MR. Isiak Kayode Opeifa is the Commissioner for Transportation in Lagos State. He turned 49 on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The former university lecturer who became a member of LASU Senate before he was 30, told ENCOMIUM Weekly in this exclusive interview what he has gone through in his 49 years of existence.
Congratulations on your birthday.
Thank you very much.
How does it feel to turn 49?
I am just going through the normal phase of life. No serious regret as a person. But what we wished to be or think we need to be as a people when younger, I think there is a lot of regret. It is a matter of mixed feelings but no personal regret. I know I will live long, God willing and I know God will keep my soul for long. In order not to have any regret I have to keep doing what I know how to do best, continue to put the interest of the people on the front burner.
Seriously speaking, as you grow older you tend to think the generation behind has not done anything. So, also were the generations before us, thought we were also doing nothing. The important thing is, as you grow old, continue to do those things you believe you should do before you get to the next generation. So that you wouldn’t have any regret. For me, I am happy.
Do you feel your new age physically?
My hair is turning grey. My baldness is getting much more pronounced. I can no longer run few kilometers that I used to run. I have an injury on one of my legs. So, I can’t play football as I used to. I know that if it was then, it would heal fast but now it has refused to heal. I don’t think I can play handball the way I played to represent three universities and the state. So, definitely one is feeling it (the new age).
Are there goals or objectives you set for yourself before you turned 49 that you have not been able to achieve?
At 16, when I was filling my JAMB form, I felt that at 30, I should have been a professor after getting my Ph.D at 24. By 30, we should be running for the Senate and at 35, we should be running for president. We were operating democracy and we never knew the military would come back. The military dictatorship certainly didn’t allow many of our dreams to come through. It (military dictatorship) never allow us the opportunity to realize our dreams. Maybe the coming generation will have such advantages because we are operating a democratic system of government again. The system is still not working because those of us who couldn’t achieve our set goals are now struggling to become members of House of Representatives, senators, governors and president. The younger generation now have to wait longer too before they could achieve their goals. That is exactly what is happening when the youths complain they are not given a chance.
I was a member of the Senate of LASU (Lagos State University, Ojo) before 30. Dr. Muiz Banire became a commissioner at 32. Asiwaju Tinubu became a senator at 38. Opeyemi Bamidele became a commissioner at 36. Bankole became the Speaker of House of Representatives at 36 or 37. I don’t know how old Tambuwal is now but definitely not up to my age. I am older than Tambuwal and he’s been there for 12 years. Those who can pull it through will definitely find their way through. For me, the 16 years of our democratic dispensation is an opportunity for anybody to become whatever he wants. People should not look at age. Don’t go out to say those who are older should leave. No. We need to train our youths on wisdom. We need experience. Experience of those who did it right. You cannot be a leader of tomorrow if you are not a follower of today.
There is this saying that when you are young, you have the energy, time, but no money. When you are old, you have money but no time and energy. Which one would you say you have in abundance now?
I was never short of money when I was young and I had the energy and the time too. I don’t know if I am old now but I know I am growing older. I still have money, time and energy. I don’t know what time it will turn. My father is 96 and I cannot tell you he doesn’t have energy. If the kind of things he does is used to measure energy, I will say he is more energetic than me. He talks to more people than me. He settles more rifts than me. I know he can still drive. It is the age but not the number. It is the grace of God. For me, I still have energy, I still have time, I still have money. Above all, I have His grace. But let me say this, for me, I don’t think 24 hours is enough for me in a day. I am looking for the 25th hour of the day to work.
That is probably why people like me don’t have enough time to rest. Most times we take naps. When we have a nap of 30 minutes, it is like we have slept for three hours. Like Awo said in one of his books, he spent his time thinking about problems of Nigeria.
When would you say is the best moment of your 49 years of existence? The moment you will cherish forever.
When I look back, I cherish my days at University of Ilorin, Ilorin. That university prepared me for what I am today. The philosophy, I went through two vice chancellors – Professor Afolani Togun and Professor Adeniyi. At every matriculation and convocation, they would remind us that we are in University of Ilorin and that the university was created to develop a total man. That the university was built on the concept of the development of totality of man. They told us that we are being trained to go to the society not to operate on the level of particular degree you got. But to operate in any sphere we are found.
They will read to you that you are being given your degree because of your commitment and satisfying requirement for your academic, character and learning. It is not about B.Sc Biology or Chemistry, M.B.B.S. Medicine and Surgery. It is about your total development. I remember I was a student union activist. I was a member of so many societies MSS, Eckankar, Black Consciousness Movement, Youth Solidarity for Southern Africa. I was member of NULASS (National Union of Lagos State Students), member of National Association of Bio-Chemistry Students, member of Science Club, footballer, handballer. I attended two NUGA Games when I was in Ilorin.
I went to parties almost every weekend. We organized parties ourselves. We contributed money to throw parties. We went to Egbe, every part of Kwara state to pick people to attend the parties. People came from Lagos, including Governor Kayode Fayemi to attend parties at Akangba. We have medical students in my own group. You will think everybody should be studying. While we were studying, we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. During that period, I never saw life in anyway different from enjoyment. We had demonstrations. 1982, we demonstrated. 1983, we demonstrated. 1985, we demonstrated. Final year, ’86, we demonstrated. The university was shut down. But guess what? For a purpose! In the hostel, I enjoyed 50k meal before Buhari/Idiagbon government changed it to a la carte (buying in the buka). Then it was with three pieces of cow meat, big ones; 20 pieces of big dodo (fried plantain) with ice cream and banana to support it. All for 50k.
Everything I saw when I was a student was the best moment of my life. It was just like we were on a roller coaster. I had enough money to take care of myself on campus. I even had a vehicle. We had air conditioner in lecture rooms. I was president of two associations at the same time. Bio-Chemistry students and NULASS and I was still able to graduate with Second Class Upper Division. Another time, I enjoyed well was when I was in Rotaract 1989-93. We travelled all over the country mixing with youths all over the place. We went to club every week in order to serve humanity. Then I was at the Rotaract Club of Ipaja. I was president, secretary and treasurer at different times. It was fun going to universities everywhere sharing fellowship. Really, the period between 1982 and 1994 was the best moment of my life.
When would you say was your saddest moment?
At the death of Awo (Obafemi Awolowo), I cried. The death of Chima Ubani, I cried. I was in U.S then. I couldn’t believe it and that was why I came home into politics. I belong to that civil rights organization, Say not to politics under the military and that was why in 1999, when we were called, we turned it down.
In 2000, when Opeyemi (Bamidele, Labour Party governorship candidate in Ekiti State) came home, we were supposed to come together. I still turned it down. I felt the military will still come back. But when Chima Ubani died, I felt he had no business dying. That was why I joined them (politicians). That was why I came into the current political dispensation. Another thing that saddened my heart since I was born was the annulment of June 12, 1993 election.
What lessons has life taught you?
The greatest lesson is to believe in God. Wait for His time. Allow Him to decide on your behalf, seek His face, His understanding. Because the world is full of contradictions and as human beings we don’t really have all the answers except it is divinely revealed to us. The second lesson is to work hard. In all, work hard to make sure that you play your part and that if situation does not favour you, you would satisfy your conscience that you’ve worked hard.
The third lesson is not to be money conscious. When you put money at the forefront of so many issues, you will get power drunk. When you have money, please, use it well. It is not your property. It’s kept in your care so that it can be used for others.
How will you sum up your experience in Lagos State in the past seven years that you’ve been part of the executive. First, as Special Adviser and later as Commissioner for Transportation?
It’s a fulfilling experience and I believe government in Nigeria can be better.
When would you say is the most challenging period in government?
I have told you I don’t have challenges.
Not even the introduction of traffic law in the state?
Everything I have been part of in government we plan it. The traffic law wasn’t a very tough thing. It is the way to go. The motorcycle issue was done with the traffic law. It started long time. We’ve been holding meetings. We did it also in 2000. So, how to manage the people losing their livelihood and getting the society to do the right thing was a tough one. I thank God, He helped us. We were able to pull through. The okada riders will tell you it is better for them right now.
There is a rumour that you are gunning for the deputy governor of Lagos State. How far is this true?
Do they contest election for deputy governorship (laughs). For me, what I will do in 2015 will be decided by God not by me. However, I am an organizational person, whatever decision the organization I belong, that is APC decides is what I stand by. As a person, what I will do in 2015 is a matter between me and God. I know the God I serve is a God who has never failed. Whatever He says is what I will do. And whatever is good for me He knows. So, what He knows is good for me, He will do. Whatever it is, I will take.
It is not a matter of I want to go. I never contested to be special adviser. I didn’t contest to be commissioner, I didn’t even struggle.
In 2007, I struggled to be a member of House of Representatives and God said that is not what I have in stock for you. This is what I have in stock for you. In 2011, I had the opportunity to contest for the House of Representatives again but God said that is not your portion. Your portion is Commissioner for Transportation. So, I have learnt my lesson.
Is your family still based in USA?
Once you go into politics dem go si di e si le (expose your private life). Why are you asking? You want to know whether I kept them there. My family is in Lagos. My children are all in Lagos.
How many children do you have?
I have three children.
How many boys and girls?
A boy and two girls.
The oldest and youngest?
You are going too far. 17, 14 and 10.
How did you meet your wife?
I told you my best moment was between 1982 and 1994. I met her in the Rotaract Club, we were on top of the game that time.
What would you say attracted you to her?
The beauty, the calmness and o dabi wipe eleyi ma da (it looks like this one will be good).
– TOLANI ABATTI