In the enclave of power
Proximity to power has its benefits and unwritten rules. A word, spoken at the gathering of the inner circle, saved many a career. There were those who used the closeness for the opposite. Lacking the recognition that the ocean is large enough for all fishes and ignorant of the fact that each human has his path, the myopic person would use the nearness to destroy hapless victims. A leader must be wary of such Lilliputians and must apply the dictum of law: audi alterem patem: hear the other party. In their wisdom, our elders would never allow the small-minded (they describe as sheep) to become kings or leaders of the community.
One of the unwritten rules was you must not do anything that suggested (even minutely), that you were taking advantage of the proximity. You knew, more than others, the pressures on your boss and your duty was to lessen the stress. Loyalty was to be proved day to day. If the question was ever raised “are you adding to my stress?” the fellow was already about to be thrown off the inner wheel. This resulted in the dilemma that personal needs were unuttered. OGD had an ingenious way to handle this. “Do not wait to have an audience but send me a note or text. I receive and answer 300 texts every day even if in China.” In the relationship with God, to whom shall man direct prayers? Prayer is a direct communication with the Creator. No intermediaries. In granting the request, the movement passes through the faithful servants of God and finally, a human being on earth as the visible one.
A person would take the time to write a proposal to the Governor. When he got it delivered to the Governor’s Office, he would have a feeling of a step to the realisation of his goal, either for self or for society. It was not enough to have a stamped copy from the Registry. OGD directed that within 24 hours, a letter from the Office of the Governor must go out, stating that the matter was receiving attention. The Governor was concerned that people would wait long hours to see him. In many cases, the matter was something that a Commissioner or Personal Assistant could have handled. “Sir, you came to see me just because your son is seeking entry into Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital?” OGD set up a system to handle such. Yes, you got into the appointments book, through the Chief of Staff who kept the Diary. But on the D-day, you must state the purpose of your visit to the Chief of Governor’s Office Staff; who would decide which functionary of Government to handle the request. A letter, beginning with the words “I am directed by His Excellency” or a phone call from “Office of the Governor” led to raising heartbeats of functionaries in the government. Having to disclose the purpose of the visit not only improved efficiency, but it prevented those coming in the hope of getting money from the Governor; for they would not disclose that reason.
One example comes to mind. The Governor had sighted Prince Adedamola at a rally and asked him in a text to come to Abeokuta. On arrival, he showed the security the text and was allowed into the Ground Floor Waiting Room. When it was time for him to come up, the security Detail informed the Chief of Governor’s Office Enclave that the visitor was physically challenged and could not climb the stairs. He was attended to downstairs. Through a chain of events, Dr. Alexander Thomopulos facilitated the fabrication and fitting of an artificial limb, gratis, and the fitting by the Rotary Club of Palmgrove Estate. Prince Adedamola phoned to thank the Governor and to state that he was going all over Otta like a young boy. Everything was not about money.
Chief Adeyemi Lawson of blessed memory always stated “no one should leave, feeling worse than when he came to see me.” In 1981, there was a gentleman who had been sold land that was within the Agbara Estate Head Lease and had built a factory on it. At a meeting involving Peter Nwankwo of Knight Frank & Rutley, the gentleman came, all stressed up, with papers and receipts obtained from the “Omo Onile”. Reviewing the situation, the Chief directed KFR do the necessary papers for the man to retain the site which was on Phase Three of the Masterplan, located just west of the Agbara-Igboho-Sokoto federal highway. To him, the man could not be blamed for the slumber of Agbara Estates Limited security and the Federal Highway Department. The gentleman prostrated in appreciation. The Chief also said that “land and the whole earth belong to Almighty God. Man owns nothing. Rather he has but a temporary right of use.”
It was indeed OGD’s knowledge of my having served as the Executive Assistant to Chief Lawson that made him appoint me his Senior Executive Assistant, in addition to my work in Road Administration. Also gifted with intuition, whenever OGD shifted his cap, you knew a profound decision was in the offing. He also told us that a Governor must represent hope; “anyone who gets to my presence must experience hope on leaving.” For my work, there was no appropriate appellation; which amounted to a nightmare for the Protocol people, at events. It stands on record that OGD signed the Law establishing the Ogun State Roads Board (the first in Nigeria); a template for the State Roads Agency that must be set up by every state, also at the Local Government; after the Federal Roads Authority is eventually established; as the only permanent solution to the challenges of funding and management of federal roads in Nigeria.
Since leaving office in 2011, one has had the typical experience of anyone who ever served in government. Generally, we humans ignore the good and choose to focus on real or perceived negatives. The ingratitude of man is a subject all on its own. The preparation for life after office took place in the years of working in the enclave of power. From 2003 to 2007, OGD had the peculiar challenge of being the Governor of the President’s home state; especially the indefatigable Obasanjo who came home every weekend except when abroad. From helicopter landing in Abeokuta to Otta or Ibogun, the Governor’s weekends were taken. This had its advantages. OGD would tell us “do you know how difficult it is for a governor to see the President?”
The pressure, however, was in the sheer volume of government business. As was often the case, working into the wee hours of the morning, OGD said at 3a.m.: “Here we are we are having sleepless nights; yet to people out there we are doing nothing.” In an environment of pervasive poverty, caused greatly by leadership as well as by the populace, all the expectations of the people could not be met, as “there is more water than the gari flour.” Therefore, in the short years in which one wields influence (not power) in human affairs, the mantra is “do your best and have a mind-set that you serve God and country.” You can never have the appreciation of the masses.
Anyone who works in close proximity with a Governor (or President) is not likely to aspire to the office. OGD would sometimes wail to the people around him, “I want to be a normal human being today. Step down the…” The lamentation was in vain because, as Wole Soyinka once explained, fame (as well as public office) entailed sacrificing the simple pleasures of life and losing the personal freedom that is the God-given right of every human being.
• Akindele wrote from Abeokuta.
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