The one that would readily come to mind was the turnaround of the notorious Oshodi from what the whole world used to know it for.
Having distinguished himself as a public officer, one thing that gives him joy is the law profession where he has made his mark as a lecturer at the University of Lagos and recently he was honoured as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the highest rank in law profession in the land.
In this interview with Publisher/Editor-In-Chief Segun Ogunbunmi, he spoke extensively on so many issues affecting Lagos and Nigeria at large. Excerpts…
What’s the life after government like now sir?
My life after government has been about my practice; that’s the practice of law. Recall that it’s almost five years now since I left government; and I’m doing what I enjoy doing most, that’s the practice of law.
How has it been?
Very exciting, fulfilling and rewarding.
How did you feel leaving government?
O great, very very great because there’s nothing that compares to your freedom.
Can you expatiate more on that?
Freedom to do things at your own pace, there’s nothing like. When I was in government there was no time to do things in my own way. There was no time to go on vacation, I couldn’t say I would wake up late, all because you’re subject to the direction of someone else which makes you like a prisoner to that person to a certain extent.
Now I can do whatever I want to do with my own life, now I can decide not to go out for a whole week or go on pilgrimage unlike before that I needed to go and seek approval from someone who would tell you that you couldn’t go.
Is there any regret voluntarily just like that, because people believed that there’s plenty of money in government?
I’ve no regret at all and I agree with your view that the perception of people is that there’s huge money in government. When you see public officials, the way they do, behave and what they parade, it’s quite worrisome and somehow along the line you find at that it’s because some of them don’t even know the implication what they’re doing because it’s an abuse of office and not only an abuse of office it’s constitutes a breach of trust as ordained by God and they would all pay for it.
What I’m saying in essence is that all these people stealing public money are going to pay for it and the judgment of God will come one day, it may not be now but what is so certain is that they will all pay for it in one form or the other. They might think they are enjoying it now but by the time the repercussions will come people are going to cry for them.
When you were in government for 12 years, how did you feel not practising your law profession?
I can say that I still found time to read my weekly law report, I wrote articles, I published papers on law. I never really distanced myself; the only thing was that I was not active in litigation.
What’s your best moment in office as the Commissioner for Transportation and later environment?
Maybe the first one was trimming down the numbers of road transport union because they were like 19 then and I was able to prune it down to two when I was Commissioner for Transportation. And when I was in environment was the day we had our first international summit on climate change which was comparable to any other summit all over the world.
Your worst moment in office because there is no way you will have best moment and you will not have bad times.
Very true, and that was when we had issue with the federal government over the management of traffic in Lagos. FERMA people were disturbing our operations. I felt that we were talking about the welfare of the people, why should politics come inside and I felt seriously bad that day.
Coming to the issue of traffic, people are complaining now about the bad traffic situation in the state, how did you manage to tame the traffic situation then? Maybe the present administration can tap into the strategy used then.
I believe that the present administration doesn’t seem to be on top of some areas in the management of traffic. I personally sent a text to the governor more than a month ago. I tried to make some suggestions and input into it because I had the privilege of establishing LASTMA and I live in Lagos so I know the challenges they are facing.
What appears to be the solution is not to me because they still have to do more. One of the first things they must do is to motivate them if you want to get results from them and presently the welfare package for them has already dropped and the fundamental question to ask is how the officials are standing in terms of their commitment to work.
For example when I was Commissioner for Transportation, I had a special insurance for them over any attack or injury on the road. I introduced hazard allowance in their favour as against those in the offices. They used to collect 25 per cent and above over every other civil servant’s basic salary to motivate them further. I used to give them proper exposure both locally and abroad in terms of training; all these are lacking now. In fact there were survival packages apart from training them professionally to know what and what they should do when the situation is bad; for example if you see a traffic light that’s misbehaving or you find out that the traffic light can’t cope with the volume of traffic we taught them to switch it off and use manual control to balance the situation. All these things are lacking so they have to go back to the basics.
But some of the people you trained, are they not there to salvage the situation ?
They have removed them, in fact the boy I trained who was the head they have removed him, people that worked with me like one Mr. Junaid, they have left now.
So you’re saying the manpower is no longer there or what are you saying in essence?
(cuts in) So many problems.
Can you tell us what the problems are then?
I’ve given you one which is fundamental and key, men. They are the people who will do it; traffic light can’t do most of these things. It’s human beings that will do it, use their discretion, but how committed are they? How properly trained and motivated are they? There are so many issues, that’s one of many. There are basic tools which I can’t find with them again. For example, we used to give them traffic batons that they can use during day and night, we provided for them reflective jackets at night also. A lot of things need to be done to tackle this problem and the solution is that they should revisit the fundamentals.
How do you feel when people accuse you of betraying Asiwaju Tinubu?
I don’t know what they mean by that.
Probably because of the interview you granted before the last election where you talked about politics of imposition and god-fatherism…
(cuts in) Yes I still stand by that interview till tomorrow.
They believe that Asiwaju Tinubu discovered and nurtured you
(cuts in) No, no, no! That again is a gross misconception and that’s the problem we have in Nigeria till today. You are appointed to serve the people and everybody sees it as opportunity; it’s wrong. In the good old days in advance countries they’d look for people to come and work for the society but now we always think it’s an avenue to make money or a favour done to you. It’s not a favour. How can somebody call you to come and carry burden and you are celebrating? That’s how I see it because you’re meant to serve people; that’s number one.
Number two is that the fundamental issue… I personally believe I’m a democrat and I’m apostle of rule of law. The fundamental thing is that there must always be a primary to nominate people who will be the flag-bearers of the party before the election. I’ve said on different fora and I’ve been vindicated all over. Today where we fail to do so, look at how the tribunals are throwing them out and that’s what would have happened to us and that’s what essentially gave credibility when people saw the way we conducted our primaries and I’ve no regret and as far as I’m concerned those saying that are charlatans and you know there are many political jobbers who are looking for what to eat.
I’m repeating it I’ve no regret because that’s what the constitution says and I will always stand by the rule of law and abide with the constitution. Look, if it’s appointment I would probably ignore it. For example now, maybe two or three people constituted the entire cabinet; they are the people doing all the appointment. I’ve chosen to ignore it and I don’t even talk about it because it’s their prerogative but when it comes to nomination, it’s not their prerogative; it’s the prerogative of all the party members.
That’s my position and if people are now saying the truth is now betrayal I would rather remain like that and even God commands us that even against your parents you must say the truth and that’s what I want to be remembered for, that I stand for something I don’t fall for everything.
Why did it take you so long before coming out to say all these?
Yes and it’s because there is a procedure in life when you are working with someone, the first thing is to exhaust the internal remedy or domestic solution and it’s when that one has failed that’s when you will come out to say it in public.
So you have been telling them for long or what are you insinuating?
It’s something we have been battling internally, like I told some people that I used to be part of the process but I know that it wasn’t the best idea and I keep on saying it because it got to a situation in Lagos that every aspirant would have to know me, know Asiwaju, Aregbesola and other power brokers to be able to get the ticket. In the first place, that can’t add values to our party because they won’t go to the grassroots and mobilize people to come and support them and based on that we were fast losing ground at the grassroots and everybody believed that it’s one of our offices they must come. That can’t be an ideal situation and we can’t continue like that.
What do you now see as alternative to god-fatherism in Nigerian politics?
Constitutionalism and the rule of law, simple, and it’s the simplest thing. Once there are rules and regulations of our party we all agreed to we must follow it to the letter.
But the constitution has been there all along?
Now we are following it…
(cuts in) Before you were not following it…
To a large extent we were not following it but now we are enforcing it.
As a legal adviser of the ruling party what’s your assessment of the party both at the federal and some states?
So far so good, at the federal you know the government is just taking off. A lot of work has been done which very soon we are going to see results. So personally, I’m satisfied with the situation. Of course, in some other states there are challenges here and there, some of them may be lack of direction, some maybe they are new to governance, they are still trying to get their bearing so, by and large we are going to get there.
Are you giving the party pass mark because people are daily complaining that there is no direction presently?
Let me tell you, let me speak for myself now. What this government will achieve in four years is to lay a solid foundation for the future because the destruction of the past is huge but regardless of that this government will do wonders and I’m telling you for free because with Fashola in those ministries Nigerians can go to sleep.
Why are you so confident that Fashola will make a difference?
I know for sure. The templates are there. He’s just going to plug it in and I told him at the swearing-in that I’m sure that in nine months we won’t have problems of electricity again. Let me tell you, I know the extent of work he did before he left Lagos, all he needs is just few push here and there and everything will fall into place.
Fashola that you’re talking about, there are some areas that didn’t feel the impact of his government…
(Cuts in) You see, if you want him to cover everywhere you will turn him to a super man and nobody can be a superman. Governance is a continuous process, where he stopped another person will take it up from there.
The crisis rocking your party especially at the National Assembly, are you not afraid that it’s going to affect the fortunes of the party in future?
There’s no problem there at all, you know quite naturally the situation but as far as I’m concerned all is well…
(cuts in) Are you sure?
Very sure; I was there few weeks back for like five hours. I went round the whole place and I had discussions with nearly everybody and I can tell you that there’s no problem at all. You see, there’s no way you will not see some people, maybe in quote, I would call them “militants” that will naturally fulfill their role and they are at liberty and don’t forget this is democracy.
As a top party member, what’s your advice for the warring factions ?
Well, to sheath swords and follow the leadership, but to me as a person God entrusts leadership at every point in time and as commanded by God, after obeying Him the next person must be the people placed in authority like Buhari, Saraki, Dogara et al. A challenge to them is a challenge to God as far as I’m concerned. For the period they are there everybody must support them.
But the party…
(Cuts in) Not the party at all.
Okay, few militants as you call them are still saying Saraki occupies the position illegally; what’s your position on that?
Very wrong, he occupies it legally…
(Cuts in) Can you expatiate more on that?
I’m a lawyer now, there’s a procedure for doing this thing and the procedure has been fulfilled and that’s all. If you recall the first statement on that issue by Mr. Femi Adesina on behalf of the president, he said and I quote: “The constitutional order of some sort has taken place.” As a professional, our party is not the only party at the National Assembly. There are other parties there and it’s through election that they elect leaders and if that has been done, anybody that’s not satisfied with the outcome of the election should go to court and he’s the senate president until the court decides otherwise.
The Saraki’s Code of Conduct trial, what’s your view on it?
Is it politically motivated or what?
You see as a lawyer, I don’t believe anything is politically motivated or economically motivated; everybody should go and defend himself. There are so many cases in courts today that we defend everyday so whether political or otherwise it’s inconsequential to me. For me the rule of law is at play.
Coming to Lagos State, what’s your role with the party leaders?
For me I’m at the national level though I’m supposed to be part of their meetings, as at this moment we are conducting this interview I’ve never heard anything about their meeting… whether they are having meetings or not.
Are they not inviting you?
I’ve never received any circular from them inviting me for meeting.
I don’t know and I’m not looking for any trouble.
Can we say they have ostracized you?
Did I need them? (laughs) My business is at the national, I’m overseeing 36 states including Abuja.
But there are leaders from your state.
I don’t need them.
Are you sure you don’t need them because they are from your state?
What do I need them for; to tell me what to do at the national? In fact, it’s me that should guide them to tell them what to do within the compass of the law. If somebody is telling you you’re not needed must you go and force yourself on the person?
How did you feel when your name was announced as one of the new SANs?
I give glory to God, because there’s nothing you can achieve without God.
How are you now combining your role as legal adviser of APC and your chamber?
It’s all about law. At times I go to Abuja to attend to serious issues and most times they send to me by email, I treat them and send back to them.
Where do you see our democracy going in the next few years?
I see it getting to a reasonable level of comfort. Honestly we have got a great man as president. I had a privilege of being around Mr. President recently, he said to everybody that cared to listen, look as a victim of oppression in the past; I don’t want to be part of anything that will start manipulating the process of election. Please everybody should ensure a level playing ground at levels for all candidates. That’s all what we need for the future… respect for the rule of law.
How do you want people to remember you sir?
As a man who always stands by the truth regardless of the implication.