OTUNBA Fatai Olajide Olukoga is the Special Adviser on Education to Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). The Ikorodu born politician and former Permanent Secretary in Lagos State civil service turned 62 on Friday, September 27, 2013. ENCOMIUM Weekly was in his office at Alausa secretariat, Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday, September 26, 2013 to interview him on his birthday.
He told us in this interview that the only thing he regretted about his life for now is not staying with his first wife, which would have saved him the embarrassment of having two different mothers on the wedding day of some of his children. He also told us of how he overcame the challenge of his compulsory retirement as Permanent Secretary in June 2007.
Otunba Fatai Olukoga was born on September 27, 1951, at Olorogun area of Lagos Island. He had his primary and secondary education in Lagos before he travelled to United States of Amreica in the early 70s for his tertiary education. He had his first and Masters degrees at Governor’s State University, Park Forest, South Illinois, USA, in Social Cultural Process and Marketing and Industrial Relations respectively.
He worked briefly in USA before he came back to Nigeria in 1977 to ITT. He left ITT in 1979 to join Lagos State Public Service from where he rose to become a Permanent Secretary in 2005 and was compulsorily retired in December of 2007, he was appointed member of Lagos State Electoral Review Committee and in June 2011, was appointed Special Adviser to the governor on Education, a position he is holding presently.
How do you feel turning 62?
I thank the Almighty God for His protection and abundant mercies on me. I feel younger than my 62 years of age. Turning 62 has made me wiser.
What will you say you cherish most about turning 62?
The fact that I still feel strong and healthy. For this I am grateful to God.
Aside God, what will you say is responsible for your young look and good health?
I don’t overdo anything. I don’t do things in excess, I try to do things moderately. Even when I was drinking and smoking cigarette, I did them moderately.
Have you stopped drinking and smoking now?
Yes, I stopped drinking and smoking the day I turned 60. Because I realized that my system couldn’t take it anymore. That has reduced a lot of health challenges that one could have now. Of course, in-between, I developed high blood pressure. But I thank God that has been taken care of now. A USA surgeon that I went to see in my last trip to US in August, has assured me that there is no problem. Aside doing things moderately these days, I also make sure that I have enough rest. It is very important.
What are those things you are happy that you can still do at 62?
I thank God that I can still do what I was doing when I was in my 30s and 40s. I still have the skill, knowledge, strength and wisdom to do any task given to me or that I chose to do by myself. I thank God, I still talk and reasonably very well. I have not lost my thinking ability.
Are there things you can no longer do anymore at 62?
Womanising! I have stopped that because as they say, the higher you go, the cooler you become. Now, I tell people what have we not done before? How many girls have we seen? Now at 62, why should I be running around again for girls?
When you were young, you were really running around with girls.
24/7 on the road.
Yes. When you see me you will see a girl. I don’t walk alone and I go to parties.
That means you must have married more than one wife?
Not really. I have been married twice and it didn’t work. This is the third one (marriage). It is about 15 years old now. Now, I am at the age of understanding, perseverance, endurance and tolerance.
In all how many wives and children do you have now?
I will say I have just one wife. Those that have left cannot be counted again. I have only one wife and nine children. My children are all doing fine. I have only one left in secondary school. I have two in university, some have graduated and are working. Some are back in US, where they are living their own lives now.
Looking back what is it you think you would have done better?
Marriage. I would have done better if I had kept to one wife throughout. Because that would have saved me the situation that will happen when the children are getting married. You know what I mean, there will not be a situation of having different mothers on their wedding day. That is the only regret I have. In other areas, I think I have done better as a father, I performed all my responsibilities towards all my children. Like I used to tell my friends, I thank God that I have not been charged to failed father’s court. If you are not performing your responsibility towards your children you will be charged to failed father’s court.
When will you consider the happiest moment of your 62 years of existence?
If I had won election into the House of Representatives in 2011, that would have been the happiest moment of my life. Unfortunately, that was not to be. All hope is however, not lost. I still have the ambition to contest the same seat in 2015 under our great party, APC.
Which federal constituency will you be contesting for the seat?
Ikorodu Federal Constituency. The person there now did very well but she has done three terms. It is time to give others a chance.
When will you consider the most challenging period of your life?
When I was abruptly retired as permanent secretary, if not I should still be there till 2011. I thank God that after it happened I still remained focus.
You were compulsorily retired as permanent secretary then?
Yes, 16 of us were retired when Tinubu finished his term. I was one of them.
What was the reason given for your compulsory retirement?
It’s normal. When a government leaves it has the discretion to ask some permanent secretaries to leave with it too. That was what happened because the incoming government should be given the opportunity to select those it wants to work with him. Immediately that happened, it gave me a challenge. I was retired in June (2007) and by December 2007, I was appointed a member of Lagos State Electoral Review Committee, which we did for about three months and we came out with a beautiful document that Justice Uwais Committee at the Federal Government level found to be very good and therefore, recommended that the Lagos Government should commend us for a job well done. We all got letters of commendation. Because of this, the government did not disband the committee. Rather, we were given an advisory role to play in the government. My compulsory retirement also afforded me the opportunity to contribute my quota in terms of service to my immediate environment which is Ikorodu. I became the chairman of Ikorodu Oga Development Committee, which is the umbrella of about 184 social clubs in Ikorodu. Before I left as chairman, we were able to provide Ikorodu Civil Centre and the project is still going. We were also able to give Ikorodu township its own anthem. Apart from Abeokuta, Ikorodu is another town that has its own anthem. We made it compulsory that anytime we are having a function in Ikorodu, we must recite the anthem. It also became an anthem on MTN network till today. We did so many other things.
Since 2007 that you were compulsorily retired from civil service, you’ve joined politics, what will you say you like about politics?
Politics is very interesting. It’s an avenue to get your people involved in their development and that of their immediate community. It is different from the civil service, which is about policy making and implementation. For instance, when I was permanent secretary in the Ministry of Sports, one of the assignment given to me was the completion of Teslim Balogun Stadium, which had been abandoned for 19 years and we did it in six months. It is a thing of joy to me. It is regarded as one of the best in the country or even Africa. The zeal with which I did my work in the civil service has now been transferred to politics.
Although, when we were in the civil service we all believed that politics was a dirty game. I have since realized that it is not. It is a game that is very interesting especially for someone like us who have passed through the normal due process of life. You know what I mean, having a good education and being a civil servant per excellence or a professional.
What will you say you don’t like about politics?
The impression by some people that once you are in politics you must be making a lot of money. And that you must be generous to share such money with them. One thing I always tell them is that it is not good to always ask for fish but ask to be taught how to fish. There are some people even when they are taught how to fish, they still keep coming back. That is the area I don’t like in politics.
As a Special Adviser on Education in Lagos State, will you say you are satisfied with the level of education in the state now?
Of course1 As a matter of fact if I wasn’t involved, I would have said the government is not doing anything. Honestly, the government is trying in terms of education in Lagos State. You can see the level of infrastructural development going on at all levels of education in the state now. You can also see a lot of improvement in the curriculum too. For instance in WAEC now, we have attained 47 per cent whereas in the recent past, it used to be 12 per cent or 20 per cent. It shows that more people are attending schools, because there is enabling environment. The reading culture has changed because all schools now have libraries where the students go to read. If you go to our university, you will see the infrastructural revolution that is going on. This same goes for our other higher institutions. It is now left for individual student to make use of these opportunities in our schools. I always tell them (students) that they should not only pass through an institution but also allow the institution to pass through them.
There are still complaints in some areas like Alimosho LG areas, where some of the schools are said to be in deplorable conditions. What do you say about this?
Yes, I will say there will be but the government is trying, we can’t cover everything at the same time. But as the government is doing its own, we will also want to appeal to our well meaning Nigerians, NGOs to please try to assist the government. No government can satisfy all the needs of the people at once. But with patience, we will get there.
– TOLANI ABATTI