If truth be told, these days, they rarely come any better than the irrepressible Deputy Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Wasiu Eshilokun Sanni. He is of a different breed. He is not just arguably the most experienced Lawmaker in the House, he is by far one of the most accomplished. Yet, he carries himself with a humility that stuns everyone, especially his younger colleagues, most of whom were still learning the ropes in politics when the distinguished Hon. Eshilokun was already making great strides on the political turf. That explains why they all have tremendous respect for him. They don’t joke with him. He is often always calm and collected. Dislikes being loud. His incredibly amiable nature makes it easy for them to warm up to him and drink from his fountain of knowledge and experience.
But perhaps his greatest asset lies in his unquenchable desire to serve his people as selflessly as he possibly can. That is what drives him. That is what has kept him going for so many years. And if you ask members of his Lagos Island constituency I, they will tell you he is one politician who has been of immense service and value to them. They couldn’t have asked for a better representative. He is what you call ‘man of the people.’ He throws his doors open to his constituents and gives them unhindered access to reach him. As they come to him with their unending loads of personal requests and demands, he avails them of his resources. He gives selflessly. He serves tirelessly. But those who know him closely are not surprised about any of these or how hugely accomplished he’s turned out. He’s learned from the best, they say. Hon. Wasiu Eshilokun Sanni is a proud and unapologetic mentee of the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They share a father and son relationship that goes back a long way. It is no secret that the Deputy Speaker has the ears of Asiwaju owing to the implicit trust the Jagban Borgu has had in him since the time he worked as SA and SSA to the former governor on Political and Legislative matters over twenty years ago.
This is why City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) chased after the ever-busy Deputy Speaker to share his thoughts on the ongoing clamour for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to contest for presidency come 2023. And he didn’t disappoint. Expectedly, he spoke about the national leader, a man he has tons of admiration for, with such eloquence and passion that would make Asiwaju extremely proud of his own. The interview was held at his magnificent Ikeja GRA residence, a place where we were told the Deputy Speaker seldom invites journalists to. Let us take you through a bit of the background of this distinguished politician.
Upon completing his secondary school education where he passed out with all round distinctions (Grade One, it was called then), he proceeded to study Agricultural Economics for his first degree at the Ogun State University where he also emerged with one of the best results. Afterwards, he went to the University of Lagos where he studied International Law and Diplomacy for his Masters degree and scored 3.69 points. It was in the University that he had his first shot at politics. He had won the vice presidency of his course association and also desired to be the Director of Sports, being a popular footballer in school at the time. He soon relinquished his position as his course association’s vice-president and contested for the post of Director of Sports of his department which he won and subsequently became the Sports Director for the entire University. Not so long after, he also ran for the Director of Sports for the Student Union Government and that marked the start of a remarkable political career for this outstanding politician. But his first real accomplishment came in 1999 when the Isale – Eko born Lawmaker was elected as a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. He didn’t return for a second term but was later appointed SSA to former governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on Political and Legislative Matters. He went on to become a two-term chairman of the Lagos Island Local Government Council before making a triumphant return to the Lagos House of Assembly in 2015. He is presently the Deputy Speaker of the House and clearly one of the most influential personalities in the Assembly today. Pretty impressive, don’t you think? Enjoy the intense and engaging interview that lasted for an hour, it is a collector’s item from the very brilliant Hon. Wasiu Eshilokun Sanni.
What are your thoughts, sir, on the Asiwaju 2023 project? Though the APC national leader has not officially declared yet, there is this strong clamour for him to throw in his hat and join the presidential race come 2023. How excited are you about this?
I am very excited. Extremely excited. I am supporting the project one hundred percent because it is a doable project and I am praying that, hopefully, by God’s grace, it shall come to fruition.
I know for a fact, sir, that you are particularly close to Asiwaju and his wife, Senator Remi Tinubu. You have been privileged to watch Asiwaju from close quarters over the years. Tell us, who is the Asiwaju that you know? What are those things about him that many Nigerians don’t know about?
Number one, he’s extremely kind-hearted. Many don’t know how unbelievably kind this man is. Once Asiwaju knows you, then you’re in his heart forever. Even when you don’t see him, he will continue to look out for you and show concern about your well being. He is somebody with an unquenchable passion to help others. His door is always open. This is somebody whose doors would be open for visitors as early as 8 am receiving visitors and will not go to bed until about 4 am. Helping people comes naturally to him, and not because he’s thinking of when you would be useful to him for payback. Another thing about him is that his organizational ability is uncanny. He can organize and structure everything around him and put them in perspective. He also forgives easily. You can abuse him, take his money under false pretence, he will forgive you. The only thing is that he can be unbending when he takes a position on principles. When he has not taken a position, he’s open to dialogue and superior argument. Sometimes, when he notices he has not been seeing you, he will tell his aides, call this person for me.
A lot of people see Asiwaju as a Master strategist who thinks years ahead of everyone. What do you think is his greatest strength?
Yes, without a doubt, Asiwaju is a political strategist and there is no other politician that I know has his pedigree when it comes to that. He’s very deep. He knows how to get impossible things done. Asiwaju is never fazed by temporary setbacks. In fact, he thrives on challenges. And like I said before, he loves to help. There are so many people in PDP that when they had problems, they ran to him and he helped them. It doesn’t matter to him that after helping them they ran back to their party, that’s your problem. But they never forget about him. But if we must digress a little, for me, he will be the greatest coward not to run. And I know Asiwaju is not a coward. You cannot be a coward and you are called Asiwaju, the front runner. As far as I am concerned, he has nothing to lose. What is he going to lose by contesting? Nothing. No matter the outcome of that election, he will remain Asiwaju. But why are people agitating for him to contest? It’s because they love what he did in Lagos and the experience that he brought to bear. Also the quality of people that he worked with, it was a mix of technocrats and the political class and if you look at that team again, many of the politicians amongst them performed very well. Up till now, some of them are still performing. His sense of organization is uncommon. He brought APC together. Remember it’s an amalgamation of many parties. He was the brain behind the success of APC at the 2015 election. Let’s be honest with ourselves, come 2023, if Asiwaju is not running, who is that personality that we can all rally round? Yeah, everybody is qualified so to speak, but when you look at their antecedents and how they got to where they are, how we invested in their personality, the structure that he put in place all over, I’ve not seen anybody that is more deserving than Asiwaju.
Like I said before, Asiwaju is kind-hearted, and I can tell you that none of these people parading themselves as contenders come anywhere near him when it comes to showing empathy and generosity. And let me ask you, how many people have they brought up? How many have they invested in? See, it’s not as if they don’t want to do these things, it’s God’s grace. Asiwaju has God’s grace. And one more thing people don’t know is that he’s extremely brilliant. His academic pedigree is there for all to see. I was in the House of Assembly when he was investigated. He had brilliant results. But the icing on the cake is his ability to deliver on the mandate. I even call him the father of modern-day Lagos. Lagos has been blessed with fantastic governors. From Alhaji Lateef Jakande to Col. Buba Marwa, Asiwaju, Fashola to the present governor, but you know that infrastructures cannot be done without resources. Asiwaju was thinking head of all of us. When we got to the House, we were making N545m per month, and people thought it was a lot of money. Asiwaju told us clearly that cannot build a modern city not to talk of a state, that we needed to do some financial engineering, that was the way he put it. He said N545m was not the kind of money Lagos state should be generating. Then, suddenly, there was this quantum leap. From N545m to N1b, N5b, N7b, and today, we are over N40b. If we had been on that N545m, we would not have been where we are today. It is easy to forget that Lagos state was once called the dirtiest city in Africa when we came in. So, it’s easy to forget where we are coming from. Today, we are one of the finest in Africa. Ha! He will declare o! He has to declare. One of the things we are putting to him is, what is his fear? Win or lose, will he not be able to feed himself and his family? Will he lose his leadership position and influence, what is he afraid of? He has to declare! He will be forced to declare.
You have spoken so well, so passionately, about Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and it’s clear to see that what you feel for him is a lot deeper than the general public can see. Share with us that one thing that Asiwaju has done that has kept him so dear to your heart.
I will do two. One of them will be what he tried to achieve in government while I was an honourable member and what he has done for me personally. Personally, in 2003 or thereabout, I lost my reelection to the House of Assembly. I met him and he said, ‘Wasiu, don’t worry, what I will give you will be better than what you have lost.’ And from that moment, there’s never been an election cycle that Asiwaju has not given me one thing or the other to do. He will tell me, ‘Wasiu, I will take care of you, don’t worry.’ He doesn’t forget his promises easily. Even when it cannot be done right away, it will still be in his heart. And that’s why I said once he knows you and your capabilities, even when you’re not there, he will look for opportunities for you. And that’s the same thing he has done for so many people too numerous to count. That’s why I respect him.
In terms of governance, I thought that after Jakande, we have seen it all, but Asiwaju brought another dimension to governance. You cannot take away the fact he started LASTMA. You can’t take away from him an organized, efficient LIRS. You can’t take away from him the modernization of our judiciary. He built the new Ikeja High Court and the Igbosere High Court, which unfortunately was destroyed by the Endsars protesters. He was the one who felt that what they were paying judges was not enough to prevent them from being corrupt. He felt they deserved better wages to be able to dispense justice better and fairly. That’s why it’s not by accident that Lagos state Judiciary is one of the best in the country. It’s by careful planning, improved working environment, improved wages and modernisation of the courts. When we came in, the ideal way to do roads at the time was to put Laterite, then you put bitumen or Asphalt and in the next two years or thereabout, it’s spoilt again. It was Asiwasju who said, why can’t we do roads that will last 20 years or more? So, they divided the contracts into two, which is local, international and what have you. Look at Awolowo road, Oregun road, roads that were done over twenty-something years ago, they’re still there. It was Asiwaju that did Broad street, Martins Street, Balogun, about 14 roads on Lagos Island and till this moment, you can’t find potholes on those roads. He was the one that first awarded about 250 roads in Lagos at the same time. He is the one that started all the blue rail, red rail and so on. Many have also forgotten that he started the BRT. He already had the BRT corridor underway by the time he left office. The buses had already been procured. Of course, Fashola too procured more. Other governors too got more, but he started it. He also started the big schools, the millennium schools, like the one in Ojodu. He also started helping the less privileged students pay for their NECO exams.
How about those who fear that his health and his age may not be able to carry the burden of a country as massive as Nigeria? Would you say their fears are unfounded?
Nigeria is not even as big as California, may be in population, but when you compare the population of US to that of Nigeria and the problems and issues in US politics and Trump at 74, ran the country for an entire term and now, Biden, 78, is in charge. Now, tell me, how would this be difficult for somebody younger than these two personalities, somebody who attends to visitors from as early as 8 am to 9 am in the morning till about 4 am next morning when he goes to bed? How many young men can do that every day? Yes, he had knee surgery. Truth is, once you’re above 40 years of age, you will start having one health issue or the other except you have not gone to analyse properly your health status. The most important thing is to know what is wrong with you, understand your body and know exactly how to manage it.
What are your concerns, sir, about the fact that some supposedly close allies are not aligning with his aspirations and it’s looking like some of these people are now set to betray him….
Honestly, I do not think Asiwaju should bother himself with those who do not wish to align with his aspirations, or those with ulterior motives. He should just go head to run and concentrate on the task at hand. He should leave those working to pull him down or distract him, focus on the job at hand and leave the rest to God. What else can he do? He has helped somebody to become governor, minister, president or vice president, and it’s time for him to help you achieve your ambition and he refuses, leave him and God. But the fact remains that they can’t say he has not done anything for them.
Another concern of some Yoruba elders is that they fear than an Asiwaju presidency might be a problem unto himself and the South-west because the north would feel that because they handed over power to him, he must do their bidding, even if it’s at the detriment of the Yorubas. What’s your take on this?
I am sure that whether its south, west, east or north, Asiwaju will be able to treat all regions fairly and equitably. I’m not saying equally, but at least equitably. I know Asiwaju is far too experienced beyond all of those rhetorics you’re talking about. He will be a blessing to all of them. What is important is for him to bring development to the north, and to the rest of the country. Basic education, access to the basic needs of life, are important things. Nobody should entertain any fear about his sincerity towards protecting their interests.
You share a few things with Asiwaju. You’re very down-to-earth. You’re not loud and you make yourself accessible to the people, despite that you also have volumes of people you attend to on a daily basis. How did this part of you evolve?
Don’t forget that, aside from serving in the House of Assembly during Asiwaju’s first tenure, I was also SSA on political and legislative matters to Asiwaju. And having seen his qualities and the success he recorded with his style of governance, you also want to be like him. Even if you cannot take all of his traits, you want to take a few and try to make your community better. One of the major things I learnt from him is the ability to garner and aggregate the people’s interests, work on them and proffer solutions to those issues even without seeing them. And for me, that is the hallmark of politics. Solving societal problems and giving hope to the hopeless.