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"Abacha Summoned Me For Making A Female Chief Judge In Lagos" – Former Osun Gov. Oyinlola

A former Military Administrator of Lagos State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, in the interview with a select number of journalists, speaks about his tenure and other issues. Gbenro Adeoye was there

You were the Military Administrator of Lagos between December 1993 and August 1996, how did you get that appointment and what was the experience like?

It was a military posting that came just immediately after I returned from an operational assignment as the Commander of the Nigerian Contingent to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia from 1992 to the later part of 1993. When I got appointed, it came as a surprise and the bigger surprise was that I got it without any godfather. I was simply posted to Lagos State. How I was informed about it was even dramatic. My course mate, Col. Emmanuel Soda, was Military Assistant to Gen. Oladipo Diya, he got to know about (Gen. Sani) Abacha’s decision to make me Military Administrator of Lagos State but Diya told him that he (Diya) didn’t know me well. So Soda was trying frantically to locate me but I was busy playing golf at Ikoyi Club. Finally he got through to my brother, Toye, who told him I would be at the golf club.

But I had left the golf club and was on my way elsewhere. As I was driving along, I became aware of a vehicle pursuing me at great speed and, having had an encounter with armed robbers few days earlier, I thought “here we go again!” At that speed, I cocked my rifle. Finally on the fly-over, I slowed down for whoever was pursuing me and primed myself for action, only to discover it was Toye’s car. We both parked, got down and I was told that Emma (Col. Soda) had been looking for me since morning. He added that Soda told him that Diya was in fact the one who wanted to see me.

 I thought that was serious and we turned back and went straight to Soda. Soda and I went together to meet Diya, who then told me of the appointment. I, there and then, pledged my loyalty.

I proceeded to set up my cabinet after swearing-in formalities. As there was an idea of having civilian deputy administrators in states, I had hoped Senator Bola Tinubu would be made my deputy, so it was the two of us who started putting my cabinet together. He personally brought in Tajudeen Olusi and few others.

Pacifying the Yoruba people of Lagos who were still feeling very aggrieved over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election was my first and most urgent task as Military Administrator of Lagos State. I met total anarchy. Workers were on strike; markets were closed. No one was working. The agitation for the actualisation of that election was at its peak. There was total breakdown of law and order and outright civil disobedience. Each time I drove out of Government House or the Governor’s Office, I could feel hostility along the way as if I was the one who personally annulled the election.

 But this didn’t worry me unduly and I could understand the depth of hatred for the armed forces. After some time, I decided that we could not just be sitting down in the office at Alausa, Ikeja. There was an urgent need to meet with the people. So, I decided that I must tour all the local governments. Having served in Lagos before, I knew the peculiarities of each area, which was what informed my decision to commence my tour from Mushin Local Government Area, which I believed constituted the bedrock of the anti-government sentiments then. I must mention that when I drew up the programme and announced that I would start from Mushin, my commissioners were not at ease at all.

As a matter of fact, some whispered behind my back that this man who just got back from the war front was planning to get everyone killed. So, when those words filtered into my ears, I told them that no commissioner was under any compulsion to accompany me to Mushin.

 The only commissioner that accompanied me, if I am not mistaken, was Dr. Segun Ogundimu. Principally, he must have followed me because that was his area. I was received  by the local government chairman, Bayo Oshiyemi. I was not surprised at the reception I got at Mushin. I was welcomed with a rain of stones. My boys wanted to react by firing back but I had to caution them. I told them that my life was not in danger and even if it was, I knew what to do. Of course as a Yoruba man, I knew if anyone was killed under my watch, my family would never get out of it. So, I warned the boys not to do anything. I could take care of myself. I then appealed to the people. I told them to at least listen to me first, even if they would kill me later. I assured them that I would convey their grievances to higher authorities if they could discuss with me.

The people were taken aback by the way I spoke with them. A soldier appealing for understanding! They didn’t expect such words from a military officer who had only recently returned from war. They expected me to react to their provocation but when I did something that was unexpected, they dropped their stones and we went into a hall to discuss.

I shared my experience in Somalia with them and the fact that though that country is a nation with one religion, Islam, nobody, throughout the time I stayed there, had the time to pray even once because it was all gunshots; there were gunshots every minute. They had no government and anarchy reigned supreme. I made them understand that if we did not deal with our grievances the right way, our condition could degenerate into what I saw in Somalia.

I affirmed that the annulment was bad and unacceptable and asked them if they wanted to fight the rest of the country or go into meaningful dialogue. I also assured them that they would have my backing in whatever decision they made.

By the time I was leaving Mushin, I was carried shoulder high and that became a propaganda point for the government. The event was broadcast by the Nigerian Television Authority and I was flooded with phone calls.

Following up on the success of that visit, I took a tour to Lagos Island. In that place, as expected, most of my cars were damaged. A retired officer, Captain Carew, was the Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government at that time. I met with the elders and the same story I told in Mushin, I told them. I recall that on Lagos Island, there was this Chief Onilegbale, he must have been over 80 years old and he told us a proverb… “Ti a ba ni ki a lu keke, egbaafa; ta ba ni ka lu ya, egbaafa. Ki wa lo de t’aa kuku lu ya.” He meant that whichever way we approached the issue of June 12, the result would be the same and so would the price, so why not go to war? Again, I explained to the people that they had two alternatives, either to fight or to dialogue. They eventually agreed with me and chose dialogue. They sent me off with the sound of drums.

I believed that the next most turbulent would be Yaba, so I took a tour there. Ironically, there was no record of violence against me in Yaba and there was no rowdy reception either. That was how I moved round the state and broke the ice. I was able to, at least, stabilise the polity and commence the programme of bringing peace to Lagos State. My joy is that I administered Lagos at the most turbulent period in the history of that state without firing a shot.

Apart from that, what projects and programmes of your administration gave you joy?

But at a point, you said you could not rehabilitate roads because there was no bitumen?

The issue of bitumen was one interesting story. You know I got to Lagos in December 1993 and, as I said, government was maintaining roads and constructing new ones and bridges where necessary until sometime in late 1995, when we had issues with construction materials. That time, government projects were as a matter of policy majorly executed through direct labour. The Kaduna Refinery, which was the only refinery producing bitumen in the country, was sabotaged in the political crises of that period.

 The only option we had was to import the material. I asked for permission and for forex to import bitumen, which was the main component for building roads, but the Federal Government said no, I should go and source for forex from the black market. The exchange rate was N84 to a dollar at the black market known then as the autonomous market, while the official rate was N22 to a dollar. At the official rate, I would have been able to construct, as of that time, a kilometre for N4m, but if I had gone to the autonomous market, that would have cost four or five times the price. How would I do that and people would not accuse me of embezzling Lagos State funds?

But the other states got forex from the Federal Government at the official rate…

Yes. But Lagos was not given. I don’t know what the offence was. But I was in office to solve problems. So, I appealed to the people of the state. I asked if they knew any source through which we could get bitumen locally they should assist us. Nobody responded except Chief Lawal Solarin of Eterna Oil. Unfortunately, what he gave was insignificant to the enormity of the scope of work we had to do. However, I will continue to appreciate his good gesture because in that time of trouble, he was there for me.

The only solution was to contract out the roads. So, I contracted the Victoria Island roads to HFP Construction Company; Lagos Island roads were contracted to Julius Berger; Western Avenue was given to Strabag and Mushin-Abeokuta Road was contracted to NW Limited. That was how I gave the major roads out to these grade one construction companies and they were carrying out the work satisfactorily until I left in August 1996. The inauguration of the roads was done by my successor. However, because of politics, nobody was able to say those were the steps I took.

All they were saying was that I complained that there was no bitumen. I also made a mistake of not engaging the media enough. I thought I was on a military assignment and didn’t need to deliberately tell my stories.

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