*Tinubu is too big to be a sectional leader
By Ishola Balogun & Ebun Babalola
Life is to different people with different meaning. For a veteran and an accomplished media man like Dele Alake, his whole life is anchored on goodwill, his philosophy is all about affecting his environment positively. That explains most probably why he chose to pitch tent with the progressives.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he spoke aboutÂ MKO Abiola and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as he recounted his journey from media to government and back again to the media. Enjoy it.
Looking at your background, how would you describe life generally?
My philosophy of life is anchored on goodwill. I believe that life is what you make of it. Life can be very simple and extremely hard. It depends on oneâ€™s orientation, up-bringing or the personality make-up. The way one reacts to the environmental stimuli.
In my case, Iâ€™ve been privileged to have a solid background in terms of up-bringing, parental nurturing. I come from a family of educationist. My father was an educationist throughout his life. I grew up to know him as a principal of a school, he was a staunch disciplinary. He never thought anything on materialism and he inculcated in his children the values of altruism, selflessness, hard-work,Â accountability, transparency and making sure that we impact positively on our immediate environment.
Rather than setting oneâ€™s eyes on material acquisition, as it is known that material things fade fast, and they donâ€™t last in the heart of men, but oneâ€™s deeds, the way and manner, one impacts in the lives of the people around, those whom you have been able to put smile on their faces. These are the real wealth of a man. And that has been my own philosophy of life.
Iâ€™ve grown in this kind of environment and Iâ€™ve imbibed all of these values and norms. So, today, I donâ€™t count wealth in terms of naira and kobo. I count wealth in the amount of goodwill that I have because my life is an example of the efficacy and effectiveness of goodwill.
Anyone whose primary objective is money, may find it difficult to make it in life because there is a point where physical cash stops and goodwill takes over.
The story of my life is a story of efficiency and effectiveness of goodwill and it has helped to re-sharpen the philosophy of life and values and orientation. And Iâ€™ve tried as much as possible to pass on some of these values to my children. Because at the end of the day, these things are so transient as life itself is a transit.
However, looking back in history, it is possible to see those who impacted positively on their generation. Not necessarily the wealthiest people of those generations. But whatever a man does, stands as imprint in the course of time. So, it is expedient that, one weighs his action at every point to ensure that they all conform to the philosophy of life which is impacting positively on the environment.
Would you say that, the effort of your parents resulted into your goodwill philosophy of life?
Saying that I had a solid background doesnâ€™t mean that, I acquired material wealth. But, in terms of values, total parental. I grew up to know my parents and we were very close. When you have such a family, without distraction, money plays a second figure because the closeness in the family is really in itself what drive you on.
How has your philosophy of life been able to help overcome your challenges?
Yes, I did say that my life is an eloquent example of the efficacy and effectiveness of goodwill.
I didnâ€™t come from a wealthy family. But, Iâ€™m privileged to come from a middle class family that, when it comes to the basic necessities of life, I had all. But that is not the most important thing. Because there are millions of people who are also from that background but still do not have the kind of parental upbringing that I had. Money cannot buy solid character. Anyone who misses the most important thing of life and pursue money cannot inherited those values and goodwill.
One should also know that, material environment doesnâ€™t really confer solidity of background.Â So, I am lucky to have come from a solid background not materially even though, I did not lack anything as a child.
I did tell my children that, when I was in school from the elementary to my higher institution, I never saw my school fees. I was wondering why my name wasnâ€™t on the list of debtors. Until I asked my father, who told me that he was always paying to the bank. He wasnâ€™t really a wealthy man in today perspective but he was extremely very wealthy in terms of character.
Goodwill of my parents and the fact that I was able to reflect in those values they inculcated in me. I also receive goodwill.Â From the moment I became an adult. The kind of vibration, I send determines the responses I get.
As an editor with Sunday Concord, how was it working with MKO Abiola?
MKO was such a nice man that there existed a very good working relationship. No matter where he went, his first port of call was the Concord. Unlike what many held about him, the MKO was somehow detached from the editorial policy of the paper. In one of our editorials which I did when he was out of the country, IÂ recall that when he came back he spoke against it.
He said: â€˜I donâ€™t agree with your positionâ€™ (feigning the way MKO talked)Â I told him that, yes, he had the right to disagree with the editorial position, but our position stands. Right there, I advised him to write a letter to the editor explaining his position and we will publish it. And that rested it.Â That was MKO, we never had undue interference in the course of doing our job. The working relationship was splendid.
What were his weaknesses that ever irritated you?
I wouldnâ€™t want to dwell on that, because no matter how good a human being is, he must have his own frailties.
By your experience, why do you think Concord could not continue after the death of Abiola?
There are several factors, Politics is one of them, If you recall, MKO was about the only publisher still detained after all other involved in the June 12 struggle were released. You know how that will affect the paper.
Besides, the government of the day was doing every thing possible to further incapacitated all the traces of Abiola. Donâ€™t forget also that the environment was not also favorable to operate then.
Are you inferring that the government killed Concord beyond redemption?
You are probably looking for a headline, but what Iâ€™m saying is that government incarcerated the publisher and made it almost impossible to operate. A lot came into play, the environment was not also conducive. We were carrying out the struggle and when it became very hot, some of us had to move out.
Working with Asiwaju for eight years offered another round of experiences, what got you attracted to him in the first place?
I got attracted to Tinubu because of the progressive ideas that we both share. And in 1993, the relationship became heightened throughout the government. He was a Senator. He was very active in the restoration of June 12. I worked with him within and outside the country. It is a testimony to the manâ€™s resilient and doggedness even in detention.
He continued to fund and direct outside operation. Some of us were leg workers. We used to visit him at the Alagbon detective center, where we take directives from him. We were carrying out the struggle outside while he was operating from the Alagbon cell. These are some of the things that drew us closely to Tinubu. And when he was declared wanted dead or alive, then he relocated to be able to continue waging war. And simultaneously, my office was shut down too.Â Like, I said earlier, We were carrying out the struggle and when it became very hot, some of us had to move out.
Were you involved in the Radio Kudirat that was broadcasting from London then?
Radio Kudirat came up after Kudiratâ€™s death in1996. A lot of people were involved. I wasnâ€™t. By the time Radio Kudirat started, I was back in Nigeria. I came back home when Concord was re-opened. While Tinubu and other prominent Nigerians were in NADECO doing their best as regard the June 12 issue, Soyinka was busy updating the foreigners on the June 12 saga. He was an International figure. He also established NALICON which was another wing of the struggle.
Then, those were in London at that time were converging in General Akinrinadeâ€™s office just because of the struggle. If you ever seen the famous Epetedo declaration by MKO, the only Igbo man who was there in the picture with MKO was Bobo Nwosisi who later died in 1995.
The essence was to sensitize the powers about the event in the country and as well seek the support of the European union. So, when Concord and other newspapers were re-opened, I had no point staying abroad again. So, I had to abandon everything and come to Nigeria. Although, people warned me to stay back especially on those things we were doing to the Abachaâ€™s government.
The struggle, experiences and the exposure drew me closer to Tinubu. I was close to him during the struggle and I could see his altruism. He wasnâ€™t doing those things in order to become governor or minister. He was in the struggle with a true sense of patriotism. Tinubu was spending his own money sustaining some of us during the struggle. He was doing all that to advance the struggle.
Apart from that, Tinubu displayed an uncommon courage regardless of his own well-being. Tinubu was in his early 30s then, yet, he was using his resources to sustain the struggle. I have come across many wealthy young people at that time but Iâ€™ve not come across wealthy young people that deplored their wealth into prosecuting a struggle on behalf of the masses.
He was a very wealthy man but, itâ€™s unfortunate that his financial wizardry came to fall in the government.
He has done a lot in Lagos State and that is why the state is in its right place now. When we came in 1999, the internally generated revenue of the state was six hundred million naira per month. But with putting in place mechanism for blocking leakages and generating revenues for the state, it climbed up several billions of naira and today, itâ€™s around N17 to N18 billion per month. The mechanism put in place is still what the state is operating upon. And the blueprint that we started with in 1999, is still what is going on till date.
But some Lagosians are of the opinion that Fashola is rather too unfriendly in his programmes especially looking at the tax issue and demolition.
Mention what Fashola is doing today that Tinubu hasnâ€™t done. Talking about tax, Bola Tinubu actually expanded the tax net. Brought people into the tax bracket, designed efficient collection system of the tax.
Now there is an electronics tax card which Bola Tinubu designed and implemented. Computerized the payroll system in the civil service, blocking all the ghost workers. But, in terms of demolition of structures, we all have our own fair share of demolitions and in any case, I wouldnâ€™t say, what Fashola is doing is wrong. I think people should be looking at the positive side of the issue.
I was going to ask you how you were able to manage the crisis between Obasanjo and Tinubu.
Many of us in that government including the head of the government came into government not as green horns to crisis. We considered ourselves as revolutionaries in government. Knowing fully well that, we had fought the military for five years, from 1993 to 1998 before stepping into government in 1999. So, that revolutionary saddle was still very hot in us.
Not getting that, we confronted the cruelest opposition in PDP, Lagos State as at that time. I believe if you have preconceived the idea of what you want to do in government which means you are prepared.
Secondly, there is political Will to carry out these policies. Thirdly, the uncanny courage to confront any obstacle and surmount it. These are the three attributes that saw us through the crisis. Even our party hierarchy in Lagos State was against us. The PDP was firing us and there were crisis within the society; the Ketu,Â Ajegunle, Idi-Araba riot. OPC factions and all that.
We were using information machineries to battle some of those problems. While the service ministries including works, environment, planning were going ahead silently pursuing their own objectives of development. We were diverting the attention of our adversaries away from our core service ministries to the information ministries, so that, while we were battling them, work was going on.
So, by the time, we finished, surmounted these obstacles, successfully battled all of the adversaries, the result of the works of the service ministries had started to manifest in the completion of roads, schools, drainage in the water works. Once the result started showing out and successfully silenced all the oppositions and the enemies, I diverted the information machineries, resources back to highlighting these results. That was the strategy of political communication.
Beyond all these facade of supremacy of the Obasanjo led government, do you think the course Tinubu was fighting for was constitutional and genuine?
It was constitutional and one of the things that endeared me to him during the June 12 struggle was the altruism, the selflessness that I saw even in the pursuit for the struggle of the June 12 restoration. He was using his resources to pursuing a public good. So, the fight, the struggle when in office against OBJâ€™s arbitrariness and militarism was constitutional and genuine. And we are still pursuing it.
Considering that most of the issues are unresolved especially the local council and all that…
Itâ€™s is resolved. Are they not there. Are they not functioning?
But the federal government is still insisting that…
This same federal government that seized our money some years ago. Is it not this current federal government that released our money? Or did that government forget at the time, it released the money that, it wasnâ€™t constitutional? That is politics of PDP. That wasnâ€™t a constitutional matter. And since that flexing of muscles, what has come out of it? This issue has been resolved by the Supreme Court and it stays that way.
The Supreme Court said and still states that, it is the state that can create local government. The issue of taking the list to the assembly for listing in the constitution is a routine administrative issue.
Which has to be done…
We are not saying, it shouldnâ€™t be done, but what we are saying is that, it is impossible to abort the pregnancy after which a baby has been born.
But, that is exactly what the federal government is saying that, the state should have waited….
The constitutional didnâ€™t say that. No where in the constitution that says after creating the local government, then the list should be taken to the National Assembly after which it shall take the list.Â There is no where in the constitution that says that permission must be sought from the Federal Government while creating a state. It is PDP politics. In a sane country, you wonâ€™t hear of all of this. Itâ€™s because we donâ€™t live in a sane environment. This country is one of the countries that is blessed in the world, ironically and sadly, it is also one of the worse cursed in terms of leadership.
Would you advocate Tinubu as leader of the Yorubas?
Tinubu is too big for a sectional leader. Tinubuâ€™s future was bigger and larger. A lot of people who have nothing to contribute are the ones that are propagating this Yoruba leadership thing. The leadership of Yoruba is not what one must struggle for. It is not by appointment, or application and approval. It is in the minds of the Yorubas. They confer it on the people that they have seen that have probably fought their cause within the geo-political equation of Nigeria. It is not for anybody to say, â€œIâ€™m a leaderâ€. The Yorubas must have seen you to have been consistent in fighting their cause. They would have seen such individual to have been resilient in the face of harassment. Such individual must have had impeccable and unimpeachable democratic credentials. He or she must have taken part consistently in their struggle. It is only people who do not have the right attributes that would want to be seen at all course that confer this status on themselves. The Yorubas will only appoint a leader who fights their cause.
would you react to the delay in the passage of FOI bill? Or how do you think the media should approach this issue?
We have to fight for it. Liberty is not won on a platter of gold. Freedom is not free, we have to fight for it. I started the Freedom of Information Bill in Lagos State as a commissioner for Information. There was a public hearing on it by the stakeholders at airport hotel in 2006 so that Lagos would be the first to pass it. Weâ€™ve to be consistent in the agitation. Unfortunately journalists are lackadaisical.