Hon. Mojeed Alabi was the Speaker of Osun House of Assembly in the regime of Chief Bisi Akande between 1999/2003 on the platform Alliance for Democracy. A barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, he granted ENCOMIUM Weekly an interview where he told us his experience during the service and life after…
How do you feel at 52?
I was 52 on July 7, 2014. At this age, I must thank my Creator, Allah, for the gift of life, good health and the modest achievements that have come my way. I have been involved in three broad areas in my life, and I feel a sense of gratitude that while I might not have reached the peak in each of these areas, I am comfortably on the top of the ladder.
I am a professor of Political Science and adjudged Professor of Public Law, with two PhDs – one from the premier university in Nigeria and the other from a UK university, and I’m lecturing at the University of Ilorin, which has consistently been ranked among the top six universities in Nigeria in the last 10 years. I have been a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria for 21 years, with unblemished record.
In politics, I was the Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly (OSHA) for four uninterrupted years, under the regime of Chief Bisi Akande that has been widely adjudged prudent in the management of public resources. And the records of my service continue to earn me respect among the good people of my state and Nigerians in general.
Of course, there is still a lot that people of my age have achieved that I have not (in terms of money, power and fame), but I am content with what I have been able to achieve and must thank my God for taking me thus far.
Aside God, what else would you attribute your looking young to at 52?
It is the work of God. Moreover, I take the issue of my health and personal hygiene seriously. I read a lot and among the books that I love to read are those of health.
So, I take precaution about what I eat and what I do at what time. I thank God I have not had any serious health challenge since my birth, except ordinary cold, headache, catarrh and the like. Although my medical doctors are complaining about my weight because of my height, in terms of my Body Mass Index (BMI), I am not hypertensive and my blood sugar is manageable.
Nonetheless, I am working hard to remain healthy, no alcohol, no smoking; but I take a lot of carbohydrate, which has been difficult for me to control because of my eating habit as an African. I am also trying to cope with stress because I work and travel a lot, and my doctors are advising me to sleep more; that is a tall order though
Are there some exercises you are involved in to keep you fit?
Unfortunately, I don’t do much exercise. I had previously attempted to register for golf and lawn tennis, but I hardly got the time to play. It was reading, reading and reading. But the solution I found to it nowadays is to use some of these modern fitness gadgets which I have in my house.
Also, based on what I have known about fitness, I seize any available opportunities to walk or climb staircase instead of taking lift. Of course, I am a regular user of alternative (traditional) medicines, herbs, supplements.
As a former legislator, how would you describe your experience as the speaker of Osun State House of Assembly in the past 15 years?
I was the Speaker of the OSHA for four years (1999-2003). I was about the youngest (only one member was younger than me) in a house of 26 members, yet they unanimously elected me the Speaker on May 30, 1999.
An Assembly is a House of equals, and so no master-servant relationships among your peers. Because they can also remove you, as fast as you were elected.
So, in the House, I learn the virtue of being a team leader, carrying everyone along in taking decisions and ensuring that no one was unduly disadvantaged in any unlawful manner.
Of course, you cannot satisfy everyone equally, but you have to learn how to ensure equity and fairness in everything you do. Also, as the major link between the honourable members and the government and the party, you learn negotiation skills that make the government/party to trust you while you don’t lose the confidence of the house members.
That was a major challenge for me, and remains the major challenge of any presiding officer in Nigeria. If you’re too close to the executive, your members might think you are already enjoying at their expense; yet you cannot be too far from the government/party because of your role as the No. 3 man in government responsible for such an important business of governance as law making, in addition to representation and oversight. You also learn to always look at your back.
The Assembly is a house of intrigues and loyalties shift on a constant basis. So, you have to be on top of your game, ensuring that at all times, you have sufficient majority to remain in power. Of course, you also learn to provide leadership by knowing when to say yes or no to demands of Honourable Members. I left that job some 11 years ago and has since returned to the university and legal practice. But I still have my legs in politics.
When would you consider the most challenging moment of your time in the House?
The most challenging period was when I had to preside over the impeachment of the governor, Chief Bisi Akande. As the Speaker of the House, I couldn’t be seen to take sides with the government against the House.
I had to preside over the matter, exhibit as much of neutrality as I could and even defend the position of the House to go ahead with the impeachment. And when the impeachment proceedings failed, still justify why we couldn’t proceed in the face of clear provisions of the law when indeed some felt I could have pronounced the governor impeached even when we didn’t have the required two-thirds majority, the kind of illegalities that later happened in the cases of Ladoja in Oyo, Obi in Anambra and Dariye in Plateau.
Even then, some people still turn around and blame you for allowing the proceedings to commence in the first instance, including some of those who signed the notices. So, as a Speaker, head or tail, you lose. It was a most challengi-ng period when you had to make a choice between political expediency and what was right.
We stood by the latter, but we thank God that we didn’t sacrifice the rule of law for practical political expediency because the action would have been nullified the same way those of the states earlier mentioned were nullified. I would have felt ashamed as a legal practitioner if proceedings presided over by me were declared a nullity by the court. Alhamdulillah.
When would you consider the best moment of your life, either during the service or afterwards?
A day in February 2000 when I successfully defended my PhD thesis at the University of Ibadan, and another day in September 2011 when my professorial elevation was announced. The writing of my PhD thesis had reached an advanced stage when I was elected into the OSHA on January 9, 1999, so I worked hard to ensure completion before the inauguration on May 29 or thereabout.
But I couldn’t submit the final thesis for examination before I was elected Speaker. Yet, I didn’t want to abandon the PhD, and I had to device the means of working for the Assembly in the daylight and fine-tuning my thesis overnight for the first three months of my speakership before it was officially submitted for examination in September 1999.
But then, the thesis was with the external examiner for upward of four months before I was summoned for the oral examination. The viva itself took four hours. I was exhausted because I presided over the House a day before till late and had to stay awake overnight to prepare for an examination that lasted four hours of talking and answering all manner of questions from professors from the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law (both at UI) and Faculty of Law of the Obafemi Awolowo University.
When I was therefore called in after a few minutes of waiting for the results, and I was pronounced as passed, I felt a heavy load lifted off my neck. The next day, I flew to Mecca, for Hajj and Umrah. Contrast this with what happened one night in September 2011, when I was alone, weeping like a baby (weep of joy, of course) as the University of Ilorin Appointment and Promotions Committee announced my professorship. Not that I wasn’t expecting it.
At least, I had submitted my papers, attended an interview and had my publications sent out for external assessments. But we had heard of stories of papers sent out for months and years without any response at all, positive or negative. So, I wasn’t expecting it. I finished my Ishai (evening) prayer and was preparing to relax with some reading materials when an SMS came in from the Office of the VC announcing my elevation. It was like magic!
No one to talk to! I burst into tears before I remembered I could call my wife to announce the new status and hurriedly dressed up for a light ceremony in the VC Lodge where the new professors and readers (associate Professors) were unveiled to their senior peers. Those were great moments in my life.
You have been a Secretary of a local government and Speaker, which office will you say was most challenging?
Both were challenging, but you cannot compare the speakership of a state Assembly to secretary of a LG. Apart from the wider scope of operation and the paraphernalia attached to it, the Speaker is bigger than all the local government functionaries (chairmen, VC, secretary, supervisors, advisers) combined. I am not talking in terms of money now but in terms of responsibilities.
Any ambition of coming back to Osun State House of Assembly for second time?
Definitely not back to the OSHA. But I am looking forward to a seat at the National Assembly, or an opportunity for a higher level of responsibility at any level of government, as the leaders of my party, my immediate and distant community and my Creator may deem fit at the appropriate time.
What was your growing up like? Was it a privileged one?
I wasn’t born into a poor family. My grandfather and father were rich, by the standard of their times. But I did not grow up with my father and mother, and therefore did not really enjoy any privileged life.
In fact, I borrowed money to buy my GCE form in 1979, which my father paid back when he visited Nigeria from Abidjan where he lived. Oooh, my father was very committed to education of his children.
Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to reap the fruits of his labour. May his soul be blessed. I wasn’t the outgoing type when in my teens. I stayed in the shop till 10pm or 11pm selling patent medicines, which gave me the needed time to read. I played football in primary school.
What is your view about the political situation now in Osun State?
The State of Osun is politically stable and in a good hand, with Rauf Aregbesola at the helm of affairs. I am happy that the people realise it when they gave him a second term. What is required now is the full support needed to enable the government continue the good work and bring more dividends of democracy to the people.
– NIKE POPOOLA