Sunday, December 22, 2019 5:52 pm
Hon. Johnson Sunday Babatunde is an unusual public administrator in a country where holding public office is seen as a quick way to amass wealth. Within two years of his administration, the council which he superintends, Orile-Agege Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State, has been substantially transformed, to the surprise and admiration of residents. It is a fact that the quality of roads and school building constructions his administration has done conveniently rivals that of the State Government. Over one hundred roads, drainages, and culverts have been either constructed or rehabilitated across Orile-Agege since he came in about two and a half years ago. About twenty boreholes have been sunk across the council area.
Apart from infrastructure, his social welfare and empowerment programmes have seen 115 market women, men and youths empowered with N100,000 each. There is free school bus ride for all public school students with some of them getting scholarships. Also, free healthcare programmes for residents of the council area have continued none stop. His strides in the council have actually become template of development for other local administrators in the state.
He is clearly in a hurry to transform Orile-Agege. Here him: “I am desirous of making Orile-Agege LCDA one of the best, if not the best in Lagos State in respect of provision of infrastructure and making life easier for residents.”
In this interview conducted by Isa Isawade on Wednesday 18 December 2019, the man popularly referred to as friend of the masses reveals the secrets of his strength.
Sir, majority of the people just know you simply as their performing Chairman, were there things in your background that prepared you for public office?
Well, to God be the glory, my name is Honourable Johnson Sunday Babatunde, the Executive Chairman of Orile Agege LCDA. I was born and bred at Alagbaa, Agege. My father was the Late Ezekiel Ajani Babatunde from the Ilari Opa family in Alagbaa. My mother is Maria Alaba Babatunde from the Edo family in Aboru. We actually moved from Aboru down to Alagbaa. I went to the Zion African Church Primary School, Alagbaa. From there I proceeded to what we called Niger Secondary Commercial College otherwise known as ‘Niger Pako’ which later on became the Estate Grammar School. From there, I moved on to Yewa College, Ilaro. After then, I went to the Yaba College of Technology, where I did Computer Science. From there to the University of Lagos where I obtained B.Sc. in Accounting.
Then, I went to work with the National Directorate of Employment for seven years and seven months between 1989 and 1996. I was the Senior Assistant Data Processing Officer in the Research and Development department. After that, I went into private business. I was having a block industry at Ayobo. From there, I went into politics. In 1997 I contested for the House of Assembly in Lagos State in which I won under the banner of UNCP, but due to the demise of General Sani Abacha, the election was cancelled and we moved on.
After Abacha’s death, there was a wind of change where we had the progressives coming on board. Then, we moved on to AD. While in AD, I contested for the House of Reps which I lost narrowly. I won the shadow election in Lagos, but by the time we got to Ibadan at D Rovans Hotel, where we had the likes of baba Adesanya and co seated, I was replaced. So, we were there, continuing with the progressives.
After that, I contested for the Chairman of Agege when Agege was one before the creation of LCDAs, and when the LCDAs were created, executive secretaries were appointed and I was made the Deputy Executive Secretary of Orile Agege LCDA. I was deputy to Hon. Taofeeq Adaranijo for three consecutive terms. And I can tell you, that actually prepared me for this task. It actually prepared me for all the works I have been doing as chairman of Orile Agege LCDA.
I became the Chairman by the grace and mercy of God. Not by my power or qualification or hard work or my campaigns, but purely the Grace of God, because it was almost slipping off. I can tell you I was one of the beneficiaries of amended electoral laws in Lagos State- that parties can change candidates three days to election. I can say it was done because of me through the grace of the Almighty God. That was how I found myself on this seat, to the Glory of Almighty God.
Was your father also a politician?
He wasn’t a politician. He was a public servant. I found myself in politics by accident, because in those days there was a mama we called Iya Shagari. She had actually worked with Awolowo in the 60s. She had been with Awolowo, later on she worked with Shagari. She was a very strong politician. One day she said look, you people are just sleeping here in Alagbaa. You don’t have anybody representing you in politics. All you know is to do egungun (masquerade). And by sheer luck, I was able to be educated. So, I was picked to represent Alagbaa. That was how the woman introduced me to into politics. I remember vividly what the woman said when she was dying. After she had been considered dead, she woke up again and said this boy (referring to me), where I found you, ha! I found you very far. And she said you will become governor before I die, you will become governor of Lagos State. I said ha, governor ke, when I have not even started?
So, that was how the woman introduced me into politics. I had wanted to live a very quiet life, just to go to my work, come back, then be with my family, and that is all. I love my privacy so much. Even in politics, that is still in me. In fact, you will be giving me a big task by inviting me to a party, for instance. Even if I would come, I won’t stay long. My life has just been the quiet type. One of my PAs was saying it yesterday that oga, I discover that you love being alone in serene environment.
What we hear generally is that what comes into local councils monthly as allocation is just barely enough to pay salaries of workers and little other things. But you have paved roads using quality tar and materials which make them durable and constructed modern drainages; you have demolished and rebuilt public schools; paving the compound with interlocking blocks; you have been equipping them with facilities. You are revolutionizing this area in terms of infrastructure, how are you able to do all of these?
I like where you started your question from and that will give me the background of answering the question. You see, my emergence as chairman is through the grace of God. I repeat, it is through the grace of God. And God used a man, the Right Hon. Speaker of Lagos State, Mudasiru Obasa. He insisted that look you want to kill this guy, this is a guy that has contested many times. He has also served as deputy for a long time. So, it is logical that when the number one is leaving, the number two should step in. That, it was wrong to go and bring somebody from outside. He insisted I must be the candidate for the job. That was how my name was submitted at the dying minutes. It was even the man who had been opposing me right from the beginning that came to inform me that I had been chosen at the meeting. So, if you emerge through such grace of God, you would have the fear of God to do His will in serving the people.
How did you get the resources to do all the big projects?
It’s through financial discipline. We spend judiciously. We prioritize people’s needs. We deny ourselves some enjoyment in order to serve the people first. For instance, constitutionally I am entitled to brand new official car. I have not bought an official car since I came into the office. Neither have I renovated my office. I have been using it the way I met it, you can see it yourself. I also told my wife when I became chairman that you are a caterer. My being chairman does not change anything. Face your work as a caterer and I will face mine as chairman. And she agreed. My children even complained recently that they don’t even know the difference between now as chairman and before I became chairman. I said yes, let us serve the people first. So, that have been our strengths- the fear of God, love for the people and financial discipline. Also, the Lagos State Government has been very excellent in terms of releasing allocations to local councils in the state. They release it promptly to us without making deductions from it. I give them kudos.
You are a devout Christian, and you have also renovated mosques for Muslims in Orile-Agege. What propelled you to do that?
As a matter of fact, I am a pastor in the Redeemed Christians Church of God. The truth is Islam and Christianity originated from the same man, Abraham. Besides, the moment I accepted to occupy this seat, I became chairman, not only for the Christians but for Muslims alike and all other people. It was not only Christians who voted for me. I must be tolerant of all my people and accept them.