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How politics separated me from MKO – Olukoga

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Otunba (Dr.) Fatai-Olajide

Otunba (Dr.) Fatai Olajide Olukoga retired as Personal Secretary in the Lagos State public service in 2007.  The former transitional Chairman of Ojo Local Government Area, Lagos is Chief Executive Officer of Firsttrust Investments Managers Limited, a financial and insurance brokers firm in the heart of Lagos.

He spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA at his Anthony Village, Lagos office recently on his twenty-seven years experience in the Lagos State Government service.  Excerpts:
Despite the years in service before retirement, you look fit and healthy.
Once you have peace, honesty and perseverance, you will continue to look good.  You will have no problem.  But if you indulge yourself in shady deals, then life poses a lot of problems to you: One, there won’t be happiness. Two, there won’t be rest of mind and, three, you will be scared to mingle with people.

Once you are not involved in these, you are contented with whatever God gave you, then you will have peace, happiness and continue to look young.

How was your growing up?

I was born in 1951 at Olorogun Street, Lagos Island to the family of late Pa Sulaimon Adebanbo Olukoga.  He hailed from Itunmoja Quarters in Ikorodu, Lagos and he was a manager at the Mitchelin Tyres.  Then, my father used to travel a lot and so, I didn’t have the opportunity of knowing him very well.  My mother, Alhaja Zainab, nee Bakare, hailed from Isele Quarters, also in Ikorodu.

After two years, my father brought me back to Lagos Island and enrolled me at the St. John’s School, Aroloya.  From there, I moved to Ansar-ud-Deen College, Isolo, Lagos for my secondary education and passed out with a good grade in 1970.

I later went to Governor’s State University, Illinois, USA, for my first degree.  I worked with the university as a Graduate Assistant, assisting professors to search of reference books that were used to teach in their classes.  While I was there, I was doing my masters at the same time and in the evenings, I used to do other jobs (laughs) – just to make ends meet.

I had experience with National Biscuit Company, with Metropolitan Insurance where I took an examination and I was underwriter for life and health insurance.

After my masters degree in Business, Marketing and Industrial Relations, I was employed by National Biscuit Company as Sales and Marketing Officer, all in the USA, that is Chicago.  I was there for a year.   I returned home in 1979 after seven years of schooling and working in the US.

Why didn’t you stay USA?

Oh, I was employed by ITT Nigeria Limited.  As a matter of fact, ITT employed me right from America to come back home and work for them. While doing my masters, I was given a scholarship by Lagos State Government.  So, rather than coming to work for Lagos State Government, ITT Nigeria Limited employed me .

I was with ITT until August 1979 when the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected government. Immediately late Abiola joined NPN, those of us with sympathy for UPN had to leave the company.  That was how people like Jaiyesimi and I had to leave the company.

Where did you go from there?

I went to meet Chief Obafemi Awolowo and said, ‘Papa, we don’t have jobs.   Papa Awolowo asked, ‘What can I do for you?’  I said, fortunately, you are in control of five noble states: Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Bendel.  Why don’t you give us letters to the governors of those states so that they will employ us?

Papa Awolowo agreed and asked me to come back in two days, and when I went back after two days, he gave me five letters addressed to each of those five governors. I called my group of affected persons and distributed the letters.  But I held on to that of Lagos being a Lagosian myself.

I then took it to the then Governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande.  He asked me: ‘What effort have you done on your own?’ I said: ‘One, I had a scholarship from Lagos State Government. I am now coming back to serve.  Two, I have done interviews with Lagos State Refuse Disposal Board.

I have done interviews with Lagos State Property Development Corporation, LSPDC. I have had interview with some banks: ACB, AfriBank and UBA.  Governor Jakande said, ‘okay, you can go.  Just give me three months for me to settle down’.

After three months that he had settled down, I went back to him and he said,  ‘okay we are working on it and we will see what we can do’.  We were about five that came from Lagos State and all the five were absolved.  Two of us went to Lagos State Refuse Disposal Board and because of the interview I did earlier, I was put in charge of training. That was in 1979.  That was how we were all fixed into the Lagos State Government Civil Service.

I worked with the State Refuse Disposal Board.  It later became Lagos State Waste Disposal Board and from there it became Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).  I was involved in the commercialisation process that turned LAWMA into financial concern.  I worked there from Training Manager to Principal Secretary, and later became Assistant Director and then Assistant General Manager before I left in 1996.

How do you think civil servants can be very productive?

Government policies are good but the civil servants are the executors.  And how do you allow them to achieve the end results?  It is by giving them the freedom, the wherewithal to do their jobs.

The commissioners appointed to head the ministries are not the technocrats.  The civil servants are.  But some commissioners, when they come there, they want to do it all and at the end of the day you see failures.  They fumble.
Secondly, Lagos State, for instance, is very proud to have a lot of civil servants that are very skillful and knowledgeable. That is why you can see that a lot of things are being done perfectly in Lagos State.

What do you think is responsible for the inability of commissioners to deliver?

The thing is that a commissioner would want to show that yes, I’m in charge; I know it all; you can’t tell me what I should do.  But the thing is also that, you gain knowledge in allowing people to contribute.

If you are a commissioner, all you need to do: first of all, don’t think you know it all.    Try as much as possible to listen to people.  Be responsive also to whatever reason they bring to you.  Then you will be able to gain from them. They too will gain from you and at the end of the day you have a good output.

The same thing applies to the ministers.   Leadership is two ways: You must respect the people and they will also respect you.

Who corrupts who? The Commissioners, Ministers or the Permanent Secretaries?

Let me say that corruption is an innate thing and it is an effect of poverty.  It is also an effect of non-contentment.  If you are not contented with what God has given to you, you will be corrupt. whether you are a commisioner or Minister does not matter, what matters is your person and how you comport yourself.

The best solution is to be honest and dedicated in whatever assignment is given to you.

What is your assessment of the present situation in the country?

My brother, let me be honest with you, we have not got to where we ought to be. This is because we have not yet gotten our bearings right.  This was what I told them last year when I was interviewed about whether or not Umaru Musa Yar’Adua could achieve his promised 6,000 megawatts power by December 2009 and I told them no way; he cannot!  And, of course, he did not.  I proved it.  You see, when you look at the approach to issues, you will know what the end result will be.  Now, that comes back to your question.

Unless Uwais report – I happened to be part of those who wrote the electoral report of Lagos State and Lagos State electoral report represents the majority of the final report of Uwais – unless that report is addressed and it is allowed to play, we will have nowhere to go in this country.  If that Uwais report is implemented, it will first of all lead us into the right path.

Two, politics is not do-or-die.  The way things are being done, they are recycling leadership. Rather, let’s look for vibrant people that have the knowledge, that have the skill and let’s put the right people in the right positions.  Yes, Umar Yar’Adua is late.  Yes, Jonathan is there.  He sacked the old cabinet to bring a new cabinet.

Look at those in the supposed new cabinet again:  The same old people.  There is the need to allow people who are serious about serving the people of this country to serve.  There is the need to allow for free and fair election.  Leaders should be freely and fairly elected and not selected.

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