Chief Bisi Akande: My experience today, now that I am 70, is about the same as my experience when I was 50 or 55 or 60. It appears that life just continues, without remembering that age is increasing and time is being far spent. But I thank God for what He has done for me and what people’s support has constituted in my life. I can only say I am very happy. I am happy and I feel satisfied. I feel fulfilled and I pray that God Almighty will continue to make me useful to humanity.
Q: In the last 70 years, you have been privileged to occupy some sensitive public positions such as councillor, SSG, deputy governor, governor and national chairman of a political party. How will you summarise your experiences?
Chief Bisi Akande: The greatest lesson I have learnt is that whatever you do, you do it for yourself. When you do well, you are doing it for yourself; when you do evil, you are doing it for yourself. And it is what you sow that you will reap. I came to that conclusion when it came to my notice some four weeks ago that some people were planning to celebrate my 70th birthday. And I began to wonder, how would they know what I want the celebration to look like? How would they know how much I intend to spend on it? They said, ‘No, it is not your business.’ They said they wanted to celebrate my life, to show appreciation for what I have been doing. Then, I said to myself, ‘So, people are taking note of all these things I have been doing.’ And with what I had done now, they are trying to reward me. So, that means to a reasonable extent, some people appreciate that I have done some good and are trying to reward me with goodness. It really humbles me. All that a man can have is to limit it to how much such pride can make him serve people or serve God through people. And when you want to do anything, you should ask yourself whether it will translate to people around you. And once you are convinced that it will translate to goodness for people around you, definitely you are doing yourself some good. That is what I have experienced in all the assignments I have done, either in private or public service.
After going to school, I started as a shopkeeper with one B.M. Akadiri in Idanre, and I moved from there to become a teacher in (Obafemi) Awolowo’s free primary education (programme), which started in 1955. From there, I went to the Teachers’ Training College, and came back to be a teacher again. And from teaching, I moved to British Petroleum to work and to train as an accountant. I managed to reach what one can call the top there, before I was invited to come and be Secretary to State Government in Bola Ige’s administration (in Oyo State) in 1979. And before then, my people had called me back home to serve as a councillor. I was elected unopposed and I was a councillor for almost nine years in Ila Orangun. First, I served as a member of a management committee during the military and as a councillor during the transition from military to democratic rule. And as SSG, I did not know I was doing the job well, but I knew I was doing my best and knew I was loyal both to my leader, Chief Bola Ige, and to all my colleagues in the cabinet. One day, I was in Ila Orangun, being made a chief (Asiwaju of Ila Orangun) in 1982 and during the ceremony, people just came from nowhere and started shouting ‘Awo, Awo, thank God.’ I asked for what happened and they said that the House of Assembly in Ibadan had approved me as the deputy governor of Oyo State. That convinced me that I was doing the job of SSG very well. But we were later rubbished by the rigging of 1983, and from there we were sent to prison – Bola Ige and I.
Q: On what charge?
Chief Bisi Akande: They said we unlawfully enriched the Unity Party of Nigeria, through the chairmen of local government. They donated buses to the party. Chairmen of local governments donated buses to UPN, and myself and Ige were sent to prison for that. We did not know about what they donated, but they said we must have conspired to ask them to buy the buses for the party and they sentenced us to 42 years imprisonment. After three years, we were released.
Q: Which prison did you serve?
Chief Bisi Akande: I was first locked up at the Bonny Camp military barracks, Lagos, and from there to Kirikiri prison in Apapa. From there, I was released for want of evidence. They could not charge me with anything. So, one day, the then Governor Oladayo Popoola of Oyo State was to travel to Ilesha and then a publication came out that Bola Ige stole $12 million meant for Ilesha water project. I felt shocked because I presided over everything we did about Ilesha water project. So, I replied that it was not true and stated that the truth could be found at the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Ministry of Works, and also at the Oyo State ministries of justice and works. And that it was not true that Ige stole any money. They said that in order to annoy the Ijesha people so that the people could give the military a welcome in Ilesha, but my reply which was also published embarrassed the government and Governor Popoola could not make the trip to Ilesha. The military ordered that I should be recaptured dead or alive. So I was re-arrested and was put in the military barracks in Mokola (Ibadan) for about a week and later at the NSO (Nigerian Security Organisation) headquarters in Ibadan for another four weeks and from there to Agodi prison in Ibadan. I remained there for about three years. One thing that surprised me most was that for those three years, I never took ill for once. I was just happy throughout my stay and I did not know why.
When I came out, my family became uncomfortable with my going back to politics, so I had a covenant with them that I would remain in politics for ever; but I would not go into elective or appointive position in politics.
Q: That means you broke the covenant with your family when you got elected as governor of Osun State in 1999. How did they take it?
Chief Bisi Akande: Honestly, there was no time for me to discuss the issue of governorship with them. It was like when I became the deputy governor. I did not know I was going to become anything, but I received a message that the governor wanted to see me in Ibadan. It was on October 3, 1979. Governor Bola Ige was inaugurated on October 1, 1979. So, I went to Ibadan on October 4, and I met the governor and the deputy governor. Chief S.M. Afolabi and Ige called me into a lobby and said, ‘You have been appointed SSG, we hope you will be able to start work tomorrow morning.’ And before I could come up with an answer, they said, ‘Oh, let’s go for the meeting.’ Everybody was waiting. So, I joined them at the meeting and I could not contribute anything, because the first thing they announced at the meeting was that a SSG had been appointed. I was introduced and people started congratulating me. So, before I knew it, I had become the SSG, and I was overwhelmed. My family was in Lagos, what would happen to them? Would I move them to Ibadan? What would happen to my job, my wife’s job? I had not resigned from my job, etc.
It was in the same manner that I became governor. It is true that some friends had been talking to me about becoming the candidate for the governorship, but I was not enthusiastic about it. Politics had become highly monetised during the Babangida and Abacha regimes, so I did not have that budget. I never thought I wanted to be governor, because I did not think the structure of politics was good enough for me to enter at that time. But when Chief Ige called me to tell me that he wanted me to run for governorship, I just told him that I would need to think about it and that I would come back.
So, there was a meeting at Ijebu Igbo and I attended as state chairman of my party in Osun State then – the Alliance for Democracy. At the meeting, the late Pa Abraham Adesanya said, ‘All of you who want to be governor, please go out from this meeting.’ And all my colleagues like Lam Adesina, Segun Osoba, Niyi Adebayo all moved out of the venue. Pa Adesanya said again, ‘Those of you who have not indicated interest to be governor but who are thinking about it, go out. Otherwise, if in future you come, we may disqualify you.’ Because I did not think about it, I did not go out. Suddenly, Chief Ige shouted and said, ‘Bisi, do you want to disgrace us in Osun State? Do you want to spoil everything we have arranged? Please, go out. I said go out.’ He was my leader, so I should not disobey him. I went out of the meeting, but instead of going to the apartment reserved for my other colleagues who had indicated interest, I went straight to my car and drove away. That was on a Thursday. The following Saturday, I was to be at an arranged meeting in Osogbo to discuss some issues but before I got there, the whole state was already set for my nomination. At that meeting, I was not allowed to be the chairman. They cast me in the mould of (governorship) aspirants. So, they said, ‘All of you who want to contest should move into a room under Chief Akande’s chairmanship and sort out the issue of candidates.’ When we got there, the first man to speak said he would do it willy-nilly except I said I wanted to be. All of them followed suit, except one man – Abiola Morakinyo – who declined to say what he would do until he saw Chief Ige. We went to see Ige at Ibadan. Ige intervened and we all resolved that I should be the candidate. Morakinyo also agreed and they all congratulated me.
At that time, my wife was in the UK taking care of our grandson. So, there was no way I could contact her. My children were not around, so I only discussed with my brother. Before they came back two weeks after, the election has been held and I have become governor. So, I only apologised to them. So, the covenant was broken again, by the act of God.
Q: If you look back at the various political offices you have held, there is always a reference to Ige. Would you see him as your guardian angel, or somebody God sent to assist you?
Chief Bisi Akande: Honestly, I did not know Ige in person until 1978, when we were forming the UPN. I only knew him by reputation. From the day I met him, he became an object of study and I started paying attention to his ways. But not long after that, he appointed me as SSG. So, I got to know him more closely. I came to see him as a very open person; he could be angry with you and give you the length of his tongue in anger, but the next minute, he would be dealing with you as if nothing had happened. He had no time for many things, and as SSG, you had no time to sit down with him and talk. So, you have to prepare documents. And when you prepared documents for him, unless you followed up very well, it would be very difficult to get him to read it. But no matter how voluminous the documents were, if he went through the memo you prepare for him for just 10 minutes, and started talking on it, you would be lost, as if you were not the one who prepared it. So, I said if Ige could be able to sit down and be as studious as Awolowo was, I don’t know who could be more brilliant than him. He had no time to sit down like Awolowo, but he had a quick way of perceiving information and using that information to a better advantage. The difference between the two was that Awolowo would sit down and say, ‘Oh, you bring this document, okay we will discuss it later.’ But by the time you saw Chief Awolowo, you would feel foolish that you had prepared such a sub-standard material for him. The two were very brilliant in their own ways. Awo, very studious, while Ige was naturally brilliant. He had no time, I don’t remember seeing him sitting down to do any serious study. But you could trust the quickness of his wit. Because of that, I respected him a lot and was absolutely loyal to him as a co-worker in government, as a friend and by some connections. His mother’s root was Ila Orangun, so we regarded ourselves as brothers. I was loyal to him as a member of the same family and that affected us so much that his family and mine seemed to have woven into one. Because of my loyalty to him, I believe he too had a special belief in my ability to do well. When there was any opening in the position of leadership, he always said the only person that he would put and that would not disappoint was Bisi Akande. If you will call that a guardian angel, a loyal friend, a good leader or godfather, I don’t know. But single-handedly, he must have rail-roaded me into governorship.
Q: You have been a councillor, SSG, deputy governor, governor and now, you are the national chairman of a party. Which of these positions would you say has given you the most tremendous experience you can’t forget?
Chief Bisi Akande: The one I have the greatest nostalgia for is my councillorship. If I have my way again, I would love to go back to be a councillor in Ila Orangun.
Chief Bisi Akande: When you are a councillor, you deal with the grassroots and you understand the feelings of what we call the ordinary Nigerians. They are the most grateful Nigerians. They are the people you can serve and would never forget your good deeds, and you too can feel satisfied that God is with you. This is because their demands are very minimal. It is either they come and say they have no road leading to their farms, or that their children need a school to attend or there is no health facility around them. All these are minor things and when you manage to do them and you do them well, they won’t ask for another thing. Then, you become a hero among them. But for all the other positions, no matter what you do, people still want more; because they are using you merely as an instrument to make money. They want contracts, they want appointments, they want everything that will make them richer than they were before. When you do one, they want you to do another. If you can’t do the other, you become a bad man. The quarrel will not be that you have not done anything, but that you stopped doing things for them. So, when you talk of challenges, in my own definition, it is giving an impetus, giving a stimuli to want to do more. The greatest challenge I had was when I was a councillor.
Q: And you still would like to go back?
Chief Bisi Akande: If I have an opportunity, I would still like to go back as a councillor.
Q: You were both a participant and a victim of the rigging that characterised the 1983 and 2003 elections. How would you compare the two elections?
Chief Bisi Akande: Honestly, rigging is rigging. In both elections, I as a person expected rigging. But in the 1983 elections, the monitoring of the elections on the part of our party, UPN, was more scientific than what we had in 2003. Under the leadership of Prof. Tunde Adeniran (former Minister of Education), we created a monitoring office, where all copies of all election results from every ward all over Oyo State were submitted. By the close of the day, we knew what the score was and it was on the television screen. We put it there. Constituency by constituency, local government by local government and the whole world saw that we really won the election; because it was so scientifically monitored. But the real falsification and manipulation was at the FEDECO office. Chief Dele Ige and I were the agents of Chief Bola Ige. The two of us were at the FEDECO office to monitor the inflow of results, but they used armed policemen to force us out of the building, because they felt our presence would not allow manipulation. It was a fraudulent take over of power by the NPN, particularly in Oyo State at that time, and it was not painful because we saw it coming.
Q: What about in 2003?
Chief Bisi Akande: In the case of 2003, we were led to Obasanjo by Pa Abraham Adesanya about three weeks to the election. At that meeting, the Afenifere leaders were present as well as two or three governors and Bishop Gbonigi. Archbishop Ladigbolu was there, the Awujale of Ijebuland was there. After the meeting, I enjoyed the privilege of hosting Archbishop Ladigbolu in my house in Ibadan. I told him we were going to be rigged out of the election; that Obasanjo had concluded he was going to rig us out. He could not believe it. I said I could read it from his body language at the meeting.
Q: Was he the one who called the meeting?
Chief Bisi Akande: It was Pa Adesanya who arranged the meeting. It was a follow-up to meetings Afenifere had with Obasanjo. Along the line, Afenifere was trying to see that Yoruba people supported Obasanjo for a second term, even though some of the leaders are now denying that that meeting ever existed. But the meetings existed. There were three meetings. We held the first one at Abeokuta where (Femi) Okurounmu was our mouthpiece. Chief Cornelius Adebayo spoke after him, before Obasanjo made his response where he promised heaven and earth – that he was going to do the bidding of Afenifere. That meeting was a follow-up to another meeting at Abeokuta at the Presidential Lodge with Segun Osoba. The third meeting was the one attended by the Awujale and the bishops. When some people talk now, they will say the governors sold out the Yoruba. No, it was Afenifere that led us to Obasanjo. Some people will say such meetings never held, but they held.
In fact, the decision to allow Bola Ige to serve in Obasanjo’s government was also taken at a meeting. A meeting was held at Ijebu Igbo and approval was given that Ige should go and serve. Pa Adesanya said, ‘Oh, this is Afenifere’s level, don’t let us conclude the matter here. Go to AD and re-affirm your decision.’ Based on that, another meeting was held at the Old Kingsway at Ikeja. You can ask people like Dr. Wahab Dosunmu if this meeting was not held. The only motion against Bola Ige going to Obasanjo’s government was moved by Pa Adebanjo, and that motion was not supported by anybody. Ayo Fasanmi presided over the meeting and he announced that now that the motion was not supported, was there any other motion? But there was no other motion. So, the motion for Bola Ige to serve in Obasanjo’s government was carried unanimously. So, two meetings of Afenifere and a meeting of AD sponsored Ige to serve in Obasanjo’s government. Now that Ige is no more, people are saying he went to serve his personal interest. When Ige was leaving the government, he wrote a resignation letter, where he stated there that he was going to revamp his party – the AD. If he did not do that, they would have said he had joined the PDP. So, all these meetings were always held and they were at the instance of Afenifere. So, when we left that meeting, I knew Obasanjo was going to rig the election; and when he did, I was not too surprised.
Q: Wasn’t that defeatist? Why couldn’t you mobilise against it, since you had a premonition?
Chief Bisi Akande: Let me share the experiences of some of people, particularly with the police. They talked to the DPO at a polling booth in Ila Orangun, that how could the police be behaving like this? And then DPO said this PDP thing was beyond them, that they were under instruction. Again, 150 anti-riot policemen were sent to Osun State from Abuja. And they were stationed in Okuku, in Oyinlola’s town, and he was the one telling them what to do. So, it was well orchestrated and there was nothing you could do to frustrate it. If it was possible to frustrate it then, it would have been easier to frustrate that of 2007. When the police and INEC are bent on rigging an election, there is nothing you can do.
Q: Given that the decision to allow Ige to serve in Obasanjo’s government was taken by Afenifere, looking back now, would you say the decision was a tactical error?
Chief Bisi Akande: It was not. I was reading Falae’s interview, where he explained why he withdrew his case against Obasanjo. That was the mood of the circumstances of the time. That we didn’t want military rule again, that we wanted democracy to succeed. And no matter how bad the PDP government was supposed to be, because you didn’t want the military to come back, .you wanted that government, if possible, to be given credibility so that it could do well. And we thought Ige would be of influence for that government to do well. He did his best, he was frustrated out of the Power and Steel ministry. He told me that and it happened that people were going to the bush to dismantle the electricity lines, only to sabotage all that the ministry was putting in place. But he succeeded as attorney-general. He was the one who made us see the muddle up in the Federal Government. He was the one who led us to the Supreme Court on the issue of resource control.
Q: Afenifere fell apart about three months ago, leading to the emergence of ARG and another group that retained the name. Is that the end of a collective voice for the Yoruba?
Chief Bisi Akande: When you talk about Afenifere parting ways, it wasn’t three months ago. It was in 2004 or 2005 when at Akure, Afenifere resolved to support a faction of AD that Fasoranti said was favoured by Obasanjo. Afenifere was made to support a faction which Fasoranti told a newspaper was supported by Obasanjo, and that was why Afenifere was made to support that faction. That was when Afenifere parted ways – some people parted ways then, leading to Fasoranti and Fasanmi Afenifere. Some people believe that those who will prefer a group or faction favoured by Obasanjo should be regarded as Afenifere of the PDP; and then, we created the Ayo Fasanmi Afenifere to be the Afenifere of the AD. But when Obasanjo used INEC deliberately to destroy AD and there was not going to be a platform for AD to contest the 2007 elections, some of us joined hands with some other people to form the AC. So, the parting of ways was not done three months ago. But when there was this confusion, the respectable youths in Yorubaland moved together and said they must rescue the group; and they called themselves ARG. We pray they will be able to succeed in bringing the Yoruba together.
Q: Which of the Afenifere groups do you belong?
Chief Bisi Akande: I belong to the Afenifere of Ayo Fasanmi.
Q: How would you describe Obasanjo’s politics?
Chief Bisi Akande: Obasanjo has no politics, he has never been a politician and that is why nobody is assembling in his house anymore. In a politician’s home, there is always a beehive of activities. You don’t need to be in power before people would be coming to you. People were going to Ota to see Obasanjo because he was the president. Now that he is no more president, it has shown clearly that he is no politician. Obasanjo was trained as a soldier, he acted in power only as a soldier. But if he had been a little wiser, he would have used power to attract love to himself. But today, he seems not to be wanted by any section of the country. He seems not to be wanted even by PDP, to which he belongs. Why? Because he behaved in politics as if he was in the army. That was why he made a big mistake by making an incursion to politics. Yes, historically, people would say he was a president of Nigeria, but, with a but, a very unsuccessful president; a president that never achieved anything, a president that had no focus, a president that left what the Federal Government should be doing to adopt what local governments should be doing – basic primary education.
Q: Last week some former governors paid a visit to President Yar’Adua. Why were you not there?
Chief Bisi Akande: I don’t see anything wrong in serving or former governors going to visit the President. It is not a bad idea. They could go there to share experiences with the President. They can help him in developing a focus, because a president who never thought he could be president and suddenly became a president may never have a focus. The Nigerian people will suffer in the end. So, I don’t see anything wrong. I was not present, maybe because I did not hear about it in good time. Also, I always felt it was not right as a leader of an opposing political party to join a body that was largely made up of the PDP to meet the President. That could be a wrong signal to my members.
Q: So what is your impression of President Yar’Adua?
Chief Bisi Akande: He has no clue and he is not being assisted. He is most unlucky to belong to the PDP. He cannot make any breakthrough, even for eight years; there is no way he can make any breakthrough. You cannot belong to the PDP and have a breakthrough in power, because the PDP is an assemblage of people not having a coherent focus about how to develop a country. It is an association of business politicians, people who want money from politics. Do-or-die, they will get there and they will make money do-or-die, and do-or-die, they will use any president to create that money for them. So, more or less, Yar’Adua is in prison – the PDP’s prison and Nigerians will suffer for it.
Q: Why have you refused to take the title of Alhaji, being a practising Muslim who has also been to the holyland a number of times?
Chief Bisi Akande: I am very proud to be a Muslim, but I don’t believe that I am a Muslim only when I put it on my head for people to see. Even though I have my Muslim name, but somehow I grew up being called Bisi Akande; so it has stuck. And even when I tell people I am Abdulkareem, it does not register. Even if I attach Alhaji to my name and people prefer to call me Chief, what will I do?
This interview was culled from The Punch Newspaper