Corruption is crushing the country. It’s holding back our economic growth, appreciably. We have to fight corruption, so that we can leave for the generation yet unborn, a good legacy. I pray for President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed, because the country would profit from it. Corruption has harmed, human capacity and productivity, because people now come into office with the sole purpose to amass questionable wealth; not service, any more. Such people don’t care, if the money for the provision of infrastructure is siphoned into their bank accounts. They won’t care if cholera is killing an entire community for lack of potable water.
Hers is a narrative of a personality, who is seen by many as a role model. Her appeal to that effect is predicated on truthfulness, honesty, cultivated diligence, reaching out to the less-privileged and – more than anything else, as a public servant – integrity. The last quality, which, she agrees, is virtually absent, today, in public life, in this country, may well explain why the country, has, since the birth of the Fourth Republic – nearly two decades ago – is battling with festering corruption; corruption that could be said to have started reaching for its ambitious zenith, about five years ago, before the advent of the Buhari administration. For her bright profile of integrity, Mrs. Doyin Ogunbiyi, who’s Chairman, Board of Technical and Vocational Education, Ogun State, and a leading Fellow of the Institute of Entrepreneurs (IOE), amongst others, qualifies as a rare breed. She’d rather save money for government, in public interest, in place of siphoning same into her private bank account. As a pioneering Commissioner, Chairman and Director-General, her narrative, she told our correspondent NDUKA UZUAKPUNDU, proudly, “is a Biblical one”, that she’s ready to retail in the open. For what she is made of, Ogunbiyi is someone who should be a member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet – as a reliable agent of change and an active instrument in the war against corruption. Excerpts;
As a public servant, there were certain qualities that sold you, as it were, to almost every administration in Ogun State, right from 1982, what were they?
I have been privileged to serve under many governors in Ogun State, since 1982. One would want to wonder what has been responsible or the driving force for that. It has been the miraculous grace of God and hard work with honesty of purpose, truthfulness, near-perfection and with an extraordinary touch. This is with an intent to satisfy those under whom I’ve served. So, that is why each administration in Ogun State has found me as someone to be reckoned with. But, above all, I put the integrity of God behind me, in everything that I do. In whatever office I occupy, I try to assist people, as much as I can, so that such people can feel the impact of my office or position in their life. I think God sees all these. He loves a cheerful giver. He said, also, that ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me’. As a Christian, I love seeing smiles on the faces of other people. Essentially, it has been God that has directed me thus far, such that I strive to achieve success. I, sometimes, spend my money to do my job, if that is what it takes to achieve success.
In your years of serving under different administration in Ogun State, which one of them would say you found quite pleasant?
Each administration had its peculiar style. It will be a bit difficult for me now to compare them. It’s true that I occupied diverse offices in each administration; each with its own key area of attraction or interest, where it would achieve success and have a healthy impact on the public. I have occupied one of the key areas that an administration preferred; that was the Ministry of Works and Housing, under the military era of Navy Captain Kayode Olofin-Moyin, in the late 90s. He was interested in having infrastructure and some other landmarks. There was, before then, the regime of Group Captain Sam Ewang that was interested in social welfare development. I was his Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development. A whole lot was done, under the Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) of that period. It was my duty, at the Ministry of Works and Housing, that I found quite demanding, because it involved a lot of construction, infrastructural development and supervision, such that, sometimes, I woke up at the middle of the night, travel to Ijebu-Ode or other parts of the state to supervise some projects, so that I’d know what to tell the contractor or my management team. It was to avoid a shoddy job being done.
Who were the people that made a case before Ewang and Olofin-Moyin that you were someone who should be part of their cabinets?
That’s a curious issue, which I’ve had to pander over. I’ve wondered, why me! I have, for instance, asked one or two people the same question, especially the one that recommended me as a Commissioner in the Ministry of Works and Housing. I told the man that I wasn’t an engineer, but that I studied Social Science, and specialised in Mass Communication and Journalism, and ‘why did you put me in the Ministry of Works and Housing?’ The explanation that Olofin-Moyin gave was very humorous and simple. He said that when he assumed office, he asked the Permanent Secretaries and some Directors: ‘Out of the Commissioners, who have left, whom can I recall?’ He said that they unanimously answered: ‘Mrs. Doyin Ogunbiyi’. And, when he asked: ‘Why’? They told him that if he wanted someone, who would work to his satisfaction, someone whom he’d give an assignment and go to sleep, someone whom he could rely on, ‘She is the one.’ So, Olofin-Moyin went on air to announce to my name as the Commissioner for Works and Housing – like a military man, without informing me, well before then. Thereafter, he said to me: ‘Go and work.’ That was a product; a recommendation based on my integrity profile. It was also a surprise with Ewang in the late ’90s. Then, I was called back from retirement. It was someone who heard the announcement on radio that told me about it. I was never consulted. I never looked forward to the appointment. Then, to be true, I was needy. Ewang told me that the first time he set his eyes on me, a voice told him that: ‘That is one of your Commissioners.’ So, that was how the journey progressed.
I see the mighty hand of God at work. My record has spoken well for me. The fruit that have borne – my profile of integrity – is there for decision-makers, and those who mean well, to have an insight into what kind of person I am. So, once again, I give all the glory to God.
It’s a Biblical story, yours …
It is. In fact, it’s a testimony, a real one, at that, because it’s my own personal narrative, not that I heard it from someone, somewhere. It’s real to me, such that I’ve now been turned to a gospel that people read, and I’m ready to tell it all.
Do you still feel challenged today or is it…
I still feel challenged. Every opportunity given me to serve creates a new terrain, challenges, experience and expectations. And, in retrospect, I’ve always been called to pioneer. I don’t know why, but pioneers do suffer. God appears to see the strength in me to till the ground anywhere, for others to build on. I’m, currently, Chairman, Board of Technical and Vocational Education, Ogun State. It’s a new one, since 2012, with all its challenges. I was with the (Otunba Gbenga) Daniel administration as Chief of Tourism and Culture. I was Chairman, Board of OGTV – the state television station. Today, the Tourism and Culture Agency, where I served as the Managing-Director of Gateway Tourism Development Corporation, is a now a full Ministry.
What was it like being the first Commissioner for Women Affairs?
Like every pioneering effort, you have to start building structures, set up the personnel, craft policies, lay a foundation and decide on what direction to take, and what you’re out to achieve. It’s such that you have to package the Ministry in a manner that, via media relations, the public will identify with it. All that involved publicly, enlightenment and public sitting. And, lest I forget, I was the pioneering head of the Department of Public Relations of the Ogun State Property and Investment Corporation (OPIC). It was quite demanding convincing people to come and buy property in the state. It was quite a task making OPIC a household name. The impact that OPIC is making today is through the pioneering effort that we have made.
And you look back with pride . . .
And I look back with pride; to see everybody grow on the foundation that we’ve laid. Sometimes, you look back with nostalgia and soberness. But, sometimes, the experience is different where you don’t see continuity in what government does. It’s never encouraging. This is why, in some instances, you see abandoned projects all over the place.
It follows that integrity has been a running thread in your career in government, and so, how do you feel, today, that it has been on account of that commodity, which is so scarce, that we’re fighting so huge a case of corruption in this country?
You have rightly put it; that the commodity of integrity is so scarce. It’s sobering, because that’s what keeps people like me shoulder high. Though you don’t get monetary and material benefit from it. Before you start enjoying the benefits of integrity in public office, you must make a lot of sacrifice. Integrity and morality are allies, in that it’s morally wrong for you to steal. Integrity will keep you away from stealing. I’ve been lucky to have been well brought up in a disciplined, Catholic setting, and by the virtue of the profession of Public Relations, to which I belong, the slogan is: ‘Say it as it is’. You must say the truth at all times. The basis of my religion – Christianity – is truth. So, to lie or do anything shady, is just not in me. You suffer for integrity sake, but I have, over the years, striven hard to keep integrity afloat and I’ve profited from it.
Now, to the campaign against corruption by the Buhari administration; your take …
It’s a necessity. It’s crucial. Corruption is crushing the country. It’s holding back our economic growth, appreciably. We have to fight corruption, so that we can leave for the generation yet unborn, a good legacy. I pray for President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed, because the country would profit from it. Corruption has harmed, human capacity and productivity, because people now come into office with the sole purpose to amass questionable wealth; not service, any more. Such people don’t care, if the money for the provision of infrastructure is siphoned into their bank accounts. They won’t care if cholera is killing an entire community for lack of potable water. Such people have lost good conscience by virtue of corruption. And where’s the place of religion in all this? What are we preaching, when you find those who are supposed to be teaching to us being a part of the crisis? So, it is the duty of government now, to enforce integrity.
How, for instance would you advise government to that effect?
Through laws, regulations and policies. Look at the National Assembly; if the government says senators must not earn more than a certain amount, that should be the law; government should stand by it. And, if the Judiciary can be trusted to prosecute those who flout such laws, I think everyone will sit up. Under the military, we all towed a given line; we queued up, during the Buhari-Idiagbon era. That is one good aspect of Nigerians: very resilient and obedient. But, today, the law makers are the law-breakers. Which is why the followers find it difficult to fall in time.
Back in the 1980s, Buhari was busy fighting corruption, when he was toppled. Now, he is back, in a democratic setting, though. How far do you think he can go in fighting corruption?
What Buhari has found is more than he had imagined. It’s quite overwhelming. And that is why he has to be careful in his approach. It’s no longer a military era. He has to go through a democratic process. I think he has come to complete an unfinished job; the job he left behind in 1985. He knows Nigeria very well. He knows where the problems are and what to do about them. I pray that the depth in which he finds corruption will not overwhelm his zeal to fight it.
The list of those in the corrupt arena is unimaginable. Those who are found guilty should be punished. The Dasukigate or armsgate is only one case in a million. There will be more. Let’s see how this one ends. I do hope that Buhari would not be distracted by sycophants. There is a high public expectation from him. He has a name to protect, and, so, he should do the right thing. There has to be a good example of corrupt elements being punished. I want to see a deterrent case. Worse, still, the Judiciary is not helping matters, the operatives there appear to have compromised their conscience.
Corruption seems to be fighting back at the national level …
The problem has to do with the presence of the same members of the previous administration, who were part of the corruption that Buhari is now fighting. We have to curb wastage in terms of cabinet strength and staff at all levels of government. Buhari cannot probe incumbent governors now, but one day shall be the one of judgment for the corrupt ones among them.
Does the current anti-corruption campaign appeal to you?
I see a strategy being executed, which is to show to the world the extent to which corruption has weakened the Nigerian nation-state. See how much, for instance, Dusuki has taken. A lot of people now know the issue. The next step should be how to curb it. The exposure, so far, is healthy, because, it has revealed the true colours of the enemies of the people of this country – individuals whom a lot of people had, until now, seen as role models.
People should be punished for corruption; it’s not enough to compel them to return to public coffers all that they’ve stolen. We’ve had cases of people who stole public money, who were sent to jail, got released and were celebrated. The same convicts still went to churches to give thanks. There’s a need to punish impunity, quite severely – especially when it comes to corruption.
Would you like to be a part of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign team?
I’m a Buharist. I have a Buhari identity. If you are a Buharist you must not be corrupt.
What would you say has been your feat in our current position?
We have been able to establish relevance in the sector, in spite of inadequate funding. Technical and Vocational Education in Nigeria is not enjoying enough political will that one expects, given its importance in the economic development.
What is the way out?
The political will and adequate funding that are expected of government have to be there. Apart from Lagos State that has made some appreciable progress in vocational skill education, no other state seems to be paying enough attention to the sector.
If I have my way, I will bring in modern equipment. The world has gone digital; almost everything is computerised. I’ll modernise the equipment used in the technical schools. The equipment in some schools were the ones bought as far back as 1958 – during the Awolowo years.
We need to dump those obsolete equipment in a museum so designated, and convert the place to a tourist attraction. We need to go along with Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, United States, Canada etc., so that we’d be able to speak the language of the sector. The students, too, would have face their studies. The ones who have laptops should subscribe to e-book, and refrain from fraud. There’s a need for a re-orientation.
Attached pictures of Mrs. Doyin Ogunbiyi.