In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, a leader of the All Progressives Congress and a Commissioner for Education during the Lateef Jakande administration, Chief Olorunfunmi Basorun, speaks on Lagos politics and other national issues
The PDP has been losing elections in Lagos since 1999. As one who has been in the two major parties, what do you think is responsible for this?
It is because Lagos people, since the 1950s, know where to go on election day. Even if they like you but have found fault in you, they will vote against you. As loved as Obafemi Awolowo was, there was a time they voted against his party in Lagos because of some certain issues. So, Lagos is showing that it is made up of enlightened people. Even the illiterates are politically aware. The majority of Lagosians cannot be deceived. In 1983, Shagari’s party, National Party of Nigeria, pushed out Bola Ige in Oyo and then Ambrosse Ali was also pushed out by similar impunity in the old Bendel State but Lagos refused and rather, Alhaji Lateef Jakande scored 90 per cent of votes. So, Lagosians can always be trusted with votes. After Lateef Jakande, the current governor, Babatunde Fashola, is the second best and he is doing extremely well. During the 2011 election, he scored 1.5 million votes, nobody even got 500,000 votes.
Are you saying Fashola has continued with Jakande’s legacy?
Of course, I will say so except with some differences but remember that Jakande left government 31 years ago and a number of things have happened which have changed the face of development and emphasis shifting and the individual is doing a lot to follow Jakande’s footsteps and Jakande was always thinking of the best for the masses and that is what Fashola is doing.
Under Jakande, you were Commissioner for Education and that same administration established the Lagos State University and did a lot for education.
I was not the commissioner all through the administration. When we came in, we met three shifts in schools. By three shifts, I mean students were attending class in turns. For instance, Methodist Primary School here, some students would come in the morning while some would come in the afternoon, some would come towards in the evening, making three shifts in all and it was all over the state because there were no classrooms to accommodate them. So, our government introduced what we called functional classrooms which some regarded as poultry sheds. Many of the pupils that attended the schools then are graduates today.
Why were these ‘poultry sheds’ built instead of proper classrooms?
You see, to build an ordinary house, no matter how small it is, even if you have all the money, it will take at least six weeks because you will have to construct the foundation and other parts of the building but we made just walls and then the roof and we made thousands of classrooms and we were able to solve the problem. When I took over, we were to start changing the face of those schools and I had given contract out for 1,000 classrooms before General Buhari overthrew the government.
Still on education, the government you served established the Lagos State University. Do you think the Fashola administration has preserved this legacy having increased the school fees?
You see, tuition is a controversial matter. It is economic, political and social. People have to look at it from two angles. You go to a university where there are no facilities and get very poor education; or you go to where there are good facilities and you get good education. Many people have complained that the fees are high and there has been pressure here and there but being a listening governor, he has set up a committee and he has brought the fees down and he gives indigenes of the state scholarships. It is just like private universities that charge three times more than LASU. I have a grandson that attends a private university and they pay about N450, 000 while some pay in dollars. But if we believe that we are progressives, we should encourage education and at the university level, what the governor has done should be appreciated because our resources are dwindling everyday but for the excellent efforts made in garnering revenue in Lagos, we would have had problems because what is coming from the Federal Government is not enough, the whole money is being held by President Jonathan to fight us. Right now the government is generating about N20bn every month which is unprecedented because some states are still celebrating between N2 and N3bn annual IGR when we are on N20bn. And see Lagos, 65 per cent of the students attending our schools are not from here. Lagos is United Nation of Nigeria. Everybody comes here, when you are in Maiduguri, they come to Lagos, when they come here they see that things are rosy and they don’t want to go back and we want to make sure we provide for everybody. From the same source, we provide social services, health services and roads.
The APC is having some infighting over allegations of imposition by Bola Tinubu and there have even been protests.
The sad part of it is that if there was imposition, those who are involved in protests benefitted immensely from imposition. To me, I don’t know what they are protesting about because we have not held any election in recent time, the only thing that we held was the congress and I was very much involved. Before we embarked on the primaries, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is a leader of the party, called a meeting and he said everybody must participate in the congress but we even went further to say where people have agreed at home that X, Y, Z shall hold this position in Ward A, we should be cautious because our opponents could even infiltrate the party. When we did registration, some wards had over 5, 000 people. My ward here in Ikorodu had over 3, 000 people. To put 3, 000 people in the field and start electing just 26 people would increase cost and those who are not our members would infiltrate. So, we put such an argument forward but Tinubu said even if we have reached a consensus, people must go to the field and members must queue behind their preferred candidate and that was what we did. We did it here in my local government, all the leaders agreed and we called all the ward leaders and they came here, we told them and they approved and the following day, they were all in the wards to vote. I was in my ward and we voted for whoever we wanted to be our chairman and we are all working together. So, there is no imposition and when it came to state congress, we did the same thing, we met and said whoever you people think is right must appear and delegates would vote. So, I don’t know why people should be talking about imposition.
Being the founding chairman of the PDP in Lagos in 1999, you must have been among those who secured Lagos votes for President Olusegun Obasanjo. Do you think he performed well?
Obasanjo was not initially our choice because we did not want an ex-soldier but we Yorubas had to pick a candidate. He tried to the best of his ability but he bungled like most African leaders including Jonathan. He wanted to perpetuate himself. He did not do many things he should have done. The first thing he did, which is why we have not had a coup till now is that he retired all political office holders in the army that had served as administrators. That was a very good thing but the conference he convened did a lot of work, some of the decisions of the conference which is similar to some of the ones being taken now, were just thrown somewhere and he was heading for perpetuation like Abacha and now Jonathan wants to do the same but he will fail.
How do you score Jonathan’s government?
Jonathan is not in charge, he says he has a transformation agenda but he is only transforming Nigeria into poverty. His government is using impunity. The Boko Haram is just one. Start with the way he is using the police and the army. He used them during election in Ekiti but even before then he used them to intimidate us here in Lagos during the fuel subsidy protest. He used them against the Rivers State Governor. He used them to block the governor from going to his house and yet he is saying there should not be state police? There must be state police. It will take me a whole day to talk on Jonathan’s government but since Yar’adua got sick, the period of his sickness and when Jonathan was confirmed by a doctrine of necessity, Jonathan has gone down. Imagine only the Ministry of Aviation is having a debt of N153bn? A single ministry! And Jonathan does not have the will to return normalcy because his major aim is to remain in power.
Was Obasanjo better?
Yes, he was. He had focus on some issues but Jonathan has no focus. For instance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission functioned better under Obasanjo. Imagine Fayose, who is still being investigated by the EFCC, running for governor? And he was sponsored by the President’s party. Why should Fayose’s case drag for so long? And there are many other cases.