Opinion

How southern leaders bungled true federalism, state police — Tunde Bakare

Access Bank

The senior pastor of the Citadel Global Community Church, Tunde Bakare, has opened up on his growing up, his conversion from Islam to Christianity and his foray into activism and politics. He spoke with few journalists at his Lagos office as he celebrated his 66th birthday and talked about what led to his conversion and how he emerged as President Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 presidential elections. He also spoke on other national issues.

What was your growing up like?

I was born inside my father’s house in Abeokuta on November 11, 1954 at 11 am. My parents were Muslims, my father was a chieftain in Islamic religion and so was my mother. My grandfather was the first Chief Imam of Igbore/Sodeke Mosque. I grew up in what I would describe as declining wealth. My father was a wealthy man but because he was an old man when I was born. I was the 22nd and the last child. The house I was born into was built in 1922, a storey building, it is still standing there. I would say I was born into a declining wealth and raised in abject poverty.

My father died before my third birthday and I didn’t feel it at the beginning because of the intervention of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who gave free education. When my father died in 1957 I was taken  to Sokoto with my mother to go stay with my uncle and when school was about to start I was returned to Abeokuta again. As a little child I spoke Hausa language but then forgot it because there is no one to speak the language with on my return to Lagos.  But my mother still spoke Hausa till she died and President Muhammadu Buhari was shocked when he met with my mother in our hometown in her house and she spoke clear ascent Sokoto Hausa to him.

My father had a farm in the north and south. He was a kola nut merchant in the south and a cotton merchant in the north. He will, shift kola nut from the south to the north and brought cotton down to the south and export abroad. That was how he made his money. My uncle was Seriki Yoruba in the Sokoto Caliphate. We had history but I saw poverty.

After primary school, I was taken to the carpenter’s shed to learn carpentry but when I saw how they used a saw to beat one of the apprentices, I fled and refused to return. Thank God for my teacher, the late Mr. Samuel Ade Oguniyi who went to my mother and said, “You know what that boy that I taught, his brain must not be wasted, he must go to school.’ So I left the carpenter’s shed and returned home and started helping my mother while she made adire fabric. Mama did aso aro all her life. She took it to America although she didn’t go to school, but she mingled so well. She went to America before I started going or even get a passport. She trained me well and I am grateful to her.

I started earning two shillings daily from fetching water. There were eight big pots in the textile dyeing factory where mama was working and it would take about eight buckets of water to fill each pot and my assignment was to fill the eight pots every evening. They pay me three pence for each pot. So I will go to the public tap 64 times every day. I became so professional that I didn’t have to touch the bucket just land it on my head and swiftly move. My mother introduced me into joint signatory banking account, not in a bank but she built what they call kolo, made of wooden box with hole where you can drop your money. She put two padlocks, she kept one key and one was with me. We couldn’t open it behind each other. Every day I will put the two shillings there and at the weekend on Saturday, I will go to fetch fire wood that I will sell. One bundle of firewood sells for two shillings.

As time went on, I started a vacation job at the post office. I will never forget that moment in my life; it is going to occupy a vantage position in my memoir. If you have ever been at Marina where letters were sorted in those days, you are standing before a wooden box partitioned into pigeon holes and you put each letter into the place meant for it depending on the state. You would sort them out like that and then those who would pack it would come around and put them inside bags.

We usually resumed by 7am and close by 3pm and the rule was that you must not sit down until 9am except you have sorted two bags. On this particular day, I was on the third bag by 8.15am, so I decided to sit down. The supervisor then came behind me and slapped me. I turned and asked him what I did wrong and he said that I was not supposed to sit until 9am. I told him that was not the rule; that the rule said we can’t sit down until 9am except we have sorted two bags and I’m on my third bag. He said I didn’t put the two bags that I had finished on the table and I told him that there was nothing in the rules that said I must drop them on the table.

I then left him, went outside, washed my hands, and dipped it in the sand to have a sandpaper effect. I then came up behind him and hit him and he fell down. My appointment was terminated that day and I was earning N1.08k per hour, so, if you work from 7 to 3, they would calculate it and pay you. Unknown to me, my friend’s father was the postmaster general and he was also doing a casual job with me. He told his father about me and his father asked to see me. I went to see him and he asked why I slapped my supervisor and I responded by asking why my supervisor would slap me without justification. He told me apologise and I refused. He looked at me and said that as one who could be my father, he is telling me to apologise. I said on that basis, I would apologise. He then told my supervisor to apologise to me and he did. He then gave me a letter to go and resume formally as a full member of staff at Race Course, P and T.

Before I started working, I couldn’t find work and I surveyed the neigbourhood and noted those who were always well dressed. I then wrote to all of them telling them that I could come to their houses and wash their clothes if they would supply soap, water and iron. I then started earning N2.00 every weekend from the houses where I was washing clothes. One of those that I washed clothes for is a member of the church today and she just turned 70. Her husband was my teacher who taught me physics in secondary school and she was so kind that anytime I washed clothes for her, she would leave food behind for me. Years later, she came for counseling in church and I recognised her immediately but she didn’t remember me. Unfortunately, by this time, her husband was late. I asked her if she remembered the young man that used to wash clothes for her. When she recollected, she broke down and cried. I told her to bring her children and I gave all of them scholarships.

When I left the P and T, I worked in First Bank and as a matter of fact, I got the job from one of those I was washing clothes for. The person told me that UBA and First Bank were recruiting and I went there and did very well. I was first given an appointment letter by UBA but by the time First Bank’s letter came, it was N100 more than that of UBA, so I took it. That was where I worked and saved money for my university education. I got admission into the University of Lagos and graduated in 1980. I went to Law School and was called to the bar in 1981 after that, I went for my youth service. I worked in the late Gani Fawehinmi’s chambers and later started my own chambers in 1984. I was still practicing when God called me into the ministry and it’s been 32 years since I went into full-time ministry.

What was your experience like after your conversion to Christianity considering the fact that you came from a Muslim family?

I was trying to avoid that question because I do not want to peel old wounds. I gave my life to Christ on September 24, 1974 at Yaba Baptist Church. A friend of mine, who was a Muslim, Ganiyu, became a Christian and he was to be baptised that day so he told me to come and take his photos because I was also a freelance photographer. I have done so many things that is why I can’t stand lazy people around me who will say they have no jobs and they are applicants. From washing clothes, I was able to buy a camera which I used for my photography job.

When I got to Yaba Baptist Church for Ganiyu’s baptism, I was told to remove my cap and I told them that I wasn’t a Christian and that I came to take photos. An elderly man now approached me and said that when you are in Rome, you should behave like the Romans. He told me that this is not a mosque and that if I was interested in taking photos, I had to remove my cap, so I removed it and sat at the back of the church. I had previously seen the vision of Christ but I didn’t understand who he was and the vision I had seen repeated itself while I was in the auditorium.

You are close to President Muhammadu Buhari and you contested as his running mate during the 2011 presidential election. How did your relationship with him begin?


President Muhammadu Buhari’s destiny and my destiny kissed on October 1, 1984, though we had never met each other.  I had just been fired at work two months to my wedding, I was fired on September 24, 1984, I got married on November 24, 1984. I was grieved that two months into my wedding I was fired for confronting my boss for being a member of an occult group. I went to church and my pastor, E.A Adeboye, asked me to start my own chamber, I told him that it was not possible because of the Private Practice Decree which says you must have spent five years as an apprentice before you could start and I had not fulfilled that. But he told me to go and pray about it.

I went to pray about it and God told me to start my own chamber on October 1. I said God and Adeboye missed it because they both don’t know the law of the land. But I have learnt to obey God and I put the name down. I asked my best man when I got married, Femi Fatunbi, to come and pray with me. We prayed overnight from September 30 to October 1 as God said. But as we woke up, we were watching television and General Buhari came on air and said the Private Practice Decree has been abrogated. I prayed for him that like I had met him before. He was eventually overthrown and our path never crossed again.

I came into Ministry and one of those who had attended my Sunday School in Baptist Church where I gave my life to Christ, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, was the governorship candidate of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Lagos State in 2007 and he brought Buhari who was the then presidential candidate of ANPP to my office. He said Buhari was meeting with pastors so that they will not put toga of Islamic fundamentalist on his head. I excused him and took him to my inner office and said to him that the Spirit of God impressed it on me that you won’t win the presidency in 2007 but if you keep on trying, you will win. He left and our path didn’t cross anymore.

How did you now emerge as his running mate in the 2011 presidential election?

God showed me a revelation that led to the Save Nigeria Group. The day that I led a march in Abuja, Professor Wole Soyinka stood to my right, Femi Falana to my left, with my two daughters behind me, President Buhari was coming from the other end in an SUV, with three others and they were going to the Senate. They jointly signed a letter that the Senate should follow the Constitution. He saw me and said is that not Pastor Tunde Bakare?

President Buhari later said it was that day it ministered to him that I will be his running mate; I knew nothing of sort happened that day. At SNG, we had engaged the political class, we had engaged former President Goodluck Jonathan, Atiku Abubakar and we said, you lost the election in 2003, in 2007, and you are about to lose 2011 because there was no balance of terror and I don’t mean violence. We said to him that you don’t really have that inroad to the South West. The way Nigeria is structured, you cannot win the presidential election except there is a handshake between the north and the south, it won’t happen. I was in Spain when the call came that I should get them a vice-presidential candidate. I was so excited and I gave them Jimi Agbaje. I took him to Abuja to meet with them and they met a couple of times, but something happened, they dropped him. They called me again, I went to Pastor Adeboye to give me Oby Ezekwesili and I called her to run with President Buhari but she refused. But Pastor Adeboye told me he (Buhari) would need a strong Christian to be his running mate. I said to him that Oby is strong too; he said no, that she must not leave certainty for uncertainty because she was working at the World Bank then.

So, I sent for the current Minister of Trade and Industry, Niyi Adebayo, that I will like him to take this opportunity. Before this time, Bola Tinubu had sent Lai Mohammed to me that I should persuade Buhari to run on the platform of Action Congress before it became Action Congress of Nigeria. But while we went to meet Buhari, we asked who will be his running mate, he said the greatest grassroots mobiliser in the south-west. I said I can’t broker a Muslim-Muslim ticket, so we left that.

I sent Ife Oyedele to go to the current vice-president that he should come and run with Buhari in 2011. When all that failed, those I assembled to work with me as arrowheads, Donald Duke, El-Rufai, Oby Ezekwesili, Jimi Lawal, Fola Adeola, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, we are determined to bring good governance to our nation, not just activism. We were meeting regularly but we ended the meeting because we had no candidate. On January 15, 2011, at 12 noon, my phone rang, it was President Muhammadu Buhari. He said, Pastor, I had prayed the way I know how to pray, and I want you to pray also, I want you to be my running mate. I said to him, thank you but no thanks because I had given my words to those arrowheads, those I mentioned, that I will never seek an elective office or join a political party. He said I should pray about it and call me back in seven hours, I didn’t call him. I called Pastor Adeboye and informed him, he said that was it and that he already said Buhari needs a strong Christian and that I am the man and I must go there. I consulted across the board and I signed on at the last day to become his running mate. Of course, we didn’t win the election.

Some Christians have queried your close relationship with President Buhari because they feel there should be a line between a Pastor and people of other religions. What is your take?

Because they refused to read their Bible; Joseph and Pharaoh worked together, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar too. We are the salt of the earth and we need to move to all the mountains to hoist the flag of God’s kingdom there.

Are you still interested in becoming President of Nigeria?

There is something called destiny. I am not one to hide under the umbrella of one finger and make ambition looks like vision, I do not camouflage.  Its’ not a matter of life and death, but you can write it down, as the Lord lives, and as I am given the opportunity, the day will come like Joe Biden that I will be the President of Nigeria.

What is your take on moves to regulate social media by the Federal Government
?

There is no free freedom anywhere in the world; there must be freedom with boundaries. I am not saying curtail them or we can’t use social media in Nigeria, but there is no nation where there are no balances. Look at the picture of a drama that was shot somewhere else that was used to say soldiers have killed protesters, those things can grieve and create troubles. But we cannot be draconian, we are not going back to Decree 4, we must do things decently and orderly, listen to the people and formulate laws that will be beneficial to all of us.

Looking at the way the EndSARS protest went, there appears to be a narrative that the youths the problem of this country….

I do not think the youths are the problem of this country. I apologised to the youths during my state of the nation broadcast that we did not hand over to them a nation that can meet their needs; whereas, our founding fathers handed over a promising nation. The graduates in those days had cars waiting for them the moment they graduated. Regular jobs and opportunities were everywhere.

Many youths think their fathers have failed them; therefore, they can do better. We need both the old and young to make Nigeria great. Those who refused to be trained, who are area boys, are the ones that will kill the ones we trained abroad if care is not taken.  Among those trained, we have those that think they are better than their fathers but we need the energy of our youths and at the same time, we need the insight of our elders.

We had selfless leaders until the years of locusts when the military truncated it. As much as I am an advocate of restructuring, we have to apologise to ourselves.  It wasn’t the north that truncated our democracy; it wasn’t the north that destroyed our federalism but the military regime of Aguyi Ironsi turned Nigeria into a federal republic.

When the likes of Ahmadu Bello was asking for state police to govern his area properly, we (the south) fought him to a standstill telling him that it was because you are beating your police men. Now we are clamouring for state police, the things we used our hand to destroy, we are now the advocates of it.

We can release the energy of the Igbo people to begin manufacturing like they did during the civil war, they manufactured their own weapons with the little resources at their disposal. If you think northerners are useless or lazy, blow the bridge and start to produce your own tomatoes and food stuffs. We need a lot more by sitting on a table of brotherhood and forgive ourselves of the past mistakes so that we don’t destroy the future destiny. (News Express/Saturday Sun)

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