It is widely believed that one of the many reasons why our leaders and public office holders often let the masses down is because only a few of them can claim to have encountered in the past the sort of challenges the man on the streets faces day in, day out.
This is because, more often than not, a lot of them come from privileged backgrounds, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to relate to the plight and yearnings of the common man. But one politician, a Lawmaker specifically, who stands out from the rest with a distinct story and passion strong enough to meet the yearnings of his people in Epe II, is Honourable Olusegun Olulade. You are not likely to meet too many public office holders, or politician whose humble beginnings would stun you like that of Hon. Olusegun Olulade. His is a classical grass to grace story and he has effectively used it as the pivot which drives his desire and hunger to deliver the dividends of democracy to his people and offer relief and succor to as many people as he possibly can, even if it means expending large chunks of his personal resources.
His Empowerment Programs, which address the needs of hundreds of artisans, the aged, widows, unemployed and unengaged youths in Epe, are regarded as the biggest by any Lawmaker in the state. City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL, spent a great deal of time with the extremely popular and humble Lagos Lawmaker couple of weeks ago and he took us through his humble beginnings, the challenges he faced as a young man and how he was able to rise against all odds to become the accomplished man he is today. It is a remarkable piece.
Share with us a bit of your background, sir, what’s the story behind the very popular, accomplished and respected Hon. Olusegun Olulade?
Well, to start with, my name is Segun Olulade Eleniyan. I am from a very humble background and I thank my God for being there with me right from the very start. Even when we had nothing, God was always there with me. He has demonstrated in so many ways that He will never leave me nor forsake me. Like I said, I come from an extremely humble background. I was a gardener, I was a conductor, I was a pool clerk and I was a messenger. I did all those jobs just to have a means of livelihood.
Even after I finally graduated from the University, I still had to clear waste in the city of Lagos to be able to feed myself. Coming from such a background, I have tasted poverty. And I have resolved that I don’t want to see poverty around me again. With the little resources that come to me, I am always looking out for people who I can help take out of poverty. That has been my passion.
Like I said, God has been there for me. Every step I’ve taken in life, there’s always somebody waiting to lift me up. Those are some of the signs that assured me that God is involved in my life. In 2003, I wanted to come and have a taste of the House, but before then, since 1999, I had been coming to the House of Assembly to study what they do at the Parliament…
Sorry, sir, but I will have to ask you to pause a little so we don’t go a bit too fast. Given the picture of your humble background, it couldn’t have been an easy ride for you getting educated up to university level. Please tell us how your educational journey panned out for you.
Well, I started with the Roman Catholic Mission Primary School in Ejinrin. I am from Ejinrin in Epe. I was a senior prefect of the school. I got hooked onto politics through Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the then governor of Lagos state. I will say he was the one who inspired me into politics because, being the senior prefect of the school, I was fortunate to have had a handshake with him when he came visiting our community. I do not know how many handshakes he gave that day, but the one he gave me stirred up something inside me as a young boy and I told myself, I want to be like this man. That was the turning point for me.
And every time I was playing football or doing something else, I was always reminding myself, ‘you said you want to be like Alhaji Lateef Jakande.’ That made me study harder so that I could be like him. And that helped me advance to the secondary school, Lofi Ogunmude Comprehensive College, also in Ejinrin and I was the social prefect while I was in class four and when I got to class five, I was made the head and sanitation prefect. I think I was the first prefect of that school to have been given a full prefect position while in class four. From there, I finished my secondary school.
I had my grades and was ready to go to the university but because of my background, I didn’t have the funds needed to sponsor myself to the university so I had to start doing all sorts of work just for me to go back to the University. It took me eight good years after finishing secondary school before I could go back to the university. I was determined, I was focused and I was resilient in ensuring I went to the university no matter the odds stacked against me. It was during that period that I became a conductor, a pool clerk, a messenger, just to earn a living and save money to enable me go the university.
I did my first JAMB and got admitted into LASU in 1995 and graduated in 1999 with Second Class Upper in Economics Education. For my youth service, I served with UBA and also worked. I did a bit of lecturing at Plateau state Polytechnic. It was after one of the first major crises in Jos occurred that I decided to come back to Lagos and there was no job for me again. I started looking for job and it was at that period, around 2002 and 2003, that I decided to give politics a shot and come into the House.
But before I knew it, the constituent had already concluded on its choice of a member then, so I had to wait till 2007 when I also contested and the leadership of the party asked me to step down for the then member of the House. And by 2011, I was given the opportunity to come and serve my people from Epe constituency II, so that’s when the journey of my legislative business started.
What happened during the period you returned to Lagos and the time you took your first shot at politics? Please fill us in on how you finally got to the point where you decided you had what it takes to take a shot at politics.
Okay. When I got back to Lagos, you know, after my return from Jos, I still had some little coins on me and I thought I could use that to put things in motion to earn me the seat, and like it is in politics, within a very short period that money quickly disappeared (laughs). So, I started looking for job again in the banking industry and there was this significant thing that happened to me as an individual. I was in the church one Sunday morning, and our pastor invited a guest pastor from America.
The man said something that has stayed with me ever since and brought about my turn around in life. He said the difference between an African and a European or American man is that an African man wants to work in a blue chip company while an American or European man wants to own that company. He told us that the likes of Coca-Cola started from a living room, the vision of Julius Berger started from a sitting room, and several other great blue chip companies too. He said, ‘you also have the potential to start doing something’ and he backed his conviction up with a lot of biblical examples, starting with Moses and the rod in his hand which he thought was ordinary at the time. Something very interesting now happened to me the following morning when I went for an interview. We were well over 2,000 applicants that started the interview and we were finally pruned to just about five and I was one of the shortlisted five and there was space for just three people.
The five of us were asked to come in that morning by 8 a.m. for the final interview. I was staying with my sister who had been married at the time, and I left home in Ijede for Victoria Island. I couldn’t eat before leaving home, I just had on me transport fare that would take me to the place and back. I got to the bank by 8 o’clock but the interview did not hold until some minutes to 5 p.m. But by 2 p.m, I was already terribly hungry and had to go and eat from the little t-fare money I had on me.
When it got to my turn to be interviewed, the first question they asked me was, can you give us three people that you know that can deposit 10 million naira with us? And of course, I didn’t really know anybody. But still, I mentioned a top military officer then, General Paul Toun, he’s a pastor now and I also mentioned the then governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who was the commissioner for works then. When I first mentioned General Paul Toun, they quickly wrote it down and said yes, but when I now mentioned Aregbesola and Asiwaju, the governor of the state, they stopped writing and looked at me. The man leading the interview panel turned to me and said, ‘get out of this office!’ I asked him why he was asking me to leave, and he shouted again, ‘I said get out! If you know Governor Tinubu and the Commissioner for Works, you won’t be here looking for work. Get out of this place!’
And that was the end of the interview. But I thank my God the man drove me out of his office that day. That is why I said God is involved in the journey of my life. I went out, confused. I didn’t know what to do. The money I had left on me could only take me from Obalende to Ikorodu. That meant I would have to trek from V.I. to Obalende and then call my sister to bring me money when I take another bus from Ikorodu to Ijede. In the course of trekking, my white shirt had turned to brown.
Finally, I boarded Ikorodu bus at Obalende and because I was so tired and weak, I slept off in the bus. Around Mile 12, we ran into this heavy traffic caused by as heap of refuse. It was the loud complaints of people that woke me up. People were angry and criticizing the government. And at that same church service I mentioned earlier, my pastor had said, ‘See a need, make the need, you have a job.’ So, while people were complaining, I saw the need in all their complaints. And I thought, what can we do with this need, which is the clearing of waste? I realized that if I could do something about this waste, then definitely I have gotten a job for myself. When I got back home, I couldn’t tell my sister that the interview went terribly bad, but I was seriously thinking about what I could do about that waste people were complaining about.
Fortunately for me, I also had a friend who shared in my vision, and together with a couple of other friends, we started an NGO clearing waste free of charge for people. We wrote to the local government asking them to provide us with a truck, we would clear the waste littering the whole place and the truck would go and dump it because we do not want to see those wastes littering the roads of Lagos again. And that was the beginning of my breakthrough.
After a while, this metamorphosed into a full blown waste business for me and I became the Secretary General of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria.
I started my own company and became an employer of labour. I started buying trucks and had graduates who were working for me and my company was known nationwide. We brought new innovations into waste management and made several inputs into the system. Today, I say I am a fulfilled man. So, by the time I was coming into the House of Assembly, I was already a millionaire through waste management.
That’s an incredible story, sir. I hope you have all of this documented so the youths, particularly those from your constituency who are looking up to you, can have access to it, read it and be inspired by it..
Yeah, I do a lot of motivational speaking. I have a passion for the youth, which is why I set up a Foundation, the Eleniyan Cares Leadership Foundation which we are using to raise tomorrow’s leaders. We are unlocking their potentials and exposing them to best practices and also taking them away from crime. We’re telling them their lives should not be about 419, it shouldn’t be about yahoo or drugs, it’s about discovering who you are and we have really made tremendous progress. I can say that in this country today, I’m one of the few public office holders who have a fantastic relationship with the youth.
We’ve done a lot of things together. I’ve been on the streets to campaign against drugs, I’ve campaigned against cultism, against rape, against female genital mutilation. I’ve campaigned against a lot of things. As we speak, all the leaders in the campuses in Lagos as a whole, the student union presidents, speakers, all of them are members of my foundation, that will tell you the sort of impact we have made on the youths in the state and in the nation.
We did the Youth Empowerment Summit last year which was aired in UK, aired in Canada and in America and even in Ghana. People came from Ghana, from the UK, from all over Nigeria to attend the program. And we had great Resource people like Dele Momodu, Kate Henshaw, Chioma Chukwuka, we brought all of them together to come and talk about how they started and their humble background.
This went a long way in educating the youths by telling them it’s not b y engaging in crime that you can become whatever you want to become in life. And as a legislature, I think I can modestly say I’ve made my mark. I’m the first law maker to have moved a motion in an indigenous language in the entire country today. Before I did that, it had never happened.
Please, explain what you mean by moving a motion in an indigenous language..
Before I came into the House, they had started a Yoruba sitting, but nobody had ever moved a substantive motion in Yoruba and that motion was the first indigenous language motion in this country. I also moved the motion for the immortalization of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, so today, when Fela is being immortalized I feel fulfilled. I have moved several motions to aid development and capacity building in our country and state today. I’m also the first Lawmaker to have tapped into the media to start the first radio programme in this country as a feedback mechanism to our constituent and we’ve been doing that for close to two years now.