Comrade O.S. Balogun is the Director of Community Primary School, Ayanwale in Isheri-Oshun Ward of Igando-Ikotun LCDA. An activist to the core, he is also a protégé of respected late human rights campaigner, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). In this interview with Our Community’s Paul Mbagwu, he talks about the school, challenges facing Ayanwale community and sundry issues. Excerpt…
Ayanwale community is in a state of collapse for want of government presence. The roads are bad and electricity supply is nothing to write home about. What is the problem?
Before I answer you, I want people to know who is talking. I am Comrade O. S. Balogun. I am an activist to the core. My mentor – it’s a pity, I feel like crying anytime I mention mentor – was Gani Fawehinmi. If you look at my face now, you will see that I’m already feeling bad.
Frankly speaking, when a child needs something from a father, the child can only get it if he continues to disturb the father. But if you keep quiet, your father will not know what is wrong with you. Even if he sees that the child is putting on a rag, he will not talk until the child expresses the need to the father. When we talk of Ayanwale generally, even up to Isheri, I can tell you that the people there who call themselves politicians, more or less community leaders, most of them are sycophants. They are selfish people. They only think for themselves. That is the only problem we have.
Secondly, I tell you frankly, when they say “travel and see,” most of them have never travelled anywhere. They have remained in this village all the time. When you remain in the village and you are ruling in the village, when you go to a town, the way they rule in a town is different from the way they rule in a capital. They have not travelled. They have not seen anything before.
Thirdly, majority of them know nothing about administration. This is because majority of them are not well educated. They only rush into politics. They do not know their right from their left. Their aim of joining politics is to make money, forgetting that a politician must be ready to put one or two things to mind: you must be ready to help the poor, the downtrodden, the less-privileged, the cheated, the defenseless, and every other in these categories. If you cannot do it, then zero, and you are not playing your part.
Frankly speaking, in my area Ayanwale here, that is the problem we are having. Those people who call themselves politicians are not well read – and you know that it is said, “Knowledge is power,” and “Character gives you respect”. For most of them, in the area of knowledge, it’s zero. Even in the area of character which people will see and give them respect, it is not there. This is because their aim is to get money. This have missed it totally. These are the things killing us and that is why they cannot go to the government, because if they present themselves before the government, they have lost their respect before them. This is simply because the people up there have been using them as slaves. All they do is to throw some coins to them and you see them shouting. But you are not after coins or the little money they give to you, but the progress of your area. That is the problem we are having in Ayanwale.
I want to stress again that when you talk of Ayanwale, my community, those people engaging in politics and the politicians at the top – they know themselves –when it comes to representing the community, instead of choosing the right people, they choose those people who are not up to that standard to represent. For instance, take the lowest, the councilor, who is to represent his area. Before he gets there, people should choose the person who is up to the task. But because the leaders have been sending you on errands for them and during election time, if they you and are convinced that when you get there that you will be delivering money to them, they’ll pick them. When they become the councilors, they have nothing to do there. However, when they see that you have the knowledge and are upright, you stand by your point and you’re disciplined, have all the qualities, the man up there will be afraid of you. When you demand something he will surely do it for you, instead of it’s not yet time, have this for your personal use. That is what is killing them. They are not qualified to represent. That is the problem.
Since you are aware of these challenges bedeviling the community, and as a community leader who commands respect, what do you think can be done to bring about a change, and get the government to recognise the community?
At the initial stage, I was not fed with the APC system of government. I was brought up by Gani Fawehinmi, the National Conscience Party (NCP). You don’t give out things to people to elect you. We don’t give out money, clothes, rice, or what have you. No! We’re trained that we work hard and people who see the way you are working will come and appreciate you. So, when I did not see it in them, I found it difficult to join them. As a result, I picked a ticket under the platform of NCP to contest for Chairman of Idando-Ikotun LCDA. Then I contested against Jimoh Ajao. But since we did not spread money, Jimoh Ajao won the election as Chairman of Igando-Ikotun. Fortunately, Jimoh Ajao still gives me that recognition till date. If you mention Comrade Balogun, he accords me that respect. He has even contributed towards the growth of this Community School I’m running today. Another person is Honorable Olamilekan Solomon (Yayi), who also contributed. These are the people who saw the good in this project, but if it were the other members, they would not. Anything I write here, I write it and I sign it. And when you take it to the government, you “see” those people involved, which is the problem I am having with growing my school today. When I take this letter up and I meet the authorities, they tell me the problem I have is with the people I’m sending to represent the school, and that all they know is to eat. This is the reason they do not believe in them. As it’s said, “A tree does not make a forest,” so, I can’t totally say go you thieves, you sycophants, and selfish people. No! you need to stay with them to stir them like a pot of stew is stirred so that they will also change their system. That was how I managed to bring something of this magnitude into this community. And all of them are seeing the school’s growth. Apart from the school, ask them to verify if there is another project the community is benefiting from the government. Nothing! You cannot identify any project effected by the government. Even to get this school to the level that it is presently was through a tug of war with people in the community. Every now and then, we have seen talisman (Juju) dropped into the school, my seats and at my compound when I get home. But with God, all things are possible.
The problem we have in the community here is that the government does not trust the people we send to them. Because they know themselves. Yoruba people say, “Ijekuje ma n bankoje ni”.
What about the Community Development Association (CDAs) leaders, have they been living up to their responsibilities?
Since I came into this area till today, I cannot see anyone who can identify the people who brought in the CDA into this community. The first CDA was Kwaru-Ijalemo. And I was the General Secretary of this Kwaru-Ijalemo. As the General Secretary, my plan was to put in hardworking individuals at the top, which I succeeded in doing at a point. I also succeeded at checking avenues where corruption is possible. When I noticed that these men were beginning to help themselves with the little money I was getting into Kwaru-Ijalemo, I stopped them and made attempts to bring in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). They refunded the money. When I noticed their refusal to change, I decided I was not going to remain in their midst to have them spoil my name. I stopped working with them. Since then, Kwaru-Ijalemo has stopped functioning. However, Kwaru-Ijalemo gave birth to five or six other CDAs that have been functioning till date. It might interest you to know that I am still the General Secretary of Kwaru-Ijalemo till date and no one has changed me, irrespective of it being defunct. Kwaru-Ijalemo is defunct because their ways of behaviour are different from mine and I will not be forced to follow their system. That is exactly what is happening.
Ayanwale street is a major road network connecting so many streets linking to several other communities. Do you see any hope of the road getting fixed when the incoming government assumes office?
It still depends on the people that will approach the government. Whether new or old, the right people must go and demand for the road to be fixed. If we don’t put the right people that the government will respect, there will be no improvement.
Why am I saying this? The people there are still there and they don’t want them to be changed. They are still sitting tight and do not want to be changed.
Secondly, Ayanwale has a problem because the linkage to Ti-Oluwani area is crossed by the pipeline road. If not because of that pipeline crossing the road, I personally would have fought for the road to be fixed. Personally, I have another project that the government is ready to take up: and that is to bring a hospital into this community. I will, God giving me life, bring a hospital into this community, after the school. All I’m waiting for is to have government build the school. The government has recognised the school project. What we are waiting for is the building.
This school is the only thing the poor is enjoying in the community. Move around to see, there is nothing like the pupil here paying school fees. So, the next project is the hospital.
Who are these people representing Ayanwale wrongly, since it seems they are the ones hindering growth in the community?
The error they make and will continue to make is that they politicise the whole issue. APC is up, therefore, APC must rule. That is a system they are using. Some of them will choose themselves – ‘Baba Lagbaja’ should be the chairman of the whole community. ‘Baba Lagbaja’ should be this and this. Even at that, presently, they are no more in good terms, despite being members of the same party…
What you are saying now is that the community leaders themselves have become politicians.
Yes! The community leaders have become politicians. Which shouldn’t be. As a result, parties are beginning to take over community activities. You name them: APC, PDP, NCP, etc. When they come here, I don’t permit them. When I come to you for help as the party in charge of the country, you ask me what I need and you help me. This is different from you dominating the whole thing.
Recently, before the election of the local government chairman, I was surprised to see Hon. Morenike Williams here. The first term she did, she promised to help us, telling us things would move well in the community school. She didn’t do anything. After her first term, and campaigning for the second term which she is in presently, she came here with the Executive Secretary of the council and I was surprised to see them. As a matter of fact, I told Williams “I am surprised to see you here today because you failed to fulfil your promises to us during your first time. We’re not expecting you to be back here. Coming again to use us a campaign springboard is predicated to the population of the LCDA is here”.
But she said, “Comrade, I want to tell you the truth today, it’s because of your people who were chosen before to be councilors in this area.” She called their names but I don’t want to mention them. She said, “They disappointed me. And we were not in good terms. They didn’t represent me well.” I replied, “But your mission is to the people; you shouldn’t have allowed that to hinder your job because this place does not belong to a single person.” The woman was almost disturbed.
The next thing I heard her say, this time, with the executive secretary was, “I am promising you, if I enter this time, this school is one of the five projects I will put in and I will make sure they erect a building here for the school.” I laughed and in my mind I said, “So you said. And if it doesn’t turn so, then you will not enjoy, either you be travelling overseas all the time because of health problem.” What is happening now? You can deceive people paying taxes and all other levies imposed on them and you say you will not help them. Up till today, she has not shown up. It’s unfortunate, very unfortunate!
For the benefit of those who are not aware of the great job you have done bringing in a community school into Ayanwale, kindly give a brief history of the school
We started the school around September 2012. In the 2012/2013 academic year, we were not given the permission to enroll our pupils for Common Entrance Examination, because we were new. The policy was for new schools to enroll pupils from Primary 1-5, but not for Primary 6. But by 2013/2014, we started to send out pupils. The first batch we sent in got 100 percent, same with second and third. I can tell you with all other schools out there with fine building, they did not beat our students. This is because all the teachers here were sourced and interviewed by me before sending them to the government. They are all graduates. What do you expect? I can show you the reports of the inspectors from SUBEB in the files there. I have never seen any of them make bad reports about the pupils and the school. If there has been any, I will make great efforts to improve on them. Though we’re in a hamlet, under a shed, but with the little effort we can muster, we are putting it in shape. Shortly, we will soon be going for another examination, and out teachers are doing well. However, what we are expecting now is for the government to come in quickly to erect the building.
We learnt a major setback to erecting the school building is with the owners of the property. What exactly is the issue?
When we came in to this portion of the property we are using presently, we had a discussion with the owner – this particular place was a dumpsite, we cleared the place up. However, a church was using the place earlier, but has moved out to another state, I think Oyo. When the church left, they did not take off the structure, which is what we are using now. They granted us permission to use the structure for the school with a condition: to pay for it or he will come to remove later. But the land owner insisted we pay to him yearly, because the church was his tenant. So we agreed to be paying yearly to the land owner. So, we pay yearly here.
Remember, I had mentioned Jimoh Ajao and Hon. Olamilekan Solomon. These two came in, because I sent letters to them through the help of the sycophants. You know they are politicians; you cannot do away with them. They went to the land owner who had discussions with them and they came back to inform us that the man asked for N1.5 million for the structure – just for the structure alone. I did not go with them – I don’t handle money here, teachers do. Fortunately, Hon. Olamilekan Solomon gave us N1 million and Jimoh Ajao gave N500,000.00, making up the N1.5 million. They are the politicians. I repeat politicians, who went to collect the money from their fellow senior politicians. If they were people with sense, the day they were called to come and pay, they would have called the man in charge of the school to go with them. It could be to append his signature as a witness and a proof that the transaction took place. That is, lack of knowledge makes them perish. The next I heard from them was, “we have paid him.” And they collected N1.5 million. I thanked them. For me all I needed to know was that this place is now for us.
For the land, they came back to inform us that they had a discussion with the land owner and that he was asking the school to pay the sum of hundred thousand naira yearly. This made us start collecting a levy of two thousand naira from the pupils. We don’t collect school fees from them. This levy now serves for teachers’ payment, purchase of chalks, and other things we need to run the school. With the population of the pupils and teachers here, we have been managing this two thousand naira they pay. I am mentioning the amount for public consumption. It is also from this levy that we pay the rent of hundred thousand naira for the property yearly.
At a time, these sycophants came here – that is around the second to third year after we started running the school – insisting they’re community leaders and wanted someone to represent them here to be keeping the money. This lady you see here, (pointing to a lady) is one of the ladies they brought. They had brought about four others earlier, who were collecting the money on their behalf. They were sacked because they were not discreet about how the community leaders were expending the money collected. But this very one here remained because I saw some little quality in her. She was bold to tell me the truth, why they were against her. So I retained her because I saw some level of intelligence at play in her. I knew all these was going on, but I intentionally gave them the chance to allow them to fail. They failed because they owed my teachers four months’ salary. This caused a great outcry from every quarter. In the long run, they brought the whole thing back to me. One of the people contesting for the position of councilor in the area was also one of them. They all failed. Some of them have now resolved to come here to request for drinks, and I turn them down. I tell them this place is not meant for that. By the time we knew it we began to be faced with different kinds of attacks. Some resorted to bringing in the drinks to the office here for us to drink with evil intents. I had an instance when they came in to the school and offered to get me beer. I told them I was not drinking beer. They offered Malt drink which I accepted. Before I took my drink, I felt like urinating and excused myself to ease myself. When I came back to my seat, I didn’t know what they did to my drink. As I took it up to drink, the glass cup exploded. It is only God that is seeing us through here. These are the things I am facing here and since they took their hands off running the school finance. Since they returned running of the finance back to me, you can ask my teachers, I do not owe any teacher.
I will not dip my hand into the school’s finance for my personal need. I quote my mentor Gani Fawehinmi, “If you have control over money, you have overcome. But control money, don’t let money control you.” And I control money. I ask the staff, “How much do you have?” and I pay them from what they have collected. Every levy collected weekly from the pupils are documented. I don’t have any problem with running the school’s finance.
What is the future of the Community School?
What I’m waiting for (is) the new government, who came to me. They saw my effort, and of course, through Jimoh Ajao, I have become a member of APC. I took this step because I need many things from them. So, I am now a full member of APC. No more NCP because my mentor has gone. I have my card. I signed to become a member through Jimoh Ajao. I can boast of APC membership because I am a card-carrying member of the party. I carry my card boldly on my chest during the last election. Most of them are there, they don’t have the party card. My own card was sent to me. I carry my party card around proudly and I want them to know that I am a member of the party. Those who pride themselves on being in the party for so many years should show me their party card. They provided me my card which I can fight them in the court for.
And now, my prayer is when Sanwo-Olu comes in and instead of them to rob me, I will move all school pupils to the State House in Alausa as an activist. I don’t mind how much it will cost us. I tell them, “Enough is enough.” If they don’t approve us again, they are in problem. I will cry out to the whole world, not just Nigeria, to the whole world, if that approval does not come. Put it in your paper that I, comrade Balogun, said many things will happen. It’s either they kill all these children or they kill me, because we have the results of all that we have done. All our children are doing well. The third set is now going for senior WAEC. What else do they want? They are in Ikotun High School, some are in Ijegun High school, while others are in Isheri. What else is being expected of us? We have done our part. So, that is it.
You talked about your next project, which is bringing in a hospital into the community. Wouldn’t that be asking for too much when the school project has not scaled through?
I said it earlier. I will not go there if this one is not done. That is my plan after this. Even at that, getting a hospital into the community is not a big deal. The process is not difficult. You just go and get a hospital. We start from a health center. The government will approve that. It is my duty now to search for a place, an uncompleted building, just about this size. Get a place with three rooms, four or five rooms and you get a nurse and doctor to start with. Then you fight the government and they will send in people. Along the line, we secure a better place to build a standard health centre in the community. And I will surely do it by the grace of God.
How long have you lived in this community?
I came back to the county from my journey aboard after many years of living in different countries. It is good to come back home. While overseas, I taught in so many countries because I studied languages: English and French. Niger, Ghana, Togo, all the francophone nations, I travelled and I worked there. I though English and French in those countries. Fortunately for me I came home and I joined Gani Fawehinmi and I saw straightforwardness in him. If I had moved with the bad people, you would have seen Balogun (as) a millionaire today. But I know I will make the million one day. Immediately this school becomes something tomorrow, they will call Comrade Balogun one day. But if I go and start stealing, it will stain my person and name; I don’t want to be known by that.
To answer your question, I came back to the community because I bought a property here. I fenced it and gave the key to someone who was farming on the property. Then I was living in Ikeja and was teaching in schools over there. Considering the huge expenses I was incurring living in Ikeja, I thought it wise to move down here, but my children refused coming with me; they referred to it as a village. But I moved in here around early 1990s.
Before then, I worked with the government. We started Vetland Grammar School in Agege. If you go there, my name is there. We started it in 1980. We started the place from nothing till what it is today. Mrs. Latona, who was the principal, was my boss. If you go to the school now, you will see a very big school there. The day I saw some of my old students, some of them are older than you (referring to the reporter). They were glad to see me, and were surprised I still looked young with no single strand of grey hair on my head. I told then I liked packaging myself. At 72, I must continue packaging myself. This is because there is something in me somebody cannot buy: energy from God. That is the difference. You may have money and may not have the energy. Because you cannot buy it from God.
Finally, in the midst of all that is going on, do you see hope for this community?
When there is life there is hope. I say again, “when there is life for me, there is hope.” I told you my second project. When this one scales through, I go for the second one. When the second is over, I go for the third project. And when they are seeing it they will continue to laugh. Those who will not relent and continue fighting me will die. This is because I am doing this for the people and not for myself. Something that people will enjoy, you want to block it. There will be no impediment for something that people will enjoy.