Prince Tajudeen Olusi, 83, is the son of a late Oba of Lagos, King Sanusi Olusi. The renowned political leader was a councillor in Lagos Island shortly after independence.
He is one of the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as the chairman, Council of Elders in Lagos State. He also chairs the Governor’s Advisory Council, a key decision-making group in the state’s political arena. In this interview, he talked about his childhood, how he became a politician, among other issues.
How would you describe your childhood?
I will say very interesting. I was born on the Lagos Island in the Olowogbowo area, Oke Arin. I was born in my father’s palace. My father, Oba Sanusi Olusi, died in 1935.
When there was crisis in respect of succession to the throne, my father had to voluntarily abdicate, and the colonial government built a palace for him, known as the Olusi Palace. It was at No 9, Egerton Road, which was named after a former colonial governor, Sir Walter Egerton.
After independence, the old local authority, the Lagos Town Council, renamed the street in my father’s memory. It is now known as Sanusi Olusi Street. I was born at Akinola Maja Dispensary on Tuesday, October 13, 1936.
I grew up in the palace, which was always a centre of activities. I remember that the famous wealthy Lagosian, Da Rocha, used to visit my father. At that time, we had a farm at Agege, where we went for hunting. We would carry a small gun.
I had the opportunity to see chiefs and elders holding meetings and settling disputes. Most of the settlements always came with history and storytelling.
People could be fighting over property, chieftaincy title, how somebody mounted the throne, and things like that. I grew up in the midst of people telling stories.
I started primary education at Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Alakoro, located in front of our palace. I later saw some of my cousins always in white uniform, attending Araromi Baptist School and insisted on joining them. Kabiyesi (king), my father, said I could, so I left an Islamic school for a Christian one, though my father was a Muslim.
After my father died, my guardian said the school was too far, so I was taken to the Lagos Province School at Isale Eko. Later, I went to Ahmadiyya Primary School, Elegbata, on the Lagos Island.
Finally, I accompanied my mother to the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1952 or so and completed primary education at the Middle School. There, they had Middle Three.
Schooling was quite interesting, religion-wise. I was born in a Muslim home; my father was the first Muslim Oba of Lagos. At home, we did everything Islam.
But I changed to a Baptist school and began to learn about Christianity. I joined Christian pupils to start singing songs that gave you ideas about who Jesus was. There was so much religious tolerance.
Did you have secondary education in Ghana?
No. I returned to Nigeria and had secondary education in Ansar-ud-Deen College, on the Lagos Mainland, from 1954-1958. I finished at the Lagos Centre for Higher Studies, where I sat for and passed my General Certificate in Education between 1959 and1960.
I was actually offered admission in Ghana. I had come to Nigeria to collect my fees, but my guardian persuaded me to stay in Nigeria for secondary education.
My father died when I was only eight years old, so my brother became my guardian. He made me go to Ansar-ud-Deen College. Most of the students there were Muslims from Olowogbowo, Isale Eko, whom I had met at the various primary schools I attended.
Again, I experienced religious tolerance there. Although clearly an Islamic school, the first principal, Mr J. O. Abbey, an Ijesha man from Osun State, was a Christian.
I particularly remember him because there was a time he gave all of us an assignment, to write an essay on a topic of our own choice, which must be submitted in his office. We did that. One morning the principal just came in and said, “Who is Tajudeen Olusi?’’ When I stood up, he said, “Your essay was adjudged the best.’’
At that time, you would be asked to come forward, and your essay would be typed and placed on the notice board, and it was decreed that every student must read it.
That really made me famous in school because every other student was looking for me. My essay was on Iga Iduganran, the palace of the Oba of Lagos. I vividly described the palace and narrated its history. Maybe that’s why it was adjudged the best.
I had a good time in school. I was an honorary registrar at Ansar-ud-Deen College, as well as secretary of the Yoruba Society. I was also involved in the Red Cross Society.
All over Lagos then, we had boys’ clubs established by the colonial government. In our area, we had the Alakoro Boys’ Club. In neighbouring areas, there were also Olowogbowo Boys’ Club, Idumota Boys’ Club and Ereko Boys’ Club.
At a time, I was the secretary of the Alakoro Boys’ Club. I later became the chairman of the club.
There were many competitions within and among these clubs. We especially did boxing and table tennis. I remember we were very good in table tennis. Alakoro produced the late prominent table tennis player, Yomi Bankole. That was the Lagos of my age.
What about other sporting activities?
During the first year in school, we had a games master, one Mr Ogundipe. He is now late. He was also the music teacher. When he wanted to constitute his football team’s first 11, he told us to all line up. He was sizing us up; and when he came to me, he said, “You, Olusi, your legs are good for foot-balling.
You must have been playing before.” I said I never played; I only helped to clap and pick balls. But since it was a decree, I joined them. But at a stage, he realised I didn’t fit in and sent me away. That was how he released me.
At that time, we also had our own idea about the press. I remember we would write articles about championing justice. We had a Board and I would write the editorial.
Would you say you played lots of pranks in school?
Of course, I did. We engaged in truancy a lot in primary school. I remember a particular schoolmate, Wakili Gbajumo (he is still alive), who was at a time chairman of the Eko Club.
We were not attending classes. We would actually get into school, but there was another gate that led to the main road, through which we would go out and escape to the Oko-Awo playing ground, where we would mix with a lot of truants like us.
They would start playing football. I wasn’t good at playing football, I only enjoyed being with them. They would pull off their shirts and I would help to hold them.
There was a day my mother found me out. She was a dutiful parent who ensured I left home for school, but she didn’t quickly realise my truancy.
One day, she went to the school and the teacher told her that for three days they had not seen me. I had a stepmother who was the wife of the eldest member of the family.
She was also taking care of me. She and my mother went out looking for me from one playing ground to another. They finally saw me and cleverly retired to a corner and begged somebody to grip me. As I was gripped, they emerged and I just had to surrender myself.
I will always remember another act of prank: At Ahmadiyya Primary School, Elegbata, I didn’t go to school for some days. When that was discovered, an elderly person close to our family, who was believed to have some spiritual power, appealed to me, “My son, go back to school.’’
I told him that if I did, our teacher would whip me because he was reputed for whipping children mercilessly. But the old man said, “Don’t fear, I will give you some words of incantation. When you get close to the school, just recite the incantation and your master will welcome you heartily and will not whip you.’’
When I got close to the school, I recited the incantation and boldly went into the classroom, where they were writing a test. The teacher said, “Olusi, we have not seen you for days, take your exercise book and join your colleagues for the test.’’ Somehow, the incantation seemed to have worked.
Despite that truancy, I was studious. I had a very brilliant brother who would coach me and give me lessons.
Did the environment of Lagos Island, which was once notorious for loud social life…
(Cut in) I will tell you to withdraw that completely. Lagos Island of our time was paradise. That was the Lagos Island where Da Rocha (Candido Da Rocha), Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Dr Akinola Maja, Dr Akanni Doherty and J. K. Randle lived.
Lagos Island was peaceful; we could move from one area to another at any time, even at the dead of the night. We were safe.
There were libraries for children to develop themselves. There was a library by the side of Sir Adeyemo Alakija’s house at Customs Street.
When we were in secondary school, we had the British Government Library and the American Information Centre, where we read books for information.
What did you proceed to do immediately after your secondary education?
When I was in school, I loved the legal profession because it was described as the golden profession. I was also attracted to law because most people who fought for the rights of others were mostly lawyers. Most of our leading politicians when we were in secondary school were lawyers.
Law practice involves debate. At school, I loved debates and constructive arguments. I loved arguing to logical conclusions. The legal profession creates a forum for that.
There was a time the Federal Government instituted enquires against Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe or so, and the panel was sitting at the Parliament Building, Race Course, Lagos.
There were many eminent British lawyers who came to Nigeria for that. I would go there and sit at the gallery to watch them. In fact, I would imitate some of the lawyers.
That was my aspiration. But in school, we had one Mr Salami, who was our Latin teacher. Latin was one of the subjects you needed to do to become a lawyer, so I paid keen attention to Latin classes. Maybe Mr Salami noticed I had some flair for current affairs and history because whenever he came to teach us Latin, he would find a way to push me to discuss current affairs.
One morning, he called me and said, “Olusi, you are going to be a politician.’’ My classmate, Lateef Ayorinde (who is now late) turned to me and said, “Lateef, this man is saying his own.’’
As it turned out, I became a politician at an early age by various causes. As I said earlier, I love history. It was natural. Circumstances of my upbringing inducted me into history because I grew up sitting in a palace where people talked about the history of Lagos or their families all the time; a place where everyday disputes were resolved.
The elders would gather and Baba would ask me to sit. I began sitting at the foot of my father, the Kabiyesi (king) at the age of four or five, when meetings were held and issues would be discussed.
When Oba Adele became the king of Lagos in October 1949, the royal house became divided into two. I was then 13 years old. The Dosunmu royal family was on one part, but our own family supported Oba Adele, who started a kind of political party in Lagos, called Area Council, which was established on area basis. There were the Olowogbowo area, Isale Eko area, Ebute-Meta area, etc.
The one for Olowogbowo, the secretariat, was in our palace, where members held meetings. So, when I came back from school some days, I would see members holding meetings. Sometimes the children would be asked to take attendance. Gradually, we got involved in what they were doing.
Later, they started the youth section. When I was in secondary school, I was a member of the youth section of the party; I was even the secretary for our area. Even at the age of 13, I would attend all functions – social and political – because at that time I had to monitor everything. I didn’t want any second-hand thing.
Also, at that time we had the Community Development Committee, which was a platform for us to serve the community. We would clean the drainages, streets, everywhere.
If you are involved in all these it will move you into the arena of politics because they border on the welfare of the people. That was what surrounded me when I was growing up. Finally, I became a councillor at the age of 26 in the Lagos Town Council.
Early in 1962, we had a councillor in Lagos, a prominent lawyer, Adeola Odeku, whose seat was declared vacant for his irregular attendance of meetings. The popular street on Victoria Island, Lagos, was named after him. He later became the assistant national secretary of the Action Group.
There was a provision in the local government law of those days that if you failed to attend three consecutive monthly meetings of the council, your seat would be declared vacant as it meant you were no longer interested in representing your people or performing your assigned role.
We were young and fearless. And we wanted justice; we wanted things to be done right. I was the leader of the youth and we petitioned the party against the man.
Elders in the area, like Chief Wahab Balogun, the father of the incumbent state chairman of the APC, Tunde Balogun, and the late Mr Ogunbiyi, a retired magistrate, however, intervened and called a meeting on our petition.
Baba Balogun said, “Taju, you are the rallying point for the youth.’’ Dramatically, Odeku, who was present in the meeting, just got up and prostrated, begging everybody to forgive him.
When we were preparing our petition, some of our members had nominated me to run as replacement for Odeku. But I said no and suggested that Alhaji Rauf Williams, now late, should rather run.
‘Raw Raw,’ as Alhaji Williams was called, was six years older than me and was willing to run. When we conceded to the elders’ request, I told Raw that the council’s life remained only six or seven months and he would have the opportunity to be councillor.
The councillorship position was rotated among the different areas in Lagos Island. The Balogun area had produced a councillor, Olowogbowo, too, had produced, but Oke Arin, where I lived, had never produced a councillor.
So when Odeku’s term expired, some elderly people in our area insisted, “It is our time, and you, Taju, will be going there to represent us.’’ I told them I had already given Williams my words.
The election was by electoral college. Initially, I manoeuvred my way out of the election by not going out to campaign. After voting, Alhaji Williams scored eight votes.
My Oke Arin people voted for me and I scored four votes, making it 8/4. Some hours after, I saw the elders of Oke Arin coming. They accused me of not going out to campaign and that I had allowed Balogun area to defeat us.
They were furious. I told them, “Ok, you want me to be a councillor, and by the grace of God, the day Williams would be sworn in, I would also be a councillor.’’
They asked how I would be able to do that when I had endorsed Williams, and I replied that they should not worry.
The following morning, I went to the home of the late Baba Raji Gbajumo, the chairman of the Action Group in the area, to tell him that I wanted to be a councillor.
He took me to the late Chief Aminu Kosoko, who was a prominent Lagos traditional chief and supporter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, well respected and feared by people. Baba Gbajumo told Chief Kosoko, “Baba, your son, Taju Olusi, wants to contest election as councillor.’’
Chief Kosoko simply replied, “Taju, you want to contest to be a councillor. You are a prince, but if you want it, you have my 100 per cent support.’’ He approved it. Later, he and some other leaders called an electoral ward meeting and everybody unanimously endorsed my candidature.
However, my guardian, my brother, who brought me up, didn’t want me to be a councilor. He didn’t want me to go into politics at all.
They called a family meeting on me and said I wanted to soil the name of our father and family. They asked whether I didn’t see how politicians were destroying one another.
But I told them I had been attending meetings for a long time and they didn’t ask me to withdraw. They arranged another meeting and called family elders; many of them were above 70 years.
They were not pleased and I looked like a stubborn boy. But I maintained my stand. That was how I came into the arena of politics.
How would you distinguish between the nature of politics in your days from what is obtained now?
In our days, the younger people were more active and would argue and pursue issues that would be of benefit to the people. We would go to
Chief Awolowo with our petitions and argue in respect of party activities and decisions. We were not induced or given positions. My generation went into politics with the simple conviction of improving the welfare of the people and fighting for the rights of the common man.
Today, many people blame politicians for the ills of this country. While I have sympathy for those people, I want them to know that the generalisation is misplaced. The problem of our country today should be shared by all of us. Most of the politicians during the colonial period were not induced with positions.
We also talk about the police as corrupt, but policemen are not angels. If you say they are corrupt, the mosques and churches that minister into our religious activities should ask themselves whether something is definitely not wrong about their own functions and activities. It means our ministering activities are not being properly performed.
In the banks, there is unimaginable corruption. This is what you see in all aspects of our life. The point I am making is that we should sit down and look at what is wrong and what we can do to put things right instead of apportioning blames.
Until the military came, the percentage of corruption was very low. One of the ills in the society that the army claimed to have arrived to correct was corruption. But after they left, corruption grew to unimaginable proportions.
During the military rule, contracts were awarded and unaccounted for. A large number of roads were paid for but uncompleted.
Accounts were not properly kept. Where I am leading that to is that many friends of the military officers that served in government became contractors, big business people. And when the soldiers were exiting, those friends simply keyed in to take over the running of government.
They simply moved from the arena of business to the arena of governance. Therefore, the arena of politics was flooded by business people, people who wanted and still want to make money at all costs. That is the cause of the present problem of our country.
Politics and governance should be left for those who are truly concerned about the rights and welfare of the people, not those who want to make money. The orientation of the business people is to make money. We need to re-educate ourselves and make sure that our children are put on the proper road.
I heard in the news that some people wanted to start a new political party. Is it really a new party that we need or a re-reorientation of the people? With the political parties we have now, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the All Progressives Congress (APC), it is fight to finish.
It is because of the orientation we have. Nigerians believe that once you are a councillor, governor or lawmaker in the national or state assemblies, you are in paradise.
People are not willing to make sacrifices. These days, it is about what material things politicians want. That is why you see state governors leaving one party for another inexcusably.
You will be 84 years old in October. Would you say you have any regret?
As a human being, you sometimes have regrets in respect of this or that. Human regrets are mostly on desires and ambitions. But I thank my God for giving me an in-built control.
I have been able to control ambitions. I have been able to believe that the welfare of the people overrides my personal ambition. I have also been able to control my worldly desires or love to acquire wealth. Sometimes, I think of why I shouldn’t have been in wealth like Dangote? But the truth is that I don’t have the capacity to work for wealth like Dangote, so I must be contented with what I have.
I love a peaceful environment. I just want people to be happy. I have held top unelective positions in political parties. I have been made chairman of many reconciliation committees because they know I am happy doing that job.
In management, there is what we call aptitude – you have to look at the aptitude of every person. Somebody is looking for money and you ask him to go and settle a quarrel, especially a political problem; of course, he won’t settle the quarrel properly because he will collect money.