Former National Treasurer, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Segun Agbaje, who is also a former chairman of Epe Local Government, Lagos State, in this interview with SEGUN KASALI reminisced on his background and growing up.
How was life as a Mushin boy?
Ahh! You know, in any community, you have this side and the other side just like two sides of a coin. Most of the time, one has to blend it because if one had grown up in Mushin and one is now living in Lekki, one wouldn’t have any fear. If anyone tries to scare you, one will just make a move to remove his tie, even if he wasn’t putting on one (laughs). I won’t be incorrect to say Mushin is another college, including Ajegunle and Oshodi. There are a lot of lessons in there, but one has to make a choice; either to go to school or not. But, the school system really helped me then. So, I am proud to say I am a Mushin boy because I was able to pick the good part of it.
Which was the good part?
Firstly, I want to give glory to Almighty God for turning my life around. You know, because some of us have that kind of background while growing up, people believe that we would drop out at after secondary school because, for somebody like me, I was a back bencher when I was in school. Even if there was space in the front, we would leave that seat and go to the last seat at the back.
Most of the people at the last seat don’t listen to teachers and they are known as bad boys. Fortunately, bad boys back then are those they call big boys today. One thing is that I am from a home where education is valued but many of my brothers did not have that opportunity. So, I always have that in mind to always remember my background.
What was that background like?
I am from a polygamous family where people fight for themselves and one must be ready for education. So, most of my seniors stopped at Teachers’ Training Grade II certificate and you know that Grade II teachers of then were highly respected.
So, I always remember that I am from a family that wants the best for me. All these put together, I thought that I needed to go further. So, I worked for seven years when I left secondary school before I advanced my education at Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro for National Diploma and went for my Higher National Diploma at Lagos State Polytechnic.
What kind of jobs did you do for seven years?
As omo Mushin, I was a bus conductor; Fedeco bus driver; journeying from Mushin to Yaba, Mushin to Idumota. Then, I had no choice about jobs I could do or cannot do. No. One has got to do something and be getting something from somewhere. During my bus-conductor experience, I was able to raise some money. Then, I had someone who wanted to dispose of a vehicle that could be used as a taxi. I quickly moved around, added money to what I have got, bought it and was able to pay back within six months. So, I was a car owner at a very young age. I was using the taxi to take passengers from Mushin to Oke Afa, Isolo. I moved from there to Idumota to carry people selling nails and by 12am or 1am I would be back home. In fact, 99 percent of my friends depended on me. So, with this money, I set up a chin chin (snack) production company and people were buying at Oju-Iwoye market. That was what I was doing throughout that period and having made money from the business, I had to further my education because I was already seeing some of my mates along the road. They were in different places – universities, polytechnics and colleges. Having thought through the fact that I had good results while I was in secondary school, I resolved to go to the university.
You had good result despite your rascality?
Of course. I was a Prefect and I am sure you know that brilliance is one of the requirements for being a Prefect. They would surely look at your academic performance. And it was only in Mathematics that I had a Pass in my first sitting and that was what brought me for a re-sit in a school in Epe. I had eight As.
I just don’t have flair for mathematics. We were just in class because it was a prerequisite and must be passed. So, it was not funny then that I had pass in my school certificate. I had to get it because in those days, one must pass with credit, in English and Mathematics in order to gain admission into the university. So, I was able to attend Olabisi Onabanjo and from there, I had my PGD (Post Graduate Studies). I went to the University of Ibadan for Masters in Managerial Psychology. I also have Masters in Education at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso. So, as I was growing up, I started seeing that education is something that is needed for everyone.
What kept you going despite the challenges?
There was a day I saw a friend of mine, Bayo Alao-Lateef. He was one of our juniors and we knew they didn’t know much in school then. I met him on Post Office Road at Mushin. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked what I was doing and I told him I was a commercial taxi driver. He was surprised and asked me if I was joking and I said no. He now said I could get admission and study part-time or go through JAMB. He was the one who bought JAMB form for me. But, do you know the funny aspect of it? From that day till the date of writing that examination, I did not have any syllabus. I was just doing my work. The guy was the one who reminded me that “Segun, your exam is next tomorrow oh.” Funny enough, it was when I got to Nigerian Model Primary School in Idi-oro, that I bought pencil and eraser. But, all in all, I still scored 222. And that was how I got admission into the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro. So, I think that was the turnaround for me regarding education.
Other memories you want to share?
I remember one day, someone was to pick me from Maryland Mende and drop me at Onipanu. But he did not and I had to make the journey on foot, daily and we were living in the same building. I was sleeping on a mat in the sitting room. So, whenever I look back, I would say to myself that this life is nothing. Even though it makes my heart heavy, I still thank God. For a fact, this particular incident encourages me to be good to people because I can never forget.
How have you been giving back to the society?
I thank God Almighty that I am one of the people that should continue without stopping to help people because if God can give me an opportunity to be alive and to thank Him, I should not hesitate to put smile on people’s faces considering what I have gone through in life. That is why in Epe today, I have some people whom I sponsor outside the country for their education, sports, business and much more. I am not tired of helping people even up till today. As I am talking to you, I have 20,000 copies of big notes. I have 2,000 already-sewn uniforms for primary school pupils.
So, I usually go to schools to meet teachers, asking them to give me names of pupils having financial challenges to have basic things like sandals, school bags and other things. Secondly, I thank God I am able to financially assist as many people as possible. Once I hear ‘school fees,’ I will surely attend to the person.
Helping people must be dear to your heart…
Yes. This is because there were a lot of people when we were growing up that also wanted to go to school but there was no means, including the brilliant ones that did not have the opportunity. In the morning before going to school, we have hawked puff, egg rolls, baba dudu, kulikuli and so on between 7 am and 8 am before going to school and after school that effort is repeated. There were many of our friends who did this and it was really a challenge to them because it affected their education.
How did you meet your wife?
When I was serving at a College of Education, I was posted to a class as an instructor. Then, I saw her that she was a beautiful girl. Yes, I was attracted to two ladies in that class and interestingly, they both bear the same name “Lola”. So, they both thought I was looking for them. Well, one way or the other, my wife was the first to extend hand of friendship. I could recall the day we had our first close contact; that was the day she gave me Trebor. I asked her: “Lola, please give me sweet now.” And she obliged. So, I used the opportunity to tell her that I had wanted to see her but, you know, we were in school and I was a corps member. So, that was how I started pursuing her and she eventually gave me a ‘yes.’
What are the things she would have wanted to change about you?
I am a very hard guy. She wants me to have God in my life because I don’t believe there is nothing I cannot do when it comes to man-to-man. I don’t fear anything in life, but God. But, my wife usually tells me that I need to fear people. I don’t have any fear. Let me give you one example: A Major-General was coming and soldiers were just pushing people anyhow and the man was not in uniform. So, I told the soldier pushing people when he got close not to touch me. The soldier was shocked. And I had to be at the top of my voice saying ‘what is the problem?’ So, the man’s attention was drawn and he called the soldier to order. Then, he moved. But he had pushed many people, and my wife was also warning me. But, it was the spirit I imbibed from Mushin that nothing could move me. You know in Mushin when we were young, we were often involved in street fight. And if you had engaged in street fights, you would not have any fear that somebody is coming and all that. So, that spirit of boldness, and that you have to stand alert at any time, is in me. Before today, I was a ChrIslam (combination of Christianity and Islam). But today, I am a Muslim. And I do tell people that I am a believer.
How do you unwind?
Women like me and I like them too, and they are running after me but you know any man that has some money in his pocket, women will definitely run after such a man. And you know once you have the height and looking fresh, that is it. Ninety-nine per cent of my time, I like (to have) people around me.
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