CHIEF Tunji Shelle is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos. The seasoned politician who just turned 60 in this interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly opened up on his fulfillment at 60, his stellar military career, foray into politics and why he thinks the APC is dead on arrival among other issues.
Congratulations on your 60th sir, how does it feel to be 60?
I’m 60 and I’m happy to be 60. I feel fulfilled, I feel I’m contributing to the development of the society which makes me happy. I believe I’m trying to live a legacy of a principled and disciplined person.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Lagos. I did my primary and secondary school in Lagos and eventually went to the University of Ibadan to do a degree in Geography. I did my NYSC in a secondary school in Ibadan (Ibadan City Academy). On completion of my service, I had the urge to join the military but because I was enjoying Lagos State scholarship, I had to serve under the state government as assistant secretary for about one year.
When and how did you eventually join the military?
I crossed over to the Navy in 1980 as an education officer and I held several command and staff appointments as an instructor. I also went for a course in the UK to boost my education background. The school is Royal School of Education and Technology in Portsmouth. On my return to Nigeria, I was posted to a training school for cadets in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The federal government was to establish similar institution to NDA, strictly for the Navy then. I lectured there for two years and many of the officers we trained then are now rear admirals and others are commodores. Rear Admiral Oshinowo was one of them.
I came back to Lagos and was appointed Deputy Commandant of Navy Secondary School, where I had a brief stint of about eight months before I was nominated for a course in India where I specialized in Navigation and Direction. So, I can conveniently navigate a ship today either professionally or otherwise. On my return to Nigeria, I had several other appointments before I got the opportunity to serve in Lagos again as the General Manager, Lagos Ferry Service between 1997 and 1999 under the Marwa regime. I resurrected all the boats that had been abandoned for up to six years. I moved on to be the commandant of Navy Secondary School, Port Harcourt and after my meritorious stint there, I was appointed as the Director of Research and Development at the Defence Headquarters where I eventually retired in 2004.
How did you end up in politics?
Immediately I retired, I joined politics. I didn’t waste a day. Even during my disengagement leave, I had already registered with the PDP and my plan was to contest the House of Reps which I eventually did in the 2007 elections but lost to an ACN candidate who didn’t even campaign. There’ll be another opportunity in the future. I’m grooming people to win elections and I believe people will win elections in PDP this time around.
What exactly inspired you to join politics?
The motivation is very simple. It’s in my nature to render services to my immediate community and beyond. I like helping people and I like seeing things done properly. I want order in the society and how do I do it without participating in politics? I chose the party I joined because I didn’t see myself following the bandwagon.
Who are your political role models?
I wish I were like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I think that’s the only role model. He was a disciplined mind. He was deep. He didn’t do things haphazardly. He was committed to the core and he was ready to deny himself a lot of things to reshape the environment he found himself. He was able to build structures, institutions and motivated people to get to the top. He carried his followers along. That’s the difference between the political empire of Awolowo and others that betrayed and deceived the people. I wished I were like him. I’m not like him but I want to develop my mind to be like him.
What’s your political philosophy?
It’s a blend of principle, discipline and focus. You can’t eat your cake and have it. If you want to render service, render it. I want to be remembered for what I’ve contributed to the development of the society. I want to see the society in order. I want to see human and infrastructural development.
Have you ever considered jumping ship as the PDP have found it difficult to unseat the ACN in Lagos?
I’m not in politics just to win elections. I’m in politics to make a difference and in the process of making a difference, the chances are that you would leave a mark and that will translate to winning elections. What would make me jump ship? Nothing, I don’t see any attraction in the party in Lagos State today. The party is ephemeral, it doesn’t have national spread. The ACN is not even a party as of today. It’s a property that belongs to somebody. I don’t see how I would leave PDP and go to ACN because the people there have betrayed Obafemi Awolowo, whose interest they are pretending to represent. They have changed the face of Awolowo’s politics. They’ve turned it into a politics of money. Awolowo never used money to win elections. They now buy votes. They buy human beings who are in charge of elections. That’s why we are where we are now. That’s why they’re beautifying the major streets and leave the interiors unattended. That’s why they’re sand filling the Atlantic and want to give it the face of a mega city. Is that our need in Lagos today?
How does it feel as a party when you see major members like the former party PRO, Wale Ahmed and others jump ship?
I’m not too surprised because the character you’re talking about, Dr. Wale Ahmed and even Alhaji Demola Seriki are part of those that came from the AD. When they got here, they were given the opportunity to participate, the opportunity they didn’t have in AD. We gave them the opportunity to serve and they are the kind of betrayal that’s typical of the party they went back to. They were not supposed to be here. They belong to that group of unprincipled politicians. Meanwhile, he (Wale Ahmed) was a mole. If they didn’t plant him, he planted himself so that it could translate to fortune for him during the period he was here. He’ll go to Umrah with them, come back and get information and sell it to the opposition which is unfortunate. They have succeeded in cheating PDP but they cannot cheat God because God is watching and they will meet their waterloo.
Judging by your comments in the media, you don’t seem to agree that the incumbent, Governor Fashola is doing a good job, why?
I’ve not said Fashola is not doing a good job. I said we can do better. Fashola concentrated too much time and effort on aesthetics at the expense f the poor who should be helped. The poor are becoming poorer while the people in his government are becoming richer and richer. They are the ones who own Lagos now. They own the property. The school of nursing is gone into their hands, the Lagos State Polytechnic premises is gone into their hands. Many houses belonging to government in Ikoyi are in their hands. Even the rich are forced to cry out now. They’re asking them to come and renew the ownership of their houses in Ikoyi. Similarly, people living in VGC are complaining because they have to pass through two or three toll gates before getting to their homes. It’s like exploitation. I don’t think PDP government would do such a thing.
What would the PDP do differently?
We shall not waste our time and energy on white elephant projects. We shall not give out contracts and inflate the prices. Nobody knows how much this beautification exercise has cost. Nobody knows how much the Lekki (Epe Express road cost that they want to recoup billions over 32 years. The rail line they’re talking about, they started by saying it was going to cost $1.2 billion, they’ve already expended over $12 billion and we can’t see the result. That project they said will be ready in June this year, I don’t see it ready until Fashola leaves office. For the few things he has done, I congratulate him but a PDP government will go into the interiors, Alimosho, Agege, Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu, open them up and redistribute the population of Lagos instead of everybody heading to Lagos Island and being choked.
We can provide water conveniently at an affordable price. It can be done. The ACN is too lazy to develop water transportation but PDP government will improve all aspects of our transportation system. We’ll redefine the civil service. Look at the civil service of today and you’ll see people were brought from Chicago or Toronto, put into the civil service to start managing the hospitals, mortuaries at the expense of the true professionals and the regular civil servants. It’s unfair. All these things will be corrected.
Do you consider the merger of opposition parties, the APC as a bigger challenge to the PDP?
Such a move is welcome but it must be done with sincerity of purpose. I don’t think they are sincere. I don’t think the people involved have anything in common. Buhari doesn’t have anything in common with Tinubu. One has principle, the other one doesn’t have principle. One has money, the other one doesn’t have money. The relationship is going to fail because it’s not built on truth. It’s built on deceit and their desire to snatch power. PDP is too big to be harassed or unseated by the APC. We have 23 states in our kitty today and we will increase the number by dividing what is in opposition hands into two and add half to the existing 23 we have. We’ll will nothing less than 30 states in the next general elections because they will fight among themselves. Power sharing will further polarize their arrangement and because they were not strategic enough, some of them will be betrayed and some will be forced to leave the alliance before 2015. So, it’s an advantage for PDP because PDP is big and whoever is running helter skelter would find shelter in PDP.
Besides, some of the hands in the proposed merger are dead woods. Is it Ikimi that can make a difference on modern politics of today? No, Ikimi cannot, Tony Momoh cannot. They don’t have the charisma or the followership to make a difference but PDP is loaded and we have everything it takes to win elections and South West will be a different zone in the next election.
Don’t you think that the dismal performance of President Jonathan will affect the chances of PDP winning governorship seats?
It’s a perception and not the reality. Everyone has his unique style. Before now, electricity supply was very bad but if you’ll be sincere, the situation has improved. He’s facing the energy sector squarely and before the end of the year, electricity supply will have improved tremendously and by 2015, I can assure you an average home would enjoy 15 hours regular supply of electricity. If somebody can achieve that, he’s done what so many people have failed to achieve. If all his transformation agenda become more visible people would not call him names again and it has even gone as far as an insult from the opposition. Lai Mohammed talks carelessly. I think that’s what people listen to and feel he’s saying the truth. They don’t know how much project is going on underground but because some of those things are not publicized, people fail to appreciate them.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2013