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Mr. Oluwaseyi Abiodun Makinde, politician, engineer, founder and President of MAKON Engineering Ltd, an international oil engineering firm with operations spanning Nigeria, South Africa, USA and the West African Coast turned 50 on Christmas Day.
The University of Ibadan International Conference Centre was a beehive of celebration on the d-day as he hosted teeming crowd of friends and supporters to a lavish party at which rave gospel singer, Yinka Ayefele performed.
In this commemorative interview, the young engineer, who made history by inventing an oil and gas metering device speaks on his life and other issues. Excerpts:
So how does it feel to share birthday with the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, having been born on December 25?
Well, when I was younger, it was more of liability to me because the rest of the family get gifts twice in a year. They get on their birthdays and then they also get for Christmas day. But for me I only get one gift which is during Christmas and then I kept arguing with my parents that, “look there is supposed to be also two gifts for me.” But, of course, I did not win the argument. But I thank God for his creation and how he has taken me so far. I feel really good each time when my birthday is being celebrated. I mean, it is something that is done worldwide throughout the Christian world, even Muslims they still celebrate that day. So it is a huge impact for me and my life.
Coming up the stairs and attaining 50 how do you feel?
Well, quite frankly. I think age is just a number to me. I feel okay, I played golf yesterday and I still play tennis and I have not slowed down in any way. And people say I think you are getting old, especially my children. They say, “Oh my God, you are 50 now!” And I basically said to them that I am not really getting old, I am getting matured. So it is maturity, setting in. Of course, over the years, one would have seen a couple of things that you can learn from and leverage on when you are faced to a certain challenge.
Son of middle-class parents, did you ever feel you could cross the economic and social stratification to the heights you have attained in the global oil industry, in politics and as a person?
You know, it was never an issue for me. I never felt growing up like maybe the people of the other status were better than me. I think I was brought up to be contented with whatever it is that you have.
Please recount your growing up days before you came into limelight?
I grew up in the middle of Ibadan. I was born at Oluyoro Catholic Hospital. My parents were living at Isale-Afa just behind Adeoyo State Hospital. I attended St Paul’s Primary School, Yemetu and later I went to St Michael’s because I learnt very early to do things right, because at first I could not get admission into the secondary school of my choice and my dad would not agree for me to go to a village school. I think I was given admission to go to Akanran Community Grammar School. And that was closer to my village, Akanran, which is currently the headquarters of Ona-Ara Local Government. But he said well, you are moving close to the village, but we do not want you to be a village boy, because he said it took him a lot of efforts to come into town. So after that incident, I started seeing my classmates in St Paul’s Primary School gain admission into Anglican Grammar School, some of them into Bishop Philips Academy. They were all over the place. I was still wearing a primary school uniform to go to St. Michael’s, but this people were already in Form 1 and it was for half of the session. I used to cry each time I got to the house, that why did I allow this thing to happen to me? And that was the changing point in my life, because after that I became serious with my education. Before then, I’d toyed with the idea of playing football, you know, becoming a professional footballer and it was also a big issue with my dad, because I told him I would like to play for Water Corporation whereas he was a Shooting Stars supporter. That made my playing career to be dead on arrival. So from St Michael’s I did not have to take the common entrance examination again, because it happened to be when Uncle Bola Ige came in and they just asked all of us to go into the secondary school in 1980. And when I reflect on leadership, it is one of the high point of leadership by planning, because for most of the secondary schools at that time the enrolment basically quadrupled. Everybody that came in from primary six we went into form 1. In fact, some of my classmates who were bus conductors, bus drivers, you know, prior to that 1980, when they knew that free education was going to come into existence, they all went back into primary six, you know, enrolled and they were accommodated. We were given notebooks, textbooks and chairs. Some people did the planning. Actually, I look at them as a classic example of how to plan. They were expecting enrolment to quadruple they did the planning; they crunch their numbers. It is a very hardworking thing to do, but what do we do these days? You know, we drink till 2am in the morning. Now, politicking is now socializing and talking about things that are not adding any real value to the society. But for them, they were diligent, they stayed up late to crunch their numbers and do their planning and then we saw the results. So I grew up under that situation with my secondary school at Bishop Phillips Academy. I am not a social kind of person. As a matter of fact, in my secondary school, my university days, I basically faced my studies. In the University of Lagos, as at the time I graduated, I had the best result in the history of the school. Then, myself and Biodun Oni, were the first set of guys to actually move from taking WAEC in May/June of a particular year and by September/October of the same year we were in the university.
Share with us the games or pranks that you played at that time.
Well, of course, there are plenty of it. Of course, I can tell you one particular instance. If you look at my hand, you will see a mark (scar), this came during a particular time. On our street then, there was this mama who was a distributor of Trophy beer, so we would go and steal some cartons of Trophy from the lot. Someone would stay inside and I would stay outside of the fence. The one inside would lift the carton and give to me. We also had spikes on the fence. So I was trying to get the cartoon and the guy let go from inside before I was ready to collect it fully. So while I grabbed it, it just pulled my hands and the spike went into my hand and I still did not let go of the carton (laughs). Supposing I had let go of it that would have meant the end of the operation, because the mama would hear and the bottles would break. Not only that, once we had the beer we go into the refuse dump around the neighbourhood. There are chickens that are homeless, you know, they sleep there. So we go there and grab one or two and the next day it would be time to party. So we did stuff like that in Bishop Phillips Academy, we go outside to drink palm-wine, remember also that Bishop Phillips is located very close to Iwo Road.
So when did you decide to drop all this and become a straight guy?
Well, I was just following my guys in the neighbourhood (peer group pressure). You know in that neighbourhood, I happen to be the first guy from amongst the group that went straight to the university. And studying a professional course so I became a very big influence on the rest of the guys. Yes, probably that kind of straighten me a little bit because I was conscious of the fact that I needed to show good example to others.
Apart from your dad’s influence, what else in your background would you say really shaped your life to become who are today? That is first, second, what is the biggest lesson that you have learnt at 50?
Well, I will say that my dad was a big influence in what I turned out to be. My early years, I was not really ambitious for anything. I just wanted to pass through life and things like that. When we became true friends and we would sit down for hours and hours just talking, he would tell me his life experiences. His thought and ideas about things. He started to draw me out on the meaning of life. You know, I heard the story of Simba the sailor from him more than maybe 10,000 times and his phrase in there about ambition being the decider in different men, you know, the meaning of ambition to men and things like that and how your ambition can drive you to certain point, to certain places in your career. Also, in terms of honesty and being open, compassion, all of that I learnt from him because I will see neighbours, friends coming with challenges, problems and he is always happy to assist. I was with him in his last moment as well. He did not have much money in his bank account. A couple of hours before he passed on, before 24 hours, he gave me his ATM card and said this is my pin number. Just in case I do not make it through this and I checked his account after he passed on. He had only N50,000 in the account, but I saw a man that was at peace with himself. He was contented.
You talked about ambition and how it drives different men, one ambition that seems to have driven you for the past 11 years now is to govern Oyo State. You have done a lot in that regard. Now, you are 50. Are you having a rethink or you are going to say that you are energize to try more?
Well, the ambition to govern Oyo State to me is not being driven by the lust for power. It is predicated on what I can do to further public good. Take for instance, I left Unilag in 1990 and I started working and worked for about seven years that is to 1997. Then, I started Makon Engineering. The first set of money that I made from that venture, I brought it to build a computer centre at Bishop Phillips Academy which was commissioned in year 2000. So having gone through this environment and I see the potential from giving knowledge to people, I just felt I could cover a little bit of ground as a private person or as an individual. But if one has the instrument of government, you can do quite more and the result can also be profound in our society. So I am not having a rethink in terms of quitting, I am just going to keep seeking for that opportunity, making myself very clear to the people in terms of what is it that we really want to do and how we want to do it. And when you look at how things have shaped up in this phase and in this country over these 11 years that you have mentioned, you will agree with me that economically, I feel they have given us things that they felt were delicious, but were those thing also nutritious? Of course, I thought you should push in the direction where we only put on the table economically nutritious agenda if you are in that position. Again, I have had opportunity to sit with the best of the best from anywhere in world and the only reason why I sat on that table was the knowledge. So if we have the opportunity why can’t we nudge people in that direction?
Talking about your quest, people have always said, yes, you were a good material for governor, but that the issue was that you were rather young and untested yet in public office. What have you to say to that?
Well, now I’m 50, I hope I’m not too young. As for being untested, I could have taken any political appointment just to have it on my CV, but I am a grandmaster in taking something from the scratch and growing it organically. I did not do acquisition. I started a company with three or four people with a long-term vision and we were able to achieve it. So politically also, I am starting from a plain piece of paper and saying look these are the challenges you know we have faced. These are the good stuff you know people have done in the past. These are where we have rays of hope and I am just supposed to manage that process and let the people get what they deserve.
What are your regrets?
Well, it is so funny you know. I go through challenges, but they make me stronger. There is hardly anything I would say had been a major regret for me. So, in terms of life, if life throws lemon at me, I try to make lemonade out of it and have fun while really doing that.
As a family man, how do you help out or relax with your household?
You, know, even in my older family, my parents used to say he is one son of ours that is brilliant but domestically lazy. Yes, what I do at home basically is that I grill barbecue. So if we have a relaxed weekend for the family, I kind of just grill for everybody and I love doing it. They love eating my steaks as well. They always say I make one of the best steaks they ever ate.
Are there things you can change about Seyi Makinde now at 50?
Are there things to be changed? Well, maybe not. I think the biggest weakness that people are pointing out to me is that I am too trusting. That I just say things and well I just live up to my own part of the bargain and I expect others to live up to their own part of the bargain. So quite a number of people have said to me that you really need to be a bit cautious, but quite frankly if something has worked for you from all indications I just don’t think that it is fine to change.