How did you react when he offered you the job?
Honestly, my first reaction was how did he know about me? I then called my husband to inform him. At the dinner table, we discussed it extensively, looking at the implication on the family and how I would cope since we had never lived apart. It was of course imperative for me to do a lot of research on him. I asked questions from those who should know and everyone kept saying “ oh, he is a very decent, hardworking professional, thorough , who is well focussed” and I have found all of that to be true. What they probably forgot to mention is that the man is a workaholic.
What were you doing before you took up the appointment?
I was the Media Manager, Programme and Outreach, International Republican Institute (IRI), an Agency under the United States Government (USG) USAID, programme, in Nigeria. I took a leave of absence from the NTA, having served for over two decades and risen to the position of Manager News. I felt I needed to do something different. It was a delight to see President John Kuffour, a few weeks back. We brought him in for our Observer Mission Programme when I was in IRI. I recall that the last but one IGP, Hafiz Ringim, used to refer to me as “Mrs John Kuffour”, in my effort to secure an appointment for a courtesy visit to him as the IGP. IRI was fun, it was another school of its own, having then spent 23 years in NTA. It was a breath of fresh air! And my boss as well as my colleagues couldn’t fathom what it was I was going to do in a political environment. “People don’t leave USG agencies, once they are in. “You, that we know cannot survive in a political environment; you are too decent to want to join politics ,they said. But to the glory of God, four years down the line and the firm belief of my boss in me, I am still standing.
What lessons have you learnt on the job?
The lessons are too numerous to recount in just one lifetime ( laughter).The first thing I did was to shed the toga of being a celebrity and know that I was there to serve the good people of Ogun State. To project and promote the activities and image of my principal, His Excellency, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. Two, know that I was and would be meeting with people of diverse background and exposure. It is a mixed bag really of the good, the bad and the ugly. Some, who used to admire one back in the days, would now want to lord things over you, because you are below them in the Organizational structure, or the mere fact of all being political appointees. But for me, I have had more than my fair share of publicity and glamour that being in the background does not bother me a bit. In fact, I relish now being incognito but some “diehard fans still recognize me, squint and ask “Are you not so so and so? But for me and at all times, I look at the big picture and focus on my principal. I remember why I had to leave my family behind in Abuja and live in Abeokuta. I think of the value addition to my CV and credentials if I am able to endure and breast the tape. I have also learnt that just as I was greatly once admired then on the tube, others would dislike me for no just cause. I make allowances for such people and still relate with them in the course of duty. It’s just human nature! In addition, another challenge for me, is that unlike in the public service where I come from, there is hierarchy, line of communication and a chain of command. Here, things are a bit fluid. Add to that the fact that you weigh your thoughts properly before you speak. It is a political environment and you need to factor other considerations into the equation. I have also learnt how to manage my time, which is a scarce resource here. HE could have as many as five, six or more assignments in one day and you need to decide on which ones to send for publication and which ones are non perishable such that they could be stepped down for another day. It is not as easy as it sounds.
Will you say your boss has been misunderstood?
Leadership is sometimes about hard decisions, which could make you step on people’s toes, but provided such decisions are taken in the overall interest of the majority, I think it is okay. Therefore, in pursuing this leadership philosophy, it is possible for a leader to be misunderstood. Let me put it this way; HE is a Rotarian at heart. He answers the Rotary four way test in all that he does. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendship and will it be beneficial to all concerned? These are some of his guiding principles.
His Excellency, Senator Ibiukunle Amosun has always made himself clear. For him, it’s all about the good people of Ogun State. He will do anything to impact their lives positively. That was the reason this administration embarked upon massive infrastructure development in the State, such that can only be compared to what you see off the shores of this country. He does not do things in half measures. He has in addition to the massive roads in our various cities and towns, opened up rural roads, including the longest stretch of 110km; the Ilara-Egua-Tombolo-Oja/Odan road which cuts across four local government areas in the Yewa axis, which is in the West Senatorial District of the state. The road like similar ones, is to improve the movement of farm produce to ready markets, thereby creating wealth and job opportunities. The State has therefore created enabling environment for viable economic activities thereby encouraging the growth of SMEs. Look at our Model Schools, they are a sight to behold. We visited one of the Green houses the other day, and I could not believe what I saw! The vegetables were so beyond! That’s what we mean, when he says “Ogun Standard”, it is the minimum irreducible standard for development in the State. In the area of commerce, almost 60 Multinationals in the multi billion Naira range have established presence in Ogun State, since the inception of this administration. One can only imagine the multiplier effect on the lives of our people; jobs created, small and medium scale industries added, change of landscape and scenery, just to mention a few. Ogun State is now the place to do business. Like he says “If you are not in Ogun State, you are not in Nigeria, and if not in Nigeria, you are not in the West of Africa and very soon, the continent, itself. I say this because, we have the deepest seaport in Africa, here in Ogun State and with an All Progressive Congress government at the centre, it is as good as done. From day one, he told us at the Executive Council meeting that he wants to house Lagos, he wants to move and feed Lagos. We have been able to provide affordable housing.
After this interview, please take a drive through our Orange Valley Estate and the recently commissioned Plainfields Estate. Truly, we have done our home work. As for feeding Lagos, the Eggua Rice Fields, the Green House projects I mentioned earlier and our various Farm Settlements and Farmers’ Markets are there for all to see. These are hard facts and incontrovertible. To demonstrate how our administration intends to move Lagos, he has already signed an MOU with a Chinese firm, for the Ogun Light Rail System, which will take off in the second term. Add that to the different Mass Transit Schemes in the state; the long and short Buses as well as the Taxis. In the area of security, most people have taken it for granted that the state had serious security challenges before the advent of this administration.
It is not for nothing that the Cleen Foundation; a reputable Non Governmental Organization adjudged the state as one of the best in terms of Security. Senator Ibikunle Amosun’s administration has committed huge resources to the procurement of state of the art Armoured Personnel Carriers, APC as well as other motorized security vehicles and gadgets. As you well know, people’s needs and wants are insatiable and governance is work in progress, which involves judicious use of scarce resources. The good people of Ogun state should look forward to more dividends of democracy as we go into the second term in office.
Lets talk about Funmi Wakama. Who is she?
I was born Olufunmilayo Yetunde Coker in 1966 in Lagos. Do the Arithmetics, that means I will turn 50, next year. Olufunmilayo Yetunde Wakama, as she is now known, is a graduate of Mass Communication from the Ogun State (now Moshood Abiola) Polytechnic. She also went through the portals of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos as well as the University of Abuja, obtaining respectively in these institutions; a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism and Masters in Public Administration. I must mention that in my educational cap is a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Relations from the Business Education Examination Council, Lagos. Then known as Funmi Coker, my exceptional industry and dedication to duties did not go unnoticed both within and outside the NTA. I won at different times, the Divisional Best Worker Award; Best Worker Award and the General Manager’s Commendation among others. In 1991, under the then Col. Raji Rasaki’s administration, I was appointed Member, Advisory Committee, Lagos State Government Commission on Women.
In addition to several awards and commendations in my kitty, is a special recognition by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) as a Special Celebrity Marshal, Woman of the Media by National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Female Leadership Forum and other awards too numerous to mention.
Let’s talk about your fashion style. You dress well. How do you choose what you wear?
Style for me means different things at different times. It would depend on the occasion. Sometimes I keep it simple and at other times, it could be glamorous, particularly back in my days on Television. The environment in which I find myself oftentimes determines my sense of style at any point in time.
Tell us about Mr Wakama. How did you fall in love with him? Tell us your love story.
My husband is a Civil Engineer. He is from Okrika, in Rivers State. Like me, he was born and bred in Lagos. He is a graduate of the University of Lagos. We met through a mutual friend. He is from a very warm, caring Christian background. He is therefore God fearing, kind, loving and a wonderful father to our two boys. Apart from caring for and about his family, his other passion is Football. I have tried to adopt his team, Manchester United which he started supporting in 1973 but that has been difficult because I am not a fan of the round leather game. He has allowed me to be me. He has encouraged me to flourish in my chosen career and has been a very strong pillar of support. The two boys, he and I are happy.
This interview was culled from City People Magazine