From YINKA FABOWALE, Ibadan
One and a half years after he was declared wanted by the law, embattled Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Oyo State, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (Tokyo) made a surprise public appearance Tuesday last week. He walked into the state Police headquarters at Eleyele, Ibadan, ostensibly to honour an invitation by the Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu.
But, the police chief was away in Abuja and Tokyo was immediately arrested on the orders of Mbu’s deputy to answer charges over pending criminal cases against him. One of these was his alleged complicity in the bloody intra union skirmish that led to the death of many, including innocent members of the public at Iwo Road, Ibadan, shortly after the inauguration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi last year. Another was his alleged sponsorship of some members of the union caught with arms and charms at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway toll gate during the disturbance.
However, the NURTW kingpin was allowed home on bail after interrogation and a night in detention, having also made an undertaking to ensure peace.
Where has he been hiding all this while? Why did he decide to surrender himself at this time? What did he discuss with the police and why did the police let him off so? More importantly, what is his next line of action towards regaining the leadership of the NURTW, which the courts have consistently affirmed, without precipitating another round of violence, which his previous attempts had tended to breed? These were some of the questions Daily Sun took Tokyo up on in an interview shortly after he regained his freedom. His answers are contained in this excerpt:
The manhunt for you has been on for over a year. Why did you just come into the open to surrender yourself now?
First of all, you must know that throughout the incident (fracas) that happened at Iwo Road that led to my being declared wanted, I wasn’t at home. On the fateful day, I was not in Ibadan. I was in Opebi, Lagos at a wedding ceremony to which I was invited. I was there till between 9.30pm and 10.00pm. After I left that party, I went to Durbar Hotel in Ikeja. I slept in the hotel and the next day I went to the graduation ceremony of one of my daughters, who graduated in Law at the Babcock University. Her name is Adijat Kuburat, she is a lawyer. From there I went back to the hotel. The third day I came back to Ibadan. I called the governor (Abiola Ajimobi) to ask why Bolanta (The Police Commissioner then) declared me wanted. You know I was declared wanted without the police having first invited me. There was no invitation, no letter, and no warrant of arrest. Yet, my photographs were pasted at all police stations. When that happened, I reported to important people, I went to the Alaafin, I went to Alhaji (AbdulAzeez) Arisekola and I went to (Bola) Tinubu himself to tell them I knew nothing about it.
Why would the police declare you wanted if they had no clue linking you to the incident?
Thank you very much for that question. It was malice and vendetta because we didn’t support Akala. You will recall that Bolanta was the CP under Akala and his partisanship was not a hidden thing. You will remember he was the one who invaded our secretariat with armed policemen. He was the one who failed to implement the court judgment reinstating me as chairman of the union. So apart from wanting to mess me up, what we heard was that they wanted to use it as an opportunity to create a state of emergency in the state as a pretext to frustrate the new government. Since then, I proceeded to the Federal High Court to protect my fundamental human right – one, that they shouldn’t link me to an offence I did not commit and the court agreed with me and declared they should not tamper with my freedom. When another CP before this one came, they still mentioned my name as being wanted, so, I served on them a contempt of court suit, the CP, who left here to be AIG went to court and swore that he never looked for me. The suit is still pending when the new CP, (Mbu) came. Upon all that, the new CP invited me, only for me to get there and was arrested. They said they were arresting me for some case files I had with them. They took me to Iyaganku State CID and I made a statement to the police. They then detained me in a cell for further investigations. The second day, I was interrogated again. They wanted to know my role in the Iwo Road incident. After that they brought up the issue of some of our people (NURTW members) who were arrested with charms and arms at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway tollgate. And I explained myself that I don’t even own a gun. I am 65 years old, I was born in 1947 and up till now I don’t smoke hemp or use drugs. I am an Alfa, so all the things being ascribed to me were all false. So, when the police saw that I wasn’t involved in any crime, they granted me bail.
Before now, where have you been hiding?
I have always been here in my house. I live in Ibadan and I live in Lagos.
Barely a week ago, Governor Ajimobi raised an alarm of a plot by some politicians and NURTW leaders on the police wanted list to unleash fresh mayhem in the state. How do you react to this?
There is no such thing, because I am still supporting the ACN, because I participated fully in the election of Governor Ajimobi. There is no meeting between I and any political party – PDP, PRP or anything, because late Baba Lam (Adesina) is my father. We are from the same Oluyole Local Government. We both suffered and we were incarcerated together for fighting for democracy during the Abacha regime. I think the problem is that people are misadvising him. They have painted me black before the governor, but he shouldn’t have, listened to them, he shouldn’t have taken it that way, because I was instrumental to his election. They used me and dumped me. I haven’t gained anything from them. If he got such information, he was supposed to have called me to find out the fact, not depend on hearsay.
You are now free, but the governor has banned your union…
(Cuts in) The same Federal High Court had early this year passed judgment lifting the ban. It has said the governor does not have the power to proscribe a union or organization, only the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation have such power.
So you are going to fight to reclaim your union and mandate?
You know after the judgment, the government installed an illegal 14-man Caretaker Committee to take over. (But the governor has denied This is contrary to the court judgment. So now I want my mandate because the judgment of the court should not be set aside. Ajimobi himself is a beneficiary of court judgment. The PDP took him to court over his dual citizenship of Nigeria and America. If they had won, he would not be there (in office) now. But, the court pronounced in his favour and that’s why he remains the governor. So, he should respect the court of law.
The Attorney General of the State challenged the judgment but he failed.
Now the court wrote to the AIG at Osogbo and the CP in Oyo State asking them to execute the judgment. But the illegal Caretaker Committee challenged it and last Monday I won the case. So we’re begging the Commissioner of Police to effect the judgment. We don’t want to go there, unless the authorities say so.
There are speculations that your release on bail was organized by your political sponsorss in your support for future elections. How true is this?
No one is involved, but the Almighty God. When the police arrest you and find you have not committed any crime, they’ll leave you. That is what happened.