Engineer Mojeed Alabi Balogun is not your conventional kind of politician. To begin with, he is an extremely calm and quiet man. He is not given to all of the noise-making that most politicians are known for. This quiet and brilliant man who’s presently the Chairman of Ikeja Local Government prefers to go about his work quietly and let his accomplishments speak for him. And if truth be told, just within two years, Dr. Majeed Alabi Balogun has done remarkably well, turning things around within Ikeja Local Government.
Many do not know that this simple yet workaholic gentleman has a strong political pedigree. His parents were astute politicians. As a matter of fact, his father was only a whisker away from occupying the same office he now occupies before the military scuttled the democratic process in 1983. It was from his father that he cut his political teeth. Today, his father has since retired but he has taken off where the dad left off, emerging as the current chairman of Ikeja Local Government, one of Lagos State’s most integral councils and heartbeat of the state’s economic activities.
Why did Dr. Mojeed Balogun leave Engineering for politics? What are some of his modest achievements since he assumed office as Ikeja Local Government chairman about two years ago? These questions and a lot more were some of the questions City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) asked the very warm and unassuming chairman a couple of weeks ago in his expansive and nicely set up office. Here are excerpts.
Tell us a bit about your background, sir, because you do not look like the conventional politician, so maybe you can start by giving us a bit about your humble beginning.
Well, I am Dr. Mojeed Balogun, the present chairman of Ikeja local government. I attended Anwar-Ul-Islam secondary school, that was some 35 years ago. From there, I proceeded to Lagos State Polytechnic and then moved to Rivers State University of Science and Technology where I obtained a B. Tech in Chemichal/Petrochemical Engineering before heading to the University of Lagos for my Masters and then finally got my Ph.D in Engineering. But as far as politics is concerned, I have been part of politics long before now. My parents were politicians. My dad especially was a staunch politician and his own father was also into politics as well. So, I guess all of these made quite an impact on me and stirred up my interest in politics. I remember that even while I was in school back then, whenever it was time for elections we would partake in it. After schooling and having worked in some various companies, the committee within the community deemed it fit that I should be part of those that would steer the ship for Councillorship. I’m referring to my community, Isale Awori, the present Ward A. Then, it used to be Ward B.
Where were you born and raised, sir?
I was born in Isale- Awori and I was raised in Isale- Awori. And I still live in Isale- Awori up till this very moment. So, all my life has been spent virtually in Ikeja. Isale- Awori is a place that will always be a part of me. That’s my community.
You said your dad too was also a bit of a politician himself…
(Cuts in) He was a staunch politician not a bit of a politician. He was into politics for a long time. My father retired from politics on the 31st of December, 1983 when the military took over power. That was supposed to be the second term of the then executive governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. At the time, he had also contested for chairmanship of the council too and the next thing he heard was, “Fellow Nigerians…” This was on January 1st. So, since then, he has been less active in politics.
What were you doing before joining politics? We know you are an Engineer by profession, but what exactly were you engaged in before politics came calling for you?
I was a field Engineer, I worked with a company that was a contractor to Nigeria Ports Authority. Before I left for school, I was a Dunlopian, I worked in Dunlop as a Technical man and there after I engaged in field work. Then, I got employment too into Civil Service before I left for politics.
Beyond the fact that daddy was a staunch politician, where would you say you drew your own passion for politics from?
My passion was drawn from the leadership that brought me up. The fact is that when you are led by a good leadership, they would always put you through the right direction. Then, the councillorship elections were coming up. There were a lot of aspirants that were graduates at the time, really good ones, but I was contesting as a councillorship aspirant with a Masters degree. And of course, a lot of people were stunned too. They were like, do the Aworis really go to school? And I was like, yes, of course, we do. We have people that are learned and are quite accomplished educationally. So, from there, we started meeting leaders and there after I met Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Nelson and she has been forthcoming, telling us how best to go about our political career. She has been a really wonderful person. I missed the slot during the creation of the 37 LCDAs. You know it was created in April 2002, but then, we were appointed as Caretaker Committee in 2003 but unfortunately I wasn’t picked. But in April, 2004, I was appointed as Supervisor of this same local government. And that was where we started learning more about politics and service to the people. From Supervisor I was appointed Vice-Chairman and from Vice Chairman to Chairman.
You must’ve been quite comfortable financially while you were working in the private sector as an Engineer back then, and yet, you still found that lure to go into politics, how easy was it for you to decide you were going to give politics a shot?
Like I said earlier, it was the decision of my people. The people of Isale Awori deemed it fit to have me involved in the scheme of things politically. There was actually somebody that we nurtured for councillorship but unfortunately the guy passed away and the community felt we should go on with our aspirations. When your community calls you for service, you must not reject the call. So, for me, when they reached out to me, I felt it was a divine call. They believed in me and were convinced that this their son can do them proud. And that naturally fuelled my passion for politics, coupled with the fantastic leadership, as I said earlier on.
How easy was it for you transforming from a private person to becoming a politician who has to deal with all kinds of people, interacting with them every single day, how easy was it for you settling into politics back then?
You know, even in the private sector, you have to learn to manage the 3Ms, you manage man, money and materials. And everybody is a political resource because for you to be able to ensure that the job is going on as perfectly as it should, you must be able to coordinate and manage various characters. Ditto for the community. There are so many in the community who believe that politics is a dirty game, but you may not know what really obtains in politics until when you get involved. And I keep telling other like minds, the elites, you keep condemning politicians, have you tried getting involved yourself? If you get involved, that is when you can make your own impact and influence positive changes. You cannot just be sitting on the fence and be conveniently blaming people. For you to make an impact, you must be involved, either fully or partially. Politics today is more of a profession. It’s not like politics of yesterday that you feel you could just maneuver your way around it. These days, it’s so enormous with lots of challenges that as a private person, you may not be able to cope with it except you’re lucky to have a great team to work with you. Yes, you’re an entrepreneur but this time around, you’re dealing with the community and you know, the challenges of the people are so much that you just have to be persuasive and patient with them. But as a businessman, you may not care, you just run your business as you want, but this time, you must care because the people’s interest must be paramount to you.
Were there ever times that you felt perhaps politics doesn’t suit your kind of person, like times when you found it difficult dealing with the people or when they said things to you that you found really upsetting?
Like I said, you can’t possibly please every body, you can only have your preference. You do the best you can and leave God and posterity to judge you. You must have your set goals that you’re working towards, otherwise you will just be beating about the bush. Yeah, people will come with various forms of demands but you just have to be focused. Now, the agenda of the party is set and you have your own goals to drive and you have to work within the limited resources you have at hand. Sometimes, people will curse you, people will abuse you, but why not do what you think will be of benefit to the generality of the community rather than trying to please an individual because he/she is condemning you.
A lot of people believe you’ve done quite well within two years as chairman, but what were the challenges you met on ground at the time you came in?
When we were campaigning, I noticed there was a need for us to come up with an efficient traffic management team to tackle the issue of traffic within the Ikeja axis. Yes, the state on its own has always been working hard towards reducing the pressure of traffic on the road because as you can see, Ikeja is so municipal, so many industries are located here and expectedly, serious economic activities take place in Ikeja, that’s why there is pressure on the state roads. We now felt we needed to look into some adjoining roads that will ease the pressure on most of the state roads, an example is the popular Awolowo Way. When we were campaigning, I felt we needed to open up three roads that will ease the pressure on Awolowo Way and we did the three roads within hundred days and started looking inward at other problems. Then, there was also the problem of flooding on Awolowo Way owing to the inability of our people to take the issue of maintenance serious. Most of the drainages were blocked so we had to work over night to ensure we had that problem solved. Then Anifowoshe used to be a flooded area and we went into it, tackled the problem and got it solved. But all these are functions of your resources. You might want to do beyond that but you cannot go beyond your resources, that is why we always implore the people to pay their taxes. As you’re paying to state, pay to the local government so that we can have sufficient resources and give back to the people the dividends of democracy.
Talking about resources, Ikeja Local Government is massive and cosmopolitan with diverse people from different parts of the country settled in Ikeja and earning their living, how have you been able to meet the needs of the various communities in such a way that no part feels marginalized or ignored?
(Smiles) Nobody will tell you he’s not marginalized, even if you’re giving to them consistently they will still expect more. We have six wards in Ikeja and I’m sure we have reached all the six wards, executing one project or the other. It might not be enough, truth is people will always be like Oliver Twist, they will always expect more. And it’s not a bad thing if they expect more, so long as the resources are there, we will be glad to do more for them. Its true Ikeja has so many industrial companies, but the majority of these companies have folded up, owing to lack of power and so many other factors. Even when you go to Ikeja Industrial Estate, so many of the companies have folded up. The few remaining are the small ones doing trading. And with the few major companies remaining, most of their taxes have been taken over by joint agreement directly to the state. Sometimes, you might not get a lot from these shop owners except corporate bodies but the little we get from the corporate bodies still go a long way too.
Talking about infrastructure, what are some of the things you can say you’ve been able to put together in the last couple of years?
For us, we don’t have many problems in terms of building structure, but like I always say, there’s no way you will have so many buildings and not make repairs. We have been able to touch schools, and we’re still doing that because we’re looking at merging schools together. This will enable us have a complete mini-hospital but things like this take a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of paperwork before it can be done. We are equally planning to have E-learning centers but basically, the ones that are already in existence we make sure we maintain them. Even our secretariat, we’re looking forward to rebuilding it. We must maintain the building at least, and strive not to leave it the way we met it.
I know you had an empowerment programme earlier in the year. Tell us about these programmes and how the people have felt your impact as their chairman.
Well, we are trying in our own little way. Like you know, everybody believes there is poverty in the land, the only way to encourage these people is to support them in their small scale businesses and that is how best we think we can reach out to the masses. Over three hundred people were empowered, completely empowered, not support. Most of the things that were given to them were things considered sufficient enough to set them up and get them up and running in their businesses. Artisans, men and women in different vocations, a lot of them too many to mention, they were all completely empowered not just supported. That singular project earned us a national award and we were given a space bus as a prize. We have been touching the widows and they get monthly allowances. We also encourage the youths and try to get them engaged and encourage some of them to be part of the system so that they can get something to support their vocation as well.
How about education, sir, what have you done in that regard?
We are doing quite a lot. Presently, Ikeja does not have a secondary school and that’s one thing we’re working towards, we only have a Junior Secondary School. Regularly, we make sure we provide them with various writing materials and equip them with facilities. Latest next week, we’re supplying all the government primary schools in Ikeja synthetic furniture, desk and chairs plus sufficient writing materials (True to his words, the furniture and notebooks were supplied to the schools the following week before this publication went to press ).
What are the very pressing things on your mind right now that you’re hoping that before the end of your first term you can accomplish?
I want to transform the local government. I want to give Ikeja a facelift. By the time we flag it off, you’ll all see. You will see a new Ikeja local government that will be befitting of its status as the capital of Lagos State. It’s going to be huge, we will be working with a lot of contractors, but in the end, everyone will agree that it is befitting. I feel that will also be a plus to us and add to our achievements. Yes, people might say it’s just the council, but that council has to be the face of Lagos state. It’s in the pipe plan already, I just pray we have sufficient funds and the right team to work with us.