‘The power of Nigeria resides in its diversity that must be harnessed’

Kuku

With his ever presence in the social circle, especially during the yearly Ojude Oba Festival where he leads the popular Kuku Family, coupled with his voluntary works, one might be tempted to think that Olorogun Sonny Kuku is no longer active as a medical practitioner. However, a recent visit to his Ikeja office shows that the Co-Founder of Eko Hospital is far from retirement.

Some patients were at the reception waiting to see the University of Lagos trained medical doctor. He was engulfed with work when The Guardian arrived his office for the scheduled interview. Mere looking at the heaps of files, certificates and awards that dotted his office, you could tell that Olorogun is indeed a veteran in the medical field. But how he manages to combine his ever-busy schedule with social activities remains a puzzle.

“No, it’s about time management,” he said, adding, “I’m involved in so many areas, but once you plan your time, you can really cope. Of course, once you become a little more famous than others, they tend to show you in all those events; other people go there, but they need to show that ‘who is who’ was there,” he explained.

For the medical doctor, managing work with social life is as easy as adopting the good old popular farming method, Crop Rotation.

“I look at it as the farming method that we were taught in school, Crop Rotation. Today, you plant bean, next time you plant cassava; that helps the grasses to get richer and richer. Now, I’m in the medical environment, but maybe in another two hours, I might be going to a financial board meeting. I get information there, which I use here and the things I learn here, I use it there too. Sometimes, I do academic things, which enriches you and those around you. It’s probably why some of us are still sane, but you have to manage your time,” he cautioned.

With his mastery of time management, it became clear why Kuku accepted to become the Alumni President of the University of Lagos. Though the position eats into his time, the Ijebu Ode native had his plans intact before stepping in.

“When it became clear that the Alumni wanted me to take the position, I was very busy, but you have to give back to where you come from. My reason for taking up the challenge is to ensure that the association develops. The presidents, who were there before me, did very well. So, I’ve gone to put my own block on it to get it better. Once you accept to do something, you have to devote your time to it. But how you divide your time to meet up with responsibilities is the big question,” he said.

Even at his age, Kuku seems to understand the power of technology and has deployed it to get things done easier and faster.

“As I’m sitting here now, my email is full with lots of things. But then, I sit down, gather them together and resolve them. Again, when my physical presence is required, I can plan it. Fortunately for me, most of the places where I am, I’m always at the helm of it; I can dictate where and when we should have meetings. But really, once I commit myself to something, I take it serious,” he quipped.

Few minutes with Kuku, you could tell that he’s a proud alumnus of University of Lagos; he wears it like a badge. Forget his current position as the President of the Alumni; right from the first day young Sonny stepped into UNILAG, he fell in love with the institution.

Kuku at the Ojude Oba Festival

“Of course, I was the third set of UNILAG, 1964 set. The campus was very small then, maybe about 1000 students in total. But another thing is that I was in Idi Araba Campus; I only did my first year in the main campus. When you are there, with the lagoon in front, it’s like you are entering a ship; everything was soo orderly and beautiful. Those of us, who were in Idi Araba then, the Teaching Hospital was very beautiful,” he recalled.

In fact, Kuku had the opportunity of enrolling at the University of Ibadan, but after visiting UNILAG, the young chap made up his mind not only to enroll with UNILAG, but also subjected himself to a test.

“Then, University of Lagos used to do interviews for the medical students. I went to UCH and I said, ‘never would I go to that school.’ UNILAG was soo beautiful; you cannot believe it’s the same LUTH in Idi Araba that I’m talking about. Can you believe that anybody will call that place beautiful today? I just told my self, “no, no, I’m going to UNILAG,’ despite the fact that UCH Ibadan had better reputation at the time.”

Recalling his days at UNILAG with what students go through these days, Kuku lamented, “You could see that they are suffering. Sometimes, you hear there’s no water; the food is nonsense. In our own time at the medical school, we had food all through the night; there’s no dinner-time. Every month, there’s a hall dinner with three-course meal for medical students. Things have really changed,” he noted.

The first ever students strike that occurred in UNILAG happened at the medical school. Before then, the students, including young Sonny, had been staying in one room each, until the school management came up with the idea of two students to a room.

“They brought bunk beds into the rooms and we said ‘never will that happen. We are undergraduates, how can undergraduates stay two in a room, it’s not possible.’ So, we took the bunks out and there was a massive strike. Of course, we went back to use the rooms. But now, they have up to 20 people in a room; I don’t want to go through that suffering.”

He continued: “Things were so much better and the lecturers were so concerned about how you were doing. When many of us went abroad for post-graduates, we were highflyers; we were far batter than the people we met there. Not just because of our IQ, but because we were better trained. UNILAG was known for professional training and anywhere you mention it, you are recognised; they take them for postgraduates anywhere. But now, it’s not the same,” he lamented.

Indeed, aging does not take away a man’s uniqueness; it has not stopped amiable, dark-complexioned, humble and chatty Kuku from being a bubbly fellow. Any day, the endocrinologist, consummate businessman and philanthropist, boasts of a personality that is second to none, with unrivaled intelligence.

A true patriot, Kuku is one man that loves Nigeria and has built bridges across the country. Though a proud son of Ijebu Ode in particular and Yorubaland in general, Kuku believes that the power of Nigeria as a nation is in its diversity. No wonder he teamed up with his friends Obioha and Eneli to set up the popular The Eko Hospital.

A private hospital located in Ikeja and Surulere, with an annex in Ikoyi, it was established in 1982 to succeed Mercy Specialist Clinic, a clinic that operated in the late 1970s to provide health care services to the entire people of Lagos State, Nigeria. Eko Hospital provides a wide range of health services, including secondary services for its local population, regional as well as national health services and was the first private hospital to be quoted on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

“Look at the founders of The Eko Hospital, we are from different parts of Nigeria; even the two Igbo chaps are from different places. Look at the number of inter-tribal marriages happening now; it’s tremendous. Every time you go to weddings, it’s Yoruba and Igbo; Igbo and Delta; Delta and the North… those things didn’t happen many years ago.”

To the medical doctor, it’s possible for Nigerians, no matter tribe or religion, to collaborate and bring ideas that would lift Nigeria from poverty.

“This partnership that we have here has been on for 40 years, so, it’s possible for people from different backgrounds to work together. The reason we are together is because none of us wants to have more than the others; none of us tries to overtake the other or run him down. People quarrel, but when we take decision, we take it by consensus.”

To him, consensus is a better way of taking decision, as against voting.

“We don’t take decision here by majority, that’s two against one; that’s the best way to destroy any organisation. In fact, sometimes, we decide to listen to the minority person, maybe even go the minority way. If it would take one-month to get the consensus, we keep it for one month; that’s what Nigeria should be doing. It shouldn’t be ‘winner takes all’ syndrome; that’s a major problem with our system. This democracy is not a Nigerian thing; it will never work, at least the way it’s being practiced.”

As for those calling for breakup of Nigeria, Kuku said, “ Well, this country will not break; a lot of the noise is by politicians and people, who want to get something from Nigeria. Mind you, the younger people are not shouting breakup, it’s the politicians that are shouting ‘breakup, breakup.’ Look, we have a population of 200million, how many countries are bigger than us? We have a very young population, with about 70 per cent under 25, this is a sellers’ market; this is a market we can put ourselves together.”

He continued: “Again, the different parts of the country have different strengths. If we are all oil producing, you can say we are not adding to ourselves. But we have oil producing, we have intellectuals, we have farming, we have business. The food is coming from one area, oils is from one area, the economy really is on one area. So, we will not allow Nigeria to break; it won’t even happen,” he declared.

However, Kuku believes that the country should undergo proper re-organisation to give everybody a sense of belonging.

“They call it restructuring and true federalism, but what it really means is that we must all live in a way that everybody is happy. Don’t sit down and expect money drops on your laps or don’t work so hard to make the money and feel cheated at the end of it all. And when you are sharing the money, share it with the principle that is fair to everybody; that’s what restructuring and federalism is all about,” he said.

Though a strong believer in the ongoing campaign across the country for restructuring, Kuku has his reservations.

“To start with, the Southern part of the country is screaming, ‘there must be restructuring, there must be restructuring,’ we just hope when the time comes, they don’t get bought with money or positions. Even the North that people thought they would not want to restructure, their eyes are beginning to open and they know that, if you don’t give and take in any place, everybody will suffer. In fact, the north will suffer more than we will suffer. You can see that the APC has now come out with the restructuring programme and that’s where the concrete thing is. The government in power wants to do it now, because if they don’t do it, there will be a problem for them. Eventually, any party that decides to do it will have the upper hand,” he noted.

Taking a swipe at Jonathan’s administration, Kuku said, “Jonathan caused all these problems because he had a constitutional conference, where all these issues being raised today had been agreed upon, two years before the election, the man just did not do it. Why didn’t he do it? He was afraid of who will react to what and what people will say. He could have done it and his name would have been written in gold. This is a missed opportunity for us because the basic structure of restructuring is in that document that was submitted to him. All he needed to do is pass it to the National Assembly; he could have got at least some of the things done, even if not all,” he said.

Left for Kuku, Nigeria should operate a zero party system in choosing leaders.

“I don’t think there should be any party at all. Like it happens in your village, there’s the king and then he has a cabinet. The best person fights to become a House of Reps member from your place; you are all in zero party. So, when you win, there’s not party to go back to and oppress the other person; he’s still a member of the society and next time, he can still come back to contest.”

While suggesting a rotational presidency, he said, “just have a presidential system where there are six people; one person will be president for one year, the next time, it rotates to the next zone. The next time, it rotates to another zone. After all, what does a president do? The president just goes to meetings and all that, what you need to have are technocrats running every area. For instance, the Ministry of Health, the minister can be a politician, but the permanent secretary will be a health professional, directors of community health, director of nursing… those are the people that drive the system. The same thing you do in other ministries. That’s why in America, Trump or no Trump, America is developing.”

He continued: “Japan used to have a Prime Minister every six months; Italy was changing government any time. At that level, once you have technical people running the technical areas, it doesn’t matter. The politicians, once they are making proper laws, it doesn’t matter. But everything should go into private hands. How much is federal government budget? Maybe N7trilllion. How much is that compared to our GDP? Companies like MTN and others are probably turning over 1 trillion; that’s one company employing 10,000 people. So, if you have one million of those companies in Nigeria, government budget becomes a drop in the ocean; you can even let them steal it all. Funny, that’s the time when they won’t even steal it,” he noted.

As against the presidential system of government currently being practiced in Nigeria, Kuku is of the opinion that Nigeria should look towards adopting what is currently obtainable in the Scandinavian countries.

“Their social system is more intense than communism. If you look at the league table, the best healthcare is in that place, the best educational system is there, and the best infrastructure is there. When you talk about quality of life, they have the best because you pay 60 per cent of your money in tax. Really, what do you need money for if everything is working? If everybody has a home, everybody has good health, your parents are cared for, infrastructure is perfect, your children go to the best schools, what do you need money for? Why don’t we look at those people the way they are doing things, why must it be America,” he quizzed.

He then singled out Rwanda, saying, “There are successful situations in Africa. For instance, in a country like Rwanda, private schools are closing down because the government schools are so good; there’s no need to take your child to private school. That’s the same thing you find in Scandinavian countries; I think they are studying those systems. But here, we are too busy playing games and playing politics. The people, who are playing the politics, their IQ is not really more than average; the culture that they come from does not allow them to even think of any other thing but their own pockets,” he frowned.

For Kuku, readers are leaders.

“I’m not saying that we should be super elitist, but the countries that are very successful, the people in government positions are the first class graduates and they go to the best schools. All those developed countries, bring out the names of their president or prime ministers, look at the kind of schools that they went to; those kinds of people cannot fail you. But here, we are even struggling with whether they have school certificate or when they did their masters, was their name on the list of graduands or not; that’s the kind of system we have here,” he concluded.

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