The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party inLagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE and TUNDE AJAJA, speaks about his candidature and his plans for the state if elected governor
How prepared are you for the election?
You cannot be 100 per cent prepared, but we are definitely prepared. You can see there are lots of activities going on; we are very busy and everybody is occupied. We’re not afraid. We know what we have to do before the day of election and we believe once those things are done properly, victory will be ours definitely.
People say it would be difficult for you to win the election as Lagos is seen as a stronghold of the APC. Do you think you have a chance?
They have been in office for about 16 years, so, to that extent, we never thought it would be a tea party. We are very clear that it is going to be a tough race but we believe that at the end of the day, we’re going to win. We have looked at what is happening and got the opinions of people and we are clear that people are more on our side than on their side. All things being equal, if we have a free and fair election, we will lead them.
The APC has described you as inexperienced to run public office, calling your Bold Idea campaign bold inexperience. How do you feel about this?
It is interesting. I suppose in politics, everybody plays to the gallery. When you talk about experience, do I have experience in government? No. But do I have experience to govern? Yes. Am I qualified to govern? Yes. And I think we should look at history and those that have actually changed their world, especially in governance. There are people who have done that; an example is Abraham Lincoln in the US. Such people did not have government experience but they were qualified. If you come down to Africa, Nelson Mandela did not have government experience but he was qualified. If you come to Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo did not have government experience but he was qualified. Come to Lagos, Lateef Jakande did not have government experience but he was qualified. In fact, I laugh when they speak, because even their national leader, the only experience he could have had or had before he became the Governor of Lagos State was his three months stint as a senator in a quasi military-cum-civilian era. So, that is just mere talk. We have sense of the right way to govern, and for the lack of a better way to attack us, they have to hold on to something. So, we are clear that we are coming in from the outside. Jimi Agbaje is coming in with the prerequisite experience. Jimi Agbaje is first a professional, who has been in politics, served his profession at every level, and understands what it is in terms of service. Jimi Agbaje is coming from the background of a small-scale person. Jimi Agbaje started with a small pharmacy outlet and has been able to grow his business. Don’t forget that the way forward for societies is from small and medium scale enterprises. Jimi Agbaje is coming from that background because he knows where the shoe pinches. So, I’ve been able to grow my business in a way that I can hold my own without anybody. I’ve been able to look after myself and give my children the best of education that they can have, not just in this country, but anywhere. That is where I’m coming from. I have experience as a politician, I have been in politics and been an active member of the Afenifere. Jimi Agbaje has shown over the years that he is clear about the kind of things that are going to move Lagos forward and that is very important if you are talking about governance. Jimi Agbaje has been able to show that there are alternatives to the way we are running government today. He has shown that he has remained consistent in what he says. It’s impossible for people to point out some things that I’ve said at one time and say that I have reversed to say something else at another time. So we are coming to show that if they claim that he doesn’t have government experience, he is very clear about what he is going to do when he gets into office. And what he is propagating are things that are there for everybody to understand. We are not saying we want to do what has never been done before, but that there are ways it has been done in other places and that it can be done in our own part of the world.
Some people have said the incumbent governor has done well, and you once admitted to that before, If that is the case, what new things are you bringing on board?
No. I think we have to get it right. What I meant was that someone could be progressive or conservative and do well, but what I said was that the incumbent governor had done his bit but he is not progressive. His style of governance is not progressive. Progressivism is having a more human face in terms of policy formulation and implementation. Looking at the policies of his government, we cannot say that he has tilted more to the people when you look at basic issues like housing, for example. He is on record to have said many times that there is nothing like low-income housing. That is not a progressive way of thinking, especially when you consider, and even by admission of his government, that 70 per cent of Lagos residents live in substandard houses. So, if you claim that and you say there is nothing like housing for them, then you cannot be said to be progressive in your thinking. For example, if you have a problem with Okada (commercial motorcycles) and you have not given them an alternative way out, then you cannot be said to have been progressive. If you increase fees the way it was increased and it took the coming elections to reverse it, then you can’t be said to be progressive, but that is not to say that if you are not progressive, you are terrible. I mean to say that this government cannot take the tag of being a progressive government, in spite of whatever achievement it has, and it’s available to the jury to assess how well we have been since the government got there. We know we still have a long way to go.
Why is it that when new government wants to come into power, they say so many things to discredit the administration before them. Are you not doing the same thing here?
I think what is happening today is the other way round. It is the government that is going out now that is saying many nasty things about the one that is coming in. I don’t think that we can be accused of saying any nasty thing about the present government. If anything, we have been very civil about it. I have been accused of being too old to govern; I have even been accused of being a serial tax evader. With due respect, Governor Babatunde Fashola, on the altar of politics, told a big lie on my person, and even on the company that I have. It is a lie and a big lie. Jimi Agbaje is not a tax evader. I have a letter of appreciation from the same government, commending me. There are reports that my company is owing N1.6m, which is a big lie. My company is not owing N1.6m. So, Governor Fashola has used his office in a way that is disappointing to me. He is playing politics, which he had not been shown to be very good at.
How do you mean?
He has not been seen over the last eight years as understanding the terrain of politics and I think it is showing. So maybe this is inexperience on his part, where you come out at a public forum to denigrate a taxpaying citizen of yours, denigrate his company and those working in the place. Like I said, we’ll handle it formally. I have asked for the papers from my company and I have said before that I have not been involved in the day-to-day running of my company since 2006, which is on record with Governor Fashola’s government. Having said that, to say that my company was/is owing N1.6m is not even true.
Are you owing anything?
No. That is what I’m saying. I just asked for the papers and I’m going through them. The Lagos State government wrote a letter in January 2014. The governor also made reference to my pharmacy at No. 9, Randle Crescent; my pharmacy is not at that address, but my corporate office. So, he got all his facts wrong and that is why I said it was clear that he had other motives and that is why if you are talking about one party denigrating the other, they are the ones doing that to us. From the letters that I have been given, it’s clear that there have been issues on that matter. As of January 2014, the amount due as Land Use Charge was N1.46m, of which they have paid that much, and it was also written that we could apply for a waiver, so, there is no such thing. The charge for 2014 shows that we paid the same year and not this year as presented. We have paid for this year, so, categorically, Mr. Fashola is wrong. It is a lie to say that we owe that amount, even going by the documentation of the government, so he ‘s been playing politics. I think he should talk less and listen some more.
Why don’t you take a legal action against him if he was wrong?
What matters is that he has gone before the public and it is for us to tell the public that what he has done is a lie and that he is playing politics that is not good for our environment. I thought we had agreed that it would be issue-based rather than mudslinging and I’m disappointed.
Is it true that you plan to bring back Okada riders to the roads?
I never said that. I said this government has not handled the Okada issue properly. I am on record to say that at the level of our development today in Lagos, we cannot throw away Okada, because if you go to all parts of Lagos, the roads are not there and there is no transportation, so to that extent, Okada remains something that we cannot do away with. Having said that, we have to work with them in a way that they are not a threat. What I have against the present government is the way it handled the issue. There is a lot of arrogance, a lot of conservatism that I talked about, rather than progressivism. Even in the party that the government of Lagos belongs, there are states that banned Okada but gave the commercial motorcyclists alternatives. They made arrangements to get taxis and things like that for them, which is the way to be progressive but our own government didn’t do that. Our own government just asked them to go to hell; that once they had nothing to do, they could go to hell. Now, that is the conservatism in this government. So basically, that is what I was saying. It’s the way you handle this situation that matters a lot. It’s the human aspect that matters and that was not there the way this was handled. Then there are some restrictions that would be amended if I’m elected.
You said you would cancel tolling on the Lekki-Epe Expressway, what about the agreement involved?
Yeah, it’s another PPP that went wrong but I think for clarity, presently, there is no PPP arrangement in place there any longer. What we had was a PPP arrangement that was faulty and with vested interest that backfired. But now, it is a Lagos State government affair. So we have made it very clear that in the interest of those that stay along that road, because there are lots of villages there and the whole of Epe, where they have to pay to get to. The people along that axis are very clear on what is acceptable or not to them. To that extent, we are saying that ‘yes, we will cancel that toll gate’. We did not say that we would cancel the toll at the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge. We may review it and if we find out that the costing is reasonable, then we leave it. If not, then it will be reviewed downwards.
You made a statement recently that generated some buzz. You said the South-South region can collapse the economy if President Jonathan loses the election. Were you downplaying the essence of democracy?
Definitely not! Those who know me know I’m a democrat. It’s time for politics, so there is a lot of mischief out there. I was invited to a forum to speak about the plans I have for Lagos and so, 90 or 95 per cent of my talk was focused on Lagos. At the end, the issue of the presidency came up and I went to some extent to explain the issues as I saw them as regards Buhari and Jonathan. I looked at the pros and cons of both sides. I acknowledged what Buhari stood for and also stated his weaknesses, just as I did for Jonathan. I believed that Jonathan had done quite a bit but has been underreported. In other words, his achievements have been underreported and I explained that it was the challenge his handlers would need to deal with over the next few weeks or months at that time. I said these were the issues. But then I said there was another issue that we needed to take into consideration. Don’t forget that I was discussing with an elite audience and I spoke about the other issue that we have to look at which is a reality in our country. It’s a reality that in our country, tribe and religion still play a role in our politics and that is why we still have things like federal character and zoning, even within our communities and local governments. It is a reality that as an active member of Afenifere (a pan-Yoruba group), we didn’t support Olusegun Obasanjo to become the president. But when he was going to run for a second term, even though the group was not comfortable with him, it was difficult not to support him because of the realities of our time. It was difficult for Afenifere to bring out a candidate to go against one of their own. I said that it was unjustified but that is the politics of our time. And so Afenifere did not have a candidate and had to allow Obasanjo go for a second term. Jonathan has run for the first time, so I said I saw a situation where the South-South will expect him as one of their own to also go for a second term. I said it’s unjustifiable to think that way but it is a reality. I said that we are faced with a situation before us where whichever way it goes, there could be crisis. If it is Jonathan that wins, there could be crisis in the north except I’m saying something that we don’t know. I said in the same way, if Buhari wins, then there is likelihood of having a crisis in the South-South. And that they have shown the capacity to shut down the system. Now, as people, the choice is yours. Which would you rather have of this sorry situation?
People still feel your statement was incitable and should not have come from you.
There is nothing incitable about it. No! No! No! it’s politics. People are campaigning on their strengths and people believe it’s a strong argument against those who want Buhari. That is all. It’s like you have taken a position that you want to support someone and you are reacting to an argument that tends to put you at a disadvantage, that’s the way I see it. We all know. I think a few days after that, Pastor Tunde Bakare came out and said the way he sees it, whichever way it goes, there is going to be crisis. Please, is there anything different in what I have said? There is nothing different. It is just that Jimi Agbaje said it and people feel uncomfortable that it’s a strong point, but it is a reality. I don’t like it but it’s a reality we have to think of. And we are saying that in the interest of the unity of this country.
But considering the outrage that followed the statement, do you now regret making it?
It’s not about regrets. I think I’m a very cautious person. I don’t utter words for speaking sake. But I think leadership is also about speaking the truth. Leadership is also about looking at the country and saying which way can we save it from destruction and so, I have a right as a leader to tell people where I stand and why I’m standing there. And I’m saying that for the unity of this country, I think we should allow the South-South. Unfortunately, because of the politics of our country, because of the fact that we still recognise that tribe and religion play a role in who gets what, that we should allow Jonathan to continue. I said in that spirit, in addition to the achievements of Jonathan, we should allow him to continue. That is my position. It’s not about having regrets about it.
But following your statement, some ex-militants in the South-South have issued threats that the country will break down if Jonathan loses the election.
But that is not Jimi Agbaje.
The PDP campaign in Lagos has accused the state government of not being independent, but people look at you and see Chief Bode George and Senator Adesegun Ogunlewe who they have described as your godfathers.
It’s politics time, so people throw everything at the candidate. What people said worked against me before was that I was someone that could not be pushed around. So the same people now say this man that cannot be pushed around by their own people can now be pushed around by someone else. It doesn’t add up. I did not have a godfather in the way that people look at it. Chief Bode George is a leader in the party. You know it’s interesting, I still keep looking at this Chief George that people talk about ever since we started working together and I wonder where this position comes from. Let me put it on record, my first major decision as a candidate was to choose my running mate. I chose my running mate, nobody chose her for me. You can put that on record. I’m sure that it cannot be said of these people that are claiming that Chief George is my godfather. I chose my running mate and presented her before the leadership of the party. The idea was that if anybody had anything strong against my running mate, they were free to say it. So that is the way it is. If anything, Chief George, as you might have observed, has been in the background. He is a leader, he has gone through this process. He has run elections for the president and has delivered the president. He wants Lagos to be won by the PDP, yes, but he is not obstructing me in any way and those who know me know that I cannot be pushed around.
So you don’t have a godfather?
I don’t have a godfather in the way that people look at it. So definitely not.