Beyond legislation, I’ll endow programmes to lift Lagos East out of poverty, says Abiru
Mr. Tokunbo Abiru is the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for Lagos East Senatorial bye-election scheduled to hold on Saturday. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on his chances in the contest and why he embarked on elaborate campaigns despite running on the platform of the ruling party
Why did you need an elaborate campaign as if you are contesting a governorship election?
I will not describe my campaign as an elaborate one as such. If you are familiar with Lagos East, you will come to this conclusion. First, it is largely populated by indigenous people of Lagos. We are talking about Epe, Ibeju-Lekki, Ikorodu, Kosofe and Somolu. Outside Ikorodu, which is my origin, I am not sure I am well known in these other locations.
If you look at the composition of people along this belt, you will find a commonality there – the belt is composed of Ijebu-speaking people, especially in Epe, Ikorodu, Ibeju-Lekki and Somolu. For somebody who has spent his life in the private sector, I cannot take things for granted. Even if we assume that people actually know me, I still have to move around and explain myself to them. This explains why I also crisscrossed all the local governments and LCDAs in Lagos East. We have five LGAs, as constituted under the 1999 Constitution. We equally have 11 local council development areas (LCDAs), making 16. I needed to crisscross all these local councils.
Part of what people are saying is that they do not know me. This is what actually galvanised me to move round and secure public acceptance so that people will not think we are taking them for granted. It was important to win people’s acceptance. Part of what I learnt on the campaign field is that our democracy may be young, but it is gradually being deepened.
When you talk to people, you find out that they are remote and not happy generally. The reasons for the apathy are not far-fetched. One is the state of the economy. Two is the compounding case in the issue of COVID-19. As a result, there is need to make myself well known.
We also need to moderate the issue of apathy. This takes me to something critical. I think the bye-election is more difficult than the general election.
You served briefly in government and now you’re coming back fully into politics. What do you have to offer?
If I compare where I’m from and where I’m going into, honestly, there is a common feature. That common feature is what I can call service. Banking, for instance, is about service. I am sure you will agree with me because all of us are account owners or holders. Even if you go to ATM and it does not respond to you, you know the entire crisis you can create. So, it behoves on the bank to just get some arrangement whereby people get their money. Politics to me, too, is about service. That is one belief that I hold. This tells you that I have just handled one type of service and I’m getting into another type of service.
What do I do to meet the needs of my people? First, the answer is almost obvious to all of us. People need all things that can improve Human Development Index (HDI). People need good roads, stable power supply, good governance and accountability, among others. Given my background, what I’m going for is not an executive position. So, I will see it in terms of good governance and accountability. All through my career, I have been guided along the path of accountability and good governance. I will also use this as an illustration. If I have had the privilege of saving a bank, it is like you have saved a community. The staff strength of the bank is about 10,000 people. If that bank went under, it means 10,000 people would have lost their jobs. It also means over 40,000 dependents would have been in disarray. Then, it was a bank that has four million customers with over N1 trillion deposits. You can imagine what will happen if that bank collapses. That means I’m coming with the background of someone, who has been tested both in terms of human and material resources. With all sense of modesty, I have delivered on it. With the kind of experience I have gathered over the years, it tells me clearly that part of the conversation around this country today is somebody who can bring quality representation.
I must tell you that this is not an executive role. I cannot tell you that I will go and construct road here. I cannot tell you that I will go and provide water there. I see a legislative role as more of facilitation and influencing. The kind of background and pedigree I have will come into play.
Let me give you some examples. When I visited Epe, I went from Ikorodu. I have not travelled from Ikorodu to Epe by road for a very long time. But I was shocked as to the state of the road. I was really shocked. So, we had this session in Epe. It was a raining day and the journey was tortuous. I was so tired that I told my campaign team that if you were returning to Ikorodu, I would go to Lagos. I did not realise that I was going to have another experience. Coming from Epe through Lekki was another bad experience. This is where one’s background and pedigree come into play. I just picked my phone and called my former boss, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who is today the Minister of Works and Housing. I told him that if you did not want people to stone you, you have to do something on this road. I equally called the governor and told him the same thing. I told him that Ikorodu-Itoikin-Epe road was a federal road. If you are talking about Lekki-Epe road, it is a state road. I have known the governor for more than 20 years. We were in banking together. Even his deputy, we served together under Fashola.
What would be the significance of your mandate to the people of Lagos East?
First, they will feel my impact through legislation and facilitation. Beyond this, I have a constituency office here in Ikorodu. It was properly set up with a vision beyond winning the bye-election. I do not hope to replicate the same in other LGAs because it will be a waste in this age of technology. At best, I probably can have satellite offices in LGAs. It will just be a small one so that we do not waste resources we can use for the betterment of the society. But I deliberately set up the Ikorodu office because I’m from there and it is important I have coordinating office beyond my campaign office.
Beyond the primary roles of legislation, facilitation and influencing, a senator is expected to anchor. I, on my own, will establish an empowerment and endowment programme having been around and seen the level of poverty, the rate of unemployment and the number of vulnerable people. You just need to go on a campaign trip.
After the victory on Saturday, I like us to discuss a validation of what I’m about to say, perhaps, after 90 days in office. I intend, by the grace of God, to have an empowerment and endowment programme that can at least impact directly by January 31. It is a model I have been working on. Part of the model I’m working on is that we shall be impacting between 500 and 1,000 constituents across the senatorial district on a monthly basis.
I intend to come up with a medical arrangement that can impact the people in a structured manner. I do not need to see your face. But it will be limited because I am just an individual. Personally, I want to set up an endowment. It must be in place at the end of December or not beyond January 2021.
If you are elected, how are you going to address the issue of special status for Lagos?
The issue of special status has been with us for a long time. We can trace the origin to 1976 during the regime of former military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed. He actually initiated the need to relocate the Federal Capital Territory from Lagos to Abuja. He also mentioned that given the level of federal government’s assets that have been invested in Lagos, be it seaport, airport and even flyovers, among others, they will continue to be sources of attraction for those outside of Lagos. That is what we call rural to urban migration. He went further to say that there is need for the federal government to have a special arrangement to sustain these assets for the benefit of all. If we cast our mind to that period and to 1990 under General Ibrahim Babangida, we can see that Lagos still remains both the commercial, entertainment, financial and tourist capital of Nigeria. It behoves on us to find a way to continue to enhance the facilities that are attracting a lot of people here.
If you speak to the Lagos State government, they will tell you that the population growth rate of this country is at an average of 2.5 per cent. But the rate of people migrating to Lagos is in excess of 3 per cent. So, the pressure is so much. You see traffic here. You see traffic there. It is welcome. But we need to enhance those structures until we get true federalism. We cannot stop the arrangement for special status. We will continue to agitate for it. That is the way they are treating Abuja as well. Abuja is centrally funded from the national budget. The federal government cannot leave Lagos for the Lagos State Government.
If you look at the rehabilitation of the road from the seaport to tollgate, it is rigid pavement concrete structure. You can imagine the cost of that road and you leave that to just one government? No. Even if you take a look at the budget of this government for this financial year, it is about N1 trillion. That tells you the kind of pressure on this state. Also, you see what happened recently. The good intentioned #ENDSARS protests, the hijack and the destruction really tells us that we do not have a choice than to support the facilities that are attracting people to Lagos State. Special Status, of course, is a just agitation.
What is your message to voters ahead of Saturday?
I strongly believe this is an opportunity for Lagos East to have on board somebody that is experienced, that has the capacity and exposure to play the roles expected of a senator. Also, this is an opportunity to bring on board somebody who can give quality representation as to what is expected of a Senator representing Lagos East.
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