Alhaji Babatunde Tajudeen Rotinwa, Former Head of Service and current Chairman Local Government Service Commission speaks on his life and career.
Q: Could you briefly tell us about your academic background?
A: I am a Science Major. I did my first degree in biology and my masters in micro-biology. You will wonder what a Scientist is doing in administrative office. But in public service, we believe that the purpose of University Education is to open your mind. If you are properly trained, you can work in so many areas especially as an administrator. After all, when you are any profession, by the time you get to level 13 or 14, you are already a manager. At this time, you don’t belong to your profession, you manage resources put at your disposal. So, when l came to this country, l was given a job as an Inspector of Education. I am trying to give you a background of how l became a Local Government person and on getting to the Inspectorate Office, l was given an assignment to inspect so many laboratories and there was nothing to inspect in the mid 1970’s to be precise closer to Epe. I opted to go and teach, so l was posted to Epe local Government and from there, l went to the present LAGSU, Lagos State Modern College. The following year, l was posted there but the background l met there, l was not satisfied with it, coming from an America background where teaching profession is really organized. So, l felt maybe l should not just waste my time, l opted to transfer my service to the Unified local Government in February 1978 and that started the journey. Unfortunately, when l was making my small contribution, people were watching my activities and by 1979, Alhaji Lateef Jakande was sworn in as the Governor of Lagos state in October, 1979. He needed some extra hands and l was recommended to be one of the council managers there at that time, that was 1st Jan.1980, that was how we started the job.
Q: Could you compare the administration then and now?
A: What I can say really is that we have a long way to go when it comes to the administration of Local Government. First and foremost, l don’t think our people are prepared to really allow local government to perform, l say that with all due respect to all the people that headed the Government in Lagos state during Jakande’s administration. We were not only given all our entitlements, they also gave us additional special funds when we go on special projects. At that time, our source of revenue were three sources. We get money from the federation account. We use revenue for federal to do capital projects and then the two other sources we used to run the cost and pay salaries, so it was very easy for local government to move mountains. At that time, l was nursing a career. In 1987 I was transferred to the state civil service as a Director, l already had an acceleration promotion at that time. So, when l got to Alausa, l was posted to Ministry of Local Government, from there l went to governor’s office and the then deputy governor of Lagos State influenced my posting to the local government as Director of Establishment and Training. That was the second phase of my career and l was not turning back. When l got there, l discovered that the training progamme of local government was properly organized. I was redeployed in 1996 back to the Governor’s Office as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and within a year, l was appointed Head of Service in that ministy and we continued until the end of the civilian administration. You can see that Chief Tunde Fanimokun is my mentor, I will get to that point. So, Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu came in and we did the hand over and take over process. But all of a sudden, l was invited over and asked if l wanted another appointment other than the head of service and l said NO, I didn’t want any other thing than head of service. So, l was eased out of service after the mandatory retirement age. There was one particular week, maybe a week after my retirement and l was going to the United State to see my children and l met chief Fanimokun at the airport and he asked me” Tunde are you running away, and l said am not running away, because he has heard what has happened and l said nothing really happened. if someone did not leave his chair of head of service l would not have been privileged so l just want to go and spend sometime in the US, settle down and then plan what l wanted to do. But he said “don’t go I have got a job for you and l said a job for me? he said I have an in-law who is has a very big insurance company and I need someone like you to help me put everything together. I thought he was joking l said let me go. On getting to the United State, he started calling that they have been looking for me. I didn’t spend more than one- or two-weeks l had to come back. In fact, it is on record that l was invited for an interview on a Sunday morning at IGI and l was employed at that time as MD of IGI and as God will have it one or two years later, a friend of mine was appointed as minister of Works Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe and l wrote a congratulatory letter to him and advised him that if there is anything l can do l will really do assist and he said you cannot be writing letter just come to Abuja right away you can’t give me that Atlantic ocean you have to be part of this administration so l had to relieved myself from IGI and joined him as the Senior Special Assistant.
Q: What is your view on local government autonomy?
A: Well, I think I have two views to that. You see the way the constitution is made, it does not really allow the autonomy of Government to work because the constitution does not favour local government autonomy. The portion that affects the local government is still under the supervision state. The relevant question of the constitution stating the function of the local government is very clear. It gives them so many things on tenement rate, so many revenue sources are blocked by the state government. So, this is the area when you talk about autonomy we don’t want everybody in the local government area to have full autonomy but they can be negotiated. You allow them to do things because they also have three branches of government –the Executive headed by the chairman of the local government, the Legislator headed by the counsellor, the customary court which is their own judiciary they should be allowed to organize themselves subject to the following of the trend. Once this is done the federal government will then look into that autonomy and let the local government stay on their own.
For now because of unification and so many things are at stage, and you cannot allow part of it to go their way, that is the reason why now we can have limited autonomy, not full-fledged autonomy for the local government. When preparing budget, you should take it the ministers so as to confirm that you are not repeating the same budget over, the state government cannot provide borehole at Epe Lekki and the federal government will say different. The zeal to work together must be there. And there is need to identify people who are willing to contest for position in the local government and also deliver well.
Majority are there to promote themselves and not to promote the economy. In Japan and other countries, the only government there is the local government and they are so transparent in doing their daily activities but here in Nigeria things are different. We need people who have the intention of delivering service to the people. I believe we can run the state with the governor if we know the basic things we are doing and the functions expected.
Q: DON’T YOU THINK THERE WILL BE MORE CORRUPTION IF IT IS LEGISTILATED?
ANS-When I was serving the local government as the chief executive and accounting officer, the money come directly to us and there was no corruption. It all depends on the individuals who are there. Putting a stop on the embarking of the state joint account there is nothing wrong in that. What is important is getting competent people who are committed. We are very lucky in the electing governor Tinubu, he came and executed his plan. Fashola came too and he did very well and fantastic. Akinwunmi Ambode is there now doing as twice as what the superior and the rest did. Like I said, the party itself must filter the good from the bad. They must allow young people who will face the public and be committed as well it is not just a matter of being appointed and put there. Some of them don’t have blue prints, when they get in, there will always be a conflict between them and the officials in charge. If the people are elected based on what they promised, the autonomy will be automatic and if they pay certain amount directly, they will know that they will be held accountable
Q: What is your view on the abolition of local government?
A: It is totally wrong; there are over 120, million people who derive their daily benefits from the local government. Go to any state, some of us who are living in some rural areas of the state, the federal Government is the one distributing the wealth of the state to rural areas. When you go to Badagry, Epe and so many hinterlands, it is the presence of the local government you will feel. How do you feel their impact? You feel it from primary education, primary health care, and market administration, burial ground and so many things. So, there is no way anybody can come around and say that local government should not exist. The state has only one headquarters located where the capital is whereas local government scatter all over the state, so the basic need of the people is not something you do on quarterly, monthly or annual basics. When you build a school, you would want to see if the school is adequate for them, when you build mortuary and so on, that is why we defined that local government are the closest to the grassroots, the closeness is the advantage you get because you can’t wake up and speak with the governor, you have to speak through the local government which makes it easy. So, it is impossible for people to say they don’t want local government.
Another advantage is, we have three tiers of government in Nigeria, we have the STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT. The basics social services that are rendering even by the federal are transferred through the state by the federal government. You remember during Ebola period, federal ministry of health transferred information through the state and the state to the local government. Health care department is the one that monitor the effective regulation. So local government is a very important organ of government after all, they were created for two things, first to render social services and that social services and empowerment.
Q: AT 70TH YOU ARE SO VIBRANT AND ENERGYTIC, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET?
A: To God be the glory. local government is my passion and l like it very much. I have decided that l will live and serve the local government FOR the rest of my life. And that emanated from my experience when l was in service some of us when we went US in the late 60s and early 70s when we are seeing the difference between a lot of things in Nigeria and our new area and when you find out majority of the time some of this services are done by human beings regardless of whether they are black or white why should you not come back and fix it in the system where the principal government who are 774 local government and we have 36 state and 1 federal government which one will be more serviceable? It is only the local government.
Q: I WONDER WHEN WE HAVE PEOPLE LIKE IN THIS COUNTRY, HOW DID WE GET IT WRONG?
A: I don’t believe someone has to recognize my input l want to make my contribution to human race regardless if anybody realizes it or not but l can tell you that I am a winner. From my advice, people are happy and l want to do more, for example, the government of Lagos state give me the opportunity, I will want to do more. The local government l help build for so many years when l assume duty l told the staff that we were going to rebuild here, I don’t take no for an answer whatever assignment is given to us we will do it in 24 hours basis. We sit down and dedicate ourselves to make sure that we get result. Directly or indirectly, the positive things we contribute make the system work for the grass roots and then they now have confidence to repay us by paying the little tax they have to pay to local government. But when you sit in your air-conditioned office, the people cannot see the benefit of why local government exist and you want to run around because of revenue drive, they won’t even listen to you and you cannot take everybody to customary court. But if you provide services you give them water, maintain their road, clear their drainage, clean their refuse, maintain their primary education and primary health care of centres, Nigerians are not difficult, they just want services for money paid.
Q: YOU ARE LOVED BY THE PEOPLE, HOW DID YOU DO IT?
A: Like I said earlier on, when we took over this job, what l did with my colleagues and young colleague was to accommodate them as soon as possible. There will be area where l wanted them to perform better, l gathered them together and l challenged them that nothing is difficult to achieve. You need now to dedicate yourself because l recall back at my own background, as a science major, l have to come back to work on weekend to study, l didn’t do anything in public education but self study to improve myself and to God be the glory l got it. So am transferring the same knowledge. Dedicate yourself to the masses and let them have an impact of your contribution and the rest God will compensate for your hard work. I must also emphasis that l have been a very lucky person, I went through my career without too many difficulties and l want to continue to dedicate myself to the entire local government service of Lagos State for support.