Alhaji Kazeem Ademola Adio is an upwardly mobile dude and his reputations precede him. Apart from having a blue blood, his father is also very rich, in spite of all the advantages the chap cut a niche for himself in his chosen line of contributions to the development of humanity before being drawn into politics. Interestingly, within his two years in the political circle he traversed Osun State political landscape and had a fair share of political appointments. In this interview with Akinlolu Abayomi, Kazeem Adio who holds records as the state youngest SSG spoke with Akinlolu Abayomi.
What were the circumstances that got you drawn into politics or was it a voluntary decision?
Well, just like in the military, when you are drafted, you can fight it but sometimes you barely have a choice. I was in the United Kingdom where I did a bit of teaching, I did a bit of security work and just about the time I was being invited I was working with the Centre for Innovation and Partnership (SIP), and I had been showing interest in the environment or anything regarding the climate change. So at a point I got an invite from His Excellency, the former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola to join his government. I thought I was coming in as a consultant and you know just to come and offer something from the little that I have learned and from the experience I have gathered in the United Kingdom. But on getting here I was appointed as the pioneer Commissioner for Environment and that was how I got into politics.
As the Commissioner for Environment, in specific terms, what were your contributions to the government in terms of achievements?
First and foremost, you know to build something from the scratch and for it to still exist till date means one was able to lay a sustainable foundation and I take that as my major achievement. As long as there is the Ministry of Environment in Osun State and I Kazeem Adio being the foundation layer, apparently it is an achievement. But when we started the Ministry of Environment, we needed to sponsor policies and in the house of assembly we needed to enact a few laws and update the existing ones. Then we empowered the civil servants to be able to handle the new concept of environmental protection other than just environmental sanitation. We started forest management, forest generation and protection. We embarked on beautification projects and to make sure that people come to Osun State to see the environment as conducive, we did a lot of awareness creation as far as health and sanitation is concerned. We also improved the staff strength of the ministry, particularly those that was supposed to work in protecting the forest. We also created an outfit because that was the time that carbon trading was trending and we felt that we needed to key into it. We also set up what we called emotion control, emotion control was in respect of having a lot of cars without proper maintenance and emitting into the atmosphere what are hazardous to the people and the environment. So we created the unit and employed the service of some consultants to check generating sets of households, industries and of course the cars that are plying our roads and after that we embarked on waste to wealth project. We had a dump site in Osun State but we needed to standardize and make sure that we were able to separate the plastic from the nylon, so with the budget we had, we set up a standard dump site and gradually, we were moving into waste welfare system. I can’t say everything that we did right now but it went on record that we moved the state forward as far as environment is concerned and we generated a lot of revenue. All these waste carriers, as far as waste collection and dumping is concerned, we started it. Part of the idea we used then, because there was paucity of fund, we got the local government involved so much that every of those trucks was purchased at different local government levels and we put it up at the state and that is exactly what is still in use today. So, there is so much that we did. I couldn’t have done anything however without the support of the staff and management of the Ministry of Environment and particularly I was guided by the former governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
You became the SSG at a time people expected that it was a big shoe to wear and being the first youngest Commissioner for Environment and first youngest SSG, what does it really mean to you?
For me, you know I started very young and my first degree was in Bayero University, Kano and I did my Masters degree in Business Administration at University of Ilorin. I did my NYSC at Eleme Petrochemical in Port Harcourt. While I was doing all that I was working in my father’s company as a project coordinator, at one time, a project manager and then I went to United Kingdom for my second Masters degree in International Marketing Management. In that process, I did a lot of certification in security, project management and so on. I was a lecturer at the London School of Management and in my last port of call, I can assure you it was really a unique privilege for me as a young black man. I took up my courage up from there. My parents actually impacted the sense of duty and fearlessness in me. When I was saddled with that responsibility, I took it as a challenge and of course every challenge comes with opportunity so I saw more of the opportunities and I grabbed it. Yes, I was the youngest when I became a Commissioner and also when I became the SSG. What helped me most was my trust in God as the one who is the pilot of my life, I submitted to Him and fear wasn’t an issue whenever challenges came. When I was the Commissioner of Environment, there was a time I set up a Task force, called the Forestry Task Force. Then, there were a lot of loose ends and revenues being generated by the government went into different individual purses, so I needed to tighten the loose ends and I set up a Task force on forestry. In most of the times I led the team to the different forests, even the civil servants were shocked that how could this young man be so fearless with all the threats of juju but most times I pray and we never went for such journey without returning with success, either in terms of curbing illegal felling of trees, sawmills that are operating illegally or some other things. There was a particular day that we went to Ile-Ife, that was about the scariest for everybody but for me it was an opportunity to lighten the darkness. There was a particular sawmill where saw millers were doing everything illegally and they got the backings of some very powerful people. I sought for permission from His Excellency, to let me go into the matter so we went with some mobile policemen and even before getting to the area they met us and they were equipped with a lot of dangerous weapons and traditional juju and after speaking with the leader, he dropped his weapon and asked others to drop theirs and he came to me so I explained to him that I was sent by the government and the option for me was not to turn back but to dialogue with him and make sure he does the right thing and in his defence, he was able to say a little thing. To cut the long story short, I made him realize the need for him to make money and help the government to make money too. For me, that was an achievement. It gave both the management and the staff of the ministry of environment the courage that was needed to push on since we could deal with the darkest of them all. Even in spite of the arrangement I made sure that the sawmill was closed down until they made the necessary payment.
Was there no pressure on you?
Were you offered bribe?
In fact, there is nobody in government that people will need something from and wouldn’t believe the norm is to offer bribe. Bribery starts when the giver gets a positive response from the receiver and at no point did I yield to any of such.
It is widely believed that PDP is a party full of corrupt people and that bribery was everywhere. Are you really sure such a scenario was staged?
There were a lot of decent individuals in the Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola led administration and you will recall that there was a programme called ‘Gbagede Oro’ which was held monthly where we delivered stewardship to the people. I believe it was a very accountable process and transparent. Many commissioners would be challenged by the public. I am not saying everything was perfect but when we were in government, we tried to reduce it to the barest minimum because in whatever you do corruption also fights back, so you have to do a cost benefit analysis of every action you take particularly for the case of the saw millers I just cited.
Democracy in Nigeria, are we really meeting the vision of the founding fathers because people have argued that we had a copy and paste arrangement that we should have considered fashioning out a system that can fit into our orientation. Do you think we are practising democracy as it should be practised?
Like they used to say, the worst democracy is better than the military dictatorship. I will like to say that any day any time I will support democracy because it is truly a government of the people. Every idea must be localized. Democracy is a foreign idea, we are democratic somehow because for a king to be on seat in those days history will have gone through democratic process and acceptance of the people and when there is dispute they bring it to him. If you go round the world, you will see that they have localised democracy, go to places like Saudi Arabia, Russia and even the United Kingdom. How do you ensure that we put some local elements in our democracy? We know corruption is a monster that is battling the effort of our democratic process. Have we been able to tackle that aspect of it? In such a way that it is treated like a local problem of Nigeria rather than treating it and seeking foreign solutions. The moment we start swearing with ogun and all of such, that is when a lot of people will stop stealing money but these people will not allow it to happen. It is actually a joke but there are some elements of reasons in it. There should be complete independent and interdependent of the three arms of government, there will be check and balance and all other ambiguity will be fished out. For now, Nigeria is doing well as far as democracy is concerned.
On the issue of restructuring Nigeria, people have argued that it is the best way to address the nation’s problems and people also suggested the idea of devolution of power. What is your take?
As far as restructuring is concerned, we actually need to define what kind of restructuring do we want. Even as human beings, we grow over time, we need to call our tailor from time to time so that whenever they sew cloth for us it doesn’t become a misfit. So restructuring is a normal process that we should have inculcated into the existence of Nigeria. Everything has an expiry date and for it to be meaningful, there must be a procedure towards it. So the agitation for restructuring is a very legal agitation and I believe it is a temporary solution to the calls for secession. I recently visited Rwanda and Uganda and I learned from what the country has gone through and what restructuring has actually done to serve as input into the current stability that they currently enjoy. Nigeria is going to get there, we should try to shun violence. Once restructured now, we should also give room for restructuring in the future so that those who are not satisfied now will know that in the next few years they can re-present the cases. So, it should be a suitable process and it must be continuous and of course government must be sincere and those who are saddled with that responsibility must be sincere. The government needs to listen to the people and respond to their yearnings and aspirations.
You are born with the proverbial silver spoon and you are also a prince but you hardly boast of your status. Why?
Well, when I was very young just before I finished my primary education, my parents put me in an Islamic and Arabic education where I learned the basics of the teachings of the Quran. Mostly, what we were taught were humility. For me, my upbringing caused it and in my journey in life I discovered that humility opens the door for you. I am particularly lucky that I attended the first secondary school in the whole of Africa, CMS Grammar School, Lagos. And life within the school environment forces you to be humble, it is like an exam that you must pass before you graduate from the school or else you will repeat. Throughout my journey in life, particularly incursion into politics I was fortunate to work with Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. You will agree with me that he is a representation of a humble person. So I went through his school of politics and you know the number one lesson I learned is that you must be humble before men, if you are not humble before men, that means you cannot be humble before God and it makes it to be less expensive for me to live a normal life.
Your dad is one of the richest men in Iwo, being his son definitely you must have the brief about his history. How were his days as a young man?
As you have said, the lineage is that of royalty and you know in the Yoruba tradition, a prince is also accepted as a rich person. Particularly because a humble prince gives all that he has. My dad inherited history of philanthropy and he continued with it. I know that the wealth that is commonly attributed to him is the ability to give to others and it has helped to keep the image. A close resemblance to that is that of the late Olokuku, the father of the former governor of Osun State. I learned so much from all his achievements and those achievements have had positive impacts on all his children. And you will agree with me that there is a role that where we come from plays in who we become. So my father, Prince Azeez Adio, if you say he is the richest man in Iwo then I will like to redefine it as his ability to do a lot of philanthropic work and from the little that he has, he has been able to give even more.
You have a pet here but why the choice of a parrot?
As you can see, it has been busy calling me different names and in the morning it wakes me up. It knows the names of everyone in the house. A parrot is symbolic to every prince, particularly of Iwo origin. It is in our history that there wouldn’t have been Iwo land if there wasn’t the settlement of parrot because when our forefathers were leaving Ife, they were told to stop wherever they see a gathering of parrots and that was the origin of the reference to Iwo as the land of parrot.
Could you tell us about yourself?
I am Kazeem Ademola Adio. I am married and blessedwith three kids. I have been involved in a lot of charity works. As I speak to you, I am a UNDP, United Nations Development Programme supply development consultant. I consult on development projects, I consult within the international development areas of agriculture, project management, security, environment climate change. I do a bit of writing; I have got a few books to my credit. The last was ‘Strategic Repositioning of Nigeria in the Global Market’. I also do a bit of politics.