Many do not know the political story of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the National Leader of the APC. A few years back, he revealed the story of how he left MOBIL where he was a topshot to join politics. Below is his story adopted from an interview published in a story titled, Asiwaju:Untold Story Of The Leader, a special publication of The News .
How did you join politics?
We decide to support Sarumi Gradually, I moved from raising funds to getting involved. I brought some money to Nigeria out of my dividends. I was comfortable because my investments in America and London were already yielding dividends. Then came the crisis leading to the ban of Professor Femi Agbalajobi and Chief Dapo Sarumi. I threw my weight behind Yomi Edu.
He lost the election and our group was devastated. I went to Ahmadu Abubakar and IBB. I wrote a report and I was strongly against the Structural Adjustment Programme introduced by the military government. The idea of the new generation banks came from those reports. Abubakar, from being a permanent secretary, became Minister of Finance.
IBB saw the significance of the advice as well as the short, medium and long term vision that were in the report. That man was great. He was a good listener. You could think with him. He is still alive. This probe of NNPC dates back to those periods. You can give the NNPC a bank draft for 120 days and you will still be using that money!
They started touting the idea that intelligent, brilliant and dynamic people like me should be in the Senate and must change Nigeria. The idea gradually started coming into my head. People like Kola Oseni, Alhaji Hamzat, Busurat Alebiosu, Demola Adeniji-Adele, Prince Olusi, who were members of the Primrose Group at that time, started persuading me to go to the Senate. The Primrose Group was piling so much pressure on Alhaji Kola Oseni to persuade me.
The MD of Mobil, Bob Parker, thought I was crazy when I told him I wanted to join politics. I also told the Finance Director, Akinyelure, that I wanted to join politics and use my brain for my country and that I couldn’t continue to be an armchair critic. The two of them could not believe what I said. They said, given my career path in Mobil, if there was any chance of anybody becoming something there, then I would be the one. I stood my ground and said I would give it a try.
I told them that people do it in America and Bob Parker agreed. They said they would give me a leave of absence for four years, during which they would not fill my position. They later said that they would not stop me because it would rub off positively on them if I became successful in politics. They told me to come back and take my position if I found it uninteresting and unchallenging. So I contested the Lagos West Senatorial district election.
Why not Lagos Central?
Lagos West was where our weakness was apparent. So, the political leaders in SDP assigned Lagos West to me. It was the most challenging district, to me and said I had the money, personality and the wherewithal. Lagos Central was preparing for me and they wanted me.
In our group, we wanted to help Wahab Dosunmu to stay in Central, so I went to the West. It was a big battle, but I won the nomination for Lagos West.
Wahab Dosunmu got nomination for Lagos Central, but they got him disqualified. The battle was then left to Shitta-Bey, Towry-Coker and Bucknor-Akerele. Whatever happened in the primaries is history. It was a crude primary election, but a most transparent one. That was how I got into politics, which nonetheless was an adventure for me.
What role did you play in the emergence of Michael Otedola of NRC?
I didn’t play any role. I was politically naïve, though a strategist in my own right. Those at the forefront weren’t paying attention and there were a lot of intrigues, which I had never seen before. We could have been flexible and compromised when Sarumi and the late Femi Agbalajobi were disqualified, leaving Yomi Edu. There were two groups then. Baba Kekere (Alhaji Lateef Jakande) would call them “ase”. I recommended that we should have given them the deputy governorship slot.
Democracy is about conflict and conflict resolution. Otedola would not have emerged if each side had yielded. We found out later that some people who didn’t mean well didn’t want Yomi Edu to get there. If they wanted, they would have allowed flexibility and compromise.
The late Prince Adeniyi tried so hard to resolve the impasse up till the night before the election. The impasse was unresolved and the party ended up giving Otedola a chance. I learnt a lot from that experience.
What role did you play in the presidential election of MKO Abiola?
A: We worked hard for Yar’Adua. The SDP platform and the Yar’Adua machine were a phenomenon at that particular time. We had won the majority in the National Assembly. I wanted to become the Senate President because we secured all the seats in the West and we had 15 senators and Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim, a brilliant politician, mobilised some of the Senators in the North; Chuba Okadigbo in the East and Albert Legogie in the so-called South-South. IyorchiaAyu of the Middle-Belt was very active at that particular time. We had good leaders. Olu Falae was in contention, Biyi Durojaiye also.
We had Olusegun Osoba and the rest of them as governors then. We didn’t pay attention to Lagos and didn’t miss anything. We were not looking at any governor to be politically involved. I was just running my vision. I put my talents into being a strategist and I had got the endorsement of 38 out of the 56 senators belonging to the SDP to become the Senate President. So when the leadership caucus of the party met, the problem of the late Yar’Adua and others had crystallised.
It was then believed that Falae or anyone else among the presidential contenders would be the party’s flag bearer after the disqualification of Yar’Adua. They banned the old politicians and asked that the new breed should come forward. Falae, Olabiyi Durojaiye and others were clamouring that the opportunity should be given to the West. Yar’Adua was very consistent about the South-West and the North-West working together. I was confronted in Abuja, because I was already prepared to be the Senate President. I had 15 senators with me and had gotten the endorsement of the majority of other senators. Senators Kanti Bello (he was my partner in the struggle), Kazaure, Kashim Ibrahim, Lawan Buba, Mogaji Abdullahi and a host of others had already formed a caucus that would work for my emergence as the Senate President.
When we met at the leadership level, the late M.S Buhari asked us if we could honestly say that we must take the senate Presidency?Okadigbo might be interested and would rather have the East produce the Senate President; the North, the Vice-President; and the presidency in the South-West because they had blocked Yar’Adua.
My position was that a bird in hand cannot fly away; you have to tie it properly. As if it was a prediction that I had seen, that thing was a banner headline on The Punch’s front page at that time. I was adamant. Falae, Durojaiye and the rest of them came to me and said that the leadership of South-West would want the presidency and we could not take the two positions. We had to make a sacrifice. My position was then that if your child would go to the class and come first among 30 students, to whom do you give the best prize in the house?
At the stage, I said I wanted to become Senate President, they said I should review my ambition. I made them realise that out of our 15 senators, the North-Central contributed 12 Senators, so I said there must be a reward system for the support and loyalty. I told them that if I were to give up the ambition, the position must go to the zone that contributed the highest number of senators to my support base.
Ayu was among the 38. Meanwhile, A.T Ahmed was on the other side. We had internal caucuses and out of 56, 38 of us bonded together. A.T Ahmed and Okadigbo wanted to be senate president. But it was being rumoured in the newspapers that Babangida wanted to remain in power and that Bola Tinubu – because of IBB’s closeness to our family – would be one of those that would be used for IBB to stay. They didn’t know what I stood for. I was laughing. We were saying the military must exit and we were angry because Yar’Adua had been disqualified. We didn’t even want IBB to stay.
While that was on, Abiola came onto the scene and showed interest in the presidency. Suddenly, I found him in my hotel room with Jubril Martins-Kuye. I realised he was an accountant like myself and I told him he had been severally abused for being anti-Awolowo. He said no, and that he would go to Ikenne. I told him that he should forget it if he was anti-Awolowo. When you talked to MKO about the country, you saw his vision and everything. If you were well educated and serious about the country, you would be convinced that he meant well. If you were to do an analysis about who was likely to be less corrupt and whose vision would be consistent for the nation, then you would agree with MKO.
We made Ayu the Senate President. Yar’Adua and Atiku got along with us on the choice of Ayu, while Kingibe was very flexible on it. We warned them that we would concede it to the NRC if they refused to let us choose our candidate since they would not be there with us. That was how Ayu won and I became one of the most powerful and influential senators. I was the chairman of the Appropriation, Finance, Banking and two other committees in the Senate. We started working for MKO to emerge the candidate and we worked hard for him. My corporate experience and the strategic planning I had was brought to bear on what I was doing at the time.