By Bose Adelaja and Bashir Adefaka
Chief Reuben Olorunfunmi Bashorun, 73 last October 3rd, was a banker and a lawyer. He worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria for 20 years before becoming the Secretary to the Lagos State Government in 1979 and later Commissioner for Education during the Lateef Jakande administration.
At the foundation stage of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bashorun was the pioneer chairman of the party in Lagos State, leaving in May 2007 for the Action Congress (AC). In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he speaks about himself and national issues of the moment. Excerpts:
As former founding member of the PDP, what can you say of President Goodluck Jonathan’s performance so far?
I believe that President Jonathan is not the Messiah that Nigerians have always prayed to have. By my own calculation, he is being confused by God knows who and so he is not in charge of affairs in the country.
Who then is in charge?
He has some remote-control people called advisers. Without being pushed around, an executive President should be able to make a minimum of 50 per cent contribution of ideas but the reverse is the case. He claims to be transforming but what I see is scattering of the whole place.
At this point in time, the country should be talking about stable power supply, reduction in cement price and how to combat Boko Haram as well as tackle other challenges facing our country. It is not single tenure that we want to hear. This is a misplaced priority! He should have performed first to capture the interest of Nigerians before thinking of bringing forth the issue of single term.
Nigerian roads are bad. If the rain had continued the way it started, many Lagosians would have been swept away by flood. But the President is busy canvassing for a six- year project. He has appointed many ministers, who are not doing anything. For instance, the Benin-Ore road and a host of others are in a sorry state and the President appears to be feeling unconcerned while the roads keep claiming innocent lives. Jonathan should sit down and introduce meaningful programmes.
What do you think should be his priority?
Two things are paramount now: security and power. The economy is dwindling and investors have ceased to patronize Nigeria because of security and power challenges. A small scale factory uses as much as N45,000 worth of diesel within 3 days, this will automatically affect the production cost.
Let us talk about the minimum wage. People like us no longer pay a minimum wage but living wage to enable our workers pay house rent and cater for their families. In my company, the least paid workers get above N20,000 while the government is dragging its foot about the minimum wage. They keep repeating the stories that we all know and have changed their system of looting the treasury as they no longer use the Ghana must go method. You can come out of Aso Rock without holding anything but you can be sure of about N20 million at the end of the day.
Looking at the CBN of your days and now, how would you assess Sanusi’s performance considering the Islamic Bank?
We should thank Sanusi for cleansing our banking system. What did Erastus Akingbola and Cecilia Ibru do? They only helped to cart away other people’s money. Now you are talking about Islamic banking. I am not accusing those people but Oceanic Bank and Intercontinental Bank were run by Christians and what was the outcome? Remove the word ‘Islamic’, put ‘zero interest’ and then the controversy ends. It is a matter of choice. Islamic banking is not an issue to be discussed; it is a bank that encourages zero interest.
It is just the word Islamic that is bothering many Nigerians but they have given it that name internationally and we cannot change it in Nigeria. So the controversy about it is not necessary. If they call it Christian banking in a country where Christianity is dominant, people will not raise an eyebrow.
You don’t need to go there and recite Holy Qur’an before you operate it. We are going there to do business and nobody is forced to operate it. We should not bring in controversy that will divert our attention from important issues.
From which background are you coming?
I was born on Saturday October 15, 1938 here in Ikorodu, Lagos State. I was in Tinubu Methodist School in 1953, that was nine years after I lost my father because my father died in 1944. I joined the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in January 1959 and I was there till 1979 when I was appointed Secretary to Lagos State Government (SSG) by the government of Alhaji Lateef Jakande. I was there till 1983 after which I became Commissioner for Education in that same government.
You didn’t set out to become a lawyer early in life. How did it come?
When the military came at the tail end of 1983 ,I left the Jakande government with others to set up a company producing polythene bags which came to life in 1984. We were doing that until I later went to study Law at the University of Lagos and I was called to the Bar on December 15, 1993. That was how I became a lawyer.
Don’t forget that I said that I was appointed from the CBN to become Secretary to Lagos State Government by Governor Lateef Jakande in 1979 during the Second Republic. Ever since the end of that administration in 1983, I have never stopped to play politics. By this, I became a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was blessed by God to become the pioneer chairman, Lagos State chapter, at the foundation stage of the party.
In year 2000, I was appointed Chairman, Savannah Sugar and Company till its privatisation in September 2002. I later aspired to become the governor of Lagos State on the platform of the PDP although I didn’t scale through but I remained in the party till May 13, 2007 when I resigned and joined the Action Congress (AC).
How do you merge politics and business?
Politics is a service to the nation while business gives me a source of income. I am the head of my church and this gives me opportunity to be closer to God but I never allowed any of these to interfere with the other.
How much of a church person are you?
I have been an active member of the Cherubim and Seraphim (C & S) since 1959. And so I was installed and consecrated as a spiritual head of the church on October 18, 2008.
Ever since you left the CBN, your life has revolved around politics…
(Cuts in) I derive pleasure in serving my immediate community and the entire country and I have been opportune to render such service at different levels. I was a Councilor in Igbogbo-Bayeku Local Council 1969, also a councilor in Ikorodu District Council between 1971 and 1975.
Since leaving the PDP for the AC and now the ACN, what have you been able to achieve?
I think God has helped me to an extent because I am one those who give vent to major decisions of the party (ACN). Also, I have been able to participate in ensuring that a housing estate is established in my community, the community stadium which I started in 1983 has now been taken over by the government of Lagos State and it is currently undergoing a face-lift.
With all humility, I can say my presence in the party has made a lot of contributions. I have said it over and over that PDP members are unsettled, they are in factions and we want to defeat them greatly. ACN is the party to beat in Lagos simply because of good leadership. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is very focused, compassionate and well disposed to his members.