LOOKING at a king’s mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breasts, says an African adage. That seems the case with some occupants of high public offices in the current political dispensation. From total obscurity, they rose to national prominence through determination and a dint of hard work.
From Lagos to Ogun, Ekiti and Benue states, stories abound of individuals who had worked as commercial bus drivers, conductors, motor park touts and other lowly vocations, but are now functioning as governors, commissioners and other high profile portfolios. Numbered among them are Benue State governor, Samuel Ioraer Ortom; Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose; the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa and frontline lawyer and commissioner in the recently dissolved cabinet of Governor Ibikunle Amosun in Ogun State, Barrister Segun Odubela.
Samuel Ioraer Ortom
Few individuals’ stories can be as inspiring as that of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. On Wednesday, 6th July, 2011, he had told the Senate the moving story of his life as he was being screened on the floor of the upper chamber over his nomination as a minister.
Ortom’s account of his life as a school dropout, a motor park tout and one who struggled to attain education through very difficult means to become a highly successful businessman did not only draw a rapturous applause from the senators but compelled them to ask him to just take a bow and go.
The young Ortom was faced with a very bleak future after he dropped out of secondary school in 1979 because his father was unable to pay his school fees. But rather than give up, he girded his loins and found a job as a tout at the motor park in Gboko, Benue State. But like a man destined to succeed, it took a single encounter with a Good Samaritan to change his story. The Good Samaritan taught the young Ortom how to drive while another helped him to obtain a drivers’ license. With the training, he secured employment as a professional driver.
Ortom said: “As a child, I had dreamt of becoming a medical doctor in my primary and secondary school days. Unfortunately, my secondary education was aborted in Form 3 in 1979 because of my father’s retirement from the police. I came back to Gboko on holiday, just like every other child from Idah, which was then part of the present day Benue, for holiday, but couldn’t go back to school because there was no transport fare.
“But instead of idling away or taking to social vices, I decided to join motor park business. It was at the park that a Good Samaritan taught me how to drive a car, perhaps because of my honesty and dedication to duty.”
His diligence and dedication to duty led him to a prominent Gboko-based Christian leader and politician, Pa Samuel Ihugh. His decision to embrace Jesus Christ while he worked as the man’s driver, he said, marked the turning point in his life.
“I must confess that I came in contact with the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “I became a born again Christian and in fact, the turning point in my life was that singular move and decision to embrace Christ.
“That was the time I completely embraced the precepts of the Book of Job: 36 verse 11, which says, ‘If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity and their years in pleasures.’ And verse 12 which also says, ‘But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge.’
“From this passage, I found that the recipe for success and failure was embedded in the scriptures. God made it clear to me that if I desired to succeed, I must have faith in Him and also be determined and work hard, because God can make it happen.”
One day, after the close of work, Ortom was sitting on a bench outside his boss’ house when the wind blew a piece of paper in his direction. He picked up the piece of paper and saw an advert for enrolment into the National School of Salesmanship, Manchester, England. He decided to enroll for the course by correspondence and became a proud holder of Diploma in Salesmanship.
His success at the School of Salesmanship prompted him to sit the General Certificate of Education (GCE), which he passed with four credits at the first attempt.
Armed with the two certificates, he enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained both the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) certificate in 1995 and Diploma in Journalism in 1998. He also attended the Benue State University where he obtained the Advanced Diploma in Personnel Management in 2001, as well as Master of Public Administration (MPA) in 2004.
He crowned his pursuit of educational excellence with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the Commonwealth University, Belize, through distant learning.
Ortom later secured employment as a salesman at Gyado Foods Company Limited and rose to become the company’s sales manager.
His meteoric rise in politics began when he was elected as the Executive Chairman of Guma Local Government Area on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) between 1991 and 1993.
Before he became the governor of Benue State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the April 2015 general elections, he had held several other political offices, including the State Publicity Secretary of the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN); State Treasurer of the All Peoples Party (APP) and State Secretary as well as Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He was also Director of Operations of the PDP governorship campaign in Benue State in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2011. He was PDP National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of State for Industries, Trade and Investments in July 2011.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, recently revealed that he was no exception to young men who struggled to make a meaning of their lives. He roamed the streets in search of menial jobs that would give him enough to keep body and soul together.
Speaking recently during the swearing-in of the new state executive of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria in Ado Ekiti, the governor told a shocked crowd that he was once a danfo (commercial bus) driver and even had to sponsor himself to school from the proceeds he got from the vocation.
Admonishing members of the transport union not to allow themselves to be used for kidnapping and other criminal and anti-social activities, Fayose said: “I want to commend you for contributing immensely to the development of the state’s economy. But don’t allow yourselves to be used by evil doers.
“You can see that some kidnappers were paraded recently. Information from them revealed that they have been using some of your members.
“I was once a driver like you. I used the money I got from driving to sponsor myself for HND at Ibadan Polytechnic. But I did not get desperate.
“All I’m saying is that being a driver, you can make it in life. You will become what you want to become in life with hard work.
“Don’t join evil gangs for you to get rich overnight. Try and rise through the ladder like we did.”
As a former commercial bus driver, the governor sure know that the greatest problem most drivers battle to overcome is the ability to resist alcohol and to obey the ‘don’t drink and drive’ rule.
So, while addressing the drivers, Fayose warned: “Though I am part of you, if you breach the law, I won’t save or spare you. You will be arrested and prosecuted by the security agents. I don’t want to be the enemies of drivers; I want to be your friend.”
Prior to his appointment as a member of the cabinet of Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s government in Ogun State, most people only knew the immediate past Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology in the state, Barrister Segun Odubela, as a brilliant lawyer. The other side of him they never knew was that he was once a danfo (commercial bus) driver and conductor in Lagos.
Coming from a humble background, Odubela recalled how he and another friend whose parents owned a bus used the vehicle for commercial purposes in order to earn some money.
He said: “Mine has been a mixture of memories, coming from a humble background. At a time, my friend and I had an adventure. His mother gave us a Kombi bus and we plied the road from Obalende to Ogba (both in Lagos). When he was the conductor, I would be the driver, and when he was the driver, I would be the conductor.
“My friend is the son of a former secretary of NUT (Nigeria Union of Teachers). So for me, there was a period in life when I also struggled. It wasn’t all a bed of roses. There was a time when I struggled to make ends meet. Definitely, it has been a mixture. There were good days in my early life, but also there were challenging days that inspired me to hard work.
“More importantly, what I have found out in life is that wherever God has destined you to be, nobody can change it. So for me, it’s all about appreciating God. “
But in spite of his exploits as a lawyer and statesman, Odubela is still desirous of earning for himself the title of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
He said: “I still pray to God to assist me since I still wish to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It is in God’s power to do so. I am working hard towards that. I have attended a number of interviews and I have been qualifying since 2005. I even did interviews till 2012. However, I believe that God’s time is the best. I look forward to becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria since it is the profession that I enjoy deeply.”
As a young man, Odubela had fallen in love with the police and dreamt of the day he would become a policeman like the young officers around his neighbourhood. To realize his dream, he planned to study Political Science in the university, but his father had other ideas. The old man wanted his son to study Law.
He said: “Initially, I wanted to study Political Science because I loved and wanted to join the Nigeria Police Force. But my father said no, that I must study Law. I just liked the police force. I had seen some young officers and I loved their outlook. I wanted to be like them. That made me to start thinking in that direction. I developed the interest. I also saw many people who worked in the police force; they were actually not doing badly. They usually looked professional to me, and that led to my initial interest.”
His story is both inspiring and interesting. As supporters and hangers-on mill around him today, all seeking one form of favour or the other, only a few of them would know that the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly was once a hawker of nylon bags on the streets of Lagos.
Rt. Hon. Obasa, the lawmaker representing Agege Constituency 1 in the House of Assembly, actually started life as a hawker, selling nylon bags and wrist watches. He later changed jobs to become a bus conductor and labourer just to eke out a living.
Recalling the tough old days, he said: “I grew up in the Papa Ashafa area of Agege and there is hardly anything I have not done to make money, except armed robbery. Maybe I was too young to be an armed robber, but talking about hustling, there is hardly any type I have not gone into.
“I did all this on my own volition and not because my father could not afford to pay my school fees. The friends I grew up with were always in one engagement or another. We would go to Agege Motor Road to sell nylon bags.
“Then, 12 nylon bags were sold for half the price. So, when we bought, we would make two times the amount we invested. Within a few hours, we would have sold an encouraging amount.
“I was also once a bus conductor, I was a labourer. Just mention them.”
Little wonder Obasa says he hates to see young men idling away instead of engaging themselves in some positive and rewarding ventures. Hence, he is baffled when he is approached for assistance.
He said: “For me, I don’t believe in staying idle and that is why when people approach me, asking for assistance to help them pay their children’s school fees, their accommodation and others, I ask them who is going to pay the next one. So, why don’t you find something to do?
“That’s also why I don’t strongly believe in unemployment. If your father is not a Dangote or Otedola and co, then you must look for something to do. It is only one with such people as a father that can dictate where he wants to work. You have to be engaged, you have to do something to cross to another level.”
A fourth term member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Obasa was elected as the Speaker for the eighth session of the state Assembly.