I’m shocked Atiku went this far on Tinubu – Jamiu, Abiola’s son
Alhaji Jamiu Abiola, son of the late Chief MKO Abiola and Special Assistant to the President on Special Duties, Office of the Vice-President, tells DANIEL AYANTOYE about his job, his late father and the controversy surrounding the academic records of President Bola Tinubu
What are your job functions as a presidential aide on special duties?
I was appointed on September 6, and my tasks vary from time to time. But the summary is that I’m saddled with the responsibility of liaising on behalf of the Office of the Vice-President with relevant stakeholders in government or the society in general when there is an issue that needs to be resolved, monitored or sustained in the interest of the country.
Apart from having the willingness to serve this transformational administration, I’m also naturally interested in a democracy, for which my parents (MKO and Kudirat) died, and I am lucky to be doing so under the leadership of a man who also sacrificed all he had for the June 12 struggle and risked his life.
A key part of my functions also includes getting more Nigerians positively engaged with the policies of this government, because contrary to what many people assume, the success of any administration is largely dependent on the positive input of as many citizens as possible.
The problems have always been known, isn’t that why the President promised Renewed Hope?
A major problem with leading a country as complex as Nigeria, with over 250 tribes and 500 languages, is that when you take over government from one administration, you inherit so many assets and liabilities. In some cases, the liabilities are much more than the assets. Across different sectors, this government inherited so many liabilities from previous administrations. What keeps me optimistic is that this government knows its priorities and that is why security of lives and providing jobs for the youths are at the very top of the Renewed Hope manifesto.
The Tinubu/Shettima administration is wise enough to establish a connection between catering for the youths and security because it knows that without the youths being positively engaged, given that they constitute 65 per cent of our country’s population, there is no way our country can be secure. I know things are tough but during campaigns the President had made it clear that turning things around would not be easy at all. He was honest with everyone. He even said he would remove petrol subsidy, which was bound to cost him votes, but honesty has always been his policy. He needs divine support to succeed and I believe God will give him that divine support. With that, I have no doubt that this government will deliver on its manifesto and the President’s name will be written in gold.
Many Nigerians seem to be losing hope because of hardship and such persons will question the kind of hope that seems to be plunging them into hardship. What would you say to that?
I don’t think many people are losing hope and if some people are, here are a few questions they should ask themselves: Have Nigerians had a government that proposed student loans; a government that is ready to provide so much direct financial support to the poor at the grassroots, or a sitting president who fought for them to have a democracy? Have Nigerians ever had a government in which many young people are serving as ministers? I can go on and on. These are positive signs for a government that is just four months old. Another thing many people might have missed is that our President has proven that he knows that only God is above mistakes. That is why he has amended some of his policies based on feedback. The sky is our limit with a leader like that.
Many people seem to be looking beyond optimism to assess the government based on current realities. What do you say to that?
I returned to Nigeria in 1998 and I lived in Lagos, so I have a good idea of how things were in Lagos before President Tinubu became a governor then. To cut a long story short, Lagos was messed up because it had been abandoned by the Federal Government, to a large extent. Yet, people were coming from different places to Lagos at an alarming rate and in pursuit of their dreams. Some of those who came were even criminals. Senator Tinubu had just returned from exile with fresh ideas and was determined to make a difference. He won the governorship election, and due to the paucity of funds to execute the projects Lagos needed, he needed to think outside the box. Don’t forget he faced a hostile Federal Government. I jettisoned the idea of going back to the United States and decided to face things here because of Governor Tinubu’s bold policies.
My friends in New York thought I had lost my mind but here I am with no regrets 24 years later. Look at his deputy, Vice-President Kashim Shettima; even though Boko Haram has been ravaging his state of Borno and took over local governments, he remained focused and turned out to be one of the best governors in northern Nigeria to date. This is why I am so confident that Nigeria would soon find its way out of the woods. The President and his deputy have been tried and tested.
The recent controversy over Tinubu’s academic records at the Chicago State University has raised a lot of concerns among many Nigerians. The PDP Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has described the situation as a big slap on Nigeria and its people. What do you make of the unfolding situation?
The opposition is making up something that does not exist and blowing things out of proportion. The most significant fact is that the university has acknowledged that the President graduated from there. He even scored a high grade, which is a source of pride to Nigerians and not a slap on their faces.
The President applied to the university as a male and graduated as a male with excellent grades. Most Nigerians are more interested in how President Tinubu turned a gloomy Lagos to a dazzling model state with a robust master plan. They want him to achieve the same feat in Nigeria as a whole. People voted for him because of his Renewed Hope Agenda and because, unlike other politicians, he had a realistic plan. Nigerians have real problems and they need a man capable of solving these problems.
Some people have called on the President to resign because of the controversy, do you think that is extreme?
The President will never resign because that would spell doom for Nigeria. It would even be worse than June 12 because, unlike my father, he is a sitting President and has started exercising his executive powers in the interest of Nigerians. To ask him to resign would be like asking a mother to put her children back into her womb. However, I’m so disappointed with the opposition for going that far; approaching American courts when they knew they didn’t have a case. We are talking of a former Mobil treasurer and a two-term governor of the most sophisticated state in Africa’s most populous country.
The whole thing is ridiculous. They (opposition) are acting as if we don’t have courts here in Nigeria, which makes me wonder why they want to rule a country they don’t believe in. I can’t believe that this is the same Vice-President Atiku who stepped down for my father and supported him during his presidential primaries. I wonder when Africans would stop embarrassing our continent abroad as if Africa has not suffered enough. The more I think of that case in the US, the more I see it as some kind of conspiracy reminiscent of when the Sani Abacha government took the State of New York to court for its decision to name a corner in New York after my mother, the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. May her soul rest in peace.
Do you think your parents would be happy about how democracy is faring in Nigeria today, given the circumstances of their death?
My parents were realistic people. They know that good things require time. They know that people need to sacrifice, which was why they willingly laid down their lives. I think they would be happy that Nigerians still believe in democracy and that the ship of democracy is being navigated by someone who did not only believe in democracy with words but also with action. With just a little patience Nigeria will benefit from a system fine-tuned over and over again to cushion the harsh consequences of a belated subsidy removal and previous reckless governance. As our amiable first lady, Senator Remi Tinubu, said recently, the President is not a magician. By the time this government widens its tax bracket in order to wage a full-scale war against poverty and unfolds its security strategy with successful results, no one would be in doubt that I knew what I was saying when I called President Bola Ahmed Tinubu the chosen one before his May 29, 2023 inauguration.
Nigeria clocked 63 on Sunday, how will you assess the performance of past leaders, given that the country is still enmeshed in corruption, poor infrastructure and leadership failure years after?
Most past leaders have failed but not all of them. When speaking of leaders, I focus on all leaders – presidents and governors alike. It is unfair to only focus on the Federal Government because what happens at the state level has a lot of impact on the overall state of the country. Nigeria is 63 and is in a very bad shape, but as an optimist I never yield to despair, I always look at a cup as half full instead of half empty.
To me, the shortcut to success would be the immediate implementation of the Renewed Hope manifesto by all levels of government. In that manifesto, the President put together realistic programmes. Among them, for example, is increasing the cultivation of arable land from 35 per cent to 65 per cent. Do you know the level of progress we will make as a nation if this is achieved? Do you know that a lot of young men involved in banditry and terrorism would be gainfully engaged? There needs to be an economic angle to tackle insecurity. I think it’s time the leadership at the state and local government levels got copies of the manifesto and studied how they could team up with the Federal Government, regardless of party affiliation. Nigeria needs a rescue mission to attain a befitting infrastructure corresponding to a rapidly rising population and to overcome the negative consequences of the past leadership failure that you mentioned. All hands must be on deck.
You once said Nigeria’s problem was beyond what any man could achieve, why do you think Tinubu would solve Nigeria’s many problems?
To solve Nigeria’s problems would require divine intervention and to be a beneficiary of divine intervention you need to be honest, transparent and straightforward. Since President Tinubu began his consultations and campaigns, he has been honest with Nigerians. He has also been transparent and straightforward. Against his personal interest, he informed Nigerians during the heat of a campaign that would lead to a keenly contested election that he would remove fuel subsidy and take other harsh economic decisions. He did this at great risk because he could have lost the election for being so frank, but that did not stop him from being honest. God loves such people and that is why by His grace the President would be a beneficiary of His divine intervention.
Looking at the outcome of the 2023 elections, the issues that have emerged and how the courts are determining winners, what reforms do you think are necessary for a better electoral system before the next general elections?
When speaking of electoral reforms, there will always be room for improvement. At some point, this government will look into improving the electoral system. However, I am happy that no one has been able to substantiate the claim that the results of the last presidential elections would have been different had they been transmitted electronically. As for the courts, they will always play a role in elections since they are needed to interpret electoral laws. Even in the United States, during the last presidential election, I lost count of the number of court cases. If that can happen in such an old democracy, we should not expect miracles here.
What are your thoughts on the level of division among Nigerians vis-a-vis the agitation for Biafra, Yoruba Nation, etc.?
When times are tough, people tend to want to separate. Even husband and wife are more likely to split when facing economic hardship. I don’t believe that Nigeria was brought together by God with its rich diversity of 250 tribes and 500 languages for nothing. I don’t think separation is part of our destiny. There is a divine objective and part of it is the implementation of the vision and mission of our President as exhibited in his Renewed Hope Manifesto. By the time his plans begin to take shape in a couple of months, the clamour for division will turn to whispers and they will vanish into thin air. Just wait and see!
You said in the past that Tinubu had things in common with your father, what are those things?
Yes, President Tinubu has some things in common with my father. A major reason why many of our leaders have failed is because they are not emotionally connected to the grass roots. They don’t feel what the average man feels and I wonder why they are like that. However, both President Tinubu and my late father seem to be more comfortable in the midst of the poor and vulnerable than they are in the midst of the high and mighty. Both men are also generous and bold enough to give all they have. This is crucial because their promises are never empty since they do more than they say, unlike most politicians.
What do you think Nigerians should hold on to in the face of daunting economic challenges facing the majority?
One of my main mentors, former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, recently said that one does not need a position to serve their country. I think we should all adopt and implement this golden counsel. We should remember it all the time and ensure that we learn to regularly go the extra mile for our country for nothing in return. It is our country, so it is our duty.