In this interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, speaks about his reconciliation with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his rumoured defection to the All Progressives Congress
There are claims that you have defected to the All Progressives Congress. Is this true?
In this instance, whatever step I am taking or will take later is about public interest. It is about the overall interest of the community that I represent, and my supporters who see me as their true representative. Politics is not static; it is very dynamic and when certain interest, especially the one that borders on public interest is challenged, a politician that is worth his onions must react immediately.
You have not answered the question. Is it true that you are now a member of the APC?
Let me categorically tell you that the report that I have defected to the APC is a rumour and it is still a rumour. If a personality like me will leave the Peoples Democratic Party to join another party, it will be done in a grand way. I would call a press conference and tell the whole world that I am moving (to another party). I will also explain the reasons for my defection. It will not be like the judgment given to the ABN (Association for Better Nigeria) which was delivered at night (9pm). If I want to defect, it will be done publicly with fanfare. I have no reason to make it a secret. Nigerians, especially the media, should just wait and relax for the appropriate time for me to declare my next political move.
Are you still in PDP?
As someone who has always been proactive, it behoves on me to start assessing the situation with a view to making a justifiable political decision that would be in my interest and in the interest of those who are looking up to me for the right direction to follow. The essence of all these is service to people. A situation whereby a group of people, who are not prepared for governance or ready to offer anything to the society are controlling a big party like the PDP, one should review his participation in such a party. I can tell you without mincing words that I am at that stage now. I am reviewing and assessing the options before me.
One thing that is certain is that if Sheriff wins at the Supreme Court, you will not find people like me in the party again. That is certain. Let us not also forget that all politics is local. Without mincing words, anybody can accuse me of anything.I am pleased with what Governor Akinwumi Ambode is doing in Lagos. If at the end of the day, I have to choose between a progressive like him or continue with a PDP being controlled by Sheriff, I would rather opt for the former.
What led to your reconciliation with Tinubu?
My reconciliation with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu did not just happen overnight. I want to thank the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, and my personal friend, Kashim Imam, for the reconciliation. The reconciliation was not meant to serve political interest but rather a personal and Lagos interest. Asiwaju and I belong to one family. If something untoward happens to a member of the family, we must see it as something that has happened to all of us. My relationship with Asiwaju prior to my defection to the Peoples Democratic Party, many years ago, was very cordial. I have also been close to kabiyesi (Oba Akiolu) to the extent that he got me enrolled in the Nigeria Police Force, when he was still an officer. I didn’t take the offer because as a young man then, I didn’t like the setup in the police. That was why I ran away. But I had already been enlisted as a cadet of the Nigeria Police Force from Lagos State. Oba Akiolu was shocked when he learnt that I didn’t take the offer. At a point, he started looking for me. He was really upset when he was told that I had returned to the United States. He wondered why I “wasted” the slot of Lagos State just like that. I share this incident to show you the extent of my closeness to kabiyesi. The issue did not, however, affect our relationship even up till today. So, he ensured the successful reconciliation. As a Yoruba man, I believe that when an elder intervenes on your behalf with another elder, that should be the end of the issue. Whatever comes out of the reconciliation is final.
Did you witness any form of attack from your colleagues and associates or did you carry them along in the reconciliation process?
I was happy that the reconciliation was done successfully. As I have said earlier, a very good friend of mine was also involved in the process. What has happened to me as regards my relationship with Asiwaju Tinubu should serve as a good lesson to the younger generation. Whenever you play your politics, always have it at the back of your mind that when you have disagreements, politically with someone, leave personal relationship out of it. Don’t allow your disagreement to affect the personal relationship you have with that person.
I was never comfortable all along that I lost personal relationship with Asiwaju Tinubu. We can always mend fences after political disagreements easily but it is the personal relationship that is crucial. There is also another person that I have been looking for a way to reconcile with. Don’t ask me for his name because I won’t tell you. We were extremely close before political difference tore our relationship apart. It is highly unfortunate that both of us allowed our disagreement politically to affect that relationship as friends. I will do everything possible to ensure that I reconcile with him too because he is also important to me.
Is it you or the Oba of Lagos that initiated the move to reconcile with Asiwaju Tinubu?
I don’t think that is of any importance. What is important is that Asiwaju and I have forgotten about the past and have reconciled. He is my leader, my elder brother and I respect him a lot.
You say you have not defected from the PDP. What role are you playing in the party right now?
The situation that the PDP found itself today is not good for democracy in Nigeria. It is not the PDP that will lose at the end of the day, it is the country. There must be options in any viable democracy. The fact that some political actors, for their selfish interest, decided to collapse the party either by omission or commission, has succeeded in reducing the fortunes of the party to the state it is now. Most of the major current players within the party at both sides will not want to admit that they contributed to the PDP crisis; rather they will want to point accusing fingers at one another. For instance, I was out of the country when the idea of bringing (Ali Modu) Sheriff on board was mooted. I want to commend my colleagues, the former ministers in the ex-president Goodluck Jonathan government who vehemently opposed the idea openly and secretly. I didn’t speak publicly against it but I worked against it behind the scene. I was constantly in touch with those who were going to confirm his nomination. I told them that allowing him to be at the helm of affairs of the party will not serve the interest of the PDP. Unfortunately today, we are facing crisis in the party because of some people’s recklessness and selfishness. In any case, the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment will go a long way to determine what will be the fate of the PDP in Nigeria. With the crisis, the party has been weakened and that is why we lost the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states last year. To worsen the situation, the recklessness is still manifesting.
Do you think the people you left many years ago would trust you to the extent of embracing you back to their fold?
I have always been faithful to whoever I worked with. I don’t know how to play hide-and-seek. If I am with you, I remain with you. I have never had divided loyalty. Talking about trust, even the people you are talking about know me very well. They know that my yes is yes and my no is no. Since I am not joining a secret cult but to join hands with people who we will both work together in the interest of the people, the issue you raised does not arise at all. As a progressive, I am not averse to progressive thinking.
Are you planning to join the progressives so that you can contest the APC election in 2019?
I have said it earlier that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is really working hard and that his performance is impressive. We have to do everything possible to support him so that he can continue the good work.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode making allusion to your reconciliation with Asiwaju, expressed concerns with the move. What is your reaction to this?
What I will say without any hesitation is that my good friend, Femi Fani-Kayode, is entitled to his own opinion and as a brother. I will not join issues with him on the pages of newspapers.
Don’t you think that the nation’s democracy is being threatened if everybody who is aggrieved with Sheriff leaves the PDP?
Can we really say that we have a democracy when the constitution we are still using was written by the military? Look at a situation where Kano State has 57 local government areas while Lagos with a higher population has 20 local government areas. There is no fairness and equity in such a constitution.
Do you think the anti-corruption war under President Buhari is on the right course?
I don’t think that you want me to answer that question. Honestly I don’t think so.
The PDP has been accusing the APC-led government of selective prosecution of the opposition in its anti-graft war, is this also your personal opinion?
I will speak on that issue at the appropriate time.
What type of reconciliation took place between you and the anti-graft agency before the money was reduced to N584m from the N4.7bn you allegedly collected from the office of the National Security Adviser?
To be honest with you, this is an issue that I will rather put behind me. I don’t want to talk about it.
Has your issue with the EFCC been finally resolved?
It is only the EFCC that can answer that question.
Did you use the Army to rig the Ekiti election as alleged in the audio tape leaked by an army captain?
I have said everything that needed to be said about the Ekiti tape issue. I did not participate in any rigging in that state. For the umpteenth time, let me say that there was no rigging in Ekiti. The former governor (Kayode Fayemi) lost the election because he was not popular. The matter is not as big as people are making it to look. It is a very simple matter. Anyone who witnessed the election knew the direction it would go. It was very obvious.
Is the Ekiti leaked tape where you allegedly gave instructions to the army captain, real or fabricated?
There is nowhere in that tape where I said that they should go and rig the election. Go and listen to that tape all over again. Those who are making comments should listen to the tape before talking. What I said in that tape was that the election must be seen to be free and fair. I also asked the man to go and do a good job. Don’t forget that (Governor Ayodele) Fayose was shouting that the military had compromised and that they were going to rig him out.
The Oba of Lagos was quoted to have said that Lagos is not part of Yorubaland. As an indigene of Lagos, do you agree with him?
I don’t believe that kabiyesi said that. He couldn’t have said something like that. I know kabiyesi very well. He is a good student of history. He is particularly vast in the history of Lagos. So, he couldn’t have categorically said that. Maybe he was making a reference to the obaship in Lagos. If that is the case, then he is very correct because the history of obaship in Lagos can be traced to Benin kingdom; nobody can dispute that. But aside from the oba, there are other settlements in Lagos which have nothing to do with Benin. The original owners of Lagos are the Aworis and there is no dispute about that. I think kabiyesi might have been quoted out of context. For instance, I am an Awori man, though I have the Benin blood in me because I am also related to the Eletu Odibo, the Prime Minister to the oba, who is also from Benin.
As a prominent indigene of Lagos and one who is very close to the Oba of Lagos, how do you think that the face-off between him and the Ooni of Ife can be resolved?
I don’t think there is any issue between the two monarchs again. It has been resolved and it is not as serious as people are talking about it.