…says the civil war and his father’s death affected his early education
….says resolving Warri crisis remains his greatest achievement in government
…extols Babangida, Ibru, Oyegun, Ibori, Uduaghan, Okowa
By Festus Ahon
COMRADE Ovuozourie Macaulay is a trained Journalist who rose to become the pioneer Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Delta State Council and later became Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
Although it took him some time, he eventually obtained a degree in Mass Communication from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, and later a Masters degree in Mass Communication in the same university. He also obtained a certificate in Leadership from the University of Oxford; Certificate from Harvard Business School and a Certificate from Galilee College, Israel on National Security amongst others at various times.
He retired voluntarily from civil service at the end of his tenure as NLC chairman in Delta State. After his retirement, the then Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori appointed him as Commissioner for Special Duties in charge of Conflict Resolution.
He is the Okiroro of Isoko nation. In this interview, he spoke on his 60th birthday; what life was like growing up and his challenges.
Also read: What OBJ, IBB, Uduaghan, Okowa see in Gbagi
Today you are celebrating your 60th birthday anniversary. How has life been?
One must be grateful to God because turning 60 in this our present situation in Nigeria in particular, and the global situation in general, as it relates to hardship, health and lack of facilities is not easy. Turning 60 is a great challenge. Growing up was very challenging; up till date life has been full of challenges.
I was born barely six years before the Nigerian civil war. It turned out that my parents were in the East and I was born in the present-day Imo State. That means when the war started my parents were supposed to have relocated, back home, but they didn’t know that the war would escalate to the extent to which it went with deaths that forced them to vacate a place they had lived all their lives.
We ran away about the time a child should be starting school, which affected my early academic life as I could not start when my mates started and I lost some years to the civil war. Finally, my parents tried to find their feet in their new location. My father had challenges, he was down and the whole family was affected as a result of his illness.
As they were trying to take on what life had left for them, my father had an accident and died in 1972. He was a young man then. That again affected me as we had to relocate from Ughelli back to the village, because of my father’s demise.
Back in the village, I was in primary five and about 12 years, which became another challenge, because leaving Ughelli, a township to the village was also very challenging. Of course one had to adapt. And I got into secondary school at the age of 13 going to 14, not now that children enter secondary school at the age of 10.
I faced another major challenge having no father, my mother tried her best to provide for us. The family felt I should attend a Teachers’ Training College, which was free with boarding facilities inclusive. And after five years, whether you passed or failed you were certain of getting a teaching job.
Isoko people were cursed with teaching jobs as they were the only nationalities within the area that had two Teacher Training Colleges; St. Joseph Teacher Training College, Ozoro and St Michael Teachers’ Training College, Oleh. They saw it as the in-thing, from where you leave to College of Education Abraka for National Certificate in Education, NCE. That makes you a big boy in the community.
Somehow my spirit didn’t take Teachers’ Training College, so I protested against my mum and uncles who mooted the idea. They saw my protest as stubbornness for rejecting a free of charge school. But I looked at the lives of Teachers, and it was not motivating to me then. Yes, they buy bicycles, some lucky ones will occupy Teachers’ quarters in a dilapidated room and parlour.
Coming back from the township and looking at this type of people I stood my ground against it and decided to go on a hunger strike instead. Luckily, that was about the time secondary school was approved for my village. I went for the interview and passed. So for me, it was better to be a day student in a Grammar School because the problem was money than to attend a Teachers’ College. That was how I overcame that challenge and ended up in a Grammar School.
When I finished my secondary education, I was one of the first five bright students that the school could boast of. I finished well, but to further my education became an issue; who was going to provide the funds? During holidays, while in secondary school, I used to engage in some menial jobs. Aside from stealing, there was nothing menial I did not do to support the family.
I sold garri in the markets, at weekends, I would go to Kwale, where my farms are now, I would uproot cassava, processed them and went back to the Isoko market to sell. I had done hunting; I had tapped rubber. The best of the jobs were going to building sites and help people moulding blocks and carry concrete, just to earn a living as a student.
When I finished Secondary School with required credits, passed my JAMB to read law at the then the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile- Ife, Osun State. Another task presented itself as not even transport fare was available as there were no uncles to help out. Not these days of ‘ose’, ‘ose’. We never did such things.
I went into teaching as an Auxiliary Teacher that I had detested. First, at Obodoeti Primary School, Emu in present-day Ndokwa West, as they did their recruitment first. Two months later Isoko did theirs and I left for Atebo Primary School, Oghara-Iyede in Isoko North.
But few months into that, an opportunity came through a relation whose husband was working at the Federal Ministry of Information, Benin, and they were looking for Public Enlightenment Assistance, with credit in English.
I applied and got the job. That was how God moved me back to the city, after spending so many years in the village. I grew up in Journalism, which was one of my dreams, aside from law.
How was it like growing up with you Parents?
I talk more about my mother and my maternal grandparents because I never met my paternal grandparents alive. Like I said earlier, my father died in August and I was twelve in October same year. I was just promoted from primary four to five.
My mother has been a source of inspiration in my life. She taught me a lot of things. Even in her hardship, we were told not to lie, steal and not to kill, but to be honest at all times and say the truth at all times and that hard work pays.
From my grandfather, he thought me never take a decision when you are angry, never to fight over money and also a fellow man over a woman, even if she is your wife. I asked him how his reason was that when you open the door and look outside you will see more beautiful ones. If you fight and die because of a woman, you are gone. And you can never be sure if that same woman will not end up going back to the same man. So walk away and look for a better one outside.
He also said that money has no end. He said that money is like water; it flows. It has its season and it comes when it is its season, but if you kill yourself over one misunderstanding you have with one fellow human being, you will not have an opportunity to make more money. But for as long as you are alive and you remain hardworking you will make more money. These were what guided me in these 60 years of my life.
As a politician, haven’t you deviated from your mother’s admonition of not lying, stealing and killing?
Not me. That is why most times I stand alone and I don’t regret it. If my honesty would be a reason for them to gang up against me, so be it. My conscience is my guide because when I kneel down to pray, all I know is the fear of God. I hear them say politicians belong to a cult, I don’t even belong to any ethnic club, Let alone a cult.
As a human, I may have some shortcomings, but Christ said He came to die for the sinners. Though not enough for me to do what I know is wrong. I won’t lie because I am a politician. If telling you the truth will make you not to support me, so be it.
One common trend about you is the need to adapt. How has your upbringing and life challenges shaped your life?
That is the exposure that everybody needs. That is why today, I see myself as a Nigerian. I am an Isoko by birth, but I relate well with an Ibo man, not just the Delta Ibo. I relate well to people. I see myself as an Urhobo man, though I have some blood affiliations; I see myself as a Ndokwa man with affiliations there too.
I am just fast-forwarding it because if I need to tell my full story, we won’t leave here. I have mixed with people. That is why I tell people that I have seen the good and the bad sides of life. I can adapt easily. I can afford to eat omelettes and I can as well afford to eat roasted plantain and groundnut, or soak garri; and will be contented with it. That is my life.
How were you able to cope with pioneering ministries and agencies in a complex state like Delta?
Like I said, one of the primary lessons about life that I got from my parents is hard work and being principled. If you are hardworking when given a responsibility what comes to your mind first? Do you want to make money or make a good name for yourself?
Most people feel that once they are given responsibilities, it is the money they want to make first and they go for it and in doing that they would lose focus and that might be their last appointment. When you go for a name, the only way to go about it is to do things right and to achieve a goal for which that thing was set up. Once you get that right, something else will come for you. This attribute sustained me in government from 2003 to 2015.
If I were dishonest I wouldn’t have gotten this far. When I was made Commissioner for special duties in charge of conflict resolutions, during the height of Warri crisis between Itsekiris, Ijaws and Urhobo, I had people laughing at me that while my mates were here writing memos and awarding contracts, I was in Warri going into the trenches with warring youths.
From settling warring youths in the trenches, I came back and ended up as one of those who were then submitting memos in the State EXCO. If I had said that because the first assignment was not bringing million to me as there was a time I could not raise N3 million even as a commissioner to buy a piece land for the expansion of my farm, I wouldn’t have gone this far.
I remember there was a time I needed to buy more pieces of land when I wanted to expand one of my farms, I could not raise N3 million and a politician who was then at the Delta State House of Assembly bought the land. I had a lot of government money in my possession for payment of compensations and to settle the youths, but I never spent a dime from it for personal use.
God remembered me again. I didn’t beg Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan to pick me. Yes, I was one of those who worked for his election to become a Governor. But then the fight was not for him, it was for the governorship to rotate among the three senatorial districts of Delta State. That gave Governor Okowa and Uduaghan, who was not from Central the courage to enter the race; there were alliances and Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan won.
I fight for principles, not just fighting for the sake of it. If you see me in any fight I am always on the side of principle, not for self. If in the course of that collective battle, something good came, and it came my way, fine. But I will not go into any battle because of what I want.
You served twice as a Commissioner, Chief of Staff and SSG, what will you point to as your achievements and how well did you impact on Deltans?
In government, you do not ascribe any achievement to yourself. I have never been a Governor, so whatever I might have achieved it was the Governor that made it possible, so the glory goes to him. I said earlier that it was the free hands that I was given that made that success. So it would be wrong for me to take credit for such an achievement.
When we were in labour, it was the same plural such as what I had listed earlier for the workers in the State. But I was at the head. But in government, whether as SSG, Commissioner, Chief of Staff, if I came with a proposal and the Governor failed to honour it, what will I do? That would be the end of it, but if he honoured it, provided me with the wherewithal and I did the job diligently, I believe he should take the glory.
It will look personal if I began to take the glory, particularly as SSG I fought to ensure that both the party and the Government were united. I helped to build trust with security agencies. The synergy was always there as the State was seen as one.
As Commissioner for Energy, I made sure that many communities in this State were electrified. Whether it was national grid or not was a different ball game as the State does not generate power. I made sure that the poles, network and necessary facilities were deployed, except I was not aware of that community.
The number of 750 MVA transformers in the State rose from four to fourteen during my tenure. Like I said earlier if when I made the proposal and the Governor said no, it wouldn’t have happened.
Like now I am in Warri/Uvwie and Environ Development Agency, I don’t provide the funds. It is whatever we are given to work there is what we would work with. Except you are dullards naturally where you are given the resources and the opportunities, yet you don’t perform. If not, your ability to perform in any Government is the extent to which the owner of the Government allows you.
For me bringing peace to Warri, which has remained till today, means a lot to me. I would say that is my greatest achievement in Government because without that peace and security we wouldn’t have witnessed whatever progress we have made as a State. Do you know that when I entered Warri in 2003 to resume work, Chevron was totally out; SPDC was drilling 20, 000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Are there individuals that have played a significant role (s) in shaping your life apart from your parents, particularly your mother and grandparents?
There are a number of persons because the honesty which my parents taught me endeared me to people who, ordinarily, would not have even allowed me to clean their shoes but they took me in as their son and brother.
Let me talk about somebody like Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who was the first Governor of Edo State and former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC. My closeness to him was like a miracle.
Again, another person that honesty endeared me to was the late Governor Ibru. It was through honesty that I became part of his family.
Another person I want to talk about is a ‘big fish’, the only thing he does not do for me is to give money. When I mention his name, you will worry that he should have made me a Governor or a Minister but that was not the relationship I had with him. He desired that I grew on my own while he backs me and that is Gen Ibrahim Babangida. He has done so much for me; he is the father I never had. I don’t talk about him but at 60, there are certain things that I should begin to reveal. He never called anybody to do anything for me but he guides me. He advises me to always be faithful to my boss and till tomorrow, I am still his student.
I have talked about those who have helped to mould my character and who are still helping me even till tomorrow but I cannot forget to mention Chief James Ibori, no matter what anybody says about him.
He identified me through honesty. Yes, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan made me Chief of Staff, Commissioner, Secretary to State Government but Chief James Ibori was the one who identified me and brought me in. If he had not identified my potentials, maybe these other persons would not have.
Today, I am a Director-General in Okowa’s administration but that is like coming to the end. If you do not remember your beginning, you will not appreciate how you will end up.
There are a good number of others like Comrade Adams Oshiomole who had his shortcomings but we learned the virtues of ‘’work, don’t ask for pay’’ from him.
Okowa has made me a DG in which capacity I have served one year down the line but I prefer to say that we are more of friends than working under him today. We had better days as friends. Then as a Senator, when he came home he would always come to my house and we would discuss. At a time he was the SSG and I was a commissioner and we held this State with ideas. We were working together.
But one person I will also give credit to is Governor Okowa’s father who I have a personal relationship with. When we came to this State, he was one of the real people in the defunct Social Democratic Party. He was one of those who talked to us as a father and I was one of those who benefitted from his counsels.
Looking at where you are coming from and where you are today, what will you tell God?
I am very grateful to God. The only thing left for me today is service to humanity. I can tell you today that I want to quit politics but when I look back at my followers, I ask myself, how far have I settled them? How well are they standing?
Some of them are big betrayals, no doubt, but what of the faithful ones? If I leave now what will be their fate? That is why I am still in Government. Not for what I want to eat or my children because God has taken care of that. Growing up I never thought I would be able to become a Counselor, but with the height God has taken me to, I will be stupid not to be grateful to Him. Every day I wake up, I tell God to thank you.