The immediate past Managing Director of Polaris Bank, Mr. Tokunbo Abiru, is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Lagos East senatorial byelection. In this interview, he speaks on his chances in the October 31 poll, the need for special status for Lagos and his plans for the district, among others. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
Your emergence as the candidate of the APC has raised issues in some political quarters. Can you elucidate on issues around your candidacy for the forthcoming byelection in Lagos East Senatorial District?
The idea of a sole candidature was a product of far-reaching and extensive consultations with leaders of the party and other aspirants. I met with all the aspirants in the course of the consultation. I met with them as a group and on one-on-one basis, soliciting for their support, and we had an understanding and common agreement because it can only be one person. So, the idea of imposition does not arise in any way.
The party is one and all of us are together.
One of the key issues you have been hammering on in your manifesto is a special status for Lagos State. Do you think it is feasible to secure a special status for the state?
The idea of a special status for Lagos is a necessity and it is for obvious reasons. Lagos used to be the capital of Nigeria until 1991, when the capital was moved to Abuja. Clearly, by virtue of that position, there are lots of major investments that the Federal Government right from independence had made in this state.
Those infrastructures, like the seaports, airports, industries, among others, will continue to attract migration of people and even investments from outside the country. If you go all over the world, whether in Brazil or the United States, where you had a former capital, the sovereign must continue to enhance the capacity of that environment in order for it to sustain the rural-urban pool that it will continue to attract.
So, the issue of special status has remained and we can only continue to champion it. Even the late General Murtala Mohammed that coined the idea of the Federal Capital Territory in 1976, also recognized the fact that we cannot put our eyes off from Lagos because of the huge investments we have here.
So, the yearning for a special status for Lagos is not too much of an appeal. The issue will continue to be a major source of concern for the current and former leadership of Lagos. I mentioned it in the context of continuing to join hands with them to make sure that it becomes a reality. No doubt, Lagos is doing a great job but we need the status because the state government alone cannot sustain the required investment to sustain the infrastructures.
What kind of difference do you intend to make in politics if you eventually win the October 31 senatorial by-election?
Firstly, I applaud and I also respect those who have been on this democracy journey over the past 20 years or thereabout. I am not a special person; I am just one person like all of us. The only difference and what I am going to bring to the table is to join hands with those already on this democratic journey because we can’t get it right overnight.
So, we will continue to improve, that is part of what I am bringing. We have to aspire to improve our democratic governance. What I am complementing with that is the discipline that I have also been able to garner in my profession; the competencies and the capacities that I have been able to build in terms of understanding how structures work. So, it is going to be a complementary role and I don’t think I am one special person.
Do you have the ambition to become the governor of Lagos State because there are insinuations that you are being prepared to take over from the incumbent?
What we have today and available as an opportunity is this senatorial seat. I don’t know whether you are trying to put me on the spot but I want to make you understand that there can only be one governor at a time and I think Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is doing a great job in terms of infrastructure. He has led frontally in the issue around COVID- 19.
The governor and I have come a long way; we met in 2000 and we worked together as staff of a second-generation bank. Ever since we have been friends, we have been playing complementary roles and he has been very supportive. He is one of the major people I have consulted on this race and he is one of my major supporters. He has his role to play and I have mine to play as well, but the roles are complementary when you talk about special status, ease of doing business and fiscal federalism.
Those are the things he stands for and I can only complement it.
Many Nigerians speak glowingly about the impact of your late father, Justice M.A.O. Abiru. What have you done for your community, local government and district that makes you think they will elect you as their senator?
I appreciate your remarks about my late father. I think I have been able to also make the division proud by my personal achievements as a private person and I believe strongly that is well recognized in the community.
Yes, people say I am a reserved and quiet person but I want you to know that I am an integral part of this community. There is no part of this division and state that I am not integrated into. In Ikorodu, I belong to the foremost club in the division, which is Oriwu Club.
I spent most of my weekends in Ikorodu and I celebrate the annual Sallah festival in Ikorodu with family and friends joining us.
Why did you resign as Commissioner for Finance after serving just about two years in the administration of Babatunde Fashola?
When I became a Commissioner in 2011, I was just at the peak of my management career in banking. I was deputy general manager in the First Bank then and those who know the structure of the bank are aware that we never used to have general managers; the peak is deputy general manager. I am aware they have general managers today but those days, they don’t use to have them.
The deputy general manager is the peak and from there you can become executive director. So, once you get to that level, you have gotten to the peak of your management career. But as an aspiring and ambitious young man, that cannot be where you want to stop because you want to be part of the executive leadership.
So, when I was going to public office as a commissioner, I went as a deputy general manager. But when the opportunity came to ramp up my career to the executive level, I think it only stands to reason to move.
You see, you can always come back to public office but for executive leadership, particularly the private sector, when you get to a certain age, you can’t come back to it. I needed to be sure that is accomplished before I can come to public glare. You can confirm this from the governor at the time, Babatunde Fashola.
That was the conversation we had when I left the cabinet. The life of service to people is a life-long opportunity, God sparing our lives. But in the private sector, there is an age limit. Once you get to that age frame, you can’t even come into it again.
So, this one I have come into is a life-long commitment by the grace of God.
Did you resign as managing director of Polaris Bank because of the Lagos East by-election or because you have successfully executed the mandate of the Central Bank of Nigeria to rescue the troubled Skye Bank and midwife the transformed Polaris Bank to profitability?
I want to thank God, my leaders and the party for this opportunity, but as a person, I was convinced in my mind that the mandate given to me in 2016 had been accomplished. So, it was clear to my mind that I was going to retire from banking this year. I have done my beat and it was for me to take a step backward and let others take over as well.
I want to tell you that with the landscape of banking that we do today, it is about time that some of us who started about 30 years ago leave the field for the upcoming guys because it is about digital transformation, technology and all of that. If you must run an enterprise that is vibrant and profitable, you have to allow the younger people to come into space.
I think what people like us should be doing is to be in advisory roles and allow younger people to come up because they are full of burning ideas. If you don’t leave, how are they going to do it?