Grass to grace: My life from orphan to Perm Sec — Lekki Concessions Company boss, Mohammed Hassan

Excerpts:

The general belief is that Lagosians don’t like to do much of schooling. But here you are, pursuing a doctoral degree after two master’s degrees.

I actually started with an HND (Higher National Diploma) in Accounting. But when Nigerians were about to mess up my HND, saying that it is not equal to B.Sc., I asked myself what is in this B.Sc? Although I was already a permanent secretary on the strength of my ICAN certificate as a chartered accountant, I enrolled for the B.Sc. degree at Olabisi Onabanjo University. I also encouraged some of my colleagues to follow me there. I graduated with a First Class. With that, I moved to the University of Lagos to do that dreaded M.Sc. I made aggregate 4.0. I then enrolled for Ph.D. Accounting at Babcock University. But God is wonderful. He said I should have a break.

Otherwise by now, I would have become Dr. Mubashiru Hassan. Right now, my colleagues and lecturers are calling me, but I tell them that God’s time is the best. So, the Nigerian system is not encouraging. You get a qualification, they mess up the qualification and you have to start afresh. That was what led me to go for B.Sc. after getting an HND, and M.Sc. after getting MPA. Now I’m doing my Ph.D. Remember that I became a chartered accountant about 30 years ago.

That means your chain of degrees is like a protest against the system

Yes, you can say so, although I am also academically inclined. I take academics as a hobby. I don’t like going to parties, so I spend my spare time to lecture. I have lectured in ICAN schools and have produced so many chartered accountants. I also still lecture at Yaba College of Technology. I started lecturing there in 1989 on part time basis, just to keep myself busy and make new friends among the students. Most of them are now big men. So, if I want anything done in any big company, all I need to do is ask, ‘Who is your head of accounts here?’ It is likely to be someone I have taught at YABATECH. He comes out saying, ‘Oga, what are you doing here?’ I tell him I want this or that, and he says, ‘Please, sit down, I’ll get it for you.’ So, in my own case, the reward for teachers is here on earth; not in heaven. Even as at today, many of the lecturers in the Accountancy Department, I taught them.

How was your experience as a civil servant?

It was really fantastic. I joined the service as a clerical assistant on Grade Level 03. That was when I finished my school certificate examination and was awaiting result. I joined with the assistance of my uncle, Hon. Richard Afolabi, who was the Commissioner for Employment in the state.

He just came to me one morning and said, ‘Mubashiru, you are still sleeping? Wake up and follow me!’ He took me to his ministry and I started work the same day. By August when the result was released, I tendered it and I was upgraded to Grade Level 04 as a Cleriacal Officer. My salary as a clerical assistant was N1,284 per annum. That was about N107 per month, and I was staying in Ojo, working in Ikeja. When I joined service, my uncle handed me over to somebody—the late Joseph Olukayode Gbadebo.

He said, ‘This is my son. Take care of him.’ The man just took me and we became like father and son. I later went to school to do my OND. But that is another story entirely. I will tell you about it later. I went on study leave without pay. Because I was too young in service, they could not give me study leave with pay. When I was doing the OND, I was promoted notionally to Grade Level 05, so that I would not have any set back with my colleagues.

Notionally means studying without pay. When I finished and returned, I was advanced to Grade Level 06, and I started collecting salary. Then within the same year, I applied again for study leave with pay to do my HND. So, I was earning Level 6 salary while doing my HND. The most interesting part was that you would not get a study leave with pay if you did not have a guarantor. By that time, my uncle had left as the Commissioner for Employment, so I was worried about getting a guarantor. I told my adopted father about it, and he said, ‘Why are you worried about that? Are you not a Lagosian? If you like, you can run away after the course. I will stand for you.’’ My friend, Abiodun Balogun, who eventually became the Head of Service, also said he would sign for me. So, the two of them signed for me because I needed two guarantors. So, I went to do my HND and came back after my NYSC and was upgraded to Grade Level 08.

The next step was to do my ICAN, but there was no money, because I had lost my parents at a very tender age. That is why I call myself a certified orphan. I lost my father when I was writing my mock exam in secondary school, and lost my mother the second day I started my OND programme at YABATECH. So I had to struggle and struggle to complete the course.

How old were you then?

I finished my school cert at age 18. That means I lost my father around age 18. Then in 1981, that was age 19, I lost my mother. Then, the state government was giving out car loans, but the amount that was being granted could not even buy a bicycle. It was N4,800, and you would pay back in five years. I had to apply. Again, guarantors were required and I had to call on my two guarantors again. Of course, they had confidence in me. They signed for me. I then used the N4,800 to write ICAN until I qualified in 1988 and I was upgraded to Grade Level 09. That was the beginning of my rapid rise. From there, I moved to Lagos State Agricultural Development Project as Acting Financial Controller.

From there, I crossed to Local Government as Internal Auditor. I did the job for about seven years before I was appointed Council Treasurer. So, I was rising without missing any level until I got to Grade Level 15, which is Assistant Director Finance. I was trying to follow in (Governor Akinwunmi) Ambode’s footsteps.

He had left local government for Alausa when he saw that there were no more challenges. So, when I became the Assistant Director of Finance, I started asking myself what else was new in local government? I said if Ambode could do it, I too could do it. So I applied for a transfer, particularly because I was always at loggerheads with the chairman. Instead of getting the transfer to state service, I was appointed as the Auditor-General for Local Government. That was during the regime of Sunny Ajose as Head of Service. After Ajose, Abiodun Balogun became the Head of Service. When he became the Head of Service, you know I was his son, he grew me and upgraded me to Permanent Secretary. So I became Permanent Secretary/Auditor General for Local Government. You can then see how fantastic it was. I was so lucky that I was coming across people who really believed in me. They saw a star in me and supported me all through. Even when I was to marry, the man Gbadebo I mentioned earlier and Balogun followed me all the way to Ondo State and stood in as my father. They signed the marriage certificate as my father. I will never forget them in my life.

Are they still alive?

Gbadebo is dead. He died about two years ago. But Balogun is now in the House of Reps. I have just told him that my son is wedding next month and he is going to be the chairman of the occasion. Back to what you said earlier, that Lagosians don’t usually read, times have changed.

Today, we have professors and doctors everywhere. They used to say Aworis don’t go to school; that they only sell land. Now, there is no more land to sell except the Lagoon (laughs). So, they have no choice but to go to school. We have so many educated Lagosians now who are doing very well in their callings. You spoke of having disagreements with your chairman when you were in local government service.

What was the basis for the disagreements?

You know that when a politician assumes duty, their thinking is always in opposite direction with those who hold offices. So, we were always disagreeing. I was managing everything before, at least since I crossed in 1990 until 2005. So, I said what kind of nonsense is this? I am going. I wrote a letter to the state requesting a transfer, but the chairman refused to sign. He is now the Director-General of NISER in Ibadan. Now we are very good friends.

He is doing well and I’m doing well, so what are we fighting for? He believed that civil servants are very slow and fingering whatever is available. At the end of the day, he ran into trouble. I just left in annoyance. I said, ‘I’ve had enough in local government, I’m going back to my roots.’ That was how I returned to the civil service.

You spoke of losing your parents at an early age. How was life, growing up in those circumstances?

(He heaves a heavy sigh, shakes his head and sobs) It was, well, the wish of God that I came through them into this world. God had a purpose for giving me to that family. My father was a casual worker with the local government. It was one of the reasons I chose to work in the local government. I told myself that I must achieve what my father could not do when he was there.

How much was his salary then?

My mother was a petty trader, selling palm oil, maize, firewood and fish, and I was her marketing manager (laughs). After returning from school, I would hawk the palm oil or the fish or the maize to raise money for us to eat. You know that we men are usually care-free. And because it was a polygamous family, the other side thought my father was spending his earnings on my education, whereas it was my mother that was shouldering everything.

May God make us more responsible (laughs). Whenever it was time to pay my school fees, which was N5 or N10, my mother would go and borrow and then pay back in instalments. She assisted me in going to secondary school, but she really could not afford it. It was my uncle, Richard Afolabi, who was a headmaster at St. Michael’s Primary School, who insisted that she must send me to school because he said I was brilliant.

So, on many occasions, he would come to assist my mother. My mother, in exchange for that assistance, would send some fish to him in appreciation. But borrowing money meant that I had to work harder to support her so that she could pay back. You can imagine what I experienced right from Primary One.

Then during vacation, I would go to do holiday job. Mind you, my own holiday job was never in an office. It was doing all manner of odd jobs. I almost became a bricklayer, carrying concretes, blocks and what have you to earn N3 per day. Interestingly, the man I was working with as an apprentice bricklayer is still alive, and I call him my Oga (boss). The man Gbadebo, when I was on Level 3, he was on Level 9, but I became a perm sec before him.

Can you see how God works? But he was never jealous. He said, ‘You are my son; just take care of me.’ And I took care of him until he died. I tried to get a scholarship but it didn’t work out. So, the lot fell on my mother and I had to support her. But it was just when I was trying to make her happy that death took her away.

Funny enough, she was even trying to lay the foundation of a portion of land given to her by her mother. In those days, you would work for three months before you were paid. It was from my first salary we started the foundation, but she died and the dream ended there. You could see how I struggled without support from anywhere but my mother. But she couldn’t stay to eat the fruit of her labour. She died in an accident.

So, each time I remember her, I shed tears. Reflecting on what I had gone through in life gave me focus and helped me to work harder and harder. I had no time for frivolities at all, because I kept telling myself that if some people could become perm sec, I too could become one. It will interest you to know that by the time I became a permanent secretary, some of my contemporaries who joined service at the same time were still on Level 7 or 8.

I also helped as many people as possible to get into service, realising how I myself was helped by others. I do so in the hope that two or three of them would also become somebody so they can continue from where I stopped. In every local government area in Lagos today, you would see my footprints. Today, many of the people I helped are in the senior staff of different establishments.

At what point did marriage come in?

(Laughs) I got my wife during my NYSC (national youth service). I was very popular in the camp. Very, very popular.

Where was that?

That was in Abuja. 1986/87 What accounted for your popularity? I was in the food committee. Nobody in the camp would not come and eat. I was also in the football team of my platoon.

From there, I was selected to play for the Abuja NYSC team in the NYSC Director’s Cup. So I became very popular. Everywhere I went, it was MM, MM, MM, and you know that ladies like popular guys. So, one day, I was walking in the camp when I saw this beautiful lady. I called her and toasted her and she agreed to my proposal. That became my gain from the NYSC. We became so close and decided to get married after courting for about two and a half years. We got married in 1989.

The marriage was another experience altogether. An orphan was getting married and there was no money. I talked to my adopted parents and they agreed to go with me. All the people who believed in me in the village supported me. The state government also gave me a bus and they followed me to Ondo. To raise the money for marriage, we were five on my mother’s side. When my father died, they gave us a plot of land. We sold the plot of land and shared the proceeds. It was my own share of the money that I combined with my salary to do my wedding.

My monthly salary as a Grade Level 8 officer then was N306. We sold the land for N40,000 and we were five in number. I thank God that the wedding came to be. How has your experience been as the Managing Director of Lekki Concessions Company Limited? I regard that as another beautiful job expected to bring out the best in me; to solve so many problems that the company was facing.

I have always taken Governor (Akinwunmi) Ambode as a kind of model which I adopted. Whatever he did, I liked to do the same thing. He crossed voluntarily from local government to state service before he became the Auditor-General, having handed over to me as the Auditor-General for local governments. By the time he retired, I was almost 10 years in that position.

He retired voluntarily because he felt there was nothing else there to achieve. In the same manner, I looked round and asked myself what else is here to achieve? So, I also retired voluntarily and went into politics about the same time Ambode also went into politics. When I lost the primaries, God spoke to him to call me to go to LCC as the Managing Director. When I got there, I saw the job as a very, very challenging one because of certain problems that must be solved. I thank him because he believed in me that I could do the job.

That was the reason why he really sent me there. I thank him for that, and I pray to God that He will support me not to disappoint the governor in the challenging job. It is very challenging, especially when we were to increase the toll on the Lekki-Epe Expressway. When you work in the local government, it is an environment that you will never regret in life, because you are dealing with the grassroots people. You must be very intelligent, otherwise you will face problems here and there.

In the local government, you are very close to the Babalawos, the Iyalojas, and so on. If you misbehave to any of them, they will send you a message. But if you are able to manage them, there is nothing else you cannot handle. That is why Ambode is performing very well in his job as the governor of the state. So, when I was asked to handle the project, I sat down and used my experience as a former local government worker. I engaged all the residents, talking and appealing to them. If you see yourself as an alakowe from somewhere and you just ignore them, they are very powerful and tough to manage. But I was able to bring them together, and when they agreed with me, I knew I had succeeded. Today, the toll is on and there is no more resistance. The only group that tried to resist and said they were going to protest, I just walked round them to find out who was really supporting them, and I begged them. That day, the protest was not successful.

The few of them who came out shouted and shouted but nobody joined them. I joined them and we were shouting together. I now saw that they were distributing some hand bills and I collected one. That was when I saw the names behind the protest and I realised that it was more of a political rally, because they wrote Joint Socialist Party of Nigeria.

When I was later interviewed by BBC, CNBC and I think OGFM, and I was asked that question, I said there was no protest. They said what did I mean? I said I was there and I saw that it was a political rally; they were distributing the handbills of Joint Socialist Party. I showed them the handbill and they were surprised. I told them I was there in their midst personally. They didn’t know me, so I collected their handbill. They were surprised.

When BBC and CNBC now flashed the interview, I was just laughing. I focused on the residents—the NURTW (National Union of Road Transport Workers), the okada riders and those that I knew could be used for such protests, because learned people like you and me don’t protest. I focused on those that I knew that when they protest, there would be trouble, and they accepted me as their son. It is an Awori area, and I was sponsoring an Awori radio programme called Omo Olofin at 7 am every Saturday. That has given me a very good image with them. Everywhere I go, they say, ‘Oh, you are M.M. Hassan, the man sponsoring Omo Olofin? We will support you.’ So, God has been wonderful. – Culled from The Nation.

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