Minister of State for Defence, Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro, in this interview with ’NONYE BEN-NWANKWO addresses his roles in Ondo State by-election and brushes with Lagos State government
How would you react to allegations in some quarters that you were made a minister because the PDP wants to capture Lagos State in the 2015 general elections?
To begin with, every state in Nigeria is obliged to produce a minister in the Federal Cabinet. It just so happens that I represent Lagos State at this time in the cabinet. If one goes by the pedestrian logic of this question, then it would be safe to say that every state in Nigeria is a potential slot for “capturing” as you put it, since every state is represented in the Federal Executive Council. However, to answer your question, being a minister does not confer any advantage on me politically with regard to the politics of Lagos State. In fact, it distances me from the day-to-day politics of Lagos State since as a federal minister, my attention is more devoted to national issues. Personally, I see my call to be a minister as a call to serve the nation and all Nigerians regardless of their political affiliations. Having said that, as a leading member of PDP in Lagos, I have a stake in what goes on in Lagos. At the same time, I am mindful that I also have a higher calling as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For that reason, I cannot and will never bring the office into disrepute.
The word you used in your question,“capture,” is a democratic misnomer and a relic of Nigeria’s military era. When my son won the local government election in Ikoyi, there was no talk of “capture” and I was not a minister at the time. I am, as every one will attest to, a grassroots mobiliser from my days as a local government chairman. My detractors are just worried that a tested grassroots politician is now a minister representing Lagos State. I’m sure you can understand why the APC leadership is panicking, especially as the people of Lagos are now wise to their tricks. Lagosians have come to regard the “Abracadabra” cosmetic achievements for what they truly are and are ready to make the APC pay for them at the polls in 2015. Consequently, they are looking for a scapegoat to blame for their impending electoral loss, hence the attacks on me.
In your capacity as Minister of State for Defence, would you say your ministry has done enough to protect Nigerians?
The protection and security of Nigerians is a multi-institutional, multi discipline and multi-agency task that involves practically every aspect of our national life. The Ministry of Defence is working in tandem with a wide variety of institutions, many of which are not under the ministry’s purview or control. Without playing the blame game, one such institution is the media. I would respectfully ask, “have the media been as proactive as they can or should be in helping create the requisite atmosphere for the military and civil population to confront the security challenges bedeviling us as a nation? Please understand that I am not indicting the media, my point is that we all as government, institutions, groups, and individuals can do more in the fight against the agents of terror and intolerance. The old adage that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” is appropriate in this regard.
So who then should be responsible for Boko Haram’s infiltration of Abuja recently?
The very nature of an insurgency presupposes that from time to time, they may succeed in hitting soft targets. We all need to understand that terrorists are motivated by an extreme form of prejudice that propels them to undertake the most dastardly and catastrophic suicide missions in pursuit of their evil agenda. I make bold to say that if our military and security apparatus had not been vigilant, there is no telling how many more times these terrorists would have struck, not just in Abuja but other major cities in the country. Have we forgotten that as a result of the vigilance of our security agents, a terror plot was aborted in Lagos when a Boko Haram member was apprehended in Ijora Badia area of Apapa in Lagos? The point I am making is that many more terror plots are being aborted daily by our security agents. Informing the public about every single one of them will amount to playing into the hands of the terrorists who want to spread fear among the populace and disrupt the natural flow of our lives. I honestly believe our security forces deserve a lot of kudos.
The Nyanya bombing took place a few days after the government declared that Boko Haram had been contained to the border areas. Was that just a mere political posturing then?
The Federal Government cannot afford to be engaged in posturing at a time like this. Yes, it is true that Boko Haram has for the most part been contained to the border areas of Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The sad fact however is that the insurgents have sympathisers among the larger society, who will from time to time show solidarity with the insurgents by staging dastardly attacks on soft targets in locations far away from their borders. The Nyanya bombing can be said to be one of such cowardly attacks. However, the days of such collaborators can be over with the full cooperation of everyone. The media, which have done well so far, can become even more proactive in emboldening the citizenry to blow the whistle on suspicious elements in our midst.
Reports have it that you led some soldiers to intimidate voters during the by-election in Ondo State. You claim you were not in Ondo State during the elections. However, the Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner has been quoted as saying that your hands are not clean in the matter. What is your reaction?
I believe my office has cleared the air on this issue in a statement that was recently published. However, let me once again address it, hopefully for the last time. I attended the last PDP rally for the by-election on the Thursday before the election held on a Saturday. By 7am on Friday, I was already out of Ondo State en route to Ile-Ife where I had a scheduled meeting with the Ooni, from where I then travelled to Ibadan to attend the funeral ceremonies of Madam Akintola, the mother of Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN). With me at the funeral were Governors Babatunde Fashola and Abiola Ajimobi. They are my witnesses. From Ibadan, I proceeded to my house in Lagos and on Saturday, the day of the election in Ondo State, I was holding a meeting with PDP stalwarts at the PDP secretariat in Ikeja. Except I possess supernatural powers, there is no way I could have been conducting a meeting in Lagos on that Saturday and as it has been alleged, be hundreds of miles away in Ondo State rigging an election.
You need to understand that the APC has a vested interest in demonising me so that it can explain away its impending electoral losses in Ekiti and Osun states. Obanikoro has become the anointed fall guy in an orchestrated campaign by the most powerful propaganda machine in Nigeria controlled by the APC.
Governor Fashola accused you of stopping work at the llubirin site, why did you do this?
On a good day, Babatunde Fashola is supposed to be an officer in the temple of justice, where truth is sacrosanct. However, in a season of political maneuvering, even senior advocates have been known to stretch the truth. Proof that Governor Fashola was being economical with the truth is the fact that as we speak, work is continuing at the llubirin site and hundreds of thousands of Lagosians who ply that route daily can bear me out. My take is that Fashola got caught up in the moment in the presence of the APC rented crowd he was addressing on the day he made that unfortunate statement. Unlike Fashola, I started my political career from the grassroots while his first introduction to politics was as Chief of Staff to his political mentor. So, I can understand why he feels intimidated by my political pedigree. Now, to answer your question, llubirin is an integral part of my most cherished local government, where I served as chairman. It is across the road from where I grew up. If at my level I cannot inspect a site that I suspect could adversely affect the ecological balance of my beloved neighbourhood, then something must be wrong. I simply visited the site to ascertain my fears about the viability of the project before making a formal pronouncement. Governor Fashola and his paymasters are simply crying wolf.
How true is it that your ambition to run for Governor of Lagos has informed your habit of opposing every project initiated by the present state administration?
My passion for Lagos goes beyond the realm of partisan politics. As I always say, I am a Lagosian. My father is a descendant of an illustrious aboriginal Lagos family, while my mother’s family migrated from Ogun State to Lagos Island many years ago. In fact, my mother and all her siblings were born in Lagos many decades ago. So, my passion for Lagos is total. In my opinion, the Fashola administration has redefined the word democracy to mean “Government of the rich by the rich at the expense of the poor.” That is why their biggest legacies attract hefty tolls and fees to be enjoyed. Healthcare in Lagos has been privatised beyond the reach of the poor. Even mortuary services are delivered at a prohibitive cost. So, in Lagos of today, people cannot live a decent life and when they die, their families can’t even afford a decent burial. Fashola and his cronies have imposed tolls on roads. There is no accountability for the record breaking internally-generated revenue received by the administration.
So, whether or not I nurse any political ambition, I will not stop pointing out the deviousness of the cosmetic achievements of the Fashola administration. That’s why the governor is attacking me. At present, I am a serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and my focus is on my national assignment. However, I will from time to time comment on issues related to Lagos State.
What is your reaction to the announcement by the Director of Defence Information that the abducted Chibok girls had been rescued when in fact that was not the case.
You must understand that the flow of information in times of crises can be quite dynamic. More often than not, lines get crossed and mischievous elements wreck havoc by way of disinformation. I can only say that, at the time the Director of Defence Information made that statement, he believed it to be true based on the information made available to him. I can assure you that efforts are underway to get to the bottom of the matter. Those involved in this particular instance of disinformation will be fished out. I am appealing to the media to continue to support our efforts to secure our nation and rescue these poor girls.
The military is poised for a mass recruitment exercise. What assurances are you giving us that the immigration recruitment fiasco will not be repeated and that insurgent elements will not take advantage of the exercise to infiltrate the Nigerian military?
Once again, let me register my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of that most unfortunate incident. The lessons from that incident can never be lost on us at the Ministry of Defence. In your question, you expressed a very real fear about insurgent infiltration of the military. All I can say is that comprehensive measures to forestall that eventuality have been put in place and I can boldly say that insurgents will not find their way into the Nigerian military through this recruitment exercise or any other one for that matter.
Government has said it is actively seeking the support of neighbouring countries in checking the cross-border activities of insurgents. How much co-operation are you getting from them?
Every effort is being made to get all our sister nations under the security umbrella that is required to checkmate the terrorists. It will be foolhardy for anyone not to help put out the fire on a neighbour’s roof that has the capacity of spreading to his own roof. My honest assessment of the situation is that our neighbours are beginning to realise that collaboration is the only viable option if we must stop the spread of terrorism.
Back to the politics of Lagos, a lot of people are of the opinion that the Fashola administration in Lagos has done well. What is your honest and unbiased opinion of his performance, politics aside?
You are asking a politician to put politics aside. Okay let me be as unbiased as I can be, when Babatunde Fashola won the 2007 elections in Lagos, it is on record that I congratulated him and wished him well. In my opinion, he started well but along the line, he capitulated to the greed of his godfather. Instead of pursuing a populist agenda, he gave in to the insatiable thirst for money of many of his political cronies and began franchising government services to them. That is why medical diagnostic services in Lagos State are the most expensive in West Africa, if not the whole of Africa. That is also why road infrastructure has become a money-spinner for the political elite in the APC. Even the strategic assignment of tax collection has been farmed out to his political acolytes. Let’s face it, we need to critically review the last seven years of the Fashola administration vis-à-vis the huge revenues generated by the state and receipts from the federal purse. Can we honestly say that in a state with the financial resources of Lagos, it is okay to still have schools without chairs and for pupils to be seated on the bare floor? Many public schools in Lagos don’t have toilets or any teaching aid whatsoever. Many communities have no primary health care centres servicing them. Can Fashola enrol his own children in any public school or check himself into any public hospital in Lagos? The truth is that this administration has sold out Lagos and Lagosians to a powerful clique that controls the most powerful and effective propaganda machine in Nigeria. I can assure you however that Lagosians have started seeing beyond the media hype. Their days of hoodwinking the people are over for good.
Is there any truth in the rumour that you chose to serve as ambassador to Ghana so as to be close to Lagos where you could continue to play politics?
You flatter me by the insinuation that I have the power to dictate to the President of Nigeria where I wanted to be posted as High Commissioner. The fact is that President Yar’ Adua posted me to serve in Ghana by himself. If you don’t know, Ghana is perhaps Nigeria’s most important and closest ally in Africa, if not in the world. Ghana is to Nigeria what Britain is to the US in terms of our special relationship. To be named High Commissioner to Ghana in my opinion is a big privilege, given Ghana’s strategic importance to Nigeria. So, the answer to your question is simply no. I was not posted to Ghana to be able to play politics in Lagos.
Your son contested a local government election. Can we conclude that you are grooming your children to form a political dynasty?
You failed to add that my son Jide won that election and was rigged out by a bogus verdict of an election tribunal set up by the defeated government in that election. However, that is beside the point. My children are aware of their heritage as descendants of Ajayi Bembe, the illustrious Obanikoro of Lagos. Their antecedent places a burden of care and passion for Lagos on them, just as it places the same burden on me. I don’t need to encourage them to join politics or to desire to serve Lagos State or Nigeria for that matter. It is their birthright and duty to be so inclined. When you talk about establishing a political dynasty, you must acknowledge that while man can propose, God can also dispose. So, whether or not we become a dynasty is not in my hand. Power belongs to God Almighty.
Finally, how true is it that your annual salary as minister is only N2m as you said in an interview on a television programme?
You mean you can refer to N2m in Nigeria today as only? Let me clarify the issue. When I allegedly made that statement, I was making a point that the so-called low income housing to be built on the ecologically fragile Ilubirin site cannot be said to be for low income earners. I was simply drawing a parallel that a person earning N2m in Nigeria can not be categorised as a low income earner and that person in all honesty cannot afford to purchase a flat sold at N16m, which is the cost of the flats being built at llubirin. The deceitfulness of the APC government in Lagos is simply too much.