Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Nostalgic Reflections From A Political Son

Till eternity, a usual concern of any enterprising journalist, remains putting on his/her thinking cap, brainstorming on story ideas.
Such was the lot of this writer while on the Features Desk of The Guardian Newspapers Rutam House, Lagos, in 1986 when he ran into a roommate during his undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan.
After the usual pleasantries with Olaitan Ogidan, who hails from Epe in Lagos State and is now the Chairman of Eredo Local Government in Lagos State ,we dovetailed into our career prospects, during which I told him one of my bit, was,fishing out newsmakers, who have impacted greatly in their society through quality contributions.
Ogidan who was a proud Ambassador of Lagos State in our University days because of the huge student’s bursary award, could not think of any other person beyond his locality, Epe, than Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola.
But when he now advanced the reason to justify his choice, I immediately fell in love.
        Ogidan told me of a renowned medical practitioner who could have ended up as a fisherman in Epe but for the intervention of Sir  Otedola, who around late 1970’s  began a scholarship scheme for indigent students.
This medical student at that time,  according to Ogidan, got his tuition, books and feeding expenses paid by Otedola .
The remarkable thing  he said was that Sir Otedola could not  even identify this beneficiary directly if there were to be a parade.
Dozens of other beneficiaries he said will also have pleasant testimonies to narrate about this orphan, Otedola, who in the course of his life utilized the Western region scholarship for his education in Great Britain and later worked as Press Secretary to late Premier of Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Spurred by this gist, I burst into the office of this Catholic Knight of Saint Sylvester without any prior notice.
This public relations expert who also served as Public Affairs Manager of Mobil Oil before venturing into publishing at his Impact Press outfit at Randle Avenue in Surulere, received me warmly because of his love for the media, especially The Guardian Newspaper which he held in high esteem.
 
However, it took a lot of prodding for this personality with a disarming smile to finally agree to speak on the scholarship scheme as he felt it was a God sent service, that he has been rendering silently, without any intention of making any mileage out of it.
However, after the publication of the interview, Sir Otedola was overwhelmed by the traffic of recommendations he received from well-meaning Nigerians including those calling the shots at the Federal level.
This elderly man made an effort to call me on phone to express his appreciation.
Since then I became his ‘son’ and I will always seek his comment when writing on topical issues.
As the saying goes that there is no hiding place for a gold fish, Sir Otedola was to be dragged into partisan politics by his people in Epe Local Government in Lagos State, whose lives he has touched in various ways apart from his scholarship scheme for indigent students.
When former President Ibrahim Babangida later midwifed two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the  National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1990, Sir Otedola opted for the NRC.
 
I had at that time moved over to the Political Desk of The Guardian as a Senior Correspondent and was shocked at his decision to join the NRC, because it was already a forgone conclusion in the politics of South-West that SDP will have a field day. When approached, Baba Otedola as he iwas fondly called said he was in politics to make a difference and firmly believe that his credentials will sell him to the public.
In any case, he pointed out that his advent in politics was to offer to a larger society, the drive that made him to better the lot of over a thousand indigent students whom he had offered scholarships.
He said he was not desperate and if he did not win the election, he will regard his campaign expenses as the extension of his scholarship scheme, as he owes no individual or a group, any financial indebtedness.
To actualize his ambition, he set up a powerful political structure – Michael Otedola Campaign Organization (MOCO) and the slogan of MOCO was “that Lagos State may excel”.
This structure traversed all the wards in Lagos State and campaigned vigorously, articulating the Manifesto of the NRC.
Otedola also had a massive support of the Christians in Lagos State, as that was the first time a very serious candidate who is a christian was contesting for the governorship in Lagos State.
Sir Otedola brought in a kaleidoscope of colours, exhibited the expertise of  a printing magnate, utilizing colour posters. Balloons pumped with helium gas were hoisted all over Lagos, a demonstration that gave this campaign more attraction.
His advanced age at that time was no barrier as he campaigned vigorously with the agility of a younger mind and he was quick to educate those capitalizing on his age as a deficit, that the government house is not a boxing ring where he required too much energy to survive but a place for an intelligent mind to perform.
When the NRC primaries were conducted, Oetdola won convincingly and his then Co- contestant in NRC , Chief (Mrs) Oluremi Adikwu, like a good sportsperson accepted defeat and congratulated him.
As fate will have it, the two political gladiators in the SDP at that time, Late Prof Femi Agbalajobi and Chief Dapo Sarunmi fought themselves to a standstill and Babangida’s administration had to disqualify them.
Chief Yomi Edu later emerged the candidate for the SDP and the true meaning of Otedola (rift has become a source of blessing) was spelt out during the Governorship election in Lagos State on December 4, 1991.
It was a delightful drama at nearly all the pooling booths as the majority of voters will queue behind the SDP House of Assembly candidate when the open ballot (option A4), votes are to be counted and like an enthusiastic crowd at a very charged football competition, will shift to queue for Sir Otedola of the NRC when votes for the governorship candidates were to be counted within the next 30 minutes.
Sir Otedola’s emergence brought into Lagos State politics a unique dimension where the executive was led by one party and the opposing party was dominant in the legislature, a ratio of 20 SDP to 4 NRC.
However through maturity, deft political calculation, wisdom and regular caucus meetings, Sir Otedola wriggled out of any controversy with the legislature.
 
In fact, his cabinet members were made of NRC and SDP and there was no factionalisation nor oppression of the opposition party through the nearly two years of his administration before Late General Sani Abacha hijacked power from the democratically elected people in November, 1993.
Within this short period, Sir Otedola was able to commence Jubilee Housing Scheme for mass housing of Lagosians and Jubilee Transport to ease transportation difficulties.
Though his administration was the first to feel the impact of movement of the Federal Government from Lagos to Abuja as capital of Nigeria, Sir Otedola’s constant communication with the Police, Army, SSS amd other Security agencies prevented to a large extent the incidence of crime.
But the fact that a ‘pampered’ Lagos State no longer enjoys the financial support which the Federal Government has been expounding to ensure good road infrastructure in the state, made the roads (especially federal roads) to suffer decay.
However, Sir Otedola rose to the challenge and mandated Lagos State Public Works to embark on road rehabilitation during the day and night.
Critics of Sir Otedola opined that he was slow and could not move Lagos at a very fast tempo expected of him.
Sir Otedola did not take their criticism in bad faith, remarking that he has to exercise prudence in the way government fund is being spent, which necessitated a careful scrutiny of memo and prayers before approval .
However, when he has finally got a very good grinding in government and was moving at the jet speed required of him, the military struck.
Technocrats who were sent to Germany for training in a scientific approach to housing where thousands of housing units could be achieved in a record time and reasonably affordable prices, just came back from training for execution before the military intervention.
If there was  one Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of Sir Otedola, it was to ensure that he was not a kobo richer when leaving the government and he followed this principle religiously.
When there was protest in Lagos State, organized by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to protest the annulment of the June 12, 1992 Presidential election, the military authorities asked him to call the people to order.
        Sir Otedola told the military  that he had employed dialogue with Lagosians  and had also counseled them on the need to avoid violence but cannot fold their hands if they were fighting injustice.
To him, his exalted position as Governor of Lagos State meant nothing to him than the interest of his people and the need to ensure justice.
A few days before the military took over, Sir Michael Otedola, myself and a then Director in the Ministry of Environment were having a three day stay in London, before proceeding to Shanghai in China for an international conference on Aquapolisis.
A day to our departure, Baba Otedola asked me and the Director to proceed to Shanghai to represent him at the conference, joking that London is closer to Lagos than China in case anything happens.
Three days later we heard on CNN that the military had taken over.
Fortunately, we just ended the conference and were to proceed back to London to join Sir Otedola on his two weeks holiday and brief him on the conference.
On our arrival, we learnt that Sir Otedola had gone back to Lagos so as to hand over to the military. We had to rush back to Lagos to join him.
 
When he was handing over to General Patrick Aziza (rtd), the then acting Military Administrator, Sir Otedola remarked that though he was saddened by the military takeover of government from the democratically elected people, he has no regret as he has fulfilled his promise to serve the people  with all honesty.
His decision to return to Lagos without any fear of what might happen to him showed a great attribute of bravery and a proof of the fact that he had  no skeleton in his cupboard.
When he returned to his hometown, Odoragusin, his spacious compound and modest house which had no major transformation than ordinary re-painting, could not contain the overwhelming crowd that held a carnival to receive him.
His people rejoiced that he has come back alive with his integrity.
The rousing reception accorded him was not unexpected as he was a man of the people who fully identified with the ordinary people.
An evidence of this was displayed on the first Eid-El-Kabir (Sallah) celebration on his assumption of office as Lagos State Governor. He joined his fellow Muslim brothers and sisters at Odoragusin near Epe, on the praying ground and observed all the rules involved in praying.
When the Catholic authority challenged him over this act, he replied them that he was born a Muslim, before converting to Christianity and even as a Christian, he had never failed to pray along with his people, Christians and Muslims alike, as he believed , all serve one God and should demonstrate tolerance in religion.
Sir Otedola while in Government also did a lot in rural development providing good roads, drainages, potable water, hospitals and electricity for the people of Lagos State.
He convinced the military to handover their underutilized barracks at Epe to Lagos State Government for the takeoff of Lagos State University (LASU) Engineering and Agricultural Campus and constructed the Festac Link Bridge alongside other projects.
His wife, Lady Doja Otedola had through the Better Life for Rural Dwellers trained and empowered women in several trade and agriculture.
 
A father of successful children and several grand-children, Sir Otedola, after partisan politics, did not forget to continue relating  with his political associates, monitoring their progress.
One of his sons, Mr Femi Otedola, a chip of the old bloc and one of the most successful and philanthropic Africans, has taken over his father’s scholarship scheme for indigent students and enlarged further the list of beneficiaries.
I consider myself lucky to have come across this accomplished statesman, who till his translation from mortality to immortality on Monday, May 5, 2014 remained humble, caring generous in assisting people but prudent in his spending.
I join millions of his admirers worldwide in wishing Sir Michael Otedola who clocksBorn on Saturday, July 16, 2011, Sir Otedola was 87 when he passed on to glory. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
 Sina Ogunbambo  was Otedolas Chief Press Secretary when he was Governor of Lagos State.

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