By LOLA POPOOLA and ENEDUBI LOVETH
Note:This interview was conducted before his demise…
Chief Lanre Razak (RIP) was the Balogun of Epe Kingdom in Lagos. In this interview, the All Progressive Congress chieftain speaks on the massive industrial development going on in Epe. He also speaks on his involvement in partisan politics.
Can you please, tell us a little bit about yourself?
I will be 74 when my next birthday comes around as I was born on the 28th of March 1946. I had my primary and secondary education in Ijebu-ode. I did my diploma courses at the University of Lagos, Akoka.
I am really happy with what God has done for me. I joined politics because Chief Obafemi Awolowo is my role model. I read a story about how he became a man and what he went through and I saw that the trajectory of my life was not too different from his. I concluded that if he could impart knowledge into people that much despite his background, I could as well do the same.
He started free primary education in the whole of the western region and he turned lots of life around for good. His core principle of life is to provide an egalitarian society, the greatest number of goods for the greatest number of people. He did not believe anyone should be poor or that anyone should suffer for whatever reason. He believed that Nigeria is really endowed. It was Obafemi Awolowo’s dream to plant and feed the world because of the large scale of arable land available in our country.
Looking at Awo critically, I was challenged, I asked myself, what can I do to ensure that I leave a good legacy even when my time on earth is up? What can I do to assist people to have a better life? That’s why 50 to 55 per cent of my hard earnings go to charity.
65 to 75 per cent of Nigerians are in abject poverty, that’s why there’s a lot of kidnapping, banditry etc. going on. I appeal to the government to really study the causes of all these things. It is impossible to stop a war if you are oblivious of the cause. There must be a scientific knowledge of banditry, kidnapping and even Boko-Haram. Once we are able to establish why these things are here, the problem is half-solved.
It is only people who have stable means of livelihood, who are rich that fear death. They will not get themselves involved in Boko-Haram activities. Those protesting are the hungry ones; so it is pertinent for the government to provide food for them and make them comfortable. If everybody is well educated and have good jobs, things would be better and people can raise their own family. How will you respond to somebody asking you to come and fight when you know that in the end, you will lose your life?
It appears you have a strong admiration for chief Awolowo
Yes. I love chief Awolowo and I joined Action Group then. I was a secretary in my ward and later, I became a Local Government (LG) Chairman. Not long after, I became Public Secretary in the Local Government Area.
I was one of those who worked in Awolowo House back then in Apapa. We would call ourselves the committee of friends and we know the leaders. It was from this group, Jakande emerged as the Governor of Lagos and he did well.
I was then lucky when SDP was established, the Babajide party co-founder. I was the chairman of the party in Epe Local Government and after that, there were several parties. I was the state chairman of ANPP. I became the Deputy Chairman of the party eventually; I thank God I am still relevant in this space today.
In 2003, I contested for the post of a Governor in Lagos state and I lost the election. However, because I saw it as an offer to serve, when I lost, it did not feel like I lost anything. I saw that the people wanted somebody else and I gave my total support to the government. After that, I contested three times for a position in the Senate but I also lost the three bids.
Why do you think you are not winning, was is that you were not in the right party?
There is no wrong party, even the best material cannot win an election in Nigeria. Let us start from Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When he died, he was referred to as the best president we never had. In all elections in Nigeria, the best candidates don’t present themselves for election for the fear of several things. Poverty is so much in this country and corruption ensures easy manipulation of election in favour of those who have what it takes. All I do is to support those whom I believe they have what it takes to win an election. I support them to win and assist them to do the best for the people by advising them and telling them what is right to do. I let them know that during Ileya festival period when you make a promise, you must endeavour to fulfil it. Those who fail to fulfil their promises have problems with their God. You don’t need to be an Alfa or Imam to know what is right. A broken character is the worst bankruptcy; it is very important, that one must live an upright life.
Talking about development in Epe, it is unfortunate that all the three roads that lead to Epe are not motorable, they are in terrible shape. We were used to horse-riding in the past. However, there is no horse-rider competition anymore, only the Baloguns are qualified to ride. The reason for this is that in those days, there were no cars; the only way to go to war is to ride on your horse, fight and win for your community. Horses were the fastest means of transportation. Today, we leave all that behind because there is no need for war again. We have embraced peace in place of war. Now, we enjoy talking to each other. My position now as a Balogun is to attract peace, development and good governance to the domain and to advise and support our Obas and the government in power. I have been Balogun of Epe for over 24 years.
Do you intend to contest again sir?
Leave tomorrow for God. God will do it. I believe Nigeria will be an industrial country producing a lot and we can do it. Buhari has started it. There is a serious concentration on food and agriculture. Once everybody can feed themselves, then the matter is solved. The current administration has assured us that they would do it. If there is gainful employment for everyone, we can resolve the crises.
Epe is the best place to be because we have Dangote’s largest refinery in Africa, seaport, and international airport. There would also be a fertilizer plant here in Epe, work is in progress already. It is not an assumption, we have the sites and they are already working on them. We need the government to provide an enabling environment, good road network and other infrastructure so that when all these industries come in the future, we won’t be overstressed.
Recently, community youth protested about the deterioration of roads in Epe; as a leader, what is your reaction?
It is quite unfortunate that this kind of situation is coming from this area. One would wonder how suddenly, the first points where you connect to Epe is no longer motorable, given the antecedents of the immediate past administration in Lagos state. The road is in a terrible, deplorable condition. It is unfortunate because it shows that there is no priority given to roads that links Epe with Lagos in the past administration’s agenda.
I can assure you of one thing, the new administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu will address the issue. The leaders in Epe have presented the situation to the government. They are quite aware, and the situation came too close to their assumption of office. They are still in the process of taking stock, looking at issues, asking questions of how to go about processes. It is not only Epe, almost eighty 80% of roads in Lagos have also deteriorated.
This situation arose because there is no maintenance culture. In Lagos, we are very close to the water and if you don’t maintain roads in an area like this for so long a period of time, this is the result. I use this opportunity to once again appeal to my people to be patient with this new administration. It is an administration that cares for and loves Lagosians. They want to get things done in a better way. They have deployed competent experts to study the situation so that they can redress of all the terrible situations in Lagos. Epe is very bad right now and not good enough, however, we should consider the moral implications of the actions of our youth and that is why I am pleading with them, calming them and assuring them that things would be done properly by this present administration.
The youth are also complaining about the present government they voted en-masse and are now looking up to you. Do you think that they will enjoy the dividends of democracy?
Two months is too short to assess any government. They assumed office in June. It is too early to start demanding that they address all issues. Our youth should please entertain some restraints and patience as Sanwo-Olu, together with Hamzat – our son, will look after it. Things will get better. We have discussed with some elders if we could provide some community efforts as government cannot do everything. In this kind of situation, we as leaders must find create local solutions to augment the efforts of the government so as to bring down tension and calm flaring tempers.
The community people are agitating for industry in the environment. As a leader, do you have any agenda in terms of transforming the community into an industrial community?
One way to do that is by attracting investors to do poverty alleviation schemes and create job opportunities in Epe. Those of us in Epe division are extremely lucky because soon, Epe will be the industrial base of Lagos state. We are an important industrial location in Nigeria with the oil refinery coming up in our division. With the big fertiliser industry also coming up and a lot of industries lined up in our free trade zone, we are very happy about that.
Our duty, however, is to prepare our people to receive these developments with open minds and a high sense of hospitality so that there wouldn’t be a crisis. Epe will have a fair share of industrial development but it never comes without some pains. Part of the pains is the number of trucks that would be plying our roads on a daily basis. They are the cause for the wear and tear we have on our roads, and this is one of the things responsible for the crisis that the boys on the road are agitating for.
We don’t want to bother ourselves about how we would become industrial because we have the potential and are almost there. What we are pleading for is that those within the zone should see the situation as the type we all need to contribute towards, so we can alleviate the sufferings of our people.