ICYMI: I want to remain a socialite — Olagunsoye Oyinlola

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A former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, speaks with BOLA BAMIGBOLA on his political career, childhood and other issues

You lost your father when you were nine years old. How did the experience shape your life?

I still recall the day he died. About the second or third day after he died, some native doctors came to the house and asked us to shut the door. They came to perform a ritual. However, two of the children stayed quietly behind the bed where our dad’s body was laid. They wanted to see what would be done to it. The native doctors instructed that only my dad’s elderly children should come and the women should stay away.

After that, the body was given to the family for burial and we went to church. Popular juju musician, IK Dairo, entertained guests on that day.  Me and my younger brother, Toye, danced all through the ceremony, not knowing the meaning of what had happened to us.

While experiencing that, did it ever occur to you that you would become this successful?

I never dreamt of anything like that. The only thing I can allude to that was at a particular end of year play at St’ Michaels School in Okuku, Osun State, when I played the role of a king. I was about leaving primary school then and the way I acted and spoke made the grown-ups that were in attendance to cry. I still do not know what really moved them.

How would you assess the performance of the incumbent Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola?

I would like to go by the Biblical injunction which says, “Judge not, so that you shall not be judged”. It would be difficult to judge someone if one is not able to assess the parameters or factors guiding governance, and the circumstances under which the person is governing. During my tenure, I had the support of the President and I had enough to do whatever programme I wanted to execute. It is only when we are able to ascertain that he has the same factors that influenced my governance, that I would be able to judge him.

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What are the similarities and differences between the administrations of Governor Oyetola and his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola?

The only thing I can see between them is that Oyetola is cool-headed and I think he listens to people’s opinions.

Many people did not believe you could team up with Aregbesola and be in the same party considering your differences. How did that happen?

Firstly, teaming up with anybody at all is guided by the principles and tenets of my religion. Today’s Bible reading taught me that we should love even our enemies. I had no inhibition partnering with him to succeed in his second term. Whatever he has done, that is left for him to answer before his Creator. I believe that I left government when it pleased God for me to leave. Who knows whether spending an extra day would have led to my corpse being evacuated from the government house. I accept anything that happens to me as the will of God that had been ordained, even before my parents met each other.

Why were you so angry to the extent that you left the party that made you a governor?

I did not dump the People’s Democratic Party. Rather, it was the PDP that dumped me. I was the National Secretary of the party and I felt that the national leadership, at that time, was not running the party in line with the tenets of our constitution. And I told them that. I am not just a politician. I am also a lawyer, so I tried to put him (the then PDP National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur) on the path of the law. But many times, he would go contrary to the law and the dictates of the constitution. They felt there was a need to remove me as the national secretary. The plot succeeded through a suit filed against me, stating that I was not properly nominated from the South-West before I became the national secretary. However, there is nothing like that in our constitution. The process of getting elected to the National Working Committee is that elective positions would be zoned to a place. Any interested applicant would obtain forms and participate in the election, and that was exactly what I did. So, what brought the idea that I was not properly nominated? Anyway, that was just an excuse to get rid of me as the national secretary because the judge was in the pocket of the late Buruji Kashamu. Some of the PDP governors felt President Goodluck Jonathan had bridged the agreement he had with them. Their agreement that was not known to me initially was that the President would produce the national chairman, and the governors’ forum would provide the secretary. I still had two months to go in Law School when they met me and said the post of national secretary was zoned to the South-West. They said they had x-rayed those who were showing interest, but they were not too pleased with all the characters. I said okay, that we should look for other people because it was in my house in Abuja that Chief Ebenezer Babatope was endorsed for the same post. They said they had done that and they had come up with possible suggestions. I asked them who it was and they said it was me. That was 16 days to the national convention of the party. I disagreed and said they were trying to stir up problem in the party. At that time, people like Prof Tunde Adeniran, Dapo Sarumi in Lagos and Prof Taohed Adedoja from Ibadan were contesting for the post.

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They said it was not their business and they had decided that I should be the national secretary. I then said if that would work, we needed to take certain steps. Firstly, I said they had to inform former President Jonathan that I was their candidate and if he agreed to that, that would be the first hurdle crossed. The second hurdle was for Jonathan to call former President Olusegun Obasanjo and tell him that he wanted to Oyinlola to be the secretary of the party. If Obasanjo said yes, then we could go on. I requested that Jonathan should call Chief Olusegun Obasanjo because of those who had shown interest before me in the South-West. I was not stabbing anybody in the back.

After some time, they called Obasanjo but he was in China. He later called me and said the President had called him, so I could go and see him. I then went to see the President and he said he had obtained his blessing for me to be the national secretary and I thanked him.

We went for the election and I got elected. Then, the issue of second term came up. They felt I would not go along with the plan to make Jonathan contest. If I am convinced that anything is wrong somewhere, you would never see me there. I would never endorse it.

In the first instance, they had not asked me. But I felt they deduced that I would not go along with that plan. They then went to court on cooked up and unrelated charges, and the judge pronounced that I was no longer the secretary of the party.

I filed an appeal and the three judges at the Court of Appeal lambasted the judge of the first instance that he grossly misapplied the law. I then tried to go back but they would not allow me back to my office.

The next thing I heard was that I was suspended and that negated the party’s constitution which states that if any member commits an offence, such member must be informed of the charges against him. The member must reply and if the response is not clear enough, the person should be referred to a disciplinary committee.

However, none of that happened in my case. I was not accused of any wrongdoing.  They just said I was suspended. It then became a matter between the Presidency and the Governors’ Forum.

That was when seven of them (governors) said no, that the agreement had been breached. They said if the secretary would go, the chairman, Bamanga Tukur, had to go as well, and that was how we started the movement.

We formed the New PDP with Kawu Baraje as the Chairman while I was the Secretary. With that, I was the secretary of both sides— old and new PDP. It was actually a kind of scarecrow effect that we wanted to achieve, so that they would call us to resolve the issues.

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Some people feel you dumped the APC because Obasanjo seems to have also abandoned it in principle, even though he is not a card-carrying member of the party? What’s your reaction to that?

It was not because of that. I have told you why I left. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), had used me in my own little way to deceive my people and when the history of my race is being told, I don’t want anybody to tell it negatively. I always had that at the back of my mind, even when I was the Military Administrator of Lagos State. No bullet left the barrel of my gun in pursuit of any Yoruba man. I thank God I administered Lagos without firing a shot despite the fact that it happened to be the most turbulent period in the history of the state.

Some people were killed in Lagos State during your time as a military administrator and people believe the state was involved. Is that correct?

Not through me, not from my command and not from my gun. Even though I was stoned, I never shot anyone.

But could you have prevented those killings?

Which killings are you referring to actually because I don’t know.

Specifically, the killing of Kudirat Abiola.

The Oputa panel brought out those who killed Kudirat Abiola and they confessed. Did you hear my name throughout the panel’s hearing? As a matter of fact, I was commissioning a market on the day Kudirat was killed. The Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, was the Commissioner of Police at the time. He called and informed me that Kudirat had been shot. I rounded off the programme and called the then Commissioner for Health and I told him what I heard. He said he heard about it and they were already battling to save her life. By the time I got to Alausa, he called to tell me that she had died. Then, the story came that I was behind it and I believe that came from the opposition because I had matched them tactics-for-tactics as the military governor of the state. They said I invited Kudirat to my office and after she left, I sent assailants after her. When people tell lies, they should try to find out the character of the man they want to lie against. It is a criminal offence for an officer not to handle his wife very well. It could cost one one’s career. That is why it is said that if an officer is a Brigadier, his wife is a Major-General. How would an officer like me that has been well trained carry a gun to pursue a woman? It is unthinkable and akin to madness. If a fellow human being does not put my life in danger through a gun, I would not use my gun. But if I know the person’s intention is to harm me, I would strike first because I have to defend myself.

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I thank God that the Oputa panel came up and all those who took part in the killing of Kudirat Abiola were brought to answer questions. Before I was posted to Lagos (as military administrator), I knew the kind of people I was to govern. They were my people and I had taken a cue from the historic fallout between two notable first republic politicians, Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola.

At different times, you were Brigade Commander, Battalion Commander and General Officer Commanding in the North East. The entire region is now in turmoil, don’t you feel the government you helped bring to power has failed?

I would not say my generation has failed. The country, as a whole, has failed because we all have parts to play in shaping the future of the country. When I was the Battalion Commander in Bama, Borno State, I served at the Lake Chad Area and we dominated the place. There were no bandits or kidnappers, and no herders came to oppress our people on that part of our lake. We took charge and no intruder from Chad ever came to that place. After my service as the Military Administrator of Lagos State, I was posted to Maiduguri (Borno State capital) as the Brigade Commander and there were three battalions in the brigade. Each one had been doing rotation of six months duty in the Lake Chad area. As the Battalion Commander, I had three tours of six months each.

One peculiarity of the area is that anytime there is a change of government in Lake Chad, it is usually violent. Those who lost would move from Ndjamina and settle in the Lake Chad area to regroup. They would go there and start regrouping. They would later move and take power again in their own part of the lake. We were able to manage the situation by putting our troops on ground in rotation.

After I left Lagos, Colonel Ozodinobi who was the MILAD in Borno State had been posted to the state. Though junior to me in rank, he invited me to a security meeting and at the meeting, we were trying to see how to forestall any security breach in the state. One potent danger to the security situation in Borno then was the prevalence of Almajiri.

At the meeting, we said it was a potent danger that could get worse in the future. If the Almajiris grew up and they had no means of livelihood, they would have to fend for themselves in anyway. We suggested that we should build more schools where both Qur’anic and Western education would be taught. Surprisingly, one of the commissioners at the meeting, said if we did that, the mallams (teachers) would be thrown out of jobs.  I was so furious and I told him that if he was one of those unfortunate almajiri under the tree and did not have some form of formal education, he would not be at that meeting. I said if we didn’t do our part and we left them to grow up, none of us would sleep again.

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Would it be right to say that the task of settling the dispute between Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and former Governor of Ekiti, Ayo Fayose, is proving to be too difficult for you to handle?

No, it is not too difficult.

With your experience in party affairs, who would say is the leader of the PDP in the South-West between Fayose and Makinde?

Fayose agreed that Makinde, being the only PDP governor in the South-West, is the leader of the party in the zone. There is no doubt about that. It is a position he has occupied before. He was the only PDP governor in the South-West and so, he was the leader of the party in the zone then. There is no dispute.

What do you think is the cause of the fight between the two men?

Fayose is saying is that being the leader in the zone does not give Makinde the right to dip his hands into other people’s organisations in their states.

Don’t you think their fight is connected to the ambition of a former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, to be the president in 2023, as Fayose has not hidden his preference for Tinubu?

I do not know about that and I would not want to dwell on speculations. But, if an animal proclaims to hate a particular food but is always very close to that same food, would you believe that it does not like the food?

Fayose claims that Tinubu is an iconic politician in the South-West that must not be rubbished, irrespective of party differences. But this is the same man, who freely abused Obasanjo. I don’t know who is more iconic between the two of them? That is why I said I don’t want us to dwell on speculations.

Tinubu was only a governor but Obasanjo has been the leader of this country for 11 cumulative years— three year as military Head of State and eight years as civilian President.

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Your reconciliation committee does not seem to have the support of every member of the PDP in the South-West. Why is that so?

Even if it’s a chieftaincy title that is at stake in a family, does everybody have to agree? The answer is no. Those who don’t agree would tell us why they don’t agree and those who agree would also tell everybody why they agree. Then, we would find a middle ground where we can resolve the differences.

All we want is the unity of the party. There is nothing this government promised that it fulfilled. Is it the exchange rate, price of petrol, security, or the eradication of Boko Haram? Today, if Buhari should walk without security aides in Katsina, he would be abducted.

These are the issues that we should be able to sell to the populace to change their minds about this government. But if we are not united, we would not go anywhere.

In the course of the committee’s work, what are the issues you have discovered to be behind the crisis?

They are actually minor issues. The major thing in Oyo, even though I have not submitted my report, is the fact that some people felt they were not being carried along in governance.

In Ogun State, I think some people are against the leadership of Makinde in the zone, which cannot be divorced from the stance of Fayose. But, that would soon come to an end.

Are you optimistic that all the issues would be resolved?

By the grace of God, all the issues would be resolved and we would come back as the strong team that we were before we lost power at the national level.

What role is the zone playing in the run-up to the 2023 election?

I don’t know where the party wants to zone the presidency and I may not be fully aware of the parameters they want to use. However, I know that there are provisions for zoning in our constitution.

Why do you think President Buhari is not listening to people like you that served in the Army and held political offices on how to handle issues of security and governance?

Who is he listening to? Does he listen to his wife? If the wife is shouting and he is not listening to her, then who are we?

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Do you think Amotekun is the appropriate response to the security situation in the south-west?

If well organised and equipped, it is more than enough, and I don’t see any difficulty in nipping insecurity in the bud. When I was the Governor of Osun State, I could, from my car, monitor what was going on in all the 30 local governments in the state, because I shared communication networks with all the security agencies in Osun.

If a robbery was going on and I was informed that it was heading in a particular direction, I would call to inform those in that direction. That was why we had few cases of robbery then.

You would be 70 in some days. How do you feel?

It is by the grace of God that I am turning 70 and I am very grateful. My mother died in her forties, while my father passed on at 68. I really appreciate all what God has done in my life. I believe I would continue to enjoy God’s grace. My intention is to continue doing good things and the things God has sent me to do to help fellow human beings. I want to influence lives positively and make impact. As a golfer, I would like to continue playing golf. As a party lover, I would also continue attending parties if invited, and dance to the best of my ability. At 70, I don’t want people to see me as an old man with no zeal for social activities. I want to continue being a socialite.

What activities are you planning to celebrate the milestone?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the scope of the celebrations. There would be thanksgiving services at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos, on Wednesday, February 3, and another thanksgiving service at the Oba Oyinlola Memorial Anglican church, Okuku, Osun State, on Saturday, February 6. COVID-19 protocols would be strictly complied with at both churches. The reception earlier planned for the Harbour Point in Lagos and a day of culture and socials planned for Osun State have been suspended because of the pandemic. I should be seen complying fully with government regulations and helping our people to stay safe.

However, I thank my bosses, royal fathers, leaders, associates and well wishers who have sent goodwill messages. My sincere appreciation goes to General Yakubu Gowon, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), General David Mark (retd), the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, and many other obas in Yorubaland, as well as several of my colleagues in the military, governors, former governors, ministers and people from across all divides in Nigeria, who have sent very kind words. I feel humbled and energised to do more for humanity.

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