By Ishola Balogun
How not to handover: Tips Houphouët-Boigny gave IBB
In the early 90s, the classic television programme “Morning Ride” was synonymous with Femi Segun. As a super compere, he was the most sought after before the new paradigm of Compere/Comedy. As a man of many parts, he has tried to live a mark in whatever he does.
The multi-talented and versatile Femi, the son of famous writer and octogenarian Mabel Segun, has worked with Shagari, Buhari/Idiagbon and Babangida governments as Protocol Officer and Interpreter at one time or the other as well as at the Oceanic Bank before going into private business. In spite of the vagaries of life and unpalatable experiences, he never betrays his conscience but is ready for a walkout. He is our role model this week.
You’ve multiple talents. How have you exploited them?
I have always been motivated to live my life to the full. It is said that some people took their talents to the grave but I doubt that cannot be said of me. I have tried to exploit my talents to the full and with all modesty; I think I have reached the peak of about five different professions. One thing that kept me going all through is the fact that I have tried not to compromise and always live by principle particularly in a modern Nigeria where you step on toes and clash with a lot of people. I am hoping and praying that someday, the society will recognise its true heroes; those that have stood up for the truth and stood firmly against all oppression and have live their lives the way we should live it to make a modern and comfortable society; and serve as role models for younger ones. In the society today, we have people who made money overnight and nobody cares where the money came from and we also know that drug couriers are being caught everyday at our international airports, but nobody cares. We have a society that is crumbling more because it is modelled on foreign blueprints when we don’t have the moral and social advancement in our character to cope with the challenges. Even the Western nations we seem to be copying are collapsing before our very eyes.
How do you manage your different callings?
I started out working first for Dr. Soleye and then moved on to the foreign service where I was employed as an interpreter to the then President Shehu Shagari. Six months after, I worked as a Protocol Officer to Buhari/Idiagbon regime and also to Babangida government. I joined the Oceanic Bank thereafter starting off a new career and as a pioneer manager of Abuja branch also heading the treasury of the bank. I left the Oceanic Bank on principle. I have always done that. I believe that sooner or later, there will be a critical mass of people that will ensure the society thread on the path of righteousness. There and then in the bank I was asked to do some certain things which my spirit did not agree with. So, I resigned and went into business of myself. I have also been an interior decorator, because when I left Oceanic Bank I went into interior decoration after founding that I have a knack for it, thanks to the Technical Drawing lessons in my secondary school days. I had a joint ownership of furniture business that went on for some time.
The protocol I learned in the presidency is what I took into church – House on the Rock. My Pastor sometime in 1997 called me to set it up and I brought in the kind of protocol you get in the presidency, with walkie talkie, dark suites and glasses and so on. A lot of churches imitated it and that is what we have today. If you complain about that in the church today, I’m guilty because I started it.
In politics, when I was in the university, I was a member of the Universal Black Ascendancy movement. Ben Bruce and I were in that association. I was the director for West Africa region. Then I was studying in Cote D Voire and Togo. This was a black militancy movement. That informed my joining politics at home.
In the area of Masters of Ceremonies, it started way back in 1978 in the then University of Ife. I have done all manner of ceremonies, official, government, wedding, bi-lingua (sometimes I was required to speak French) and so on. I never charged a kobo until in 1992 when Ali-Baba came on board, creating a genre of comedian who was also a compere. But the new generation of comedians took a different dimension. Today, I am completely unhappy with what I pioneered. I took over from the likes of late John Chukwu and others like the Obileyes, Sunny Irabor, and Bisi Olatilo who are fantastic people. Now, we have a lot of up and coming Comedians who have no idea of protocol or sense of formality of events and they go on to ruin events with off colour jokes, inappropriate humour and teasing of guests.
Why did you leave your job in government and in the bank?
I don’t want to go into so much detail but it has to do with IBB and some people were discussing in my office about IBB. Later on, the news got to him and he was very upset and he ordered that everybody be arrested. I was arrested to come and reveal what others were discussing. Looking at the situation then as a Southerner, it could turn very nasty on me. So, I used plausible deniability which meant that I might have been there when anything was discussed about IBB but I did not recollect. However, if anything of such was discussed, I would not have participated. I stuck to that and it took the effort of one of my uncles and the late Olikoye Ransome Kuti who was then the Minister of Health and my in-law to get me out and after that I left and went into Oceanic Bank. Again, as one of the foundation stones of the bank, I became the head of treasury and I was asked to do some certain things which I knew if the security agencies looked into, I would be in for trouble. I had no choice because I was employed by the bank but it got to a point I was not able to compromise a number of things, so, I left the bank.
What are those things?
I don’t want this interview to cause trouble but suffice it to say there were a lot of things I was asked to sign and transfer which I knew would not have stood the test of scrutiny under CBN rules and regulations. Fortunately or not, it took about 20 years for the bubble to burst and as you noticed a couple of years ago, the CEO of the bank has never been the same ever since.
As a protocol officer and an interpreter, what led to your exit?
I actually have a book which is coming up, My Memoirs of Those Days – Shagari-Buhari-Babangida days which I went into a lot of details from a features approach. I remember the October 1, 1982, shortly before the Buhari coup. There was a rumour that there was going to be a coup on that day. So, based on that rumour which I had not known of prior to that day, Shagari and quite a number of Ministers were wearing bullet proofs and those days they were made of plotlines plate back and front.
Suddenly, we saw our Shagari, the vice and others looking bulky, as protocol officers, we asked what was going on, and you know not too long from then, Anwar Sadat was shot during a similar match past and Ronald Regan had been shot earlier that year, so everybody was nervous. So, I said to myself that all the ogas have worn bullet proofs, what happened to all the protocol officers that are standing here; we should all be mulled down by the bullets.
We also witnessed one of the events that led to the Babangida coup. IBB was asked to step out of the meeting which was going on because they wanted to discuss about him. For about three hours, IBB, as the then chief of army staff was just walking up and down outside without shoes and cap thinking seriously. We didn’t know what was going on but it was clear that he was asked to step out of the meeting. A few days later, he staged a palace coup and we said: Oh! That was what he was planning’. But you see, had he not tried to perpetuate himself in power, he would have been noted by history as one of Nigeria’s greatest change agents.
Unfortunately, by the time we visited Côte d’Ivoire in 1989, IBB and Félix Houphouët-Boigny asked me who was his interpreter to step out. And for three hours, the two of them talked without any security or protocol officer with them. We came back, and IBB kept shifting the hand-over date continually. Years later, one came to understand that he must have been given some tips on how to perpetuate himself in power and as you know Félix Houphouët-Boigny ruled Côte d’Ivoire till he died. I had no doubt it was crystallised from that trip.