Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele spent three years as the deputy governor of Lagos State before she fell out with the then governor, Bola Tinubu. In this interview with Nonye Ben-Nwankwo and Gbenro Adeoye, she talks about her reservations about serving as Deputy Governor of Lagos State and sundry issues
Why did you dump law which you studied to practise journalism?
It was not a sudden change; it was something that I was always interested in. Law and journalism are not so different from each other because you ought to have enquiring mind. In fact, I was invited to study journalism. I can’t remember who invited me, but I think it was somebody in the High Commission because they were looking for people for broadcasting. At that time, they were setting up the Voice of Nigeria and that was why they thought I would be interested because I was doing programmes for the BBC. At that time, they knew that I was a broadcaster and therefore thought that it would be a good idea. They were recruiting people. In those days, people went to universities and different places to recruit people, unlike now when they tell you to apply online.
But did you ever practise law at all?
No, I didn’t practise law.
Do you have any regrets that you never practised law?
None whatsoever because I still find the knowledge very useful even at the Confab. I was on the committee for judiciary, law and human rights and I functioned well. In fact, I was made the vice chairman of that committee because I was the most qualified lawyer of that committee at that time. Though, I still do some consulting. I still consult legally, yes.
At the time you were a senator, you were the only female in the senate. Were you intimidated by the men?
No, not at all. When I was studying law, I think there were only four of us girls in a class of about 90 or 100-plus men. So if I didn’t feel intimidated studying law, then there was no reason why I should feel intimidated in the senate.
What led you into politics?
Well, I come from a political family. The Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed in my father’s house in London. (The late Obafemi) Awolowo was the secretary before they brought it to Nigeria and my father always thought that women should be in politics. He thought that without women in politics, the country would not move forward. So he encouraged me to go into politics.
But when you were called to serve as the deputy governor of Lagos State, did you have any form of reservations?
Well, I did have reservations because Senator Bola Tinubu and I were both in the senate and I knew his character. Therefore, I had reservations but the leaders of the party persuaded me to be his deputy. You know, there were two caucuses in the party at that time. There was the Afenifere caucus and then there was the Justice Forum caucus. The leaders felt that since the Afenifere people were really the builders of the party- they were the NADECO and they were the ones who pioneered the AD- and that if I didn’t accept, then they would have nobody who they could call their own in government at that time. So that was why I was persuaded to accept to be the deputy governor.
You said you had some reservations, are you saying that you regret being his deputy?
No, I don’t regret being his deputy and at the same time, I do regret. I don’t regret because it was an experience. It teaches one about life. It teaches one about people’s personalities. But I do regret being his deputy because there were so many things which could have been done which were not done correctly.
What are some of those things?
In governance, but for the benefit of Lagos State, I would not mention them because I was part of the cabinet and I don’t have to go into that. But really and truly, unless the government or whatever we were doing was to be towards commercial purposes, it should not be done. Then there was the question of borrowing which I didn’t agree with. And so many things like that which I felt were not in the interest of the state.
It was reported that you once called him a rascal.
I don’t think I ever used such a word.
The report is online in which you were quoted as saying “the rascal called Tinubu” and that his party- the APC- should be voted out of Lagos State.
Well, I believe we should get APC out of Lagos State because I do not believe that APC government is honest. I think a lot of its governance is done on the pages of newspapers and on television screens and not real governance. And also, I don’t think that they are governing in the interest of the people. If you look at it, what have they really done for the ordinary man? They’ve broken down markets, rebuilt and driven all the original people in the markets out. They have given the markets out at huge sums of money. The ordinary woman who was in the market before selling pepper can’t afford millions of naira to buy a stall. So what are they doing in the interest of the people? Then there is the question of the toll gates. You add one lane and then you build a huge toll plaza to collect money from the people, what is that doing to help the people? When that road was built originally, there was no toll on it. And if you are adding just one lane, I don’t see why you should be tolling it. For instance, they claim they are building low cost houses, but can any low income earner buy a house for N29m? So, these are the things. Then concerning the schools, they are building all these so-called millennium schools, and yet the ordinary schools are in dire state- the windows are falling off, there is no roof. It’s all being reported in the papers, so what sort of governance is that?
Some still say that you left the defunct Alliance for Democracy primarily because of Tinubu, is this the case?
Well, yes because he took control of the party and everybody who was not ready to kowtow to his whims and caprices was regarded as an enemy. So, the best thing was to leave.
Do you think he’s in charge of Lagos, even beyond his party?
Oh yes, he’s very much in charge. I don’t think anybody in All Progressives Congress does anything without him. He chooses the candidates, his daughter is Iyaloja of Lagos. Even in other states, he’s in control. I think his son-in-law is in the House representing Ekiti State and his wife is in the senate. So he is very much in control. And already, he is bringing somebody called Ambode out to be the governor of Lagos State. He brought (Babatunde) Fashola out, so what are you saying he’s not in control? He’s very much in control.
Is that an admission that your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, will have no chance in the next election in the state?
I don’t think so because the PDP has now woken up to the fact that APC is a fraudulent government and that the government is not being run in the best interest of the people if you go to the streets, most people are not happy with APC government. And the local governments are not functioning because my local council development area here is full of people literally doing nothing and collecting money for doing nothing. We collect our garbage ourselves and pay for it because it’s not being done by the local government. We mend our roads when they are bad ourselves, we clean our gutters by ourselves. So what exactly is happening?
Let’s get something clear now before we continue. Were you impeached or did you resign because there is still some sort of controversy concerning that?
I resigned on December 16, 2002.
Are you saying whoever is saying that you were impeached is lying?
It’s a complete lie. I resigned. And my letter of resignation is there (with the government). I still get my pension.
Did you have problem with the former governor of Lagos primarily because you weren’t submissive because that’s what some people say?
I don’t know what you mean by being ‘submissive.’ Was I supposed to kneel down and greet him every morning or what? All that was the media hype put out to try and justify whatever action he wanted to take. The point was that Tinubu did not want somebody from Afenifere with him in government; that’s basically what it was. And so, all sorts of lies were told in the media to justify whatever they thought they were doing.
Some people also said that you were too ambitious and that this led to a collision with Tinubu?
What ambition? If I was ambitious, would I have accepted to be deputy governor? I would not. I was ready to work with him but he wasn’t ready to have anybody work with him because he had his own agenda. And the agenda was to take over the party from the leaders of the party who formed the party. It was because I refused to join in that agenda that the quarrel really started because anybody who does not agree with Tinubu is his enemy.
So have you forgiven him?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by have I forgiven him. As I said, if I was so ambitious, I wouldn’t be his deputy. When we were campaigning and all that, he was eating my food everyday. I was providing what we ate on campaign because we campaigned together. We rode in the same car everyday but really and truly, basically, he had his ambition of becoming vice president which he told me about and I felt it was rather premature for us to be thinking about such things when we had not even been sworn into office. So that was the basic problem between us, that he wanted to take over the party in order to achieve his ambition.
You said that you still get your pension. But isn’t that contradicting your claims that you were being owed your entitlements?
I’m being paid pension but I’m not getting any of my other allowances, contrary to what they are saying in the papers. But in fact, I’m in court with the Lagos State Government as a result of not being paid all my entitlements. And therefore, I cannot comment on that.
Well, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information was quoted as saying recently that the bone of contention was that you were demanding for a set of new vehicles every three years, which he said the state could not afford.
At least, there is a law. How can I be demanding for something outside the law? I am a lawyer myself. And therefore, I believe in upholding the law. All I’m asking for them to do is to uphold the law which they themselves passed through the State House of Assembly. That is all I’m asking them to do- to uphold the law. And they are the ones who wrote the law. I’m not asking for anything other than what is in the law and they have not given me all that is in the law. But as I said, I don’t want to comment because I’m in court.
Looking at what the law states and in the light of the bill generating controversy in Akwa Ibom State, which reviewed benefits for former governors and deputy governors in the state, don’t you think this set of people which includes you are being unfairly given too much at the expense of taxpayers?
Well, let’s put it this way, for four years, you leave your business and everything and you’re not allowed to do anything else but serve your nation. I believe like every other public servant, you should be remunerated. I assume that the bill (generating controversy in Akwa Ibom) was recommended by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. In fact, it is the commission that recommends what should be paid to public office holders and I think that that directive was given because it did not want people who had served the nation to fall into penury. After all, if you had been living in a government house and then suddenly, you’re out of office, and if you had been honest and not stolen any money, and you have served your nation faithfully, I think that is why the commission made those recommendations in Akwa Ibom State. If you read the Lagos State law, in fact, it says free medicals should be provided (for former governors and former deputy governors). Now the Governor of Akwa Ibom (Goodswill Akpabio) has since come out to say that what the law was saying is not that past governors should be given N100m every year, but that medical expenses at any given time should not exceed N100m. I mean if any of the former governors falls ill and has to go for cancer treatment abroad, for instance, it’s going to cost that sort of money. So I think that was the provision being made but the governor has since come out to explain and withdraw the law because the way it was being portrayed was that he would be given N100m every year. It’s not every year that former governors would incur medical expenses in any case. For instance, I am someone who is very healthy, I hardly incur medical expenses.
Most of the critics of these laws are criticising them based on the fact that civil servants who spend 35 years in service end up getting stipends, which they have to queue for or which are even unpaid in some cases. So how does that measure up with past governors who only spent four years?
Well, I’m still looking for my entitlements too.
Yes, but they are not comparable.
Well, you see , there is something basically wrong in our society. How can somebody who has worked for 35 years at the end of it all, not get paid their stipends? And usually, you will find that it’s not government that is not paying, it’s the civil servants who are sitting on other civil servants’ entitlements and would not pay. So, I think the civil servants should examine themselves and change their attitude. I was in government and I saw the suffering of pensioners. And these are people who are old and have worked all their lives and should be entitled automatically. In other countries, you don’t ask pensioners to come and queue up for identification until they drop down dead on the queue. They go to any post office and collect their pensions. I would give you an example, a former Chief Judge of Lagos State (once) approached me and told me he had not been paid his pension. So I wrote to the pensions office that Justice so-so-so and so has not been paid his pension, please correct the problem. Then according to him, they wrote to him and asked him to come. When he got there- this was a man in his 80s- they asked him to go to the pensions office which was on the fourth floor or something and there was no lift. So you see, there is something basically wrong with the way we organise ourselves and do things in this country and treat those who have served the nation. I think a change of attitude should come amongst the civil servants themselves. They send these pensioners from office to office and collect bribes from them. I mean, it’s a disgrace. And we must find a better system of administering pensions so that people who have served this nation don’t suffer. Then of course, there is no pensions review. I will give you an example, somebody who was a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria told me that his pension was N4,000 a month. Obviously, they had never reviewed the pension. I mean, what can anybody do with that? So we have to rethink our idea of how we treat our elderly people who have served the nation.
Talking about change that you mentioned now, do you really think that PDP has a chance in Lagos State?
Oh yes, I think so. People are fed up with APC. Talk to anybody on the streets, they have had enough. There are so many taxes, levies and people are not seeing value for money in this government.
Do you think the party is corrupt?
Well, if it isn’t corrupt, then how come some of the leaders of the party have acquired so much property in Lagos State? What did they have before they went into office and what do they have now? People should ask how all these people acquired their wealth. So if it is not by corruption, then they should tell us how they acquired their property.
Many Nigerians believe that the PDP-led Federal Government has not fared better.
Well, Jonathan is not popular because the media is in the hands of a few corrupt people who pay the media to make Jonathan unpopular. They pay the media to publish all sorts of negative things against the president. In the South-West, projects are being given out to one company, Hitech. Go and find out who owns Hitech.
You didn’t really achieve much as a deputy governor, could this have been because you were part of a government that was not concerned about the plight of the people?
I wasn’t given the chance. That is what it was because as I said, if somebody brought an idea which was not Asiwaju’s idea, it would be brushed aside.
Did you bring some ideas that he killed?
Yes. For instance, this electricity project that they did, originally, I sold the idea to Tinubu. I said, ‘look, let us get Siemens to do it.’ But the next thing I knew, they went and got Enron (corporation). They brought badges and all sorts of things. Enron in the end, you know the scandal involving Enron in America. The badges they brought here, are they generating electricity? There is a problem. In fact, I remember when (Olusegun) Obasanjo came to Lagos and he said, “look, these things are rusting already.” But it was all brushed aside. You see, I’m sorry, the press glorifies people, maybe because they throw money around. But the press won’t go deep and find out the main problem. If people are talking about governors and governments being corrupt, then find out the corruption. What are they doing that is corrupt and bring it to the public domain. But instead, they don’t. A lot of these people who are rogues are being projected to us as some sort of superman heroes, which is wrong.
You’ve spoken about APC but many people commend Fashola as performing well in Lagos. It’s obvious you don’t agree with that view.
Well, Fashola is a nice man, but I’m not really impressed by his government. He is planting flowers, yes. And he’s making the place beautiful, yes. And the elite love flowers. They love the environment to be beautiful and there is nothing wrong with that, but what is he doing for the ordinary man? That is my main concern. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make the environment beautiful, but at least, you should serve the ordinary man. Give them decent schools for their children, give them water to drink, give them hospitals and health centres to go to, provide places for the ordinary mechanics where they can carry out their daily living without being harassed. Provide markets for the ordinary people at an affordable price, for example, the woman selling pepper or whatever. Provide housing for people at an affordable price. Now, all these are not being done and that is what I have against the APC. It is always shouting on the pages of newspapers but we don’t see anything concrete being done for the masses.
After you left your position as the deputy governor of Lagos, nobody heard about you again, were you discouraged?
No, I was not discouraged. I’m still very much in politics. If you come here every Tuesday, there is PDP meeting going on in my house here. I’m still very much in politics.
But you never aspired for any position since then?
No, because of the amount of money that people need now to contest. There is no way I can raise that sort of money even if I sell all my property. I can’t get that sort of money to contest for any post.
What if the APC appeals to you to come today, would you rejoin some of your old party members there?
Why should they appeal to me to come to APC? I’m sure Tinubu will never appeal to me to come to APC.