How I reconciled Egba monarchs, by Ishola

Former Mines and Steel Minister and an ambassador-designate, Chief Safara Ishola, turned 60 recently. He spoke with Correspondent ERNEST NWOKOLO about his political career, his achievements as minister and other issues.


You turned 60 recently. How do you  feel being 60 in the land of the living?

Thank you very much, I have to give glory to God because the last six decades have been quite eventful, from infancy to childhood, to education, to work experience, to politics, to religious service and all together to community service. So,  it has been quite eventful. I thank God for given me the opportunity to also contribute  my own quota in the development of humanity generally.

You have garnered so much accolades and titles as a peace maker and builder. How were you able to achieve that, particularly uniting the prominent Egba traditional rulers who hitherto could not see eyes to eyes?

When I was appointed as the Secretary to the Ogun State Government during the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel, what I met on ground was a situation whereby the Osile of Oke – Ona was not visiting the Ake Palace. I met a frosty relationship between Osile and the Alake of yesterday, not the present one on the throne. Ditto for the Agura of Gbagura, not the present  one on the throne. The immediate past Agura not visiting the Ake Palace and Iya Alake. And during that time, we didn’t have an Olowu because the Olowu took ill when we assumed office and shortly after, Kabiyesi departed to the great beyond. So, I  looked at it that since I was the highest indigene of Egbaland in government, I have a responsibility to bring about peace and also given the fact that I’m related to the various sections of Egbaland,  my maternal grandfather is from Ijemo in Egbaland, my mother is from Gbagura and my father is from Oke Ona. So, given these scenery, I approached the then Kabiyesi Alake and discussed  the need to have peace in Egbaland. Ditto, I approached the Osile and I also approached the Agura of Gbagura. To further create this unity,  I  went to Ake Palace with Kabiyesi Osile and facilitated a meeting right inside the Ake Palace between Osile and the Kabiyesi Alake. So, the mediation resulted in creating peaceful coexistence between the two and I’m that I did that because shortly after that was done, the Alake departed, you can imagine, if that was not done, the Alake would have departed with the fact that they had a frosty relationship and to now build another relationship with the new Alake would have been difficult. I have to thank both Osile and Alake for agreeing to meet, particularly Osile for agreeing to follow me to Ake Palace where the meeting was brokered, where I created  an atmosphere for them to have one-on-discussion. And I’m happy to note that up till now, that relationship is still maintained. Same with Agura. I went to Kabiyesi Agura and discussed with him and in the same way, he also agreed to follow  me to Ake palace where an atmosphere for discussion was created to make have one-on-one discussion. At a point, I had to excuse them and came back later to join them. I’m they discussed and the issue was much and of course, they agreed to the extent that the two of them – Osile and Agura, were part of the 98th birthday anniversary celebration of the then Alake which was the last event kabiesi had before he joined his ancestors. You can imagine, if that was not done. That was why the then Alake said, ‘ah! for this one you have done, I’m going to confer on you the title of taiyese of Egbaland, that is the origin of how I became the Taiyese of Egbaland. When I told kabiesi Osile and informed him formally of the desire of Kabiesi Alake to make me Taiyese of Egbaland, Osile  now said ‘if Alake has deemed it fit to confer on the Taiyese of Egbaland,  I will also confer on you the Taiyese of Oke Ona. You have to come take my title first before going to take Alake’s title which I did and Agura said ‘well, your mother is our sister here and I will make you the Oluomo of Gbagura. Oluomo means a prime child of Gbagura. Another mediation that I promoted was the issue of succession to the stool of Olowu of Owu.

What really happened?

You will recall that succession was a challenge and I didn’t directly get involved  until when the Owu chiefs were detained at the Ogun State Police Command Headquarters, Eleweran. At that point in time, I had to go take their bail and not only that, we ensured that they were properly  rehabilitated. We then created an atmosphere for them to process the selection of a new Olowu. That was why the new Olowu after coronation and installation,  he said ‘for the role that I  played,  he was  also awarding me the title of Otitifarati of Owu  Kingdom meaning a dependable ally of the Owu people. I keep wondering because I normally hear of situations  where people would be shopping around for chieftaincy titles, but in my case, they were being offered on a plater of gold. In fact, there were many that I was offered because of the role I played, but I didn’t take.

You were the elected chairman of Abeokuta North Local Government. How was it like being Council chairman then?

That was my first baptism of fire. You know I  became chairman at the fourth attempt. The first one I lost,  the second one we were disqualified  because of our support for June 12 struggle, we were disqualified  from participating in the election and the third  one, I actually won the election, but it was cancelled on account of one or two skirmishes in two out of 10 wards. Lo and behold, the election  was cancelled  but I  was not disqualified. And I took part in that election, and won overwhelmingly, the party that I represented won six wards, but after the real election people showed love. And when I was elected, the leadership that I was able to  provide it will interest you to note that out of the 20 chairmen that we had then, 15 of them were older and they just said I had displayed leadership qualities and found me worthy to lead them and this led to me coordinating the chairmen in Southwest. That time, we had people like Musiliu Obanikoro, we had Senator Adeseun from Oyo State and one other Senator from Ondo  State.

Could you recall what you were able to achieve  during your tenure then?

When I was a council chairman, I  had zero  allocation and people didn’t believe it to the extent  that the first two months I went without salary because the people in Abuja that is Revenue  Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission said that there were some money they overpaid my council. So,  that was what we battled with, but I had to use the ingenuity in me to manage the finances of the council. Principally, I was performing statutory duties of the council and not much of the capital project and that was what actually happened throughout my tenure. It was all zero allocation. Sometimes, it was N200,000:00 and at another time, N250,000:00. It was really challenging, but I surmounted it because what I did was to run a transparent administration, brought the while councillors and entire management to the discussion table anytime the allocation comes we decide on what to do with it. Sometimes, we go without salary. That was the kind, if administration I ran. It really toughened me up.

How were you able to handle the ethnic coloration that crept into the June 12 protest?

The greatest challenge was to provide leadership. You know the most difficult area to govern is at the grassroots level because being closest to the people, you have competing demands. When Chief MKO Abiola died, there was crisis in town and the crisis was such that they started burning  down places. Fatgbems, a tyre dealer, his place  was torched and they were also trying to vandalise Ake  palace. In my own case, the target were the Northerners resident in my local government and the local government had some northerners residing there and I got credible intelligence  that they were coming  to kill them. As chief security  officer, I have the duty to protect them. Moreover, if they kill them, for every hewer of wood and fetcher of water you killed here, professors and medical doctors would be killed in the North, who are Southerners and that could even lead to some other riots. It was terrible, they were already marching down to the council and it was a mob action. What I did was to gather the northerners in the council secretariat, offer protection to them, got in touch with the military administrator to provide  security  for their evacuation because I couldn’t guarantee their security anymore.

You’re an ambassador-designate. How competent or prepared are you for that office?

I never knew that I would be made an ambassador but the kind of exposure that I  have had to the world is such that it has been very interesting. First as Special Assistant to the minister of state for Finance where we engaged in economic diplomacy. Don’t forget that in the ministry of finance today,  there are two departments that deal basically with external relations. There is African and bilateral department, we call it ABAD dept. There is also the multilateral department, which deals directly with Breton woods institutions IMF,  World Bank and the rest. So, many of the conferences were attended by the minister of finance then. I accompanied him, be it the annual meetings of IMF and World Bank in Prague, I have attended the meeting  with him, the African Development Bank meetings in Cotre’d Voire and other parts of the world. I was in Addis Alana during Economic Commission for Africa and ECOWAS conferences. You know, when I was the Secretary to the Ogun state government, I was at the Oversea Offshore Technology Conference in Texas, US. Not only that when you talk of Muslim pilgrimage, I was the Amiru haaj of the Muslim in Ogun State in 2004 and I was the head of delegation. I’m quite of the consular thing. You can see the list of countries and conferences I  had participated in being with minister of state for finance and as Secretary to the state government. I have been to 36 countries of the world basically attending conferences and getting involved in agreements and negotiations especially bilateral matters.

In essence, you are saying that  you are equal  to the task, if posted to any of the Nigeria’s big missions abroad?

Sure. Those things that I have learnt, they range from mediations to reaching consensus on issues,  understanding diplomatic community and the diplomatic world. So, I don’t have any problem and I must also tell you, which is important, that when I was Special Assistant to the minister,  Senator Martins-Kuye, the United States government identified me as one of the upcoming  leaders in Africa and I was invited by the Department of State to what they call international visitors programme for a three – week study tour of the financial  system of the US, all expenses paid by the US government. I represented  the West African zone. Four of us were picked  from Africa, one from East Africa, one from North Africa, one from Southern African and one from West Africa. I ‘m happy to note that many of us are Governors of Central Bank, ministers like I was one. So, that really exposed me to the US financial system and you know not only financial system, I was at the department of state, I interacted, I was at the Capital Hill to study the US budget system. I was at the Silicon Valley for venture capital management and I was also at San Francisco for commodity exchange in Chicago. It was an expensive study of the US. I was also in Harvard for development course. Knowledge is never ending. I attended University of Ilorin for my MBA programme with special focus on marketing aspect. These have really added to my CV and given edge to market Nigeria because ambassadorial job entails things about Nigeria and Nigerians. Nigeria in terms of maximum benefits that Nigeria would benefits from country of posting and providing consular services to Nigerians in that country.

Don’t  forget that when I was SA to the minister,  the then minister was indisposed for some periods,  Mallam Adamu Ciroma, the whole lot of the ministerial duty fell on the minister of state for finance  and we combined  the office of the minister and that of the minister of state for finance and that really put pressure on us  who were in state, special assistant to the honourable minister, I normally resumed at 8am and we don’t  close until it was 11pm. So, it really exposed to many issues and that is the heart of government.

You were once a minister in the ministry of mines and steel development, how come Nigeria has not experience economic boom from that sector and you can you attract investors to that  sector as an ambassador?

As an ambassador, I’m not going to limit myself to mines and steel. My diplomacy will be based on developing Nigeria and it depends on which part of the world one is posted to and the challenges from post and missions.  The challenges  of each mission relates and varies because the ambassador has a duty to ensure that Nigeria is projected to that country and you also have a duty make sure that investors from host country or foreign partners, you facilitate the environment  that will make such business to thrive and having been a minister before, I won’t have problems relating with any of the ministry at the federal level, especially with ministers as the need arise. And having served in the finance ministry before, I will relate with the government of the host country, particularly the chamber of commerce  and industry and the business communities in that country. You know in the international world, the person of the ambassador  really matters, you must carry yourself with dignity as number citizen of your country in that place. You must put yourself in a position that will earn respect  for you and the nation because that would be the basis for facilitating the relationship be it economic, social or political.

Given the manner we are being perceived as a people and nation by outsiders, do you think Nigeria is positively projected enough outside by missions abroad?

The issue  is that every ambassador will have to take the perspective from what is on ground. And I have always known that where ever you find yourself to serve, what matters is leadership because there is a saying that if the head of a fish is rotten, the whole body will be rotten too. Having provided leadership as an elected leader of a local government,  chairman of chairmen in Ogun State, coordinator of chairmen in Southwest of Nigeria,  special assistant to the minister of finance and having provided leadership as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) in Ogun State, I was able to provide leadership at that level and coordinated the security of the state.