Mr Derin Phillips is a real estate and financial expert. He is son of a former Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Relations. In this interview with OKUNADE ADEKUNLE, he bares his mind on the issue of godfatherism in Nigerian politics and how it has benefited the State and the citizens interms of developmental strides which Lagos is enjoying. Excerpts:
What is your understanding of godfatherism in politics?
When we talk of godfather, especially in politics, we are talking of someone who has probably seen it all, by virtue of his experience, and using the experience to mentor younger ones and put them through and help them up in the ladder of politics.
But unfortunately, more often than not, when we talk of godfatherism in Nigerian politics, we look at it from the negative perspective more than the positive, because of the uniqueness of the average Nigerian.
A godfather is someone who takes up the role of adopting the younger generation, supervising them and teaching them the rudiments of politics, he tries to play the role of contributing his experience and also ensure that there is continuity in the process of governance.
Continuity has plagued the Nigerian nation for long; we have suffered from lack of it in governance and that contributes in no small measure to what we are going through presently in our nation, especially in terms of abandoned projects that litter the landscape, all at the taxpayers’ expense.
Godfatherism has its positive and negative sides and the negative side is the misuse of the power, which comes with high responsibility. When you use such power to control your godson and you are not putting the greater good of the people into consideration, then it is negative godfatherism.
And in most cases, godfathers in this category don’t last long; they get shoved aside along the way and they become irrelevant in the scheme of things, because, in as much as you try to control people, you must ensure that their welfare is well catered for, otherwise, you will only be shooting yourself in the foot.
There has been so much noise about the supposed godfather of Lagos politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. What kind of godfather in your opinion is him?
I will say Asiwaju Tinubu has exhibited the positive traits of godfatherism in Lagos State. The term godfather, when it comes to Tinubu has always been used in the negative, but as far as I am concerned, that is far from the truth.
My mother, Teju Phillips, was a commissioner under Asiwaju Tinubu when he was governor of Lagos State, and I remembered going to the State House, Alausa and I have had the privilege of seeing him at close range. There was even a time during his tenure and even that of Babatunde Raji Fashola, when they had this concept of one-day governor; I was, as a young person, always imagining myself as governor of Lagos for just one day. Fundamentally, although no man is perfect, but I have come to discover that Asiwaju Tinubu is always interested in the greater good of the people of Lagos State.
And if anyone is looking for the outcome of his work, just take a look at Lagos today and you will find his footprints in almost every facet of the developmental strides in Lagos State.
I remember my excitement about all the beautiful projects embarked upon by him and his successors; several road projects being done and all of that and you don’t need anyone to tell you that all of these development Lagos is witnessing today had long been planned and the foundation laid during the Tinubu tenure.
All these development don’t just come because of whoever is occupying the office, it is a long marshaled Master Plan of Lagos and I think this is the type of “godfatherism” that we actually need in Nigeria.
Continuity is a problem; look at the Ajaokuta Steel Development Company, which had over the years remained moribund. Go to Cross River State , for example; we had the Donald Duke legacy projects: the Obudu Cattle Ranch and the Tinapa Resort, all of them were abandoned by his successors.
These projects were fantastic projects, but unfortunately, immediately he left office, the next governor after him abandoned those legacy projects and start pursuing their own agenda. This is something I feel so strongly about, honestly.
If Duke had emerged as a godfather, I am sure he would not have allowed those things to go to waste; or if he probably had taken interest in who succeeds him, maybe we would be telling a different story about those wonderful projects.
And this is why I think Asiwaju Tinubu is a very important figure, leader and politician, not only in Lagos, but across Nigeria.
Comparing Lagos with other 35 states of the federation, Lagos has been on an upscale developmental progression. What do you think is responsible for this?
Things don’t just happen per chance; you have to initiate, you have to plan and follow up on those plans before things can start falling in shape and also ensure that you put in control measures and see to the monitoring of those plans you have made and you also have to ensure that there is consistency and that is what has been done with Lagos.
There is a master plan which has been revisited several times; it has been enforced and there is adequate monitor to ensure that nobody derail from the plan.
When you have someone coming into the office of governor, which is so powerful, each occupant would probably want to come in with his own plan, irrespective of previous government.
In the case of Lagos, there is a Master Plan, which is enforced and which is also being reviewed according to the dictates of the times and I think we need a Master plan for Nigeria as well. Where do we want to be in 20, 30 years from now; and we also need institutions and balances and checks that will ensure that we don’t derail from the Master Plan and that we are progressively moving in the right direction.
There is no harm in laying a structure that will ensure that we make progress in our developmental strides as a nation. Yes, people might fear that it could lead to dictatorship, but when you put in place checks and balances mechanisms, we won’t get to that point.
Like I said, Ajaokuta, Obudu Cattle Ranch and Tinapa Resort are left rotting away because each occupant of the seat of power has his own agenda.
Duke was Asiwaju Tinubu’s contemporary. Is it not ironic that all governors during the era of Tinubu are no more relevant today and their legacies are more or less forgotten? What do you think is responsible for this?
I think most people are selfish. And I think Nigerians are also very forgetful people, they forget easily. May be due to the pressure of surviving in this country, people quickly forget things. I think may be what we should do is to set up a record or fact checking organ for Nigeria, one that would take each governor, see where they started off from and where they were ending at the expiration of their tenure; it would be very obvious to all who has worked and who has not worked.
If you visit Obudu Cattle ranch today; if you visit Tinapa Resort, you will weep profusely, because those structures put in place by Duke are now in ruins.
In the case of Lagos, what makes the difference is the tenacity of purpose of the godfather, who ensures that the right man gets to office as governor at every point in time and also monitors and ensures that there is no deviation from the Master Plan of Lagos.
You will notice that there are lots of federal government projects in Lagos that were abandoned by the then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP-led Federal Government, but which are now being executed.
Should we say that Lagos State is developing according to the Master Plan because the ‘grandmaster’ of the Master Plan takes interest in who pilots the affairs of the state, while in other states, it is survival battle which has now become their bane?
Yes. That exactly is the situation. One governor finishes his two terms of eight years and is less concerned about who takes over from him, as long as his interest is protected. Every person is taking care of themselves, trying to secure and protect their own legacy and they are not thinking about after they leave office.
One peculiar thing about them is that they embark on projects that can either be commissioned during their tenure or projects they can lay claim to; but projects like Obudu Cattle Ranch and Tinapa are 20, 30-year projects, that are meant to outlive whoever initiates it and I think these are projects that we need to focus on for our infrastructural growth in the country.
And I think the more politicians now begin to think of the greater good of the people, the better for us, because we can’t keep dancing around looking for solutions where there are none.
Abandoning your predecessor’s projects is not peculiar to Cross River State alone, it is all over the states across Nigeria, perhaps with the exception of Lagos, and this is because of the foresight of Asiwaju Tinubu.
Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai , recently claimed to have retired four godfathers and even said he was coming to Lagos to retire the godfather in Lagos, apparently referring to Tinubu. What is your reaction to this development?
The first question El-Rufai should find answer to is: Are Lagosians ready to retire the godfather of Lagos politics? Are Lagosians complaining? And I think Lagosians have answered his ilks with the massive votes they gave to the APC in the last governorship election, where for the first time since 1999, the APC defeated the PDP with over half a million votes.
Are Lagosians benefitting from the godfather? Are Lagosians better off than Kaduna or worse off? Is Lagos State thriving or not? Is Lagos developing or not?
While I agree that there is always room for improvement, I make bold to say that Lagos is working; Lagos is a work in progress and it is not in any way comparable to Kaduna.
Immigration to Lagos according to statistics is about 850,000 people every month. Lagos is developing and I know for sure that the incoming governor, Babajide Sanwoolu, who has been part and parcel of the Lagos Master Plan, would take Lagos State to greater heights than it is now.
You can see the array of people who have gone through the ‘Tinubu School of Politics’ and where they are in the scheme of things in the state and in the country today.
And the best way to measure your performance is what you have done for the welfare and greater good of the people and not any other parameter.
What do you think Duke can do about his legacy projects that had been left to waste?
I don’t think there is anything he can do now. I’m sure he has said a lot about how he tried to reach out to his successors about those projects and his efforts were rebuffed. Although he is not happy about the situation, but there is practically nothing he can do now. I know he has put in a lot of efforts to ensure that the projects are either maintained or brought back to prominence, but all to no avail.
What are your expectations from the incoming governor of Lagos State, Sanwoolu?
I was fortunate to follow his campaign train for the election and when you study somebody at close range, you will be able to know more about the person.
Sanwoolu has a perfect blend of the corporate world and the public service experience he is bringing into governance and I think they are very good combinations and not many people have the privilege of both private and public service experience to bring to bear on governance. And he is also a man of the people. He has over 20 years of public service experience, he is part of the team that developed the Lagos Master Plan and he has also operated at the highest level in the corporate world and I think all of these are going to come into play in the way he would administer Lagos.
Dealing with a state as complex as Lagos, which is wearing the toga of a mega city comes with different challenges, but I have no doubt that he is equal to the task.
Diverse people of diverse interest, he would be challenged with how to satisfy these various interests. But like I said, I have no doubt that he and his team are going to do justice to whatever challenges come to the fore.
And because they are not coming in as novices, which is also a plus for him and his team, he has been trained and grilled in the system. He knows the system in and out. He has been part of the system since the days of Asiwaju even up to the present outgoing administration.