lagos is concerned, it is a one party state.
Why has it been difficult for the PDP in Lagos State to get to power?
Well, among other things, is too much crisis in the party. I am a very focused man. But, when you have a leadership that gets easily distracted, you can’t get far. And that is what you cannot take away from Asiwaju. He does not get distracted. And that is the difference between him and other ‘these other leaders.’
You are known to be a politician from the Lagos Central. But, you are now going to Lagos West to contest for the Senate. What is responsible for the change of political base?
I will take you down memory lane. I am from the Obanikoro family. My father was from Idioluwo Ile and Ilase. He was from those three riverine areas. Our ancestors came from that area to Lagos Island hundred of years ago. We have not severed ties with our ancestral home. All along, we have been relating closely as families with them. I will also let you know that to the glory of God and by His grace, I was able to facilitate three millennium schools; one to Idioluwo-Ile in 2014, another one in Ikaare and the other one in Ilase. I did these to promote education, which I know is very key, if that area is going to develop and compete with other parts of Lagos. I did these when I never envisaged that I will change my political constituency from the Central to the West. It is not just Obanikoro, a good number of Lagos Island families are from the West. They migrated many years ago to Lagos Island. It is not unique to us. It is a fact that is known to all native Lagosians.
Are you shifting your base to the Lagos West because you think Senator Oluremi Tinubu may be re-contesting for the Senate in the Lagos Central?
Well, I made up my mind to go back to my ancestral home, where my forefathers came from, just as I have returned home in the APC.
Why do you want to return to the Senate?
I want to commend Mrs. Tinubu for the great work she has done in the Senate; fighting for Lagos everyday, standing up, advancing the cause of Lagos. Ditto the other two senators. Given the knowledge and exposure that I have acquired in the last 10 or 12 years, I believe I am better positioned to represent Lagos State now. Having served as an ambassador, chairman of a federal parastatal, minster twice, I belive I am well positioned to make those things happen that will add value to Lagos and create the kind of partnership that Lagos needs to go to the next level. The governor of Lagos has said that he is moving Lagos State from a mega city to a smart city. He can’t do it all alone. All of us must support the good work that he is doing. When you look at the Lagos of today, you have to go back to 1979 through 1983, to what Alhaji Lateef Jakande did. That’s what made Lagos what it is today; opening up Lekki, creating LASU, creating LASPTECH. Television station; almost everything that you have today. God now gave us Asiwaju who created a different vision for Lagos, in terms of enhancing what Alhaji Jakande and a host of others did to make Lagos a very unique and the most prosperous state in Nigeria. With the kind of stability and visionary leadership that Asiwaju has provided, we can see that there is no state in this country that is even close in terms of development and stability that you can compare to Lagos. It is probably the only state in Nigeria that can do without federal allocation and survive. They did it before. The state is a better position to handle its business without the Federal Government. All these did not happen overnight. It took a lot of commitment, planning, hard work to get Lagos to where it is today. At my age, the only thing left for me now is to allow that stability that Asiwaju has created and the visionary leadership he has created to be enhanced.
Is a big fight not imminent in Lagos West as there are also speculations that, your friend, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State is also interested in the senatorial seat?
All these things are still in the realm of speculation. The governor of Osun will complete his tenure of office in November. I am sure that there are a number of options before him. So, I do not believe any position is a do or die, or life and death matter, for any one of us. We are no longer in our forties. If any of us to spend half of our age now, it is a lot of grace from the Almighty. So, it is wrong to kill ourselves in the name of positions when the larger part of our years in life has already been spent. So, I do not believe that this contest is a contest that will degenerate to what you are envisaging. It is a family affair. At the appropriate time, the right thing will be done to ensure that the right thing is done. If there is any legacy that stands tall among all the legacies that Asiwaju left in Lagos, creating stability and continuity rank high. And it is not in our place to come and mess that up.
If you become a senator again, will that not be a prelude to re-launching your long standing governorship ambition in Lagos State?
My mum used to say one thing when she was alive. She will say: emi ti o ni d’ola, to nda osu mejila. Who knows tomorrow? Tomorrow belongs to the Almighty God. This Senate thing we are talking about belongs to Him. We are alive now; that’s why we are talking about it. Nobody knows what tomorrow will hold. And to now jump to 2023, I think it is taking it too far. As far as I am concerned, I will enjoy the moment, representing the good people of Lagos State from Lagos West. That is sufficient to stretch any energetic or any committed person. It is the largest senatorial district in terms of population in the whole of Nigeria. So, there is a lot to do. Let me restrict myself to that challenge, instead of thinking far ahead about what is not necessary. My intention is to represent Lagos State from Lagos West, add value to what Asiwaju has done, the leadership he has provided. That’s all I am interested in now. I am also looking forward to see the Southwest becoming the trite state in the United States of America, New Jersey and Connecticut. If we have the kind of collaboration among these three states in the Southwest, that will be my joy.
What is your reaction to the multiple endorsements for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for a second term?
I think Ambode has done a good job managing the affairs of Lagos. He deserves a second term. My prayer is that he will take a quantum leap in terms of achievement in his second term. If he does that, he will rank among the class of Alhaji Jakande, Asiwaju Tinubu and others. He will join the elitist club of those who have governed Lagos successfully. That is my prayer for him. My advice is that he should keep his eyes on the ball. He should not get distracted. He should ensure that the focus he has brought to bear on his first term should be further enhanced in his second term. I believe he has the capacity to always deliver.
As a former Minister of State for Defense, how can Nigeria grapple with the security challenge?
It is unfortunate that as we are abating the issue of Boko Haram, we are facing the issue of herdsmen and bandits. It is very said. It is also a function of the lack of capacity at the local level, state level and to some extent at the federal level. If you look at the local government, they are incapacitated. They can’t do much. It is like all they do is to pay salaries and go home. We need to devolve more powers to the states because of their proximity to the people so that they will not always run to the Federal Government to solve their challenges. I studied in the US. When I was in school, we had campus police. Then, you had city police, county police, borough police, state police and MBI on top of all that. Before MBI is brought into any matter, the city, county would have sufficiently taken care of it in most cases. But, in our own case, we turn to the federal agencies. Now, we have even turned the military into a local police. Any issue now, the military are drafted into it, which is not supposed to be. So, I think there is need for true federalism. The Federal Government is even overwhelmed.
What is your advice to the APC family as your leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is trying to reconcile the aggrieved chieftains?
They have a lesson to learn from the party they took power from. If there are issues within the party and they are not resolved, what you are doing, in essence, is pushing power away from your party. I am sure the actors don’t want to lose. If you lose, you become sober and you realise how stupid you have been by being unnecessarily heady. So, I think that Asiwaju is leading this type of effort gives a lot of hope that things can still be re-connected. I am praying strongly that commonsense will prevail at the end of the day. I am happy that Asiwaju is taking up that huge, herculean responsibility of uniting the factions and aggrieved chieftains in the party.