At 42, Tokunbo Wahab, is the youngest gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the run up to the 2015 general elections.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the lawyer and activist talks about his chances of picking the party’s ticket and the issue of consensus candidate ahead of the party’s December primaries.
PT: How has your campaign experience been so far?
Wahab: It’s been very exciting, very rigorous. But it has also given me the opportunity to traverse the nooks and crannies of the state, interfacing with the Lagos citizens, the rich, the poor, the well-to-do, and the not-so-well-to-do. People from all walks of life. And it’s given me hope that this project is God’s project and we are on the right track.
PT: You are the youngest of the aspirants in the APC as well as one of the least known. How do you fancy your chances against such people as Leke Pitan, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, Femi Hamzat, and the rest?
Wahab: Now, you’ve asked two questions. Age, yes, I’m the youngest on my party’s platform. At 42, the closest to me of all the other aspirants is a 50 year old, my friend and my egbon, Dr. Femi Hamzat. For me, we’ll be bringing the freshness of ideas, the vitality of the youth, a clear vision. We’ll be bringing on board the three CD’s – the capacity to run Lagos, the competence to run Lagos, and the character to run Lagos. Lagos of the 21st century is not a Lagos of old. This Lagos of the 21st century, a mega city, requires these elements and that’s what we are putting on the table.
What are my chances? That’s a very interesting question. The demography of Lagos today shows that people of my generation, 45 and below, form 70 percent of the population. That means we have the numbers. So what we are doing is we are galvanising the numbers and the base. And if you have observed, our coming out in the past few weeks was intentional. Because as a lawyer, I believe in the rule of law. INEC opened up the political process formally some weeks back and that was when we moved into the political space. Before then we’d been making consultations with citizens across the state. It was upon lifting of the ban on campaigning that the first set of posters were pasted, ‘Think Lagos for a tomorrow that works’ which was a teaser. It was a week later that we now launched our real posters. I don’t think there is any favourite in the race today. Lagosians are wiser, Lagosians are taking their time to ask questions, Lagosians are looking for a credible candidate that will continue and consolidate on the gains of the past few years. And that is what we are offering Lagosians.
PT: Can you expatiate more about these things you will be offering Lagosians if, perchance, you become governor tomorrow?
Wahab: The theme of our campaign is Continuity and Consolidation, by way of progressive governance. From 1999, our precursor party, Alliance for Democracy, which I was a member, to Action Congress, to Action Congress of Nigeria, to APC now, we’ve built a momentum. The national leader, former governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, built the foundation. The incumbent has been able to actualise and build on that foundation. So we are going to continue where he’s going to stop. Take for instance, on deepening infrastructure, we know for a fact that but for the military intervention in 1983, Lagos would have had a metro line 31 years ago. Now what we were not able to do 31 years ago is now being actualised by way of the blue line, fast rail running from Outer Marina through Iddo down to Okoko. That is opening up the west of Lagos with that blue line. What the blue line will achieve in form of multiplier effect is that you can now be able to implement your low cost mass housing on that corridor, because the cost of land on the west corridor of Lagos is not the same cost of land in central Lagos. Also, the economy in Badagry will naturally pick up because there is an infrastructure to carry it. That is the rail. People can live in Badagry and commute and work in Lagos every day. People stay outside London for instance, in Kent, in Oxford, in Manchester, and they come to work in London on a daily basis by way of rail. By road it takes you three-four hours. So these are the multiplier effects.
Now we go to the east corridor also, we continue the development. We have to ensure that we prepare the ground for the development that will come to the east. As we speak, there is a Lekki Free Trade Zone. As we speak, there is a refinery that will commence operation in the next few years. As we speak, do we have the infrastructure to carry that refinery? Now there is a design for an airport at that same corridor, a deep sea port. These are infrastructures that we must put in place if we don’t want Lekki-Akodo corridor to be worse than Oshodi in the next five years. That is continuity and consolidation.
Now I spoke about multiplier effect. If you put these infrastructure in place, decongesting Lagos central business districts, what you would achieve is that you can now start using those platforms of infrastructure to access mass housing, low cost housing, and then address the five million housing shortfall in Lagos. It’s not rocket science, it’s simple logic.
Also, in the course of our electioneering campaign, we set up our website. And our people had been asked to advise and give their opinions on what should be our scale of preference. And it’s been infrastructure, low cost housing, employment, education, healthcare.
What’s our plan for education? We have to also continue to invest in our primary and secondary schools, we have so many of them cut across the state. In Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s first tenure, we tried our hands in feeding for primary school pupils. Maybe we have to look at that again. Because it encourages children to come to school. By the way, the same thing was replicated in Osun by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and it has worked very well. If we have to find a way of tweaking it to see how we can attract our young boys and girls off the streets back to the classrooms. And then we deepen our investment in vocational education so that we shall not continue to call foreigners to come and do some of these menial jobs like tiling, plumbing, roofing in our construction sites.
We also know for a fact that the incumbent governor has invested heavily in agriculture, the agric youth empowerment scheme, Agric YES at Araga is a huge success. That scheme, we must see how we can replicate it beyond Araga. Now what does that scheme represent? It calls in the youth, Lagosians, to come and be part of the agricultural revolution in Lagos. When you go through the regular training, they will now set you up by way of setting up a cooperative, give you the forms to set up your own agric settlement, they give you the land. By so doing, we are getting ourselves involved in food security for Lagosians. We shall continue on this path. I’ve also said it severally that we have so much investment in security, but we can’t still rest on our oars, we shall deepen the purse, we shall make it continuously attractive to the private sector to invest in Lagos Security Trust Fund because the main reason you have government is for the security of lives and property.
Then we come to the issue of creating employments. If we are able to open up the west and east of Lagos, automatically, investments will come to those corridors. When investors come and investments come, they can now be able to absorb the teeming unemployed youth in Lagos State. Anything short of that we shall be scratching the surface. These are things we intend to do in the next 1,460 days.
PT: You’ve talked about using free meals to lure kids to school, what about motivation for the teachers, who usually complain of poor remuneration? Do you have any plans for that?
Wahab: That’s a very valid question. We must continue to train and re-train our teachers. We must continue to give them incentives to remain in the classrooms and offer their best to our children. Why am I saying this? The teacher’s reward should be here on earth. Let the new Lagos that we are looking at reward hard work. Let the Lagos that I see tell you that irrespective of your status, teacher, driver, we shall give you recognition. I’m from a very humble background and I know what it is to get to where God has taken me to today. So for me, the teacher is the fulcrum of the educational system. And if they are not happy, the system cannot be functional. So we shall continue to give them opportunities to advance within the system. That’s an incentive on its own.
PT: A lot of critics have accused the current government of being elitist and secret, not opening their books to public scrutiny. What do you think about that?
Wahab: I don’t agree that this government is elitist. This government is a democratic government…
PT: And their financial dealings are not open for public scrutiny…
Wahab: It’s in the public domain. There is a Freedom of Information Act. Once you apply, you can get any information. If there is any government in this country today that is very transparent, open, we should give it to Lagos State government. They are running a modern day government, no secrets in Lagos State government.
PT: Sometimes, when you apply for information, they will tell you the FOI does not apply to state governments.
Wahab: But Lagos cooperates….
PT: Sometimes they don’t cooperate. I’m speaking from a personal experience.
Wahab: I’m not aware of that. Then if they don’t, there are ways you can source your information. Look, why will you have a government that will not want to make its dealings open to the people? In whose interest? Not its own interest. If you allow that, you are shutting down information system. And you are going to encourage rumours; rumour mongering becomes the past time if there are no information. So I think it’s also in the government’s interest that we open up the communication space. Let people have access to communication, let them know how it is, let them ask questions, let them have answers. By so doing, you are on course.
PT: What about the issue of being elitist?
Wahab: I don’t agree with that. I have been to every part of the state.
PT: What do you think about the ban on Okada riding?
Wahab: Is there a ban on Okada? There is a restriction. Restriction on major highways. I have addressed this issue severally that we should not politicise this issue. For you to understand where we were, check the statistics in respect of Okada-related deaths, Okada-related accidents, Okada-related crimes, check the statistics. It has shown that there has been a tremendous reduction since the restriction came into being. So what we should encourage is enlightenment and let the citizens and Okada riders know that this is in everybody’s good. In a good clime, we should not be talking about this Okada riding in the 21st century. But it is what it is. It is a form of employment for our people. So what the government has done is to restrict their movement on certain roads, and that is less than four per cent of the road network in Lagos State. About 492 roads out of the 9,133 or so roads. We should encourage information flow and enlightenment to see the positives in this action, rather than trying to throw away the baby with the bath water.
PT: Can you address this issue of aspirants meeting to pick a consensus candidate who would go head to head with the party’s ‘anointed’ candidate. Is there anything like an anointed candidate?
Wahab: Now, let me say this. I will give you a background to this meeting of last week Friday. On the 9th of November, the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, convened a meeting of all the aspirants. At that meeting, he made it very clear that there is no anointed candidate in this race. That everybody has a level playing field. And the so-called anointed was seated there. If he had been anointed, he will stand up and say ‘I am the anointed candidate. Why are you denying me?’ That didn’t happen. So people can go and drop names, it’s okay it’s a political season. I can as well come out and say I’m the anointed. It’s your word against mine. That aside. At that same meeting, the leadership of the party did advise that aspirants should be meeting and relating on issue of the party. And last week Friday, in furtherance of that advice, we convened a meeting of the aspirants. The so-called person was invited like I was invited, all the aspirants. He did not attend the meeting and surprisingly stories were awash in the papers yesterday, some national dailies reported that the meeting was to forge a consensus. No. The meeting was to discuss the delegate issue. We have less than two weeks to the primaries, as we speak we don’t have a list of delegates, we don’t have the guidelines. And we are stakeholders as aspirants. That was what the meeting was all about. So if somebody goes to the press and concocts a story, it’s to what purpose or intent? That’s the question you should ask those persons spreading the rumour. They even went as far as lying that a non-aspirant, in the person of the national legal adviser, was at the meeting.
PT: The Legal Adviser was not at the meeting?
Wahab: He doesn’t have any business with us there. He is not an aspirant. That tells you how desperate some of these elements are. And Lagosians are wiser, Lagosians are craving a positive change, Lagosians will not fall for that hoodwinking. What is wrong as aspirants converging, after the meeting with the national leader, that said we should be meeting? Somebody coming up to concoct a story on a non-existent consensus agreement against him the anointed. Who said he is the anointed candidate? Have we gone to primaries? So people should just please read in between the lines. These elements are trying to heat up the body politics of the state.
PT: So you are saying the party does not have a favourable disposition towards a particular candidate?
Wahab: As far as I’m concerned, there is no favourite. Lagosians, party men will determine who the next candidate of the party will be.
PT: And do you think the party leadership has provided a level playing field for all the aspirants?
Wahab: If we had a meeting on the 9th of November and the national leader makes it clear that all of us should go and work on the field and let the party determine who the flag bearer would be, what other assurance do you want? So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a level playing field, the electorate will determine it.
PT: Have you encountered any kind of challenge in your campaigning so far?
Wahab: We’ve been moving extremely smoothly and the level of reception we’ve received across the state (is amazing). We are not going around with rented crowd, genuine party members and citizens welcoming us. It’s given us hope that we are on the right track and we are doing the right things.
PT: What’s the level of your optimism ahead of the December primaries?
Wahab: Very very high. It’s my first time of throwing my hat in the race. Because I know for sure that you don’t need a cognate experience for you to be governor or president. All you need is a clear vision, and we are saying I, Tokunbo Wahab, I’ve got the character, I’ve got the capacity, and I’ve got the competence, with a clear vision to run the 21st century Lagos.
PT: What does your family think about you going into active politics?
Wahab: I’ve taken time to discuss with my two children and my wife, that’s my immediate constituency. And I’ve made them see reason why I have to offer myself, because I think I have the capacity to run Lagos. I have convinced them, and they are convinced on this same project, we are on the same page. That’s why I have the temerity to say let me now convince other Lagosians. So they are good to go and they are praying with me.