Hakeem Muri Okunola Back on the Grind


Even forever comes to an end. Hence when Hakeeem Muri-Okunola was tipped to succeed the former Head of Service, he knew he had been thrust into the vortex of history. More importantly, he understood that finally, the ides of fate had called on him to ride and tame the excesses and subtle machinations of time.

No doubt, Hakeem, the dark-hued dude has climbed to the top of the greasy pole; like a Bengali bride, he has become the object of lust and high affection of every element and juggernaut prowling the cutthroat halls of the Lagos civil service.

Prominent civil servants in the State lusting for wealth and perks of high office have re-strategized their blueprint for progress and achieving their heartfelt dreams; as you read, they are milling around Hakeem, and singing his praises to high heavens. Everybody wishes to befriend the new HOS. Suddenly, he has become the darling of everyone. He has become the toast of many favour-seekers and bootlickers who feel their lot would be bettered by patronising the new HOS.

His appointment follows the statutory retirement of Mrs Folasade Sidikatu Adesoye, the 20th Head of Service (HOS). By this appointment, HMO, as he is popularly known, becomes the youngest ever person to occupy such an exalted position in the history of the Nigerian civil service. He is 47.

He also becomes the most powerful civil servant in the state. The Head of Service position was formerly combined with the Secretary to the State Government during the military regime and the appointed civil servant automatically becomes the Deputy Governor but the offices were separated in 1999. Had that tradition subsisted, HMO would have become the substantive Deputy Governor of Lagos State.

But it has not been a smooth ride for the urbane gentleman and son of the influential Justice Muritala Aremu Okunola who died in 2004. He has had his fair share of rough-handling from the outgoing Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, who felt he was too powerful or so and redeployed him to the Ministry of Sports ostensibly to render him powerless. HMO virtually disappeared from the social scene and never went near anything beyond his Ministry.

An alumnus of the University of Lagos where he read law and the University of London where he got his Masters in Business Law, HMO was employed as Company Secretary at the state-owned Ibile Holdings before he was headhunted by former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who made him his Personal Assistant. He was later moved to the Ministry of Lands as Executive Secretary and later upgraded to Permanent Secretary. It was in this position he came into social, financial and political renown. His financial liquidity became a hot-button issue among bona fide money-men.

He flourished unfettered under the administration of former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola who gave him a free hand to run the ministry. However, Ambode felt otherwise about him and redeployed him to what the governor’s inner circle described as a desert. Fate has however conspired with HMO to outfox his adversaries. Now, like a phoenix, he has risen to the apogee of an exemplary civil service career.