Adegbenga Kaka: I Sold Toothbrushes Before I Became Deputy Governor

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He always gives thanks to God for sparing his life. When in primary school, Senator Adegbenga Kaka, erstwhile deputy governor of Ogun State under Aremo Olusegun Osoba, was struck by an ailment that made him unconscious and nobody had a hint he would survive it. But he survived. Luck also smiled on this Ijebu Igbo-born politician, who represented Ogun East Senatorial District in the Seventh session of the National Assembly, when as a National Sales Manager, Pfizer Livestock Feeds Plc, Lagos, he was appointed Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Ogun State. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, Kaka also talks about how he joined the struggle for the revalidation of the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election through NADECO, among others…

Tell us about your background?     

Adegbenga   Sefiu Kaka is my name. I was told I was born on May 14, 1952 to Alhaji Amusa Kaka and Alhaja Idiat Adebisi Kaka, both of blessed memory. I happened to be the fourth child of my mother, who actually lost the first three children, a male and two females. After my own birth, six other children followed, making a total of seven to my mother. And as of the time my father died, we were 19 children in number, though, I was number one to my mother, of the seven children my mother had, but I was number nine out of 19 children to my father. And when my father died at the age of 52, it was like the whole world was ending, in the sense that, as a firstborn child to my mother, I was just in Form One. Prior to that, I was totally unconscious of happenings around me, throughout my primary school, because of an ailment that didn’t give anybody an inkling that I could survive, but it pleased God that I survive it. After the survival, although, I had finished my primary school, but my father still insisted that I couldn’t go to secondary school, unless I finished the Holy Quran. As a result, leaving Ansar Ud Deen Primary School, Ijebu Igbo in 1965 I had to wait, until January 1968 after completing the Quran, before entering secondary school at the age of 16. Unfortunately, precisely on the 25th of October that same 1968, my father passed on, unexpectedly, just after a very brief illness. So, it took my maternal uncle, Engr. P. O Okeowo, to see me through from Form two, that’s Class two, at Muslim College, Ijebu Ode, through 1972 when I passed my West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). I later came back to Orimolusi College, Ijebu Igbo, for my Higher School Certificate (HSC). It was the same uncle, who saw to my passing through the university, which happened to be University of Ibadan, where I was fortunate to come out with a 2nd Class Upper Division in Animal Science. It is ironical that since 1968 when I lost my father, my consciousness kept on improving on a daily basis, to an extent that my academic performance, my religious belief, my closeness to God, also kept on rising, thus bestowing me a sort of unexpected wisdom to the extent that after my Secondary School certificate I initially toyed with the idea of going to work in a bank, and Union Bank was almost secured for me. But some elders said they did not support my going to work in a bank, expressing doubt about my continuing in my educational career to university level. They persuaded my uncle to discourage me. But to me, going to a bank to work was in order to ameliorate the living conditions of my mother and my younger siblings, but to them, it could probably destroy my future, because the money being paid would entice me so that I wouldn’t want to go back to school, and I had to jettison that appointment and went back for my HSC. After the HSC, I entered the University of Ibadan and, subsequently, I did my national youth service at Abakaliki Agricultural Development Corporation.  After NYSC, I returned to my former principal, Alhaji Ambaliu Sanni, who was then the chairman of the Ogun State Teaching Service Board. He was the one that gave me a letter of appointment and posted me to Muslim High School, Sagamu, and I had a full one-year teaching experience there, before I ventured into the civil service, against all odds. So, I spent little time in the teaching service, before I joined Pfizer Livestock Feeds, where as a Technical Sales Representative, I was initially posted to the then Gongola and Borno states respectively, where I stayed for about three months, before I got transferred to Sokoto, Niger and Kwara states, respectively and on each occasion, reporting to Kaduna. That sales representative experience completed my full exposure to the entire Nigeria, because the North – Central was where we were based.
Then, I have been to the North – East to the North-West and during my youth service, I was able to traverse the length and breadth of the Eastern part and to some extent, South – South and Middle Belt. So, in the course of my service with Livestock Feeds, I discovered that we moved our plan of action meetings, conferences, from one location to the other, across the country. Later, I became Area Sales Manager in the South-West, taking care of the entire Southwest and I was based in Ikeja, Lagos. It was as the National Sales Manager, while still there, that the Military Governor of Ogun State, then Navy Captain Alabi Lawal, later Rear Admiral Alabi Mohammed Lawal, made a Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources. When he was removed, Navy Captain, then and later Rear Admiral Oladeinde Joseph (Rtd) came in as the new Governor of Ogun State, and he also retained me and redeployed me to Ministry of Lands and Housing.
I later went into private practice, but I did the private practice not for more than one or two years when the NADECO/MKO Abiola saga, ‘Hope 93’ was dashed and NADECO was formed. Without being prompted by anybody, I found my way into NADECO and I was embraced and welcomed by the elders. And it was through the NADECO, we wielded a war against Gen. Sanni Abacha, not the intended war with gun, but with the brain and our God-given talent. At the end of the day, the era of party-politics came and I became the Vice – Chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Ogun State chapter and I later became the acting Chairman for a brief period of about two months. That is all circumstantial. When the primaries were done and Chief Olusegun Osoba was picked as the party’s gubernatorial candidate, it was more or less a unanimous decision by the party and the elders of the party that I should be the deputy governor, which to the glory of God, I discharged my responsibilities to the admiration of all and sundry. After leaving as deputy governor, I faced my private business squarely, especially developing my profession in Agriculture, furthering the poultry I had already established and raised it to a sizeable and optimal level. So, it was that, I was maintaining when the opportunity came again for me to aspire to be a Senator.  And glory be to God, I became a senator and I was able to discharge the responsibilities expected of me, both at the local level, constituency level and of course, at the national level, for which I give glory to the Almighty Allah.

What was your experience living in a polygamous home?
It’s both positive and negative, depending on which angle you are looking at it. It was only one of those ahead of me as my seniors from the other mother that actually got educated up to Grade 2 teacher level. For me to struggle and determine to go to secondary school was the making of the Lord. I didn’t know and nobody prompted me, but I was just desperate to join my colleagues, who happened to be in secondary schools. But the stumbling block, which later turned out to be a blessing in disguise, was my being drafted to read only Quran before entering the school. So, talking of polygamy, it afforded us healthy competition. It made us realise that we didn’t have the father, but he was the father of everybody and everybody must struggle to make ends meet. So, when my father died, it was very painful to me, because I couldn’t salvage my immediate younger brother and his sister that followed him, because I was at the mercy of my own uncle, who was magnanimous enough to take two others along with me to secondary school level. So, immediately I graduated I had to take over the responsibility of all the six younger siblings, but I couldn’t salvage the education of those two, that were immediate to me.

Weren’t you a beneficiary of free education in the old Western Region?

Of course. My primary education was free and what we were paying at secondary school then was just a boarding house fee and a little token. So, it was difficult to pay, because sometimes my father would have to pay at two installments.

Did anybody mentor or influence you in your chosen career?
I will tell you that, not necessarily, because my uncle wanted me to read medicine, but unfortunately, at the HSC level, my intention was to have Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. And so, because my uncle was an engineer, I settled with Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.  But within two months our Mathematics teacher left the school and there was nobody to the subject, I quickly switched to Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Again, our Physics teacher was not sparkling, and as if to add insult to injury, at the end of lower six, that’s within six months our then agile and erudite Chemistry teacher, Mr. Kayode Bamiro, now Prof. Kayode Bamiro at Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), left the shores of Nigeria for further studies. He was so good and we were enjoying him and when he travelled out, leaving us at the mercy of a Part – time Chemistry teacher coming from Ijebu Ode. Eventually, I had to fall back to my own ordinary level economics, without attending classes, I stubbornly registered for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, along with the General paper. But, because like we had more or less no Chemistry teacher, I scored ‘x’ because I ran away, from the second paper when I couldn’t provide any answer to any of the questions, and I just dropped out. So, I had to go and retake my papers. Attempts to resit it at Adult Education Centre of Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos, within the four and five months I spent there, I discovered that only God could save me with Physics, though I made spirited efforts, but only ended up passing Chemistry and Biology, and it was only Biology and Economic I had passed earlier. And I discovered that I couldn’t go for medicine and the decision now was to please my uncle by deliberately putting veterinary medicine as First choice and, then putting in Agricultural Science as Second choice. And by the time I entered second year at the University of Ibadan, we were to specialise and going for Veterinary medicine and when I looked back with six younger siblings with me, going for a five – year course would be a selfish agenda and I would need to quickly have to pass out of the school and then face the challenges of mentoring my own brothers and sisters. So, at that moment, I switched, initially, to Agricultural Economics, but a senior of mine, Mr Kayode Adegbuyi, who had just finished Animal Science from the university met me and in the course of our discussion, he asked, “what do you want to do with Agricultural Economics? Why don’t you go for something else more practical? Go for Animal Science. You can establish on your own. It is so desired and rather than looking for job, you will be an employer of labour.” So, I became attracted to it and I looked back and said, look wait a minute, if I want to do Agricultural Economics, I would have wasted time, repeating my examination and, because I wanted science, and why should I now go and do Agricultural Economics, since I had suffered for Science, let me remain in Animal Science and I would still fall back on the knowledge I have gathered in science over time. And that was how I settled for Animal Science. To the glory of God, I have no regret for it. The marketing I did at Pfizer was what attracted me towards the MBA, specialising in Marketing. And again, all are combined in a synergical manner to make me what I am, because I discovered that, even during political manoeuvring, campaign and everything, I needed no marketer to do most of the job, that I do within me. And the Agricultural experience has made me to traverse the length and breadth, and it has also opened my eyes and made me receptive to all ideas coming from all corners, be it religious, ethnic or whatever, I am at home with everything.

Did all these challenges, affect your marrying late?
It depends on what you mean by late, but I can tell you that by the time, I graduated at the age of 26, my first concern was how to salvage the education of my younger brothers and sisters, to an extent that, with my youth service money, N84 per month, I put my own Barrister  Ajibola, into secondary school. Then, when I got a teaching job with my N3, 840 per annum, I put the last child, Leke into secondary school, sustained the one in Form two and took over my sister in Form four and my brother in Form five, now a Chartered Accountant. So, I was spreading myself evenly and realised that I had a long way to go. The turnout was that I didn’t have any girlfriend throughout till I entered the university. And fortunately, the person, I befriended first, happened to be the one I married, though I had a lot of challenges. But realising that I had a long way to go and she was relatively comfortable. The father was relatively comfortable and she happened to be the only child to the mother. So, my resolve was that rather than wait for an elaborate marriage, rather than delay the marriage, the earlier, I went into it, the better, because she was having Grade two when I met her and we had decided that she must go further and she had to go for the NCE. And immediately after the NCE, we came together, as husband and wife. So, that was at the age of 29. I do think, you can say that one was too late or too early. At that age of 29, we had our first child, and to the glory of God, two years after, the second child came so that I had to combine all the three of us, with four of my younger siblings educationally, because by the time she had the second one, I realised that if we were not careful, we would be held down, without being able to move forward. So, simultaneously, I registered for my own MBA, while I asked her to resign her teaching job and she went for a degree programme at the University of Ibadan, full time. My two children, I resolved that, they were going to go to public primary schools, because I could not afford to take them, knowing full well that, I could still mend whatever shortcomings, that might arise from them going to public schools. And in any event, I never believe in all these private schools. So, I met some challenges with respect to that, but eventually, we got in. But at a time, it was like, I was having seven of them schooling at a time, and with only one source of income to carry them all along. So, I was forced to do some other part – time businesses, like selling tooth brush, selling cement, selling some other things like animal drugs and a lot of things to make ends meet. So, it was rough, no doubt, but the toughness actually made me what I am, because immediately, they started graduating about the same time, the Accountant, the Insurer, my wife and my own self, for MBA, we all passed out about the same time, leaving me with the last two. And what happened?  I discovered that, I didn’t need to go and borrow and what I owed, I was able to pay themwithin four months, before the four of us passed out. So, the next thing was to say, yes, let me start my own building in my own town and I laid the foundation, immediately. So, without allowing one thing to disturb the other, I was just doing trial and error within, and God was answering my prayers.

Ogun State is endowed with talented men and women.  How did the military governors pick and appoint you as commissioner twices? 
Well, the area you are going to is a very long story. First and foremost, maybe, sheer providence, maybe, the fact that some people had been watching my activities without me knowing. It turned out to be that, by the time, I finished my MBA and just, before I was promoted a Group Product Manager, Gov. Raji Rasaki was posted to Ogun State and my Managing Director, then in Pfizer Livestock happened to be Alhaji Idris Bello. He also had his first degree at UI in Animal Science and also had his MBA at University of Lagos and immediately, I joined the company, he became my mentor. I mean, somebody I admired and I took after. So, when I finished my MBA and Gov. Rasaki, who happened to be his childhood friend at Ibadan asked him to look for someone for him from my area (Ijebu North Local Government Area) to be appointed a commissioner. He looked out for me, but I was on my annual leave, holidaying in Kaduna. And when I came back, a week after, and I received the message and I went to him. He now confided in me and he said I should keep my mouth sealed, that he had actually, called for my file from the personnel department and compiled a CV for me, which he had dropped at Abeokuta. But about three weeks after, he called me again and told me that there were a lot of petitions from Ago-Iwoye and Oru/Awa, that Ijebu Igbo was domineering and as a result, Gov. Rasaki was thinking otherwise.
Fortunately, the Muslim Communities that were agitating also for more representation in government were also involved without my knowledge. But the petition was very strong and Gov. Rasaki said Alhaji Bello should help him and eventually, it has to be another Christian, being tossed forward by Alhaji Bello, who was Dr. Ketiku, now Professor Ketiku, was on for nearly 18 months. And immediately,  Ketiku was announced as Commissioner, I was promoted from Area Sales Manager to Group Product Manager and so, I didn’t feel like losing anything.
But God working in His own miraculous way, Gov Rasaki was moved to Lagos, while Navy Captain Mohammed Alabi Lawal was brought to Ogun State and the Muslim communities sustained the agitation for inclusiveness in the new Administration and they had the receptive ear of Navy Captain Lawal, determining to do it and Lawal gave them a challenge to look for a replacement for Prof. Ketiku. And as I was told, after I had left office as commissioner, because I didn’t know all that transpired, there was political manoeuvring, because my name came up again, while the Muslim communities were agitating and about four or five of us were compiled and somehow my name was not submitted, but I wasn’t in the know. I didn’t know how I would have reacted or not. So, Lawal had to call Prof. Olubi Shodipo, the then Vice Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye to help him search for somebody with Agricultural background from the Ijebu North Local Government.
He happens to be from Ikenne Local Government and so, it was an assignment that he couldn’t easily say, let me try this or not, but he had to fall back on his own former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and called the then Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof Atanda Adenuga. If you look at the trend, Prof Olubi Shodipo happens to be a Christian, Prof Atanda Adenuga happens to be a Christian and when Adenuga got the message, conferred with Mr. Timothy Efunkoya, another Christian. That one also was shocked and he didn’t know what to do and that one didn’t know who they were looking for whether for commissionership or not, but that one was just searching for someone with an agricultural background. He contacted his wife, who happens to be a Christian and it was his wife, that contacted my own friend, Alhaji Rashidi Asekun, who later told her that, Kaka, a member of his club, must have read Agriculture. And they called on me, and my CV was submitted and I furnished them with more than 12 names, with their background, both Christians and Muslims and eventually, they shortlisted three. And the three happened to be myself, another Christian and another Muslim. So, eventually, I emerged as a commissioner. If you say it is divine, I agree with you, and a lot of other things happened. And I discovered that I hardly struggle for positions and it is more or less, God’s doing. I learnt over the years that once I have something agitating my mind, I will just go to God, pray to God and if it is going to be for the goodness of the society and without any regret for me and my family, may God let it be. And if there is going to be any regret, may God push it away and replace it with something that will give me peace of mind.