Chief Ebunoluwa Olamiotan Omoyele (OON) recent- ly turned 90. He obtained his first degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London in 1959, after which he returned home and joined the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria in 1959. He served in a number of ministries, particularly some of those referred to as “Economic Ministries”. He was a Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. He also served in the defunct Ministry of Lagos Affairs.
Recently, he marked his 90 birthday and also launched the second edition of his book The Civil Service in Nigeria: Evolution and Challenges. He spoke with EFFECTS two days before his birthday at his Surulere residence in Lagos.
How do you feel at 90?
I feel beautiful but it is by God’s grace. It is God who gives you the gift to live so many years on this planet. Whatever you do is just an addition. Having said that, it is expected that human beings should live normal life. Everything should be done normally; if you drink, don’t drink excessively, you should drink moderately; if you smoke, you should smoke moderately or not smoke at all; if you get married, or before you get married, pray to God to give you a good partner and live a good life together. These are the basic things. Even the lord Jesus Christ would expect us to do and know how to utilize the grace of God. The grace of God given to you should be properly utilized. These are some of the things that contribute to longevity. It is also there in the book of Proverbs.
At 90, you still write, you walk without a walking stick, how do you cope?
Like I said earlier, it’s the grace of God. It is not on my own. It is the gift that God has given me. Normal- ly, I can say I do things moderately. I do not smoke. The doctors would say these are the things that help you look healthy but I still say that it is the grace of God and when God gives you the grace and you know how to utilize it, things would work normally. At 90, it is not Ebun Omoyele’s doing. My emphasis on that is that people should be very close to their God.
Your wife is sitting beside you, can you tell us the secret of your marriage?
Young people should pray to get a suitable partner. You live happily together, you do things together, you understand yourselves, you pray together, and you do not allow yourself to be manipulated by friends. You have to develop your own characteristics to the glory of God. We have been married for the past 56 years but it is the grace of God. We also pray that God will give us the grace to understand each other. As a couple, we do things together, we pray together, we do many things together, we don’t listen to gossips, we love each other, when we started having children, we do not even allow our children to interfere with our married life, that could happen, some couple they neglect themselves when they start having children. They should know how to adjust themselves.
Parents give wife to their sons in those days, was she given to you as a bride?
No. We met ourselves, we love each other and we introduced ourselves to our parents.
You met in school?
(Laughs) We met in a social gathering.
Was it love at first sight?
In a way, it might be. Before I finally approached her, I have seen her in three places but whenever I wanted to talk to her, (I don’t know how) she would disappear. I saw her later with her relation again, she was very attractive, and I went after her.
How was life growing up, did you grow up in Lagos?
I came to Lagos when I was 21 in 1951.
How was life in Lagos then?
Life was very easy and secured. We were young, I was living on the mainland, and we can walk in the night. We go and dance and walk back home and nothing happens. These days, you cannot try that. There are security problems all over, these are really posing dangers, and we didn’t have these tensions when we were growing up. Life was very easy, things were very cheap.
What lesson have you learnt about life?
Whatever religion you embrace, do it properly. I’m a Christian and I believe in the lord Jesus Christ, I believe that if you walk in the Christian way, things would be alright for you.
At 90, what informed your writing of the second edition of your book?
It was based on our findings and comments received from some well-meaning readers. We have written the second edition to reflect the necessary amendment in the affected chapters in the first edition. The historical background to the Nigerian Civil Service contained in the first edition is reproduced in the first edition with some slight amendments. The write-up serves as an ease of reference for those who already possess copies of the first edition and useful information on Nigeria Civil Service to those who are coming in contact with the book for the first time.
It’s widely said that corruption emanates from the civil service, is it true?
No. I’m ready to have a war with those saying it. Corruption did not emanate from the civil service, it is the political class, it is the political class, and it is the political class. I’m not saying they are clean but it was the political class when there were no more rules and regulations. People accuse the civil servants but it is not correct.
What change would you like in the civil service?
There is nothing wrong in the civil service itself; it is the political class who changed the texture of the civil service. Before Murtala, when you are appointed, it
takes a long time before you can become a permanent secretary, you must have worked 15 to 20 years after leaving the university. Then, the structure changed, Murtala sent away some perm secs. Buhari after he took over, he also changed it by sending the permanent secretaries away. Murtala sent away nine permanent secretaries and Buhari sent away 17 perm secs. When Muhamed came, his accu- sation was that the top civil servants had deviated from their normal duties, they are suppose to regulate government policies , now they have become advisers and executors. Gowon relied on the civil service. He took advice from the civil service, he did very well. And that is why when the civil war was fought, no borrowing, no loan from any person. Nigeria financed the civil war and we succeeded. Many things were done.
What is your favorite food?
Dodo and Ewa. (Plantain and beans)
What time of the day do you write?
I write when it’s convenient for me. My daughter and sons-in-law when they come to my house they first of all check me in my study. When I’m not there they then go upstairs. I’m always in my study reading.
How would you assess the economy of he country?
The economic situation is not good. The atmosphere is polluted. Economically, things are not easy and the government has to do more to bring Nigeria to its for- mer glory. During the civil war, we didn’t borrow money. We had so much, even IMF was begging us to take loan and we said we don’t want loans, we were buoy- ant enough to finance the war and we did. The civil service cannot talk publicly, that is the nature of the service; you can only advise your minister, or your political head, if he accepted that’s fine.
Suppose you to see Buhari face to face, what would you tell him?
One thing a political head should do is to be very careful of their aides. If I see Buhari face to face, I will tell him the same. ‘Mr. President Sir, be very careful of your aides.’ Some of them are flatterers, because they don’t want to lose their position they say things attractive to Buhari even though they know it’s not good.
What would you like to be remembered for, when you are no more?
That I was able to contribute to my community, to the Nigerian government. I can boast by the grace of God that I have integrity; I’m a man of integrity and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ.