By Sesan Awobiye
The newly appointed senior special assistant to Prince Dapo Abiodun , executive governor of Ogun State, , on Special Duties and SDGs, (Sustainable Development Goals), Mrs. Damilola Otubanjo, in this exclusive interview with Momentous Magazine, speaks about her new tasks, the Nigerians youths, her NGO among others. Excerpts:
Can we have a better introduction of yourself?
My name is Damilola Otubanjo. Currently, the senior special assistant to governor of Ogun State, that is Prince Dapo Abiodun, on Special Duties and SDGs, SDG, means Sustainable Development Goals. To do a background before the appointment, Educational qualifications, I hold a First Degree in Physics with Electronics from Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, and Second Degree in Engineering ????? from Kingston University in London. After schooling, I worked with the Lagos State Government for years, and I was, until I left, in charge of the Lagos ??? project, then I proceeded to running my own private business, which is called the Millennium Group. It is a company that deals with beauty and lifestyles, in terms of fashion, clothing-appearance matters. That is what I do, until recently when I assumed duty which is barely a month ago, that is , SSA on Special Duties and SDG.
How do you see your appointment as SSA on Special Duties and SDG?
How do I see it. This preceded my ambition to run, I had run for House of Representatives for my constituency, which covers Ogun Waterside, Ijebu East, Ijebu North, so, I believe after serving in that capacity, I or attempting to serve, and I did not secure the ticket, the governor thought I should be part of the fold and he gave me this portfolio, and for me it is an opportunity to fill my turf and to show what I can offer, because it is one thing to have an ambition, it is another thing to find different path in fulfilling that vision. One important thing is the process. So I am more attached to the process than the title, so it is a good opportunity to serve the good people of Ogun State, and definitely my governor who has given me such an opportunity and platform, to serve. Now, SDGs are really broad, it has to be on everything about money, and it is one of the best vehicles I can use to communicate my best intention to the good people of this state and the country by extension.
As a fashion person, how do familiarize with the office you are?
For me, as I see life and role playing. When you are role-playing in life, it means you must be able to switch in-between roles, and act it to the best of your ability as though it is your current and the only role you are acting. As a person, I have the heart of a mother, the heart of a wife, the heart of a business person, the heart of an entrepreneur, the heart of a public servant, so switching between roles requires the awareness of the fact that I must be able to function in any of these aspects, without letting any of it suffer. So that consciousness and the fact that I must be able to function in any of these aspects, without letting any of it suffer. So that consciousness and that awareness is there. And two, the life that I have did not fall upon me by accident, I chose this life and I am leading this life. So, it means I must be fully aware and fully equipped to handle the task ahead. Does that mean I am perfect and everything, definitely not. But that consciousness allows me to know how to dissipate my energy and to give the best of myself to what I am doing at home. So, when I am on the job I will focus myself in the capacity of a public servant. During the weekends and some other times, I want to give the best of my best, because that business gives me the opportunity to have the wherewithal to be in my office in the first place. And the welfare of people that work with me I will not jeopardize because of my own political ambition. So it is critical and very important for me to have a good balance between service to humanity in the capacity of a business person, an entrepreneur, and also, service to people in the capacity of public servant.
The consciousness, the awareness is there, to be able to deliver without any one suffer, even though they are not entirely in the same path.
Since you resumed office, what is your assessment of SDGs over the years?
Sustainable Development Goals metamorphosized from Millennium Development Goals, initially there were about 6 of them, before they now expanded it to 17. First you have to understand your portfolio, your assignment. Before then, I knew about it at the top of my head, it wasn’t something I was deeply interested in. So, for one, you have to first understand your work. What are the SDGs, what are the connecting tissues, how do you find linkages between what you do and what is expected of you to do. So for me, I had to start by developing a framework to say , this is my understanding, my interpretation, and my mandate and this is how I want to go about fulfilling that. Initially, it calls for clarity, it calls for understanding of functions and being able to explain it in a way that whoever it is I am discussing this with, will understand the picture, understand my vision, and understand my mission. So that is the initial part of what I am working on. Then I try to understand the past antecedents of SDGs in the state and at the federal level. And evidently, the SDGs portfolio at the state is directly linked with the SDGs portfolio at the federal. So I am the focal person who is suppose to bring some of these linkages and identify the gaps and see how much we can close the gaps as much as possible to ensure that the objectives of the SDGs is fulfilled in the year 2030.
The first of the SDGs is ‘Eradication of Poverty’, how do intend to achieve that?
It’s actually more like no poverty, and by poverty, it is defined that any human who lives below $1.30, if you can get as many people, to live above that benchmark, we can confidently say that we have taken active step to ensure to ensure ‘no poverty’, but unfortunately, we will never be completely able to eradicate poverty, but in realistic terms, we will minimize the impact of poverty, by making sure we provide the basic amenities and this is what SDGs is all about, it is meant to complement the efforts of all NGOs, of which should be able to mainstream SDGs into different works of different ministries and agencies of government. It’s more of a bit of charity work, at the same time, it is more of government work, it is about taking active step. I also want to challenge each and every one of you .that e all are supposed to be SDGs ambassadors, this is part of what I will be unveiling in the coming weeks, and months, which we are actively on in this office. To make everyone of us partnership to combating poverty and mitigating the prevalence of poverty in the society.
Ensuring quality education is the fourth goal of the SDGs. But with the state of things in our schools, cultism, perennial strike seasons, poor academic performance, quick money syndrome among the youths and other menaces, do you think quality education is achievable by 2030?
First, let me put it here as part of my own personal observation, the challenges the plague us as a country are synonymous to challenges that we see in developing countries and as such we should be mindful of our expectations, in terms of not comparing our realities with developed countries. Some of the prevailing challenges we have identified are to be expected, but is that enough for us to now rest on our oars, fold our hands and say okay, that is as far as we can get, the global clarion call is not something that emanated from developing countries, it is actually from developed and conscious higher mights So it is a general responsibilities of both the rich and the poor to bridge the gap and see how we can provide solutions. The issues around education, pupils becoming crime inclined, high rate of poverty that drive a lot of vices, it’s unfortunate, but this is our reality. But then, what do we do about that. For me where I find the gap is in the place of awareness, enlightenment and information dissemination. Which is really what we go to school to study. The right education, consistently over time, has the capacity to transform minds, if I know any better than anyone, it is because I have taken the trouble to acquire extra knowledge, so that forces the likes of us that are supposedly more aware and more enlightened to take up the responsibility, but this is the problem I see in country, everybody complains about the problem, but nobody is saying anything about it. So, as part of my own initiative and suggestions, when we were youths we used to practise something in the school, called club. We all join clubs. What does it do for us, it informs our minds, it gives us social belonging, we had a healthy competition, which with a lot of time, has been driven under the advent of social media and technology, that has largely been the drivers of some of the vices that our children are exposed to do. The world is a global village. The worlds are flat. It means whatever happens in the United Kingdom, is exposed to by the pupils that are in the developed or under-developed countries, it means we have to start to compare apples to oranges, and we start to have realistic expectations, which make us to live according to their lives and to have tendency to act out of character and become perpetrators of crime and different vices. That brings us to the fact that we need to go back to the drawing board and identify what did we do wrong, what could we have done better and start to regulate those challenges; understanding that the things brought us this far are created by some problems which this same level of thinking cannot solve. This is one of favourite quotes by Albert Einstein, (a German-born physicist), and it goes to say that the more we continue to do the same thing the same way, we will continue to get the same result, in spite of how often you pray, it means we need to take active and proactive step, take ownership of ourselves, of our siblings, of our children, of the society, and make ourselves advocates for change, we are comfortable to correct a bad child or a child that is acting in bad manner. Can you actually take the trouble to court in adult’s case, that is acting out of character, or do you look the other way and say what is my business. This attitude is what is prevalent in our society, everybody going about minding their own businesses, struggling to survive, forgetting that our common efforts rub off on all of us. When I was in Abuja some days ago, about this same Goal 3 &4 , which are Quality Education and Good Health, which was being unveiled, and we made suggestion within my capacity, that we inculcate in our curriculum and re-activate some of the crops that we have formed that allow children to be properly engaged to the point where their idle minds becomes less of a Devil’s workshop and they are better engaged to do things that promote growth and quality education as against when they have such a free time in their hands and the best they are doing is surfing the Facebook or surfing through TikTok and doing all sorts of things that are not in line with their level of development and the level of exposure that they have. So these are my own thoughts in that.
What is the government’s plan on SDG?
My governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun definitely and certainly has planned to ensure that our State is among the top-ranking, if there is anything I know the governor for, he is a man of excellence and at the heart of his administration is the desire to improve lives. So I know that for one he has easily identified the lapses of our participation as a state in SDGs , that was what formed the decision to create and office SSCM and SDGs which is what I am currently sitting on. So, certainly, with my own skills, with my own strength and with the collaboration of necessary stakeholders I am sure we can significantly improve on our contributions to ensuring that the target set for SDG by 2030 is met within the state.
You founded PinkDove Charitable Initiative,so far what has been the major challenges of the organisation?
I founded the NGO in 2008. It’s been many years since I registered the NGO and it stemmed from my desire to be a change agent. I have found strong pulse, a strong desire to drive ?? behavior and at the time I was just leaving the portfolio of a beauty queen and I felt the only way I can continue some of my charity good works was to establish an NGO that caters for young people and young women. Particularly being a young person who understand the challenges young people face, and I decided to be an advocate, start to be a voice that addresses some of the ills plaguing our society, and I did that for a good number of years, before I had to go out to take further studies, but one thing that was the major challenge for me that could boost the active participation and workings of my NGO was wrong funding. To get the right funding or to find people connect to the heart of your work is a major issue. No one is human resource capital, to find people who actually believe in service as service, who are willing to volunteer to work, and improve on the welfare and wellbeing of other people, you don’t find them that much. Then, when you find people who are willing to volunteer, they probably do not have the skill set to add significant value to the business. So there is a bit of that, and there is a bit of other responsibilities. For me we are supposed to identify challenges. Challenges that could prevent us from working, it is supposed to be an opportunity for us to see what can we do differently, what can we do better. I am still grinding. SDGs is like a charitable work, because we are supposed to be the bridge builder between the regular works of government and some private sectors and to see how we can reach some communities, that is why a lot of the goals have to do with maintaining equality, removing poverty, improving on the quality of lives, through quality education, good health, so, it touches on charity good works, and that is why I believe it is not a co-incidence that is the platform with which I was given. Even though at the time my governor gave me this opportunity, he didn’t know where my heart is, which is in the area of service and how much I love to do stuff like that. I am quite grateful that I have this platform to continue my works and my NGO activities.
Your advice to the youths?
When I see the crops of graduates that are turning out of our universities, I am a bit sad. The quality of their thinking, the efforts they put to work diminishes with time. The advent of social media is a major distraction, students no longer read books, they feed consistently on social media, for me, I believe we all should take personal efforts for self-growth and self-development. I do not wait for anyone to tell me what to do. It’s a personal choice and I want us to have less of white mentality. A lot of young people expect that life should be served to them outright , they want the good things of life , they want the best of devices, they want to trend and blow, without actually putting in the work, we live in microwave world, a bunch of them are highly incompetent and are very defensive of their inadequacies, they are not even teachable, they are not even wiling, something tells them that If you make enough efforts on the social media, you are going to blow, and I am afraid to say that they are a delusional generation. And it is very disturbing to see that these are the next leaders that this country is going to produce, because life is an ecological succession, the current leaders by natural law of selection will all naturally phase out and new leaders will emerge, what is the quality of their thoughts, what is the quality of their characters, what is the quality of their behaviour, what is their level of resilient. What is their level of efforts, how are they willing to put in the work, understanding that life is in phases, there is the planting period, there is the waiting period, there is harvest time, but they expect that the moment you key it in, kick and fast, you manifest, this for me is a concern. And I believe that this interview, this magazine, this publication can probably give…, but the unfortunate thing is that, they don’t even read books. Oyibo man way, if you want to deceive a black man, put the knowledge in the book, because he will never read it. It’s quite sad. And the technology that is supposed to help us, because whatever it is we are supposed to do, I feed on audio materials, I may not have the presence of ?, whenever it is I have a spare time, maybe I am working on the car, I process materials through audio, that’s where you put in a lot of information, while you are doing other things, you can explore technology by using it to serve us as against being a major disservice to humanity.
What is your advice to the youths as regards the coming general election in 2023?
Whether you are young or old whatever age group you find yourself, you have to take active participation in politics, not all of us will have our names written in the ballot boxes. But all of us can take the responsibility of performing our civic duties and responsibilities. It gives us the right to question and to challenge a bad government and this is it for me. We are very impatient people. We expect that the decay and the rot the system has gathered over years be fixed within the four years, it doesn’t work. And because we really do not expect the change that we clamour for, we are not patient enough to wait it out. Change take time. Change take process, change takes efforts and consistency, each and every one of us should take the trouble in participating in politics, when we have a PVC, lets’ actually use them, let’s actually go out and vote. It should not be about nestling about and chill because it is a public holiday. I found out that majority of those that participate in politics, are at the grassroots level and the reason they do is because they are not able to go to their businesses, so they would rather go to the polling booth cast their votes and see what they can get out of votes buying and selling rather than sitting at home and lose out completely in the day. For me it is important that we all take efforts to really and genuinely see how we can promote change by participating actively in politics, understanding that it will take a while for change to happen and raise, recruit , mentor a lot of more people to come out. The elites should not look at politics as a dirty game , but they should look at it that if you do not make effort to be proud of the democracy and the policies that guard your businesses, whoever is doing that will run you out of business and that really lies in our hands. So this is my advice to everybody.
Your words of advice for our leaders in government?
Trust me everybody is doing the best , according to the best of their abilities. If you ever have an opportunity to be close to people that are in power, trust me, a good number of them, believe they are doing their best. But because we are in other side of the veil, we are not able to see the best of their intentions. And because we are very judgmental as human being and as Nigerians we are very critical of one another. We are quick to point out the ills of the society on the failure of leadership as against understanding that leadership is a collective responsibility and it is not something Buhari will fix, or something that Asiwaju should fix, or something that a governor of the state should fix. But rather understand what are they struggling with and how can I make my own contribution. And start to work together as collaborators in progress, as against apportioning blames and passing the bucks of irresponsibility on our leaders because what does that make us, and what does that make us, irresponsible followers. That is my thought.
Your prayer for next election.
I wish for Nigeria to be great country, I wish for more conscious mind to awaken, because trust me, change is coming. We need to have hope. Hope is not something we can give up on. Yes, the country may look dismal, things may look like, it might not work, but trust me, the very thought that it is not working, will propel the desire to make it work.