I feel sorry for Oyo State for not having me as governor —Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Ex-minister

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In this interview by Tunde Ayanda and Segun Adebayo, former Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, expresses his wish to still govern Oyo State at 71. He also speaks on how he got into politics, and all he missed about governance.

You’ll be 71 this month, how do you feel?

I feel thankful to God, for keeping me this long in good health and also permitting my intellect to keep being active. These qualities deserve my eternal gratitude to God. I’ve survived over 20 car accidents in which the vehicles were damaged, but God has always been helping me.

How did you survive 20 crashes without a scratch?

Maybe there was a scratch in the last accident. I had a scratch on my head but four people died in the car. I was taken out of the car by people that were passing by.

It is safe to ask as a Yoruba man and a Muslim if there is any form of spiritual fortification for you?

I’m fortified by God, if you know my level in Islam you’ll know that I have no business with any paganistic fortifications. I believe only in God.

Before I was born it was said to my parents that they would give birth to a child who would always overcome challenges that come his way and would never be overwhelmed by them.

When I was 15, I dreamt  I was on a river floating without any safety jacket. Secondly, I also dreamt that I was in the midst of snakes and I was bitten, I felt the pain in my leg but before it got to my heart I woke up.

I also dreamt I was tied to drums and was shot at but I survived. These and many more are what God has shown me which turned out to be the protection from harm. Anything that will compromise my walk with Allah, I abstain from it. When Baba Lamidi Adedibu was alive, he knew me to be a cleric and not to be engaged in radical activities.

 

You started politics 45 years ago in 1977 what was your interest?

It wasn’t my interest that got me into politics, I was at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), in my final year I was on holiday and was told Chief Obafemi Awolowo was coming to Saki, my hometown. This was a time that the military had given notice that they were going to lift the ban on politics in preparation for the entry of second republic. I was excited to know that Awo was coming and I found my way to the meeting.

I was the only young man and student to see him and listen to him. He told Saki people that if they had anybody interested in politics the time was now because other places had always represented Saki at that time.

When I heard that statement it was as if he directed it at me. After that I found that there was only one Muslim that was on the cabinet (commissioner) of the state known as Dr Lateef Adegbite, from Abeokuta. I went to brief him about what Chief Awolowo said in the meeting and asked if I should take it seriously. He encouraged me to show interest and that helped me to go see Chief Awolowo in Lagos in Apapa, his residence.

He was shocked when he saw me. I introduced myself that I’m a student but also a native of Saki. He asked why I was there and I told him of my interest in the party. He accepted and gave me two pieces of advice that when I got back to Ile-Ife I should look for one Mr Wunmi Adegbonmire. He was the General Manager of Ife Bookstore Limited and tell him that I had an instruction that he must bring me along whenever he was coming for meetings. The meetings were the ones that brought Awo people together.

Secondly, Chief Awolowo asked me to meet Baba Digba, the Chairman of the Awolowo Youth that he should support me in my political journey and that was all. From that moment, I became the youngest man and student of the Committee of Friends.

My original plan was to contest for the House of Representatives but because there was a senior lawyer of mine who was two years ahead of me, he maneuvered and my ambition was reduced to the House of Assembly.

Initially, I was not happy but it was a blessing in disguise because of the impact that I made in the Oyo State House of Assembly. If I was in the House of Representatives I wouldn’t have made that impact. Eventually, I won the election and the NPN candidate whom I defeated took me to court.

Bola Ige was my lawyer and the court said no law backed candidates to be served, that was how I won the case. We assumed duties at the House on the 2nd of October, 1979. On the 8th of October, the then Governor Bola Ige sent a letter which contained names of commissioner nominees to the Speaker. The then Ataoja of Osogbo was also on the list. When the letter was read, I raised my hands. I did my submission that we should know their profile and other information about them. I said I was even surprised to see the name of a king there.

The Speaker was shocked and he overruled my submission, but it became a national issue in the media then. Consistently from that day and the next four years, I was the most consistent member. There was a motion I raised which the then governor got to know about and he summoned the speaker to review the motion and the dissolution of the committee. I faced a lot of threats, but none got physical.

You went to the NPN in 1983 with Dr Victor Olunloyo as governor before the military took over, what happened?

Bola Ige won the UPN primary (in 1982) by using a joker which allowed his supporters to enter the stadium with a yellow card while the system did not allow other people to gain entrance. We looked at it from another angle that he couldn’t seize the larger electorate to vote. So, we aligned with the NPN which had Victor Olunloyo then as candidate and we defeated Ige. When Olunloyo’s cabinet was formed, I was appointed as the Commissioner for Home Affairs at age 30. Three months into the government, the military took over and a lot of politicians were sent to jail but I escaped.

 

What’s your take on the current state of the nation?

I was never a Tinubu man. I was never in AC or ACN but when it was time for our party to have a presidential candidate, there were about twelve candidates and I just looked at the line-up and put myself in the shoes of a shareholder of a company who has to pick a new chief executive and I felt that what would determine my position in appointing who will represent the company was the antecedent of such an individual. It was not difficult for me to arrive at Tinubu. Because he wasn’t just the governor of the most sophisticated state in Nigeria but he also changed the face of Lagos. He’s different and he is a business-oriented person and the way he reacts to issues is different entirely. Since he came on board he has attended several business conferences in major centers of the world. We are assured by the end of the year, he would have attracted more than 1 trillion dollars worth of investment to Nigeria.

If you look at the issue of the removal of fuel subsidy, anybody who knows the complexity of the oil industry, one thing you will blame the Buhari government, which I was part of, is that despite our promises of four refineries in 8 years we couldn’t revive one and the budget was there for it. That is what brought the problem we have now. We were merely postponing the evil day sustaining the subsidy.

I trust that with the effort of the Tinubu administration in the next three months everything will be fine.

 

How do you feel being part of Buhari’s government with everything coming out, especially corruption?

Buhari as an individual is incorruptible. I can vouch for him.  As a retired General, he is entitled to a pension and when he became elected he paused the pension when he was in government. However, his weakness was that he was unable to monitor the people under him. And I hope this government will look into this and flush them out. In the areas of road and infrastructure, he did very well, and also in education.

Do you miss governance?

I miss the opportunity of being able to contribute to governance. The things that made Awolowo’s government exceptionally beneficial to the general public are not there now. If I have any opportunity to be governor or president or hold any seat of power I would provide free health services, quality education, and employment for all. I have a plan already. Awolowo’s technique of government should be a guide to governance in Nigeria.

You dream of becoming the governor of Oyo state, how do you feel about that dream not becoming a reality?

I feel sorry for Oyo State because of things I know and can do. If there were capable individuals who have the same initiative you would have seen what I’m talking about, but some people seek political power just to enrich themselves and not contribute anything.

In 2011,  I first attempted and it didn’t work. In 2015, I tried but I was frustrated by my colleagues like the Late Ajimobi. He later became the governor and still resisted my appointment as a minister. The presidency had to appeal to him about that. Also in 2019, I tried again and also got frustrated by Ajimobi who compromised the chairman of APC to disqualify me on the basis of me not doing National Service which he also did not do. He knew the risk and he did not allow it. All of these added to the reason why APC lost the election in 2019.

 

At 71, do you still want to become governor?

Do you see me as an old man? Life is not really about age, my intellect is still as fresh I have the experience and I’ve been in the public space. If I don’t contest in 2027 it wouldn’t be because of age. There are many young governors who have not contributed anything tangible.

 

There’s this strong belief that if you can’t spend money you can’t become a governor?

It was in 2019  election. I was the first aspirant to start a gubernatorial campaign and I started in Ogbomosho, I discussed with them citing the Awolowo template. At the end of the day, it amounted to nothing because it became a money contest. If God says I will become the governor of Oyo State, it will be in the interest of the people.

 

How did you feel when you were not picked as minister in Buhari›s second term?

I felt bad because of the treachery. It was this same Ajimobi that ensured I didn’t get it. Those he told didn’t even call me to hear my part. He had always been against me being in office. I felt very bad but I left it to God. I was a victim of treachery.

 

What’s your take on Oyo APC right now?

I’m a respected elder statesman. I don’t hold any office short of that.

What about the president?

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to meet him since he got elected. Not because I’ve not tried to reach him, but some people around him don’t want some of us to move close.

Now that 71 is knocking what is your take on life?

I think I’m just a lucky person and God has blessed me.

 

You will soon be 71 and you have lots of wives, how do you still manage to cope?

The way I’ve always been managing them. I thank God for my wives too. Currently, I have 26 children, 10 of them are graduates,  working in various respected institutions, six are still in universities. I have three studying medicine, one in Law School. I have doctors and my first son is an economist.

 

Do you still plan to have more wives?

I can’t because my religion will not allow more than four wives and I have four wives already.

 

Is there any secret to your agility at this age?

I don’t take alcohol, I don’t eat pork and I don’t eat in excess. I live a simple life.

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