Prince Tajudeen Olusi has been a feature in Lagos politics from 1962 when he became a councillor for the Lagos Town Council to now as the chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) — a group of elders with huge influence on the politics of the state. Along the way, he was a member of the House of Representatives (1979-83) and Commissioner for Commerce (1993-96).
Unlike many people who claim it, you are a genuine prince of Lagos, can you tell us about your early life?
I was born on the 13th of October, 1936 at Dr Akinola Maja’s dispensary at No 2, Garuba Square, on Lagos Island. The residence that was the palace of my father was No 9, Edgerton Street, that street was named after a former Governor of Nigeria, Sir Walter Edgerton. Today, the area is known as No 9, Sanusi Olusi Road, the name was changed and named after my father.
Your father was Oba Sanusi?
Yes; he was the Oba of Lagos, installed oba during a crisis in Lagos that had to do with water rate agitation. I lost my father when I was about eight on January 18, 1945.
Before he died, he was forced to abdicate. How did that affect you?
It is a long story, but one has to explain that Oba Eleko, who was the Oba of Lagos, had a problem with the colonial government and he was deposed. Oba Ibikunle was installed, I think it was 1925, he reigned for three years and died. So, after his death my father was presented again and installed as Oba of Lagos, I think it was in August, 1928.
After they removed him, members of the royal house were divided into two, a section supporting Oba Eleko and a section supporting my father.
At one point your mother took you to Ghana to study?
Yes, she had a brother. You know that at one point Lagos and Accra were one country, so the administration of Lagos was from Accra. My uncle was employed by the colonial government as a staff of the printing department.
When I finished my primary education, I moved with my mother, we travelled from Accra, Kumasi and finally settled in the Northern part of Ghana. We stayed at Tamale, which was the capital of the Northern territories, and my mother was a trader and I was assisting her.
Were you schooling?
I schooled there at the United Middle School; it was being run by Presbyterian missionaries. In the end, towards 1953 or 54, it was necessary for me to move to a secondary school. I came back to Lagos in 1954. When I returned, all schools had concluded their admission, so I had to stay at home. Finally in 1955 or so, I got admission to Ansar Ud Deen College, Isolo.
After secondary school, its seems you didn’t go abroad as young men of those days used to do?
When I was in secondary school, my dream was to become a lawyer. At the school, we had a teacher, the late Mr Sumonu, he was teaching Latin. Latin was compulsory in those days for those who wanted to read law.
Mr Sumonu would argue with me, tease me, raise issues about politics and I would challenge him and say, “Please this is the current position.”
One day the man walked into the class and said, “Olusi, Olusi, Olusi, you are going to be a politician.” I was enraged and thought this man did not know what he was saying. But today we have seen that our late master was right.
Tell us about your journey into politics?
People who are from royal houses are in the midst of politics, the palace is the centre of politics.
At the age of five, six, I sat with my father, we had a number of chiefs coming, talking, and discussions were mostly on politics and history.
As a young man I was involved with community work. Example, I became the Chairman of Alakoro Boys Club, the club was like a training ground. A former Governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba, was a member of that club, the late Alafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was a member of my club. I was the first secretary of the Lagos Muslim students, which Dr Adegbite and a host of others were founders.
Therefore, my journey in politics is in the service of humanity. I am happy that I excelled in the area of reconciliation and peacemaking.
You have been one of the kingmakers of Lagos politics; you’ve worked with Bola Ahmed Tinubu as governor and now president. What has he done that is special in Lagos?
You commenced by describing me as a kingmaker. I do not regard myself as a kingmaker. The Lord of the universe has his own anointed people who are going to rule in various spheres. And since He does not communicate directly to us, He has His own way of getting people to deliver His messages or even to go and draft His anointed people. I have had the privilege of being part of such God’s assignment.
When Alhaji Jakande was an editor, he would write and we would all scramble to read his editorials. At that time he was not in politics, and we thought, with this background, this knowledge, this man should be brought into politics.
So, I was one of three people who went to him to convince him that he must take part in politics; not only in writing editorials.
What role did you play in Tinubu’s rise to…?
I will come to that. So, later by the grace of God Alhaji Jakande became Governor of Lagos State. I became the chairman of a party in Lagos in the days of the SDP, and by that posture, the national vice chairman of the party. It was during this period I came to know President Bola. I have known him as a junior brother. You see, Bola is ready to support people, Bola is ready to spare his money, you know the surest foundation in our society, in Africa, is money, it is funds.
Most people are poor and those who are not poor don’t want to risk their money in politics, where the profit is not sure. When we requested financial assistance from Bola, he gave that assistance readily; we asked for more, he gave it and it was at that stage, the best course of action for us was to make this “aburo” a politician.
Up to that point, he was not a politician?
He was in the employment of Mobil, he wasn’t a politician.
If he wasn’t interested in politics, why would he give politicians money?
We asked for the money, don’t forget that Mama Habitat Mogaji was in politics with us and she would send Bola to us at meetings.
He is her son, right?
I went to mama, to say, “Mama, Bola is no longer going to the House of Reps, this time he is going to the senate, and mama you must get an apartment for him at Ikeja.”
For the campaign?
You know he was sleeping at Victoria Island, and he now had to contest in another senatorial district, so he must have a dwelling house there and be part of the community. So, that was the beginning of his journey, of his ascendance even to the presidency of the country.
How did he perform as governor, did the senate lead to his becoming governor of Lagos State?
That he performed creditably is well known. Asiwaju, to the amazement of all of us, raised the revenue of Lagos quietly without pains to the people. He was able to look at the areas that would not touch the common people and the areas that some people avoided and he was able to raise that revenue.
So, you think his strength is in the capacity to generate money?
Apart from that, he did a number of other things. There was innovation made in respect of the judiciary. All states of Nigeria have sent their officials to Lagos to understand what he did. If you have a leader, if you have a governor who is in a position of setting the pace, what else do you want? Bola has that.
Apart from that, he is a good organiser, he was able to bring other parts of the country together in the APC and in ensuring the success of our former president, Buhari.
And I have seen people who have said Bola achieved what our father, late Obafemi Awolowo could not achieve, in the sense that Chief Awolowo wanted the North and the Yoruba people to work together for the advancement of our country. And we have been able to achieve that in the APC.
On Saturday I interviewed Sen Bucknor Akerele and she has a different view. She was his deputy governor. So, it seems you have not been able to reconcile the two of them, being the peacemaker you are; and secondly, she said Lagos was Lagos, it didn’t need anybody to make it prosperous, it is a seaport, it is full of very capable people from all over the country. What do you say about that?
I enjoy a very good relationship with Kofo, she is my junior sister. Let me say this publicly, that reconciliation is continuing.
Recently, I met with our brothers and sisters who are not with us; at that meeting Kofo was there in the house of Bode George, so the reconciliation is continuing.
You are 87, the people in power now are people you actually brought up, what role do you expect to play in the present dispensation?
God by His grace has designated me as a father, a father is naturally a reconciliatory. Therefore, that natural assignment by the Almighty is my role.
When you have the opportunity of attaining old age, sometimes they say you are an elder statesman, at times they say senior citizen and ordinarily they say baba. And so in that capacity, I think we should play that role creditably.
But there are some people who are elders but they relate with those in power not like elders, maybe like subordinates?
You have to make an allowance for that. You see, it is natural, we were all raised by our parents differently. And some people in this country, in Africa, worship wealth.
The overriding thing is wealth. If you are given power and people cannot use you to make money, most people will leave you. Many of these people worship wealth.
But you see, in a society you find one or two people, it is an act of the Almighty, who you will say don’t let us go that way. For example, our former President Buhari, before he became president, whether military or civilian, he was known to be very trustworthy, he does not encourage corruption and he does not participate in it.
That type of person will leave their mark on society and some people will follow their footsteps, but the majority may not. That has been the position of the world, the entire universe up till today, and it cannot be changed overnight. So, we shall continue to play our role as baba and I love playing that role now.
One will expect that your long association with power has made you very wealthy?
Well, you see…
Because you are talking of pension, and in my head I am saying why do you need pension?
I talk of pension, not that I need pension to sustain myself as of today. I mentioned that it was necessary for society. If you don’t want people to get involved in corruption, or you don’t want people to steal, then you must provide for them.
In the course of our training, our upbringing, we were trained to provide for ourselves, however difficult.
Before I started working, my brothers were all civil servants and they were all Muslims, and you know it is important for Muslims to slaughter rams during the festival.
So, when I started work, that very year, I opened laiya money. I saved something like 19 pounds or so, and it was at that time big money. I bought two rams and the people in the compound, the wives of my brothers and my cousins, asked, “What do you want to do with two rams, after all you are not married?”
I was influenced by my brothers, they were saving for the rainy day, but today, go and find the Muslim community, and most people today will rely on other people.
How well have you done all these years of politics, are you comfortable as a retiree?
I lived in my father’s palace until I left the place after 60.
When you were 60.
When I was even more than 60. I left the place 20 years ago, precisely in 2003.
You were living in your father’s compound?
Yes, it was comfortable. I had three bedrooms, what else did I want? Somebody would say, “Prince, where are you now?” And I would reply, “Same old place you know.” I was alright with my salary.
And let me tell you, I have a small thing from my father’s estate, very small, but sometimes small is very useful.
When I was a commissioner, we were allocated plots of land in Ikoyi, Osborn axis. I gave the land to a developer who is my “aburo”. I can mention his name, and he developed the place, and that is my pension.
I rented out the building and got money. I live in my own house, the house that I built myself, at Sangotedo, my father’s country home. The income is enough for me.
How is family life for you?
I thank God I am married and have three children and I was able to give them…
Only three children?
Only three children. And I thank God, two of them have university education. Their base is South Africa, they might come home on holiday very soon; that is my family position.
Another remarkable thing is that as an 87-year-old your memory is very good, you remember your teachers…?
One has to thank God for that.
But health-wise, do you have any challenges?
I have health challenges, and it is necessary to say it publicly so that people learn. Whatever might be your age, you can die suddenly. From what I learnt we have hypertension in the family. I went to hospitals here in Lagos, and in London. At the end of the day, it was discovered that it was hypertension and they placed me on medication and they warned me. I am satisfied, and I tell people, I tell my friends, I say we all pray for old age. From my experience old age is a decaying process, because you have used the thing, you have used your body, so the thing must decay, so it is decaying and that decaying process continues until finally one day you give up.