Eyes are on Tokunbo Abiru, successful banker, former Finance Commissioner and ex-Managing Director of Polaris Bank, as he enters the Senatorial race in the Lagos East District.
Between now and October 31, when the by-election will be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and beyond, he is likely to be the main issue in Lagos East politics.
His structure is formidable. His support base is strong. He has attracted huge goodwill. There is enthusiasm in the district about the imminence of a new dawn. Abiru may be perceived as a green horn in politics, but, he is a technocrat, who has been projected as a national asset by his cumulative experience in the private and public sectors.
Having served Lagos meritoriously as a member of the State Executive Council before returning to the banking sector, he is held in esteem as a key player in the economy of the State and a major technical adviser to the government. Across the pre-existing five local governments constituting the East Zone- Ikorodu, Kosofe, Somolu, Ibeju-Lekki and Epe, there is no dissenting voice against his candidature among critical stakeholders.
Abiru has intimidating credentials. He has derived strength in his towering integrity in private life.
He has also shunned the cult of kleptocracy in public life. Indeed, his involvement in politics may inspire many credible technocrats to develop interest in politics and governance in furtherance of their contributions to national development.
The Senatorial seat became vacant, following the demise of the Kosofe power broker, Senator Bayo Osinowo (Peperito), who was elected in last year’s election.
Apart from the self-evasive banker, there were other contenders for the APC ticket at the primary. Asipa Kaoli Olusanya, Lagos APC Vice Chairman, whose daughter is a Special Adviser in the Sanwo-Olu administration, said he was interested. Lanre Odesanya, former House of Assembly member, also eyed the slot before stepping down. They all hail from Ikorodu Division. Abiru’s aspiration has silenced the emergency champions of Lagos interest, who attempted to create division by inciting Indigenes against other Lagosians. The banker is a son of the soil. However, he has more to his credit as an achiever.
The slot, a source said, may have been zoned to the division by the chapter for partisan reasons, apparently in response to the consistent agitations.
Abiru, who has now emerged as the APC flagbearer for the senatorial seat after winning the primary election of the party, will be contesting the October 31 bye-election against another Ikorodu indigene, Babatunde Gbadamosi, who equally emerged as the candidate of the People Democratic Party (PDP).
The outcome of the poll is predictable. Since 1999, only Senatorial flag bearers on the progressive platforms have won elections in Lagos East. They are Seye Ogunlewe of the Alliance for Democracy (1999-2003), Olorunnimbe Mamora of AD and later, Action Congress (2003-2011), Gbenga Ashafa of Action Congress of Nigeria and APC (2011-2019) and Osinowo of APC (2019-2020).
Abiru is taking after his illustrious father, a two-time Senator, Mudashiru Akanbi Abiru, a stalwart of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), who later became a judge after the 1983 military coup drew the curtains on his tenure in the National Assembly.
In 2011, the 56-vear old Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) was appointed Finance Commissioner by former Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN). In that capacity, he initiated tax reforms, which enlarged the internally generated revenue, following the discovery of over five million tax evaders.
However, Abiru resigned in 2013 to become an Executive Director of the First Bank.
Born on March 25, 1964, Abiru attended the Lagos State University, where he earned a B.Sc in Economics. He is an Honorary Senior Member of The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), an alumnus of Harvard Business School (Advanced Management Programme) and the Lagos Business School (Senior Management Programme).
Abiru has over 20 years experience in the banking industry. He started his banking career at Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), where he worked for 10 years. He proceeded to First Bank, where he worked for 14 years as the Relationship Team Lead, Retail Banking and Business Development Manager. He became Group Head, Corporate Banking.
After serving as Commissioner for two years, Abiru resigned to take up appointment as Executive Director, Corporate Banking, First Bank Nigeria Ltd. He left without blemish in 2016.
Abiru served as a Non-Executive Director, Airtel Mobile Networks Limited, FBN Capital Limited (now FBN Merchant Bank Limited), and FBN Bank, Sierra Leone Limited.
He was appointed as the CEO of the defunct Skye Bank in July 2016 to try to salvage the bank, which was in critical condition at that time.
He was also retained alongside most of his other executives as the CEO of the new Polaris Bank, the bridge bank created by CBN in consultation with NDIC as a result of liquidation of Skye Bank in September 2018.
It was during Abiru’s tenure as Commissioner for Finance that Lagos State successfully floated an N80 billion bond, earning it the EMEA Finance’s Best Local Currency Bond Award for 2012.
But, his tax reforms underscored his financial creativity. He made the State’s tax efforts cohesive, and the discovery of over 5.5 million tax evaders in 2013 made the State to enlarge its tax coast.
His former colleagues in the State Executive Council attested to his efforts to increase State revenue to the tune of N6.2b through the Land Use Charge without controversy.
Abiru is also a member of the Lagos HOMs Committee, which is in charge of the Lagos State Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMs), instituted to reduce the housing deficit in the State.
He will he left Polaris Bank as a Chief Executive Officer with an impeccable record. On assumption of office in 2016, Abiru evolved a holistic and integrated approach to business modernisation, which made it a customer-centred financial institution.
Under his leadership, Polaris Bank invested significantly in technology; thereby, enabling customers to enjoy banking services through main time-tested and trusted channels.
Abiru successfully implemented cost management initiatives, which have enhanced liquidity and efficient service delivery to the bank’s customers.
Through his aggressive recovery initiatives, the bank has been able to recover over N200 billion outstanding bad loans within a shortest period. The bank also reached settlement and restructuring agreements with many chronic bad debtors, resulting in substantially improved payments and prospects of future recoveries.
Other initiatives included branch rationalisation, review of service contracts and cash management operations, which have resulted in huge financial savings. The bank was also able to successfully settle many matured trade and bilateral obligations and restructured out-standing balances with the relevant institutions.
The bank also divested from four local subsidiaries, realising a total cash value of N6.2b.
Under Abiru, Polaris Bank unveiled its new Mobile Banking App, available to users on both GooglePlay for Android devices and the Apple App Store for iOS devices.
Those who worked under him said the bank will miss him.
Abiru is among bank executives at the vanguard of the anti-Covid 19 campaigns.
However, many challenges will confront him in politics. Unlike when he was dealing with share- holders and customers in the banking industry, he will now be dealing with a political crowd, which is larger than the bank’s customers.
The banker would need a sort of adjustment. He is a seasoned administrator. But, he will now have to imbibe the virtues, which made his father to succeed in the politics of Ikorodu and Lagos.
The political field is slippery. Politics involves human variables, which are largely inconsistent. Although, a renowned administrator, he will have to learn the ropes. The steps he has taken so far conveyed an impression of readiness, as he had sought and obtained the endorsement of many district leaders, including Prince Abiodun Ogunleye, Olorunfunmi Basorun, Tony Adefuye, Akanni Seriki, Tola Kasali, Alogba, Busura Alebiosu, and Minister of State for Health, Adeleke Mamora. Abiru may not have a rival at the primary.
“He is a man of the moment, another product of talent hunt of party leadership. He will surely give effective representation in the Senate,” said Segun Olulade, former House of Assembly member and campaign coordinator for Abiru.
“He has the endorsement of our leaders and members to run,” he added.