Scholars have defined leadership as an ability to motivate and appropriate behaviours in people, while love, trust, understanding and tolerance have been ascribed as four major virtues of leaders.Professor (Mrs.) Olubukola Monisola Oyawoye, the Osun State Commissioner for Environment and Sanitation, has embodied these leadership virtues. In this interview, Prof. Oyawoye revealed how her background molded her to possess these sterling qualities and to get to where she is currently.
Tell us more about your background
I’m a daughter of a late retired teacher, Chief David Adejuy-igbe Oni Akinyemi who was the Asiwaju Omowale of Ede land. Baba Akinyemi was an interesting, God fearing, loving and caring man who was popularly called Babai, an alias he was given by his first son.We are fortunate to have diverse indigenship. We were born and bred in Ilare Ijesa, Ijesa-land where we have sojourned for centuries thereby earning all the rights and privileges of a citizen by my great grandfather. He was a hunter who migrated from Ede land during his hunting exploit in Ijesa-land. We were told he caught and killed an elephant and took the tusk to the crowned king of Ilare Ijesa. Offering this to the king of Ilare, he was seen as a man of valour. Consequently, he was settled by the reigning king who then gave him citizenship. The king gave him land and his daughters to marry but despite this, he wouldn’t forget his origin.
As a family, we were constantly reminded that our origin is Ede land going by our Oriki (lineage accolade). Before his exit, he came with all of us to Ede and since then, our wonderful Ede family has ever been there for us. Indeed, I am a privileged child and an environmental micro-biologist. After my secondary education in Ilare, I moved to Ogun State University where I got my degree in General Micro-biology. I went to serve at Suleja, Niger State. Proxim-ity wise, for the fact that my father was a teacher, I’ve always been into academics. My uncle, a deputy comptroller of Customs gave me a placement after my service during the time custom job was diffiult to get. This did not go down well with my family and as a result, I went to Zaria where I did my Masters degree programme in Industrial Micro-Biology. I was about doing my PhD, when people went to tell my mother that if I did my PhD, I won’t be able to get married. They dis-suaded me and I had to get a job at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Univer-sity as Assistant Lecturer through Prof. Timothy Olagbemiro, a retired professor of Chemistry who just left as Vice Chancellor of Bowen University.
He met me at Yola where I went to do some seminars and felt I was brilliant and advised me to come and get the job. Then, Pro-fessor Bajoga was the Vice Chancellor. I applied and only three of us were picked. I acknowledge him because I did not know that there was vacancy and he was the one who introduced me to my husband, Dr. Enoch Oyawoye. We got married in the same university. The chairman of the wedding occasion was Uncle Bola Ige, a relation of my mum. He requested my husband that the only thing he wanted as his own gift was to return me to school. That was how I returned to school to get my PhD in Environmental Micro-Biology. By the year 2007, I became a Professorship of Micro-Biology which was backdated to 2006. My husband also is a Professor of Agriculture (Animal production) and hails from Ijagbo, Kwara State.
What are the qualities that made you attain this status?
It is determination and focus. First and foremost, I acknowledge God because I didn’t choose my parents but thanks to Him who gave me the best of parents. My parents are wonderful people, though polygamous but fortunately, my mothers complemented themselves. My mother and my step mother are wonderful people. My dad was a gentleman to the core. I’m number nine in the family of 13 children. I wonder a man that raised all of these kids and while our father was raising us, he never had any reason to beat any of us, rather he would explain to you why something must not be done.
He would converse with you and make you believe why a particular thing should be done. We were not raised under violence at all. That is why we give thanks to God that He gave us a father who is God fearing and who made us to know that we should be focused, abhor that which is evil and follow good things which God wants. That is number one thing that guided me in life. As a toddler, I had been presumed to be lame at my early childhood years because I was sickly and could not walk but my father did not give up and my grandmother had to take me to Ere-Ijesa where I lived for a couple of years before God healed me.
My grandmother is from Esa-Oke and married to my grandfather in Ere-Ijesha. As difficult as i was with regards to transportation, my parents would come to Ere-Ijesa to check on me. After awhile, I suddenly found myself walking and as a result, I went back to school. Despite the fact that I started school late, I made a record of entering secondary school at the age of eight. The motivational factor is the fact that my father believed that you can become whatever you choose to be. No king or man can say you nay, he made us to look up where our help comes from, which is God. We were made to believe we can become who we choose to be if you work towards it without minding distractions and problems on the way. I owe it all to God.
Environment is a rare terrain for women. How do you cope with the job?
First and foremost, let me acknowledge Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the man whom God has sent to make me commissioner. There was a very serious clamour from family members that I should move with the children from Bauchi to the South. I decided to look for job opportunity. I gave my CV to a couple of people including my king, Timi of Ede land, my Uncle, retired DIG Adedayo Adeoye whose wife was constantly on my neck encouraging me to move.
Amid this, I met Gov. Aregbesola at three different occasions and I was fortunate that DIG Adeoye gave him my CV in the company of my late uncle, Col Banjoke Laoye (retd) and having looked through the CV and as a honour to my wonderful community, Ede, he decided to make me one of his commissioners. It has been relatively pos-sible for me to cope with the job because Ogbeni gave me placement in a very relevant area where I could bring my professional experience to bear as Commis-sioner for Environment as I studied Environmental Micro-biology. I’m familiar with ecology of the envi-ronment, taking care of the forest and environment. It is an area I have taught for over 21 years. I didn’t need anybody to tell me that taking care of environment is a way of saving life, redeem and reduce tropical diseases which are basically picked up from a dirty environment and that a clean environment will lead to healthy living, which happen to be the dream of my governor for all Osun citizens.
I don’t need anybody to teach me the es-sence of recycling of waste to wealth because that was what I was taught in school, and I taught to my students over the years; Or how to make plant survive and how to beautify environment. It is professionally my duty. I had close to 30 years of training on the job that I’m now practicalizing. Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has inteligently put a right peg in the right hole. I can cope because I am in a familiar terrain.
Why I could easily cope again is that God has given me a very wonder-ful, patient and supportive husband. Many women are constrained in the job they are doing because of lack of support from their husband. My husband gives me all the support and backing to do my job. He is a Professor of Agriculture and you can see now that his experience coupled with mine give me advantage to do exploit. My children have been supportive and are doing well in their academics.
I’m not worried of competitions from other women or other external factors. Prayers and sup-port from my mum, siblings and my relations across the state is evident. The first lad, Mrs. Sherifat Aregbesola, who hails from the same hometown as my husband, has been a wonderful mother and councillor to me. She has sup-ported the work in my ministry with great passion. Her support earned the ministry a lot of international sup-port and she has made the job interesting and easier for me. The Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori is a mother indeed and a mentor.
Her constant support for the governor and sense of dedication has given me a good example to follow. Mr. Governor, who has given environment work a priority in the state and has funded environment work gracefully, has provided an enabling environment to work for me and all of us in the Minis-try of Environment. If not, all the plenty work in Osun environment from dredging, beautification, forest reh-bilitation, tree planting in all ramifications, to mentio but a few wouldn’t have been possible.
I have the sup-port of my people in Ede, my Kings, both from Ede and Ilare, and all the royals and citizen across the nooks and crannies of the state of the virtues. The support of my family members, relations and colleagues in academics, help me bring solutions that can support the govern-ment from the citadel of learning. Sure, the gentlemen of the press like you have supported us tremendously and most importantly, God’s backing has been apparent. That is how I have been able to cope with the job.
What are the challenges so far?
The challenges on this job, first, is when we came t ensure understanding of our people on how the environment ought to be like. Before we came on board, the people of this state were impoverished and good virtues of cleanliness and very healthy environment eluded them. Coming now to make it better to ensure that our people do the right thing was initially difficult.We had to be patient.
The governor said we should keep campaigning and advocating to them. We had to engage in community meetings and utilizing several available opportunities to educate them. The understanding that Ogbeni meant well for them eventually came to their minds.Another challenge is coming from my back-ground of academics to the politics. I had to learn a bit of how things are done. The way things are done in the academics is that you work more or less as an individual and you only consider the result together. But in politics, you work or rely on other people to get result for yourself. I had to learn this and see things from broader point of view.
What are your plans to turn the state environment around?
The environment is working as you see by the work of Ogbeni, who said that we should live a healthy life. The first problem of Osun environment was flooding. Prior to the advent of this government, there was a lot of flooding in Osun. During July 2010, it flooded terribly in Osun where school children and others died.
The first thing Ogbeni did was to tackle th issue of dredging, distilling and devaluing the waterways thereby putting flooding in Osu behind us. Lives and properties have been saved through this constant and continuous dredging. Before now, people made everywhere a dumping ground. Normalcy has been restored now and dump sites have been regularised by Osun Waste Management Agency. Additional 64 waste cater-ing vehicles had been purchased alongside the initial 34 skip eaters which had been put to use initially by the administration of Ogbeni to reach the nooks and crannies of the state. Now we have big waste baskets where people dispose their wastes.
Also before now, we had the problem of deforestation. Our forests estate were seriously affected, the evaluation of forest showed that they were devastated. Most trees were cut down without appropriate treatment. Ogbeni made us to replace the cut down trees by planting new ones. He released money for silver culturing and water shed management. We rehabilitated our slums, hectares of land had been acquired to plant trees. One of the plans is, we don’t lavish money on parties. Instead, we plant trees in your honour, like we are planting trees in 61 hectares of land in honour of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, our great leader. It is an initiative to honour the great leader who brought back good time to the entire Yoruba race, the gains of this future forest is for the people of Osun.
We are running an unprecedented programme in the school forest programme. To date, 150 secondary schools at one hectare per school and 10 hectares each have been planted in two higher institutions. Each tree was owned by each student and they are nurturing it with the help of their teachers and head teachers. We are actively running a tree planting campaign and a programme known as ‘Igi Iye’ where every citizen is expected to plant a tree each. All of these are targeted at climate change mitigation and to save our future.We are into watershed management where waterways are managed so that we don’t have drought, and trees are planted to cover it. Also, there is an initiative for waste recycling. Our total package in environment is summarized in O Clean Plus which include biogas production from waste, nylon buy back programme, zero tolerance to dirt, mosquito control and beautification.