By HENRY OJELU
Until Monday, February 17, 2020, when she gracefully bowed out of service, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote was the most senior Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service.
She has served as PS in various ministries, including the Ecological Funds Office, Federal Ministry of Power, Federal Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Political Affair Office (SFG), Office of Head of Service, and Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity.
In her decades of service to the nation, Odusote pioneered several live changing projects, especially in the areas of information communications technology. Since 2000, she has actively promoted Digitest, an annual camp and competition that encourages students to develop internet-based solutions that address issues of national interest. In this interview, Odusote shares her experience working in the public service, and the lessons she learnt.
I am a native of Ikenne Remo in Ogun State, but I was born in Lagos State, where I also grew up. I had my primary education at Marywood Primary School, owned by the Catholic Mission in Lagos. I later proceeded to Saint Theresa College in Ibadan, Oyo State, for my secondary school, then to the University of Ife, where I studied Computer Science.
I had my Masters in Computer Science, and MBA from the University of Lagos. How I got to study Computer Science is actually an interesting story. After I gained admission into the University of Ife to study Engineering Physics, a new course was introduced. We went for the seminar and I immediately fell in love with it.
I went ahead and signed the change of course form, and that was how I found myself studying Computer Science, and I am glad I did. Not many people knew about computer science then. The first set of Computer Science graduates finished from Ife in 1976, and I got into Ife that year. It means that I was among the first set of graduate of Computer Science in Nigeria.
Joining the civil service
I never imagine that I would be in civil service. The then minister of Information and National Orientation, Chief Dapo Sarumi, invited me to help set-up the ICT Department of the ministry, being Ministry of Information and National Orientation. I thought it was going to be a 100 metre race but here we are from one to two years secondment to transfer of service. I could see that hand of the Lord, because the Lord said “Go and I will prosper there.” That is why I am here and everything has happened as the Lord has said it and I feel satisfied that that is the way the Lord wanted it. I believe that I have made some contributions to civil service so many contributions that I am very proud of.
It’s amazement to me that it is already 35 years that I started to serve. I feel in my body like am 40 years old but now I am 60. The journey has been both exciting and challenging. My career actually started as a lecturer at Yaba College of Technology. I later left for the University of Lagos. In between the two schools, I was also in Shell Petroleum Development Company.
You would have thought that I should have stayed in Shell because I was earning a lot of money but I left Shell to come back to Yaba College of Technology by a divine arrangement. It was about that time that a department of computer science was to start. I joined the civil service as the very first administrative point of contact on the .ng the top-level domain in Nigeria. There is something about my career that is very divine. At every step there will be issue but the truth always prevail at the end and I will be vindicated.
The high point of my career was working on how to develop capacity and push Information Technology to every part of the country including rural areas. As at that time, the emphasizes was on computer and electricity. After research, we zeroed in on women and children and targeted them through the various channel of communication and today it’s a great success.
We were looking at areas where information sector need to be. Our focus was in the media, banking and schools. If you look back now you will see that all these sectors are fully automated. In the past It was a dream for a journalist to file his report right from the field instantaneous but now it’s a reality.
I have enjoyed my career having moved from the academics to the private sector and then the public sector where I have met different kind of people who have impacted me both positively and otherwise. People that could in honesty lay their life for you. I have also met friends that when you have you don’t need an enemy because they are worse than an enemy.
In all, I would say that I have had a good time. I have enjoyed meeting people -fantastic human beings that I cannot forget in my life. I have also learnt a lot of lessons of wisdom, understanding, diplomacy and managing to cope even when the situation is very bad; when being forthright becomes a problem and telling the truth becomes difficult to handle. My career has really been quite exciting.
One of my mentors is Professor Jerry Gana -former Minister of Information and National Orientation. He was my Minister then but he has become like a father to me. He is God fearing, diligent and hardworking. He is also a father. Prof Agbalajobi is another mentor that took interest in my wellbeing and career progression. Although he is of different faith he was quite influential to my success in life. There are many of them it’s just that I cannot go on mentioning them all.
Coping withdemands of office
The credit goes to God “For it is him that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, he helps us.” My husband has been of immense help it’s like we are together in everything I do whether it is managing the house, watching over the children or write my papers. He gives me all the support I needed, similarly the hardworking upbringing also helped me, I woke up very early in the morning rarely will you find me on the bed at 4 o clock I work very hard, I also manage my health because I do a lot of exercise and I try to manage my time. I see time as a very expensive resource/
What I will miss about public service
I am going to miss people. I am going to miss the opportunity I have to meet people and learn from them. I learnt a lot more from the middle class, the security guards, clerks, cleaners doing their jobs and watching over their bosses as if it’s their responsibility to do so
Advice to civil servant
You must be enterprising, hardworking and righteous. Although it is difficult to stay on the righteous part, sometimes it seems it is even better to join the bandwagon but I still advice the younger ones to remain on the right part; it may be hard but eventually, it pays. I also encourage younger ones to trust in God but don’t spend all your time praying you must use your time to work. It’s on the work that your prayer will be answered.
What to be remembered for
I want to be remembered for being someone that has changed the lives of many people, that people will say if not for Ibukun Odusote I may not have being able to go to school or I may not have been where I am now. Those are the things I want to be remembered for, the lives of people that have been transformed the foundation of people that have been restored.
When you do thing like that to an individual there’s a way that it resonates and go around, those are the houses and mansion that am building as well as the billions in my account by the reason of people that have and will still come through us. I just want to be known as that woman that transformed lives.