If you happen to be one of those who pay very little attention to politicians when they talk, trust us, you are most certainly going to have a change of heart when you get to meet and spend only a few minutes engaging Hon. Afolabi Sofola, the Executive 2 term Chairman of Kosofe Local Government. This is because this gentleman, a seasoned administrator and former banker, is not only one of the most brilliant politicians you are likely to possibly come across, he is also one personality who places huge premium on integrity. Every single minute, as he interacts with the people and works assiduously to bring the dividends of democracy to the doorsteps of his Kosofe people, he is extremely mindful of his integrity. He doesn’t want anything to dent his impeccable character. He runs a very open and transparent administration that has been hinged on accountability. And perhaps his biggest strength is his passion for service. Without a doubt, this tested politician finds a lot of joy in using his good office to bring unending succor to his people in Kosofe. This is why he is hugely loved by his people. This is why they don’t joke with Hon. Afolabi Sofola. Currently on his 2nd term as executive chairman of Kosofe local government, Hon. Sofola has made quite a modest impact in Kosofe local government in terms of education, infrastructure security, health, etc.
In this interview with City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290), the very likeable and down-to-earth politician took us through the myriads of challenges he gets to deal with as chairman of Kosofe local government and a few of the modest achievements he has recorded in two years despite these challenges. In the 2nd part of this interview, Hon. Afolabi Sofola talks about a man he has tremendous respect for, Senator Bayo Osinowo popularly called ‘Pepper, who also happens to be the party leader (APC) in Kosofe. He explains why, apart from the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Osinowo remains his biggest political influence ever. Do keep a date.
You do not look like the conventional politician, sir, people say you have a disposition and mentality that’s different from what we see of politicians. Please, share with us your background.
Thank you very much. My first degree coincidentally is in Political Science. I have BSc. Hons. In Political Science but I realized upon coming into politics here in my country Nigeria, that your degree is not enough of a parameter for political power. You have to go onto the field and learn politics, which was what I did. Years ago, my late father-in-law, Alhaji Abiodun Sunmola, who was the then deputy chairman of APC here in Lagos state asked me to go and chair a ward where I live in which is Anthony. I came back from work that day and I met him in the sitting room and he said, ‘congratulations, you’re the next chairman of Anthony,’ and I said in what and he said Ward Chairman. Of course, it did not settle down well with me at the time but later I realized that whatever you do, it is better to start from the bottom. Learn what it is you’re really doing and mix with the grassroots because it is the grassroots you’re really working for. That gave me the opportunity of mixing and sharing thoughts and ideas with the grassroots. I was Ward chairman for a couple of years and simultaneously I was also a permanent Board member at Maryland SUBEB which I held for five years and two months. I also have a degree in International Law and Diplomacy. I come from a family of Lawyers but I am the exception to the rule. I chose not to go into municipal law and go to court every day and night. I chose to go into banking. I was a banker for several years. If anyone had told me years ago that I would end up in politics, I would’ve believed such a person is placing a curse on me because as at that time, I considered politics the dirtiest job in the world. But of course, today, my views have changed largely.
But what were your initial aspirations long before you got into politics?
Like I told you, I was in banking and I was hoping I would rise up the ladder and become the MD of the bank, that was my aspiration. I was also hoping that from there I could probably move into the Police Force because I had a passion to join the force but my late mum, God bless her soul, told me in very clear terms that if I chose to go down that path she would commit suicide. So, I quickly decided to jettison that idea of becoming a police officer. But banking was my first love. So, I cut my teeth in politics starting right from the bottom as a ward-chairman. From there, I became a Board member of SUBEB and it was from there that the people in my community, stakeholders, came to my office in SUBEB one day with a long list of people that have signed that I must go for local government chairman. They wanted me to replicate what I was doing at SUBEB because I was helping a lot of people at the local government level. At first, I declined, but later I did a contest for chairmanship of the local government and by the grace of God and with the support of my leaders, particularly Senator Bayo Osinowo, I was able to win that election. And then we went on Sabbatical, that’s what I like to call it, after His Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola left office we were out of the office for three years and when it once again pleased God to return us to power, this is my second term as a local government Chairman.
How easy or difficult was it for you to transit from banking to politics?
Well, it wasn’t easy because, as a banker, I was used to our mode of dressing which was suit and bow tie and I was already in love with the bow tie. I was often dressed in my suit and tie or bow tie and it filtered to me that people were now saying, ‘baba olokun lorun yi tin bo.’ (meaning, this man with a rope on his neck is coming) which I considered derogatory, so I said to myself, let me blend. So, I abandoned my suits and ties and now go on up and down, which has now become my mode of dressing. I can also tell you that many people have wondered how somebody like me who appears to be lacking that rugged disposition expected of a politician is coping with politics, but I tell people, it’s not about how hard or rugged you are. And I stand to be corrected, anyone that is in the position of Executive chairman, considering the nature of the job that we do must be firm, must talk, must feel the pulse of the people, otherwise, you will not succeed in that job. So, it’s not about being gentle or hard, it’s all about how you have been able to perform or impact a lot of people.
How challenging has it been for you, sir, running a massive local government like Kosofe?
Yes, Kosofe is a very well-positioned local government in terms of the educated people that we have, in terms of the number of people that are in public position from this area, in terms of the level of exposure of the people in this part of Lagos state. They’re nobody’s fool. We have a very robust structure here in Kosofe local government. We pay a lot of attention to the structure of leadership and they act essentially as an advisory body to check your excesses and put you on course. And through meetings we have with our leadership at party level we are able to resolve what visually may look impossible. And it’s been a winning formula. There will always be challenges, there will always be contrary opinions that could be sometimes expressed in harsh or violent forms, but we always work around these situations and get things under control. But with the benefit of hindsight, the leadership structure has been of immense help in conducting the affairs of this local government. And when I say leadership structure, you know I refer to the likes of our national leaders, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who we meet with from time to time, and I’m also talking about our own leader here in Kosofe, the undisputed leader, the distinguished Senator Bayo Osinowo, who is the leader here in Kosofe.
What were the immediate challenges you met on the ground that you felt you needed to hit the ground running to address?
The first problem I met on ground, not in any order of priority, is that of lack of employment. A lot of people are unemployed and you know an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. By not being gainfully employed, you find that the majority of our youth are involved in crime. We had to look inwards and device means and ways of engaging them gainfully. Another thing is that I believe the government is a continuum. Ever since I became chairman, and I’m talking about my first term from 2011 to 2014 and when I came back, and I’ve just done two years now, I have been paying judgements passed against us by courts of Law monthly from our allocation accounts. These are verifiable facts. I believe that judgements passed against the local government must be honoured. I have substantially reduced our debt profile, contractor debt liabilities. I couldn’t say because the contracts were executed years before I came into office, I would not pay what we’re owing. It’s a wrong attitude. So, infrastructure wise, a lot of roads are bad. We inherited bad roads. And it’s not just Kosofe local government, mind you, it’s all over Lagos. And my own local government, Oworo, is the worst when it comes to roads. You know at a point in time, the funds that were accrued to us from the allocation account were not good enough to address all these issues. We have to pay salaries and several other statutory payments and by the time we’re done with all of these, what’s left is what we use for developmental programmes and it was quite a headache for us. To hit the ground and run was a major issue. I’m very happy that today, things have improved greatly in that, the usual practice in the past where deductions were made arbitrarily from the local government account has stopped as directed by the President Muhammadu Buhari. The IGR was another area of challenge that I had. For a local government that is so strategically placed like Kosofe, I expected that we should generate a high IGR. But you see, thievery and fraud is the order of the day for a lot of our people who do not want to work. People go out, they make photocopies of the receipts, tarnishing the image of the local government. Money that is due to the local government is reduced substantially because of all of these touts. The local government has of course taken action on so many fronts to reduce these illegitimate practices, one of it, of course, is that we have been able to come up with the computerized billing system. It’s an automated billing system, this way, we have reduced the hand to hand exchange of money in the collection of IGR. And the IGR has increased through this automated billing system. That is another area of challenge that I met on the ground that could not make me just hit the ground and run. Another area that I considered a challenge was that of security. Our police force was bedevilled with a lot of problems, especially that of lack of patrol vans. You cannot combat crime if you do not have the necessary mobility and the wherewithal to perform your job. We encourage them to write to us when their vehicles have problems and we give them money from time to time to fix them. In my first term, we purchased brand new vehicles through His Excellency Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola through our money of course. Once such vehicles were delivered to us, we promptly assigned them to the DPOs that needed them the most. In my first term, I went as far as purchasing three fairly used vans which I gave to the police to assist them. That was also an area of challenge that made it difficult for us to hit the ground and run. The issue of education was also a major challenge, major because I have a passion for education. Like I told you, I was once a board member of SUBEB and while I was there, I was in charge of inspectorate division covering junior secondary schools and primary schools in Lagos state and that gave me the opportunity to see the pitfalls, the problems in education in the state. A lot of schools do not have tables and chairs. Even teachers don’t have in some schools. A lot of them have no roof or only have leaking roofs over their heads. Others operate within structures that can collapse at any time. I can go on and on. That is why you see many parents taking their kids to the private schools that they cannot afford.
So, what solutions were you able to proffer to some of these problems, sir, especially in the area of education and the bad roads you met? We are aware that you’ve done quite a handful of things, just take us through some of those things.
Let me start with the education that you just mentioned. Like I told you, I have a passion for education. In my local government, I started off my first term by creating the white metal boards instead of the blackboards. I removed all the blackboards and replaced them with metal boards and markers. In my second term, I have seen that a lot of problems that existed in my first term still exist. So, what I did was that I provided tables, chairs, benches for primary schools in Kosofe Local Government and distributed them. It’s still not enough because I still plan to go on phase 2 and still do some more. We’ve been able to do a lot of renovations of schools like Anglican Primary School, we have fully renovated it. There are about two or three other schools we renovated. We also make sure that our teachers go on regular courses from time to time. We have adult education programmes. I made available a school bus. I intend to get another two or three if funds permit me. I intend to get smaller ones this time because the one I bought before was long It was of immense help to the parent. The smaller buses can get into the nooks and crannies of our state and pick people up and drop them. You should’ve seen the turn out when we started it, it was amazing. We had long queues of students waiting for the bus. If I had my way I would have ten of these buses if funds permit me. Like you already know, the whole world is going e-library now. Towards the end of my first term, an NGO led by Grace Alele Williams came to Kosofe, moving from one place to the other, setting up e-libraries. Unfortunately, the project did not reach a conclusive end so I am bringing it back. We have started now, we’ve been having meetings with some NGOs and banks as I talk to you. We have the drawings on the ground and we have the survey as well. I went to SUBEB to see the then Chairman of SUBEB, Dr Sopein who has now been replaced by Alawiye King, who is also my brother, and he graciously gave us the space that we required to build that e-library in Emmanuel Primary School. We pray that by this time next year, by God’s grace, that e-library would’ve been concluded. And it’s going to be something we want to leave for posterity because it’s not only going to be used by the children, it will also be used by the adults. Still, on education, we distribute yearly GCE forms because we know our parents in the various communities find it difficult raising money for these GCE forms. The local government gives out a lot of these forms and we distribute into the seven wards to alleviate the parents’ sufferings towards getting these forms.
We also make arrangements for teachers to teach them and prepare them for the exams. It also came to our notice that some of our schools are being vandalized by some of our good boys, I don’t call them ‘Area Boys’ anymore, I call them good boys. In such schools now, we’re using the SBMCs, School-based Management Committees that have been set up and we’re trying to see how we can give them security there. We’re building higher walls, blocking louvres through which they gain access into these schools and generally tightening up the security around those schools. So, these are some of the things that we’ve been doing. If you look at infrastructure, I said we couldn’t hit the ground running but we’ve been able to make some progress. We’ve been able to construct quite a number of drainages and also constructed some roads such as Emmanuel High link roads which cut across all the way to Amoo Road through Victoria Street which was commissioned by distinguished Senator Bayo Osinowo. We also have a street at Anthony, Bola Street, which is fully constructed. We have rehabilitated a lot of roads as well. Our major concern, as I talk to you, is the rains. I’ve received several calls and messages from members of my community telling me that their roads are in a state of disrepair and that their cars’ shock absorbers are paying the price for it. And I tell them that this issue of roads and security is one that is uppermost in the mind of His Excellency Babajide Sanwo-Olu and we the local government chairmen are collaborating with the governor in seeing to the rehabilitation of roads in our local governments. You see, there are three categories of roads, we have federal roads, state roads and we have local government roads. But the people don’t want to hear any of that.
(TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK)