Tinubu is an unusual character, he’ll transform Nigeria – Ikuforiji

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In this interview, a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, says that President Bola Tinubu will ensure that his administration puts smiles on the faces of Nigerians. He believes that President Tinubu, under whom he served as a Speaker, when he was the governor of the state, will not disappoint Nigerians. Excerpts:

What was your initial reaction to the victory of Bola Tinubu at the presidential election?

As we do in Lagos, I congratulate you and I congratulate myself for the victory of our then-candidate, Bola Tinubu, in the February 25 presidential election. And let me put it this way. It is congratulations to Nigerians, the entire Federal Republic.

The honest truth is that when you look at the election with the benefit of hindsight, if you do a mental analysis of the election and the outcome of the election, to me, I think I rejoice with Nigerians.

God has given us a man; a man that is many miles from his contemporaries, a man with a new vision and an extremely ambitious person, who is endured with very big leadership knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

He is a leader that doesn’t need to attend any leadership class or go to any leadership programme. He is someone, who is born with certain attributes that are uncommon.

I told someone a few days ago that the more I know of this man and the clearer things become for me, the more scared I am of a time that will come. Like some other prophets of God before him; they do things that are unusual, they try to teach us things that are against our norms and ideas, and their ways are somehow different and generally antagonistic to the ways of elites in the society.

Then they do things that are out of the ordinary and at the end of the day and maybe before people even become used to who this person is, and then they will disappear.

But this one, our prayer and my own personal prayer is that God will give him long life, good health and energy to lead us to that point where our nation will be called a great member of the comity of nations and a strong member of the developed world and a leading new nation among African countries.

I think that in the next eight years by the grace of God, we will get to a point where the world will celebrate us and Nigerians will be happy and proud.

“He is someone who is born with certain attributes that are uncommon”

You are so confident that you worked very closely with him as governor. What are those things that you think make him so unique and made you so much believe in his ability?

I’m not someone who does praise-singing and if I didn’t go into praise singing of any person 10 years ago, it would be abnormal for me to now start singing at this level. Let me tell you something, some years back, precisely around 2001 to 2002, I decided I was coming back to Nigeria to participate in politics, to contribute my quota and I decided that I will resign my appointment and then come back home.

But the honest truth is that my decision was based on the little faith I saw in this man as the governor of Lagos. The first two years were a very rough period for Lagosians and there were stone-throwing and insults here and there, but this man when you listen to him, when he talks and read some of the interviews that he granted and read about some things that he did and said then, I could not but just make up my mind that this person is one person to work with.

I didn’t know him from Adam, but I left the comfort of the system over there and decided to throw myself into an unknown future because I saw that this is a leader, who really needs the support of a serious-minded person. I came out to contest, I didn’t meet him, I didn’t know anything about him, and in fact, the first time I ever mentioned it was when he had issues with members of the House of Assembly and we were invited to a dinner with him at the Governor’s Guesthouse. I sat with him and the discussion started and each member was talking and we pledged our loyalty to him.

Were you Speaker of the House of Assembly then?

No, I was just a member of the House and when it was my turn to speak, I got up and members said ‘lecturer we are not here for a lecture but say what you want to say.’ Tinubu said let him talk because my first two sentences touched him. I said ‘some of us left the things we were doing because we believe in you.

Personally, I was a lecturer in one of the best colleges in the United States and because I saw something unusual about you, and if you will continue in that line, I pledge my loyalty to you.’

So, that is the memory lane to let you know that some of us saw something unusual, something extraordinary and some- thing above the common standard of excellence about this human being.

I was discussing with a cousin of mine who is a great admirer of President Tinubu a few days ago and we both came to the same conclusion that this is an unusual phenomenon. And this type of character comes only once in a blue moon and his generation may be lucky to have two or three of his type. So, when you have one like him, please make the best use of him.

We worked together when I was the Speaker but the truth is that in his second term in office as governor of Lagos State, he was also the leader of the party and I happened to be the Speaker. I was the Speaker and he was the overall head of the party and the governor of the state but he was democratic enough to allow me to function as Speaker.

We were close and it wasn’t like the boss and the boys which was the norm in many places in the country even up till now. I mean, the House of Assembly is not what the House should actually be, but under Tinubu, Lagos State House of Assembly triumphed and we were well above others.

Even before I became Speaker, I told someone the other day that Tinubu signed the Autonomy Bill for the legislature back in the year 2000, under a year of his administration when the state government accounts were in complete red.

He signed it because he believed that it is the right thing to do and after that he invited Mr. Speaker to say ‘we have signed your bill and it has become law, but implementation is what we need to sit down and discuss.

We must agree because right now our state is in red and so let’s agree on this.’ That was Speaker Olorunnimbe Mamora then. That alone will tell you that this is not the usual governor you deal with every day.

Many people are concerned about his health. They feel that his health may not allow him to achieve some of his plans. Are you concerned about that?

Governance and administration are not about running from here to there. If you take some of these boys from Kenya and East Africa, who are very good at marathon, put them on the track and you now put Adeyemi Ikuforiji and you want to run from Ikeja to CMS, I can’t do it, but that doesn’t mean that those ones who do triple of that can be better than me as a legislator.

You know what God used us to do as the leader of the House. We should not exaggerate these things. How old is Joe Biden and is he not performing? Barack Obama was in his 40s when he became president and Biden is now 80. For God’s sake, yes you need good health to get the job done, but it is not like you need to be a boxer or a marathon runner before you can govern.

Did he need to run a mile before the popular Eagle Square pronouncement that ‘Subsidy is Gone’? If you like, you may be able to shout more than KWAM One or Davido. That is your own calling but he left the speech he was reading and just looked up like he was talking to someone and said: ‘Subsidy is Gone’ and I told the person beside me that we have started.

That is the political will and the ability to get things done, and he is moving. People just have something in their head that they don’t want to do away with but what you are seeing is the real work. In one month, look at the strides and it is out of those strides that a better standard of living for the ordinary man will come from.

It is out of those pronouncements and steps that required courage and strong will that the comfort of the poor masses of this nation will come and I can assure you that in the next four years, the next eight years, the world is going to see what his administration will achieve.

You said he started well, but many Nigerians are concerned because a day before he became President, petrol price was N187 and a day after he became President petrol price became N500. The ordinary man is affected by this policy and the cost of living has jumped up. How do you feel about all of these, do you think that the government should have done something first to cushion the effect of what it wanted to do or do you think what it did was the right thing?

I think President Tinubu has done what has to be done and he has done it at the right time. There is no better time than now. The fact is that there will be rough times with a lot of pain and discomfort but we will outlive some of those things and the comfort will come to us. The pain will disappear and we will all be better off for it. I know what it is and I know how much I use to fuel my tank with and I know what it is right now but we are going to harvest bountifully very soon by the grace of God.

Looking at the previous administration, what are the areas you think President Tinubu should urgently tackle?

Honestly, I know him and I know that one beautiful thing about him is that he is a man of the people.

Don’t trouble yourself with all the negative reports from naysayers. Tinubu, from the beginning, is a man of the people and one of the things that distinguishes him from others is his love for the people.

If you had gone with us to the Central Mosque in Lagos when he went to pray and to see Lagosians from all walks of life, particularly the downtrodden, you would have seen reactions. The presidency of Nigeria is a big deal but you cannot stop Tinubu, I’m sure his security details now know that they have a different man in government.

As far as he is concerned, his own joy is not just having the billionaires pay homage or coming to have discussions with him, he wants to hear the voice of the ordinary man. Those are the things that make him a happy man and I know him enough to know that even when he travels to rest, he always calls people to know what they are doing. It is something that gives him joy.

We were at the airport to welcome him and after the guards of honour, the security guys wanted to direct him to his car but he moved the other way going straight to the fence because he knew people had been waiting and all of them were so happy. That is an unusual leader. He could have just entered as his security was directing him, but he will not do it. He went to greet the people and that is what Tinubu is.

So, when it comes to what is to be done, I can advise him on one or two things, but he knows what to do. What the people are saying out there; don’t take them seriously because Tinubu is a man whose ears are right on the ground more than most of us that are his followers. He knows what is going on and you would be shocked to hear how much information he has gathered within this one month.

Of course, we all know our economic situation but he is already addressing them. Even with the security situation, he has already given orders to the men in charge of security and you can be rest assured that in the coming weeks, our lives will return to normal.

We will have security in place, the economy will start picking up, our resources would be better utilized, our children will have gainful employment, leaders would be leaders and all the things the president should do will be done.

As optimistic as you sound, we can also not run away from the fact that the presidential election is still being challenged in court. Are you confident that he will overcome in court?

I am 110 percent confident that there is no case to answer. Those who went to court, I still congratulate them for going to court because since 1979, we had this culture of election and then court. So, they are only following the footsteps of those before them and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m a politician and you know that I participated in this election and I know what happened here and there.

Again, I’m a lawyer, I have looked at these things and some of them are just laughable and there is nothing in them. I have been to court to listen to the Labour Party people and even the People’s Democratic Party people and there is nothing to worry about because they don’t have anything tangible. Don’t you consider this last election an unusual one?

An election where Tinubu lost in Lagos to Peter Obi, an election that President Muhammadu Buhari lost his state to the opposition, an election that somebody like Nasir el-Rufai lost Kaduna to the opposition and an election, where Peter Obi that we saw his campaign in Anambra State and the number of people that were there, scoring as high as ninety- something per cent of the votes cast in all the southeastern states.

Let us leave this thing because there is nothing in it. Most of the witnesses they called had nothing to present. So, forget it, there is nothing to worry about.

The next stage of this government is the appointment of ministers and some people are saying that when he sends the ministerial list to the National Assembly, it should be accompanied by portfolios. Do you think it is the right thing to do?

Well, there is nothing so proper about it and there is nothing improper about it, but the president or the governor at the state level has the right to choose those they want to work with. And if you insist on them assigning a portfolio, will you rewrite the constitution and the conditions? If you put this person in Education, you have the right to remove him or reassign him to the Works Ministry.

A cabinet member is a cabinet member and whatever it pleases the head of the administration to assign to you, so be it. I can decide to call you the Minister of Education and I can go ahead and assign to you secondary and primary education and I may decide to place my special adviser on Education in a higher position. That is not the business of the legislature.

“Tinubu is a man whose ears are right on the ground more than most of us that are his followers”

When the current Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly was talking during the inauguration of the Assembly, he said that they are planning a law to protect Lagosians from outsiders coming to invest and buy houses to the disadvantage of Lagosians. Do you think such a law is proper and by the way who really are Lagosians?

Were you at the Assembly when Mudashiru Obasa spoke? I was there and I think the situation is being exaggerated. I’m not his spokesperson but I know that it may be a good idea for people to actually talk to him for clarification. I cannot analyze his words from him better than from himself. Yes, he made a statement but what he had in mind, I think is not exactly what I saw people writing about.

We should learn to trust ourselves to build a strong nation. The fact that something is happening here and there, and that people are not happy with the outcome of the election and so on is not enough for us to turn things on their head.

The man who spoke and members of his House are from different parts of the country and you know very well also that Lagos has been home to so many Nigerians from different parts of the country. Don’t let us heat up the polity unnecessarily; there is no need for it.

On your second question, that is a tough one but let us go down memory lane. Lagos existed before Nigeria and I think it would be unfair and unkind for some Nigerians to claim that there are no Lagosians. The generosity and friendliness of indigenous Lagosians should not be taken for foolishness. The Portuguese came here and met some people here.

The British came and fought against some indigenous people of this land and the people withstood them. To now say that there are no indigenous Lagosians is ungodly, to say the least.

Even in cities that are far older than Lagos across the globe, they know the indigenous people. So, how fair is it for anyone to open his or her mouth to say there are no indigenous Lagosians? And most of those who are saying this, when it is Christmas, they know how to carry their bags and baggage to go to their own villages but the indigenous Lagosians don’t have villages to go to and they are still in Lagos.

Would you say that politics has been fair to indigenous Lagosians?

Lagosians are people who are very generous and the truth of the matter is that indigenous Lagosians today also have roots in some other parts of the country. We are talking of people who have settled here even before 1900 and if you go to the indigenous families, we can trace roots to Nupe in Niger State. We have those from Benin and many of the Yoruba states. Yet we have those who were even here before all these ones.

It will be abnormal for somebody to come here, settle in a place and live, work and die there and his children who were born there do not know any other place order than that place as well as their grandchildren, after 100 or 150 years. For God’s sake, can anybody still claim that those people don’t belong to the people? But we know those of our kinsmen and brothers who are unfair, and in whose land, foreigners are not tolerated.

They are the ones who make the biggest mouth about Lagos being no man’s land. It is unfair and it is not done. I know someone who contested in the last election, claiming to be a Lagosian but cannot even speak Yoruba and is still strong enough to even make pronouncements against the people of the land that he says he is from. We know their roots.