As he marks his 70th birthday today, former governor of Oyo State, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala , provides detailed insights into his personality, brand of politics, life as a retired police officer and politician and the future of Nigeria. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpts of the interview.
IT might be proper to say that you have seen it all at 70. What are some of the lessons life has taught you?
Life has taught me that you must be focused and must create agenda for yourself. In my memoir, (I recalled how) when everything was blank when I left primary school, I made up my mind that I must advance in my studies. At a point, I became a mechanic. At a time, I became a farmer and at another time, I became a tailor after primary education before I went to Ghana. You have to know how to trust in God and do things moderately. Women (womanise), moderately, drink moderately. I had a lot of people smoking around me, I tried it but it didn’t go down well with me.
Who had the greatest influence in your life?
Iya Alaro, my grandmother. My father died when I was two years old and my mother was under 30, so she had to leave me with Iya Alaro. She remarried and put me in care of Iya Alaro. Many people didn’t know that I was not her son. I was the only grandchild, I think I was number 11 and others used to accuse me if I was the only Omo Iya Alaro. She instilled in me the spirit of perseverance, endurance, tolerance and contentment.
What are some of your most memorable experiences in life?
The title of my memoir is Amazing Grace. One of them was in 1959 when I first learnt that my father was dead, I had always had the opinion that my father had travelled to the Gold Coast. That was what my grandmother, Iya Alaro told me and made me to believe. I was staying with her then. Unfortunately, the boy, Bayo that broke the news to me is no more; he was my friend and as we were playing that day, when Baba Awolowo came to Ogbomoso. I was Primary three and we all rushed to have a glimpse of Baba Awolowo because of the helicopter that brought him. We were given two balloons each. By the time we came back, our teachers had a meeting that all the pupils in the class that went there should draw the helicopter. We did the assignment but my ballons exploded. Because of his father’s influence in the Action Group (AG), I asked my friend for replacement since had more than two. But he quickly retorted you that doesn’t have a father? You father had died. I cried and left school. So, I went home to challenge Iya Alaro that she had consistently told me that my father was broad.
Secondly, there was mild drama when it was time for me to be registered at school. When it was my turn, they wrote Alao as part of my name. I ask, Iya Alaro , why did she put Alao. She said my father was abroad. She quickly gave the excuse to end my curiousity. I now got to know that my father was no more. Apparently, each time I went to my friend’s (Bayo’s) house, his mother would say this is the son of a friend who died in a vehicle accident some time ago. So, my friend would have heard.
The second experience was the day I fulfilled my dream to become ‘uniform man.’ I had the dream of joining the Army or the police. When I returned to Ghana in 1966. I stayed with my maternal uncle, who was enlisted in the then West African Volunteers Force, comprising all the British colonies. My uncle was posted to the Gold Coast and integrated into the Ghanaian Army. And I stayed in the barracks and it was there that the military staged the first military coup in Ghana in 1966. And so, I grew up with the military mentality that I must join one of the forces. Unfortunately, the date for the examination into the army and the police in Nigeria fell on the same day at The Polytechnic Ibadan and my number WOS44 for the examination for enlistment into the army. It was at the examination centre that they gave us number and I chose the police. I made the choice because the training for the police was for one year for you to become an officer, while the army was three years. So, the letter I got to be trained as Police Cadet at Ikeja. I was very happy being a police officer and if I have the opportunity again, I will like to be in the police because you learn a lot of things; you are a nurse, doctor, soldier, lawyer and indeed, everything to be a master of all trade and master of almost all.
My third memorable experience was the day I built my house in Ogbomoso in 1982. I used to help people in a number of ways. So, one of them came around to find out how I manage the kind gestures we often extended to me for assisting them from time to time. I queried him for asking me a 30-year-old man how he manages his goodwill. I told him that I enjoy myself with it. So, one day he said he was giving me two trucks of cement to build a house. I told him I didn’t have a land; and that he should better throw the consignments into the lagoon. Later, I asked a friend to escort the trucks to Ogbomoso, where I had a small-scale dealer of cement. I said he should sell the 1200 bags to boost his business. Then, I started looking for a land to buy. I bought it for N2000. So after building the house, I still had 400 bags of cement left. So, I asked him to sell it and I used the money to acquire furniture for the house. So, I never knew that from little a five bedroom bungalow.
Having served in the police before going into politics, you are likely to have been faced with some nasty situations. How will you recount a few instances of your close shave with death?
I had three terrible accidents that would have claimed my life. I have two accidents on the Ogbomoso-Ilorin road and the other nasty experience was during the 1980 Maitatsine Religious Riot in Kano. Another terrible encounter where I cheated death was in 1986 when I was the Divisional Police Officer in Iponrin in Iganmu, Lagos State. I was lucky that I was not putting on my uniform on that day, otherwise I would have been killed during the riot against the Structural Adjustment Programme in 1986. I was flown later abroad following the violent attack on me by rioters.
It is believed by a lot of people that you are a womaniser.
I don’t know what you mean by womanising. Yes, I have a lot of female friends. Our relationship is just platonic. Women keep secrets more than men; so, I keep my secrets with them. If you quarrel with a woman, she would not because of it expose you. It is not so for men. In any case, your father too liked your mother; that’s why he married her. Of course, you know the power of money. Yoruba have a saying that, Eniti o ba ni ohun o se ako mo, owo ni ko si lowo e.
Many people believe you are a controversial politician and have said a lot about you. Why is it so?
It is so because politically, I am an introvert. But I am not in the real sense of it. I don’t believe in propaganda and I talk on what I don’t believe in and because of that people don’t know the stuff I’m made of and people don’t know me. Because I don’t talk too much, they just guess about certain things about me. You know when you don’t have information about a particular person, whatever information that is available to you, that’s is what you will use. That may account for their having an erroneous opinion about me that maybe, I’m controversial. No, I’m not.
Politicians are believed to be very slippery? You were a deputy to a governor. How loyal were you to Ladoja. Then, deputy governors are seen as spare tyres. Were you treated as a spare tyre?
In fact, if there is something that is more than spare tyre; you even take care of spare tyres in case of emergencies, but this time, I was even left deflated. So, I was not useful. As a deputy governor, I was not treated well at all. I was just going to the office to read newspapers. I was not assigned any role unless the ones I forced myself in. I was not given any opportunity to be part of the mainstream of the establishment of government. They didn’t allow to be part of it. So, when my boss was reinstated as governor after the impeachment saga, you know that he removed me from the usual deputy governor’s office into that office outside the Government Secretariat, very close to where the Ministry of Environment is located now. He brought me outside the secretariat. Will you say I was fairly treated? That’s number one. Number two, he disallowed me from attending the state Executive Council meetings. Will you say I was treated nicely? I did not attend EXCO meetings till the end of that regime. They no longer passed the EXCO information to me again to enable me attend meetings. But my own deputy governor was lucky because when I was acting governor and when I became governor, I treated them the way I wanted to be treated when I was deputy governor. They enjoyed.
Don’t you think the problems, perhaps has to do with the fact that the constitution is not explicit on the functions of a deputy governor; it does not assign or prescribe clear-cut functions for the office.
It depends on the governor. I made my deputy governor very busy when I was in office. The only two places where the duties of the deputy governor is spelt out are that each state government will have a boundary commission and the deputy governor will be the chairman. So, that’s only where in the constitution the duty of the deputy governor is spelt out in the constitution. It’s not good enough. They should be able to assign specific roles to deputy governor and if they don’t do that, I was able to cover that track because I was once a deputy governor. Not every deputy governor will become a governor so they would not be able to treat their deputy governor the way they would have wanted them to be treated if they were deputy governors. So, I would have loved that the constitution should provide a specific role for a deputy governor. But another thing is that I think the framers of the constitution were handicapped in the sense that the executive powers have been invested in the governor for the running of the state. If that is so, how will he have to share it with another person. The executive power is a totality of everything. So, they would not like to share the functions of his office. Perhaps, the drafters of the constitution thought that there can’t be two captains in a ship.
Now, let’s talk briefly on 21 years of civil rule in Nigeria. As a major actor, you should be able to speak frank on the journey so far, with most of the tough socio-economic and insecurity challenges we had during the military era still subsist. Are you satisfied with the prevalent situation having been involved in politics?
I’m not satisfied because the political parties we formed don’t have any ideology. That’s number one. Number two, all the political parties copy ourselves. Look at the constitutions of all the political parties, you will discover that they only change names; removing and inserting names. We copy each other. We are not formed based on any ideology. Besides, because of that, money still plays a major part of our politicking; it shouldn’t be if we are serious. If you are good, the society should be able to identify you to lead them without using a dime to get top elective public office for anything. They will vote you in without using money; in fact, you don’t all that. That is a mature political party. We don’t have political party in Nigeria that is rooted on ideology. We are just changing like chameleon every day. Everybody is guilty of the trend. If you see anybody that has not changed, he is a political harlot. Let me give you an example, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, do you know how long it has been in existence? When Nelson Mandela wanted to become the president of South Africa, he had no money, and because of the integrity and success they had been able to sustain, promote and maintain over the years, they voted him into office as president. So, money will continue to play a major part in our politicking as far as we remain unprincipled; as long as each of our political parties lack ideology. That is our major problem.
We have been able to stabilise the system after the damage done to the political structure by military rule. They (the military) caused a lot of havoc to the country. If they had allowed our forbearers wobbling and fumbling, we would have made a substantial progress. But they truncated democracy. Like Baba Obafemi Awolowo said: a bad democratic setup is better than a benevolent military regime. So, until we embrace ideological inclination in the formation of political parties, we will not get anything right. You know the place of parties in a matter is crucial in a democracy. When a party decides on a matter, you don’t ignore its decision. In the United States, nobody will struggle with you if you want a second term in office as long as you uphold institution and other democratic values. Once your party has taken a position, no member will go against it; all will fall in line. For instance, all the acrimony and disputes we have in my party (APC) now in Edo State is because of the bid by the governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki to seek re-election. If the rule had been that if you have had a single term, you have automatic ticket for second term. But, you have allowed people to be dividing the party. A similar scenario prevails in Ondo State, where there is a raging crisis because of the second term issue. The ugly trend is not limited or peculiar to the APC. A similar trend is prevalent in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), all because of lack of principle, ideology and party discipline. There is no strong political structures; the party structure is weak; people are just picked up to occupy offices; there is a culture of imposition.
So, the concept of being progressive as far as your party is concerned, just in name?
I laugh when people talk that one party is progressive and the other is conservative.
Is it not peculiar to APC?
No, I will disagree with anybody who might say so. We have future. There are progressives also in the PDP.
Including the ADP and ADC?
That is part of our problem. They allow anybody to just create any party. On the issue of one party being progressive or conservative, every party has its own fair share of people with different political persuasion and inclination. For instance, when Dr Bukola Saraki was in the APC, you called him a progressive; when he is out of it now and is in the PDP, you call him a conservative! When my brother, who is the current governor of Sokoto State, Ibrahim Waziri Tambuwal was in the PDP, he was a conservative and when he moved to APC, he became a progressive. When he went back to the PDP, you called him a conservative. We should not allow anybody to fool us. They are just using and interchanging those words to deceive and hoodwink everybody. If that concept of progressiveness had been established in our politics, we would not have problems and challenges politically as a country.
In other words, there is little or no hope for the country, given the prevailing trend in the body politics? Is that what you mean?
There is hope for the country. The people are watching us; they are seeing what we are doing. My interface with the media is part of the hope I’m talking about. I have identified some of the problems; a number of other persons might have also identifies the problems. The question is: how do we tackle his problem? It is now left for all of us to seek ways of tackling the problem head-long and realistically. There is hope.
How do you mean in relation of that hope on the wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian, who still wallow in poverty despite the enormous human and natural endowment of the country?
There is hope and do you know why there is hope? Nigerians can see what is happening now. One day, some people will come up to correct the anomaly. Whether you like or not, and it has nothing to do with my relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he ruled the country with the fear of God. If we were to have him longer than eight years, he would have turned around this country. He didn’t have enough time to turn around this country.
Even when, for instance, his administration could not fix the Lagos-Ibadan highway in eight years?
He didn’t have enough time. A period of eight years is not enough. I have been in power as governor; that is why I know that eight years is not enough. Not all I would have wished to do for the state I was able to do. Flt Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of Ghana used 19 and half years to turn around the fortune of his country. He had enough time to plan and implement his policies and programmes. He had 10 years of civil rule and almost the same number of years as a military leader. Before then, a lot of things had gone wrong in Ghana; there was mass poverty and other critical challenges. But something happened one day. Let’s come back home. A lot good things Obasanjo put in place were dismantled. Don’t forgot that there was paucity of fund during his tenure as president. I am not very happy that the Ibadan-Ilorin road flagged off on February 3, 2000 is still uncompleted. But somebody ought to continue with the construction of that road. You mentioned the Lagos-Ibadan highway, yes, I know that other places would have been begging for attention. As roads will be begging for attention, other sectors like healthcare, education, and so on will require attention, just as there is the problem of recurrent expenditure. So, hope is not lost; people can see what is happening to the country; the young generation can see and feel the situation. Somebody will come one day and change it.
The advocates of restructuring believe that even if you bring a Bill Clinton from the United States to become President in Nigeria, the existing political structure and system will not work because it is defective, unjust and so, we need to go back to the pre-independence arrangement?
Our problem is because we always want to do things in our own way; the manner it pleases us and suits our narrow interests. Sometimes, you see the 36 states in the country wanting to do one thing the same way without cognizance to the peculiarities of each unit. A Nigerian wants Oyo State to pay him the same salary like Rivers State, Lagos or Zamfara State are paying its workers. Are we the same in respect of a number of fundamental factors? The type of revenue Lagos State, for example, generates internally, do we get such in Oyo State? Lagos can lay less emphasis on federal allocation. Can Oyo State do so? All the states in the South-South can see federal allocation as secondary. Can Oyo State afford to behave that way? They get 13 per cent derivation as part of their allocations. Are we the same? That is what Afenifere is saying: let each state grow according to its strength and resources. At Nigeria’s Independence, the defunct Western Region looked inward to achieve massive socio-economic transformation. So, I would have loved we go back to the parliamentary system of government. It is cost-effective; you can easily identify one another in the constituencies. And a true leader always emerges through a thorough, well-filtered process and not by imposition and financial inducement. The system also provides for a shadow cabinet by the opposition, whose primary function is to keep the government perpetually in check and on its toes. The system ensures accountability, prudence and transparency. There is no room for sacred cows. Having been a governor, I believe the presidential system is too expensive. So, we have to restructure Nigeria and look inward; with such arrangement in place, we should be able to identify what we can do in our areas to transform the society and impart more positively on the citizens. I remember that cocoa farmers in those days could afford the school fees of their children because the government was inward-looking in terms resources. Every region had their comparative advantages that were tapped into to the benefit of the people. .
One of the many things people believe is that you are better as a socialite than as a political leader.
I don’t know what they mean by being a socialite than a political leader. If they say so, they are wrong. I believe in the philosophy of welfare. I take care of people’s welfare than attending social parties. Though I enjoy going to parties too, socialising, it does not mean one should lose focus; it is just to keep friends. When you don’t keep friends, you could lose a lot of opportunities. When I had no dime, it was friends that rallied round me. A good politician must have a social life. If you don’t, you won’t get it right. That is why I’m everywhere. In those days, when you don’t take alcohol, a lot of people feared you. You do not drink; you don’t womanise, what do you do? You gossip; it means you have been engaging in gossips. Individuals that socialise have a clean heart. They don’t keep grudges. I’m a life member of Ikoyi Club in Lagos; I’m a life member of Ogbomoso Recreation Club; I’m a honourary member of Lagos Island Club; Ibadan Polo Club.
How did that help you as governor then?
It helped me in so many ways. It is like the adage that walls have ears (etiobanle; etiobaloko, eniyannijebe). It helped me in getting useful information where necessary. The network you have built over the years becomes handy. That is one advantage of socializing for me. If people say, I like looking good (wearing jewellery), yes I do and I have been weary it since I was young. You can’t be born in Ghana and you won’t make faari; that you won’t be groovy. That’s what we are noted for. So, my memoir is almost ready. Whatever is there, I’m accountable. I will take responsibility. I want everybody to write theirs too. So, any misconception that anybody has about me is another way of calling the dog a bad name in order to hang it.
Your party has given you the assignment to reconcile all aggrieved members…
Yes, I have never been known to fail in any assignment. We will succeed. We have gone very far on the assignment. We have formed a social media platform as part of efforts to aggregate all opinions on the assignment. I will bring everybody back to the party. We have done our homework. We have a template on what we are going to do. One thing all of us must realize this is a party; all of us have offended one another. Let us forgive. Everybody has offended one another; let us forgive ourselves. We have received memoranda from different groups, including New Era, Unity Forum, I think they are about four of them and the common complaint is that we lost an election. Do you think if we were to be together we would have lost the polls? In the first election, we had 10 out of House of Representatives’ seats; two senators out of three, but we failed in the governorship election. We know the factors that made us to fail. We failed here (Ibadan city). We are back to the drawing board.
You were in government for five years and you implemented a lot of programmes and projects. What are the projects that you did that made you happy and the one you see after you had left office that you are not happy about?
I’m speaking as a statesman. Everything that I have dome makes me happy. The reason is that I promised the people of Ibarapa that I would do something for them. I did it. I promised them that I would construct a bridge that they had been clamouring for, for more than 60 years in Ofiki River Bridge at Idere. I did not only build the bridge, I tarred the road. I promised them the establishment of a School of Agriculture; I did the College of Agriculture, Igboora. As a matter of fact, when I was building that College of Agriculture, one of the officials that came to accredit the institution asked me if I was building a university. I did all I did then because my plan was to take away LAUTECH from Osun State and make that place the University of Agriculture.
I also created a network of roads. I remain the only person that created greatest number of roads for them. They are so many roads that I cannot start enumerating. When you are talking of regrets, the only thing that I did that I’m regretting is the School of Nursing, a gigantic house I built in Oyo town that they have abandoned. Each time I drive through that area, I feel sad. My stomach rankles at the sight of the magnificent structure. In Ogbomoso, I did a lot of road network. The existence of LAUTECH has brought a lot of economic growth and development to Ogbomoso. And in order to maximize the potential, I felt we have to recover the institution from Osun State and which I did and first towards achieving that, there is a College of Medicine we had to build another one. I had to build another teaching hospital in Ogbomoso for the institution. I made sure that when they came for accreditation, the officials that led the team asked because they had hitherto called Ogbomoso the annex of the LAUTECH hospital in Osogbo. And LAUTECH was like comparing a Peugeot to a Volkswagen. So, they wanted to know which the main campus was because we had our teaching hospital where we taught medical students.
In Ibadan, I built the best estates so far in Oyo State. Samonda and Kolapo Ishola. Again I allowed private participation in the development of Ibadan. It is a part of the ways of helping the younger ones to grow. I did construction of roads and not repairs. Apart from the Parliament Road to the Queen Elizabeth Road to Gate, I did it. Then, I did the Queen Cinema-Dugbe-Adamasingba-Molete Road. Akala Way was not meant to be called that name. People call it Akala Way because I did the road. So, if you are popular, you don’t need to name anything after you. People bestow such honour on you. No local council name that road Akala Road. The only thing was that my brother, Senator Abiola Ajimobi gave it legitimacy in 2019. It was a complete construction that took place and not rehabilitation. And by so doing, I opened up Ibadan through that place. You can’t take that from me.
When you talk about infrastructure, I don’t think anybody has come close to what I did since 1999 in the state as governor. But I am not the type that blows his trumpet because I don’t believe in propaganda. Again, the most important thing that I did as governor, was making sure that there was always money in circulation. I encouraged empowerment of the citizens at all times. I caused money to be constantly in circulation. And I believe it is the best way to impart on the lives of the citizens, especially at the grassroots. I believe government is the biggest spender. And if the biggest spender you don’t put money in circulation, people will not have access to fund to run their business, maintain good health and sustain their livelihood. Sometimes, I provided facilities to banks to enable the citizens have access to such fund for their business, while we were not using the funds. And any time, we needed such fund, we easily recall it from the banks. There are lots of things. So, there is no way I will get to a particular place I would not react to what I did as governor. Ayegun is our boundary with the Republic of Benin. I made sure that I tarred the road from Iwere-Ile; it was the first time at the road would be tarred. I built a giant bridge across from Iganna to iwere-Ile and I made sure that each local government area also had money to execute projects. Of course, I did not owe a dime. I didn’t borrow from any bank to execute the projects. So, nobody came as governor and he was paying debts unless contractors that did not submit his certificate before I left office as governor.