Q: Can we meet you sir?
A: My name is Mr. Tunji Bello
Q: Sir, people say you are not from Lagos; can you please dispel this rumour and tell us how you are related to Lagos?
A: l laughed when you said people say l am not from Lagos. That means they don’t know our history. My father was elected into the Lagos City Council in 1956 till 1960. Our house is at No 32, Ajishomo Street, beside Lagos Central Mosque in Nnamdi Azikwe area. That is where my father’s house is located. We represented Lagos City Council of those days.
I remember when I went for the Lagos State Government Scholarship after gaining admission into the university. After being awarded the scholarship, I went for the interview at Apapa and when l got there, l found out that several members of the panel were Lagos indigenes. While the interview was ongoing and it got to my turn, immediately I mentioned my name, the panelists just said where are your brothers and asked me to be going. That was how I was given scholarship alongside other eminent Lagosians who were at that interview. That was in 1980. This is just to show that we are from Lagos. My father represented Lagos in Lagos lsland while all my brothers and l went to school courtesy of the Lagos State Scholarship.
My father, Alhaji Azeez Olatunji Bello, was one of the founding fathers of the Ansar-Ul- Deen Mission. You can ask anybody. In fact, part of the land where the Ansar-Ul- Deen College, lsolo, is built belonged to my father and that is the school my brothers and I attended. That is also to tell you that we are core indigenes of Lagos State. I remember when I left university; at that time, recruitment into the Lagos State Civil Service was ongoing and I was one of the first people they recruited but I did not pick up the appointment as l decided to finish my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1985. I was given appointment letter in August and I was to resume work in the Lagos Civil Service in September and that was the same time I was given employment in the Concord Newspaper by late M.K.O. Abiola and I said I had no business in the Civil Service; let me go to Concord.
In fact, when I left secondary school, I was waiting for my certificate (secondary school certificate) in 1978 when l was recruited alongside other people for job without even having school certificate yet. Dr Jinadu was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Sport at that time and they were still at the Old Secretariat then. I was one of the indigenes that were told to come and work in the Lagos State Civil Service and I spent only two months there. When my school certificate was out, I left there immediately to further my studies and when I left the university, l was immediately grabbed.
I remember then in the University of lbadan, Lagos State lndigene Association had about 58 members. I was an executive member of the Lagos State Students Union; I was also the Vice President- General later in my second year. I was in University of lbadan between 1981 and 1984 and I was the Vice President of the Students Union for the 1982/83 session.
Q: What is your relationship with Abeokuta?
A: My mom is from Abdul family from Abeokuta. My dad died in the sixties (60s) and I am the last born of my father and I was born in 1961and because of that, I did not know my father. I was always with my mom and the Abdul family; that was why people taught l was not from Lagos State. In fact, it was during my university days that l became familiar with Lagos, and when I was in the university, I picked Lagos as my State of origin. So, how could I have been given employment immediately I was through with my secondary school certification examination? How could I have been given employment in September 1985 immediately I finished my Youth Corps Service in Ekiti in 1984/85?
Buhari was the military Head of State at that time before Babangida took over in 1985 when I finished my Youth Corps Service. By that time, late MKO Abiola said l must come and work with him because my father was very good to him and I decided to accept that employment instead of the one offered me in the Lagos State Civil Service. Another thing is that if I had taken the Civil Service job then, I would have spent 35years and I would have retired August this year.
Q: Sir, you have been in and out of government for many years. Is that due to your integrity and very strong relationship with Asiwaju?
A: l was only out of government once and that was during the first term of Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN). Well, one must thank Asiwaju immensely because he has been a great leader. More so, he values people who are dedicated and loyal to the core. If Asiwaju gives you assingment and you do it very well, he will continue to reward you. I want to first of all thank God Almighty because he is the one that makes everything possible. Asiwaju is an instrument and we all are also instrument in the Hands of God. I must thank God for this unique opportunity. I am a very dedicated person and I don’t do double dealings. I am a very straight forward person and if you ask those who I have worked with and those that worked with me over the years since 2003 in the Civil Service, they will tell you I do things collectively and I have nothing to hide. In all my assignments, I carry everybody along up to the peak and I make sure nobody is left behind or out so that we will all know what we are doing.
I don’t interfere with the Civil Service work; I allow workers to do their job. On policy matters, I take charge and I make sure that they implement the policies very well. My mission is that when I leave the job, there must be continuity. This is important because all the things that you have done, you expect it to continue, and that’s what we have found in the Ministry of the Environment over the years. So, my own is just to facilitate and provide proficient leadership but the implementation is done by the Civil Servants as they get familiar with the tasks and find them very easy to handle.
I don’t believe in personalizing public responsibility, assignments and so on. We must ensure that we develop institutions and that is why we developed LAWMA, Drainage Service. Throughout my tenure in the Ministry of Environment, we created a lot of agencies out of the Ministry because of the experience I have had in other countries like United States, Germany and several others where they do similar things.
When I took over as Commissioner, we discovered that there were many things that could not move the way we wanted them; it is the nature of the Civil Service. So, we started creating agencies like LASAA, reformed LAWMA, LASPAK and so on. We created them for certain functions. We went to South Africa and understudied their laws and brought them to the Assembly and the Lawmakers passed them into law. We also worked with the Local Government Chairmen and they all cooperated. Look at the LASAA now, it doing very well. We said that we cannot run parks and gardens from the Ministry and that we needed to create an agency for it and we created Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency and it is being run on its own. They are the one maintaining all the parks and gardens in the State and that is the way they do it in other parts of the world.
The nature of the Civil Service is that the Ministry is supposed to make policies, monitor and supervise but not to be responsible for implementation. The implementation is to be handled by our agencies; that is why we have LAWMA, LASPARK, LASAA and so on. These agencies do the implementation while we sit back and monitor them and that is why we have been successful.
Q: Coming back to Asiwaju Tinubu, what kind of trust does he has in people?
A: The trust that our Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, has in people is about his belief in them. If he gives you an assignment and you carry it out well, that is where the trust comes in.
Q: You have worked with three Governors, how will you rate them?
A: That will be very difficult to say now. Maybe I should wait till when I want to write my book.
Q: What is your hobby sir?
A: Reading and football. I love football a lot. I am an Arsenal fan.
Q: What can people do to get on your nerves, either at work or anywhere?
A: Oh! That is if you are very slow. I don’t like delaying any public issue, most especially when people have expressed their sentiment over certain issues or they want quick response on an issue. Let’s say there was refuse somewhere and we didn’t respond on time as regards to its evacuation, I would be very angry about it. Also, l don’t like people that lie and if someone is lying, we may not be able to work together. My own is that you must be up and doing on any assignment given to you. Public integrity and public response to issues are very fundamental to me because we are here because of the general public. We are here to serve them; they are our boss and we are the servants; without them, we cannot be here. So, they come first. That is why whenever there is any complaint, I respond with immediate effect; that has been my own style. We don’t waste time. Even if we can’t do it immediately, we make the public understand our reason(s) for that.
Q: How do you get time to socialize?
A: Well, l am not a party freak but I do attend weddings of those who are very close to me but most of the times, I avoid parties. I am not really an outgoing type; even the clubs that I belong to, several of them, I don’t always go there. I really don’t always go out, not because of my work, but because it is my nature. In fact, I look forward to my weekend when l will be able to watch football matches in English Premiership, Spanish Laliga and so on.
Q: What is your best food?
A: My best food remains beans and plantain.
Q: What time do you go to bed?
A: I don’t have an actual time because it’s unpredictable. Most times, I close late at work and I do things till very late in the night. So, I go to bed late around 1am or 2am.
Q: What I noticed about you since l have known you is that you are very intelligent, handsome, wealthy and you a respected public figure. If I am to put everything together, can l describe you as a ladies’ man?
A: I don’t know about that but I have only one wife and she is the mother of my three children.
Q: How do you handle admiration from ladies?
A: Well, the admiration will always come but if you know how to manage it….
Q: How do you manage it so that people can learn from you? (laughter)
A: Well, they (ladies) are my friends and I relate with them easily and I don’t snub or ignore them. We relate and interact and so on, but I make sure that there is a limit, such that my family is never compromised in any way. I have three children; two girls and a boy. One is a Lawyer, while the other two are Doctor and Engineer.
Q: Briefly give us your impression about Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
A: Oh, Tinubu is a great Leader who motivates people, who gets people to work. If Asiwaju gives you an assignment, he expects you to churn out great result. He hates mediocrity; that is one thing I know about him. People might not know, but he doesn’t bring people down and he encourages people, who bring a lot of ideas to the table, and when the ideas are good, he tells you to go and implement them while he sets a timeline for you and he follows up. If he knows that you are somebody that can deliver, he will always support you…..
Q: What about his action towards someone that cheats or stabs him at the back?
A: Well, one thing I know about Asiwaju is that he forgives easily; he is not somebody that nurses animosity. No matter how badly you offend him, he will forgive you. There are a lot of people that Asiwaju had forgiven and brought them close to him again. In fact, you will be the one that will be asking him why he still went ahead to bring that person close to himself again despite what the person did to him. He is someone who gets angry easily and also forgives easily. That is why he is a great politician because he is a man of the people and he doesn’t hold grudges for too long.
Q: What is your impression about working with the current Governor of the State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu?
A: lt has been fantastic. You know l have been working with him since 2003. You know he was a Special Adviser to the formal Deputy Governor, Femi Pedro. That was when we first met. When we started to reform LAWMA, we worked together; then, Pedro was the Chairman of the committee handling that task and he (Sanwo-Olu) was also there. That was how we got used to each other; he is a very good man. He also gave us a lot of advice when we wanted to reform LAWMA and he was very instrumental during that time.
Q: Now that you are working closely with him, how will you describe that experience?
A: Oh, it has been fantastic. He is a great leader and you will know a great leader in time of crisis. We have had two crisis this year (COVID-19 pandemic and #EndSARS protest) and he has managed both very well and courageously too. He has done tremendously well during those periods. Even before he became a Governor, I had known him to be a very passionate and sincere person, who is ready to lead; so, l am not surprised by what he is doing and I think he is on his way to greatness.
Q: You have been reading Oriwu Sun for a very long time; how will you describe the paper and its Publisher?
A: You know I was once a reporter and also an editor in the defunct Concord newspaper and more so, journalism is my terrain and l am very familiar with it. l had also delivered lectures on media matters in several places and so on. As a result, I have always used Oriwu Sun as an example of how a community newspaper should be. People will say that they established a community newspaper but in their publication, they go different ways and they won’t reflect the community aspect in the newspaper. I have always said that for a community newspaper to survive and be sustainable, it must largely report that community where it operates and also focus on the community. One remark that people must give Oriwu Sun is that since it started over 30 years ago, when you see the paper, you will see Ikorodu character in it. That is why the paper has survived till date. Of all the community newspaper that we have in Nigeria, Oriwu Sun has been the only one that l have seen that is still in existence.
When I was in Concord, we created many community newspapers but they collapsed because they were operated as State newspapers instead as community newspapers and I was always saying, ‘Look at Oriwu Sun newspaper; that is how a community newspaper should be. It doesn’t need to cover the whole of Lagos State.’ See, I can have a community newspaper and call it Lekki Community newspaper or lsland Community newspaper, but all that matters is that it must be everything about that name I give to it and with that, l have a market to sustain it because you must have a market to sustain a newspaper.
First of all, do you have enough readership to sustain the community newspaper you want to run? Oriwu Sun is about Ikorodu and it has not gone beyond that. It is not being run to cover Badagry, Kosofe, Lagos Island, Ikeja or Apapa. It has limited itself to Ikorodu and as Ikorodu keeps growing, the paper grows with it and it reflects the character of Ikorodu. Everything about Ikorodu, you will see it inside Oriwu Sun.
Q: How will you describe its Publisher?
A: Oh, once you see a successful paper, you will know that its
Publisher is also a successful person. I have known Alhaji Olowosago since when he was in Concord; we worked there together. He is a great man and he did an excellent job in Concord before he left to establish his own paper. The paper has been successful because, from his past jobs as a journalist, he was successful, especially when he was in Concord. So, there is no doubt that he is focused. You can’t tell me about Alhaji Olowosago because I have known him, even before Oriwu Sun was established, as a professional journalist… a great one at that!