I Had My First Degree at 58 Years

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Oba Ashimiyu Adebowale Dada-Otta (Elegbe of Egbe Kingdom)

Interviewed by Funke Olaode

Where is the place of people of Egbe among the Yorubas?

According to history, Egbeland was founded in 17th century by two great warriors called Kudaki and Akeja who migrated from Ile-Ife. The inhabitants are predominantly Aworis and their traditional occupations were farming, hunting and trading. These two families were not related by blood but they married each other. That is the genesis of the current two ruling houses of Kudaki and the Akeja. I belong to the Kudakis and was installed Oba in 2007. I recently marked my 10th year anniversary on the throne.

How would you describe your growing up? 

Egbe dates back to the days of old mud houses. There were no roads. What we had was a footpath. My father’s house is  in Ija Compound. Ikotun town was a village. The Local Authority Primary School was founded in 1955 during Chief Awolowo’s free education programme. Of course there was no electricity but as kids we knew that it existed somewhere else such as Lagos Island. But like the popular saying that you don’t miss what you don’t have, we forged ahead. We used to trek from Egbe to Mushin during market days to sell our farm produce. Lagos Island was like London to us while growing up. I visited Lagos in 1962 on excursion and later went fully to learn automobile mechanic where I spent the next six years. 

What factors shaped your life?

It was my father. He was a farmer and politician. My foray into politics dates back to my primary school days.  My father who was a member of Action Group (AG) of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of political era influenced me.     There was a time he took me on a bicycle to Ikeja District Council where I helped him to sign some documents. From then on, I began to emulate him as a politician. You know ours was a polygamous setting with numerous children. I didn’t allow the circumstances to affect me. I made myself available to him and watched his footsteps during the political dispensation. Sometimes he would go to meetings in Alimosho and from there I began to gather enough knowledge of politics. 

At what stage did you embrace politics fully?

In the 1960s and 70s during Gen.  Yakubu Gowon’s era he instituted local government elections in all the states.  I was based outside Egbe then. I supported a friend who eventually won the councillorship in Alimosho. When his tenure expired after four years, the elders sent for me that I should come back to Egbe to attend meetings. This was toward late 70s.  The party system later emerged and I pitched my tent with the Unity Party of Nigeria. I was elected as a councilor from 1979-1983.  Two years as councilor and another two years as supervisory councilor for health. From there, I became popular in Alimosho area. Our chairman then was Alhaji Fatai Akinyemi.  We were enjoying the moment, unfortunately, military intervention came and disrupted the system and we all took a back seat in politics. After some years, another political party emerged under Gen. Badamosi Babangida:  Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention. I was elected the Party chairman of the party overseeing Ikotun, Egbe, Ijegun, Abaranje and Isheri. We were doing this until 1998 when another party emerged:  The AD, APP and PDP. I worked with the grassroots to give AD footing in Alimosho.

You have held various political positions with a little education…

I developed myself along the way. Mine was a staggered education that took me over 40 years to achieve due to lack of funds. With determination and commitment nothing is impossible.  After my primary education in 1961 I went to Lagos to learn automobile engineering and dabbled into business along the line.  I later acquired secondary school certificate 23 years after in 1984 and in 2007 I had my first degree in History and International Studies from Lagos State University at 58 years graduating with a Second Class Upper.

Why did you decide to pursue an education attainment that took almost 40 years to achieve?

 It was the urge to be relevant in the political arena that pushed me to go and acquire a degree. I contested for local government chairmanship in 1998/99 under Alliance for Democracy (AD). Unfortunately, there was a mock election in Alimosho here which placed Ayo Akinyemi above me. A degree holder was awarded 100 marks while school certificate only got 10 marks. I am a grassroots mobiliser but lost that mock election. I  decided to sit for ‘O’ Levels and  passed and applied for a degree programme in LASU as a Part-Time student and had a Bachelor of Arts Degree (BA). I now contested for Local Government chairmanship in 2003 when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu created 37 Local governments in addition to the existing 20. I was first appointed as First Executive Secretary and later elected as Executive Chairman in 2004.  I served for three years. I was still serving my tenure when the late Oba died. I didn’t show interest being an Oba because I am a politician. But fate played otherwise and I was selected and elected to be the Oba of Egbe in 2007.  I resigned my appointment and became an Oba. I remember we went to Asiwaju Ahmed’s Bordillion home to have a meeting and he (Asiwaju) told me to choose between the three: being an Oba, retain my position or take appointment as Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs. I was speechless because I knew the end of my political career was near. I decided to resign to govern my people. Among the three contenders for the position of Oba, I got 18 votes among 20 kingmakers. 

How do you strike a balance between being a natural ruler and religious leader?

I am a Muslim by religion. I went to Mecca in 1983. You give what is due to Caesar to Caesar. I can’t jettison the tradition of my people. I can’t say that because I am an Oba, I am alien to tradition. Don’t forget that in Yorubaland, there is no Oba that can say that he doesn’t have more than one religion. I may not be there physically to participate in what they are doing but I try to support them in my own little way. 

What changes would you like to see in your lifetime?

I would like to see a more united Nigeria. Again, I want government interventions in all the suburbs of Alimosho, in terms of development of infrastructure.  We can’t leave it to government alone. 

A National Response

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epeatedly, throughout history, leaders have led their followers in a course of action that resulted in collective good.

When the British army was trapped in Dunkirk, France, during World War 2 and defeat was impending, King George 6th called for a National Day of Prayer on 26th May 1940. Around the country people trouped to churches to pray. Immediately after, two events occurred which have been referred to as the Miracle of Dunkirk. A violent storm grounded the Luftwaffe which had already killed thousands on the beaches and a great calm on the channels allowed about a thousand little boats sail out to the rescue. Eventually 338,000 Allied troops, rather than the estimated 45,000, were saved and made it back to England. In his We Shall Fight on the Beach speech, Winston Churchill described the rescue as ‘a Miracle of Deliverance’. He said “we must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of victory. Wars are not won by evacuation”.

Around 788 B.C., the king of Nineveh led his people to seek God’s mercy in response to Jonah’s prophesy of impending judgment. In a significant act of supplication through mourning and fasting, the nation went before God. Their repentance led to God’s forgiveness and averting of the pronounced judgment.

The king of Nineveh, King George VI and many other leaders, have been able to make a positive difference of national proportion by rallying people to turn to God in times of crises.  

Today the news is rife with disturbing reports from around the world; snipers on the rampage, wars and rumours of wars, hurricanes and tsunamis, terrorism, nuclear threats and agitation for cessation. While some of these challenges may be within our power to manage, others are not. It is the later the makes us feel very vulnerable. At times like this, when we realise just how thin the line between life and death is, we should begin to ask ourselves serious questions about our existence. When we have reached the end of the road and we do not know what to do, it is time for us to turn to God. And He has promised:

‘If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Just as leaders on the national stage can make a difference, so can leaders on a smaller stage – in offices, in families, in constituencies, in communities. Followers can also make a difference by mobilising their peers, friends, associates and families to seek God. If we all did something from our little corners, it will still amount to a national response. And this response should include repenting from our wicked ways, fasting, humbling ourselves and praying. God has promised to answer when we call.

Divine intervention will make the difference, in Nigeria as it did in Britain and Nineveh.

 

•After a break of almost 10 years, I am happy to resume writing this column. In the last decade, I have come across people, in airports, in offices, at functions, who keep urging me to write again. Amongst them is ThisDay Chairman, Nduka Obaigbena, who once said to me “Why did you stop writing for us? Don’t you know it is a call?” Well folks, I am answering the call again, so, happy reading.