Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos State Governor and leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has of late been on a tour of states in Nigeria. He has been informing traditional rulers, elder- statesmen and others of his intention to vie for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023. For two hours on Tuesday, 8 March 2022, Asiwaju Tinubu spoke to TheNEWS editors on his presidential ambition and other issues. Excerpts:
After you told President Buhari about your presidential ambition, you have been going around the country for consultations about your intentions to contest the presidency in 2023. What did you tell President Buhari and what was his response?
Well, I discussed my ambition with the president that I would like to step into his shoes but not step on his toes. He had no objection. He said we are in a democracy, that I am entitled to aspire and that I should go out to let the public know instead of dilly-dallying, trying to dodge the media, as he had seen on several occasions. I didn’t know he was paying attention to that. But I told him that I was dodging the media because I had not told him. He then said ‘‘go ahead.’’ I believe that I have his blessings. It was after our discussion that I made my ambition known to the public.
Apart from the president’s response, what kind of feedback have you been getting so far from other stakeholders and the public generally?
I have not enunciated my policy, but as I travel around the country, I have been explaining my determination, my capacity to govern, the ability to serve this nation that has a lot of challenges right now but that also has abundant resources both human and material. The feedback is good. The types of people I have been consulting are not those who will bluntly look at you in the face and say ‘‘get out of here.’’ They accorded me the necessary respect and audience. I am deeply touched by the encouragement of Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona and other Obas. I cannot forget for the rest of my life what the 95-year-old Owa of Idanre, Oba Frederick Adegunle Aroloye, JP, OFR Gbolagunte Arubiefin IV did. He waited from 11’o’clock in the morning till 5 pm just to welcome me. That’s touching. It was an emotional thing for me, and it strengthened my commitment to serve, to do well and to put human beings at the centre and priority of my administration if I am allowed to govern.
But some people – within the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the other parties have also signified their interest to contest the 2023 presidency. Why do you think you are the best?
I have a track record. I have governed a state that is a microcosm of this country – Lagos State. I have navigated it from a brink of collapse. Some of you saw Lagos for what it was – the second or dirtiest capital city of a state in the world. You all wrote or read about it – the international classification of Lagos then. But I faced the challenges squarely, tapped the best of human resources to think along with me, develop a blueprint and from the blueprint we developed a ten-point agenda as a must for Lagos to excel. And we’ve religiously adhered to that and Lagos has excelled – from N600 million a month in internal revenue, sometimes, less than N2 billion from FAAC to N45 billion a month in internally generated revenue.
If I were governing an independent Nigeria with sovereign wealth, I think I can bring the nation to excel very well with the human and capital resources that we are endowed with. We have spent enough time talking about our potential, now is the time to realise our potential. The time is now and we don’t want to wait. The world is leaving us behind. We have talents – great talents in this country, we have men and women of vision and capacity to manage the affairs of our country. I have demonstrated my capacity, my gift. I did it and you all, one way or the other, witnessed it. I still have the vision, the focus of a mission that can make Nigeria a better country for all of us.
Do you expect a very serious opposition to your ambition within your party?
As a democrat, you focus on your lane. You can’t win a relay race thinking about the baton alone. Go on your lane, maintain your lane, be focused, develop your can-do attitude and, straight ahead, go and win the race. So, I am not worried about some names being bandied around. I am not. If you concentrate on that, you will be distracted from focusing, thinking on how to be a winning candidate. Winning is very, very important in a political race, that’s my focus.
Some critics have argued that except Nigeria is restructured, it might be difficult turning around the country now. Do you share such views?
Nigeria is structured, in the form of six geopolitical zones as done by the military. We adopted that Constitution, we adopted democracy. First of all, stabilize democratic governance, let’s have the stability, cater for the welfare of our people as a whole , as a nation. You just focus on that first and foremost. Don’t think of divisions, think of unity, stability. Why should we concentrate on division and not things that will bring us together as a nation? That is the way I think. That is what I believe. It was reflected in my cabinet when I was the governor of Lagos State. I don’t care where you are from for as long as you can do the job. I give you the opportunity. You cannot? Get out of my cabinet. My cabinet reflected the entire country. Prosperity and development in diversity are sweeter than blindly focusing on tribalism and language of differences and things like that. Our diversity should be used for opportunity and prosperity. Don’t engage in divisions, stay focused on what the nation needs.
We have large arable land in this country, but what are we doing with it? Why are we not competing? Why is our gas not competing effectively against Russia? We have so much Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) on the ground. If we have tapped our resources, bring in technology, this 21st Century technology and with the human capacity that we have, we should be an economic champion in Africa. And that’s why I cherished our defunct national anthem. It emphasized that ‘‘though our tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand.’’ Then, another stanza there dwelt heavily on service. Have we committed ourselves to that? We are talking like a disunited orchestra. Too much dissonance. We ar!e one, whatever is creating problems for us, we should sit down, discuss it and move on and stay focused on building Nigeria, building blocks that will sustain this democracy. I left a fantastic job as treasurer of Mobil, the next thing for me then was to become a member of the Board of Directors. But I was given the opportunity when I requested for it to go and serve my nation in the Senate. It was easy for me when we were kicked out by the military coup to go back to that job, but I chose to commit myself and work with democratic forces in Nigeria. It was not an easy decision when you are building a family and you are looking for prosperity. I can search and show you my kind of suits, competing with ties and everything in those days. But I chose to suffer for democracy. And I am still looking for that championship medal in a democratic environment and that’s why I want to become the President of Nigeria.
You said you are focused on your ambition but do you also occasionally look at what is going on in the other party, PDP?
I don’t. They have had their opportunity, they lost it. We shouldn’t give them back the opportunity. That’s the way I see PDP. You can say anything when you are in opposition, but when you had the opportunity, what did you do with it? They were in power for 16 years. They started at the beginning of this democratic journey. If they had built a good foundation, we won’t be suffering as much as we are doing today.
But some critics of APC would also say in what way is the party different from PDP? Yes, in the last seven years or so?
It takes more than seven, eight years to build a nation. America is how many years of democracy? They are still building and rebuilding. So, don’t tell me eight years. Eight years is nothing in the history of nation-building. PDP that had 16 years did nothing with it. They left gas flaring, polluting the air even with climate change. Where is the network of infrastructure that would have brought prosperity back to Nigeria? They had the opportunity. I presented to them then as a member of the opposition the way to do electricity which is the first and most important discovery for human development in the world. What did they do?
But your government has also not fixed the problem of electricity. Even though your party, APC, campaigned that then General Buhari would solve the problems of insecurity in the country, seven years down the line the killings are still going on? What is your reaction to that?
He is solving the problems. The events that led to the insecurity in the country have not been cured— nobody expected arms that were floating around in Libya to be left in the hands of hooligans who are trading in arms now. Nobody expected that the consequences of Iraq and Syria will be insecurity in Nigeria. I am not saying that we are perfect. We are still challenged. The president is very concerned about all this.
What is your take on the huge borrowings that we have witnessed in the last couple of years, borrowings that have really not been invested in concrete infrastructure?
That’s PDP criticism. I’m not for it. Did they understand simple Economics 101 when they were in government? Did they know that you don’t finance a long-term project with short-term money or borrowings? They pursued those short-term borrowings to build rail lines that would last the country for many years when Americans are still using lines built by Abraham Lincoln of blessed memory? Where is the infrastructure that will help the farmers to bring their goods to the market? How many intersections do you have between even the roads that are not even passable that they left behind; crater-filled roads that they left behind? What were they producing? Yams? Starch? Did they give us electricity to encourage manufacturing? We have millions of cars on the road, please, show me your brake pad factory that is cheaper for the citizens that PDP gave us? I don’t buy your question and I don’t buy your anxiety too.
We have been able to stay focused on long term resuscitation, the building of infrastructure and that is a very, very minor part of the infrastructure necessary for this country. I fought for Badagry Port, I fought for electricity, I fought for Deep Sea Port – about six or seven of them for Nigeria before Morocco even started. Today, Morocco has fabrication plants across its seaports; it has development zones, it has fertilizer plants ahead of us. Where are the thinkers and the doers? I will assemble them and Nigeria will work. We will be out of penury. I can assure you.
Let’s go back to APC. You were instrumental in the merger that led to the emergence of APC and the eventual victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 general election. But there were speculations that you were elbowed out of the scheme of things immediately your party assumed power them. Tell us what happened and how were you able to cope?
I believe in what we did. The merger is for the unity and stability of this country; for the progressive thinkers to be together and start working on the stability of this country and a new vision that will put the people first. Yes, you have different characters and people in a merger; you will experience elbowing to gain space, to gain opportunity. But I stay focused, I maintained my relationship and anytime that I am tired of choking in the odour of enmity, I travelled. I enjoyed my freedom and change the environment in order not to let anger overtake me. I should control the anger. Frustration is not part of my vocabulary. You will see that in politics. If you don’t expect that, you are not a politician. Bringing people together for progress was what I did with the merger. And that is what I’m still doing. If you are about to wrestle with the pig, don’t take your best clothing out. Be ready to live with the mud, that’s how it is in politics. You face it.
What is the state of APC now that can’t organize a convention?
No. We can organize a convention. Sometimes you make mistakes and take wrong personnel and if you give them the assignment and give them the opportunity to do it, I will do the same thing as what the President Buhari did. Let failure move aside, success should be rewarded. So, we are putting our convention together, we will meet the requirement. We will follow democratic principles and norms. We will comply with the Electoral Act. I am sure of that.
I want you to take us through this merger process that you just talked about. What made you support President Buhari energetically and even sometimes emotionally in the process of that merger?
We were about to get out of a military dictatorship. Unfortunately, they brought Obasanjo as the best man for the country. I disagreed with that because he had been part of the rot of military dictatorship. So, we said we didn’t want him. But he became the president all the same. But instead of serious electoral reforms, we started seeing different conductors for democratic orchestra. We did not follow the rules of a good democratic foundation. The Electoral Act was messed up and that’s when we started the advocacy for electoral reforms. And that’s why I will always respect the late Umar Yar’Adua, when we confronted him – I did- on the election that brought him to the office. He accepted the majority of the pitfalls and he said he would work to correct it. He did and that’s what led to the Uwais Commission. They started that, but unfortunately before the serious implementation, he died.
Before his death, he was sick and there was a seeming crisis of succession and a lot of doubts developed on whether Goodluck Jonathan should take over or not. And that’s my opportunity to meet several people, including Pastor Tunde Bakare of Save Nigeria Group then. He was not a member of any political party, but I admired what he was doing. Buhari too was in opposition and he supported the idea that there should be easy, smooth transfer of power, respect for constitutional democracy. So, Jonathan took over and we supported that. Then, we were talking of an alliance with then General Buhari. Unfortunately, the alliance didn’t work. We conceded that okay Buhari is a retired General and we had started experiencing the challenges of insecurity, that he would be the ideal person to lead Nigeria at that particular time. We were not looking for a very sound economist fundamentally. So, we conceded the presidency to his group, but unfortunately, they picked Pastor Bakare who did not belong to any political party. I think Buhari was impressed by his commitment to democracy in Nigeria. I will let the president speak for himself on why he took that decision. But he announced Pastor Bakare’s nomination as his running mate without consulting with us and we said this man still had his military hangover. We are yet to consummate an alliance and you pick a running mate when we had just conceded the presidency to you and that broke the keg. The alliance fell apart.
What did you tell Buhari then?
We asked him to withdraw his candidate. But he said he had committed himself to it, he had written a letter. I said ‘’Imagine, you asked me to surrender my two legs for my brother to survive without providing a wheelchair for me to go back home, how would I do that? No, sir, this alliance will not work.’’
So, why did you resuscitate the alliance again in 2014?
In 2011, General Buhari came out when he lost the election and if you saw him and the emotional speech he gave; he cried, shed tears in public, regretting that he lost the opportunity to bring Nigeria together and so on. So, I was touched by that. Then, I called on our leaders – particularly Chief Bisi Akande and others and told them that we should revisit the alliance. Maybe they’ve learnt their lessons. And then, we made arrangements. We called on him that we were headed for Kaduna, met him there and we had a nice discussion and we said, okay, it is not an alliance now where you can keep ACN in chains and then make CPC the father. It has to be a merger of equals and that’s what we resolved to pursue and we pursued it successfully.
Were you the one who insisted on the broom symbol for the merger?
Why did you choose the broom symbol?
Because it symbolizes unity. The broom came through hard labour. Before you get a branch of a palm tree, get it straightened out, get it made into a broom and put those tiny sticks together you have to sweat a little bit. You have to be patient; you have to be determined. It is a great symbol. It evokes thinking and it is equally an instrument of killing the insect that the PDP represented. They were geckos on our walls.
Do you foresee APC imploding in the run-up to the next general election, as some have predicted?
No. You will have teething problems when a party is just coming for the first time into power. You will face all those challenges. I laugh at the fears of a whole lot of people. In America, is Donald Trump not a huge headache to the Republican Party now – in this 21st century after how many years? That’s the danger, but you have to manage it – management of emotions, anger, and diversity.
When President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to go for a second term, he got other governors in the Southwest to support him, promising to also support them. But he hoodwinked them. You were the only one that was able to see through that lie. Again, when the military was leaving, other pro-democracy activists said they were not going to participate in politics, but you decided to. What made you see what others did not see? And who are your political mentors?
Let me answer the second leg of your question first. My mentors: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Bola Ige, and Chief Bisi Akande. I admired and read so much about the leadership qualities of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and people like them. I read about the challenges they faced in their nation-building efforts and what quality of leadership they demonstrated to their people during trying periods. Reading about them, I was fascinated, impressed. Concerning the second leg of your question, I always try to make sure that people don’t deceive me. That’s why I call myself a smart boy. I see through deception easily and bring into play defensive mechanisms that will get me out of trouble. You don’t deceive me easily. If I just submit to your deception, I only submit. I am a very highly inquisitive person. If you offer me a bowl of gari, I will ask questions particularly if I didn’t tell you I was hungry. So, why should Obasanjo trade his position for your own and you believed him, took him for granted? He was in opposition; he was seeking power. Power is not served a la carte. Have you gone to any restaurant and looked at their menu and seen, ‘power: 2/6’?
So, you’re not going to Abeokuta to seek his blessing and advice?
I will. Remember I went to see him at the beginning of our merger. I still respect him as an elder.
Except that you will not allow him to deceive you?
No way! When he said, ‘‘You are rascally, Bola Tinubu’’, I said, ‘‘Sir, I copied it from you!’’
What do you say of the power of the young generation and how would they play under your presidency?
They will play a good role in contributing their ideas as thinkers, being able to exhibit their talents and pursue a very dignified future. But I am not giving up my aspiration for them. I am committed to inspiring them to great heights for a great nation and the putting together of a better Nigeria. That’s all. I have been through what they are going through- youthful exuberance sometimes. Yes, I respect their can-do attitude. Yes, it is good to be determined. I was there, I did it. I can’t blame them, but it is not just easy. It’s not.
Why did you say that?
A developmental programme for building a nation is not magical; it is serious thinking and commitment. That is how a nation is built on a solid foundation.
You spoke about the importance of power and infrastructure to industrialization. What will you do to revive the real sector?
I will start with electricity, not the balkanization PDP did which they called privatization!
Do you have a different idea?
Yes. We have a great reserve of gas. You don’t start from the turbines that the PDP bought. How many of them can you locate now? You have many dams drying up and their hydro energy diminishing because we neglected the maintenance aspect of those resources that we built ourselves. We just built them, walked away and hung our feet on the chair and thought that we had arrived. No, you continue at it, you choose the right people to maintain and sustain hydro-power.
What about Solar?
Solar is there, we can invest in solar power, we should. But it is not the total end to the means. I say what we have, without loads of importation, we can still use them. We forget our electricity transmission lines. We didn’t see the transmission lines as a highway that needs maintenance to sustain the capacity. We just have the wires and think that we have electricity. No. We have to maintain, renew and refurbish those items. We have capable hands; we have brilliant people that can do it. We are not just getting our priorities right.
One of the issues about restructuring is the state police. People have been clamouring for it. What is your position?
I am not against it. I am for state police, community policing. Security is the priority of even the local governments. So, let’s give it a trial. Don’t give excuses that they can be abused and all that. What have we had that we have not abused? We have abused democracy, our roads, infrastructure with neglect. We have not made the family a priority; we have not given education a deserved funding and commitment. We don’t know that that is an elixir of the economy— brainpower. We cannot make our aspirin. We are afraid of taking our own panadol. What do you produce that other people need, that other nations can buy from you? You tie your currency to the dollar. So, all of that has to be critically examined and evaluated. You have to have various functional industrial parks that will produce for people and for export; that will compete in quality. We used to have serious cotton plantations. Groundnut is still selling, but we must get out of the habit of just making a bottle of groundnut. We must produce it well, package it well and you will be able to export and make money out of it. If nations are making money out of the export of flowers and roses, why can’t we?
How healthy or strong are you to cope with the big challenges of ruling Nigeria?
I have been out there to assure people. I have gone from Sokoto to Zamfara by road; I have gone from state to state where it is convenient. I didn’t apply to run for Lagos State Marathon or London Marathon or the race in New York! I have one of the best brains available in this country. I have the leadership trait and I have demonstrated that leadership quality. I have made a nation out of Lagos State. I have equally been dispelling the rumour that I am not in good health. I am not going for World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, job and, of course, I am not looking for a concrete mixer’s job— these days they’ve even mechanized that already.
Why did you decide to study Accounting?
I was fascinated by Mathematics, though people run away from it. I was fascinated by one of my best professors – Joe Jesse. He was a tutor, a committed individual and very rich from investments. He used fat chalk and I had never seen that before coming from Nigeria. The chalk was bigger than a candle, he would just hold it and he would chew investment accounting like meat. And he guided my career. Another professor was Professor Goodman – I always call him ‘Badman.’ He would close the door exactly when the class started and would open it as soon as the class ended. He got us into snow in Chicago one night. We didn’t know it was snowing. He was good. It was good studying Accounting. After the first two semesters of scoring ‘As’ in all my courses, they made me a tutor, teaching deficient students to improve on their courses. So, I was a student earning tuition fees in the same university. The records are there, go and investigate. I may contribute to your airfare.
How do you feel at 70?
I feel great. I feel thankful to God almighty, thankful to my family- scaling the age hurdles graciously with wisdom, enriched with good talent from God Almighty to still be functional and able to use my brain and energy to harness the resources around me for the betterment of people. I can’t thank God enough.
Do you have any regrets?
No. it is only a defeated person that will probably be thinking about regrets. Regret is a negative word in my dictionary. You will experience disappointments, but just set them aside and move on. Think positively. Be focused on positive things around you. If you don’t expect disappointments, you cannot experience creativity. Just keep taking risks with the hope and belief that you will harvest prosperity.