Former commissioner in Lagos State and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Tola Kasali..
He is one of the Guber Aspirants under APC in Lagos. In a chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly, he speaks about his political ambition…
You are a muslim. What is your take on those clamouring for a Christian as the next governor of the state and the choice of Akinwumi Ambode?
My answer to that is that all power belongs to God. He gives power to whoever He wishes. Religion has no place in Lagos politics, even in the politics of the South-West. In politics generally, religion should not play any role. If you look at the history of Lagos State, when Jakande was governor, Jafojo was his deputy. Both of them were Muslims. Nobody talked about religion then. Even if you look at it closely, you will find that the dominant people in the state are muslims.
We should not play on religion. There was a time in this country when we had Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket, that is, M.K.O Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. Nobody raised an eyebrow and
they won the election. If that election had not been annulled, they would have been declared winners. So, we should not introduce something that will jeopardise the future of our people. We should not introduce something that will bring conflict. We should not introduce something that will start affecting the consciousness of the people. We shouldn’t put in the people’s consciousness what they were not thinking about before.
So, I don’t see any issue in that, Lagos is for everybody. In Lagos, being a cosmopolitan state, everybody has a stake. We don’t talk about indigeneship because we have a lot of other people in Lagos, and the state is accommodating. You can’t compare Lagos with Ogun, Oyo or any other state.
If you look at the past governments in Lagos State, we have a cabinet of 40 and if we analyse the cabinet, we can hardly find half of the number being Lagosians. It shows the type of accommodation we have for others in Lagos. It shows the type of interaction we have in Lagos. It shows the type of politics we play in Lagos. So, we don’t discriminate. People should not bring such item into the consciousness of Lagosians because if we start talking about religion or indigeneship, somebody from Lagos State will not be anybody in any other state. Our situation is different; we are a cosmopolitan state and we accommodate ourselves in our cabinet.
You have attributed your political journey in life to destiny, why?
When we (in SDP) picked Yomi Edu from our group, we lined our followers behind him. He won the primary against Prince Abiodun Ogunleye, but he eventually lost the election (to Sir Michael Otedola) and people were saying if I had accepted to fly the party’s flag, I would have won the election. That one went away.
When I became the council chairman in 1999, I did a lot of rural electrification projects in Ibeju-Lekki. I did a lot of road projects and many other things. When the then state governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, was touring local governments and he came to Ibeju-Lekki, he began inaugurating my projects at 10.00 a.m. and when it was 7.30 in the evening, he said, ‘no, we have to go.’ This is because we did massive rural electrification projects in 22 places, did high tension that covered 32 kilometres and reconstructed many schools. We did all this with the amount the council was earning.
Then, in 2002, our tenure expired and we left the council because there was no election. A caretaker committee was put in place. In 2003, we had the general election and Senator Tinubu won his re-election. The same week, I went to greet him at Marina and as he was seeing off, he called me to his inner room and said, ‘I know your people want you to go back to the council, but I want you in my cabinet to do all the things you did in Ibeju-Lekki in all the rural areas of Lagos State.’ He then asked: ‘Do you agree?’ I said, “Your wish is my command.”
He travelled and he came back, but I didn’t see him until the announcement was made. That was how I became Commissioner for Rural Development in Lagos State. In 2005, he (Tinubu) said, ‘I feel like handing over to you as the next governor of Lagos State’ and I said, ‘Oga, do you know I am from Ibeju-Lekki?’ He said, ‘Yes. Is Ibeju-Lekki not part of Lagos State?’
After two weeks, he called me again and asked: ‘What about what I told you?’ It was then I started consulting the elders of the party and that was how I was drafted into the governorship race. Then, it got to a point when everybody thought I was going to be the governor, then the (Babatunde) Fashola issue came up and at the end of the day, he was picked.
Don’t you feel betrayed when Tinubu gave the mantle to Fashola?
We had a lot of discussions then, which I would call a secret and I would not want to divulge it because I am an honest and loyal man. I did what I did in the interest of our party, in the interest of Lagos State and in the interest of my area, and that was it. It was without bitterness. I took it as my destiny, an act of God.
I looked at it this way: if I had forced myself on the people and I become governor and died the following day, what would I have achieved? The situation is different now.
How did your journey into politics begin?
My father encouraged me to go into politics. He came to me one day and said, ‘You look like someone who is not living in Nigeria, a foreigner.’ But we are from a very rural background. Ibeju-Lekki used to be the most rural part of Lagos State. So, he said, ‘We can’t have a son like you here and be living in this kind of situation. I want you to join the people who are directing the affairs of the state, particularly our local government.’ I told him that what I gathered was that they kill people in the area and he said, ‘I have never killed anybody and I have never done anything wrong to anybody’s child or children, so, God will be with you. Join politics and do something to better the condition of our people.’
That was my clarion call into politics and I decided that I would do it with zeal. Even in my hospital, I treated indigenes of Ibeju-Lekki free and gave them transport fare to return home.
I was making money because then, I had retainership with Texaco, Union Bank and Afribank. So, I was making money and I was supporting people who were doing politics in Ibeju-Lekki, thinking that was where we could have a local government that is completely rural.
Then, in 1998, when the new dispensation started, the people said, ‘You told us that local council can provide electricity, then come and contest the chairmanship seat.’ It was so difficult for me because before then, my younger brother was the vice chairman of the council. So, I wondered how I could become the council chairman. Is it the Kasali family they are trying to worship? And the people said no. Eventually, I accepted.
That was how I ran for local council chairmanship election in 1998. The election was held on December 5 and I was sworn in on June 2.
On what party’s platform?
The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) but it was called All Peoples Party (APP) then.
You were persuaded to vie for the governorship ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) by the likes of Chief Dapo Sarumi, ahead of the disqualification of the original candidate, but you refused. Can you share the reason and considering the intrigues then, would you have won the election?
I would have won because we were holding series of meetings then and my name was on the lips of everybody. All our leaders in Epe division were saying if I had been picked, they would have supported me. They also told Alhaji (Lateef) Jakande that I was their man but I told them I would rather become a councillor because then, I had never taken any political appointment.