A former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly and now the Director, Legal, of Bola Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Hon. Babatunde Ogala, can be consider a member of the inner core of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu political dynasty. In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, Ogala who is the immediate past national legal officer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) talked about how his principal emerged as the presidential candidate among other issues. Excerpt:
Could you tell us the role you are playing in Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s campaign efforts?
I am the Director, Legal, for the campaign, so I am an integral part of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s campaign organisation.
Many people never thought that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu would win and he won. What magic did he perform to win the ticket against all odds?
There was nothing like doing any magic. I mean the team had no doubts that we were going to win the primaries. That was why all through the build up, Asiwaju never wanted to be anointed by anyone and all he kept saying repeatedly was that all aspirants should be given the opportunity to contest fairly at the primaries and that if he lost, he would go home and work for the party. So, it didn’t come to us as a surprise. We worked for it and I think anyone that followed the buildup would know who worked the most to clinch the ticket of the party. He was a pacesetter who was the first to declare his aspiration until the other 26 others followed suit. He visited all the nooks and crannies of the country, meeting delegates and traditional rulers. He sought the support of the people and they repaid him at the primaries.
Could you tell us how he scaled the hurdles that were placed on his path ahead of the primaries by those who were opposed to him?
We surmounted the numerous hurdles out of sheer determination, strategic thinking, using people, planning. You should know Asiwaju very well, for every hurdle you place before him, he would be strategising on how to scale the fifth hurdle when he is faced with the first one. So, hurdles were placed by people and even by those that he had mentored in the past but in all of this, you would never see Asiwaju brooding or lamenting. He was focused on what he wanted to do. He wasn’t talking about people, he was programme- oriented. He was issue-oriented. He just didn’t allow the hurdles to deter him. For every hurdle that was placed, he already had a strategy for scaling it.
Everybody still remembers his famous speech in Abeokuta when he met with APC delegates in Ogun State a few days to the primaries suggesting that perhaps he felt the outcome of the primaries wasn’t going to go his way. Why did he speak the way he did?
I think, we should look at the build up to what he said in Abeokuta. It (the speech) was a reaction to a trending story by some persons who were attempting to re-write history of their ascendancy to certain positions. I believe that he was trying to address the issues. He said he had never told anyone what he told those present on that occasion before. It was an attempt to put the records straight. I was one of those that felt he shouldn’t have spoken that way publicly but he is the man on the spot, he knows where and how it feels. He is also human, wondering why the people he had helped one way or the other now are the ones frustrating him and re-writing history with regards to their political ascendancy.
Why did he choose Abeokuta to make such a speech?
I’m sure he didn’t do it deliberately, I think it was spontaneous. It could have been a reaction to the audience that made him speak the way he did. As at the time he was leaving Abuja that morning, I knew how he left (Abuja), Tinubu doesn’t go anywhere without preparing, whenever he sets out to anywhere he knows what he would likely encounter. What happened was just a reaction to issues on ground, not that he chose Abeokuta.
Do you think that speech actually helped him to win the primaries?
I’m not in a position to say yes or no but what I know is that with or without that speech he would still have won. Anybody who knew what was on ground at that time, by means of indices and other factors, would know that everything pointed towards Asiwaju coasting home to victory. He was the man to beat. Asiwaju was the issue and the topic prior to that election.
One of the issues he spoke about in Abeokuta was his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, suggesting that he hasn’t featured very well in the outgoing government. Do you think that the relationship between the two is cordial?
Asiwaju has repeatedly stated that the relationship between him and the president is very cordial.
Is it (the relationship) cordial on a personal level?
Personal and official level, Asiwaju has maintained that the relationship between him and Buhari is very cordial. Even when he spoke in Abeokuta, there was nothing he said that suggested that it (the relationship) is not cordial. It is assumed that Tinubu and Buhari enjoy an excellent personal relationship but that some elements in the Presidency are putting a wedge in-between them… These are non-issues because there is no way you’ll have everybody in a crowd on your side. It’s impossible. So, if people say that there are some people around the president who worked against his (Tinubu’s) aspiration, to me, it is only natural and expected.
He should have had all the votes cast at the convention if everybody was supporting him. While we were saying that, one of the aides to the president who has direct access to the president was part of Asiwaju’s campaign trail. Who can be more close to the president than that?
Do you think the President was fair to all aspirants during the primaries?
From what we saw, he didn’t make any form of commitment to any of the aspirants to suggest that he had a preferred candidate. When the National Chairman of the party said that he had met with the President to adopt the Senate President as the party’s consensus candidate, the president came out publicly to say no. He said every aspirant must be allowed a fair platform to contest.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s political trajectory has earned him love and hate in equal measures. Looking at his prospects, do you think he will win the general election?
One major thing working for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is that he has a pan-Nigerian outlook. He is detribalised. Under his watch as governor of Lagos State, he had people from several ethnic nationalities working with him and for him. He doesn’t place religion above any other consideration in his dealings with other people. He is merit-oriented. His name resonates across the country. Do you think he can match Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the PDP? He will beat Alhaji Atiku Abubakar flat.
Why do you think so?
I have just given you the reasons. Look at their track records. Whose family doesn’t have somebody living in Lagos? What makes Lagos so attractive for all? He took Lagos from nowhere to be the second largest economy in West Africa. Lagos is the fifth largest economy in Africa. He set a developmental roadmap for Lagos. But his critics fault his politics… You said his critics. What issues do they have with his politics?
His critics see him more as a strategist rather than a politician and that he is not really a team player. What’s your response to that?
He is not a team player? Then, I would like to ask, who is a team player? His critics see him as domineering and not a consensus builder in decision making… Anyone with such a notion is just being mischievous. This is a man who is not afraid of putting the best brains together. Look at the team he built as the governor of Lagos and afterwards. Do you think that these are the kinds of people he would ride roughshod over? I mean the likes of Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was his attorney-general or Babatunde Raji Fashola who was his chief of staff and others.
Tinubu is highly cerebral and intelligent man who makes sure that issues and positions are aggregated and when that is done, he takes ownership of any good or bad decisions that have been made. If they call that domineering, so be it. Tinubu is on top of his environment. But he seems to be having issues with some of his protégés… In your immediate family, you have differences; we have occasional quarrels among siblings of the same parents.
Children are even seen revolting against their parents. Not to talk of a large family of different people. If you have five percent of your protégés not being happy with your style or even if it is 40 per cent, you have done well. The beauty of this is that three of his protégés who contested the ticket with him stepped down for him. All of them spoke glowingly about him. This shows that whatever were the misgivings were also buried at the venue of the convention.
How do you react to the suggestion that Tinubu and his group should set about reconciling with many critical stakeholders?
It was so obvious that when the results (of the convention) were announced on the Tuesday of the primaries, he set out on Wednesday to visit persons who participated in the primaries with him. He didn’t say because ‘I am their leader they should come to me’. He went to them. Some issues keep dogging him despite his numerous achievements. Issues relating to his credentials and identity…
Is he a Nigerian? He aspires to be the president of where? Is he a Yorubaman? Is he from the South West? Was he a governor of Lagos State? If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, then what is the problem?
So what happened to his certificates? (Reaches for his locker to bring out a file). This is Asiwaju’s certificate. This file contains Bola Tinubu’s nomination forms; this is a certificate that was awarded to him by the Chicago State University. This is his NYSC discharge certificate. We also have a letter of attestation from Mobil (Oil producing). This is his face on the students’ year book of Chicago State University for 1979. The question is what else do they want?
Since you have these documents, why have you not gone public with them?
We have been showing it to them. I have gone to several media houses to show this to them. Interestingly, these certificates have been published by INEC for all to see.
You sound positive that Tinubu will win this election. What if he loses, what will he do?
He would gladly go home and work for the party if he doesn’t win the election. He has ambition but he is not desperate to rule Nigeria.