Hon. Hakeem Olaogun Dickson is no doubt a man of many parts – he is an accountant, seasoned administrator, entrepreneur and above all a politician with good managerial skills. He spoke to Mary Ekah on his youth, his aspirations, achievements and the challenges of being at the helm of affairs of the Lagos State Safety Commission
What is the nature of your work as head of the Lagos Safety Commission?
The Lagos State Safety Commission is all about safety of lives and property in Lagos State. All we do here is to regulate on certain matters in all aspects of life. It can be construction, manufacturing, housing, food industry, maritime industry, communication and anything that actually needs safety precautions. It is all about safety, ensuring that you leave home safe, work safe and go back home safe without a single injury or any form of accident or any sickness. All we do is care for your total well-being.
The commission seems to be saddled with massive responsibilities. How do you manage all these?
The Lagos State Safety Commission looks into virtually all the sectors of the economy of the state. We even look into the health sector too to ensure that there is neither quack nor fake medication and we make sure things are done according to due process. So the task is huge. When there is fire incident, we do investigations to find out how and why it happened. When there is a construction work going on, we ensure that people working on the construction site are working safe. That means there must helmets, protective jackets, and boots and so on. If you are a welder, you must wear your google. We ensure that whatever is going to affect your eyes, hearing, nostril and other parts of your body are put in place. We want you to go out there and work for a living but in the course of doing that, we want to ensure that you do not incur debts, injuries nor for you to die while working. So to achieve success, we work hand in hand with every individual, association, agency, organisation, company, market women and in fact everybody in the entire society. So, we do not have a limit on the extent we go. We even oversee the road and cars moving on the road to ensure safety on the roads.
Your vision is to gradually make safety a lifestyle for people living in Lagos State. What exactly have you been doing to achieve this?
I have been doing a lot of things personally to ensure that everything goes well. I am an accountant by profession but when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode appointed me to come in here roughly a year ago, I started studying books because in this place, you must study to learn and again, you must have a listening hear for people coming with new ideas. So it has been studying for me and also learning new ideas on the way forward. I never knew I was going to be here today but when I suddenly found myself here, I said to myself, ‘I want to stay, I want to maintain my job and I want the governor and the people of Lagos State in general, to be very proud of me and the Safety Commission’ and that is why we have been putting all our efforts to achieve that.
Lagos State more than any other state, one would say, lacks safety culture as virtually everyone here goes about breaking the rules. How have you been able to enforce compliance?
The Lagosians do not lack safety culture but when you look at the influx of people coming into Lagos State on a daily basis, without single safety knowledge in them, you would understand why at times, there is lawlessness in some areas of the state. It is only in Lagos State that there exist a safety commission. It does not exist in other states, so the burden is on us. The Lagosians understand how we do things but when strangers come in they cause disorder but then we are always prepared to put them in the right directions and always on hand to ensure that safety consciousness is imbibed in Lagos State. That is why we have embarked on continuous advocacy, sensitisation and training.
Now, when exactly did you take up the responsibility of being at the helm of affairs at the Lagos State Safety Commission?
I have been in Lagos State Safety Commission since last year. I took up the office after I was cleared from the State House of Assembly. I was nominated in 2016 but only got cleared in 2017. So, I would say I am just one year old on this job. Would I say achievement? No, I won’t use the word achievement because I am doing my job. I was not elected but appointed, so the whole glory will go to His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for brining in the right person – somebody that has a passion for safety. I think the governor must have heard so much about me when I was the Local Government Chairman of Surulere. That was when I started the walkway for the safety of pedestrians in Surulere, precisely in Adeniran Ogunsanya, Bode Thomas, Akerele, Raddle, Ogunlana Drive and some other streets and major roads. I also repaired the federal roads in Western Avenue when I noticed there were so many potholes in the area. So, I figured that the only way people could get to work early when passing through Ojuelegba was for me to repair the potholes which were well over one thousand. So the children were able to walk to school on higher platform tank being in the main road. That was the beginning of safety. And then Okada were not able to knock people down any more. Right now, we have gone so far in putting Logos State Safety Commission on the map. We are recognised by the federal government, so many associations are coming to work with us. We are driving what we call Vision Zero, that means zero disease and zero injury. In fact, we want everybody to be in a very good well-being. We have done a lot of programmes, working with construction companies, manufacturing companies and all the rest of them. We talk to Manufactures Association of Nigeria (MAN) all the time. Even the light up project of Lagos State is part of safety because as long as there is constant light, accident and theft will reduce. Safety is a culture and it must remain so in Lagos State. Actually the lack of safety will bring about insecurity.
What would describe as the challenges in achieving your aim in the commission?
We have whole lots of challenges but I will mention a few. We are faced with the challenges of lack of logistics, shortage of staff and office space. Then we lack good gadgets to work with and then, schools have refused to corporate with us and so a lot of accidents take place in the school. However, we believe that by the time we write our restructuring to Governor Ambode, there is tendency that there would be a lot of improvements.
What would be your advice to Lagosians on safety?
Safety starts from personal hygiene. So I will advise people to be cautious of their environment while they also inculcate in their children the habit of observing personal hygiene and safety at home and by the time they grow up with such habit, our society will be a better place to live. I would advise that they should be cautious and take safety as a lifestyle. Be conscious of what surrounds you and what you eat, wear and where you go. And anything you are not happy with around you, you can report to Lagos State Safety Commission and we would intervene.
You were once a local government chairman. Can you share your experience then?
Yes, I served as the Surulere Local Government Chairman from 1999 to 2002, during which time we fought and reduced crime rate to less than five per cent in Surulere. At that time the DPO in my area was given the Best DPO of the Year award while the Area Commander was given the best Area Commander of the Year for three years in a roll. I personally got so many awards including the Best Cleanliness LGA from 1999 to 2002 from both the federal and state governments. I also came up with so many ideas. We launched what they now call Landscape where we disposed our refuse, refusing to deal with the cart pushers and then we had enough vehicles that cart away refuse. I was also able to introduce Surulere Law Enforcement Corp, where you enter Surulere and do businesses without any traffic. I got most of the boys that we call areas boys off the streets by providing them jobs. We renovated lots of schools and also introduced free lunch to schools, free uniform, free school bags and some other things. So, I went to Surulere with my brain and when I was going, I left with my brain and now whoever is coming in there should come with his/her brain. And now the people of Surulere should be able to identify who they want to vote for so that they would enjoy the dividends of democracy just like during my tenure. What you need in politics is to have the human feelings and just put on the human face. You have the feelings for what you want to do and the passion for it, ensuring that the people who voted you in enjoy your stay.
How was it for you switching from being a politician to being a public servant?
I am still a politician. I am core politician. I stand in for people with gold quality and good intention. Like for example, if you come to me and say you desire to be a governor or president, I will listen to you, examine you critically, and examine those that are in camp and the kind of integrity that they have, and those are what determine if I can sell you to the public and all the quarters concerned or not. And I am proud that I have done that for so many people who have succeeded and are still succeeding today as political leaders at various levels of governance. So I sell achievers as soon as I can recognise them.
Tell us about life before becoming a politician and eventually getting to where you are today?
I was born in Lagos Island. I am from a royal family – the Itire Family and the Onikoyi family but I grew up in Surulere. I attended primary school at Surulere Baptist School where I obtained my first school leaving certificate in 1972 after which I attended Victory High School, Ikeja, before I later proceeded to the United States for further studies. I had my first degree in Accounting and then my Master’s degree in accounting too. I returned to Nigeria in 1992 to observe my NYSC after which I went back to the U.S. to obtain my second Master’s degree in Finance. I was later certified as a Public Accountant. I started my career as an accountant with one of the biggest accounting firm in the world, Coopers and Lybrand CPA, Newark, New Jersey between 1988 and 1994 working as an external auditor. After which I came back to Nigeria even after my father had thought I would I was lost in America because I had already started living the life of an American, exhibiting some rascality that was only peculiar to the Americans.
I didn’t plan to be a politician but when I returned to the country, I happened to make friends with people who were into politics. In fact, a couple of them are still serving presently. They include Hon. Olufemi Adebanjo and Prince Adeniyi Adele. These people influenced my decision to go into politics. And so I started by contesting as a Counsellor but lost by one vote because the people didn’t trust me. They felt that since I just came from America, I wasn’t qualified to represent them. But that didn’t stop me because I later went on a bigger platform to contest for the Chairmanship of Surulere Local Government Chairman and won.
You said you acted more like the Americans while growing up. Did you exhibit any rascality?
I had a very good fashion taste while in the U.S., I could spend a fortune to acquire a fashion item just to show off. I was quite flamboyant and extravagant while living in the U.S. but I later realised they were all vanity upon vanity. I used to spread huge sum of money on musicians when they sing my praise and I enjoyed this so much. But one day, I realised that these people are building so many houses while I had nothing. So nobody told me to cut down on such lifestyle. I just took a decision to change my lifestyle. I started dressing just to be comfortable and stopped patronising praise singers. I went on a low key just to be able to save money for better things.
I am not the quiet type at all. I used to be very troublesome. I am the one that got most of the beatings from my father. I used to destroy things in the house. I exhibited so much of youthful exuberance. I would cause a fight but I won’t be the one to fight because there would always be someone who would be at the forefront for me, I had lots of friends that were always ready to fight for me while I remain in the background.
So in all these, what has life taught you?
Has life taught me anything? No! I am not a believer – I am neither a Muslim nor a Christian. I am just a free thinker. Today, I might believe there is God and tomorrow, I might not. I just see life the way it comes. So, I don’t take life so seriously but I enjoy being alive, so I take precautions to remain alive and healthy. I respect human beings and that is all I need to do.
Do we see you contesting for a political post in future?
Yes, I have my eyes on the House of Representatives. I am still waiting for things to fall into place.