Former deputy governor of Lagos State during the Michael Otedola administration, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, tells DANIEL AYANTOYE how her relationship with the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, went sour and her concern about a Tinubu presidency
You recently said you would renounce your citizenship if the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, was sworn in on May 29. Can you shed more light on why you made that statement?
All my life, I have avoided everything unethical. I have avoided situations that will put me in a position where I cannot explain myself. I have no personal issues with him (Tinubu). He misunderstood my presence at a courtesy call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when I was in the Federal Character Commission and decided to strike. He struck and took my land. I was in a different political party anyway so we were not friends. All that time he was going through his problems with Obasanjo, he probably believed that I was taking sides but I wasn’t. So Obasanjo visited Lagos for a programme and I was invited. I entered the meeting and he walked me out of the meeting but interestingly I didn’t speak with the press because I met his (Tinubu’s) wife outside and she knelt down saying that I should not inform the press. I was ready to do that but what she said calmed me.
Are you saying your relationship with Tinubu when you were at the FCC led to a disagreement between you two Tinubu?
Yes, it is and it was also the reason why my husband died. My husband died because of Lagos. My husband was poisoned by the food he took at a club. I warned him when he was relating with people who were Tinubu’s beneficiaries and he was always saying Lagos deserved better in terms of the management of the office (of the governor). Even Tinubu challenged him at the VIP lounge (of the club), telling him that he understood why he (my husband) was abusing him and he (my husband) said he never abused him but told Tinubu that the resources of the state could be better managed. And my husband came home and told me.
So on the day he was poisoned, he came home earlier than expected and complained about his stomach. He said he ate in the club and I told him I had warned him and that was where the problem started.
How did you know that he was poisoned?
I knew he was poisoned because when we were having his funeral, the people he used to enjoy himself with at the club refused to attend his funeral and they warned that whosoever came to the funeral would be in for it. I got to know (about that) and invited them and when they came, I challenged them. I asked them why they didn’t attend his funeral but they were giving different excuses. I told them that my husband sent me a message to them to remind everybody that “death is turn-by-turn”.
Did your husband tell you that?
True, he told me that I should tell whoever was mocking him, that death is turn-by-turn. He used to take Scotch and goes to the other room (in the club) where people ate. The following morning, he was in agony, his stool was black. The doctor said he was already bleeding inside.
What do you think led to the disagreement between your husband and the powers that be?
The issue with him started with not wanting Lagos indigenes to be marginalised and wanting a better use of the state’s resources. I was surprised when they said they were using Lagos as a template for performance. Lagos cannot be a template for performance for anybody. Take the estimate and actuals, they don’t correlate. So, where is the money? That is why some people are saying that the financial book of Lagos State cannot come into the open. I am not fighting anybody but I know Nigeria can be a dream country for all of us. So people who should be up and doing and say this thing is not right. Why are our children going to places where affairs are managed properly? Being black does it mean not being sensible. Our country must put things right for all these japa to stop. I have nothing personal against Bola Tinubu but I believe he does not qualify to be my President.
Is your decision to renounce your citizenship based on fear of what he (Tinubu) can do after he is sworn in?
No. All along, even though I did not shout about it when I met friends close to him (Tinubu) and quietly told them to talk to him to let the governor pay my entitlement, they promised to look into it but I didn’t hear from them, but one of them said, “Just take care of yourself, that is all am going to say. Just be careful.” I asked why and he replied, “This your situation with this guy, I don’t understand it. When I mentioned it to him, he asked me, ‘Is she still around?’” That’s a bit too heavy.
I now came out and said, I would renounce Nigerian citizenship if this man becomes the President. When they said he was the President-elect, I said it was time to renounce (my citizenship). If it is not a threat to my life, I will still suffer because I know that everything that has a beginning must have an end, but it should not end with my life. What did I do that must end with my life? What is my offence that it must end with my life? It has already ended with my husband’s life. Must I open my eyes and allow it to end with my own life too? So, whoever is saying one thing or the other, should fear God because they don’t know half of what has gone down, or what is going down. That is why I sympathise with this nation because if somebody who is vindictive becomes the President, many people are in trouble because I am sure many people have offended him or maybe many are not talking, they will just travel out.
Has anyone advised you to withdraw your statement?
This is where another aspect came in. Renouncing now is another problem because a Muslim scholar told me that I misread the Quran. He asked me whether Prophet Mohammed (SAW) renounced his affiliation with Mecca despite the death threat he got. So, I cannot reject Nigeria. He said even if I said I wanted to migrate, there were conditions attached to it.
Does that mean you have withdrawn your decision to renounce your citizenship?
I had already taken a step about the country whose citizenship I will take but I was advised by people not to contemplate going anywhere and these are people whose pieces of advice I cannot reject.
The Muslim community approached me. Some said I should maybe continue to keep quiet. But what I keep telling them is that to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t offend him (Tinubu) to the level that it became a death threat. If there is more to it, he should bring it out so that it can be resolved. So, it is not the question of paying my emolument alone; it is now the question of what I may have done that would have led to his statement, “Is she still around?’.
How will you assess the outcome of the presidential election and who do you think won the poll?
My own opinion is that Nigerians didn’t vote for Bola Tinubu to be President. Who did he impress with his appearance during campaigns or speeches? Something is not clear. It is either people have been duped or are downright immoral, and just waiting for their turn to reap. Is either that or there are more dark forces at play for him to have been said to have won the election? As former governor (Lateef) Jakande said, Bola Tinubu has monetised politics. I know the All Progressives Congress is the ruling party but look at all the government policies putting people into suffering. Are you now telling me they went there (to the polls) to vote for their oppressor?
Most of the people supporting Tinubu today are not supporting him because they believe in him but because they believe he will open the opportunity for them to make it in an immoral way. That is why I said I was hurt and I am appealing to God; these things have to stop. Pastors, bishops, and alfas are praying for Tinubu to get there (to become the President) so that he can fund them. Who are they for, for God or themselves?
You said you were ostracised and humiliated in places where you should have been honoured. Tell us about some of the instances where these things happened.
I attended state functions but was not recognized. Even the governor’s wife would more or less mildly humiliate one. I, Sinatu, am not that quiet when it comes to fighting for rights but I realise that if I had fought, my people would suffer, and my family and friends would suffer. They all have something to do with the government. I don’t want anyone to suffer because of me, that was why I tolerated most of what was going on. On the 50th anniversary of Lagos State, I was disregarded. When names were mentioned, go and ask, my name was given and it was removed. I am what you can call in Yoruba ‘abagi ma ya’. God has given me the strength of character.
To add provocation to humiliation, I was provoked but refused to react because I know the reason for provocation was to please their boss and gain favour. There was a day I visited the first lady (the governor’s wife) to talk about a woman that died as a result of childbirth. There was nothing wrong with the woman but the childbirth was mismanaged. People came to me and I took it up to meet with Sanwo Olu’s wife. She was not there, though she gave me an appointment. We waited and when she returned, she forgot that I was a former deputy governor but I told her I don’t visit first ladies.
As you said earlier, Tinubu’s supporters believe he can fix Nigeria the way he fixed Lagos. As a former deputy governor of Lagos, are you impressed with the level of development in the state?
It is retrogression not progression. Anytime I decide to take a shortcut on the roads, I regret it and that is why the traffic is killing everybody on the highway. Education is not where it should be. I know (the Governor, Babajide) Sanwo-Olu, is trying to do what he thinks is the best but I think the best is not yet good enough but am praying he will use his second term, he will use it to do more. The blueprint that they said they have for Lagos, they should bring it out. Let all of us see it. The blueprint that made them remove (a former governor, Akinwunmi) Ambode, let them bring it out.
Let us enumerate the development they have made vis-à-vis the money generated and the indebtedness and justify what the money was used for. When the Vice President-elect mentioned that they were using Lagos as a template, everybody who has seen Lagos laughed. The development has not been at the rate it should be. They told Ambode that was trying to build bridges that they didn’t send him, that their pockets were empty, and that Ambode was not a party man. I don’t want to make more enemies than I have made already.
You said the National Assembly system is too expensive for Nigeria. What system will you recommend?
They (the Senate and the House of Representatives) could merge. Part-time legislation can be another good suggestion. My father was a member of the parliament and he was a part-time legislator.
Some people have criticised Tinubu for holding Lagos to ransom as a godfather, what will you say about this?
Tinubu did not hold Lagos to ransom. Greed holds Lagos to ransom and Tinubu just exploited it. It is the greed of Lagosians that held them to ransom and it’s still holding them to ransom.
Some said you were seeking an appointment from Tinubu. Is that true?
No, our morals are not the same. I stepped out from the FCC even when the remuneration was even more because I saw some practices I couldn’t stand. I don’t want any appointment; even the one they gave me I didn’t take. I have been called to chair the boards of banks but I refused. I’m not looking for anything in Nigeria other than for Nigeria to become a nation that I will be proud of. That is why I am talking about restructuring and I think Bola Tinubu will be the last person that will implement restructuring because he likes power but I am praying that if he gets there, he will restructure because he fought (former President Goodluck) Jonathan, Obasanjo on restructuring. Now, it is his turn and he can even put his name on a marble.
There was a report that you were arrested over land issues. How did that later play out?
Some people tried to scandalise me that I stole a piece of land. It was only God that saved me from (going to) jail because everything was set for me to be taken to court and remanded in custody, which would have been a dent in my life and everything I stood for.
I didn’t take any land. It was a case of mistaken identity and the man (claimant) was already receiving (his money), so the case was discharged. However, some said I was not acquitted and I have been asking them after that. I wrote that I wanted the case to go back to court for an acquittal. The officer in charge was called but there was no file. It was an order from above.
If you meet Tinubu, what will you tell him?
I will first ask him what my offence was because for you to be able to grasp issues and settle, you have to know what is at stake, and what is really the problem. I will tell him to please explain to me how I have wronged him because I see his children and family. We are not enemies.