My narrow escape in Lagos molue —Adelabu
As former deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Adebayo Adelabu celebrates his five decades on earth today, he reflects, in this interview with some journalists, on his meteoric rise to the peak of his career, challenges while growing up, foray into politics, nuggets to success in life, among other issues. DARE ADEKANMBI brings some excerpts:
When you were in the banking sector, your colleagues were calling you Oyo State governor-to-be and you also resigned from that peak of your career as deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to have a shot in the state governorship election. You lost that election at the age of 49 last year. If you had achieved that, you would have said today that you are fulfilled. Is there regret on your path? Are you fulfilled at that level?
Yes! You are right, looking at it from the surface because we are human beings. I may not be very religious, but to an extent, I am spiritual. I believe in God controlling our activities on earth. I believe that it is only one God that is in charge of the earth and I also have my sympathy for both religions. I am a Muslim and my Muslim name is AbdulWaheed. My wife is a Christian and my mum is a Christian. So, I have sympathy for both religions. I will say that I have no regrets because physically, I have not clinched the position of the Oyo State governor which I aspired to, which was even the main reason why I left my job then. But let me tell you that I will see myself as someone with foresight and I know what I want. I am quite proactive; I don’t react to situations and circumstances. I plan ahead what I want to achieve. If I am doing something now, not for immediate but for what I plan to achieve later in future. I laid down three requests before God, years back.
While we were growing up and I was in secondary school, I assessed myself and I knew where my strengths were in terms of academics. My former school mates can testify to this. I wanted to become an accountant, a banker, an economist; that was what I had in mind. But from class three, I was the best in almost all the science subjects. You know they will now group you into classes: full science class, social science class, commercial and arts. I was number one in full science with Further Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology because I was always leading in all these. I knew my strength and I knew my weaknesses. My strength was in Mathematics and Economics. Any subject that I cannot hold just a single textbook and read and pass, I will never venture into it because I am a very serious student.
I had a lot of extra-curricular activities when I was in school. I was never coming to classes all the time because I was a social animal then. I was a break dancer. I loved dancing and partying that I could compromise going to classes. There was a party going on somewhere and I was representing my school in Literary and debates society, winning many medals. So, I knew myself that any other subject that would take me out of reading a textbook, I would not do it. But they require laboratory work to do sciences. Even classes, I have not attended let alone going to laboratories to mix chemicals and in Biology, bring a rat tomorrow, open it; toad this and that. I didn’t have the temperament, the patience for all that. I know that if I carry Economics textbook, O.A. Lawal, Iyirere, or Teriba, within two hours, I could read up all the 12 topics. Overnight, I could prepare for all my exams and I knew I would get nothing less than 80 or 85 per cent. The same thing with Mathematics. Literature, just pick Weep Not Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka, this and that and you finish and go and write exams.
Why did you succeed in it?
I succeeded in it probably because I didn’t enjoy so much of a parental care. I was just four years old when my dad died. The first wife was 28 years old, my mum was 23 and their husband died at 33. So, he had two girls he left behind as widows. Will you ask them not to go and remarry? They had their lives to live. So, the seven of us, they just packed us to our grandma’s place. They went to remarry about two or three years after. We were with an old woman that was just a petty trader selling pepper, onions and all that. How would you expect such a woman to fully take care of us? So, I was always on the street. The motherly love was still there; at least the woman would see us come home to sleep and she would know our whereabouts. But then, there was no full control of my activities because I grew up with an old woman. If I didn’t go to school, nobody would know. If I went, nobody would know. So, I had that freedom of choice and I want to thank God that it worked for me. If a little child had that kind of opportunity, eight out of ten of them would derail. I was able to choose what I wanted and today, no regrets.
So, I told God that I want three things before the age of 50. Sincerely, the number one, which I have been able to fully achieve, is I don’t want to continue working for anybody at 50. That at 50, I want to be the boss of my own and be able to employ people. As for me, I don’t want to work until age 60 or 65 before retirement. Why can’t I be in that position of employing people and also paying their salary? It gives a kind of fulfillment as one will be contributing to the economy of a particular place where one finds oneself. In fact, before I was appointed the Central Bank deputy governor, majority of the people close to me knew I was going to retire from First Bank at the age of 45 or 46 after my six years as an Executive Director. I became an ED at 39 or 40. I said at 45 or 46, I was going to retire as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of First Bank. But just a year before then, when they were discussing the possibility of me becoming the Managing Director of First Bank with me, when my boss then, Mr Bisi Onasanya, was to retire. My appointment as CBN deputy governor came in 2014. And it was a call to national service, I could not resist it. It was also an upward progression in my chosen career. I was looking at the MD of First Bank, but I became Central Bank deputy governor.
What was the other prayer?
My second prayer to God was that before 50, I also wanted to see myself producing myself in terms of children God has blessed me with. I wanted to be sure that if I am so busy in a particular state assignment, I could make reference to one or two of my children that could also step into my shoes and that with time, they can run the affairs from where I am leaving it. And I want to thank God that today, this is possible because I have a graduate, my son, who finished his Masters in 2019. Tunde, my first son, has his first degree in Mechanical Engineering from Liverpool University and a second degree in Construction and Real Estate in London College, United Kingdom. He just finished his foundation exam in Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) exams. My second child will soon be graduating too; he is in his final year. He should have graduated a year ago, but he did a year internship, full work, with IBM in London. He is reading Accounting and Finance at the University of Lancaster, UK, and he is taking after me. By next year, he is going to finish. It is a privilege that I can actually point at children, before 50, that I can tell to go and represent me somewhere without fear of failure.
But the most controversial is my third prayer. I told God that after retiring from private sector, all I wanted to do was my personal business and devotion to public service. I spent 23 years working in Lagos (1991 to 2014). Then, I moved to Abuja and worked for another four and a half years. I left Abuja in June 2018. That’s a total of almost 27 years outside of Ibadan, and I knew the kind of infrastructure in Lagos and Abuja. One thing I am tempted to do was I would stay back in Lagos or Abuja to be able to enjoy all these social infrastructure and others. And I asked, ‘Why must it be just Lagos? Why must it be just Abuja?’ People made Lagos and Abuja what they are today. In the 40’s to 50’s, the pre-independence era, Ibadan was more prominent than Lagos. In fact, then, there was no Abuja. So, how come within a period of 50 to 60 years, this thing has reversed? Ibadan was the centre of everything – the centre of manufacturing, arts, entertainment, education, health care. The University College Hospital (UCH) is the first teaching hospital. The University of Ibadan was the premier university, research centres; first television station (WNBC), radio station, first stadium – centre of everything. How come these things just reversed? I see that as a failure of our own generation. There is no prominent person in this country today that does not have a house in Ibadan – from Professor Wole Soyinka to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to Chief Odutola and many more. Everybody was in Ibadan, but when the creation of states came, everybody started going back. But even at that, it still did not affect the status of Ibadan.
So, I said okay, if you wait for the world to correct this anomaly, you will wait forever. But if you can take a bold step on your own, and do your own, other people will see you and emulate you and do their own. Before you know it, little drops of water make an ocean. As for me, I want to retire back in Ibadan where I have my families, friends, where I have everything. I feel more comfortable in Ibadan. So, the only gap we have now is how to establish all those comfort amenities that we have in Lagos and Abuja. Why can’t we establish them in Ibadan? At least, it was not the government that did everything in Lagos. They are private sector-driven. But why is it that our people don’t really do anything in Ibadan. So, I started investing in Ibadan. All my businesses, especially the operational businesses, are in Ibadan. If it is to take rent and all that, I can invest in real estate in Lagos. Is it not to rent? But any business that requires me going there every day, it has to be in Ibadan and I will employ people and contribute to the economic development of my state. I know the impact of my investment in Ibadan, the impact it has made on others. Some people are joining us in trickles.
How did it reflect in your contribution to the development of Oyo state?
For years, there was no franchise of branded hotels in Ibadan. I built Best Western, which is the first one. I now said if I could do these things and others are following, what about when I am now in government and government is able to invite and put official structures in place that will attract indigenes of Oyo State, not just Ibadan, to come back to Oyo State and do investments? What impact will that have on the level of employment, economic activities and prosperity of the residents of the state? All that we need for a state to exist, we have it. We have the best of road infrastructure and when it comes to food, we have the cheapest food. In Ibadan; we are surrounded by agrarian communities that can supply food directly into Ibadan.
I was impressed with the steps that Governor Abiola Ajimobi took when he became governor in 2011. Within a period of four to five years, we saw changes. This is what we are talking about. That is what prompted me to pour more of my funds into the state. And you see the boom that we experienced in tourism. Ajimobi came and changed and I felt that the man was already laying the foundation for what I was talking about. And I picked up and found out that in education, health, economy, infrastructure and everything, it will be good at this time. And he also brought decency to politics, politics of the intellectuals, not politics of thuggery and all that. So, that was what encouraged me and I said let me see if one can actually succeed this man so that after laying the foundation, we can just come and build upon that foundation because laying the foundation was turbulent, it was dangerous because you need to step on so many toes which Ajimobi did and he achieved that foundation of peace and security for infrastructural development, urban renewal and quality policies in education and health. The School Governing Board, which I was part of, would have been the best for us to move all our schools up. I was in a very good position to succeed Godwin Emefiele, because they have been clamouring for a Yoruba man as CBN governor all this while so this young man will be best fit and the network was there. I didn’t allow that to erase my vision. I just wanted to move. If I had talked to people, 99 out of 100 would have discouraged me that politics is not like that.
Your father died at a very young age when you were just four years old. And you were taken to your grandmother for care and schooling. Can you tell us the challenges you faced and the strategy you adopted so that those in a similar situation today can learn from your experience?
There is no gain without pain and one must be ready. You may think that you have escaped the pain. No, you cannot do anything. Even if you are born into a rich family with a silver spoon in your mouth, there are some things that are compulsory that you must pass through to prepare you for the future. Your dad will not be there for you all the time. And I thank God that I passed through the pain and I live long enough to benefit from the gain. That’s just it.
I lost my dad at year of 33 and he had seven of us and our mother was very young. She had to remarry. So, parental care was zero. The old woman was a petty trader selling pepper, onions, palm oil and all that. So, it’s clear that she could not financially care for seven children. In my life since I grew up, I never had three-square meals that I would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where? That probably conditioned my eating habit till today. I have never had three-square means. Not because I didn’t want, but because we could not afford it. Before I would eat breakfast, I would go out and hawk pepper, onions, soft drink, bread. I would be back by 12pm and that’s when we would have breakfast. And for my lunch, I call it ‘Lundy’ (lunch and dinner).
We also would go to rural markets. There was no rural market days that I did not know at that time. Yes, we were going to Oko Oyedeji in Lagelu Local Government Area, when you pass through Ijigun, Lagun, Lapatere, Kutayi, Oyedeji, Pabiekun, Igbo Elerin and all that. Yes, by 5am all those plank lorries, where we would not even have a seat; they would just put me inside. Or you go to Oko Onidundun before Iroko, in Akinyele Local Government Area. And let me tell you, we would also go to Egbeda, Osegere. We would go to where they call Alabameta, after Akuwon Ikire. Alabameta is before Alaguntan farm settlement that you can use to navigate Orile-omu. That’s Ikire side along Egbeda Local Government Area then. I did all these in my growing up days. It was not easy at all. I would go to school without a kobo in my pocket, save for friends that would just sometimes give handouts. I can’t be going to my Mummy to disturb her in her own husband’s house all the time. I had my pride anyway. I never lived with Mum. It’s only once in a while that she would come to my school and ask after me. She would be told that I was not in school and that she should check me at Abete.
But her comfort was what the teachers will tell me that if you tell her that he is still the leader in the class. “How your child is doing it, we don’t know.” How he is doing it, we don’t know. He doesn’t come to school regularly, but set exam tomorrow, he will be number one. For me, there is a difference between activities and results. I focus more on the results. Not that I perform any magic to becoming first, making eight A1’s in school and making First Class. So, if it is like one week to my exam that I will just come back to my sense, “Bayo. exam is coming o.” In Abete, they will not see. One thing I was doing was that I will know what they are teaching in class. From primary school up to Ife, I must get my notes up-to-date – it is either I write them or through photocopy, and I will do my crash programme; not that exams will remain two days and I will start asking them: How did they solve this question or where is the note? No, I will get all my materials ready for I know that for another one week, there is a sacrifice I have to make. So, that has been part of me since secondary school.
The talk about working smart and not working hard is real. If you work smart, you don’t have to work hard. Yes, that principle I have been applying since I was in the primary, secondary and university. And it also helped me when I started work. What people judge is your external output. I believe that with good focus, hard work and articulated vision, anybody can get to anywhere, irrespective of their upbringing and it is always very important for a child to become as independent as possible in their early days. When you are expecting help, support and assistance from others before you get things done, it’s always difficult even when you grow up. You should be internally inspired; you should be self-motivated for you to do things. You don’t have to wait for anybody to guide or direct you. In fact, it amounts to pampering if someone has to be guiding you. No, you should identify what you want to be in life and you can take steps towards achieving it.
It involves a lot of sacrifice; I can tell you. For example, when I started work in 91/92 after the national Youth Service (NYSC) programme, most of my mates were living in Surulere and Ikeja. Some were living on Lagos Island close to their places of work and all that. They all bought cars. I got one of the best jobs. I got eight appointment letters before I finished service. Yes, eight appointment letters: Price Water House, Guinness, Shell, others and I was to choose one. It was not because the salary was one of the best, but because the work too was a training ground for me as an accountant. So, I chose Price Water House, which is an international firm of accounting and management consultants. And I believe that’s where I need to be pegged to prepare me for the future and the challenges ahead.
I had a leap joining the banking industry, because I was coming as a professional from a firm. I joined the banking industry as a senior manager in 1999. A lot of people would have achieved such after six to seven years in an audit firm and consulting. I started with Femi Pedro, who was the Managing Director of First Atlantic Bank. I was the Chief Financial Controller; Jide Sanwo-Olu, now the governor of Lagos State, was the Chief Treasurer. So, we were colleagues in there. I had that leap; that was why it looked like I had a fast and rapid career because I started from the firm. So, when I started, a lot of my colleagues were buying cars and building houses. But I believe that for wealth to be sustainable, you must accumulate at the initial stage. Yes, you don’t have to keep expending what you are earning now. What did I do? I stayed with my sister for one year, living with her at Akowonjo in Egbeda. I would board molue from Ojuelegba to Alaka Estate where our office was then. The day I stopped boarding molue was the day I was a bit late to the bus-stop and the molue was full. So, I had to stand by the door and it rained that day. I was so drenched and the breeze was so much. My tie was flying around. And from Akowonjo, I would come out at Nicon; Nicon to Vulcanizer; Vulcanizer to Jimoh; from Jimoh Bus-stop to Dopemu Roundabout that goes to Sasa. As we were just approaching Lagos-Abeokuta, when you get to Cement at Mangoro, one man was supposed to join us, but it was already full. Instead of this man to stop, he just stepped on the door of molue, and by the time he stepped on the door, the bus moved and he was not able to hold the bus by itself. Of course, he was going to fall, so the only thing he could do was to grab my tie. I had no choice, the two of us had to jump off the bus and we rolled over with suit and everything.
There is nothing that will come out good that will not have its time of difficulty. I would come back from work at 11pm or 11:30pm or even midnight and I would have to wake up by 4am and by 4:30am, I must be on my way to the bus-stop. For the first three months, I would cry from my sister’s house to the bus-stop about the kind of life I was living. But what kept pushing me on was where I was going. If I didn’t pass through all those difficulties, the story will not be interesting. There is no shortcut to success; you must pay for whatever you will become in this life. For anybody passing through the kind of difficulty I passed through, it is only developing and preparing them for the future. And they should see it not as discouragement, but as an inspiration to get to their destination. If you run away from it today, you are not escaping it. It will haunt you; and by that time, you won’t be able to overcome it again. It is better you overcome the obstacle today, kill the obstacle, move above it and get to where you are going. That was my only inspiration. I knew where I was going and that the suffering would end one day. And in no time, it ended.
I lived in NICON at Egbed – I lived in a face-to-face two-room apartment. The floor of the passage was not ‘uncemented.’ The toilet was detached from the house, but I paid for a flat. I was trying to do a job in Yobe in 1994. They called an initiative North-East Arid Zone Development Project (NEAZDP) by the EEC then. I watched USA 1994 world Cup matches there together with Chief MKO Abiola. I wanted to get married in 1995 and I gave the money to an estate agent to get me a flat before I returned. The agent went away with the money and to go and look for another apartment was difficult. I looked for the agent and he said the only house he had was an unplastered face-to-face house. I told him to take me to the house. It was better for me to collect something from the man than to leave him. That’s how I moved to a two-room apartment (room and parlour). The funniest thing in that house was that the bathroom was detached from the house and it did not have a door. When using it, you have to use your towel as a cover. I was a bit late for work. I was supposed to leave for work by 5:30am, but I woke exactly that time that day. When I woke up, I went straight to the bathroom. All the women around the house, the house wives were already washing their clothes. I just carried my bucket, went into the bathroom and used my wrapper to cover the entrance. That was how this rain started with heavy breeze. By the time I was through, the breeze had carried the wrapper and I saw it going. I had to chase it and all the women just ran. It was already getting to 6am. So, everyone could see what was happening. The best for me was to chase that wrapper and get it back. It was that bad. There was no kitchen; we just put our stove in the passage and cooked there.
I said I would not renew my rent in any house I lived in until I move into my own house. I lived in that house for two years, 1994 to 1996. Then, I moved to a flat in the same area, and by 1998, I left and I came to Ikeja. But what I have been able to acquire in terms of properties or in terms of savings within the period of that five or six years was more than what my friends were able to save. I later bought a car, a better car. This was because I waited for the money to accumulate before I could start.
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