Tunde Lekan Olatunji easily doubles as a motivational speaker. At least, that is what the NPO Reports’ encounter revealed about him. The Chief Whip of Osun State House of Assembly is eyeing a doctorate even in the face of his many tasking initiatives as he dashes from lawmaking to community projects and agriculture. When he sat with Nofisat Marindoti for this interview, his responses as published below would simply shake your poor prejudices about the typical Nigerian politician. Read him and we are convinced the Computer Engineer, Banker and politician rekindles your hope that it is not all rotten in Nigeria’s house of politics. Excerpts:
NPOReports: You were known to be a banker. How did you find yourself in politics?
I am a graduate of Computer Science and Engineering. I have Masters in Business Administration; specializing in Financial Management. I also have another Masters in Computer Science. My experience cuts across business development. I have expertise in business turn-around which is one of the reasons my banking experience cuts across five banks. I got posted to take over ailing business units, re-position them and then set them on the path of efficiency and profitability. So, that is majorly the reason behind my movements from one bank to the other. I got pushed for such assignments and to the glory of God, it was quite a fulfilling professional experience for me. It actually equipped me for what I do currently and because at no time did I work in a business unit that was already cruising, either in terms of efficiency or profitability and all I needed to do was to go there and manage or consolidate. It was usually that tough task of taking over that which was ailing either on the verge of closure or that had not been able to do well in investments. It was usually very tasking but I tell you, it was a great enabler for my career projection because for every of those challenges that God was able to help me overcome with the support of my team, it led to higher responsibilities and opened doors.
NPOReports: Don’t you think the public sector is also rewarding depending on your performance?
I quite agree but the difference between that of a private sector and a public sector is that all manners of rules will come your way, and not all of them are with fundamentals that you can really relate with. When I was with Intercontinental Bank, I was among their 300 best staff out of well over 15,000 staff of the bank. It was a group every staff wanted to be part of. We called it the G-300. They were the core of the bank; the ones the bank celebrated and I was fortunate to be part of that G-300, even less than three years of joining the branch, barely two years.
I remember moving to another bank and I joined on the 13th of February of that financial year and by the end of the year, barely nine months, I was given the award of best business development manager of that sector, where I was working before I joined the public sector. You know that it's an opportunity for a staff to aspire to a political office when still in the bank.
Of course, there are statutory days or months that you are expected to have resigned from previous appointment and usually in the private sector especially the one we work for except you are given an appointment and the bank could decide if they'll allow you take that or not and then you could just go and have the opportunity of coming back and those things are usually if you want to go for further studies, professional courses and not all banks even give those opportunities.
But for you to aspire for political office, it's a choice you have to make. You have to meet certain people, but by virtue of my modest contribution to the development and the growth and progress of that bank and by virtue of delivering on my targets and being able to make a difference in the unit given to me and being able to change from everything going south, negative and to everything going north, that is positive, that gave me the privilege of allowing me to go and vie for an office with an approval of a leave of absence that even if I failed at the polls, I could return to my work. That was a very great opportunity.
And for me, I treasure those moments, opportunities, great privilege for me and I can really say that that prepared me for a time like this. These assignments that I take on now which are more like my vocation; done out of my passion in service of my community; it's another ball game entirely.
NPOReports: So, what does being the Chief Whip entails?
From the very first day, 2nd of June, 2015, when I got sworn-in, it's been quite tasking. It's been challenging. But for me, I believe in the saying that challenges are the breakfasts of those who want to succeed in life. It is their breakfast, lunch and dinner. You sleep with challenges; wake up with challenges.
Life itself is about solving problems and everybody will be remembered for two things in life: the problems they caused and the solutions they provided. So, everybody must strive to be a solution provider, most especially coming into governance. Governance is purely problem solving.
I did not just find myself where I am. I am not an accidental public office holder. It was a deliberate move. I was equipped for the task and I knew what I was coming to do. You'll be confronted with either conforming with them or standing out. You make choices everyday and so you might even get popular.
I remember when I started my banking career, I told myself what I wanted to achieve and by the glory of God, I was about to achieve it.
My principle is that of an eagle. When the storms gather, it gets excited, it doesn't get scared, it flies into the wind and that is why the eagle flies above all other animals. So, I know that if I go into the system organically, it will be more comfortable for me but I know that I cannot go far and I know that I can only fly when I go to places that people don't want to go. So, those were the things that guided me and God was faithful. So, it is usually about my record, my performance, my ability but coming to public sector, it's not the same way, even if you are the best in your community, if you think you have the most intimidating CV, if you think you are the smartest, the people still decide your fate, so it's a different ball game entirely.
For instance, if you are vying for an office, you still have to submit yourself to the electoral process where people decide your fate. A professor; his vote is one, that guy that cannot even read, his vote is one, and so at the end of the day it is what is counted and that is democracy.
Public officers complain of getting requests not connected to their offices, so how do you manage financial requests beyond your capacity?
Well, what a man does not have, he can't give. Though, am going to make sure that I do things to the best of my ability. Somebody that has N10, 000, there's no way he can answer a request of N15,000.
But I have always had the orientation that you can be a blessing to people with whatever resources God gave you, even before coming into the public sector, because my working experience traverses so many locations and all of that.
There's no location that I worked while in the banking sector that I would not identify an area of service to that community. When I was in the university, I was fortunate and privileged to be a beneficiary of Federal Government scholarship. I remember a payment as at then was enough to cover my five years of tuition in the University but my parents never stopped paying my tuition because I had a Federal Government scholarship. They never did so what I did then in addition to some other things I did to generate little income; I was into poultry, I was into farming snails. I did most of those things not because I was in need of them. My parents sacrificed all they could to give us the best education. So, at no point did my parents fail to send my monthly pocket money. At no point did they default in paying my school fees.
And so, little Naira and Kobo were coming from those things and with that I was one of the best in my Faculty. I was able to multi-task even at that young, tender age and then, I started supporting motherless babies home. A part of my scholarship fund went into little renovation of the orphanage; supporting the children that were brought there.
Some of those children even bear my name. It was quite fulfilling and my weekends most especially, I give a part to them. I would go there, look at the babies and right from the days of my undergraduate, I was paying part of the tuition fees of some of my school mates who were indigent and were not brilliant enough to get the scholarship that I got.
But they did not go into frivolities. I used all of those things to support people. I had to give seed capital to some people to start small scale trading. That was me when I was an under graduate. I never thought I would become a public officer.
You'll lose destiny, if you are waiting till the time all the roads to your place will be tarred, electricity will be stable 100%. All the ease of doing business will be there; yes these are good but they will only enable those who have vision.
When blessed Jacob, the man who started Alabukun in 1918, tell me the ease of business that was in place. Alabukun is a product that has lasted over a century. Till today, you'll see Alabukun. That was a black man who barely managed to finish elementary education and look at what Alabukun has become today and the time he started.
He said he made up his mind that he was going to be successful. He was born and raised in Ikorodu. He trekked from his father's house in Ikorodu to Abeokuta on foot for three months for apprenticeship, he started learning how to modernize traditional medicine, started experimenting and one evening he came up with what is known as Alabukun till date.
For a young man to have decided to trek from Ikorodu to Abeokuta for three months in search of purpose and everything was against the locals then. It was under colonial rule but he made up his mind that regardless, he was going to be successful.
He used to be a publisher. There was Alabukun Almanac that he published for many years but you see somebody today, even after attending Harvard to study business administration, he cannot manage a N500,000 business to success. So, while am not giving excuses for things that are not working, am only saying that they enable vision, they don't give vision to people and that is why even if in advanced economy, there are beggars on the streets of New York.
What is happening around you is nothing compared to what is happening within you! No matter how giant a ship is, it won't sink until water finds itself in. Titanic was the biggest ship then as we read but it sank not because it was that windy, not because of the turbulence of the sea, not because it was sailing on a mighty ocean but because all of those things happening outside found their way in. Once there's linkage, it will sink but as long as water or anything does not find it way in, it sails.
So whatever happens around, we should see how we can make the environment much more conducive to people, make much more better because they will actually help to unlock the potential we have but it can only unlock for those who have something to unlock. If you pick a goat from Osogbo and you dump it in front of the White House, it will still behave like a goat and if you pick a lion from one of the villages in my constituency and you put it in front of the Prime Ministers it will still roar because it is a lion so it is about what you carry and that has been my belief and my position, and that is what I tell the young people, challenges are going to be there, even in governance and politics.
For instance; people will say these politicians are all crooks. Some people believe that everyone is going there to steal money.
So when people come with requests, based on my ability, I do the best I can do just because of my own philosophy about life and that was why I cited some of those things I did when I never knew I was going to come into office. So coming to office, it's the same and I don't do them for political reasons. Quite a number of things I do are devoid of noise.
Ok sir, what plans are you currently working on for your constituency?
Well, we've got plans but the plans are not the problem but the grace and the opportunity. The pandemic has not helped; it has affected virtually everything. But I believe that where there is a will, there will always be a way, and in addition to the little we've been able to achieve in the first term, during the time of Covid-19 lockdown, on five different occasions, I had to give palliatives; starting with nose masks, hand gloves, sanitizers. We gave out over a thousand of all these as a way of sensitizing them. We didn't know it was going to be this serious. When it became serious, we had to go back and give our people foodstuffs, cash supports. You see, it was quite heavy on us but sachet water at the right time is worth more than bottles of the most expensive wine in the world at the wrong time.
But it's not just about palliatives. Every serious country must begin to look beyond this period, that is, post-COVID era. How well every state, every country, even individual will recover from the Covid-19 pandemic shock is also a function of the quality and the depth of preparedness we put into it now. So we don't wait for Covid-19 to be over before we start planning.
As we are fighting Covid-19, we are also thinking ahead and that was what informed the Covid-19 essay competition I put up and beyond my expectations because I believe it's something intellectual, we got about 300 entries.
I was saying if we could get something around 50, 70, just less than 100 but some people even submitted after deadline. I was very impressed at the fact that the Nigerian youths have huge potential to turn this nation, if we could just give them that platform to express themselves.
The essay was strictly for Osun State indigenes, residents and undergraduates and it was quite amazing and what it was all about was: Osun post Covid-19 economy: practical solutions to move from pandemic to prosperity.
I decided to introduce a cocoa plantation project. What we want to do it is to revive the cocoa planting culture of where I come from. Cocoa is one product that has been of great economic value to the people of my constituency. There's no home, no family that has no link with cocoa plantation in my constituency including myself. If your father does not have a cocoa plantation, his own father must have, your grandfather must have and it's like that. And the economic significance of Cocoa is such that when oil money dropped to something even below the cost of production, something was quite amazing. The food commodity did not witness same. The average price of Cocoa was still very stable.
Anywhere lockdown was announced, I don't see where people were rushing to get a new vehicle, or new clothes or mobile phones. What was exhausted on virtually all the shelves of supermarkets was food. So, it shows that Agriculture; even in wartime, people will still eat.
An average Cocoa tree breed for 100 years and fruit for close to 70 years and if you plant it today and you nurture it, you'll harvest for years to come. If you plant at the age 30 and you are still alive by 100, at that time am sure they'll be helping you to harvest. So, we want something that is not only just for now. For that, we are working on 20,000 Cocoa seedlings to be distributed freely to my people.
I have a bill already in process and I hope that with the support of my colleagues, that bill can be passed into law; it's a bill on the State of Osun Entrepreneurship and Innovation Trust Fund. What we want to do is create a department, a private sector driven initiative that will help to provide support and promote entrepreneurship and innovation particularly for young ones in the State.
At the inception of 7th Assembly, there were reports that you wanted to be the Speaker. How has that affected your relationship with the incumbent Speaker now, Hon. Owoeye?
Well, I am not driven by position; I am driven by purpose. Leadership is not a position of titles but purpose and clarity of vision. Offices can only enable you to make more impacts. They can only help you facilitate and do more. It doesn't stop a man from making his impacts. The Speaker of the Osun State of Assembly today is Hon. Timothy Owoeye and he remains the Speaker and he's been able to lead the House. We are one big united family. He's up to the task.
Our relationship is cordial and good. By my nature, I am contented and focused on where am going. We have seen in some State Assemblies where some things have happened but have you heard such from here? It has been a good working relationship with everybody including the Speaker.
And whether a place is working well or it's not working well, you cannot divorce it from the leadership. If there is no peace in this place, you must question the leadership and leadership is not just about one person. I am also one of the principal officers of this place. So, if there has been relative peace here, that is supposed to tell you that there are no frictions.
We all believe in his leadership and we are all giving him all the support and he has respect for us; it's about mutual respect. So, it will just be distracting to discuss any other thing outside of that. He has made it in no way for any member not to function. It's for the individual who has been voted for representation to know why he is here and the expectations of his people and ask that by the time he's done in four years, if I am asked to write a book, what will be the content?
So, after this second term, what next?
I don't have plans and why am I saying I don't have plans? Today is nothing but a consequence of our yesterday. So, tomorrow will also be the implication of today. All I know is that one of my purposes in life -which I pray to God to be able to fulfill - is that I am here to contribute my God-given talent to building a functional and prosperous society particularly Nigeria and Africa and am driven by that.