Muyiwa Ige: As Gov’s Children, Our Friends were Still Coming to Govt. House to Play Soccer with Us

0

His Rockville abode located in Agodi Area of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, is befitting of a king. At a glance, the expansive compound could be mistaken for a tourist site as captivating rocks adorn the landscape. Dressed in blue attire, Architect Muyiwa Ige, the eldest surviving son of the late colourful politician and one-time governor of old Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige, welcomed this reporter into his home. Born January 28, 1967, he is a chip off the old block. With a burden of expectation placed on him, he has not disappointed as he does not live in his father’s shadow. From studying architectural design in America, to handling high-profile projects and being involved in politics in the last six years, having served as Commissioner for Land, Physical and Urban Development in Osun State, he has become his own man. As he turns 50 today, he share with Funke Olaode the narrative of his golden years, joy and pains

How would you describe life at 50?
I heard age 50 is a new 21. To me, age is a number.  I am still sharp mentally. I feel the way I felt in the last two decades. As one advances in age, I will take everything as it comes. Somehow, I don’t have parties yearly but every decade I seem to celebrate God’s goodness in my life. When I was 20, I had a party and when I turned 30, I had a huge party in Washington DC and my 40th birthday was a benchmark of celebration. And at 50, we will try and have a good time.

Looking back at life generally, were there things you would have loved to do differently?
I was born in Ibadan at the University College Hospital, UCH, on January 28, 1967. I chose to go the school I wanted to and I chose architecture as a profession and overall I am an offspring of Bola and Atinuke Ige. I would not have done it differently. One can say in terms of process in improvement, when there are opportunities one should take them. I am very content though there are other levels to conquer and believe one should not rest on one’s oars. I am who I am and I pray to be a better person. If there are things I can do differently may be to be a bit calmer and I think I am getting there now; before I used to drive very fast. But now I slow down because my children are getting older and life is giving one a different angle where one is becoming more responsible as you live for others.

You never wanted to be a lawyer
Yes. Ironically, I am surrounded by lawyers: my parents, siblings and even my wife is a lawyer. I dared to be different. I just felt that I had a flair for the arts and was one of the first pupils to use platinum pen for drawing in my school. I used to look up to some architects in those days.  Architect Omisore was doing well in Ibadan, Architect Olumuyiwa Oluwole and then vice-president in the Second Republic, Alex Ekwueme. I just did a research and applied to Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, United States. I told my father I wanted to study architecture and he called Dr. Ekwueme to find out if it was a good school and he said yes. And my father allowed me. Fortunately for us, my parents were very free and didn’t impose anything on us or on me and they allowed me to blossom with their full support. But now I will study law later doing one or two-year crash programme in Buckingham University.

Having accomplished parents must have placed a burden of expectation on you to excel
Absolutely. It is an excess baggage but it is a good load because they were wonderful people and their legacy lives on. I make bold to say that I will forever cherish being an offspring of Bola and Atinuke Ige. My mother was the first Yoruba Justice of the Court of Appeal. She was first female lawyer from Ibadan and she was also acting Chief Judge before she became a Justice of the Court of Appeal in 1993.  The excess baggage is beautiful because anywhere I go the name Ige opens a lot of doors. It sends a right message because my parents served humanity. And we are reaping the benefits of that wonderful legacy and likewise my children. I cannot afford to be silly and must stay on the right path.

By now, one would have expected you should have stepped into your father’s shoes. Why haven’t you?
The cobbler that made my father’s shoes has hung his tools. Honestly those shoes are huge and enormous. My father started active politics as a student politician at age 15, writing articles in the newspapers. At a relatively young age, he was publicity secretary of the Action Group (AG). At the same time I have to live my life and shouldn’t live in the shadows of my late father. Nevertheless, I am conscious of the fact that I am an Ige and one needs to display some level of responsibility towards people and in one’s locality. Once aware of that, you make it your mantra and guiding principle.  Yes, we are all political animals and we have a responsibility to the people.

But were you somehow scared out of politics because of what happened to your father?
There is nothing to be scared of. I am playing politics but remember we can play politics in our own different and unique ways as my father did. In the last six years I have been in active politics having been appointed commissioner for land, physical and urban development charged with changing the skyline and landscape of the State of Osun particularly the urban areas. We had a responsibility guided by the six-point integrated plan of the administration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. We have a responsibility to the people and as my father always said, once you have an opportunity to serve, serve to the best of your ability.

Your father was nicknamed ‘Cicero’ for good reasons. What will you say are your strong attributes?
I am very direct. I am a core Ijesha man who wears his emotions on his sleeves. My heart is in the right place. I don’t try to envy anyone. I try to be content. I do my very best to help humanity. My weak point is that I am very easy when it comes to assisting people in the areas of education and health which I consider the Iges’ trait.  Again, I try to encourage young people and I blend in every stratum: from the highest to the lowest. I have no airs about myself. As long as I make others better I feel very easy. I am relatively impatient but I am learning to be calmer. I try to encourage people and try to do my very best to be selfless. I go out of my way for others to blossom.

It has been 15 year since your father was murdered. Do you think you can still get justice?
I trust that we will sooner or later once we have a sensible and responsible government that must attend to resolving my father’s murder and all the unresolved murders. It gives a sense of responsibility to the government and for those who did it, their conscience will continue to deal with them for the rest of their lives. As a family, we have always maintained the fact that the wrath of God will deal with the perpetrators. But it will be good to get justice on earth because they are walking the streets.

What are the things people don’t know about your father?
He loved dodo. He was a prolific writer. He loved to drive himself.  He was humble. He loved his children to a fault. I remember on the first of October 1979, after the swearing in as governor of Oyo State at the Liberty Stadium, the two of us just drove home. And for the first three months we were still living in our house in Ososami until the security personnel advised that he should move to the Government House in Agodi. He was a man of the people and that is what was incomprehensible that some people would come to his private home and kill him. My father loved to celebrate people if he knows your birthday he will call you.

Growing up, how much of an impact did your father’s status in the society have on you?
I was 12 and half years old when he became governor and we were just a happy family. My mother was a judge and my father was a governor and a well-known politician. So we were just normal kids. He had a lovely Honda Prelude and he would drive himself around and would even go and inspect projects by himself.  Everybody knew his plate number, OY 1AF, his personal car as governor and people would be hailing him ‘Uncle Bola.’ I have always been conscious of who I was because position of leadership is transient. As said earlier, we lived in our private home in Ososami. My mother had an official quarters in Kobiowu Crescent at Iyaganku and later moved to the Government House. I was moved to a boarding house in England. And we would come home during holidays but we would still go back to our old neighbourhood.  My mother didn’t quit her job to become ‘First Lady’ because she was still going to court. She was powerful but humble as a judge. We were level headed and never got carried away.

You mean your teachers did not treat you differently?
No. Because we didn’t want it. We were just regular students in class and all our friends were still coming to the Government House and we would play soccer together.

Then as you grow older how many girls wanted to date you?
I beg o! I wasn’t interested in that. Yes. I had female companions. But when I was ready to settle down, I married one of the most intelligent, beautiful and smart women you can ever imagine. My wife, Oyinda, is a lawyer and mother of my three boys.

Was there a time you incurred your father’s wrath?
Not really. I remember I started driving at the age of nine. I have a brother who was a tough guy. He was five years older. My maternal aunty always encouraged me to learn so I was watching how he drives. When I was about 13, the late Alhaji Arisekola Alao just bought his Benz 450 SL and brought it to the Government House to say hello to my father.   But my father wasn’t at home. He said Muyiwa, can you drive? I said yes, I can Alhaji. I got into the car and as we were driving out of the Government House my father was coming home for lunch. The rider came and when I saw him I just froze. I released the seat of the car backward as soon as his car passed I jumped out of the car and ran upstairs. I thought he didn’t see me since he didn’t say a word. For two weeks, he kept mum over the matter. We used to have fellowship every month at the Chapel and a lot of family members used to come around. I was coming down the stairs when he said ‘Hope you are not driving this evening?’ It was worse than being spanked. I said ‘no dad.’ I just went straight back to bed. That was the kind of trouble I got into.

Who were you closer to between your father and mother and why?
Both of them were special. My father was very liberal. If you wanted to take a decision he would ask you whether that was what you wanted. I was closer to him after I lost my elder brother. He would address me as ‘Muyiwa, my beloved.’ There was a special bond between us.  Though, I was abroad at a time and he encouraged me to come back home. I eventually returned to Nigeria in 1999. Then he was heavily involved in politics and had to hold forth at home. I was my mother’s hand bag as she was always carrying me around as a child. And after my father’s demise, I left my house and moved my family to live with my mum. We lived with her until she died.

What is your greatest fear?
I am overly protective of my three boys and in terms of fear I am not fearful of anything. What is anyone fearful of? Well, sometimes people are afraid of death (though it is inevitable). We will all go one day but I don’t want to die young.

You have three boys. Do you regret not having a female child?
I have no regrets and my wife loves it that way because she is special and everyone dots over her. I am sure even if I had a daughter there would be competition (laughs). I don’t have any regret because God has blessed me with three prosperous nations. They will go and bring the lovely girls.

As an architect, what were your biggest and interesting projects?
Between 2000 and 2011, I actually carved a niche for myself in terms of assisting financial institutions to rebrand and give them different outlooks. We did a lot of projects with the old National Bank, now Chartered Bank, Stanbic IBTC and also worked with Ecobank nationwide. There were some flagships we did in Lagos. We also did some residential facilities. My present house was carved out of rocks. But the most interesting one I did before I came home was MacDonald’s Restaurant in Baltimore. I used to be a corporate architect for Mac Donald’s Corporation.  There is a children museum and it was a special project because it is a restaurant in Children’s Museum. In partnership with Disney, we brought in some children savvy equipment. It was a restaurant but didn’t look like one.

Should Nigerians watch out for you in 2019?
We all have a responsibility to play our own part. So not only myself,  Nigeria should watch out for all of us.