Chief (Mrs) Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, 79, was the Deputy to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in his first term as Governor of Lagos State from 1999-2003 and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this REMINISCENCES with Daily Trust on Sunday, Chief Bucknor-Akerele speaks about her childhood, her impression of the Nigerian military, the problems she had with Asiwaju Tinubu that forced her out as his Deputy and other raging issues in the polity
When did you leave broadcasting, and why?
I think it was in 1971. The pay was bad, so I decided I needed a better source of income. I was recruited into advertising as a Client Service Manager at Graham and Gillies Advertising Limited.
At what point did you think it was time to join politics?
I joined active politics when former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, asked Nigerians to form political parties. I came from a political family. My father, Dr Akerele, was the first president of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. In fact, the body was formed in his house in London before it became the Action Group (AG). My father contested for a political seat on the platform of the AG but lost to one of his best friends, J.M. Johnson. They remained good friends, though, until death separated them.
My first cousin, the late Chief Babs Akerele, was a prominent politician in Lagos in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), and later, in the National Republican Convention (NRC). I had always wanted to join politics but I didn’t do so until my children had grown up enough to care for themselves and I could go conveniently go into politics.
Which party did you first join?
I can’t even remember. But when Babangida first asked that political parties could be formed and we all took truckloads of materials to the then Electoral Commission and then he (Babangida) cancelled them and formed two parties, NRC and SDP, I joined the SDP.
I contested on the platform of the SDP for the Lagos Central Senate seat, which I won. Of course, the military stepped in again and dissolved everything, including annulling election of Moshood Abiola as president.
Did you ever think of quitting politics, despite the challenges women in politics face, including attending nocturnal meetings?
No, I was not discouraged at all because, as I said earlier, I came from a political family. I was determined to make my mark in politics.
I remember that the first meeting they called when I was in the Senate was at 11pm. Then, I was the only woman in the Senate out of 91 senators and I remember walking into the room and everybody just turned round and looked at me as if to say, ‘What the hell is she doing here?’ because I don’t think they expected me to come to a meeting at that hour.
Fellow senators in the room that night included the late Chuba Okadigbo, Olayinka Omilani, Wande Abimbola, Ayo Otegbola, the late Kanti Bello and the late Francis Okpozo.
How did the political paths of you and Senator Bola Tinubu cross and how did you emerge as his running mate for the 1999 Lagos State governorship election?
I first came across Senator Bola Tinubu in the Senate. He was in the Peoples’ Front, led by the late Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, while I was in the Peoples Salvation Party.
We began relating more in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) where I was a prominent member of the steering committee. A lot of things had gone on before then. When Senator Bola Tinubu emerged as the governor-elect on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, he was from a different caucus. We were Afenifere, while he came from Primrose. But since the structures and everything belonged to Afenifere, Afenifere felt it was important they had somebody from their fold who would be part of the government and I was nominated to be Tinubu’s Deputy.
So why did you fall out with him so irreconcilably you had to relinquish that position?
We fell apart because Tinubu wanted us to take over the party from the elders of the party who were really its founders. I, too, was part of building the structures that formed the AD and on which platform we rode to power. He wanted me to conspire with him to take over the party from the party leaders, but I refused. He eventually took over the party structures despite my warnings to the elders that that was what he wanted to do. They didn’t believe me until it was too late and he had taken over the party.
Tinubu wasn’t an original member of Afenifere but he instigated some people to break away from the mainstream Afenifere and he formed the Afenifere Renewal Group.
Do you have any regrets over your relationship and disagreement with Tinubu?
My only regret is that I accepted to be his Deputy, because truly, I did tell the late Baba Onasanya the day he phoned me and said they would like me to be Tinubu’s Deputy that I wasn’t keen on accepting that offer. I would have preferred if it had been Wahab Dosunmu, now late, who had also contested the governorship. I knew Wahab was a gentleman and I could work with him, but Tinubu was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Did you feel humiliated about what happened between you and him?
No, I wasn’t humiliated, but certainly, I was annoyed with his attempt to humiliate me.
Was it that he never gave you the opportunity to perform as Deputy Governor?
Well, I was given some roles. For instance, I was in charge of local governments and we had made promises to the electorate on what we planned to do for them. When I wanted to ensure that the local governments were functioning properly, Tinubu put a stop to it.
How do you think that particular development has affected local government administration in Lagos State today?
I don’t know how to describe it, but it is as if we don’t have any local government administration at all. The local governments are not doing anything. I was living in Victoria Island, a local government secretariat was just opposite my residence and I knew that at the end of every month, all they seemed to be doing was share money. People went with nylon bags, collected money and walked away. Most of the streets in Victoria Island are in a complete shambles.
Even in Ikoyi here, in the Eti-Osa Local Government, they don’t clean the gutters. Actually, they don’t do anything. In fact, we have to virtually do everything ourselves. I don’t know what functions local governments are performing right now, if any.
But some people believe that Lagos State is the model for other states as the most performing state in the country, and that it was Tinubu who laid that foundation. What is your take on that?
I don’t know what foundation was laid by Bola Tinubu because I was in government with him. We had a blueprint, which had since been dumped somewhere and is really not followed. When Babatunde Fashola came to power, he tried to make a difference by, at least, giving us a more conducive environment. He planted flowers and tried to keep the state clean. But that was just about it.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has also tried his best by repairing some roads. But really and truly, with the kind of revenues that Lagos State is generating, I think there could have been a lot more done.
Hasn’t Tinubu once again shown he is the main force to reckon with in Lagos politics by how the APC governorship primary in the state went?
That was a complete shambles. When you look at it closely, it was one man dictating, ‘You, you will become a Councillor’; ‘You, go and sit down, it is not your turn’. It is a one-man show in Lagos. Even in other states, you can see that the APC is in turmoil.
Lagosians have had enough of the APC. Go into the streets and hear what the people are saying. This time around, in the 2019 elections, people are going to resist that coercion because they have seen that their lives are not better under the APC.
What have you been doing since you left the Tinubu administration?
I have been doing my business. But I also joined the PDP in 2002 and I am now a member of its Board of Trustees.
How do you fancy PDP’s chances of returning to power at the federal level in 2019?
It is more than feasible. Everybody is seeing the ‘change’ that the APC touted, and everybody now knows that the people are worse off for that change. Therefore, a lot of people will very much like to see the PDP come back because they saw the concrete programmes which the PDP had earlier done.
The APC people are only prosecuting the PDP for corruption. But I believe they are now becoming a laughing stock even with their corruption crusade.
Are you saying the PDP was corruption-free when it ruled at the centre?
Corruption has always been there and there is no country where we don’t have it. It all depends on the level. But the level of corruption now is far higher than what it was in the days of the PDP.
You were one of the delegates at the recent PDP convention in Port Harcourt which produced former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 elections. What would you say about the allegation that the delegates were heavily compromised with dollars?
Yes, I was a delegate there and I was not bought and I did not see anybody being bought. I was there from the start to the end for the two days. It is all propaganda just to disparage the PDP.
How do you rate Atiku’s chances against President Muhammadu Buhari in next year’s presidential election?
Atiku has strong structures on the ground throughout the federation, and he has a lot of goodwill too. And Atiku has accomplished a lot. He has been providing employment, as he has done a lot in education with the American University in Yola. He has companies which employ thousands of people. When you have somebody with a mindset like that as President, you would see genuine efforts in improving the lives of the citizens.
When was your happiest moment in life?
That was when I gave birth to my first son. It was really fantastic being able to give life to another human being.
And when did you experience the opposite side of life, a particular period of melancholy?
My most tragic moment was when I lost one of my sons.
You are 79 years old and have been a major player in Nigerian politics. Are you thinking of capturing all that in a book?
Yes, I am writing my memoirs. I am telling everything as it is. The public should be expecting my autobiography sometime next year.
What would you say has changed in Nigerian politics between when you came into it in the 1990s and now?
Money is playing too much of a part in politics these days. When we started AD, we were all broke. Let’s put it that way because when you heard Bola Tinubu was funding NADECO, maybe he was helping some people who were in exile abroad. But certainly he was not funding we who were here in Nigeria in NADECO.
We were funding ourselves and, therefore, none of us really had much money or any money to contest elections. Yet, we contested and the party won in all the Yoruba states. We didn’t spend any money apart from printing our posters and things like that.
But now it is cash-and-carry politics. It is very sad. I don’t know whether it is because the people have become so impoverished that they now only go for cash to be put in their hand and don’t really think of their future. They don’t think that once they collect cash from politicians, those politicians might not deliver anything for them in future.
What are your words to Nigerians?
My message to Nigerians is that, ‘Please, stop selling your votes’, because that is what is giving us bad governance, which is affecting all of us and will affect not only those of us alive today but will also affect generations to come if we do not have a change of attitude.
Culled From Daily Trust on Sunday