When Otunba Niyi Adebayo won the election to be the Governor of Ekiti State, in 1999, not many people gave him a chance of making any meaningful impact because he was considered a greenhorn. What people, however, did not know was that the young man watching his father, late General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, former Military Governor of the old Western Region of Nigeria, had gained a lot of insights even without being an active participant.
Niyi, a lawyer by profession, shares notes on his life in the Government House in Ekiti, and lessons for other professionals who want to venture into politics. Enjoy the reading.
Lesson 1: Politics is not dirty.
People use statements like ‘politics is a dirty game’ to drive good people away from politics. For me, what I have come to discover is that the more good people go into politics, the cleaner it will become. If you have clean people going into politics, they will clean up the system. Interestingly people who are insider want to prevent other people from coming in because they don’t want competition, they tell you it is a dirty game, don’t come. No, it is not. That is what I found out. What is politics about? It is about the people who will be in charge of the country. If you don’t have good people in charge of the country, you do not have a good country. So, the cleaner the people that come in, the better it would be for the country. My advice to professionals, Christians, Muslims, and religious people is that the more good people we have in politics, the better for our country. Once you have something good to offer, give it a shot. You never can know what impact you can make.
Lesson 2: You need to create your own identity
For me, going into politics was not to make money; it was about making a name. When you are the child of a successful man, you are always in his shadow. I wanted to come out from under that shadow and make my own name, so that people would not refer to me as General Adebayo’s son, but rather as Niyi Adebayo. I believe I was able to achieve that because my going into politics was not self-serving. It was about service to my people and I saw it as stepping stone to greater things. I do not believe my political life has ended yet. I believe there is still more on the horizon for me politically which I am working towards.
Lesson 3: People turn their rulers into monsters.
One lesson I learnt while in government is that it is people that make governors or presidents to misbehave when they get into office. It is the people that you are governing that turn you into a monster. As a governor, people believe that their whole lives are dependent on you. That is, if they get into your right hand, they can become billionaires tomorrow, even without doing anything. To a large extent, that is true. It will only take one contract and you are made. Consequently, people do not tell their rulers the truth because they want to be in their good books. They elevate them to a god-like status. Even when you are doing foolish things, they will tell you ‘brilliant’, and because everybody is praising you, after a while you too will begin to believe that you are doing the right thing and you begin to question your judgment. And as you keep imbibing their praise-singing, you may lose control of yourself. So, to be a good governor or administrator and not lose control, this is where a good wife comes in handy because when you are losing control, she will tell you things as they are -frankly. But if you don’t have that kind of wife, you will lose control and start to believe everything they tell you even when you know they are not accurate. You start fighting real critics that are criticising you for the good of all. The sycophants will be telling you ‘what do they know, don’t mind them, they are only seeking attention.’ You know as you keep listening to them after a while, you begin to believe the sycophants and everybody that disagrees with you becomes an enemy. I experienced this first hand. It was my wife who helped me to keep my focus.
So, you need a good wife and good old friends, preferably those you grew up together with. Make sure you give them access to you because they will tell you the truth because they know where you are coming from.
I had my father’s experience to teach me. I saw my father as a governor. I saw him after office; I saw how people were with him when he was the governor, I saw how fewer people were with him afterwards. I was able to come to terms with the fact that this thing is temporary; it is not forever. Another luck I had was that I grew up in Lagos; I lived in Lagos. I went to be the governor in Ekiti. When I ended up being governor I came back to Lagos and what I did whenever I was in Lagos as governor, and I want to go out to the polo club or any other such places to relax. I would drive myself; I would take along a security man in mufti. He would wait for me in the car; I would move normal like before. So, I tried as much as possible to be my normal self.
Lesson 4: Give access to as many people as you can
As the governor then, I saw that you could be imprisoned and shut away from good people. But if worked against that by ensuring that as many people that needed to see me had access to me. I would read any letter somebody wrote to me. If it is something I should pass to someone else, I would minute on it. If I needed to reply, I would reply. I was doing that because that was the only way I could get a feel of what was going on in the state. You knew how people were feeling about you. That way, I knew what was happening in the state. Sometimes even before I get security report from the security agencies, I already knew what happened because somebody had already written and told me about it. I got very useful information this way including an experience where I learnt that my associates were using my name to collect money from those who wanted to get Cof O. I was able to address that by information by an ordinary person who I allowed to see me on a Sunday.
Lesson 5: You need a good home to achieve your dreams.
First of all, I would say that I have been blessed by God because I married a very wonderful woman. My wife is a very wonderful, brilliant and very supportive woman. At a time when I was a struggling lawyer, she was in employment. She had a salary, but I didn’t have. Well, I started with a salary but after working for two years, I set up my own practice. So for quite a while it was a bit of a struggle. But she was there very supportive; she had her salary. If she had not been supportive at the time, life would have been difficult. As a politician, you need a supportive wife. If your wife is harassing you at home, you won’t concentrate in the office. As a matter of fact, as a governor, if your wife is not supportive, you just wouldn’t have the mental wherewithal to perform your duties as a governor.
I must say the women in my life have been supportive because to a large extent I was brought up by my mother.
Lesson 5: God is number one.
I am a practising Anglican; I try as much as possible to go to church every Sunday. I say my prayers every morning before I leave my house. I try to
my duty to God because He has been very good to me and my family. I will continue to praise and glorify his name.
Lesson 6: Friendship is important.
Making and keeping friends has been an important aspect of my journey. I don’t have problems making friends. I have lots of friends. I always tell people that you will not encounter a problem with your friends if you know who they are. So, I always try to know and understand what people are, so that we don’t have problems. If I know you to behave in a certain way and you behave that way to me, it doesn’t create a problem for me because that is what I expect. You hardly ever hear that OtunbaAdebayo and somebody are fighting. Friendship is important to me. I am faithful to my friends and my friends are faithful to me.
Lesson 7: Fun time
I like to have fun. I like to hang out with my friends, sit down have drinks, gist, play. Now and then I go to parties. It is important to enjoy the day as it comes and as you are allowed by God to experience it.
One thing my father used to say to all his children while we were growing up was to remember your name. It is not only for you; it is for everybody. If you spoil it, it affects everybody not only you. So, whatever you do in this life, make sure you have a good name. I hold unto that and I have passed it unto my children.
I enjoy reading history. I can’t think of any book that was written on Nigerian Civil War that I have not read. I like biographies. I love reading John F. Kennedy. The other one that has impacted on me greatly was the biography of Abraham Lincoln.
I started the medical school for the University in Ado-Ekiti. When we collected money from the bond, there was a certain amount of money I was supposed to
release to them for the takeoff of the college. Unfortunately, because of administrative lapses I wasn’t able to release that money to them before I left office: that is regret. Other people have tried to take credit for starting the College of Medicine, but I refuse to accept that. I started it; I appointed the first provost; but unfortunately, we were not able to release funds to them for the takeoff before we left office. To a large extent, I have that regret.