- John Olusegun Odubela is the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Ogun State.
The legal practitioner was the Head of Chambers, Rickey Tarfa & Co., before his appointment as a commissioner in 2011.
He turned 50 on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. He spoke with ENCOMIUM Weekly on his 50th birthday, family, politics and his legal profession.
How do you feel turning 50?
Honestly, I don’t feel that I am 50. Of course, I know I am getting old but with the things I am still able to do, I don’t really feel I am 50. I thank God for sparing my life because in Nigeria, the average life span is said to be about 42, 43. So, if you are 50 and you are in good health, with a good wife, good children, then you have cause to thank God.
Are you saying you can still do some of those things you are doing in your 40s?
Honestly, yes. I still play football. I do a lot of exercises.
How often do you play football?
Now, it has reduced unlike when I was still in my Lagos office. Since I moved to Abeokuta, it is once in a while. I think the most important thing is the trekking, the exercise that I do. Most of the time I walk to the office and back home every day.
What is the distance?
I have not checked. It is from Oke Imosan (office) to Commissioners Quarters at Ibara Housing Estate, opposite Presidential Lodge (all in Abeokuta, Ogun State). I do that a lot. So, hardly would I say there is anything I did when I was 40 or less that I cannot do now.
What would you say was the happiest moment of your 50 years?
That is a difficult question to answer. I think I could only capture a few of them. Of course, when I got married could be regarded as one of my happiest days. Again, when I had my first child, it is something that one cannot forget easily. Again when the state acknowledge you and you are given an appointment by the governor. To me, that is one of the happiest moments of one’s life. I will also like to add that the day I became a born again Christian. One repenting from his sins could also be considered as one of my happiest days. I think it is cumulative, not just one.
When would you say was your saddest moment?
I think one of the days I wasn’t too happy was in 2011 when I did my SAN interviews. Of course, I have done quite a lot of interviews. But this particular one in 2011, I was really looking forward to it because I felt that I had really paid my dues. Not getting it, I was a bit unhappy.
But God’s time is the best. It is a thing that one will still pursue and if God says I will get it, I will get it.
Have you applied again?
Because I am back in practice I am already working on that and God willing, I will get it.
Are you back in law practice?
Very close to that because that is what I enjoy doing most. I thank God that I have not lost focus.
Are you saying you are not likely to return as a commissioner?
That is the decision of the governor, but honestly speaking, it is time I went back to practice and do what I enjoy doing best.
Would you say your growing up was a privileged one?
I would say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that compared with others, you will find out that yours was better because you were privileged to a few things that others never had.
No, because I struggled too. I was once a conductor.
Yes and sometimes as a driver. Anytime we were on holidays from the university, my friend, Tobi Osanyintolu, he is now in the UK and I will drive a bus from Ogba to Obalende. My friend’s mother owned the bus and she handed it to us.
Certainly, that was not done out of deprivation but rather to make extra money during the holidays?
Yes, because my friend’s father was national president of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT). We did it to make some little change for ourselves.
Again, between the period I left HSC (Higher School Certificate) and the time I gained admission, I was distributing shoe polish, some clothing materials in Ibadan, Ile-Ife and so many other places. That is to show you that I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.
How did you and your wife meet?
I think our meeting was destined by God. We were in the same university.
Which university was this?
Ogun State University now Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye. We were there together. We are also from the same town, Ikenne. Our parents’ houses are on the same street in Ikenne and yet we never met until I took my aunt (my guardian) to a salon in Shomolu. I was in the vehicle while my aunt was inside the salon when I saw a lady pass by with a little girl. Our eyes met and we started looking at ourselves. I felt like I have seen the face somewhere before. I called her and we started talking and I got to know that she was also a student of Ogun State University, from Ikenne and so on. That was how we met and we became friends. We got married less than two years after. We got married in August, 1993.
How many children has the marriage been blessed with?
God has blessed us with three girls. They are all in tertiary institutions. One should be graduating in less than two months. The second born is reading Law and the last one who is rounding off her foundation also intend to do Law.
Do you miss not having a boy?
No. That is God’s doing. We thank God for giving us the three girls.
You were a lawyer in one of the biggest law firms in the country before you were appointed a commissioner in Ogun State. How would you compare life as a lawyer and as a public office holder?
They are completely at variance. First, as a lawyer in a private practice, you have your private life. I was the Head of Chamber (at Rickey Tarfa Law Chamber) up till 2011, when I was appointed a commissioner in Ogun State. As a public officer, anything you do is subject to scrutiny by the public. There are some decisions you will take with all sincerity and people will begin to impugn different meaning to it.
I remember when we took a decision to merge Tai Solarin University of Education with Olabisi Onabanjo University. There was so much uproar. Some people said I merged Tai Solarin University with Olabisi Onabanjo University, because I am an old student of OOU. There were so many rumour and lies about the whole thing. I will say that it’s been a tough experience. But as a lawyer who has many years of experience, about 21 years of legal practice as well as being an administrator, it was not too difficult for me to handle the challenges of public office. This is coupled with the support of my hard working governor, Governor Ibikunle Amosun who has made things easier for me to put in my best as the Honourable Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in Ogun State.
Would you say you are a politician in government or a technocrat in government?
Both in the sense that one had no choice than to participate in politics. As far back as 2007, I have been introduced to so many people, particularly from my local government area (Ikenne) by Governor Amosun when I was handling his election tribunal case and I started getting used to them.
So, when the appointment came in 2011, I would agree that I am both a technocrat and of course a politician because when nominations were called I could remember from my local government, my name was No. 1 on the list.
Recently, I was privileged to be appointed Director General of our senatorial candidate in Ogun East senatorial district. I was also a national delegate to the presidential primary of our great party, APC.
What then would you say you like about politics?
The most important thing about politics is serving your people and your people appreciating you. For me, serving the people and people appreciating what you are doing is the beauty of politics.
What would you say you don’t like about politics?
People not appreciating what you are doing. For instance, the last elections in Ogun State surprised me. I never thought the opposition (PDP) could get as much votes as they did in the last elections going by the good work our hard working governor had done in the last four years in the state. Since Governor Ibikunle Amosun started rebuilding Ogun State, I had thought that no opposition will show up at all or that they will score near zero votes. Does that mean that people have forgotten the past four years that the governor had done a lot for the state? For me, I began to wonder if that actually is what politics is all about.
But the governor still won the election?
Yes, he won. In fact, in most of the local government areas, the opposition could not even secure the required 25 per cent votes. But I had thought that it will be something close to zero vote for the opposition.
Would you say you are fulfilled at 50?
Oh yes! For me, I am a fulfilled man. Fulfilled in the sense that I am contented and I appreciate God at all times. I appreciate what God has done for me and what He is still going to do. I am fulfilled when I see my wife and children doing well. My mom, my mother-in-law, my political associates, my friends and colleagues in the law profession doing well too.
The only thing is that I would have wished to have become a SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) at 50. But as the saying goes, ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’ God knows about it all and I am sure God will do it t the appropriate time.
Would that be what you still want God to do for you?
Yes, I want God to let me become a Senior Advocate because I love law so much. I enjoy going to court and advising people.
Far above politics?
Oh yes, far above.
Does that mean if you are offered commissionership position you will not take it because of your love for the law profession?
No, I wouldn’t say no. That may be part of what God has designed for me. But I am eagerly waiting to go back to my law profession. That is what I enjoy doing most.
– TOLANI ABATTI