It is already a foregone conclusion in the Lagos political space that, popular Lagos politician, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro has thrown his hat into the ring for the Lagos West Senatorial District seat in the coming 2019 general elections. The former Lagos Island LG boss, commissioner, Ambassador and minister, says he is in the race to ostensibly honour and preserve the dignity of the founding fathers of Lagos State, and to calm the nerves of the natives. Koro, as he is often called by admirers and fellow politicians, is not new to the political terrain in Lagos state and even at the national level, as he has been there done that, at virtually all levels of political offices, elective or appointive. In this interview he had with him, he recounted some of his achievements as a senator between 2003 and 2007, justifying why he is in a vantage position to serve his people again, although in another senatorial district, which has been the subject of discussion in many circles since he announced his intention. He also spoke on other pertinent issues why he is in the race that will surely be keenly contested. Excerpts…
The news is already in town that you are aspiring to represent Lagos West in the Senate come 2019. Can you confirm this?
Yes. I am running and it is important that I do this. I am not contesting out of desperation, rather for the preservation of our heritage. I am not desperate because I believe power belongs to God. In addition, I am running because I believe, having served at various levels and increased in stature by the grace of God, I can do more in the service of Lagos state and Nigeria in general.
You first represented Lagos Central in the senate, why Lagos West now?
First, do not forget that the Obanikoro family is originally from Lagos West. That is actually my ancestral home. The Obanikoro family is originally from Ojo Local Government and our forefathers created and named Idoluwo in Lagos Island after Idoluwo in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State. I am also from Ikare, Oriade LCDA area of Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency. That is where my forebears came from and there is a saying in Yoruba that, ‘no matter how sweet a place is, you can never forget your home.’ Therefore, it is a homecoming for me, as far as I am concerned. I am a son of the soil, whether it is in Lagos West, Lagos Central or Lagos East; besides my wife is also from here, Lagos West. So, from whatever angle you view it, I am connected to the three senatorial districts in Lagos state. Don’t also forget that Lagos is a cosmopolitan state, and if people can come from other states to contest in Lagos and win, why can’t I, a bonafide Lagosian for that matter, choose where I want to contest in my own state? As I have said, Lagos West is truly where we came from to settle in Lagos Island, and this is just stating the fact.
What exactly is driving your passion for Lagos?
I wasn’t too young when Lagos was created in 1967; hence there is a history of Lagos which a lot of people do not know. Lagos is a by-product of hard work and resilience of our founding fathers that were hell-bent on removing that stigma of ‘no man’s land.’ At a point, they were so agitated to have their own state, and to drive home the urge and the significance of the creation, they were ready to accept just Mainland and Lagos Island to ensure its creation as a state. Notable leaders like Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson, late Justice Teslim Elias, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, the late Chief TOS Benson, Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey and a host of others, led the struggle for this state to be created, and we lived through this struggle, and the joy which followed when the battle for the creation was won.
What were your achievements when you first served as a senator?
We did a lot then and if I want to go by way of record, I was the first senator from Lagos to demand a special status for Lagos on the floor of the Senate, although it did not pass through. I must also commend the efforts of Senator Remi Tinubu, because I have followed keenly her efforts in ensuring a special status for Lagos, which was in tandem with what I tried to achieve as a Senator. I want to commend Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for finding a lasting solution to the ocean surge at the Bar Beach. I was also responsible for moving a motion that brought the Federal Government to Lagos to find a lasting solution to the perennial ocean surge. The issue of casualization of workers, which is strongly engaging the attention of the leadership of the Labour Union, was one of such motions proposed as a law when I was in the Senate. Engaging workers under that condition to me is slavery. When you employ an individual on a casual contract, they have no right to anything and they work for years without any benefits accruing to them. Everybody knows that as we age, the capacity to work reduces, so, it is an abuse of their productive years knowing full well that when these casual workers get to their off-peak, they will not have anything to fall back on as gratuity when they are old. To me, that is sheer cruelty and wickedness. I tried to ensure that we pass the law at that time to put an end to the matter; unfortunately, it only went as far as second reading. Also, if you look at the national stadium in Abuja, it is to the glory of God and my efforts that there is a velodrome covering the indoor area of the stadium today. There was a very severe thunderstorm which blew it off when I was in the Senate. It took two motions on my part to get it restored by Julius Berger. I had to move the motion twice because it didn’t get the desired attention at first. When the contractor, however, realized that I wasn’t going to back down, they moved in to fix it. I also introduced a fuel pump certification bill. The amount of money that the average Nigerian loses to pranks played by fuel station owners is unimaginable and criminal. Most of them tamper with the pumps with the sole aim of making illegal profit on the back of hard working Nigerians and therefore, stealing their hard earned income, thus wreaking untold economic hardships on them. This bill would have eliminated that. The idea behind it was to make it a law to recertify these pumps every six months, but unfortunately, that also got to second reading before the end of our tenure. We did quite a lot and we achieved a lot in terms of motions and bills that we put in place. We were able to pass a couple of bills but they did not have a direct bearing on Lagos; they did particularly for Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
As a grassroots politician, what roles would youths and women play in your campaigns and programs?
For me, that is automatic. You cannot have effective politicking without involving women and youths. In fact, what I achieved as a young man struggling to be known politically is far more than what I am doing presently. I believe that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and so the earlier we engage them, the better for the society. Any leader without a succession plan must be a fool. So, training and mentoring them is part of the succession plan, because it is natural that you will quit the stage at some point and you want to be sure that the people who will succeed you have the required capacity to also pass on to the generation that is coming after them, a better society than the one they inherited. I also believe in the engagement of all stakeholders. Bringing every segment of the society together is a winning formula.
Do you think you can win with the direct primary which your party, APC just introduced?
Let me start by informing you that it has always been in the party’s constitution, but the activation was however championed by Asiwaju, strongly supported by the president and the new chairman. We must thank the trio for returning the party to the people. This will give hope to the hopeless; ensure respect and pride of place for all.
Majority of the people of Lagos West are disgruntled already, over their representation at the Senate, coupled with the fact that their present Senator is trying to move to Ogun State to contest as governor, are you trying to leverage on that?
Don’t forget that primaries are regarded as family matters hence we have to be restrained in our comments, so they are not used against us by the opposition. However, the issue you have raised is very fundamental and of immense concern to all Lagosians, particularly the indigenes and those who have adopted Lagos as their home.
But what is your reading of Senator Adeola’s failed governorship bid in Ogun State and his return to Lagos?
I have to be mindful of what I say about my younger brother, who is currently representing Lagos West. But the truth of the matter is if you ask me from a moral standpoint, I will say that nobody should have the right to two states. What he is aspiring for has never happened in the history of Nigeria. It is an insult and an assault on the purpose for which this state was created. It is also an insult to Lagosians, who see this state as the only one they have. We might be thinking those people are in the minority but it is a perversion of justice for the majority to ignore and fail to protect the interest of the minority. Those of us who are passionate are so because we don’t have another state. To now sit and allow such to happen will be too painful to bear. It is not being fair to others and again, our constitution also does not recognize that. A situation where one person can participate simultaneously in two states is not morally right. As I have said, we are both members of the same family, so, I have to be mindful of that and be careful. I know too well that those who are natives of this state are very unhappy about that without a doubt. There is no gainsaying that they have no other state, so, how can somebody now have a right to two states, when they are even struggling to exercise their right in their own state? As I have said, I do not want to dwell too much on that, but what is important to me, is that I believe Lagos is the best state in Nigeria and it should not be a state of second choice. So, you can see that it is not personal and it is too deep an issue to ignore. It will be sad for those, who handed the baton to this generation, to see that their state is still being referred to as ‘No man’s land.’ To those of them, who have died, their bodies will turn in their graves and it is an insult to their memories. That portion of our national anthem, which says, ‘the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’ serves as a call to action.
Do you have the consent of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to embark on this journey?
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is the father of us all and politically, we are all under his umbrella. When your children are jostling for your attention, you try to be as fair as possible. Even if you prefer one to the other, you cannot show it. He is a father and we have to respect him for that. He is our benefactor. He is responsible for what most of us are today by the grace of God. We have to respect and honour him at all times.
What should the people of Lagos West expect from you?
Lagos West is the most populated senatorial district in Nigeria, and apart from the fact that Lagos itself deserves special attention; we must begin to challenge our society to the reality of paying more attention to where the population is. If you look at civilized societies, they pay more attention to where they have a large population, because if you do not take care of your people, they will resort to self-help and self-help can come in different shapes and forms. It can come in a positive or a negative form, but where people are neglected, most often times we have self-help coming in the negative form. This is why the government needs to invest more where our population is concentrated and there is no better place to jumpstart that kind of thinking than Lagos West. We must come up with programs that can engage the people and there are so many such programs that we have thought of and we intend to work with other senators to ensure the programs are initiated and passed into laws.
With the gale of defections hitting the APC, do you think it is still the party to beat?
Politics is dynamic and it is not static. If you look at the issue of Nigeria from the beginning of our experience as a nation from the First Republic, we had this too, but people must be given the opportunity to learn and evolve. The best way to grow is to learn from experience, which is your own personal experience and the experiences of others. To be honest with you, I have not seen anything extraordinary in what is happening in Nigeria. It has happened elsewhere and overtime, they were able to overcome it. In India, it was worse than this at some point, but because there was no military intervention they have perfected their democracy to the point that their democracy is now stable and elections have become a routine. I believe at some point all these activities that we are seeing will be injurious to all the actors and they would be compelled to find the necessary solutions to it. Necessity they say is the mother of invention, but if you do not allow these things to happen, it will blow in your face at some point. Allow it to play itself out, because anything that has a beginning must surely have an end. When it is going to end, I may not be able to tell you, but I can tell you that this experience will be a guide and a lesson to the generation that is coming after us. There is a challenge to every generation and if we cannot perfect it, those who are coming after we would. Maybe that would be their challenge to stabilize the democratic experience. I can say to a reasonable extent, that my generation was part of the generation that brought this democracy we are experiencing today. We were not the leaders at that time, but followers of those who made this possible and now we are at the centre of the game, but we are also going to step aside at some point and another generation will take over. A generation fought for the independence of Nigeria, unfortunately, we had a military intervention that messed up the society. But we are back now to a democratic rule. One thing most Nigerians do not know when they say white people do not practice “do or die” politics is that they do not need “do or die” politics in the western world, because they have perfected a means of taking care of everybody. If you are in the Senate today and you are no longer a senator, there are opportunities waiting for you automatically to tap into, but we do not have that in Nigeria. Those are the kinds of things that once we perfect them, desperation goes away; winning at all cost goes away; this would help to stabilize the polity and the society will grow. I hope and pray that my generation will live to see that. I can foresee that happening at some point. Human existence performs best when they are challenged. When there is no challenge, things go on as usual. If you look at what has happened in Nigeria and the intervention that Nigerians themselves have created to solve problems, you will marvel. At every point when people think the system has collapsed, they always find a way to bring it together, because we are challenged and challenges bring out the best in us. It is not just Nigerians but human beings in general. When humans needed to create a means of transportation, they did. So, as we evolve, we come up with new ideas and new thinking and I do believe that Nigeria will not fail after all is said and done. We just have to be mindful of the fact that no desperation or situation should make us elevate the interest of our country to a secondary level, because when you elevate the interest of the country to a secondary level, then you are in trouble and I believe that no matter the situation we are going through now, we should always bear in mind that our country must come first. Once we bear that in mind, I am sure people will not cross the line that they shouldn’t.
What’s your message to the people of Lagos West?
We have too many disadvantaged people in our society. If you are physically challenged, there is even hardly any hope for you; no school and no opportunities. When you go out there, you are on your own. To even get on the bus is a challenge. We have started doing something in that regard in Lagos, but we are only scratching the surface because we have too many disadvantaged people. If you talk about the poor in Nigeria, people are increasingly becoming hopeless and these are some of the things we have to reverse.
It is a trend we must reverse. We must give hope to the hopeless and we must ensure that the weak in the society are taken care of. Any society that does not take care of the disadvantaged will not get anywhere. Your capacity to protect the weak in the society defines who you are. So, these are some of the things that you will see me championing as we go forward. I will speak more to those kinds of efforts ensuring that the weak are not taken advantage of. Those who deserve support would get that support and we also intend to open offices in every local government in the west senatorial district to address that. The incidences of rape have increased, though frontally challenged by the Lagos State government. Most of the people who are victims fall into the category of those who are weak in our society. They cannot run to anybody; they cannot cry to anybody and their voices are not heard. I am just citing that as an example of interventions that we intend to do as we go along. Luckily, we have grown in this system, so we will bring that to bear on what we are going to do, moving forward. Today, I can open more doors than I could open in 2003 when I first came into the Senate. Today, by the grace of God, we have a bigger reach, stronger reach than we had in the past. So, the value we are going to add now is going to be far better compared to the value we added in 2003.
Additional information from @Thisday Newspaper