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Public service has changed my perspective about politics
Sina Kawonise, currently the Managing Director/ Editor-in-Chief of Western Publishing Company Ltd, publisher of Nigerian Compass and Westerner Magazine, is a former Commissioner for Information and Orientation in the administration of Chief Gbenga Daniel. Kawonise who will clock 50 on Saturday, July 7, spoke with newsmen at his Ibadan residence on his life, especially his childhood, and offered reasons why he has elicited so much controversy. Joseph Ajayi, who was there, brings excerpts.
WHAT was your childhood like?
My childhood, I would say, was normal. We grew up in a community-like environment. My father, a muslim, was a polygamist. He married many wives. But one significant thing in the family was that we did not differentiate among the children. Whether those of my mother or my stepmothers', we all lived together as one. If a particular mother wanted to buy a dress item for a child, she would buy for all. The family had a common pot from which all were served, including my dad. That was the environment in which we grew up. It was much later when I became a Christian that I appreciated the complexity of polygamy and the danger therein. But while I was growing up, God was faithful for his protection over us and seeing us through.
Who influenced you most among your parents?
I will say both, because I learnt different things from each of them. For instance, compassion and generosity, I learnt from my mother. She was someone who would give her last kobo to anybody in need. Not that my dad was miserly, but he did not give in proportion to what he had. He did his best though. But for my mother, she would give her last, much like that woman cited in the bible by Lord Jesus who gave what became known as the widow's mite, for those in need. And because of her compassion, she brought many people from the extended family to our home for sustenance and formal education. When, however, you talk of courage, I took that from my father. He never feared anything or anyone. If he believed in something, he went all out for it. And both of them were disciplinarians. They would not allow us get away with any wrong doing. In the kind of community life that we lived, if an elderly person, or even somebody older than you by one or two years, sent you on an errand and you did not go, you could be sure that my parents would deal with you for that.
I recall vividly an incident when I was in the secondary school, where I committed an offence and was suspended for two weeks. When I got home, my dad passed a sentence on me of 12 lashes of cane every morning for those two weeks. By dawn everyday, I would be woken up along my elder sister and my male younger brothers. Ordered to lie flat on my belly on a narrow bed, my siblings would be directed to hold my hands and legs for the canning which my dad did with utter disregard for my pleadings and wailings. And this, as in other instances, had the blessing of my mother. So in terms of discipline, I took that from both of them.
And from my father, I learnt enterprise. He taught us accountability. Every night he would take stock of his goods.
He sold beer and soft drinks. He would also come to his fuel station and do the same. He would never leave today's work till tomorrow. My dad must not see you idle. If he did, he sure would find some work for you to do; say, sweeping an already swept floor. The only thing I did not like about both of them was their owambe disposition. They always had one party or celebration to attend. I had a different orientation, what could be called the "acada" disposition. I had a great distate for the lavish parties thrown by our people virtually everyday. I didn't like the showiness, the waste of scarce resources and investible capital. Until recently, I rarely attended those getherings. And even now, I'm extremely discriminating in the parties I attend, often limiting myself to official functions.
You started your career as a lecturer, why the shift to the media world?
My dream when I was in school was to become a lecturer and Professor. Along the line, I got invited to the Editorial Board of the Nigerian Tribune in 1991, being barely a year old as a lecturer. Before then I had started writing for national newspapers like The Guardian, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Times, the Concord and a few other newspapers.
I had developed interest in public commentaries and making intervention in public affairs. At the time I was invited to the Tribune Editorial Board, I was the youngest. Then we had Professors, a former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oyediran of the University of Ibadan; the ACN governorship candidate in Ondo State, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu who was the Chairman of the NBA in Ibadan before he became the National President of the NBA, Prof. Segun Odunuga, among other distinguished academics and journalists. I joined as an Assistant Lecturer.
The turning point for my decision to leave the academia came in 1994. I was one of the African representatives to the World Congress of Sociologists that took place in Bielefeld, Germany in 1994. Part of the programmes for the World Congress, which takes place every four years, was a Competition for young sociologists, which by definition was anyone below the age of 35. I was 32 years of age then. The competion was open to all young sociologists in all tertiary academic institutions in all the continents of the world. Two were to represent each continent. I wrote a Paper which I entered for the competition. The Paper was selected among the two whose authors were to represent Africa at the World Congress. The other winner of the Competition was Biko Agozino, now a Professor in one of the leading Universities in the United Kingdom. The two of us represented Africa. When I got to Germany, I went to Universities of Bielefeld and Hamburg. I saw the way academic work was being done and how the universities were being run. I came to the conclusion that what was called University in Nigeria was a huge joke.
For the first time I saw internet connectivity, I saw computer networked together. From their domitories, students were able to access books in the library. And that was as far back as 1994!
When I presented my Paper, it commended for its theoretical underpinning, its logicality, as well as its breezy language. But it was criticised for its outdated cited references. I think the most recent book I cited in it was published sometimes in the late '70s; whereas our contemporaries from Europe and America cited works published even in 1994. And so, when I was coming back to Nigeria, all the honorarium and allowances that I got, I used to buy the latest books. So on my return to Nigeria, I became disappointed and decided that I was not going to continue with the academic profession again. I left the university in 1997 as Lecturer 1. I went on sabbatical and never came back. But along the line, I found out that the Editorial Board of the Nigerian Tribune gave me more intellectual stimulation than what I was getting in the university. That was how I gradually started veering off from the academic line to media work and media consultancy which to me was a business.
Which of the three: academics, media work and politics has been most challenging?
I don't know how you define politics, for everyone is involved in politics at one level or the other. There is politics in the family, there is politics in the church, politics in the university, politics everywhere. When I was in the university, I was involved in union politics, I was the Secretary of the Tactical Committee of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the then Ogun State University (OSU), Ago-Iwoye. I participated in some of the negotiations both at the local and national levels of ASUU. All of that was political. But if you refer to me as a politician now, maybe because I served as a State Commissioner in Ogun State. On my part, I do not attach the kind of negative connotation that is attached to being a politician. We have those who are professional politicians and those who are professionals in politics. I would describe myself as a professional in politics at all levels, not just now.
I have always being in politics. When I was in the university, I belonged to the radical movement, the Marxist Socialist Movement, and that was politics. So to that extent if you say I am a politician, I would not say no because I have been involved in politics at different levels since I was an undergraduate. We formed Campaign for Democracy(CD); that was politics. And I belonged to a few human rights organisations. We were agitating for good governance, human rights protection and I still remain in those groups.
In terms of challenges, of course when you are talking of administration, it is at an higher level from what you could get in academics and journalism. In fact when I got back to the university as a member of the Governing Council, as a varsity administrator, I found what they were doing there a little bit funny because they were just at a lower level there.
When I got into government, I saw for the first time what you could really call hard work because I worked with a governor who worked 18 hours, 20 hours in a day and I must be with him all the time as his Commissioner for Information. So I saw hard work. My capacity for hard work was greatly built. Thus being in public domain and doing public service, I found far more challenging in several ways, particularly in terms of the demands that people would make on you. The perception is that when you are in government, you are there stealing as you must have access to a lot of resources, a lot of money. A lot of people would be calling you, they have this problem, they have that challenge. I'm still suffering from this till today even though I have returned to journalism as a reporter with people still making all manner of demands. So public service or what you called politics is far far more challenging than what you have in the private sector. As Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of a national newspaper, it is quite challenging but not as challenging as that of being a Commissioner.
How do you feel at 50?
A lot of people say I do not look it and atimes I wonder whether I am actually 50, I feel I am 30. When I started as a lecturer 22 years ago, it seems like it was just last month or just like a few weeks ago because I remember vividly the relationships and all of that. I cast my mind back to the secondary school days, and I recall the rascality, the fun and all of that just like yesterday. So I really do not feel that I am 50. In terms of the blessings of God upon one's life, I will continue to be very grateful to God even though I felt that I should be able to do more for my society, give a little more back to the people from the material and non-material blessings God gave to me in terms of intellect. I used to make a lot of contributions in terms of public commentaries but now the time is not just there to make my own contribution to make sure that we get good governance and I have not been able to participate in my own constituency, which is the radical movement in Nigeria because of administrative bog down, because of exigencies of business and other preoccupations to make sure that at least you have extra to help people around, people with a lot of needs all over the place.
I will say that at 50 I thank God but not very fulfilled yet as I believe that there is still a lot that we need to do for this country, a lot that we need to do for our immediate environment. So many people are there out of school, they cannot pay school fees.
You will be surprised that people will come home and not be able to get a cup of rice, then you feel challenged and emotional about all these. To that extent I do not think I feel very fulfilled for now because I think I should have developed myself more to offer help to many people. But at the family level, I give glory to God, He has been very gracious, there is nothing I desire that God has not given me in terms of material possession.
What is your take on the view that you are a controversial person?
I have always been controversial because I remember that as a young lecturer and even as a student we would start debate in The Guardian. I was a member of the OSU Collective comprising of young brilliant academics. Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to President Jonathan was among us, the current Vice-Chancellor of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Prof Wale Are Olaitan, was a meember. We would write and intervene in public issues and of course some people would commend us, some people would abuse us, so that was controversy. And I had always written in a radical way and I maintained a column in the Saturday Tribune called “Myriad Thoughts”. And of course I would raise dust, I would write things that atimes when I cast my mind back, I would laugh at, because with maturity and more exposure, particularly with experience in government and the complexity of its processes and structure, I know that some of the claims that we made such as how things were not working, this one is corrupt, that one is a thief are not exactly so.
So if you say that I am controversial, I would say yes. When I was in government, I came out powerfully to say the truth which some people did not want to hear, truth that some people were not courageous enough to say or to declare. When I left government, I still come out because we have a government in Ogun State now that is very vindictive, a government that just does not have any clue. I'm constrained to continue to challenge the lies and shenanigans of Governor Ibikunle Amosun who has elevated deceits and lies to the level of the directive principle of state policy. As a Christian, I am enjoined to challenge such malevolent characters anywhere we see them. Some people would say that is controversial. If that is what is meant by being controversial, yes. But not controversial in terms of inconsistency. Whatever is on principle, whatever is the thruth, whenever there is a compelling urge to say it as it is, you'll find me there in the forefront. But if in terms of being here today, being there tomorrow, inconsistency, I guess I am not.
Where do you hope to find yourself in the next 10 years?
It is only God who knows tomorrow. Apostle James said that why do you say that tomorrow you would do this or that when tomorrow isn't in your power. Nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow, no one knows where we are going to be tomorrow.
Nevertheless, my aspiration is to help people as much as possible for the rest of my life, I have always wanted to help and I always help at my own level. When I did not have money, it was writing and condemning corruption.
With more provision materially, I give the lion's share of my income to people and the church. And I aspire to do more of that. Being the Managing Director/ Editor-In-Chief of a national newspaper, you cannot be paid for that kind of a job, still you make sure that you expose what is hidden, defend the truth at all times. So 10 years from now, I pray that God will spare my life but my determination is to continue to serve my country and its people in different capacities it pleases God to call me into.Share