Dr Obafemi Kadiri Hamzat is Lagos State Commissioner of Works and Infrastructure since 2011. He had been the Commissioner for Science and Technology since 2005. He will turn 50 on Friday, September 19, 2014. ENCOMIUM Weekly met him in his office at Alausa for an interview about his new golden age.
We also took time to ask him about his aspiration to be the next governor of Lagos State and about the comment of Oba Rilwan Akioly, that because his father is a king in Ogun State, he can’t be a governor in Lagos State.
How do you feel turning 50? The age people say is the beginning of old age.
When I turned 40, I remember my doctor said welcome to the age of arthritis. So, I don’t know what 50 means (laughter). We just have to give thanks to God that one is alive, hale and hearty and in good shape. All glory belongs to God.
What particularly will you say you are grateful to God for turning 50?
Everything! My life, my family. I am grateful for everything. You can’t take anything for granted.
Do you feel your new age?
No. I feel the same. I don’t feel anything. It is just another year. I am just progressing in number. 51 will come hopefully and then 60, 70 and so on. That is the prayer.
Are there things you were doing in your 40s that you can no longer do now?
I can’t think of anything.
I can’t think of anything really. I can still do whatever…except that I now use glasses. Two, three years ago, I didn’t use glasses.
That means you do a lot of exercises to still be physically strong?
Exercise is good. Of course, it’s always good. Yeah, I try to exercise, although not as much as I like to. The work doesn’t allow too much time for exercise.
What was growing up like for you? Was it a privileged one?
No, it’s not. It was by no means a privileged one. I was born in Iyalla Street, Mushin. My parents were normal middle class. At a stage things were rough because he had a company in Kano that was burnt down during religious riot. I think when he left the bank he set up his own company and it was that company that was burnt during religious riot. So, it was by no means a privilege. It was a normal middle class family. We were just made to believe very strongly that whatever happens is the work of God. So, when that happened we believed it must be from God because he always taught us that everything is from God. So, we must take this as an act of God. Even though it was done by people.
Did you actually grow up in Mushin?
I grew up in Mushin. My secondary school was outside Lagos. During those days, we had boarding houses. But my primary school was in Mushin, Odu-Abore Memorial Primary School, Mushin.
Is it still there?
It is still there at Iyalla Street, Mushin. Very close to our house. My secondary school was Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo. University was University of Ibadan. We lived in Mushin up till 1989.
How come the violent lifestyle of Mushin did not affect your growing up?
I never knew Mushin to be a violent place. Probably that started in the 90s. We used to walk all the way from Aromire to Agege Motor Road. It wasn’t violent by any standard then. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the deterioration of our society generally. I grew up in Mushin. Senator Ganiyu Solomon also grew up in Mushin. Dr. Muiz Banire grew in Mushin. Fola Adeola grew up in Mushin. A lot of prominent people grew up in Mushin. Like I said, it was a deterioration of our society generally that cut across. I am sure things are getting reversed and I am sure Mushin will shine again.
When would you say has been the happiest moment of your 50 years of existence?
Many times but I will say that when my son and first child came. It was regarded happy moment because we waited 12 years to have him. That was a very happy moment. Another one was when I got my Ph.D because I got it at the age of 27. So, I was also very excited. It was a very happy day for me having achieved that at such an age.
For that 12 years that you were looking onto the Lord for a child, were there no pressure from any of your parents to get another wife?
None. Absolutely none. Like I said earlier, our upbringing was to believe in God. So, it was now difficult for anybody to now say that that God doesn’t exist anymore. Even my mom just kept on praying and the prayer was apparently answered.
So, how many children came after the first one?
Another one. So, I have two kids.
What will you consider your most challenging or saddest moment?
That is a tough one (pause for a while). I can’t think of anything that is extremely sad. When I lost my immediate elder brother, I was sad but I also know that that is the way of life. But it was a very sad moment. He was wrongly diagnosed and we were treating a wrong thing. But by the time we got the real thing, it was too late. He had cancer. That was a very sad moment for me because we were very, very close. He was the immediate one before me. But it is one of those things that happen in life.
How many of your siblings are still alive now?
All my siblings are still alive except him.
What lesson of life would you say your 50 years existence has taught you?
I think the most important thing is to note that everything belongs to God. I have read some documentation and interviews where people said, ‘I am self made.’ I just laugh. I believe nobody is self made. I tell you, everything physical is defined spiritually. I am not saying that there are no efforts but of course, that effort must be blessed. There are people that have made a lot of efforts that are not blessed.
My own is that God is great and everything belongs to Him. That if you leave your affairs in the Hands of God you will be fine. That is the bottom-line.
Since 2005 that you were appointed a commissioner in Lagos State, the impression is that you are a technocrat in government. But with the information that you want to be the next governor of Lagos State, it is becoming clear that you have transformed from a technocrat to a politician. When did this transformation occur?
I think the first way to look at it is that my father has been playing politics before I was born. He was the secretary of a ward in Mushin. That ward is now what is now known as Mushin Local Government and Odi Olowo/Ojuwoye LCDA. That was in the early 60s, three or four years before I was born. So, I was born into a political family, where I was made to do a long handwriting of minutes of many of their meetings. So, it is something that I have seen and have been part of since my youth days.
But of course, everybody must live their lives. You wouldn’t live your father’s life, just like your father wouldn’t live yours. I charted my own course, I went to school and graduated. So, when I joined government like you said, I didn’t join as a politician. But the truth is that I relate with politicians by the nature of the job and by the nature of the family that I come from. I am not sure it’s a function of transition. It is a function of an inbuilt characteristic that has been there from someone who grew up in a political family, seeing it done and all those type of things. I think the reality is governing is more than politics. It is about building a state that will last. It’s about creating the future for the generation yet unborn.
Of course, for every policy, for every initiative, there will be political consideration, there will be economic considerations, there will be all sorts of considerations. But the reality is that governing Lagos is more than politics. It is a lot of things and therefore, it is important to have the fabrics of what to do that job. The M.D of a bank will be somebody that understands banking sector. We must also take governance at that level. It must be somebody that understands the parameters that revolves around government. It is extremely important.
You’ve been Commissioner for Science and Technology and Commissioner of Works. Which will you say is most challenging?
Truthfully, both of them are. Though in terms of quantum of work, Works seems to have more because we have to inspect roads and everything. But in terms of the viability of a state, technology is very key. In order for us as a people to turn the state into knowledge based economy, technology is extremely important. We are deploying that technology in the Ministry of Works. So, both of them are important. There was a reason why that ministry (Science and Technology) was created and there was a reason why the Ministry of Works was also created. In terms of challenges and volume of work, Ministry of Works is it because we do a lot of things that people will see, that on a physical level affect people’s lives on a daily basis. So, the pressure seems more on Ministry of Works. Both of them are equally important for the sustainability of our state.
We have seen many roads reconstructed and rehabilitated but people are still complaining that they are not enough. Why is it that all the bad roads cannot be fixed once and for all?
I think the complaints emanates from the fact that the citizens believe that we can do it. Because they’ve seen that we’ve done a lot, that is why you probably don’t see people complaining too much about federal roads because they’ve not done much. That is my own take of it. People honestly believe that we can do it. However, there is also the resources part of the component. Building roads involves money and that is why every government will have a budget. Let us assume that we have all the money which we don’t. Let us assume we have all the money, it is not possible to build all the 9,000 plus roads in Lagos in one shot.
First of all, where are the contractors to build all of them. Two, we use our own capacity to monitor. Three, do we paralyse the whole state at the time of constructing your roads? We must make sure there are alternative roads where people will pass. People will not appreciate the fact that because you are doing roads they shouldn’t live their lives. They must be able to live their lives. So, it is a question of strategy to say that let us do A, we will come and do B later. Let us do B now, we will come and do C later.
This is assuming that the money is there. But, the reality is that the money is not even there to do all the roads at a time. That is why every year we keep biting at it. What is important in my view is for us to just sustain that growth. To make sure that we install another government that can continue what this government has started.
Let us confirm it from you now. Are you actually interested in being the governor of Lagos State in 2015?
All of us are salivating. The reality is I am a member of APC (All Progressives Congress). The party has not even issued out modalities. There are no forms yet. The normal thing is for you to go and pick a form. That is when you become an aspirant. However, a lot of us have shown interest. Yes, I have shown interest. We are consulting with our leaders and people. So, at the right time when the party brings out the modalities, when the forms are out, those that are interested will go and pick the form and then we know the candidates that are interested in the position.
But to answer your question the answer is yes.
What do you think will stand you out among other aspirants?
A lot of things. My pedigree and experience. I have had private sector experience of some of the best companies in the world. I have worked with Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Oando in Nigeria at management level. So, I have the private sector experience. I have also been part of this government for sometime. So, I know a lot of the various projects that we are doing now. I know some of the pains that we went through, I know how to probably assist the state in doing something better.
So, it is a combination of all these that make me believe that we must sustain what we started. Whether we like it or not a lot of people who are not Africans believe that the African man cannot sustain development. They believe that we cannot sustain anything that is good. Although I disagree with them but the evidences out there also shows that we have issues. So, we must as a people sustain our development. It is important.
If you look at various countries around Africa, for example Zimbabwe, built by a man and now crumbling under the same man. If you look at various companies by Nigerians and Africans, why is it that they don’t last up to 100 or 200 years? Our generation must show that we are able to actually sustain our growth. They are able to do that in other countries because they deal with facts, figures, not emotions.
Every time we speak about Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I don’t think anybody remembers his religion. People talk about how he built the first stadium, the first this, the first that. It has nothing to do with the colouration of his religion and so on. They were able to achieve a lot at that time because they deal with facts and figures and not emotions. So, as a people, we must make sure that it is not emotion that is driving us but the reality on ground.
Is it true as it’s been rumoured that Governor Fashola is the one sponsoring your aspiration for the governorship seat?
I try not to deal in rumours. It is better to deal with facts and realities. As the governor of the state and as a member of All Progressives Congress (APC), ultimately, he has a vote. He must vote for somebody even if all of us are his children. The same thing goes for Asiwaju (Tinubu). I am sure they will have their candidates. You have to ask the governor that question (laughs).
Oba Rilwan Akiolu made a comment sometime ago. Though he didn’t mention your name but many believed he was referring to you. The statement was to effect that the son of a king in Ogun State cannot be a governor in Lagos State. What is your reaction to this?
I am sure he was referring to me. The truth of the matter is I won’t respond to the Oba on the pages of newspaper. Like he said, my father is a king. So, it is an institution I respect a lot. There is no need to engage in that. But let’s just set the fact straight, I will refuse to lie about anything in order to get into a position. It is not worth it. So, I wouldn’t lie about my heritage. I wouldn’t lie about myself or about anything that I have done or anything that I have not done. I will never do that.
It is about integrity and if you don’t have it you have nothing. My father is from Ogun State. When my father became a king he took the title of Ajiborisa 1. He was a former commissioner in this state under Alhaji Jakande. He wrote about where he mentioned about his own father who is Aseyoyinbo Hamzat Ajiborisade. Now they decided because of their own religion to reject the name Ajiborisa. So, they started using Hamzat.
Now, the Ajiborisa tree is the same tree from Epe. General Ajiborisa, the first military administrator of Osun State and the former Chief of Staff to General Abdulsalam is a member of that family tree. We are one and the same. All of them are still alive. Even at the maternal level, my hands and legs are in Lagos.
My mom is from Iga-Egbe in Lagos Island and also from Oke-Balogun in Epe. For me, my family tree revolves around Lagos. So, I am as Lagosian as anybody could be. The facts are there for anybody to check out. I don’t want to respond to Kabiyesi’s comment in the newspaper, my own is to state the fact.
When and how did you meet your wife?
I was in the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. The truth is that I actually knew her brother. So, we went for a function in their house and I saw her. I said, ‘Aha, iwo ni omo dada bayi laburo’ (So, you have a beautiful girl like this as a sister). That was how it started and she became my wife.
When was this?
We got married in June 1991, but we knew each other since 1986.
We know the relationship has produced two issues. What are their genders?
A boy and a girl.
– TOLANI ABATTI