By Michael Effiong

Integrity is a word that doesn’t get used a lot in Nigerian Politics anymore. But that is the quality that has defined Otunba Bimbo Ashiru’s years in private and now public life.

We saw it when he was at Stanbic IBTC as a banker, we are seeing it now as Commissioner of Commerce and Industry in Ogun State where he has confronted circumstances unlike those faced by any of his predecessors, following the law, speaking the truth and doing what he believed is right.

The suave and stylish, charming and charismatic serial optimist has pursued his objectives with so much vigor that today, it has yielded significant rewards in terms of the state’s increasing Internally Generated Revenue and rising profile as an investment hub.

Otunba Ashiru believes that Ogun State and Nigeria can compete favourable with the world economic super powers. For him we are blessed with human and natural resources, the only missing link is putting square pegs in square holes.

Speaking of the right man in the right place, this former Banker sure knows his onions when it comes to the art and science of attracting and nurturing Investors. He is an action-packed solutions-driven gentleman, who has zero tolerance for indolence and graft.

In this interview, you could feel the passion in his voice, you could see the spark in his eyes and the enthusiasm in his body as we discussed his job as Commissioner.

He had facts and figures at his finger tips and reeled them out effortlessly, and when it came to taking credit, this epitome of humility and hard work never used the word “I”, he preferred “we”, giving credit for the success so far achieved in the Ministry to his entire team. This indeed is the mark of a true leader and an unselfish team player.

In our interaction, he came across as one who has genuine love for everyday people, he is evidently keen to see them climb the economic ladder and become better citizens. That is why apart from just attracting new investments, he is smart enough to squeeze out commitments that will benefit the people and the community before final documents are signed.

This family man, who takes the matter of work and home balance seriously, has tremendous respect for our culture, tradition and traditional institutions, and he is never shy to show emotion. When you mention someone he truly reveres, like the Awujale Oba Sikiru Adetona, Otunba Ashiru’s poker face drops into a reverential smile.

Speaking about his ambition to be Governor of Ogun State come 2019, though very eminently qualified, he is more comfortable appealing to the good judgement of his boss, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and the grace of God.

He spoke with candour throughout-this is Otunba Bimbo Ashiru like never before. Enjoy!

Otunba, it is a pleasure to finally interview you after so many years, how has the job of Commissioner been

It has been an interesting journey. I joined the Ogun State government on the 22nd of July, 2011 as the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry. When we got in there, I noticed that the ministry was not seen as one that should be reckoned with, in actual fact, it was seen as a dumping ground for anyone the Governor does not like.

It was strange to me because coming from a private sector background, I knew this should be the key driver of the state economy and it was with this feeling in mind that I set to work.

Our Internally Generated Revenue in the ministry was very low; we were making an average of N40 to N50million. I said no, this is too low, we have to do something drastic to change the narrative.

My first task was to discuss with our staffers, to make them realise the new vision. I assured them that we are here to succeed together. Forget the impression out there, civil servants are a crop of very smart people. They went to the same schools like us, same Universities, Polytechnics etc, but they just decided to go to the civil service while we went to the private sector. So they actually quite brilliant, all they need is the right direction and leadership.

As a government official, they see us as politicians and they see us as people who are not truthful. But for a change, I want people to believe in me. I wanted to change that impression and that’s why my word is my bond.

So we sat down and discussed and we found out that where we had loopholes were places where cash payments were being made to the ministry. So I introduced a cashless policy. I instructed that going forward, payments should be done directly to the government purse. And we made over 1200 per cent turnover. We moved from an average of N50million to N500million. Now we are targeting N2.5billion – N3billion.

Our investigation showed that the loophole in the system was actually because people were not committed. They did not feel part of the process, so they were just taking the money and putting in their pockets. So we said sin no more, we will introduce so many incentives.

For example when we came in, the data showed that we had about 4,000 enterprises, and we said, this cannot be possible and so we embarked on an enumeration process, we can back with a figure of 32, 500. So there were so many companies outside the tax net, so we brought them in.

Our Ministry did not work in isolation, we had the full backing of His Excellency, so when you visit Ogun State, even now, huge construction was going on everywhere. For us to thrive, we needed the right infrastructure and the governor was very keen on delivering on that promise.

Also, in those days in Ogun State, armed robbers were having a field day, banks were not opening. The Governor overhauled the security architecture of the state. His Excellency imported Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC), and other equipment for the security agencies, Agbara axis, Shagamu axis, Ota axis, Ijebu axis were all fortified, I can tell you that today in Nigeria, Ogun is one of the safest states in Nigeria. And this has created a conducive environment for business to thrive and it has also attracted new investments.

I will be honest with you an average investor needs to be sure of the safety and security of his investment and employees. This is very key

 

When we came in too, the reports that came out in 2011, 2012 in terms of ease of doing business was poor, Ogun State was number 35 out of a country of 36 states. I led the team to meet the World Bank team on the 14th of February, 2014; to discuss on how we can do to things better. I am happy to report that we actually met again on the 19th of March, 2018 and I led the team after which another report will be published.

I am happy to state that after that our meeting of 2014, we came back home and re-invigorated the system and put the right processes in place, today, Ogun has risen to the 4th position in the Ease Of Doing Business Report. We are not resting on our oars, we want to get to number one.

So, it shows if there is focus, a lot can be achieved. Also, the reason why things go smoothly for me in the ministry is the fact that the governor understands what it takes like I mentioned earlier. He was the Chairman, Committee of Commerce when he was in the Senate. He knows where the shoe pinches and so has been able to give us all the support we need.

He wanted to create wealth and jobs for people and one of the things needed to get this done was support for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). They are the drivers of any economy in the world.

Their major problems are funding, capacity building, and how they can get to the market. It was to give them the necessary support structure that we signed a Joint Venture (JV) with Bank of Industry (BOI) brought N500million, we backed it up with another N500million and so we had N1 billion available for these SMEs to access.

Interestingly, the first set of beneficiaries were the people making and selling Adire. In May 2012, they got the loan and all the Adire materials that were used during the London Olympics actually came from Ogun State. You can see me wearing ‘Adire’ now, just to showcase what we have in Ogun State, and to show areas we have competitive advantage over others. Those were the problems we had that we have been able to surmount.

Today, Ogun State is the industrial hub of Nigeria. 75 percent of Foreign Direct Investment that comes into Nigeria has come to Ogun State. It wasn’t a report from Ogun State. There are various reports from Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), United Kingdom’s Department For International Development (DFID), Bureau of Statistics and CBN. When the British High Commissioner visited us, he told the world that Ogun State was a volcano that will erupt economically, we have indeed erupted economically.

Finally, in the 7 years, about 304 companies have been birthed in Ogun State. This shows that Ogun State is the industrial hub of Nigeria. These are the things we have been able to contribute to Ogun State since I joined government. Now many people are struggling to be associated with the success story being witnessed in many sectors of the state. We are in the front burner of economic discourse around the country.

You had mentioned the meeting you had with civil servants at the outset, would you attribute your success to that meeting

I will confess that it was a major factor. What I found out is that public and private workers are the same. As a banker, I never liked going to the civil service for anything. I hated going to ministries.

But what I have found out is that they are looking for person who is going to take ownership. They want a good leader. Leadership is very key, and integrity matters a lot too. Integrity means when you are doing what is right when no one is watching you.

Therefore, when I came in and they could see that this man is genuine; that he not here to make money for himself and start telling staffers something else. They were able to fall into line and support me.

Before, in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry by 1 oclock, you won’t see anybody around. Today, when I go for Exco meeting and come back by 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock, the staff are still there working. Therefore, they don’t close anytime anyhow any more. They now see their selves as part of the success story, and they are seeing the result of what they are doing. They are seeing industries coming in; they are part of it. They see manufacturers and investors coming in; they are meeting with them, discussing with them. They are part of everything.

And then we introduced the One Stop Shop, which has helped to fast track the process, it is just like having a relationship Manager in a bank, investors have different issues but now you can have someone to talk to, who handles all the hassles, If it is LC you want to open, if it is C of O you want, you could pick your phone and talk to anybody; no matter the case, they would resolve the problem. Something people don’t know about civil servants is that when they see a genuine government, they will support you, and if they see a government that does not have integrity, they will misbehave.

Since 2011 when we came in, Ogun State has been the state most visited by Presidents to commission industries.

I can still remember when President Jonathan was here, he congratulated the governor and good people of Ogun state for creating an enabling environment for business to thrive.

He noted that with the pace that we were going, I am optimistic that there will be a time in Ogun State when there would be no citizen of Ogun state without a good job.

Another matter is that of people living in Ogun State, work in Lagos and pay taxes in Lagos State That is why we are insisting that people living in Ogun State should pay their tax in Ogun state, and that Lagos should remit the tax paid by these category of people to Ogun State, and I can tell you that we are discussing seriously about that border tax.

If you are driving in the morning you will see the exodus of people living in Ogun State that are heading towards Lagos to work. They live here and put pressure on our infrastructure, it follows therefore that they should be paying their tax to us in Ogun State.

The Lagos State government had paid some money before in this regard but I do not know if this Ambode Government has paid.

Also, presently, Ogun state is the state whereby the Vice-president has also visited most to commission industries.

Cuts in, I am not surprised, after all, he is from Ogun..

Apart from being from Ogun, The president is  usually supposed to be doing the commissioning but because of his busy schedule, the Vice-President has been coming to represent him. A few weeks ago, we still commissioned two industries together, and about two ago months ago, the governor himself commissioned three industries in Ogun State.

Therefore, what I’m saying is that these are the things encouraging the civil servants to put in their best; Before, the Ministry was like Sahara or Siberia for them, now they have a sense of belonging.

I introduced a cashless policy. I instructed that going forward, payments should be done directly to the government purse. And we made over 1200 per cent turnover. We moved from an average of N50million to N500million. Now we are targeting N2.5billion – N3billion.

Now, I can see the passion, and I can see the zeal. And they are happy to be part of the success story and they are happy that things are working. We are also trying to establish what we call Ogun Standard, which is world’s best practice in all areas; therefore,  whoever comes in to take over, will just key into the process  and system seamlessly.  And another thing we’ve also done is to involve the civil servants as part of the best practice teams.

I have my team that includes the Permanent Secretary and Directors, we meet on regular basis to discuss things. I don’t just sit in my office to take decisions; I involve the Permanent Secretary.

I can give you a good example, during the time when we left government to do our own work, nobody called me for six months to come and explain anything, because whatever was done there, the civil servants were all part of it. The loved this our new style of doing things.

When you look at the GDP,  Ogun state is like what New Jersey is to New York. On our different borders we have Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, and Benin Republic, so we are trying to take advantage of this unique position.

Another good thing we have tried to do is encouraging backward integration, we are now locating industries nearest to raw materials. A good example is a company that SABMiller is floating called International Beverages. The company that is going to be producing their bottles, Glass Force, has been given a land close to SABMiller.

Olam is located very close to Nestle, Apples and Pears, Walcot, they are one of the major suppliers of their raw materials. We are encouraging backward integration, and we are encouraging a situation whereby you can get whatever you need within Ogun State.

If you are setting up a cement factory, you are guaranteed a minimum of 95 percent of your raw materials. With this, we are saving costs and reducing the burden of foreign exchange dependency of the companies. Ogun state is the largest producer of cement in the country, we have limestone in high quantity, 45 million metric tonnes is being produced annually in the country and Ogun State is responsible for 20 million metric tonnes. Lafarge is doing about 4.5 million metric tonnes per annum and they are not even producing at full capacity. There are other small mines.

Our Limestone deposit is so huge that in the next 100 years these companies who are mining in commercial quantity will still  be mining with ease in the next 100 years.

Lafarge has been in Ogun State for the past 56 years and they are still in Sagamu, Ewekoro. Dangote is in Ibeshe, Purechem is in Onigbedu, and the line is from Oniyoro. And that is why Nigeria partnered with Oniyoro in Benin Republic to Olokola.

And we have bitumen too in Ogun State. We have very good quality of bitumen in commercial quantity. These are the things we have in the state that can create wealth for our people.

Those are the things we have in Ogun State that can help create wealth for our people. If Olokola comes to life, minimum of 10,000 direct jobs would be created. There is so much loggerheads and  problems in Lagos,so if Olokola begins operation, it will be impactful, it is the deepest sea port in Africa, I am told.

I remember when Dangote was working on it, he was offered $9billion, people saw this as a cash cow, so we are constantly looking at areas to improve, areas to come in and some problem for investors and also by extension attract investors.

Another thing we introduced was regular meeting with stakeholders. We meet with our stakeholders on a regular basis. We just finished our 13th meeting with Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), we have been meeting with them every quarter.

I remember the first time we met with them, they presented to us about 72 problems and have been able to resolve them, and we review, by the time we did the 12th meeting, they had only 2 problems.

Wow only two, that is fantastic

Thank you, yes, we had only two and it had to do with roads, we told them we’ve spent over N160 billion to construct federal government roads and bridges, just to secure lives and properties, and we’ve told them that private sector should partner with the government. We did it with some companies in Agbara about 1 kilometre of road and we were able to fix it. Government put in 70 percent and they put 30 percent. And we are trying to encourage that.

Agbara 2, we are working on it. I am happy to tell you that the federal government when they came in through the Vice President and Minister of Trade & Investment, talked to us about the Infrastructural Trust Fund that they are working on

Cuts In… Are you considering Tax and other incentives

Yes those are the things we discussed with the Federal Government and we are working out the modalities which will help the investors. We are also discussing what the federal government would work out for them too. One of the companies came to visit the governor some weeks ago and we discussed these incentives about what we want to do, and telling them, these are the areas we are focusing on. In the area of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise, we have succeeded. Also in the areas of big industries and stakeholders, we’ve done so well.

You just heard one of the stakeholders calling me, Iyalode Alaba Lawson, she is the first female President of NACCIMA, we discuss all the time. Today is Sunday but she has not hesitated to call me regarding business issues, my phones are open 24/7 to talk to stakeholders. We have the NACCIMA, OGUNCIMA,MAN etc.We meet them all every quarter like I said before because we need their feedback. We need to engage. Also, we are encouraging companies to do CSR, they have to be socially responsible to the communities that they operate. I have told them for any entrepreneur to see the kingdom of heaven, he must be socially responsible. Some people kept the communities for years before you came to invest, so they need to be taken care of.

Really we can say there is an explosion of industries in Ogun State, how has this impacted on the people, in terms of opportunities

Much as we would encourage the people to think local when they are employing, we have told our children too that they have to equip themselves, they have to upgrade and acquire the necessary skills to seize the opportunities opening up around them.

We are now encouraging vocational education, we are working with the Germans. If you notice, all the masons we use are usually brought from Republic of Benin, why is that? Our people lack the right training and mentality. And we are losing a lot.

So our children have to be focused, they must be serious. We have told these industries to send us their immediate, medium and long term plans. We want to know want plans they have for the foreigners that have come in, how long are they going to be here for. We want them to employ our people without compromising their standard.

We have said it that when it comes to vocational jobs, they must give our people priority. You cannot bring your people here to do jobs that Ogun indigenes can handle. Luckily, the new Federal Executive Order has resolved that issue, for you to give anybody work permit, you must be able to prove that there is nobody in the country that can do that job. That is something fantastic that President Muhammadu Buhari has done. It will go a long way to checkmate these companies who may want to be funny.

I have driven past the Ewekoro area a couple of times and I cringe at the environmental impact, what is the government doing about it

The Ministry of environment is focusing on that, because the lifespan of people living in that area is reduced because of what they are inhaling. If you look at the roofs of the houses there, you will see how terrible the air around there is. The Governor is so passionate about doing something about this.

Look at Lafarge they have been there for a very long time, we have told them how do we resolve this?. It cannot continue like this? How do you reduce the dust?

We went to the Dangote site where they are mining, no single dust can be seen. They probably have got the best technology to take care of that.

Our ministry of environment is focusing on environmental impact assessment of these companies. We are also working hand in hand with other ministries, like Ministry of Agric and Physical Planning.

For example, we have told these industries when they come, you must tell us what plans you have for your trucks. We don’t want them to become a menace and create chaos.

If you are getting 10 hectres, how many vehicles are you expecting etc. It is part of the agreement. If we see that there will be problem, we encourage you to get another parcel of land for haulage and related purpose.

I can see the passion in you as we are discussing your job, but is there anything that you don’t like about this job?

Let me be honest with you, for me to leave millions of naira job as a banker, my bonuses were millions of naira and take a job of about N350,000 as a Commissioner, it is a sacrifice.

But what I enjoy about it all, is that I’m giving back to my community. And I would like to thank His Excellency for giving me the opportunity to serve my people. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. I have four relationships with him; he’s my friend, he’s my brother, he’s my mentor, and he’s my boss.

For giving me the opportunity to identify with my people;  to put me in a position that I can make my people happy, that I can help my people, I thank him.  And I am happy that we are part of his success story between 2011  to date.

Also, for record purpose, I am the longest serving Commissioner For Commerce and Industry the state has ever had. Before me, there have been about 22 commissioners, I was the 23rd in  2011, and by 2015, I became the 24th.

Therefore, I’ve spent 7 years as Commissioner For Commerce and Industry. In the history of Ogun State, the maximum any of my predecessors served was two and half years.

In the past administration, there were about six commissioners. And for the Governor to believe in me, to trust me and give me the opportunity to serve my people, I have no reason to regret. I enjoy my work. I am passionate about it. I am devoted to it.

I believe by the time we leave in 2019 by God’s grace, I would be proud to say I am part of the success story that industrialized Ogun State. The story that created jobs and wealth for our people, and increased the IGR. When we came in 2011, IGR was about 700 million per month, but we are now hovering between N6-7billion, and our target is N10 billion.

Therefore, the more the industries are coming into the state, the more the income we get; the more opportunities for our people to get jobs, and the more happiness it creates.

You can see what we are doing in the area of housing. We found out that most of these companies who are investing in Ogun State, their MDs are living in Ikoyi. So, we want them to see Ogun State as their home. We want them to drive into Ogun State and live in Abeokuta, Monday- Friday and go to their Lagos homes during weekend, and we are creating world class standard houses.

Look at the City Centre, some banks have picked this area as their western regional offices, GT Bank is there, First Bank is there and they are building minimum of about 10 floors. Eyes are now on Ogun State. So many events are happening; even at federal level they want to do their events in Ogun State because we have created that conducive environment for them.

Lets mellow down a little, how have you been able to balance your work and family life

I will be honest with you. It has been fantastic. My children are abroad, and my daughter just finished her Masters and working in America. My son is in a University in England, and my wife spends more time with them, so as to complement our effort because we can’t afford to leave those children on their own.

Work-life balance is very key to me. I have time for them, and I spend time with them on Whatsapp, phone; I am in touch with them all the time. Moreover, my wife understands the nature of the job. She knows that Bimbo loves this job, and because she loves me and whatever I like. She supports me well.  I cherish my family so much and I have time for them.

Even when I was a banker, I balanced work and family. They encouraged you to be there for your family. Weekends when I’m less busy, I spend quality time with them; go for lunch, go for dinner. We just go out and relax. Without this, you would be a stranger to them, but they understand my work. My wife is a lawyer of over 30 years, I seek her legal advice on so many things.

Is it true that during your first stint as Commissioner, your former employer had so much love for you that they were paying your salary

Yes! When His Excellency gave me the offer, I told him that I needed him to do me a favour. I told him that I had to speak to two people before accepting the offer. I  told him I had to speak with my father, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona and also, I wanted to speak with my Chairman who is also like a father to me , Mr Atedo Peterside.

Mr Peterside said well, you are taking one of my golden staff, but as our own contribution to his capacity building, we will pay his salary for the four years that he would be there, not knowing that I will do so well that I will be asked to return.

I thank Stanbic IBTC for that wonderful gesture. They paid my salary for the first four years I served in government before I retired. It showed me that if I was not worth my salt, the Chairman will not approve that my salary be paid. It showed that I was cherished and I am still part of the Stanbic IBTC family till today. For young people, I always tell them, anywhere you work put in your very best, you are actually doing yourself a favour and not your employer.

Of course, the Baba Awujale prayed for me and gave me his blessing

You talked about integrity, how key is that to you?

I remember my first day at work in the Ministry of Commerce and industry, I told the staff, that the only collateral I’m bringing here is my integrity and I want to leave it intact, because integrity matters a lot.

You must be able to walk the talk it. People must be able to respect what you say. As a government official, they see us as politicians and they see us as people who are not truthful. But for a change, I want people to believe in me. I wanted to change that impression and that’s why my word is my bond.

I am happy to tell you that my integrity was intact in the first 4 years, and I’m praying to God that when I’m leaving this second term, my integrity will be intact.

Integrity is important, integrity is doing what is right when no one is watching. I’m happy that when we people talk about me, they attribute integrity to me.

Working in government, I am always very frank with people, whatever I cannot do, I will tell you I cannot, I will never lie to you, because when they find out that you cannot do what you promised; it becomes a problem

Also, I have planted this seed of integrity in my children, by testing them with their needed materials. When they give me a  school list, I cross check the prices, and over time I have found out they do not play any hanky panky. They know if they are given money to buy something if there is change, they have to bring it back and then they will be told to keep it or not. This has been a culture that my wife and I have actually instilled in our children too.

I am sure this is not something you just learnt, it must be ingrained in you from childhood. Growing up, what were the key things you learnt from your dad, I know you are from a big family

You are right. My dad was a stickler for discipline. We are 100 children and I am number 57. My father told us that he is not bringing us up to have any form of complex when we step into Buckingham Palace. He built confidence in all of us.

He used to say as a son of Ashiru, you must be firm, you must have confidence. Sothe confidence I exude today came from that upbringing.

Another thing  my father used to do is that when you bring your friends home, he will interview them. He will ask: who is your father? If the person’s parents are of questionable character, he will send the person away and ask us to break the relationship. This is something that we all imbibed.

They will say “ranti omo eni ti iwo n se” (remember the son of whom you are). My father would say if you disgrace this family, I will curse you throughout my life; where ever I am, even if I am dead, I will never forgive you. Those are the things we’ve always kept at the back of our minds as we grew up. You cannot afford to mess up.

Talking of integrity, that was the word used by people who came to me and said they have checked my background and checked my track record, they said they were impressed with my integrity and commitmment that I was omo bibire and wanted me to get involved in 2019.

For the Governor to believe in me, to trust me and give me the opportunity to serve my people, I have no reason to regret. I enjoy my work. I am passionate about it. I am devoted to it.

Even former president Olusegun Obasanjo said it that ‘Bimbo Ashiru has integrity, and these are people kind of people we want in government’.

You have many industrious brothers, there are Ashirus in different fields, did that put you under pressure while growing up

Yes! while growing up, whenever school closes, it was like competition. The day before we resume school, all of us will gather in my father’s large sitting room.

Those of you who came from 1st to 10th position will sit somewhere, but for those who have scored below that and could not explain; he will lay them down and give them strokes of the cane.

This exercise really mounted pressure on us, because every mother in the family would plead with their children not to disgrace them. With this, you would want to impress your mother, because your father is the father for everybody. And my father focused on those who are doing very well.

Another principle in my family was that when you repeat a class, your mother will pay your school fees for that year. Therefore, if you really love your mother, you had to do well. There was a culture of excellence.

Also, I can remember my father’s Post office Box, PO Box 7, that was where our results were sent. And another will be given to you physically, so you could not hide your result.

My father had a file for everybody and your progress in school was monitored. So performance is something that had always been imbibed in us, and I am not surprised that that in my house you have so many vocations, we have lawyers, bankers, doctors, engineers, therefore, you just wanted to be part of those who are being celebrated. It was a house that encouraged hard work and success, nobody wanted to be a second class citizen in the family. You were always on your toes.

That means polygamy was actually an advantage in your case?

Yes! It was an advantage to us. Every December 31st we used to have our family reunion, where my father talks about the progress of everyone, it is always a time of reckoning.

My father’s birthday was January 1st, so on the eve of his birthday, we used to gather for that ceremony, I am 26th of December, so you can imagine, if I do not do well, my birthday will be ruined. We all used to look forward to the reunion because anywhere you were in the world you must attend. It was a tradition in the family

How did you feel when the Awujale of Ijebuland informed you about making you ‘Otunba’?

Our family made history in Ijebuland when five children of my father were made Otunba same day. Four of us brothers and our sister; my late brother, Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, God bless his soul, was made Otunba Tolugboloye; the Professor of Anatomy, Prof. Dapo Ashiru, was the Otunba Orodudujoye; my older brother, Prof. Toyin Ashiru was made Otunba Gboyegesan; and I was made Otunba Aderanfu, Aderanfugboye,  is actually the name of my mother’s great grandfather who was the Awujale in 1906, because you name Otunbas after past Awujales.

And we felt honoured that Kabiyesi Awujale could identify with us and shower us with such honour. And when people were protesting, Awujale told them that this is a family of 100, it is just like picking 4 people from a town, and that there is nothing wrong with that. And Ijebu accepted us. This was 11 years ago (December 2006), and it was a honour that was well deserved. Till now, we still appreciate Awujale, because he supports us in whatever we are doing. He recently sent a text to me to commiserate with me over the death of our brother-in-law, who is an Otunba. His wife is also an Otunba from Ashiru family.

Earlier you touched on the issue of 2019 in passing, how did a technocrat like you became a politician?

What we should know is that it is important for technocrats to participate in politics. If we leave it for mediocres, there would be problem in the country. That is why the country is in the sorry state that it is because we have left it to the mediocres for long.All of us, you inclusive should get on the train.

During the First Republic, the likes of Awolowo and Azikwe were professionals. Awo was a lawyer and Zik  was a Journalist. Don’t forget all the lieutenants like Alhaji Jakande, journalist; Olanrewaju Ajayi, Lawyer; Ayo Adebanjo, Lawyer; and check out what the output was from these brilliant minds.

When you allow charlatans run things, it will only bring forth rot and terrible outcomes. All they want to do is milk the system, they have zero integrity and zero ideas.

Look at Ogun State and Lagos State for example; in Ogun, we had Chief Bisi Onabanjo, when he left, the military took over and spoilt everything the man had done. Chief Osoba took over, he was there twice and left. Otunba Gbenga Daniel came in and contributed his own too, but because he was not  in Osoba’s party, he did not follow up on his predecessor’s good policies and projects, he started his own things, which was a disadvantage.

We want them to employ our people without compromising their standard.We have said it that when it comes to vocational jobs, they must give our people priority. You cannot bring your people here to do jobs that Ogun indigenes can handle.

We came in too and we have our five cardinal points, which we have been pursuing vigorously, so we cannot afford to drop the ball at this time. We need some continuity.

Therefore, we must get people who can continue the job we have done; someone who has been part of the system. Someone who has the vision and drive. And these are the things we are trying to encourage, and I pray we would get someone who is going to do that.

Look at Lagos state, Asiwaju left, Fashola continued and Ambode is on it. Whatever it is, you can see a level continuity; they are from the same species and from the party. It is working for Lagos and it will work for Ogun. We just cannot drop the ball and put to waste all the hard work. Our next Governor should be someone who will continue from where His Excellency has stopped, that is our prayer.

How significant is the royal blessings you had from Remo and Ijebu, both sides of your section of Ogun state?

It is very key, because they are royal fathers. Apart from the party participants: the wards, the local government chairmen, senators and the state excos, one thing that is very important and which I know is that our royal fathers are very key; we need to consult them.

Yes His Excellency feels that it is Yewa’s turn, but the Ijebu and Remo feel that it is their own turn too.

We are not going to confront the governor, all we will do is to plead with the Governor regarding the Ijebu-Remo Agenda. Like our father, the Awujale said, we cannot fight the Governor but present our case in a matured way.

It has never happened for the Ijebu and Remo to unite and present one candidate like they have done in my case. The have decided that now we have a candidate who should be acceptable to all because he is part of the governor’s cabinet. And at the same time they are going ahead to appeal to the governor, and we pray he will listen to us so we can have a level playing field. My consultation with the royal fathers was to have their blessing and appeal to them that when the governor is consulting with you, you should put in a word that we have our own son who is qualified, please look in his direction.

I like your argument about more technocrats getting involved because when they get into government because they have more to lose they will sacrifice more and work harder to succeed

Exactly. I can tell you authoritatively that my asset depleted by 28.7% by the time I finished the first term then, because I am someone who buys cars on a yearly basis, but I couldn’t. Another thing is that when you have technocrats, they stand out, see what Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo is doing, you can see his passion, the commitment is there.

And you could see could see my relationship with the industries, because I understand them. Same thing too with my governor, he gives me all the necessary support because he understands the dynamics of the industry because he too came from the private sector.

He is a qualified chartered accountant; he is an FCA and he actually consults for so many of these companies. Therefore, he understands their problems, and some of them were even his clients. Things are easier for me when I go and meet him for issues. So, if you bring somebody who does not understand the scope, he would just mess up the whole thing, and that is a road that I pray we do not travel ever again in Ogun.

The reason you want continuity is that you don’t want this good works to be wasted

Yes. This good works must not be wasted; we must continue the good works and sustain it. Sustainability is key. If you don’t sustain what you have, then it will be sad. I don’t want to be driving around Ogun State in ten year’s time and everything we have put in place would have gone to waste. We have to ensure that our legacy continues.

I want to be proud that I was part of this success story which has been taken to another level. When you see such continuity of purpose you are happy. The likes of Baba Ayo Adebanjo are still happy about what they did in the Western region.

With the big names in Ogun State, how are you going to navigate  the intrigues of Ogun politics?

Like I tell people, it’s God that would do it. I agree with you that Ogun State is endowed with great people, with human and natural resources. We are first in everything. But don’t forget that they watch and listen. They look at the people doing the work; they are looking at people who have integrity, people who have excelled and when the time comes, they will go for the person. And I believe someone like me, I know I have contributed my quota and I am happy that I am a part of the success story of 2011 to 2015; 2015 to 2019. Therefore, I believe I have no stain or dent. Integrity matters a lots.

Between now and 2019, what are those things you still wish to do in your ministry

My target is to have at least 400 industries coming in. I want to sustain that tempo, and I want to ensure that our IGR grows. I want to ensure that the industries are happy, and the focus is still there. Therefore, I will continue to do my job, until the last day that I drop my letter. I will continue to be part and parcel of government; I will continue to be committed; I will continue to be dedicated; and I will continue to work towards achieving the vision and mission of Senator Ibikunle Amosun. And I would continue to be part of the vision of building Ogun State.

 

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