Mr. Tokun Abiru is the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) for the coming Lagos East Senatorial bye-election scheduled to hold on October 31, 2020. He spoke with journalists on his mission and vision for the zone if elected. SEYE OLUMIDE and SUNDAY AIKUOLA report
Not many people know you within the Lagos political circle. Where have you ben?
BY training, I obtained my first degree in economics. I am also a qualified chattered accountant. The last 29 years of my working experience have been in the banking sector. I was in the second leg of the pioneer staff of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB). When I joined the bank in 1991, it had just one branch on Adeyemo Alakija Street, Victoria Island, but today, we are grateful to God that GTB has metamorphosed into a major bank in Nigeria that we are proud of. I was in GTB from 1991 to 2000. I crossed to National Bank, where I stayed for six months and moved on to First Atlantic Bank, where I also spent another six months. But I withdrew again because it did not fit into the profile I was building.
Thereafter, I joined First Bank of Nigeria Plc in 2002 and left in 2016. I rose to the position of executive director at First Bank before I resigned. When I was with First Bank, I had the privilege of serving Lagos State Government from 2011 to 2013 as Commissioner for Finance under the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola. In 2016, I led the intervention for the resurrection of Skye Bank, which was in comatose then, now Polaris Bank, and the regulatory body needed to intervene. From 2016 to 2018, we were able to resolve the issues in the bank and since I have completed my mission, I felt I needed to leave.
At the beginning of this year, I was asking myself what the next thing to do was. I felt I had participated in the private sector for about 30 years; so I felt, ‘how do I participate in the public space?’ Thankfully, this opportunity came.
We lost a senator in Lagos East, may God continue to give him (the late Bayo Osinowo) eternal rest. Well, life must continue. So when the opportunity came, I thought how I could put together all the skills in my career and give back to society. So in the last three months, I have been having extensive consultation, starting with the leadership of the party and I had good response from them.
Some say you exited your bank job because of this race. Is that true?
On the idea of sole candidature, I had a series of consultations with stakeholders, had one-on-one conversation with other contenders and I can tell you that they all encouraged me. I also need to say it clearly that the mandate given to me in 2016 to revamp Polaris Bank, where I resigned to join the senatorial race, has been accomplished. I thank God for this opportunity, but it was clear that I would have retired from the banking sector this year. I have done my best; the banking that we do today is different from what those of us who had been in it in the last 30 years or thereabout practised. It is about time that a lot of us should be leaving the field for the younger generation. The banking system is undergoing digital transformation today, and if you must run an enterprise that is viable and profitable today, you must allow the younger generation come into play, because they are full of burning ideas. My generation should be playing advisory roles.
How would you address the issue of granting special status to Lagos State if elected?
There is no point shying away from the reality that Lagos needs to be granted special status. Lagos used to be the capital of Nigeria up till 1991 and, by virtue of that position, there are a lot of major investments by the federal government right from independence, whether seaport, airport and others, in the state. These infrastructure will continue to attract migration of people, even in terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Whether in Brazil or any part of the world where you had a former capital, the sovereign must continue to make it attractive. Even the late General Muhammad Murtala, who came up with the idea of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, in 1976 also recognised the fact that with the investment in Lagos, government cannot keep its eyes away.
So, for the current and former leadership of Lagos and the legislators, the idea of special status has remained a source of concern to them. I will continue to join hands with other legislators to make sure it is a reality.
Is it correct to say the leadership of your party is stylishly positioning you to succeed the incumbent governor in 2023. Do you nurse such ambition?
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is doing a lot in terms of road infrastructure and others. There can only be one governor at a time and I think he is doing a great job and he has led frontally as regards the issue of COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor and I have come a long way. We worked together at First Atlantic Bank in 2000. And ever since, we have been friends and playing complementary roles and also very supportive of each other. He is one of the first personalities that I consulted and he is one of my major sources of inspiration in this journey. He has his role to play and I have got my roles to play too for the development of our state and the country. The roles are complementary. If you talk about special status, fiscal federalism, ease of doing business – those are the things Sanwo-Olu stands for and I can only complement him. I am coming because, with all modesty, I believe I’m an accomplished private sector person. Modern democracy is a continuous process; we should give kudos to those that started it 21 years ago.
What are your plans regarding empowerment and delivering or facilitating infrastructure development to your zone if elected?
I have ideas around empowerment and I also have an idea of a foundation that I intend to use to deliver my goodwill. It is the executive that will be making the policies that will be executed; ours is just to join in the conversation. In terms of stabilizing the economy, almost all economies around the world are in one trouble or the other because of the challenge of COVID-19. This government is doing its best. There is the Economic Sustainability Plan that is already in place; so, part of the conversation is to continue to join along that line. It is for the legislature to key into the policies. So I can’t make any promise, but I think so far, the direction looks good.
There seems to be few or no federal presence around Ibeju-Lekki corridor. Do you agree?
Ibeju-Lekki is where you have a lot of tourism opportunities and the current leadership of Lagos State and previous leaders have always been at the forefront to ensure that this is achieved. From the legislative point of view, the issue is how you complement what is already on ground to ensure ease of doing business in Lagos. Concerning my vision for Lagos East, some of the things that are key are in the areas of infrastructure and you have some of them running now. For instance, if you look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Epe/Ijebu Ode corridor, and Lekki to Epe, there are projects going on these areas.
So, all that is needed is to continue to talk to the federal government and make sure that those things are completed. These issues are purely executive roles but as senators, we must continue to remind the federal government about things that can make life easy for citizens.
Security challenge is one of the issues in your zone, especially Ikorodu where Badoo cultism started. How would you look into this?
Badoo has become a thing of the past and we thank God for that. I am not a special person. I’m just one of us. I’m complementing the discipline that I have been able to gather, the competencies and capacities as regards understanding how structures work. So it is going to be a complementary role to what the government is doing.
We know what your father did when he was in politics to align with the needs of Lagos East people. What will be your take-off point?
I’m a proud indigene of Ikorodu division. Although people do say that I am reserved, but it will surprise a lot that I have been a proud part of this community. I am close to the Ayangburen of Ikorodu, Oba of Ipakodo. I am a well-integrated member of this community. I belong to the foremost club of this community, that is Oriwu Club, since 2006 and my late father established a club called The Exclusives in Ireshe Road, which was established in 1965. Most of my weekends are spent here and every sallah festival, in the last eight years, was spent here. If you come here during sallah, it is a beehive of activities. We also provided palliatives to the needy during the lockdown.
You resigned as a Commissioner for Finance. What is the assurance that you will not also resign as a senator?
When I became a commissioner in 2011, I was at the peak of my management career in the banking industry. I rose to the position of deputy general manager at First Bank, which was the peak in those days. From DGM you’ll become an executive director. And when you get to that level, you have reached the peak of your management career. But as an ambitious young man, that cannot be where you want to stop; you also want to be part of the executive leadership. So, when I joined government as Commissioner for Finance; I was the DGM and, to wrap up my career to the executive level, it was reasonable for me to resign and return to the banking sector.
In public office, you can always come back to it, but in executive leadership, particularly the private sector, when you get to a certain age, you can’t come back to it. I thought that must be accomplished before I could come into the public space. You can confirm from the incumbent Minister of Works and Housing, Fashola, who was the governor under whom I served as a commissioner. That was the conversation I had with Fashola before I resigned under him. Service to the people is a lifelong opportunity, but in the private sector, there is an age limit. Now that I am back, it is a lifelong arrangement.