‘Nigerian government should be grassroots driven’
Abayomi Idowu Adewunmi is Past District Governor, Rotary District 9110 (2006-2007). In this chat with Gregory Austin Nwakunor on the occasion of his 70th birthday, he talks about Rotary Club, the need for grassroots government in Nigeria and why there should be religious tolerance.
The atmosphere on Ifelodun Street, Oremeji, Gbagada, is serene. The road is quiet. Chief Abayomi Idowu Adewunmi’s office stands imposingly on the street that smells sweet with incense this afternoon. The doorbell rings, and after a few minutes, a young man comes to usher in guests to the moderately furnished office.
Pleasantries are exchanged and everybody is seated.
Nodding his head and gurgling with satisfaction, Adewunmi tells his guests, “I’m very grateful to the almighty Allah for the opportunity given to me to reach the land marking age.”
Born on July 7, 1947 in Ososa, Ogun State, at 70, he has elbowed off the stage, acts that will ruin a good production. And his life, like a book, is open for all to read.
He says very calmly, “there have been several land marking events in my life, at least, one was able to get married, become a father to the first child, then the fact that one had opportunity to give the children good education. I am grateful to God that all the children are doing well. One is a medical doctor, the other is a lawyer, there is a land surveyor and I equally have an architect and aerospace engineer. That’s a lot of achievement one will say, if you don’t have buildings. You can see that the children are the building for the future. That’s in the family front.”
An earnest man with pleasant personality, he says, in a low voice, “on the social front, as a Rotarian of over 35 years, I have been able to contribute tremendously to the community and give back part of what God has given me: bring smiles to the faces of those who wouldn’t have otherwise had that smile and to give hope to the hopeless and sight to those who have lost their sight through cataract or glaucoma or some other means that you are not aware of.”
A spark of light radiates his face, as he speaks. He explains, “as a Rotarian, I rose to the pinnacle of my district. I became the District Governor in 2006-2007, at that point in time, one was able to say, I have achieved. I remember during that year, my town, Ososa in Odogbolu Local Council had no water and through the solidarity of my being governor, I was able to give them free borehole in different areas of the town. The people were happy that they wouldn’t be going to the stream again to go and look for water.”
He says: “I have been in management consultancy for 39 years. I started Agroec in 1985, training over 7,000 managers and supervisors in the last 31 years training people and contributing to their management skills and the continuity of the company and it is still on. Those are the ultimate achievement in reaching 70.”
With commendable build, Adewunmi, whose propelling interest to join Rotary Club, is to serve humanity, reveals, “my late friend, Chief Charles Adebiyi, was the major influence that attracted me to the club in 1982.”
Ever since, it has been a sweet story for the septuagenarian. A win-win situation. According to him, “Rotary provides a platform for like-minded people who are ready to serve until it pains. If you have not felt the pains of serving, you are not ready to be a Rotarian, because what the club says is that you serve until it pains. You are using your resources, in conjunction with others to serve 1.2 million in 200 countries. We are an NGO and we assist government, because government cannot do it all. We are doing intervention programmes and projects.”
With a quick wit, and a responsive sense of humour, he says, “Rotary disciplines you.”
As A Rotarian and Past District Governor (PDG), the Paul Harris Fellow says what he has discovered over the years is, “no synergy between government and the NGOs, that’s why there are abandoned projects everywhere. Everybody sees government as do it all.”
PDG Adewunmi says, “the U.S. is private sector led, it’s 80 per cent private sector. In Nigeria, probably, we have just 1,000 NGOs compared with over 10, 000 in the U.S. All of the NGOs in the U.S. are looking for areas where they would participate and meet needs. In Nigeria, government sees itself as end it all, do it all. There, NGOs are partners, but here, it is not the same thing. There is a social obstacle between the government and the people. Until our government is grassroots driven, nothing will work well and that synergy won’t be there. If you look at the pyramid, there are so many people at the top, while the base is empty. The role of the people in building process is eroded. Government cannot move until people are involved.”
Adewunmi says to build that synergy between government and the people; there is need for assessment of what people actually want. “In Rotary, we started the need assessment 16 years ago. We discovered we are partners and we cannot do it all. When a project is being sited, it must be what they really want and where there won’t be conflict, like putting borehole where they have their shrine. The whole scenario will change. Immediately there is distrust, there is credibility gap.”
He says that military intervention in politics and preponderant command structure that came with it destabilized inclusive governance in Nigeria.
According to the Rotarian, what the country needs now is inclusive governance. “There is need for grassroots government. Now, there is nothing like grassroots government. People who want to contest elections just go to power brokers, give them money, and possibly, give some electorates money and then patch the roads and you’re there.”
A widely travelled man, he has visited a lot of countries, bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the people he encounters daily. His love for his people has been duly recognised and accordingly reciprocated by many awards. He is a customary chief of Ikeja as the Atunluse of Wasimi, in Ikeja.
He continues, “I have been given several titles and have been able to carry out what we call self-actualization in management. Career-wise, I’m a Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Training and Development (NITAD) and the Institute of Management Consultants of Nigeria (IMCON).”
The complete family man started his early life at Ifo, in Ogun State where he attended St. John’s. He later proceeded to Government College, Ibadan for his secondary education and University of Ibadan, where he graduated, in 1971, with a B.Sc degree in Agricultural Science.
In 1976, he moved to University of Lagos, where he bagged master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in 1977. He worked with Lever Brothers Nig. Ltd from 1972-1976 and rose to the post of section Manager, edibles.
He joined Unipetrol Nigeria Plc., in 1978, as a sales’ representative and left for Nigeria Institute of Management, where he was trained as a management consultant from 1978 to 1985.
He further trained as management consultant with Scip Gores and Velayo (SGV) in Philippines, under the auspices of a World Bank Programme. He rose to the post, Head of Consultancy Unit in 1985 and later resigned to form his own firm, Agroec Consultants, a firm of Agro-economic and business consultants based in Lagos. His area of specialization includes, Management Training and Development, job Evaluation and Salary Administration and Organization Studies.
Agroec Consultants under his leadership and guidance had undertaken several consultancy and Management training assignments in the last 20 years. In fact, the company has trained over 5,630 managers and supervisors for various clients (about 40 of them) in both public and private sectors of the economy.
He attended several training programmes both in Nigeria and abroad to sharpen his skills as a management consultant. Professionally, he has work assiduously to become a Fellow of Institute Of certified Secretaries and Reporters.
He has served Rotary in the following capacities amongst others over the years: Choirmaster R.C Ilupeju 1982-83, Charter Secretary, Rotary Club of Gbagada 1986-85, President Rotary Club of Gbagada 1986-87, Editorial Adviser/Chairman, Governor’s News letter 1997-98, 1998-99. He has equally been Vice Chairman, District Assembly Committee 1997-98, Deputy District Secretary 1991-92, 1997-98 and District Secretary 1998-99.
Married to the amiable Chief (Mrs.) Toyin Adewunmi, who is also a Paul Harris Fellow, whom he met during his graduation party in 1971, the marriage was solemnized in 1976.
Most success stories have elements of sacrifice. So, what, in his estimation, is the antidote to success if you are to advice Nigerian youth?
He laughs. It is a big and spontaneous grin with infectious appeal that makes everybody in sight smile. He says, “tolerance, perseverance and understanding are essential. Communication is also key.”
In these days of religious intolerance, Adewunmi, a Muslim, who was trained by a Christian, says, “love for humanity should be prime in your life, not religion. There was religious evangelism in those days, but not on the platter of cruelty and prosperity, as we have now.”
According to him, “in those days, preachers did not preach hate, but love, which is actually the purpose of all religion.”