The activist as administrator, O’seun Egghead Odewale is presently Personal Assistant to the Ekiti State Governor. But that’s just the surface of a young man with many roads travelled and many more yet to conquer.
I think even that activists should have a plan to go into government at some point in time and to also pre-determine the nature of their involvement when they get into government.
But there has been a gradual shift to additional ‘maturity’. A gradual shift to ‘reality’ of our situation as a people, because ‘reality’ that you see when you are in government is entirely different from ‘reality’ that you assume outside of government.
By Sola Fasasi
You’ve been in civil advocacy for a while, how did that start?
I think my entry into civil advocacy – as you call it – began an offshoot of my activities as a student activist back in the days of my tertiary education. I had held positions in my local campus union, national students’ association under NANS and then the regional West African Students’ Union (WASU). I believe WASU gave me the opportunity to meet with other civil activists who were once student activists. That became the pull for me into the civil advocacy clan.
And before then what were you doing?
Before then I was a lecturer. I was an academic researcher of sorts. I concentrated on analysing herbs used in the treatment of respiratory infections. I concentrated on alkaloid chemistry where I investigated the active constituents of herbs and tried to formulate an assay for the important chemical compounds. I was combining my lecturing/research work with my activism until the latter took me away totally from the academic environment. Prior to that, I had a few publications of my work in reputable journals of chemistry.
Before your present assignment with the Ekiti government, have you ever been involved directly in politics?
No sir. I hold strong political views and have been involved in activism which some may describe as political but definitely nothing this partisan.
And what’s the basic difference between making change from the outside and then from the inside?
I think it’s pretty much the same thing. You are up against the same forces; whether you are inside or outside. To me the big difference is that if you are inside, you have no room to make excuses for failure unlike if you are outside. Also you are permitted to be vociferous when you are outside but “taciturn” when you are inside. I must state however, that making a difference is really contingent on the kind of change that one desires. Hence, change not properly planned and thought out may end up being more damaging. And I have come to realise that many civil activists go into government and find it difficult to adjust to their new world. I think I also had some difficulties facing that “sudden” transition from activism to governance. But I think I have re-adjusted pretty well with a good measure of understanding from those around whom I now work.
What was the first thing that hit you when you entered government house?
This is a funny question in that you often don’t pay attention to such details. But I can hazard a suggestion. I think it should be the fact that I had to work in midst of security operatives and I was almost going in to be ensconced within that wall as against my preferred laissez-faire attitude. But my first noticeable bang was the fact that people raise my post higher than it should be on the governance organogram. Perhaps for the fact that they see me as being closest to the governor and as such can help derive some goodwill by courting my friendship.
There are many who say it isn’t wise for activists to enter government. From your position, what are your thoughts?
You know truly, I think that’s a wrong conception of the whole concept of activism. It is my thinking that activist going into government can continue to ply their trade albeit in a different environment and manner. I think even that activists should have a plan to go into government at some point in time and to also pre-determine the nature of their involvement when they get into government. Like when people ask me if I have plans to go into partisan politics or contest elective position, I respond by saying that for now I see myself largely as rather offering a support back-end from appointive positions. But things may change like as I did not plan to be a personal assistant, but here I am.
So what has the transition been like?
Transition ke! I never even cross the line. Those who have seen the way I handle my office will know that I am still fixated on my former life. But there has been a gradual shift to additional ‘maturity’. A gradual shift to ‘reality’ of our situation as a people, because ‘reality’ that you see when you are in government is entirely different from ‘reality’ that you assume outside of government. And most importantly, it’s been a gradual shift towards feasible and pragmatic ways to resolving the challenges of development in the country.
You are vocal against the PDP. Is there not a danger that people might misconstrue your words as those of your principal?
Truth’s I am vocal against injustice everywhere. Be it my principal’s ACN or the PDP. My convictions motivate my sentiments – party or no party.
True. And when you criticise your principal’s party, what are the risks in that?
At the instance of my principal, I may be excused from my job. But like my boss, I believe I have a functional address outside of the governor’s office or government house for that matter. This is the reason I said that I have not fully transitioned from being an activist to being in government. The line is thin.
Tell us, how does a young person in government handle corruption?
You don’t handle corruption. You manage your character – and be disciplined. If you weren’t disciplined out of government, you cannot be when you join. In any case, corruption is not patented for government agencies alone. There’s corruption in non-government institutions. There’s corruption in multilateral institutions. It’s a systemic issue. It is endemic. So however you deal with corruption out of government must be how you deal with it when you are inside government. Only difference is that in government, the push/urge to be corrupt is higher than when you are out of government. So dealing with it has to be holistic and a lifetime conviction.
Your popular Twitter handle @eggheader – where did the name come from?
It’s just one of the inflexions by which I have come to be known. My name is Egghead and some folks often choose to create modifications to it. Eggheader is just one of them. I wanted a twitter handle in my name Egghead but since I could not get that, I settled for one of the variants.
You are very active on the social network. Any particular reason?
It’s a bond that has grown between me and my followers/contacts over time. I see my followers as real people even though I haven’t met up to 20 of them. I get encouraging words daily from Facebook contacts and twitter followers. There are those who will call me or inbox me if they don’t see me on Facebook or Twitter for a certain period of time, sometimes as short as a day or less.
You were a part of the founding forces for EnoughisEnough Nigeria as an organisation. Can you trace your involvement?
My involvement with EiE-Nigeria could be traced to my signing up for the #LightUpNigeria campaign on Twitter. So I got involved with EiE through Amara Nwakpa’s Light-up Nigeria. I would like to note, however, that my deep involvement stemmed from my relationship with the donor community and ability to raise funds for the group’s activities.
So whatever happened to your Chemistry degree?
Chemistry is still alive and kicking in me. I am starting my doctorate degree soon and I shall be looking at the chemistry of herbs used in treatment of Tuberculosis.
What are your thoughts about the place of young people in Nigeria’s politics at the moment?
Are young people ready to be involved politically? A good number of us still maintain an aloof position with regards to politics generally and partisan politics in particular. Can we have a swarm of young people who are desirous of true and real change forming a political party in this country? Through that platform they can champion youth alternatives and connect into uncommon political spaces. Nonetheless, I see some hope in the current dispensation in that I have seen quite young people being appointed into public offices. Also the advent of social media has thrown up an amazing population of smart young Nigerians hitherto unheard of. Many young people are doing great things in their own small spaces and social media is helping to collate that experience into a huge mass for action in the national polity. I only like to warn that Nigerian youth should immediately realise that they can only be youth once and that youth age is a transient stage of life. In other words, you cannot be youth forever. So young people should determine and begin to take up adult roles. Not thinking that there is a certain age during which you can get involved. They should harness their potential and get involved now.
If a young person asked you, ‘how can I make a difference?’. What would be your response?
Start small, think big. Have the courage of conviction; positive convictions. Be disciplined. And once you believe in something positive, look for the right opportunities to harness your potential. Meet people and learn from them. Read books and learn from them. Travel to places and learn new things about other people. Some are boxed in their thinking, others think outside the box. But to do things differently from last half a century, young people must think as if there is no box. Don’t confine yourself into small spaces or comfort zones. I think with these, any young man or woman can stand out among any crowd. Y!