Chairman of the Bradford Group of Companies and former Chairman of Onigbongbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State, Comrade Idowu Osuolale Obasa, recently spoke to journalists in Lagos as he celebrated his birthday. Thegazellenews.com’s JUMU’AH ABIODUN was there to present this excerpts:
You recently marked your birthday, between last year and this year what has changed in your life?
I have learnt the true meaning of contentment; that contentment does not mean the volume of what you have but satisfaction in whatever little that you have. I’m not under pressure because the little that’s available I’m able to manage it. For example, in the past one year I have found out that actually if you eat very little you will not die of hunger, that we hurt ourselves when we eat much food in terms of health, I’m surprised that the quantity of food that I eat now I will survive, I thought if I eat that little I will die.
Generally, you will be more at peace when you didn’t put yourself under pressure, that is pressures that have to do with peer pressure; what society expect you to acquire or you are jostling for some kind of acquisition or position with somebody, at the end of the day it is not even worth it and I have found that when God wants to help you, it is not based upon how much you have struggle, it’s not as if it is the more you struggle to grab. No!, if God wants to bless you, he will bless you in a way that will not even be easy for human beings to understand. I can tell you that I have acquire a desire to move closer to God but I’m not that successful, I’m still a bad boy, I still do some of the things pastors say we should not do, like wines and all that, I still go out and enjoy myself and things like that.
Quite frankly, may be if you give yourself some contentment you will find that things row into place because there are people who are constantly conscious. I’m not talking about social status here, I’m talking about state of mind, I wish I will have personal discipline and the strength to move closer to God, I can’t pretend that I have succeeded, it is a lie.
What can give self-contentment?
You determine you will not let anything face you; you will determine that you will not let your greed to overtake you because everyone has element of greediness; you will not allow that element to take your life. So, it will now depend on how much we allow it to take over our lives. For example, if a greedy man has N10million, he will still take N10, 000 bribe from you, that’s a pathological situation. Somebody who is pathologically greedy, we see them even if you think the kind of money they have, their three to four generations will survive with it, you now wonder why they are still able to take bribe of N10, 000 from people you will now know that this one has a problem.
Looking back at the challenges you have faced in life while growing up, how will you describe them?
I will say that I’m lucky, whatever I have achieved academically or otherwise I will say that God has been so kind to me. Others have done more than that, in many ways I have been lucky, I will give you one or two illustrations, I suffered bilateral pulmonary embolism as I landed in Amsterdam in 2010. If I had been in Nigeria that day, I would have been dead even doctors agreed because they wouldn’t have diagnose it early enough to save me, I was not going to Amsterdam to do anything serious. I was going to England and I decided to go through Amsterdam, I was actually going to Leeds and I wanted to cross from Amsterdam to Leeds, the point is that if I had landed in Nigeria instead of landing in Amsterdam you would have been doing my death anniversary by now, is that not luck?
Sometimes when my wife start delaying the way women do, I don’t get angry because God might not want us to be on road at that particular time; they may appear unreal but I assured you they are very real. Look at what happened on my birthday, such a great display of love, I asked myself do I really deserve this? It overwhelmed me when people show me so much love, I have been lucky that’s all. Of course, I should know that I have abused my body with alcohol in the past thinking I was enjoying life, some people don’t do that much before they die, I have been living with hypertension and diabetes for the past 10 years, I have been lucky that’s all.
Looking back, do you think that there’s anything you ought to have done that you didn’t do?
Yes! Many things that if I had another opportunity I would have done differently, isn’t that’s what life is all about because until you die there is always a line for improvement, there’s no doubt about that.
What’s the greatest risk you have ever taken in life?
Risk! I’ve not consider this kind of question before as a businessman, definitely I must have taken a lot of risk, my own experience has always been that if you see any business that succeed there are about five that are already dead. But every businessman takes risk, my philosophy regarding that is that number one, anything I do I always know that failure is an option; that you can fail so you have to plan not to fail, so one of the options available is failure. Because of that I ask myself, I’m I afraid of failure but I’m not, it’s human being that fail and it’s human being that succeed, so I hold those two things to be true, failure is always an option in everything you do. For almost everybody who succeed, it is because they were not afraid of failure, somebody dropped out of school and went to start Microsoft and became one of most successful men in the history of humanity, if he didn’t take the risk of even dropping out of school to start Microsoft he will not be Bill Gate today, if he’s still procrastinating he will still be thinking about it till today, so in terms of risk I think everything we do on a daily basis contain element of risk, you will now try to measure which one is being the riskiest that I have made but I go by the philosophy that everything you do there’s possibility of failure, so consider it and plan against it so at the end of the day you might now be lucky enough to succeed.
I was a manager in KPMG when I was invited to join The News Magazine, I studied and looked at what I was asked to do as a chartered accountant, I was asked to join journalists to start a newspaper that was registered with the maiden name of their wives. Already, we knew that this is a very risky venture and that’s why we couldn’t register it with our own names, whoever did that must know that he was taken a risk but doing that totally redefine my life.
How, can you espouse more on that?
I was living a steady regular life as an accountant, I go to work in my suit and I know the exact time I’m going to close. If I go to drink beer after close of work it is because I want to drink beer but it was not the job that was keeping me outside. I came into a job that have no timing, I found myself sleeping in office for five days even when my house was just less than a kilometer away, I found myself being chased around by the security agencies, will that not change anybody’s life? What I can only say on that is that history beckoned on us to perform a role at that point in time, if we had known fully the kind of impact it would have, if we had appreciated the enormity may be we would have been afraid but don’t forget our age at that time, it was the age one could take risk, will I take the same kind of risk now? I don’t think that I have the courage but then it was exciting, we were angry young men who felt we could change the world, we were sufficiently optimistic as to believe that the little contribution that we are making is substantial, it gave us courage, nobody enjoy being hunted like a dog but we were not afraid in the sense that the danger was not just about our own lives but for those of our families but that is not to say it was not a good thing but it was a right time in the history and it was a right time in our lives. You have a time to use a certain portion of your life to do certain things like that; you ought to be grateful to God for somebody who is already beyond middle age to start sleeping under a car because we were dodging security agencies. Fear enslaves you, it taught us not to fear, a lot of people lost a great deal, lots of people lost their lives as you very well know, some people died, you can’t say you enjoy that but it needed to be done it was done and it definitely has an impact in the course of history, you want to be proud of that.
Your foray into politics surprised many, what was the reason why you went into politics?
It surprised me myself, it surprised me because definitely we had always felt that this party politicking that people call politics is bourgeoisie politics and is only the kind of politics that’s available. After what we saw chasing the military away it was clear to all of us that the politicians who inherited power didn’t quite understand what we passed through, they simply used the power to enrich themselves, some of them didn’t even know what they are going to do with the power so they were just messing around so that was what brought people like Falana and some of us into politics. For me, I felt at the level of local governance, what ought to have been done was not done and I went in thinking that I was going to change the world as it were.
I learnt a lot of lessons. For example, I have always imagined the level of poverty but I never knew that poverty was far more entrenched than I thought until I started campaigning. I saw how totally disadvantaged people were. In reality, all the previous ones that I was thinking about were even rosier than the reality that I met and right side by side with opulence was incredible. So there were many lessons I learnt, I think therefore it was initially our anger at the fact that people that we believed didn’t even know how many people who died in order to chase the military away inherited power and filtered away the goodwill of the people, some of us had that in mind to a very large extent, we learnt a very bitter lessons in the process and for whether I am able to achieve what I went in there to do or not, I leave that for you journalists to judge.
The only thing I can say, even years after we have left office we still benefit from the goodwill and respect from the good people that we served, that’s gratifying enough.
After leaving the local government many expected you to vie for higher positions like the Senate or House of Representatives, why did you stop at the local government level?
Would you call me a regular politician? There are so many people that are available to occupy those positions and I was not interested in the so called higher positions because when you say higher positions, I don’t know what you mean but my understanding is the best hands and the best brain operate at the local government, so I don’t know what you mean by higher positions because I actually do think that challenges before a local government chairman is like three hundred or four hundred percent compare to somebody in the House of Representatives. Quite frankly, I mean you don’t need rocket science to know the challenges you face compare to somebody in the House of Representatives, it’s like 1/5 and that’s the truth regardless of flamboyance of being a senator or a member of the house of representatives, regardless of the bigger salary, regardless of greater recognition, which one would a man who is ready to work choose? There’s much noise around the senators and that’s why you call it higher, there’s more flamboyance, there’s probably more money available to a senator than to somebody who is trying to carry responsibility of a whole city or an entire local government, doesn’t it sound ridiculous to you? That’s the conventional way of describing it, I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that to go to the national assembly for somebody like me is a waste of resources, that’s all I can tell you without being selfish especially when you are in the opposition for that matter. But a local government chairman must work every day, some of the people in the national assembly don’t go to the assembly everyday so what are you talking about, some of them don’t even go for months, may be because there’s money but everything is not all about money.
You have quite frankly empowered a lot of people; do you have any experience when you were young that shaped this side of your life?
Well, it is a difficult question for me to answer because in the process of socialization a lot of things happen to you, if you have noticed small children have a certain memory of remembering things which can surprise you 15-20 years later. I think I had a number of experiences when I was growing up I think they must one way or the other put something in me. When I told you earlier that I had been lucky I also think that I had been lucky, I was born in Zaria, then I was sent to Isale-Eko and I started leaving in Isale-Eko at No 5, Bajulu Street till I entered secondary school, then I managed to gate-crashed into Igbobi College which at that time was an elite school which is not meant for people of my class.
Gate-crashed, were you not brilliant enough?
If you know what it takes to be brilliant, I was never brilliant that one is clear. I’m telling you the truth but I had been stable, I will not score an F and I don’t know may be it was only once I scored an A but I was consistent but I’m sure I gate-crashed into Igbobi College because at that time it wasn’t necessary being brilliant alone because you can look at the children of who and who is in the school then, so coming from Isale -Eko we could count among of us coming from the rural area but I think it was an opportunity for me, honestly speaking and may be it set the tone also for some of us an opportunity to enter university, I also believe that by the time I went to University of Ife probably the best university in Nigeria then where I study economics and all that I also had opportunity to go to University of Lagos so a lot of things shaped me, it is difficult to pin-point one particular thing, I think those varied experiences help to form your personality.
As to helping people, I hear people say things like that and I wonder what they mean, just recently I was telling somebody that I’m looking for a driver, so whoever become the driver would say that I have helped him whereas the driver has equally helped me too. Let me assure you just encourage people to do what God has said they would do.
But there are so many people in your position that don’t help people even for advice?
They are doing the same but you don’t know what they do. In terms of advice that’s what I like to do, I also receive help from people, I didn’t get to where I am on my own steam, there are some people who helped me; people who I had even forgotten who today when I do things for their children they wonder why but they have forgotten what they did for me at that time which appeared small to them but was crucial to me. I don’t believe that I have reached where I am today by my own effort; a little bit of my own effort might be there but people assisted me. In terms of advice you are talking about, people advised me, while setting up business people assisted me, do you understand? So it is not as if one just landed where one is today all alone, I also got a lot of assistance from people and I think it works that way.
You talked about your stability in school, how do you impact that into people around you?
Everybody has his own ministry, I think leaving life as a facilitator is my ministry simple, I can assure you a lot of people do it, you see we live in a country where deprivation prevails. If you give some people N10,000 you have change their lives, it’s that bad. Let me tell you a personal experience, when I was in office as local government chairman, we gave uniforms to primary schools pupils, we also gave them Cortina shoes. I was in front of Olusosun Primary School talking to somebody, it was about closing time and the children were coming out of the school. I first noticed a boy as soon as he came out of the school he removed the shoes and kept them under his arms and went home barefoot, it didn’t strike me at first until the second person came out and did the same, I asked why were they doing this and the headmistress said I won’t believe that for some of the children that’s their best pair of shoe but the reason why they wear it to school is because it was the school that gave it to them, I was humbled because my son I just remember the number of shoes he has at home that he didn’t wear at all, you don’t understand what I mean because it was a humbling experience.
Something is wrong with this society; something very deep; something very sinister and we know it because the system that’s in place in this country is meant to create a category of wealthy people who are not more than one percent as against multitude of poor and hopeless people who live in poverty, ignorance and disease. There are societies where you have every chance, nobody is going to be equal but it is equity we are talking about not equality but a least let everybody have an opportunity, we have seen people that would be richer than others but when people go to school bare-footed in a capital city, not in the village in the 21st century is not acceptable and is real. I was ashamed when I got home I was so angry with my son.
Who do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m sure you will like it when I say I draw inspiration from God, but I have not even meet the conditions to say so but I’m still a bad boy and I mean it, although I know however bad you are God will always help you, but frankly I’m inspired by the love that I receive from the people around me because if I even tell you it is God, what do I even know about religion, what do I even know about the Bible, I’m a church-goer but I have not reach that spiritual level but may be one day. Frankly, I appreciate the love of people around me.
How old are you now?
When I was in primary school, I didn’t know the relative age distribution in the class even as early as at that time we were still playing with girls and all that, so I had a friend (a class captain) who use to have access to the register. Suddenly, one day the class captain discovered that I was the youngest in that class and one day he really made an issue out of it. More so, the girl I admire was now saying, ‘I’m older than you, I’m your sister.’ So I wept home seriously, then my mother told me not to tell anybody my age again, all I know is I’m an adult.