Madam Omobola Adeola Imiavan graduated as the overall best student of her set at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies Senior Executive Course Section 23 in 2001 at Kuru and has served in various capacities as a civil servant. The septuagenarian who retired as a director, Planning, Research and Statistics in the Federal Ministry of Energy (Power) shares her experience with JULIET KUYET BULUS
When and where were you born?
I was born on the 15 March, 1948 in Lagos and was also raised there though my parents were indigenes of Ijebu Ife, Ogun State. I moved to Abuja in 1987 because of the movement of the Federal Capital Territory.
How did you know the actual date, month and year of your birth?
In Lagos there are records. I was born at the Island Maternity Hospital, Massey Street, Lagos and at that time it was the main hospital on Lagos Island. Lagos then was the Federal Capital Territory. I was also registered at the city council. So, I would say I am one of the privileged few in Nigeria that has authentic birth certification. I was raised in Lagos though my parents hailed from Ogun State.
Which institutions and or schools did you attend?
I attended St.Peter’s School Faaji, Lagos and St. Anglican School on the Island where I started my education. At that time, primary school was for eight years and back then we did what was called infant classes one and two. It was taken in Yoruba which is the local language. When one is well grounded they move to standard classes. Primary education was eight years for me and my mates in the Western Region went to the school system established under (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo, it was a six year programme. From there I went to New Era Girls Secondary School. Incidentally the school is 70 years this year as I also clocked 70 early this year. By the time I resumed with them they had been 12 years in existence. After that, I went straight to the University of Ife and at that time what we call prelim was usually for people with very good grades. I had straight A’s in all my subjects. Prelim was a year programme that was supposed to cover two years of higher school certificate and initially they made it very tough as they kept reminding us that anyone that could not cope should not be at the programme. I did the one year of prelim and three years of degree programme where I majored in Economics Statistics and graduated in 1972. Back in the days, if you over stayed in the university its either you were playing or in a wrong course. It meant a serious minded student is sure to graduate within the time frame. I obtained my bachelor of social sciences in the department of economics.
Before graduation from the university I had several job offers and anytime I look at Nigeria now my desire, hope and prayer are that we would get back to that state that products of university will pick and choose jobs they want. I had four opportunities, the faculty of social sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, through the Dean, Prof. Samuel Aluko who was also the head of my department invited me to join the teaching staff. Ife was tough and maybe because I was Lagos bred, I just felt I could not cope with the atmosphere. The Federal Civil Service Commission also offered positions. I was invited by IBM for interviews and finally, by the time I got home the Registrar’s Department of OAU invited me again to join the Administration as an Assistant Registrar and I turned down the offer. At that time what they did was go to various universities and ask for names at the department.
Which offer did you take up eventually?
The only job I applied for out of all the four was the one I took up and on 12 June, 1972, I reported to the Federal Ministry of Transport as an administrative officer and subsequently I served in Establishment, Industry, Internal Affairs, Head of Service, Women Affairs and Power. With the longest tour of 11 years at the Federal Ministry of Industry. There I served as Secretary of the National Council on Industry which was responsible for generating inter-governmental policies for the manufacturing sector. Thereafter I served as the first and only female Director/Secretary of the Immigration and Prisons Services Board in the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs. In the course of my career I represented the Federal Government on the following Boards/Councils: Sokoto Cement, NIDB which is now Bank of Industry, Savannah Sugar, NIPOST and the Nigeria Investment Promotion and Protection(NIPC). I also participated in the negotiations of bi-lateral agreements on technical and economic cooperation with countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Similar agreements on Investment Promotion and Protection were done with my active participation or under my leadership. At the time I was in the university, there were not many universities in Nigeria. We had in Lagos, Ibadan, Ife, ABU. Universities would tell us about opening and how to apply for jobs through the students affairs office; unlike what we have today. I felt I would fit in the National Planning, during my interview I remember Olu Falae was part of the team, Chief Chikelu was also in the team and eventually I worked with both of them. Chikelu suggested to me in the course of the interview if I would like to join the administrative cadre, I did not know what it was and he said they needed people with economics background. Then I accepted since what I read would be useful in that line and I was penned down for the job. I joined the service in 1972.
How was life in service?
In the course of my career I went to in-service training because I wanted to improve myself so I went for a master’s programme in Development Economics from the Institute of studies for Economic Development (ISVE) in Napoli, Italy and it was sponsored by the Federal Government in 1987. For instance, when a topic on Agriculture was taught someone from FAO handled that, when it was on trade someone from UNCTAD. With the experience here the course programme was similar with what I had in NIPSS. I was there for a whole year but it was split into two and I believe they did that because we had the programme in one year.
I was already on Level 13 or 14 at this point when I left but there it was an international class where we had participants from China, Egypt, Ghana, Somalia, and Latin America. So apart from learning we were exposed to interaction with other nations and when we made contributions in class, ideas from various angles are share. After the master’s programme I came back to my work in Abuja.
How was Abuja when the FCT was located there?
When we relocated to Abuja the only places on ground was Garki and Wuse and Karu Nyanya which was initially like Life Camp (a camp for workers) for big contractors. Abuja was like a village or a very small town but it was a respite from Lagos. I would pick up my son from school, take him home, give him lunch and I was back to my office all within an hour. I loved it until the Presidency moved and things started happening and even now it is a place to be.
How did you get to NIPSS and how was your stay there?
I would have gone much earlier to NIPSS but the way I worked, I was engaged fully in the job like if I was not there things might collapse. I hardly had time for any other thing but when I moved from the Ministry of Industry and I was able to go on leave. I remember telling one of my colleagues, I was on leave and she asked who gave me leave (Laughter). It was from there, a circular came asking for people interested in the NIPSS course then and I remember my minister asking who was going to do my job and I said I had a deputy. I went and I do not regret the experience. At NIPSS like I said earlier, it is similar to what I did at the Masters level but on a higher level. We did local and international tour on the topic we were to look at during that year. Participants were divided into groups to states, to do reports to provide government with what to do. In NIPSS there were lots of information too as participants were drawn from all works of life. To be nominated to NIPSS it means one is already made and distinguished as the course is just to sharpen one in his/her career. There we have some regular subscribers ranging from the armed forces, para-military, private sector and public servants. The authority in every field we were taught were always on ground to teach us and researches and papers produced are there in the research department that can assess all these programmes. In my time we looked into the environment, my study group went to Cross River and Kaduna states and I think for about three or four years NIPSS covered every state.
The reports and recommendations are all there and if the states are keen they can go there. I was the overall best graduating student in my set at NIPSS in 2001 and was given the president’s award.
What did it feel like been the overall best graduating student at NIPSS Kuru?
I have always been top of my class growing up. In primary school we had a weekly assessment card that showed where you were academically and parents would sign. I was seventh position, took it to my father, he looked at it and said ‘Omobola you are playing oh!’ and he signed. Nobody told me to go and read my books at home as they allowed me be myself but the monitoring was there. The following week I got twelfth position in school and my father refused to sign and if you did not go to school with a signed card you are in trouble. What I forgot to know is that even the teachers were parents and by the time I managed to go there and told them my father refused to sign because I did not do well, they took it from me. The next week I think I went back home with third position. I hardly read but I did well but sometimes I relaxed. In New Era Secondary School I had straight A’s in my school certificate and that enabled me get into the university the way I did. So been the top of the class does not mean much to me. I was the senior prefect in New Era Girls Secondary School in 1967. In Ife I had issues academically from part two to three but when I did the resits I did very well and in spite of that, they wanted to retain me as a lecturer.
Life in retirement
I live my life virtually as a single parent. When I retired I had people suggest to me that I could do consultancy for the UN and I did not because been a hard worker left some gap in my children’s upbringing whether I like it or not. Before I moved to Abuja I had a social network of family but since we moved here it has been Church or colleagues. So I decided to spend this time bonding with my children and grandchildren. One of my children is in the US and the others are here in Nigeria.
At what age did you start work?
I graduated in 1972 and I started work at the age of 24. I would not have made it this far but for the mighty hand of God manifested in my life. At the age of six, the building of my primary school collapsed, killing eight children. My family had about five children in the school at that time and only one was severely injured but lived to fulfil her destiny. I also had another miracle as God saw me through a medical condition no woman I knew at the time had survived with a live birth. In my teen, I actively participated in a popular NTA programme titled ‘Test on the Testaments’. It was a Bible quiz anchored by Rev. Sope Johnson who later became the Anglican Archbishop of Lagos.
How would you compare the public service during your time with what obtains now?
Public service was good because I left the private sector for it. Back then our salary was sixty pounds. The difference between us and someone in the private sector is the salary which was more for them but our job was flexible. There are several things that were taken care of in the public service which the private sector person has to pay for. As soon as you joined the public service back in the days you could apply for a car. It might be a small car but “tear rubber”. That was one of my problems, wanting to ride what my friends were driving and my husband said I was not going to and we ended up settling for Ford Capri while he was riding a Mercedes Sport when I met him. We had a good life and lived at places legislators were housed before they were disbanded. One bedroom but convenient from there I moved to 1004 and stayed in a four-bedroom. The day we got the accommodation my daughter could not believe it was our house. In the estate we did not experience power outage and whenever we did, the generator came on immediately. The streets were neat, we had water and it was like they picked 1004 Estate from somewhere and placed it in Victoria Island. A niece came to the house, loved it, went home to tell her father she wanted our house and he told her it was for people who worked for the government. Then she told him to go work for the government (laughs) and this is somebody that was rich. At that time he had a ship bringing things from Europe to Nigeria and when he told me I laughed. That was the image of the public service that we had and all of a sudden things started to degenerate. When I joined the service we knew our bosses and juniors. As it was more like a college, so when you were posted somewhere especially those of us in the administrative cadre before you got there they already knew who you were. Fortunately, for me I started my career when the military came and the main structure of the civil service was still very much in place. There was discipline. When a boss called his staff, you would see them comb their hairs, tuck in their shirts properly before appearing before him. The civil service according to one of my bosses is a time for planting. You may not have much now but with perseverance a civil servant will catch up with those at the private sector. In the course of my career I sat on many company boards, boards of companies we thought were big. In the public service one may not have money but there is power and it is left to us what we use it to achieve; because the power is to make a change, to grow the system which many did and some used this power to amass wealth.
In my era within six months of joining the service, we were trained in management, middle management, advance management and some went outside Nigeria until ASCOM was established. Those who wanted to go as far as PhD could do so in service especially when it is in line with the job. The civil service was emasculated by the political class and this is still ongoing. As public servants, everything we do affects the entire country and that is an enormous responsibility.
Regrets in service
I do not have regrets as I look at the things I would have done better with greater knowledge and wisdom.
Where were you during the independence in the year 1960?
I was in Lagos and I still remember very clearly we went to Tafawa Balewa Square and it was a race course. It was like the kind of things you see in Durby, England where actual horses raced. This was what the independence was like and children were brought out from schools to match and after that, they were given refreshments like bottle drinks and snacks. Back then, bottle water was not affordable as it is now. Mission of California, L and K were soft drinks we had. It was a beautiful day as there was fire works the night transiting to the independence and my father was invited for the programme and I still capture him in wine aso oke (Yoruba traditional cloth) alongside his elder brother. It was a real celebration even when we did not know the full impact of what was happening. After that, every year we marked Independence Day until it was changed to a National Day. Now that I look back, I realize the impact of that transition. When people quickly say under the colonial government things were better, I pray we do not go back to that era where the whites who are buying from us determined how much to pay us.
How was growing up like?
I was not born poor. My father worked with John Holt and he later ventured into politics as the first councillor for Ijebu East. We were comfortable. I was pampered as the eleventh and last child but not spoilt. I come from a polygamous family but one will never know because my father lived his life as a Christian despite having three wives. My father’s junior wife was living in his house at Mushin and we on Lagos Island and during the holidays I went there and I do not remember my mother telling me to be careful when I get there and not eat until my brother ate. No, I was never taught this.
When did you marry?
I got married in 1973 and from get go we started having problems as our parents did not want us to be married because my husband was from the mid-west, an Ishan man from Edo state and it was not handled well. I use that to encourage other people. By the time I met him my father was late and there was no strong personality there for me and I believed if my father were alive he would not have stopped me and once he said so everyone would have left me alone. On his side, the issue was I am an Ijebu girl and several other issues though I never had any issues with my husband. We both had a good life and he died over 10 years ago. Interestingly, my family now intermarry. If I had knowledge of the scriptures the way I do now, it would not have been traumatising. I am grateful for my life, the kind of children I am blessed with and the impact I have made on people. My family eventually came around and all is history now.
With the experience I have in marriage I am able to counsel young people who are in a relationship because if I had known better I would not have gone through all I did in marriage. The Bible has remained my to go reference for life and I have served as a Church Treasurer, Chief Usher and Deputy Sunday School Superintendent at the First Baptist Church, Garki ,Abuja.
How did you meet your spouse?
I met my husband after graduation from the university. I had a serious relationship with a medical student in the University of Lagos. I was so serious that I had a picture of him in my room. One day a friend of ours came from ABU and said he went to the school to see an ex-girlfriend. I wondered how he left Lagos and went all the way to Zaria and I decided it was over. When we eventually met he told me he went to play basketball or so. He said in marriage if someone tells me something would I just believe without hearing the other side of the story? And I said marriage is different as courtship is to see about compatibility. Now, with the knowledge of the word of God I know one should hear both sides for fair hearing because God also gave Adam an opportunity to defend himself. It did not work and he eventually married the girl he went to see in ABU but I had met my husband Victor, at that time.
I met my husband at the Ministry of Transportation where I started my career and had no car. I went to my friend’s to get a lift and while there he was visiting a friend who was in my team and we were discussing about a newspaper publication of a peculiar paper. He asked me out for lunch with friends and would not take no for an answer. I followed them and that was it. From that day every 3:30pm he was waiting to pick me up and from day one he told me of his intention to marry me.
What endeared you to him?
The little I knew about God then, I had told God the man I want to marry must be taller than I am as I had this fixation about been short. There was a time I was eating beans like no man’s business thinking that I would grow( she laughs) not knowing that what you are is what you are. I also wanted him to be read and older in age so that I respect him. Now I teach people to ask God about nominal issues when courting. We were very compatible and when he talked, he made me laugh.
How many children do you have?
I was blessed with three biological children. The second child went to be with the Lord at one year, two months. He is always missed. With the help of Almighty God, strength and experience from my native family, I was able to raise my children and in addition, contribute to the upbringing of Toyin. Through my daughter and son in-law God gave me two grandchildren.
Gardening, aerobics and photography
The younger generation has just one life and God did not make any mistake putting us in Nigeria. If people make it in the desert, swamps, we should do better here on farm ground. If they make it in countries where earthquakes are regular phenomenon and floods are perennial issues, we should make it here. We should see ourselves as people God has given so much to, the world is waiting for us especially the black race. I remember in the university days I had my picture on the wall wearing an afro and I used the logo ‘I’m black and proud’ on the background. We should believe in ourselves. To all, we have only one life to live, enjoy it by creating the atmosphere. I hardly saw white men on the streets of Lagos, all we had was done by us and things still worked.
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