Politics not for the jobless-Akande
Chief Bisi Akande is the founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and former Governor of Osun State. In this interview with Fisayo Akinduro, he spoke on restructuring of Nigeria, politics, local government autonomy and his lifestyle as an octogenarian.
What is the secret behind your strength at 81?
The first secret is the grace of God, which is beyond human understanding. When I was young, I ate big and I was always drinking. As I was growing old, I eat less, and I drink less. When I wake up in the morning, I think about others more than myself. If you are happy, no doubt, you will grow well.
As the former Chief Security Officer of Osun State, you will agree with me that security is an integral motivation for governance. How viable, logical, and legal is it for people of a particular location to protect their geographical domain?
Self defense is the best. When you are inside your house, that is the only passion you have and any intruder should be dealt with to the best of your capacity. But when it involves other people, you have to do it according to the culture of the law of the land. The culture of politics and law of security when I was the governor have changed a lot. I stopped being a governor seventeen years ago. So, if you ask me anything about security today, I may not be able to answer it.
What is your reaction to the statement by the Attorney General of the Federation that Amotekun is illegal? and concerning the issue in Edo State, as the former APC chairman, what is your reaction to the crisis within the party. How will you reconcile them together?
Nobody retires from politics; you die in it. But when you are growing old, you leave things to those coming behind you. I’m neither the chairman nor the governor, or part of the leadership of the party in Osun State. I know that those who are in the leadership in Osun State are very competent to handle whatever might be the grumblings or crisis within the party.
I don’t think there is much problem in Osun State. I have tried to investigate. There could be grumblings, there could be little misrepresentation, there could be little misunderstandings, there could be rumours, and there could be little falsehoods and many things like that, but by the time you go to the nitty-gritty of it, you will see that it is more of a grumbling than a crisis.
I think from the appearance of what you would have started seeing, this year, from the beginning of January, you will know that the grumbling is already going down and the leadership is on top of it.
Edo State is very far away from me. I was a national chairman of the party, I was the founding national chairman, and I read in the newspapers like you do about Edo that there is crisis there but I won’t pretend to say that I don’t know. I know the leadership of the party is doing a lot to make sure that all will be put behind us before the next election, APC is going to win in Edo State.
On what you called Amotekun, Amotekun ought to have been a Yoruba affair, and when it is a Yoruba matter, I don’t discuss this with the media; I discuss with the elders. I have started consulting with the elders in Yoruba land, those who know more about the beginning of Amotekun and the processes of Amotekun’s name but when you talk about the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF) saying something, you are talking about law. I’m unfortunate not to be a lawyer, and I don’t know anything about law. So don’t let me comment on anything which I am not competent.
In 2015, when APC took over the affairs of the nation, Nigeria was hit with economic recession, and up till now, Nigeria is not out of it. Recently, we heard that there’s going to be an increase in VAT from five percent to seven point five percent, also, electricity tariff, what does this portend to the people?
What you are trying to ask questions about is the law of Nigeria because the Finance Bill was signed into law about a week ago. When something is a law, the implementation will now be in the hands of those we put in power whether the executive, legislature or anywhere, and in the implementation, a lot of concentration will be thrown into the kind of the affairs you are trying to express now. It first must have gone into thinking, during the writing of the law. I’m neither a member of the executive nor the Federal government nor member of the National Assembly, but I know a lot of considerations would have been put into lobby when the laws were being written.
The implementation, as you all know, will take cognisance of whatever fears Nigerians may have had because, you know, for the welfare of the people. But the welfare is neither here nor there. You might think about your own welfare while those who are looking at you are looking at you on the higher pedestal, maybe they put you above 60 percent. And the welfare, you know, that is of immediate consideration might be under 30 percent. So, during implementation, I think all your fears will be considered.
As a grandfather, how do you cope with emotional demands? You know, emotional demands that arise from your wife’s death.
Yes, that is very emotional. If you look at me, you would see that I am leaner and thinner because I’m not feeding well. I am always hungry now. When my wife was alive, I ate well and I ate very timely. But since she died, the emotional problems set it. I don’t eat regularly; I don’t eat what I like. Sometimes the food might be good, but I think about my wife and I don’t eat it. So, that is why you see me emaciating. With your prayers, and the grace of God, I think I am trying to cope.
Recently, the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye said there is a need for the political class to reduce the money they earn, so that, the extra money will be used for the welfare of the people. Do you feel that politicians should continue to earn such bogus money?
It is a generational problem. When I started politics, there was no money in it. I was a councillor in Ila here for nine years. During this period, I lived in Lagos, and I come from Lagos to attend council meetings and council committee meetings almost weekly in Ila, and there was no pay.
The purpose was to serve your people, and we were very much happy then. We served, not for money, but for the progress of our community. The membership of that community kept praying for us and that is why I was afraid when they said I am 81 years old. You know, I shivered. The prayer is so potent that I don’t know I am 81 because I don’t think of money when serving my people. But in your own generation, it is money or nothing. Some will even take the money without service. So, it is a different era. My own time is not the same as your time, and therefore, maybe somebody from your own generation will be able to answer that question better than I.
What is your advice for this generation?
In my own generation, if you don’t have a good job, don’t go into politics. Politics was not a job at all in my own generation. I was a company manager. I trained as an accountant and I was a company manager with British Petroleum when I became a councillor. I agreed to come and become a councillor. Nowadays, in your generation, maybe by cocaine or by criminal fraud or once you have some little money, you want to be a senator, you want to be a governor, and you want to be a president. In our days, no matter what you had, we were anxious to be a councillor, serving your people. I told you earlier that I was a councillor for nine years. So, when I say it is generational, the only thing I can say is that if anybody want to prosper in politics, he must first of all be established on a job of his own and he must take money from the earnings of his own profession to come and do his politics. He will enjoy politics and he will last. But if you have no money, you go and sell your father’s house to make money to fight election. Either you win or you lose, you are not likely going to last. So, politics in my days is not the politics in your days. Therefore, honestly, it will be very difficult for me to give advice.
An association agreed that Southwest should produce the next president, what is your take on this and what will you consider as your greatest challenge?
Bola Ahmed Tinubu has answered that question. He went to the Presidency about a week ago, and coming out from the presidency, he was accosted by the Press. And they asked him the question that you are asking me now. He said you can’t spend 300 of the 365 days in a year doing politics. We have just done an election; we are just establishing a government. That government has never done much for the people; you are talking about who will be another president.
It means the expectations of those who asked the question was that there will be no service to the people at all. Every day would be for campaign. He said he disagreed with that. In other words, he doesn’t want to talk politics until … He didn’t want to distract the government. He didn’t want to heat the polity. He didn’t want to be part of those who divert the attention from the service to the people, and he didn’t want to tell anybody what he wants to be in 2023. If he said that to you with his own mouth, and you ask from me, he is my friend, you know, what do you expect me to say than to refer you to him and say what he said that I heard is that he’s not ready to jump into the ring now. He doesn’t say what will happen in 2023, and when he does, you will all see.
There was a time you referred to the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan as a Kindergarten president. How would you describe Mohammadu Buhari’s regime?
I don’t judge presidency or governance by where the appointments are made. I want to judge by results. I called Jonathan kindergarten president because of the way he was misbehaving in power and an example is this. If a person can go to the Central Bank to withdraw 2.1billion dollars not naira for campaign and call it money for Boko Haram, does that look like somebody who is serious about the welfare of the people? That was my reason, anyway, then. But I saw so many things then that I think normal people shouldn’t do that they were doing in his regime.
In Muhammadu Buhari’s time, he is talking about three major things. He’s talking about security and from what he has done so far, you would see that he has degraded, quite considerably, all negative aspects of security inherited when he came to power. He was talking about corruption. Maybe he didn’t know the burden he was taking when he started. But now I know he is perspiring under the burden of corruption because everybody in Nigeria, and I mean it when I say so, nearly everybody who is put in a position of authority in Nigeria is tempted to be a thief. When you live in such community, you will perspire every morning because when corruption fights back, if you are not careful, you know, you are going to be drowned in it. So, if Buhari is having problem, it is because corruption is fighting back. You can imagine the enormity of the processes of corruption we have in this country.
Forget about the corruption of the politicians, forget about the corruption of the rulers. What about those workers who are not working and earning salary? Even when you don’t go on strike, you abscond from your work. And you earn salary for that day. Are you not corrupt? Those who are taking directly, call it bribe or whatever, is it not corruption? Those who sold water as wine to people, are they not corrupt? So, in a community where nearly everybody is corrupt, if somebody comes out and says he wants to fight corruption, he is creating a load on his head and that is the load Buhari is putting on his head now.
He must be perspiring where he is and the third one was that he was going to improve the economy. We should look at it very well,if you listen to the Nigerian Office of Statistics, you will know that the economy is already growing. Though slowly, but it is growing.
While you were the interim National Chairman of APC, the party was united and strong, what will you describe as your greatest achievements and what were your challenges then?
I was using Computer to manage the party. Within nine months, I registered over 12 million membership into that party and I published the membership list, voting unit by voting unit, ward by ward, local government by local government, state by state and all over Nigeria. In that registration, I put all members’ telephone, I put all members’ voting registration number. So, you can identify your followers, and I used that register, mechanized one, to conduct all congresses from ward level to local government level to state level. I don’t know what is happening now because I’m a little far away from the field.
Concerning the challenges, I had none. Everybody worked with me, cooperated with me. Everybody was happy with me. When I registered the party, I think I remember, it was Atiku Abubakar who stood up to lead others to applaud me. He said for five times PDP had tried to do it for more than 16years but they were not successful but because I did it, everybody was happy. So, I had no challenge. Everybody cooperated with me and I was happy with them. I presided over meetings; I listened to all members at meetings. I remember one issue. What method shall we use to register? There were opposing views. There was a view that I supported. We adjourned more than ten times because I wanted us to have a consensus. And until we had a consensus, I never stamped it.
Where do you think the current leadership of the APC is getting it wrong?
I don’t think they are getting it wrong. We did first election, we won. Four years later, we won another election. About a month ago, we won election in Kogi, we won election in Bayelsa. We don’t have it wrong at any level. Have we? There could be a human organization, there could be arguments; there could be fighting. We have never had it wrong. By the time we have it wrong, we would start losing elections.
You were a staunch advocate when you were the governor of Osun, for fiscal restructuring in Nigeria and I observed that up till now, your glamour is still there since that time. Now that the issue of the minimum wage is at the front burner, and many states of the federation appear armstrong to pay their workers. What will be your piece of advice to the governments on how to solve this problem?
There have been no differences of opinion about minimum wage. Every Nigerian has agreed that the minimum wage will be N30,000. No argument about that. Where the argument is, is in the structure between the minimum and the maximum. It is only in a country that will not last long that you will have uniform salary system. You pay according to your ability. If you see any government, individual, business or corporate body who is earning N100 and pays salary of N200, it will fold up very quickly. If you see a government who is earning, say, N100 million and using N150 million to pay salary, that government will soon apply for a merger with neighbouring government because it will pack up.
So, the argument is in the structure. Every state will have to negotiate with his own labour union according to the possibility of his ability to pay. If they do anything different, they will apply for a merger or that state would disappear. So, if there is any argument, it is in the structure not in the minimum wage. How each state handles it depends on the flexibility of the society governed.
When I was talking about fiscal federalism, I was talking about true federalism I am still on that, but I can’t hold anybody responsible more than the legislature because it is only the legislature that can amend the constitution that can bring about all kinds of structure. Whether structure or restructuring it is all done by the constitution and the constitution can only be rearranged, rewritten or amended to conform to what I’m talking about by the legislature. It will first of all be passed by the House of Representatives or the Senate and it will go down to the House of Assembly. If 24 out of 36 states support then it becomes a law.
Until at that level they agree to restructuring we will all be shouting from outside the fence and I am happy that every geographical part of this country is having representation in the House, whether at the federal or at the state. So, who are you blaming? Ask from the legislature.
You and Uncle Bola Ige were like 5 & 6, before he was gruesomely murdered. I observed that many of your admirers came together to ask the question, “who killed Bola Ige?” Now, as we have moved on, we realized that the question continues to go down, are we no longer interested in knowing who killed Bola Ige?
Well, when you talk about the person who pulled the trigger, there could be a question. I was not in doubt at all and I said it loud all the time that Bola Ige was killed by the Federal government of his time and I never changed my position. Who the federal government used to pull the trigger, I cannot tell you. Only the police will help you.
As an elderly statesman, what is your comparison between your style of governance with the present administration. How will you rate the performance of Governor Gboyega Oyetola especially in blocking leakages for the development of Osun?
Honestly, I have not had time to look at the methods or the effects of Governor Gboyega Oyetola. But I believe in my mind that he should be able to perform better than I have because he is a more sober personality than I am. So, he should be able to think better, he should be able to plan better; he should be able to manage better too. In terms of corporate background, he is a finance person, and I think he should be able to do better than I did when I was in government.
I have never had time to see whether leakages are there or not.
By all standards, you have been a successful father, governor, administrator and politician. Out of the experience and all the years of practical politics, if you are to advise the upcoming politicians, what would it be?
They should have a good job before they venture into politics at all. They should have a fallback position. When politics finishes, what do I eat? If they can’t answer that question, they should not go into it. If they do, they come back to nothing.
What is your take on the local government autonomy?
Arrant nonsense! In federalism, do you have three tiers of government? In any federalism all over the world, whether in Canada, Australia, America, India, anywhere, it’s only two tiers of government; the Central government and the Federating units. When you talk about local government autonomy, then you are talking about three tiers. One must be abolished.
It is either you abolish the state or you abolish the federal. Federalism is what I am defining for you. There must be a central government; there must be federating units of the central government. It’s only two tiers. When you introduce the third one, you must cut one off. So, you must have only the states. And make the local governments the federating units. But if you keep the three, you are running a Unitary government because the federal governments will be dealing with the local governments and put the states aside. But because those who are writing the laws or those who are talking about it don’t think at all. They don’t even know what they are saying. They are not even politicians. They are only activists. Go and read federalism and know what it means. Not three tiers. No more than two tiers in any federalism.
Sir, you introduced your political godfather. Can you let us know once reasons you said he is your political godfather?
When I was here in Ila, I didn’t know I was a politician. I was just anxious to see my place developed. I was a councillor, and then I was elected into the Constituent Assembly. When I got there, it was this man, who held my hand and took me, first of all, to the constituent assembly committee of friends and after doing that, he took me by hands to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and say this is somebody I found that is capable of having a future in politics. So, since that time, I became a politician. So, Ayo Fasanmi is my political godfather.
Sir, if you are to assess President Buhari, from 2015 till now, what will be your assessment?
Ermmm, you know what we call iron, it is very reflexive. When you put iron in the fire, in the furnace, it goes from black to red. By the time it gets very red, you take it out of fire and put it into water. Forcefully, it will go back to its original colour and it would be stronger. Muhammadu Buhari was trained a soldier; he was not trained a politician. He was a rebellious coup taker, not a coup plotter because he succeeded. He succeeded in getting into power by the power of the gun. He was doing another man’s job. He stole the politician’s job and he made a mess of it.
If you ask him today, he would regret the legacy of that time. But after going through politics, contested election, four times, before he could have it right. Now, he hardly does anything without asking for people’s opinion. As a military-trained person, you rely on order. You obey order. You give order. As a politician, democracy involves discussion, debate, argument, and decisions. So, as a military commander, he was obeying orders, he was giving order. But as a political leader, he’s now being shown the way to do it right democratically through discussion, debates, reasoning, voting and all that kind. So, it’s a different Buhari that is now leading the country from the Buhari that sent me to prison in 1984.
Will APC retain power in the next election?
What power do I have? They say what will I do to make them retain power when the power resides in the hands of the people? I will go to juju people, and do some rituals. (laughs)