A former personal assistant to the late Bola Ige who also replaced him in the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo as minister in the ministries of Defence, and Power & Steel Development, Dr. Olu Agunloye, explains the role played by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to get the late Ige to work for Obasanjo among other issues, in this interview with Newsmen
What was the relationship between you and the late Bola Ige before his demise?
My relationship with Uncle Bola was cordial till the last day that he was killed. I saw him last on Thursday, December 20, 2001. He was assassinated on Sunday, December 23. I travelled with him on that Thursday on a one day-trip from Abuja to Jos. We went for an official function organised by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. We sat together at the back of his official car to and from Jos and Uncle Bola chatted with me throughout, telling me stories about peculiar landscapes along the route and relating them to political situations and history of the Northern region. He sang popular Christian hymns in between those stories. We returned to Abuja about 5pm and he rushed to catch the last flight to Lagos to attend a burial ceremony scheduled for the second day (Friday). I also left Abuja for Erusu-Akoko, my hometown the next day and I never saw Uncle Bola again.
Kindly tell us how close you were to the late Ige when he was alive?
I was pretty close to him and his family. The closeness had been cemented by my long association with Professor Wole Soyinka and the late Mr. Femi Johnson of Broking House in Ibadan, for many years before I became Uncle Bola’s Special Assistant.
The nation will soon mark the anniversary of his gruesome murder. Are you not worried that his killers had yet to be arrested and prosecuted?
It is the shame of the country that his killers have not been apprehended. It is a sour point and perhaps an evidence of connivance and conspiracy at the top.
Do you also believe that Ige wouldn’t have been killed if he had not served in the government of former President Obasanjo?
Hahaha. Now you are asking me to be a prophet. How am I to tell? There were a lot of dangerous moments that could have taken Uncle Bola’s life before he joined Obasanjo’s cabinet and during his serving as Obasanjo’s minister. We don’t know how he escaped unhurt under the military. Only God knows better.
Were you very close to the late Ige before he took up the appointment?
Yes. I became close to him when I had a personal contact and relationship with him on the day that we all walked to St Anne’s Church, Molete, Ibadan from the University of Ibadan campus in company with Professor Wole Soyinka in February 1972, for the burial of Kunle Adepeju, the undergraduate who was shot dead on the UI campus by the Police.
Is it true that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was one of those who persuaded the late Ige to take up appointment under Obasanjo?
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu played a major role in getting Uncle Bola persuaded to work with President Olusegun Obasanjo and especially to switch uncle’s preferred ministry from Communications to Power and Steel. They had strong bonds in those days while in the Alliance for Democracy.
Why do you think Tinubu wanted Ige to work with Obasanjo?
I really didn’t think it was about Obasanjo because Tinubu and Obasanjo were not the best of pals at the time. It was mostly about getting the best for Yorubaland in particular and Nigeria in general. Tinubu had very progressive views about uplifting Yorubaland and the country in general. He and Uncle Bola then struck a resonance.
Do you know how close Ige was to Obasanjo before the former president appointed him as a minister?
Uncle Bola and Chief Obasanjo were close from the days when Uncle Bola was a commissioner in the defunct Western State. Obasanjo, then, was the General Officer Commanding (2 Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army) in Ibadan. But it was Sir Dele Ige, Uncle Bola’s younger brother that was Obasanjo’s friend. They usually had lunch together in Sir (Dele) Ige’s house most Sundays when Chief Obasanjo was in Ibadan.
Did Ige express any frustration while serving under Obasanjo?
He must have had some frustrations but he did his best to work as if all was right. I could infer that uncle was not comfortable with some of Obasanjo’s actions because he tried to resign at least on two occasions that I was aware of. Once, I foiled the resignation move by stopping his chief detail from dropping Uncle Bola’s letter at the Aso Rock Villa. Uncle was furious when he found out. We were in the Ministry of Power and Steel then. It was Uncle George (Uncle Bola’s elder brother) who helped to resolve the wahala (problems)
What are some of the complaints if you know any?
These were mainly on issues which uncle kept saying were needed to put Nigeria above party issues and partisanship.
Ige couldn’t fix the power sector when he was minister, do you think Fashola has what it takes to solve the electricity problems in this country?
Uncle Bola was Minister of Power and Steel for only 18 months. He got his fingers on the basic issues and root causes of the malaise in the power sector and when he was set to move and arrest them, the system moved against him. He was transferred to the Ministry of Justice. It is not fair or technical appropriate to compare Uncle Bola and Babatunde Fashola except to say they are both Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
What informed your choice as a replacement for the late Ige at the federal cabinet?
I really can’t say accurately except that it was God’s time. But I believe the former President Obasanjo knows better.
Are you satisfied with how government at both the state and federal level immortalised the late Ige?
I can’t say. I know the most enduring immortalisation of Chief Bola Ige is yet to come. And it will.
What level of frustration did you experience when you were the Minister of Steel and Power?
We had the problem of funding. By the time I became the minister, most of the funds had been drained and so we worked under very tight budgets and I knew that we could have achieved more.
What did you do to ensure sanity in the power sector?
I was deployed from the Ministry of Defence to Power and Steel. I set very remarkable records while I was Minister of Power and Steel. It was under my tenure that the highest supply of power, 4,139 MW was delivered to consumers. It was the highest ever for a very long time until recently. I was the first minister that toured all the power stations and started the maintenance works of Shiroro, Kanji, and Delta Power stations. I also streamlined and computerised inventory and contracts in the rural electrification projects. I had a short stay in the power and steel ministry but it was a most outstanding and clean stay.
What is the fate of the Yoruba in the 2019 general elections?
It is hard to know what you are driving at. But I am sure that the next President won’t be a Yoruba simply because of the unwritten zoning laws. Yoruba may become vice president.
Will you sincerely advise Asiwaju Tinubu to continue with the APC beyond 2019 if he is not appointed any specific role?
I am not a member of APC and I am not Asiwaju’s consultant. So, I can’t say.
What factors will you say contributed to your inability to become governor of Ondo State in the last election?
Two major factors. First, I did not have and could not muster a reasonable fraction of the funds required for campaigns, general electioneering and massive malpractices associated or needed to win or to be declared winner. Second, the people of Ondo State were not ready to have me or somebody like me as their governor.
Did you play any role in the recent reconciliation between Tinubu and the Afenifere?
No. I chuckled behind the screen.
What is the implication of the reunion?
It could have great and positive implications for the Yoruba nation and by implication, for Nigeria, if it works out well.
Will you say the Yoruba are better off in the opposition than their current role in the mainstream politics?
I think these issues are relative, but it would appear that the Yoruba have always fared better while in the opposition. There are instances when the so-called mainstream stuff was a big disaster.