By ADEMOLA ONI and ADEOLA BALOGUN
Bashorun Adedoja Adewolu, a former executive secretary of the Psychiatric Hospitals Management Board, tells ADEMOLA ONI and ADEOLA BALOGUN about his career and his view on the crisis that has engulfed Ogun State for some time now
You studied law, but you ended up being the executive secretary of the Psychiatric Hospitals Management Board. What is the correlation between the two?
The correlation is that when I went to England to study law and personnel management, I decided to build my career in hospital management. I was lucky I attended Abeokuta Grammar School when my colleagues went to Baptist Boys High School, but I was lucky at Abeokuta Grammar School; I was in a class that was specially selected by Rev. Ramsome-Kuti himself. It was a class of the 60 brightest students. I entered the school in 1951 and my classmates were Fela Ransome-Kuti, his brother, Beko, Dapo Tejuoso, now Oba of Okeona, Siji Soetan, the first permanent secretary and legal draftsman at the justice ministry and a lot of them like that. When we were in school, the Oyewoles came from England to uplift AGS. Today, those the Oyewoles taught science then are found in high places. The Oyewoles took us to the University of Ibadan on excursion in 1954 and when we got there, we were divided into two groups; some to go to the University of Ibadan and some to go to UCH. I happened to be in the latter group that went to UCH and when we got there, we met the first director, the house governor, as they were called then, Chief SL Ladeinde, a first class brain who was in charge of the college hospital. At that time, UCH was responsible for the whole of West Africa and UI was one of the best universities in Africa at that time. And because I saw that man and what he was doing, I developed interest in that area and when I went to England, I decided to specialise in hospital administration and management and today, I thank God for being gracious to me. I rose through the ranks. I came back from England in 1971 and worked in Wusasa Hospital in Zaria, which was the hometown of the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon. I was very close to his parents and they were angels. At that time, the Anglican Mission wanted me to run the hospital and the church and the school – St. Bartholomew – and I told them I was not cut to run the church or the school, but was constrained to run the hospital. I then said I could use the hospital to support the church and the school and that was what I did. At that time, the late Prof. Ishaya Audu was the VC of ABU, a first class paediatrician and I went to discuss with him to come and do clinic in our hospital and he was coming once in a week and the university was raising funds to support us and with that, we were able to support the church and the school. And that made me close to Gowon. There were only three telephones in Wusasa then, one in my house, one in Gowon’s house and the other one in the hospital. When the telephone in the hospital was locked at 6 pm, and Gowon’s house could not be reached, the head of state had to phone me in my house to tell me that he wanted to speak with his mother, because his brother, Daniel, would be on the phone for hours. So, I had to go and bring Gowon’s mother to my house to speak with her son. So that made me very close to them and till today, we are still very close.
You mentioned quite a lot of people as your classmates; did that friendship continue after school?
Yes, it did. I still have Siji Soetan, who was the first legal draftsman that took over from the white man. Of course, the late Balogun of Egbaland, Chief Femi Esuruoso was one of us. We have also Dr. Ishola Abudu an orthopaedic surgeon, who is practising in London; then we have Oba Dapo Tejuoso, a medical doctor.
What of Fela?
Fela was my classmate and he was a genius by every standard. When we were in school, at the age of 11, Fela could play any musical instrument and could read music. And it is on record that Fela was one of the best at Imperial College in England where he had first class in music. It was the same thing with Beko. Beko qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 21 at Manchester University, which is a record till today. And I thank God for his life and I’m very happy for what Fashola did in his memory in Lagos. I’m not a politician, but I like people who appreciate. Look at the park named after Gani Fawehinmi too in Lagos. Fawehinmi and I were very close friends from 1957 and he was an honest lawyer.
Did Fela show any sign of activism while you were all in AGS?
Oh, from day one he showed it. At AGS, your trait was easily seen in you. Fela was in a class by himself in music. Fela would tell you, let us follow (Oba) Dapo Tejuoso to the chemistry class but when it comes to music class, you all follow me because when we were given a test for three hours, Fela would finish in one hour, while all of us would be struggling that the time was not enough. When we went to China in 1985 with Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, they had to introduce the professor by Fela, saying this is Fela’s brother and they were playing his record in China. And Olikoye was a professor of paediatrics on WHO study tour. The same thing with Beko, from childhood, they showed the traits and I’m happy that AGS had wonderful people. Oba Sijuade too was in AGS. In 1952, when he was there, Kuti used to accord him special respect. When everybody committed an offence, and Sijuade was there, he would say why did you join so so and so group? He had seen it then that the man had something special in him and that is why he was never flogged in school and because of him, Kuti would set the whole class free. Another one of us is Chief Robert Clark, who we used to call Oyinbo. One thing I cherish most about the school is that you were given the opportunity to detect and develop your talent.
There used to be rivalry between your school and BBHS where your friend, Olusegun Obasanjo attended. I don’t think he would want to agree with you that AGS is the best.
Let me tell you this: it is divine that I found myself at AGS. I was at Owu Baptist Day School with Obasanjo, Ajibola, Onaolapo Soleye and when we were in school, to go to BBHS was just like a promotion exercise. In a class of 30, the first 20 must go to BBHS; it was automatic. Bola Ajibola and I, we were there and we took the entrance examination to go to BBHS and we went there to collect the list of books and stuff, but the oyinbos decided to do what they liked to do. Then, if you were four feet 10, you were too tall for the school. And at that time, Bola Ajibola and I were above four feet 10 in 1950. We had to go and read Standard Six but instead of that, I went to AGS, while Bola went back to do the BBHS entrance and when it was time to measure his height, he stooped and shaved his hair to hide his real height and he was admitted. He and Oba Adegboyega Dosumu were classmates at BBHS and you can see the height thing today. But I thank God I went to AGS, and they still came to visit me and I would warn them when they were coming on Saturday because I was a boarder, that they should be very careful not to walk on the lawn, nor touch the wall because if they did, Kuti could appear anywhere to punish them irrespective of who they were. That is why (Wole) Soyinka didn’t come to AGS because he came to visit somebody and when he saw the way people were flogged, he ran away. But his younger brother, Femi, who is a professor of dermatology came; their sister who became the head of nursing at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Mrs. Tinu Aina, attended AGS. And in those days, AGS was also known for sports and we won major competitions. Our school fees were higher than BBHS’ because of sporting and other activities. Then, Kuti’s philosophy was, ‘my brain is better than my books’ and the motto then was the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I thank God that as part of Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International, I have had the opportunity to minister to mankind.
I’m sure some people would wonder that you are talking about your days in secondary school as if you are discussing your undergraduate days. So, it can as well be right to say that going to secondary school then was equivalent to attending the university today.
No, you people are lucky. The other day I was discussing with former President Obasanjo; I said can you imagine, when we were in school in the ’50s, you could count the number of secondary schools in Ogun on your finger tips and the only university around was UI, which also had to take care of students from other West African countries. So, the admission there was competitive and that is why many of us had to go abroad to study after secondary school. That is one area many of us have to thank Chief Obafemi Awolowo because apart from starting free education in the ’50s, he encouraged people from the Western Region to go abroad for training in major professions with scholarships. Somebody like Chief Alamutu was the first Nigerian to have a scholarship to study hotel management abroad and when he came back, he started running Ikoyi Hotels for many years. Today, we have more universities in Ogun State than most African countries.
But in terms of quality, can we compare the education you had then with what is obtainable now?
No. The education we had at AGS was far better than what obtains in some universities today, which is very sad. When last did they open the Olabisi Onabanjo University, which has now become the centre of cult activities? Yet, we have UNAAB, which is clean of cultism and that is why it is one of the best universities without any industrial action. I will tell you that the multiplication of universities is not for quality at all and this is something that is worrying some of us. Most of my children attended Ife; today, about four of them are lawyers but they practise abroad and I can’t blame them for staying back there because of the condition at home. I have never in my life stayed without employment for one week and I thank God that I can account for everyday of my life from when I left school till today, so it can’t be possible for any of my children to roam about without a job.
How was your experience in England at that time or was your father very rich to support your education?
My father was a very rich man in his time as a cocoa farmer and a very close friend of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But what he was giving me was not sufficient to maintain me because at that time, for him to give me £25 a month was a lot to him and for me in England, it was the minimum to survive, so it wasn’t easy. My wife and I, we did the same school certificate in 1956 and when I insisted that we must struggle together, she came over and we did A-levels together at Woolwich Polytechnic; we started studying law together and of course, she wanted to go and be a practising lawyer and she went to the Bar and came back and joined the judiciary. They were the first set of legal officers in 1976 when Ogun State started and she was first a magistrate and she rose in rank and became a High Court judge before she retired. But I studied hospital administration in a ddition and because God had more or less ordained that for me. Again, because my wife wanted to practise law, so I didn’t want the two of us to do the same thing, hence hospital management. When I left Zaria, I went to UCH where I spent three years and later left for Ife to head the teaching hospital at inception in 1977. I left Ife to go and head the psychiatric hospitals board from 1978 to 1985. From 1985, I became the chairman of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital and in 2000, I became the chairman of Maiduguri Psychiatric Hospital and between 2005 and 2009, I became the chairman of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, which was established the same year as the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria). Today, I’m the chairman of the board of trustees of the Institute of Health Service Administration of Nigeria and we have 32 university teaching hospitals in the country and all the directors of administrations and all the administrators, we meet yearly where we map out the management and health development of Nigeria and we have an organisation that can assist government in health policy matters.
What then became of your law degree?
My law degree has given me advantage to do some of what I do, but I just decided not to practise law. My brother was an attorney-general; my wife a retired high court judge and four of my children are lawyers.
Did you influence your children to study law?
No, it was their own choice. My daughter was the one I wanted to influence into studying dentistry and I took her to Benin to do that but she did only one session and decided to quit. She is now an employer of labour and a consultant to Guinness on labour relations and employment and she got married to an Igbo guy.
We learnt that you wanted to scuttle the relationship between her and the husband.
Yes, I did but I sincerely don’t know what became of me because by that time, I was in Rotary. I was apprehensive for her because of some traditions in Igboland, which I had seen. So, the day my daughter said he wanted to bring someone home, I was happy but I was disappointed that she brought a young man called Amaechi. At that time, I was the first Agoro of Egbaland, the first Akinlagun of Okeona, Osi of Orile Owu; I thought, how could my daughter marry an Igbo guy? At that time, I was the president of the National Council of Owu People, which consists of 32 Owu crowned obas, who were supposed to attend the wedding of my children. What I did was I sent her abroad for study and as soon as she got to England, I told my son to keep an eye on her. After she finished the one-year study, I thought it would be a good idea to extend her stay there so that she would have met someone else instead of Amaechi. But as things would happen, despite all her stay abroad, when she was bringing in someone, it was the same Amaechi. But the guy was smart and he broke into fluent Yoruba and told me that he was born and bred in Lagos, that Toun and he were in school together and even when I sent her to Baltimore in America, he had also been there and I was helpless. But I thank God that their marriage has been very wonderful and they are blessed with beautiful children. In fact, the joy I have is that one of my grandchildren has the best result in his school in England and that would be published in a newspaper with his picture in England. He had 13 As at a go.
Has your closeness to former President Obasanjo influenced your personal life?
It has because Obasanjo is a special creature of God and we have come a long way. For eight years that Obasanjo was president, there was not a week that we did not speak on the phone and anything I objected, he would look at it twice even if he would go ahead with it. From childhood, Obasanjo has always been a gifted person. Let me tell you a story; in our own days, there was no football as we have today. We used grape orange as balls. Whenever we wanted to play, we would divide ourselves into teams and Obasanjo would not know which side or wing to play. But any group that he decided to join eventually would win. It was a mystery. Obasanjo is one man that is very hard working. When he was military head of state, he was writing his own speech and he is very talented. In 1998 when he came out of prison, he and Beko were released together by Abubakar. The day they were to arrest Beko, I was lucky to escape being caught in his house and probably got arrested together. He had asked me to go to his house and have a look at a document which was to be used in nailing Obasanjo during the phantom coup trial. I read the document in which they had implicated Obasanjo in Beko’s bedroom. The SSS (State Security Service) descended on Beko about five minutes after I left. So, when they were released and were told they were pardoned, Beko did not like that and he vowed to protest that he never committed any offence for which to be pardoned. Through me, he and Obasanjo met and they struck a deal to reject pardon and to demand that the other guys they left behind in jail be released. Beko wrote the document which Obasanjo signed and sent forward to the authorities which was treated with dispatch. Today, if there is anything I want from Obasanjo, I can easily walk up to him and ask him.
As someone who has the ears of Obasanjo, what efforts have you made to address the crisis in Ogun State as an elder statesman?
I can tell you that I talk to Obasanjo a lot about it. I was the one who took Gbenga Daniel to Obasanjo in the first instance in 2002. Obasanjo did not come across Daniel from anywhere and both of them are alive today. At that time, Osoba was in the AD (Alliance for Democracy), even Daniel too was in AD, but I went to Obasanjo who insisted that I should be attending the central senatorial meetings in Tunde Osunrinde’s house in Ikija and Obasanjo funded it. Whatever we discussed there, I would go and brief Obasanjo the following day. One day, I was going to Maiduguri and called at the Villa and he asked about our meeting. I told him that we were planning to come out with Doyin Okupe as governor but he said it would not work. Then, Okupe was his media man. Obasanjo warned me not to be party to the arrangement and went further to say that one word from him would sink Okupe. At that time, Okupe had spent a lot of money to sell his candidacy. So, after our next general meeting, I organised another one with Alani Bankole, Femi Coker, Titi Ajanaku, Tunde Osunrinde, Sule Onabiyi, Derin Adebiyi and Col. Raji, where I told them what Obasanjo told me. While we were looking for an alternative, Ibikunle Amosun came in and when he learnt about what happened, he left that day to bring in Gbenga Daniel in Maryland, Lagos and put down N5m as support for him. Daniel had to join the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) and I had to bring him to Obasanjo for endorsement at Ake Palace and that was how he was adopted. It is just that all what Daniel is doing is very unfortunate because even when he won the election, he was still very close to me and would visit me and we would discuss. The first place Gbenga Daniel ever visited as governor was Coker Farm settlement because before that time, I had been telling him that look, the thing you can do is to be the Awolowo of our time. I gave him the idea that he should start with agriculture. We advised him to serve just for four years and he agreed. He went to Coker Farm and I told him that that was where Awolowo started making his name and most of the land there was donated by my father. Gbenga is alive today, Niran Malaolu is alive today. Gbenga called Malaolu to come and talk to me how Awolowo started the Coker Farm settlement programme and that was going to be his priority. He said he would focus on agriculture and employment and I introduced Maria Sokenu, an Owu lady, to him and that lady worked so hard to fight unemployment in Ogun State.
So, at what point did he start disagreeing with you?
The turning point between us was the day I called him and asked him to do whatever he had to do in four years and leave. Despite all Awolowo did as premier, he refused to go for a second term because if he had done that, they would have rubbished him. I told him that Amosun was supporting him with the understanding that when he too wanted to take over from him after four years, he would also support him. But the moment he got there, he turned around. It is on record that when Gbenga Daniel wanted to start his campaign, he had no money. Oba Odeleye was the one who gave him the highest donation and it was sent through Taiwo Odesina. By October 2003, Gbenga had started shifting ground and had started changing. The person I introduced to him, Biodun Oduwole, who he promised to make the commissioner for health on the account of what the person did for him during the campaign, he didn’t make him. Instead, he chose Iyabo Obasanjo.
Maybe he probably did that to please Obasanjo.
No, he wanted to do a psychological thing even though I had nothing against that. He did that because of the incident that happened. You know Iyabo came to Ibogun with her friend when they were attacked by gunmen and Iyabo was very shocked. Daniel should have told us why he did what he did. I went to him to tell him to help those he said he would help but he didn’t do anything. The truth about the matter is that Gbenga began to tell lies, which is unbecoming of a governor. Gbenga Daniel derailed and the day we met at Obasanjo’s sitting room, he greeted me but I refused to answer him. When Obasanjo asked why, I told him that the guy had derailed the day he started planning for a second term and I told him that he would leave with disgrace because he had betrayed the hand that fed him. He did the same thing with Obasanjo; without him, Daniel would not have made it as governor. I happened to know that Obasanjo used to increase the security vote for Ogun State because of his own personal security in his home state.
What is the way out of the crisis?
The truth of the matter is that the decision has been taken concerning Obasanjo’s stance and that is the end. Obasanjo is the chairman of the BOT and a former head of state and you can’t ignore him. Not only that, Obasanjo told me before anybody that (Goodluck) Jonathan would take over from (Umaru) Yar’Adua; he would win the primaries, he would win election. And if you look at his projection, most of what he said has come to pass and that is why Obasanjo is the Ebora Owu (Owu divinity) and I am the only one who praises him with that.