Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly bears it all in this interview with NigeriaCheck Newspaper Chief Reporter, Georges Macnobleson-Idowu. He clarifies some knotty issues rocking the political space and explains why the National Working Committee of his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, adopted the controversial zoning pattern, amongst other issues.
Qus: Some APC party chieftains, including the Chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, have criticized the party’s zoning arrangement for the National Assembly’s leadership seats, what’s your take?
Ans: This morning, I was on Arise TV and this issue came up. Yes, I heard briefly about the complaint of Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, about this issue yesterday or so, but I did not go deep into the issue before I was faced with the same question this morning on Arise TV. Like I said there, if there is any mistake or if any zone or side is shortchanged, I know one thing for sure, when the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu becomes the President and the defacto leader of the party, all these would be corrected. It’s not only the leadership of the National Assembly that is at stake here, we have many other big offices that would be part of the administration.
Is the Southwest complaining of been marginalized on the distribution of the National Assembly’s offices? No, because we have the President. Is the Northeast complaining? No, because the they have the Vice President. Unfortunately, it was after the Arise TV interview that I realised the National Chairman of the Party is zoned to the North central. Wherever you have the National Chairman, the President and the Vice President, those three zones cannot be vying for the offices of the National Assembly. That’s a straight forward thing, and again, aside from the President, Vice President, the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, there are still other offices. We still have offices like that of the Secretary to the Federal Government. So, for whatever has happened now, we should not heat-up the polity. Even the present National Chairman of the Party is from North Central, right? I understand that, that same office is still zoned to the North Central, so who says the Secretary to the Federal Government cannot come from there, except the President-elect decides that Adeyemi Ikuforiji should be the Secretary to the Federal Government, then you can start complaining. Apart from that, please let’s move on, we cannot wait for May 29 to come.
Qus: Honorable, looking at the crisis concerning the National Assembly leadership seats, the South-East has insisted it’s entitled to it, what’s your opinion?
Ans: George, as a federation, there are some basics. Whether I like your face or not, it’s your entitlement and you must get it. If you decide to offer me a bottle of water when I’m tasty or not, simply because you are a member of the team or you are a member of this federation, there are certain things that would not be taken away from you. And I don’t expect any change with that. Look, every state of the federation will have a minister, and every zone will also have a minister. So, aside from Ebonyi, Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Abia having a minister each, that zone, the South-East will have a minister too.
Now, when you talk of the biggest national offices, which of course, I just mentioned; the National Chairman of the Party, the President of the country, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker, these are also shared into zones. But of course, in this situation, the position, the participation, and contribution of the zones comes to play. That aside, you should also remember that the office of the President of the Senate and the Vice President, as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker are not offices that are dashed out simply because you are from one state or the other. There are some rules of the House that must be respected. You cannot, for example, take a rookie, no matter how big he is, even if he is a former President, and make him a Senate President, simply because he was a former President. In as much as he is not a ranking member of the Senate, he’s not entitled to become a Senate President. So, I don’t know where this noise is coming from. I must say the fact that the Senate President is zoned to the South-South, is a welcome development. Since 1999, we have not had a Senate President from the South-South. Of course, we have not had from the South-West either. But it would be more than greedy for someone from the South-West to start complaining when actually the President is from the South-West. But the South-East we are talking about, for God sake, Anambra has produced a Senate President before, Imo has done the same, Enugu has produced also, Ebonyi has produced and Abia has also produced a Senate President. So, if the five states in that zone have produced the Senate President at one time or the other, why will anyone complain about the party zoning the Senate Presidency to another zone. It would be unfair.
Qus: I know that you have not been around, especially before the election and I know that Nigerians will want to know your opinion on the just concluded Presidential election?
Ans: Let me correct the impression, I have been around. I was around through out the election period. Yes, at a certain period, I had issues with my nerves and had to take care of myself. That, as it may, the issue of the election, we thank God, it has come and gone. I think we must give God the glory. This has been an election that’s completely different from any other that we have had. And if anything has demonstrated that Nigeria can be one and has come to stay, it’s this election. President Buhari promised to give us a free and fair election and not to impose anybody, and he did not shy away from that promise even during the period of the campaign and election, to the extent that some of us were actually doubting if he really supported the candidate of his party or not. His attitude was giving us concerns that it doesn’t seem the President was in support of Asiwaju. Notwithstanding the fact that he appeared with Asiwaju in some of the campaign grounds across the country, he appeared or seemed to appear aloof sometimes that it gave us some concerns. But we must give him the credit. This man said he will not interfere, intervene or favour any candidate. He even said let everyone go and vote for the candidate of his or her choice. He did not even say you must vote for the APC candidate. Under this man, the new electoral law was signed. He signed the new electoral law that gave way for the electronic machines and the application of the BVAS, and the results shook everyone to his foundation. BVAS eliminated all the excesses that we used to experience during voting. It made it impossible for people to overload the ballot boxes. It eliminated multiple voting. It eliminated ghost voting. No matter your grievances against President Muhammadu Buhari, we should all still say ‘Thank You’ to him for this.
Yes, as Nigerians, particularly Africans, generally we talk about democracy, we want democracy, but the honest truth is that it’s not in our blood. When we were young, when we go for soccer, one school against the other, even street against another street, sometimes we end up beaten ourselves, not on the field of play and not on the goals scored, but because you scored against us. It annoys us so much that we will come after you to fight you physically. So, the spirit of sportsmanship is not part of us in Nigeria. We do not believe in fair play, at all.
Qus: So, you are saying that’s what’s happening now with the opposition parties contesting the election results in the country?
Ans: Of course, that’s what’s happening. Okay, where is the origin of the labour party? From which part of the country did the labour get its root? Go back and look at the history of labour party. That Obi, the candidate of the labour party, who even had issues with Anambra, where he was governor for 8years, whose campaign in Anambra did not show any sign of serious acceptance, but somehow with that type of unserious campaigns they carried out, he was still able to gather as much votes across the country and particularly, in certain sections of the country. If Obi got more votes in Lagos, Asiwaju’s traditional base, a base where he never failed since 1992, whether directly having his name on the ballot or has a supported candidate on the ballot, even in 2003, when the then President Obasanjo used the military strategy to create chaos for AD in the South-West, Lagos was the only one that stood firm under Asiwaju. That Lagos after so many years, from 1992 is the one that Asiwaju lost to Obi by about 10,000 votes, and somebody in his right senses, comes around to tell us that the poll was rigged. If it was rigged then we know those who rigged it, because you don’t go to the lion’s den and come out as strong as you went, that’s if you ever come out at all. For somebody to have come to Lagos and beaten Asiwaju, if there was any rigging, we know that person actually rigged. If President Buhari lost his own state in the Presidential election, if a strong man like El-rufai lost Kaduna, my brother, how can someone talk about rigging. In the South-East, even in States that has APC governors, we did not get 30% votes. Let’s call a spade a spade, we know what is going on. The man who came third is saying he won the election, what a joke! What a funny joke!
Qus: May 29 is just around the corner, so many Nigerians, including prominent ones, have called for the postponement of the Inauguration of the President-elect till after the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal’s sitting, do you share that thought?
Ans: I do not know of any prominent Nigerian, who has called for the postponement of the inauguration. It’s only people who do not love Nigeria that I know have called for the postponement. To me, it’s a silly call. It’s myopic. it’s unreasonable and undemocratic. Even former President Donald Trump refused to accept the outcome of the US election in the November 2020 Presidential election, but that did not stop the Inauguration of the President-elect in January 2021. So, if you have any reason to doubt the results go to Court and meet whoever you’re challenging.
Qus: As one of the persons, who have worked directly with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, tell us about him?
Ans: George, honestly, if you want me to talk about Tinubu, I will probably find a bed for you, where you will sleep tonight, because we cannot finish that tonight. Where do you want me to start from? Let me talk about Tinubu from three or four perspectives. Let’s look at Tinubu and democracy. Tinubu as an administrator, and manager. Let’s look at him as a gorilla fighter. Look, if you look at the thing we call democratic dispensation in this country, 1999 to date, 24years, how did we come about it? Is there a living Nigerian that did more or fought more for the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria than Bola Tinubu? I doubt. If there is one person, who fought gallantly with everything he has or that he is for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993 dream, Tinubu is number one. He fought it personally. He put his life and that of his family in danger. He risked everything. He put his possessions in it. What a great gambler! What a democrat! And you know what, when the battle was fought and won, Tinubu did not come out to say, he wants to be President. Those who came out to be President then, were not as rich as Tinubu. He had the money to contest as President then. And this is a man that as far back as 1992 had the opportunity of fighting to become the Senate President, but because of his democratic blood, he paved way for others and followed the team spirit. He was in charge of the committee for appropriation in the Senate. And when he wanted to go back to the Senate he was called on by some leaders to contest the governorship of Lagos State, he put his money in it and won. He probably was the main opposition to the Federal Government, under President Olusegun Obasanjo, and he was not an opposition for opposition sake, he stood firm on the side of democracy. He stood firm on the side of true federalism. And upon the successes recorded, I, Adeyemi Ikuforiji can tell you that the man remain a democrat. When I got into the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2003, what I met on ground and what went on between the house and the governor of the state, could not have been that good under a non-democratic governor. Notwithstanding the financial situation of the state government then, this man sits at the round table with the leadership of the house and most times with the entire house members, to discuss the situation and agree on modalities to follow. I mentioned it yesterday that Lagos is the first house to pass the Bill for self-accounting and Tinubu signed it into law, as far back as year 2000, when the government of Lagos was still under so much excruciating financial conditions. He said, “I signed it into law because I know it’s the right thing, but we do not have enough for the house to have everything for now, but we can sit down on monthly basis, look at the purse of the government and see how we take care of this aspect of our life”. And that want on like that.
The National Assembly was later forced to pass an Act to enforce the other state governments to allow financial autonomy of the legislature, more than 20years after Tinubu had signed it into law in Lagos. What does that tell you about this man? It simply means democracy runs in his blood.
Do you want to talk about his administrative capacity? His financial acumen or financial engineering? Why don’t you look at Lagos, when he took over as Governor, Lagos used to borrow money to pay salaries, the IGR was 600million per month, but this man took it from there and turned things around. In doing so, he met the business community in Lagos, he met the traditional rulers, he met with each and every relevant section and sector in the Lagos community. He put everything on the table with them and told them the honest truth that we have to get somethings done, it might be painful, you might not like it, but we have to do it for the sake of this state, for your sake, for the future of your children and the future generations. And he did it and today Lagos has become the envy of even nations in Africa, not just states in Nigeria.
This same man knows how to hunt for talents and make the best use of them. I gave an example yesterday in the outgoing Vice President, Yemi Osibajo, who was a school teacher, a professor of law, brilliant, but perhaps his brilliance may not have been so appreciated if the talent-hunter did not fish him out and bring him to apply that knowledge in government. Forget the politics today, Yemi Osibajo has a very tall seat amongst men, because he had the opportunity to showcase his talent. Right from been the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Lagos, where he fought the Federal Government to a stand still. All the cases he took to the Supreme Court, the FG got beaten badly that it could not walk out of the ring. The first cabinet Tinubu had was the very first of its kind in this country. Even Obasanjo eventually follow suit to be able to move the country forward.
To people who believe Tinubu is near a dictator or overbearing, when you have a leader who on his own does not sleep when others are sleeping. A leader, who is always busy at his duty post thinking of the future and how to solve a problem that would come up tomorrow, sometimes such a leader maybe seen as overbearing, because he had seen what others have not seen. The ‘Emilokan’ of this generation saw so much that many in his category did not see. What again do we want to talk about? This man will sit at a round table with you, and when he has an idea, he gives opportunities to compete with his own ideas and trust me, if your idea is better, he allows his own idea to go into the cooler. He will probe and ask questions about your idea and when he is sure you have something superior, he will give it a chance. That’s the Tinubu that I know. The Tinubu I know is ‘Mr. Elegede’, meaning whatever he touches turns gold. He is a man with the midas touch.
Qus: Do you see Asiwaju’s administration ending the issues of Kidnapping, Japa and Brain-drain syndrome in Nigeria?
Ans: Let’s come back and discuss this in 2026. But let me give you my take on it, so that you have something to hold me on when the time comes. God forbids natural disasters and acts of God that are negative, I tell you in 30months, Nigeria will start smiling. The economy will be on its rise to the sky. Anybody who wants to Japa will Japa with some reservations. Those who have Japa will Jabo. Because our economy will recover and recover permanently. On the issue of security, he has made some promises during his campaigns, which I know he will keep. This is not some doubtful impressions created by some funny character. And don’t forget I have a first hand knowledge of him. He was governor, I was speaker. We have personal interactions. He can tell you volumes about me and my abilities, and I can even tell more about him. The only thing we need now is for God not to send any of his negative acts to this country, called Nigeria.