In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Tokunbo Abiru, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the by-election for the Lagos East senatorial zone, speaks about his past, internal democracy in his party and his decision to throw his hat into the ring.
PREMIUM TIMES: What necessitated your decision to run for this post?
Abiru: Well, let me first start by saying that I have had a work-life of over 32 years of which 29 years have been strictly in the private sector and I know that it is time that I retire, having done my bit in the sector. I mean, with all modesty, I have done my own bit in the private sector which I have done creditably well.
I also believe that in preparing myself for the private sector; work life, I benefitted largely from Lagos State. I went to a public-private school, Ereko Methodist Elementary school at 35 Bently street, Moloney. Thereafter, I went to Government College which was also a model school in 1975 and thereafter, I went to Lagos State University.
If you look at that background, one, you would see that it is a background of a proper Lagos boy and someone who has also benefitted from Lagos State. For me, as I’m retiring, as I am leaving the private sector after 30 years, I believe very strongly that coming to the public space to give back to the society is a rightly placed position for me. That is one of the strong reasons I’m coming into the political space.
PT: Did you resign your position as the former MD of a bank to run this race. Or you were retired?
Abiru: Just to put it in the right context, again, I’ll take you back. I have spent 29 years of my work life in banking, and the 29 years from all sense of modesty have been very fruitful. I have risen to the peak of my career. I have had the privilege of working in the best tradition of banking practice that you can think of in Nigeria. I was part of the second league of the employed staff of Guarantee Trust Bank when it started in 1990, I joined them in 1991, spent about 10 years there and you know the brand that GTB represents now in the banking industry.
I also had the privilege of working with the oldest financial institution in Nigeria which is the First Bank. I spent 15 years there. Having done that, I’ve also had the opportunity to be appointed to manage the turnaround of a dying bank, the Skye Bank and Polaris Bank. Now, if you look at that kind of career, wealth of experience and I have delivered, even the mandate given to handle the Polaris job was to stabilise the bank and that mandate has been delivered. By December 31st last year, we had delivered the mandate. Having done that, I was convinced in my mind that I have attained the height of my profession. One, I have also been able to turn around an almost dead bank.
Now, added to that fact is that, technically, my contract as the managing director of Polaris ended on the 4th of July, 2020 and as that time was approaching, I had told the regulators that I was going to retire. It was time for me to leave the stage and let others carry along. So, I actually retired, I chose to retire on my own.
PT: Given the way events unfolded in the past few months, especially with the sudden death of the former senator, Bayo Osinowo, would you say you are well prepared for this race and post?
Abiru: Well, I can tell you that I’m well-grounded for a responsibility of this nature. Again, I will take you back to my pedigree, I trained as an economist, I’m a chartered accountant, I have worked as a banker, I have also had the opportunity to work as the Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State under Babatunde Raji Fashola. I have worked at the highest level of decision making in banking. For First Bank, I was an Executive director, I was a managing director and I have turned around a bank that was dying. If you look at the combination of all that experience, you will know that I am adequately prepared for a responsibility like this.
Now, let me take you a step further, in the quest, run up or leadership of Skye Bank that I headed, let me let you know that the platform also enabled me to save people’s jobs. Skye Bank as it were when we took over in 2016 had close to 10,000 workers. If a bank like that had gone under, the livelihood of 10,000 workers and their dependents are gone.
Equally, it is a bank that has over four million customers, with deposit size of over one trillion, you can imagine the kind of calamity that would have happened if we should allow that kind of bank to go under. So, if we put together all that experience and energy and the commitment to have done that kind of assignment, it will tell you clearly that I’m well prepared for any leadership assignment that you can think of.
PT: When you were being unveiled as the APC candidate last month, one of your promises was the development of the Ibeju-Lekki as a tourist centre, how do you hope to achieve that?
Abiru: Well, I think I must make it clear, my role will be as a legislator or, if elected, as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the grace of God. We’ll come more from influencing because we will be dealing with legislation and all of that. Now, what you see around the belt of Ibeju-Lekki is an opportunity and lots of tourism and hospitality potentials.
Part of what I will be doing and facilitating in as much as I’m not an executive is to continue to support policies both at the national and state level that will continue to promote the resource base of the Ibeju-Lekki corridor in terms of tourism and hospitality. If you look at the corridor again, such positions are further strengthened by the fact that you have lots of youth around that corridor and the best way to put them into use is to make sure their energies are channelled towards that kind of national development.
PT: Would you say you have identified the specific tourism and hospitality potentials?
Abiru: That can’t be a job for me for now. What I have said is a policy that will support or facilitate it, the execution will continue to remain that of the executive government of the state or the federal government, but as a legislator, by the grace of God, we will support initiatives that will promote such potentials.
PT: Talking about the party, there have been claims that APC in Lagos lacks internal democracy. Having emerged as the candidate for the party, how would you rate the internal democracy?
Abiru: Let me let you know that I come from a background of the progressives. When I say progressive, my late dad was a senator between 1979 and 1983 representing UPN which was a progressive party. All my life too, I have voted and I have always pursued progressive courses. Now, what I see in APC Lagos is that it is very strongly a progressive party and the internal democracy there will reflect a progressive course.
Now, speaking directly to my emergence, this is what you are talking about right? As it relates to internal democracy. Let me let it be clear that indeed when I was coming into this race, we had a lot of other aspirants, about 15 of them. Now, there was a consensus built around me by the entire 15. Which was also presented at the highest governing body in the state, that’s the Governor’s Advisory Council which has about 22 members representing the entire Lagos State.
Thereafter, I also met the executive leadership of the party in Lagos after which we went for a primary election wherein the consensus candidature of myself was ratified. This exercise was across Lagos where over 111,000 members of the party ratified my position and I don’t think there is any internal democracy that can be better than that. So, I believe very strongly that there is internal democracy which is very progressive in APC.
PT: So, being a consensus candidate, don’t you think other aspirants were supposed to be given the chance to test maybe their popularity or perhaps how well they are grounded to run the race?
Abiru: See, when you build a consensus, there is a collective agreement between all of you. The consensus was not the only thing, I even had a parley one on one with almost all the aspirants that were involved. For example, the chairman of the campaign for this election, Chief Olusanya, was also an aspirant. For him to be the chairman shows his ratification of this election. The vice-chairman is Chief Bode Oyedele, he was also a candidate. That will also address the strong democracy and progressive nature of the APC in Lagos.
PT: At the federal level, seeing the way things have been unfolding in the country, pertaining to the development of the country and role of your party, how would you rate the performance? Would you say APC had performed well in ruling the country?
Abiru: My honest opinion is that APC has done fairly well, and don’t forget that the party came into power when the global economy was in total disarray. You know there was a fall in oil prices between 2015 to 2016. And now, we have the challenge of the pandemic, even in all of this, I think the government has risen within the confines of the limits of the resources that are available. I think they have actually risen up to the challenge of running the country.
PT: Would you say they should have done better despite the pandemic, economic downturn and others?
Abiru: What I’m saying is that you put in your best and there will always be room to do better than your best. I want to believe they are putting in their best and there is room for improvement. Improvement will always emerge just like the way we didn’t envisage the pandemic, nobody saw it coming, in spite of all the plans and permutations we have around, I mean, economic recovery plan.
PT: As an aspiring legislator, what are some of the legislations you intend to push if elected?
Abiru: Well, by the grace of the almighty God, if elected as a senator, number one, I’ll be guided by several principles, once of which is that on my own, I will ensure I bring all the competencies and the skills I have acquired over the years to make sure that I give quality representation.
Number two, I will also be very loyal to the party and make sure that my ideas are aligned properly to that of the party.
In terms of legislation, my focus would be primarily my constituency, Lagos State, and Nigeria as a whole. But speaking specifically, I’m working in tandem with the party’s focus as well. Part of what I’ll continue to join hands with will be issues around special status for Lagos State.
What I mean is that borne out of the fact that Lagos was the federal capital for Nigeria and being the former capital, a lot of infrastructures, assets have been established in Lagos which have brought about a lot of pull factor, that is, urban migration to Lagos. That’s why if you look at Lagos today, it is one of the most populous states. Now, that is taking a serious stretch on the infrastructure that the federal government has left behind.
Now, the special status is the need to alert the federal government to continue to support the maintenance and enhancement of the infrastructure order to support the growing needs of the state. It is an agenda of the party, even my predecessors, even my current colleagues in the Senate today are still following on that agenda. I will be supporting that clearly.
I will also be focused on the welfare of my constituency. I have moved around, I have visited almost all the local governments in my constituency. I have seen the high rate of unemployment, I have seen the poverty level, so, anything to support the upliftment of the people out of poverty, particularly the SDG goals, I will support.
I will support legislation that will create employment for the youth, that will also lift people out of poverty, cater for women, gender equality, health and anything that will be pro-poor, I will make sure that those that are kind of legislation I’ll focus on and support.
PT: If elected, how do you intend to benefit your Senatorial District?
Abiru: To be specific, part of what I also intend to do personally – and these are things I have done as a private citizen – is actually to come up with a poverty alleviation programme and job empowerment programme that will support the youth and the poor. What I mean is that I’ll set up a foundation using my experience, the contact and the goodwill that I have garnered over the last 32 years thereabouts to support poverty alleviation, the youth, women and aged in terms of sustainable development agendas.
During the pandemic, for instance, as a private citizen, myself and my children fed over 10,000 families through packages, now coming into public space. I don’t even have a choice than to focus on what will impact but I need it more on a sustainable basis. My real take is to set up a foundation that will focus more on that.