Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin
The first Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Architects (FNIA), in the North, Pa Noah Babatunde Ogunniyi, recently celebrated his 80th birthday in Omido, Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. It was a huge gathering of family members, friends, professional colleagues and others.
The “birthday boy” in this interview spoke on private, state, national and sundry issues. Excerpts:
How do you feel being 80 years?
Being 80 years, I wished to be able to assess where things are, be it personal, community or national. When you do not know where you are or how things are going, it gives you a bit of conflict inside you.
Look at this community (Omido), I have been here for 20 years. I cannot say my being here for 20 years is obvious in the community. I don’t see the change I think should have been done here in the past 20 years.
What steps have you taken to change this perception?
I have made proposals for change in the community. Our old parents who did not have education started us off well. I was the foundation primary school pupil in 1945 and my father and his group did not have any form of education.
They just went to Lagos, tapped palm wine, returned home and started to develop their community. They constructed the primary school and the road that we are using today. They even changed the roofs made of grass or leaves to corrugated iron sheet. They made obvious changes.
So if I can be educated from here, from a generation that knows nothing about education, what can I say my replacingthemis? It is not obvious. Even our own children, they are in the university here and there, but do you see it in this community? If my illiterate parents could do things we could see, I cannot see anything that is obvious we have done.
My political involvement was to come from a sort of unknown society to a recognised society. When we were at a younger age, we were not equal with all the people in our (Northern) region. So I competed for that to free ourselves and be equal with any person in our own state. That is motivated from my education but what have we done with that?
Is there anything to be done about what you have enumerated?
At 80 years what can I do now about it? I cannot be in government it is late. I remember what Chief Obafemi Awolowo told us during the 1979 general elections. He said: “This is the only election I can compete for, after this one if you see me on any platform throw me down.”
We did not know he was going to die in 1987. (Chief) Bola Ige who followed him also had a proposal like that. But he was murdered in his own bedroom and here we are today. We cannot contest for anything now unless we are mentally ill. Our brothers who are behind us and our children should do that.
Government is encouraging youth to go back to farm to stem unemployment, what is your take on this?
I tried to establish this large agricultural thing between 1985 and 1990 we lost an equivalent of N450 million on our farm here. When people talk about agriculture I just laugh. They do not know what they are talking about.
I moved around the world to know why they are successful. America is number one. At that time, government subsidy was 66 per cent to their spending of 34 per cent. If you want to do large-scale agriculture, you must have a dam you cannot wait on the rain. You should have a storage system; you have to have a drying process where you can keep it for many years. You have to have the market to sell it.
You cannot do that on your own so such things do not make for progress. Why should my children go for agriculture when I did it to that level and failed? That was what my father did to train me. I built on something higher and failed, how can I ever tell any of my children to go to the farm to do what, they were not trained in agriculture like I was trained the local agriculture?
At 80, you cannot do anything and you are just looking at these conditions and they do not make you happy. We tried it practically and failed and we know why it failed. It is government systematic inclusive performance.
Do Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi states have any business being in the North?
For the Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi in the North, to me there is no challenge anymore. There is no person who is superior to you in Kwara State today. It could not have been deputy governor, but you are deputy governor today. Who is challenging you that you cannot be governor? At our own time, we could not even compete. Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin competed and he was in prison 13 times.
Did he ever become governor?
He was our leader before we told him unless the characters changed you would not win here. People were against you and that was why we brought in C.O Adebayo. It became some crisis and we went and said: “Baba they will not allow you to win, let us try somebody else.” We became friends we resolved it. That time we were not equal on decision level. But this time, where was (Bukola) Saraki who came here to be governor for eight years and put somebody else there?
Class level has disappeared. It is no longer relevant you are not there because of tribe or race anymore. It is your person that is the thing we have lost here because there is no such classification. No one is ready to come together and decide on somebody that can be the best for us everybody wants to be governor.
In 2007, eight persons came up from Igbomina land to be governor. I said it is wrong you will not win. All of you have a meeting select one person that person you select will know you put him there. Whatever you want to do you will resolve together. I did all I could through the assistance of all the entire Igbomina group. They refused and they all lost.
That thing we saw as a conflict has been removed. Unless you do not want to go for elections or don’t have the means to go out, nobody will say because you are Igbomina, it is no longer relevant. It is no longer tribe it is just your person.
We told Yoruba in Kogi State when they were going that let us stay together here we will dominate in num- ber. We will just put whoever we want but they said no. The highest position they can get there is Senator by their population. Once Ebira, Igala and Ata agree that power will be rotated between Ebira and Igala and that will be it.
If they are here, our population will be dominant and Ilorin is forced to join the North. Nobody knows Ilorin in the North anymore. If you don’t associate with others, you will not win anything no matter who you are. You cannot use tribe anymore. It does not do anybody any good, not even Fulani, not Hausa can use tribe any longer. The unfortunate thing is that corruption seems to be principal deciding factor now. If you have the money people do not ask where you get the money. I have been telling them, just take their money but make them look stupid. You want to give me money, give me money but I will not vote for you. What work did you do to have that money that is the education we are giving every body.
What are your advice or messages to our political leaders?
My message to politicians and those in government is that we should really think about what we want to do to make this place change. Even after we have won, what change are we going to make that will justify our being there? We must try to change our world.
We are as educated as any part of the world. Go to China, go to Dubai they are not more educated than us but we are not putting it to use to move ahead. There is no institution in the world that Nigerians are not there. Nigerians run the healthcare in Canada. We are everywhere but come together let us channel how we can make a change.
But corruption has blindfolded us even if you beg them to let us come together they will just laugh at you. Each person is just working for himself and I don’t know where we borrow the culture. It was when people oppress us we come together but when the oppression is over we do not listen to ourselves again. We did not even see anything good about ourselves.
What is the Igbomina collective move for the area?
I have done so many locally here. Arandun to Rore the road has been done, from Arandun to Omido here to Agbamu-Ashi in Oyan in Odo otin Local Government Area of Osun State that would have connected the entire route.
There was nothing I did not do with Chief Bisi Akande when he was governor of Osun State. I appealed to him to help us with a link road from Ila-Orangun through Arandun. But he said, “we have not finished our roads in Osun, why should we now be creating road from Ila to Kwara State?”
That was how acute it is, and I did all the secretariat (in Osogbo) and College of Education for free for them as Project Manager just on their own motivation because to have given that opportunity is very large but it was very successful. They couldn’t complain because of the success. There are plenty things we can do but there is no common commitment that will make us to do it.
What is the secret of your good health?
Each day when God wakes me up I must have purpose for the day. Once you have a pro- gramme for your life you will be fulfilled. But when you wake up and do not know what to do than to sleep, you will be useless to yourself. That will weigh you down there is nothing my mates are doing that I cannot do.
I sleep from 7pm to 2am. When I am done with my personal devotion and some exercise I do a lot of reading. I know what is going on, I will watch international news 30-45 minutes, local news but from 7am till evening again. We are just two living here. We just got someone to be helping my wife because she is becoming weak a little. She will be picking all the citrus.
Last year, she had up to N180,000 from picking cashew. I do not depend on anybody. We are living a communal life. There is no house I cannot go and there is no one that cannot come to me or my house. Everybody is my brother and sister that is how we live. You can never be rich here and cannot be too poor also. I cannot have money with me in excess for a whole week you spend daily as you earn it.
I do not pray for my years to be prolonged, when it is time, it is time. My mother was only sick for a day and she died. She went to church on Sunday and died on Monday at 90 in 1993.
My tomb is ready since 1994. I wanted to buy the casket but they said it would be out- dated that is why I did not buy it.