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Dr. Dapo Thomas is a lecturer in History and International Relations at Lagos State University (LASU). For eight years he served as Special Assistant to the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, during his two terms as Lagos State governor. In this interview with EFEMENA ONODJAE, he recounts his experiences working with his erstwhile boss, shedding light on the man his opponents seek to define in unflattering ways.

How did you meet Bola Ahmed Tinubu?

I met him in 1991 through my uncle, Dr Frederick Fasegun Machado. He was a big politician in Lagos State before he died.  The two of them were in the same Dapo Sarumi faction of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Besides, Bola Tinubu’s campaign office was right opposite my house in Otigba Street now known as Computer Village, Ikeja. At that time, the young members of the SDP rebelled against Alhaji Lateef Jakande for what they called: “Oga Sope”. The rebellion was led by Dapo Sarumi, Kola Oseni, Segun Machado, Hakeem Giwa, Bola Tinubu, Sunbo Onitiri, Ademola Adeniji-Adele, Yomi Edu, Rahman Owokoniran, Omolayo Thomas and AA in Alimosho. Most of the “rebels” were from Lagos Island.

The Jakande faction was led by Muniru Baruwa, Olátúnjí Hamzat, father of the present Deputy governor of Lagos State, Prof. Agbalajobi and others. It was an exciting rebellion that saw the two factions presenting two gubernatorial candidates against the NRC sole candidate, Sir Michael Otedola, Femi Otedola’s father. Eventually, the national exco of SDP disqualified both Sarumi and Agbalajobi and settled for Yomi Edu as governorship candidate and my uncle as his deputy. In the general election, SDP lost to Otedola because the Jakande faction decided to vote for NRC against the SDP. I was a journalist then with the Daily Times. It was in the course of reporting all these events that I got so close to the group in general and Bola Tinubu in particular. All my exclusive reports then were as a result of this closeness and connection to the Sarumi group.

How did you come to work for him?

It was in 1991, during the NRC and SDP election. I was on the campaign trail for the group so that I could get exclusive stories from them. As a result of this involvement, I got so close to all of them. One day while preparing to go out for the campaign, my uncle just said it casually to Tinubu: “Bola, this is my brother. He lives opposite you. He is a journalist. Please take care of him.” That house belongs to Kafaru Tinubu. His children, Wale and Deji Tinubu, were like my brothers because they were friends to my younger brother who died in February this year. Tinubu was using the top floor of the three-storey building as his campaign office while Kafaru Tinubu and his family were on the second floor. He was contesting for the Lagos West Senatorial seat.  That’s how we started our relationship.

What is your reaction to those who argue that because Tinubu never went to the Southeast to campaign in the period leading to the primary, he’s therefore not friendly towards the zone?

We are in a season of propaganda. One of my friends who is from the Southeast called my attention to the fact that he (Tinubu) did not visit the zone during the primary – an accusation that I later confirmed to be true. All these are unfortunate. However, I want to disagree with you on some of the things you said about him.

I disagree with you that he’s an ethnic bigot. In the whole Southwest when he was governor of Lagos State, Tinubu was the only one who appointed two notable Igbo sons into his cabinet. These guys are still in government at the state and federal levels. I am talking about Joe Igbokwe and Ben Akabueze.  I will want you to help me find out if we had or have any Igbo governor who appointed two Yoruba sons into their cabinets between 1999 and 2007.

Secondly, we employed 2,000 graduates in year 2000 to usher in the new millennium. As the Special Assistant, I was given some slots. Through one of my Igbo friends and my younger sister, two Igbos were on my list. The then Head of Service (HOS) wanted to remove them from the list. I reported to Tinubu and he summoned the HOS and scolded him in my presence. He told him: “Are Igbos not Nigerians? My instruction was clear: let us employ 2,000 Nigerians to usher in the new millennium. I didn’t say Lagosians”. The two of them are directors in the Lagos State civil service today. Another Igbo that I got into LASU through Tinubu is Secretary to the VC as at today. Please go and ask for Mrs. Onwordi in LASU. With these little facts I gave you, I am sure you will agree that Tinubu doesn’t hate Igbos.


What is your take on APC’s same-faith ticket?

This is one of the evil backlashes of Ibrahim Babangida’s ‘Maradonic’ dribbles when he was the president for eight years. You know because of his desperation to hang on to power, there was no evil shrine that Babangida did not visit for communion service with power deities. It must have been during one of such consultations that he was told to tinker with the peace of the nation. One peaceful morning, the man just woke up to inform the nation that Nigeria had joined the Organisation of Islamic countries (OIC). Some of us thought it was a joke by a man who considered every day April Fool’s day. Though we were told that we had withdrawn from the organisation officially after so much hoopla, the nation had already inhaled the stench of this religious putrefaction with its attendant eternal contamination. Having given you the background to this fragile insanity, let me submit that as a social scientist, there is no way I can condemn a political party that prioritises electoral victory above religious mollification.

My position is hinged on the belief that politicians, regardless of their operational territories, invest in the enterprise called politics with one sole objective:  to win power. The strategy is to always place a premium on expediency rather than impropriety. How do you go for an arrangement that pacifies a section of your party members but guarantees you no electoral victory? What is the cost or consequence of an arrangement that makes a section of your membership happy in the short run but leaves the entire party spectrum in quandary in the long run?  I am so sure that all relevant variables, both dependent and independent, must have been evaluated and interrogated before the final decision was made.


We should always remember that whoever becomes President, the Vice President, the governor or the deputy governor ceases to be a Christian or a Muslim as he becomes father of the nation or father of the state as the case may be. When you vote for a candidate as President and another one as Vice President and you expect them to be operating in their different religious modes, you are calling for anarchy. By doing this, we are helping to fester Babangida’s concentric anomaly thereby engendering the polity and our territorial space.

If Tinubu is going to lose the election, it should not be for this tendentious hyphenated combo tagged Muslim-Muslim ticket.  During his tenure as governor, he was more sympathetic and sentimental towards Christians.  He was very close to Wilson Badejo, former General Overseer of Foursquare Gospel Church, Methodist Primate Sunday Mbang, RCCG General Overseer, Pastor E.A Adeboye. He was the one who initiated the “January Thanksgiving” held at the Government House. This has been on since 2001 till date. In fact, Pastor Adeboye presides over it year in, year out. It was during his time that LASTMA was drafted to Redemption Camp to control traffic.  I know they are still being used for traffic purpose till today. I supervised the deployment in 2002 in conjunction with Pastor Fola Aboaba who sent us the request letter.


I don’t think any of these three pastors I have mentioned earlier will tell their members not to vote for Tinubu. Tinubu, like any Lagos boy, is very liberal when it comes to religion and that’s the way we do it in Lagos. Hardly can you find a family in Lagos that doesn’t have this religious amalgam. I am a Pentecostal Christian and my mother and some of my siblings are Muslim. I never made any attempt to convert them because it is the way we do it in Lagos. So, the fear that Tinubu will subscribe to an Islamisation agenda is unfounded. Let one person come forward with incontrovertible evidence to show that he had that tendency when he was Lagos State governor for eight years.

His role in NADECO

NADECO was a movement founded by some activists to help restore and promote democracy which we lost in 1983 when the Buhari-Idiagbon government removed Shehu Shagari from office in a bloodless coup. We were almost regaining it when Babaginda truncated it in 1993. NADECO was thus formed in May 1994 after Sanni Abacha removed Ernest Shonekan as Interim National Government Chairman and declared himself the new Head of State.  M. K. O. Abiola who won the election was arrested and killed in jail. Most human rights activists and politicians  including Tinubu, operating within the Nigerian space went into exile when they saw the spate of assassinations going on in the country. Tinubu was the major financier of the NADECO movement. The international community recognised NADECO as the mouthpiece for Nigeria’s democratic struggle. Consequent upon its campaign, most countries did not recognise Abacha’s government. A lot of things happened during that time. So, by the time Abacha died, Abubakar Abdulsalam who succeeded him quickly came up with a transition programme to usher in the present republic. As they say, the rest is history.

With his supposed health challenge can he lead a country like Nigeria?

Your question reminds me of what Ayo Fayose said when Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 presidential election. He said Buhari would not live long in power because of his health. But because Fayose is not God look at Buhari, he is still kicking. He did the first term, he didn’t fall. He is almost completing his second term and he is still standing. So, what health challenge does Tinubu have? He did knee surgery, so what?  Knee surgery is not a terminal disease. People are saying that his hands are shaking and therefore he cannot hold the flag. Some even said he cannot hold biro. I have some documents that he minuted on with his own hand in my library. The only difference between the two of us is that what will take me five minutes to write may take him 6 minutes. Even with all of that, he still performed well as Lagos State Governor. Do you know that since Tinubu came back from London in June 2021, he has only travelled out once and that was before the primary. He only spent one or two weeks.  That was when he went to London to meet with members of APC London. Since then, he has been traveling all over the country moving to the north and south, east and west. The man was not relenting in his campaign and this showed in the results of the primary when he defeated his opponents with a landslide.

So, I don’t think there’s any health challenge with Tinubu. It’s unfair for people to talk about what they don’t know. Before the primary, he was moving to every nook and cranny of Nigeria, meeting with traditional rulers and delegates. If you know him very well, he does not joke with his campaign at all. Look at the result of his campaign in 2003. He was the only governor in the Southwest that won his election. The PDP took all the states except Lagos. He was then referred to as the last man standing.


Age saga

There’s nothing wrong with his age. He is 70. Besides, when you are a politician, everything about your anatomy comes under public interrogation. Your opponents, for public entertainment, take delight in creating controversies around you as a way of distracting you from things that are of more strategic importance.

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