His home is located right among those of the ordinary people: no fence, no gates. He is readily available, a man of the people. The Obaleshi of Ileshi and the Asaaju of Odo Oro-Ekiti, High Chief Olawumi Falodun, even at 91 still has a sharp vision. Baba Falodun, as the people of Odo Oro call him speaks with SAM NWAOKO about himself as a notable teacher and school administrator, Awoism, politics and politicians, among other issues. Excerpts:
BY way of education, what level did you attain in your academic pursuit?
I started my primary school at Iye-Ekiti. I attended St. Andrews College, Oyo, which in those days was like a university and I came out with Grade II Teacher’s Certificate. I can’t remember the exact year now. I started as a Pupil Teacher. I had what was called Higher Elementary Teacher’s Certificate. I worked in primary schools in many towns, including Ile Oluji and Ondo town, both in Ondo State now.
I gained a Teacher’s Certificate in Education and later I studied at home to pass GCE both at Ordinary and Advanced Levels. After that, I went to the University College, Ghana and graduated in 1957. It later became the University of Ghana, Legon. I also studied at home for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and God granted me success in flying colours.
Afterwards, I worked as a principal of many schools, including Ibadan City Academy in Ibadan, also at Ipetumodu, I worked as Principal of Fakunle Major in Osogbo. I reconfigured the school from what it was to a comprehensive secondary school, for which the name was changed from Fakunle Major to Fakunle Comprehensive High School, Osogbo. I also worked as Principal of Teacher Training Institute at Oye-Ekiti.
Many young, educated people of your days were popular with students’ activism, campus agitations and politics. The story is told of one Adewale from Ijurin-Ekiti community in Ijero Local Government Area, who was a popular Action Group youth activist. How much of this did you do?
Yes, we were active in students politics and activism. I know Adewale that you mentioned very well. I would say they were coming behind us in those days; he was one of our lieutenants. Really, we were very active in student politics when I was at St Andrew’s College, Oyo and when I was in Ghana. I participated in different theatres of political life in the university. Then, when I came and I was restless; you know politics is in the blood, I joined the Action Group. I made my mark then. Then there was Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I was active until a couple of years ago. I was participating in political activities all around us.
Looking back at the politics of yore, what would you say was the attraction? There seemed to be more orderliness and focus then, compared to what obtains now. What made the difference?
My observation is that people in those days were really very, very dedicated and honest in what they did. I recall that we were regarded as the core Ekitis who were noted for honesty in all its ramifications. We were really very strong and believed very strongly that whatever we lay our hands on, we made a success of it. In other words, we were more or less a showpiece for those around us. We did our best to see that we set good examples for those around us: honesty, dedication and all that. We were noted for all that. In those days, when you talk of Ekiti, it was honesty, dedication. We thank God that we were counted among those people, unlike today. Of course we still live by that today and we still have it.
Some hold the opinion that these qualities of the Ekitis attracted Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Did you work closely with him and did you also hear such things?
I worked with Chief Obafemi Awolowo closely and we met one on one on several occasions. We were not just followers, we were acolytes of Chief Awolowo. We believed so much in him and worked very hard with him. In fact, he trusted those of us with him that time. I want to say that we were very honest, dedicated and really focused that time. That’s how I can describe it in simple terms.
Where were you when you were appointed Commissioner during the tenure of Chief Adekunle Ajasin in the old Ondo State?
I contested election to the Ondo State House of Assembly and won the election. But I spent roughly one week when I was appointed as a state commissioner in the Ajasin government. I was appointed as Commissioner for Health. I worked for about two years as Commissioner for Health. Later I was posted to the Ministry of Agriculture and later the Ministry of Establishment. I operated in these three areas in accordance with the manifesto of our party. I thank God I made my mark in those areas as Commissioner.
When you served in those ministries, there would have been certain things that stood against your beliefs either as an individual or as a disciple of the Awolowo philosophy. How did you manage through civil servants that are allegedly corrupt and one of the problems of the Nigerian polity?
I’m grateful for this question. At that time, I regarded my being in politics as an opportunity of showing that, as a Nigerian, and as an Ekiti man in particular, we have certain services to render to distinguish us as people who are noted for honesty and dedication in the cause they believe in. So, that principle guided me in making my way known and clear to those civil servants who were working with me. For instance, I made it known to them that they shouldn’t forget that I’m a politician, and that the door of my office should be open to all and sundry, because I’m first and foremost a politician who would want to make the best of the opportunity that I have.
So, I made it clear that everything that I put my hands on must be properly and well done in such a way that my boss, Chief Ajasin, would be pleased and happy. Nothing like any form of corruption, but honesty, dedication and focus. Incidentally, I had the confidence of Chief Ajasin, who was my immediate boss and, again, I had the opportunity of interacting very closely with Chief Obafemi Awolowo because I was secretary of UPN right from the beginning, especially during the Ajasin – Omoboriowo era.
The Ajasin – Omoboriowo era was one that shook the old Ondo State and indeed the Western Region of that time. As a politician then, did you at any time look at the fact that the people on the other side then, who were affected by the turmoil, were also “our own people”?
Those days were turbulent… But when you are in it, you must not look back. Although not many of us were really involved in the killing, maiming and all that, as a leader, and, of course as secretary of the party for some years, I had to make my stand very clear, that I must remain faithful and loyal to Chief Awolowo and to Chief Ajasin. This is because we looked at them as our mirror and we wouldn’t want to fail or disappoint them. Everything we did in those days, we did with sincerity and honesty of purpose. We thank God that the trust was there.
Looking at Chief Awolowo through the prism of the Ekiti standard of human virtues, how would you rate him? How much of a moral compass did you see in Chief Awolowo compared to those ingrained qualities you already carry as an Ekiti man?
Oh yes! Chief Awolowo was a worthy, trusted and responsible leader in whom we had every confidence. Then we had a pride that it was unheard of that an Ekiti man would steal. I’m sorry I keep referring to our being Ekiti but I must let it out. It was never expected that Ekiti man should be found where he should not. Chief Awolowo was a beacon and I will say that he was an inspiration to us. So, we were able to work closely with him. Ajasin too; I worked directly with him and with his honesty and transparency, he and Chief Awolowo wouldn’t expect anything less from us. Those of us from Ekiti harboured this added pride that we cannot be found wallowing in any dirty water; not to be honest, not to be transparent and all that. You just want to carry the pride that you are an Ekiti man, unlike today! It looks strange to us that an Ekiti man in politics should steal! Things that don’t belong to you should be converted to your own? No. That shouldn’t be. You should not fall below that standard of transparency and straightforwardness known with Ekiti. You must also defend your name and your father’s name because that’s also very important.
Going back to your experience as Commissioner for Health, you were said to have gone to India to buy drugs and equipment for the free health programme of your party, the UPN. What happened then?
It was not only India; we also went to many countries in Western Europe and parts of northern Africa. We were in Egypt, Tunisia and some other countries, and Western Europe. I made the trip because I was the Commissioner for Health. We made the purchase and they used to give us bonus, or what could properly be referred to as discount because of the large quantity purchase. The foreign companies from which we made purchases would make offers to me and explain that the discount wasn’t part of the quoted prices. They said I could take it as my own gain because the discount could be converted to my own. I would say no, write everything down. The discount is not for me but for the government under Chief Ajasin. Not only that, I felt that as an Ekiti man, you must be downright honest to maintain that name which we inherited. All these things guided us to be able to make it without disappointing Chief Obafemi Awolowo or Ajasin. We tried to set good examples according to the grace God has given us.
Then sir, were there no prodding by some of the people you had dealings with, people who would explain to you why it wasn’t wrong to take what was offered you especially since it was considered to be legitimate personal earnings as a government representative? Did any of such happen from, say, your subordinates or colleagues?
Yes, there were really. I had so much of that but so far as I’m concerned, there were persuasions. But I told them that ‘even the discount which they said belonged to me as a person, write it down! It must go back to the government and not me.’ In fact, there was a time we were given some amount to buy drugs and some other things and when we were done, I returned every kobo back to the purse of government. However, it was not all of us that did that, but a good number of us did. Ta ni ma fi jo, tí mà á gb’ówó tí ki se t’emi? Sé Awólówò ni ma fi jo? (Who would I be taking after, cornering money which doesn’t belong to me? Am I taking after Awolowo by so doing?) Or is it Ajasin, the man I am working with directly that would be proud to hear that I did such a thing? We just believed that transparency, honesty, dedication should be our guiding principles.
Compared to what we have now, we tend to hear it more than we see it happen: Transparency, honesty, probity. Looking back and now, do you see this country going back to the days when people like you served?
Ha! In all honesty: No! The answer is no, because I still remember that towards the tail end of my service, as an active politician, some of my lieutenants said: “Oga, all these clean, clean attitude of yours and I don’t want to be stained thing cannot take you anywhere o”. But I replied that ‘that’s how I’ll maintain it till I die’. I told them. So, they already knew who I was and what I stood for. My lieutenants, my leaders all already knew what I could do and what I wouldn’t do. They knew what I was capable of doing. By the grace of God, I won’t fall below expectation. Never, I won’t. So, like I’ve said, the idea to maintain a good name, the idea to remember the son of whom you are and the idea of showing good examples to those around you are the ideals and principles that helped us a lot so that you won’t like to fall below expectation and betray trust, no matter the situation.
I was noted for being a very strict teacher. And really, I was very strict. I wanted my students to be hardworking and dedicated and to be transparent. Anything below that, no. That’s just my general life. What I’m trying to say is that I believe in disciplined life and I imbued that in my students in primary, secondary and teacher training schools. One of my students was Wale Adenuga of the “Ikebe Super” and “Ajasco Family” fame.
At home, how much of your discipline and strict posture has impacted the life of your children?
You ask from them… They know I won’t tolerate any indulgence, laziness, idleness and all that. They know and I think they are the better for it today.
Unlike today’s politicians and sundry leaders, you don’t live in a house that is all fenced up? You’re not bothered that you might be disturbed by people or something?
Not at all because I regard them as my people and I am their leader and so have we had to mix. When I see them around, I feel very happy. No discrimination. So, the question of fencing didn’t arise. In all humility, I regarded myself as a man of the people and that was how I operated.