By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
IT was sunset for Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola, former governor of Lagos State, on Monday. As expected, a rain of tributes has followed the announcement, while the state government has declared a seven-day mourning period in his honour.
Governor Babatunde Fashola directed that flags in all state government offices and institutions be flown at half mast during the period to honour the deceased. He described Otedola’s death as a great loss to the state and noted that the former governor’s administration was marked by great achievements.
“His indelible record of service is still there. ‘The centre for excellence’ that Lagos proudly proclaims today was his choice when he was invited among other governors to choose a sobriquet for Lagos. That and some other impactful projects he executed as governor are still visible and will remain evergreen in our memory,” he said.
As his name implies, fate played a critical role in Otedola’s ascension to greatness. He was elected governor of Lagos from 1992 to 1993 on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC) during the truncated transition programme of former military president, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, against the run of thoughts after a crisis engulfed the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the state over choice of a gubernatorial candidate.
During the run-in to the election, beautiful, coloured posters bearing Otedola’s photograph and caption: “That Lagos may Excel,” strategically littered Lagos State as if that was enough to ensure a smooth ride to Alausa Government House. While posters alone do not win elections, Otedola had said the coloured posters only reflected the excellence in his printing outfit, Impact Press Nigeria Limited and his excellent way of doing things.
The late silent multi-millionaire got exposed to the public after winning his party’s governorship primaries. And since leaving office in 1992, he had quietly shunned the public space, while maintaining his humble and simple personality through his Michael Otedola Foundation that gives scholarship to indigent students every year.
For years, he was in the defunct Western Region Public Service where he served as Public Relations Manager of the Western Nigeria Television. He was also a Press Secretary to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola, both former Premiers of Western Nigeria. On leaving government service, he worked with Mobil Group of Companies retiring in 1977 as manager, Public Affairs division.
The Asiwaju of Odoragunsin, who was also made a Knight of St. Sylvester by Pope John Paul in 1974, saw himself as an epitome of truth and a vehicle for change before his administration was truncated.
Though Otedola could not complete his tenure in office due to the political imbroglio that characterized the regime, it is however, on record that his administration facilitated the establishment of the Yaba College of Technology campus in Epe, his hometown.
The focus of his campaign was hinged on peace. When asked his plans for Lagos, he told The Guardian in an interview dated December 9, 1991 that “we are campaigning on peace. We must have an atmosphere of peace in order to achieve an orderly progress.
“Orderly progress will give us plentiful water supply, good roads, mass transit programmes, qualitative education, free enterprise by which our womenfolk who dominate the market will have plenty of stores to exhibit and sell their wares. We will encourage, through free entreprise, willing investors both within and outside the country by reducing red-tapism that tends to scare away investors.
“We will attend to the health of the people. At this stage in Nigeria’s development, there is no reason why there should be so many maternal deaths, infantile mortality. These are basic things that people are yearning for.”
Asked what he considered to be the biggest problem confronting Lagos, he said it was transportation. “By that, I mean inadequate transportation facilities is affecting the economy. People leave very early in the morning by 5am to get to work. After they close from work at 5pm, they are still struggling for buses to get home as at 8pm.
“So, we intend to tackle this first, introducing smaller buses. Our roads are not wide enough. We will provide smaller buses that will bring people from pedal roads into the main highways, where they will change to the bigger buses. We will encourage local governments to have their own transport schemes to move people from place to place in the councils.
“Then there is the much-talked about metroline. I am all for it, but it would be done thoroughly by inviting experts to advise on the project and also engaging those who can assist both locally and internationally. We will not make the metroline a government project but fully private-funded project.”
These were his dreams for the state as far back as 1990s but the truncation of his administration by political turmoil that has been our lot never allowed him to actualize his noble objectives. And now he is gone for ever and ever even as the state still yearns for many of these things.
Pastor (Mrs.) Omolola Taiwo Segun-Idahor, daughter of former governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola, on Tuesday said she lost not just a father, but also a friend who was always “a phone call away”.
Segun-Idahor spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria at the Epe residence of her late father as sympathisers continued to flood the premises to extend their condolence to the family.
She said that her only consolation was that her father lived a good life, noting that as governor of Lagos, he served the state with everything God gave him. “He was a man filled with great wisdom, a good listener and a principled man; a disciplined man who never took anything that belonged to another person.
“We thank God for giving him to us as a gift; he was a great daddy to all his children,” said Segun-Idahor, who identified herself as one of the identical twins which the late Otedola had.
She said that her late father valued education and believed that one good reason why one could borrow money from the bank was for education, adding that she was always happy to see people who benefited from her father’s scholarship scheme in several fields.
Segun-Idahor said the arrangements for the burial would come out in due course, noting that apart from the family, the state government and the church would be involved. She thanked the Lagos State Government for the support it had rendered so far, explaining that Governor Babatunde Fashola came early in the day to visit the family.
Drummers and singers were in the compound as sympathizers poured in to condole with the family.
Fashola, in the condolence register wrote: “The government and people of Lagos bid farewell to a patriot and public servant who served them valiantly and faithfully.
“We value your service and will never forget it. You were a man of great honour. Rest in peace with your maker. The race is finished and it was well run.”
Some youths, who benefited from the scholarship scheme provided by the late Otedola, were also at the Epe residence to condole with the family. Mr. Moshood Adams, Chairman, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Epe Chapter, told newsmen that the late Otedola made Epe proud as a governor and gave hope that they too could govern well.
“He affected the lives of many of our youths by his scholarship and we will really miss him. We pray that the family will continue with it,’’ he said.
Adams said that the youths also looked forward to another person from Epe to become governor of the state to build on the achievements of late Otedola.
Mr. Abiodun Jankdawi, another of the youths, said they referred to the late Otedola as a ‘Civilian General’ and would miss him deeply. “He made the youths happy,” he said and prayed that his soul would rest in peace.