The Chief Executive Officer of the Balmoral Group, Ezekiel Adamu, tells KEHINDE AJOSE about his journey as an entrepreneur, business growth and other issues
Tell us how you built the Balmoral brand from the days of small beginnings to what it is right now?
I literally started Balmoral right after graduating from the university in 2006. Right from my university days, I had been involved in events and entertainment. So, when I graduated, it was no brainer for me to look in that direction.
Meanwhile, I worked with an event company based in France called GL Events. It was through them that I got into the events space. We started off with just one event venue— Balmoral Events Centre at Kudirat Abiola Way, Ikeja, Lagos. When we started, the cost of renting our venue was N420,000, and I remember people were saying nobody would pay. We were resilient and we stuck to what we believe in.
I remember telling someone that my vision was to build an event centre that would be like MUSON Centre, Lagos Island. The person told me to forget my dream, saying it was not possible. However, I always believe in possibilities. I don’t believe anything is impossible. I believe that with the right discipline and sticking to the correct way of doing things, one would achieve one’s dreams.
On a scale of one to 10 for the vision I have for the company, we are just on number four or five. The vision is still very huge. We have been running the company (in Nigeria) since 2006.
The parent company, GL Events, has event venues worldwide. It is even listed on the France stock market. It owns about 300 event centres.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the course of building the business?
There was a fire incident at our first place in Oregun, Ikeja during an awards ceremony. When that happened, I tapped into something I had read about Thomas Edison. After a fire consumed his laboratory, he began rebuilding it immediately. I knew that we had to rebuild immediately. I called the insurance company, and told them to come and take pictures of the burnt place, because I intended to rebuild in no time. And, we were able to achieve that. It took us a month to rebuild it. People thought I was crazy for daring to do the ‘impossible’, but it also got us attention from other people.
The Archbishop Vining Memorial Church in Ikeja GRA approached us, saying they liked how we did our business. They said they had a piece of land next to the church, and asked if we would be interested in a partnership. That was how we started our second event centre, called The Haven. We were running that for a while when we were invited by Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, for a partnership. That led to Ocean View. After a while, Federal Palace Hotel approached us and we started the Federal Palace Convention Centre.
Right now, we are working on a state-of-the-art event centre in partnership with Marriot International.
What is your driving force?
The driving force for me is to be a better version of myself every single day. I believe we still have a long way to go.
What are the hazards of the business?
The major hazard of the business is pretty much the ‘people’ side of it. Events are about solutions, and solutions mean that one needs to work with people that are solution oriented. Getting the right people is one of the biggest challenges, though I am blessed with a lot of them.
Another problem is the ‘Nigeria factor’. However, my mindset is not to see problems. I see problems as opportunities. When there are problems, one should be able to come up with solutions to that problem, and extend that solution to other people. Business is all about solutions. We have taken events to a certain level; and now, we want to infuse tech into events.
In what ways do you intend to adapt tech to events?
This has to do with us creating events of our own. We have organised many events, ranging from concerts to theme parks. The last one we had was The Wonderland theme part. We have also held the International Drinks Festival. The way we intend to introduce technology ranges from the area of ticketing to vendors and even buying things. We want people to be able to buy tickets right from their living rooms. It will also give people the opportunity to get trusted vendors in the events space.
People who organise events know that they often lose money when they do business with cash. But, they do it through a tech platform, there would be no leakage. That is because everything is visible and transparent. That is the direction the world is going, and we want to champion it (in Nigeria).
Can you recall some of your most memorable moments?
I have memorable moments all the time. However, one moment that stands out was the fire incident we had. I can never forget that disaster, because I did not see it as a drawback; rather, I took it as a stepping stone to be better than what we were.
In what ways did your educational background shape you?
I am of the view that learning and development are things one has to do for oneself. I tell members of my staff that personal development is their individual responsibilities. One has to learn to develop oneself; or one would get to a point where the organisation or industry where one works would have outgrown one. Personally, I keep learning, unlearning and relearning. Aside from the universities I attended, I have done a lot of courses. I have been to Oxford University (United Kingdom) and Harvard (United States of America). I make sure that I read a chapter of a book every day. I actually enjoy learning.
What are the challenges peculiar to the events industry in Nigeria?
The first one is technology. There are a lot of businesses out there that are not well known. We want to use technology to showcase them to the world.
Another challenge is double taxation. There are a lot of levies we have to pay, especially with venues. There was a time we were paying about 26 different levies per year. That is almost an impossible thing for a business to do and keep afloat. We are currently in conversation with the government to see what can be done about that. Another challenge is infrastructure. If we get those things right, things will be better. I believe that with the government currently in place, things will get better.
How can the government support the industry, particularly because of its tourism potential?
The government should look into the issue of multiple taxations. They can set up a committee to find out if people in the industry are even making enough money for them to be taxed that much.
Also, there has to be a level playing ground. In developed countries, one could go to a street and see different hotels offering the same service; with the only difference being value. But, in Nigeria, if one is a big player, the government would come after one for things that one does not do. Meanwhile, the small players can get away with things. That way, it is no longer a level playing field, because one has to charge much to stay in business, while the business next to one is charging less because the government is not disturbing them.
What are the important factors needed to thrive in this line of business?
First, one needs to have a great imagination. Imagination is intangible but it can yield tangible results. Even before starting, one should be able to visualise where one wants to get to. However, one must have faith that one would get there. It is the faith that would make one start taking baby steps.
If one has an imagination without faith, one won’t even make a move. It is tfaith that will help one to maintain a positive.
What was the purpose for setting up the Balmoral School of Events?
With our years of experience and also dealing with different people, we thought of having a school where we could train the best talents and churn them out into the industry. When we train them, other event companies would also hire them. We are basically trying to fill the vacuum of inadequate personnel. It is also a way of giving back to the industry and society. In addition, we want to put our stamp of approval on certain individuals and businesses.
What do you foresee as the future of the events and hospitality industry in the country?
It is an evolving industry and it keeps growing. The whole world is paying attention to Nigeria now because of our music and other things. I always tell people that we are beyond just our music. We are a movement; culture even.
How do you relax?
I relax by bonding with my children. I also travel. Travelling is a form of therapy for me. By travelling, one gets to see other parts of the world. One sees how other people do things, and one can bring innovations witnessed in different parts of the world back home. I feel fortunate that I am being paid for what I enjoy doing. For me, it is not work.
In what other ways are you giving back to society?
We carry out a lot of corporate social responsibility projects, mostly for schools and underprivileged children. We help in paying the school fees of indigent students.
What advice do you have for young Nigerians?
I believe that hard work is very important. We are in an era where social media makes people feel that everything is instant, but nothing that lasts is really instant. I was telling a friend recently about a slogan that says, ‘Overnight success takes 20 years’. I actually believe that.
For anyone who wants to come into the events and hospitality industry, they need to understand that one has to put in a lot of work into it. One must not give up, because it would take a while for success to come one’s way. Even if one achieves success in the first year, that does not mean things will always be like that. One has to be consistent in whatever one is doing for one to be successful.
How I Overcame Suicidal Thoughts, Failures In Business – Ufitfly MD
Managing Director and Team Lead of UfitFly, Ajibola Ogunkeyede, tells EMMANUEL OJO how hard work and persistence became his launch pad for success
What would you ascribe to be the most important factor that helped you attain your current height in business?
One of the things that helps a man when in trouble is that the person has to be sincere with himself and then be sincere with God and the people who have entrusted their resources to him. Failure could come in the course of it but all you need to do is to be open, transparent, and then be sincere in all dealings. In doing that, of course, there will be many other opportunities that will take you out of that trouble but insincerity will always add more to your problems. So, that (sincerity) is what has helped me in life.
When I was in debt at a very young age, instead of leaving the country or running away at the age of 20 or 22, I ensured by the instruction of God that I stayed back. Even though I was an orphan, that was not a reason for me to make erroneous decisions that could have affected those who entrusted their resources to me and even affected my life because I didn’t know where I was going. I stayed back and tried to ascertain what amount it was that I was indebted to, and then I had to discuss it with the people involved. The act of sincerity has helped me. I can preach sincerity from now till eternity. It is not just preaching, it is what I practise and I’m still practising and it has helped me to this day.
What were the setbacks you faced?
I fail almost all the time. If you see a successful man, failure is part of his success. So, when you are anticipating the achievement of a goal, you should know that failure is part of it. Beyond the failures, I have always encouraged myself. Just as (the Apostle) Paul said (in the Bible) that he encouraged himself in the Lord. As a child of God, when failure sets in on a project, as long as it is God who has instructed me, I encourage myself and it has always given me a reason to move forward beyond the failure I encounter.
I encounter failure every day and to God be the glory, He has been sustaining me and giving me results that are always profound. Oftentimes, the way we plan it might not work. Of course, that’s called a setback. In the end, God always sets us free and gives the desired breakthrough and that is why anytime or any day I experience failure at anything, I just shake myself and move forward.
Which of them would you consider as your biggest?
One of the stories is that one should not pay evil for evil. Many years ago, I had an issue and I expected one of my uncles to come through for me but he didn’t show up, even though he was nurtured by my mother. He didn’t show up as expected. Not quite long from then, he had an issue. Naturally, I didn’t want to get involved but little did I know that that would be my place of encounter and breakthrough. I was not worried about what he did to me. I went ahead and bailed him from the police station (when he was arrested).
When I got there, I met a man, who was a retired police officer and that was in the year 2007, 2008, or thereabouts. He showed me a letter from the Force headquarters, Abuja, and needed to travel to America. He asked if I knew how to process that on the computer. At that time, I didn’t know anything about travel agencies, but as a young man, I said that I could assist him, and to God be the glory, I put him through and he got the visa and that was the beginning of my breakthrough in assisting people with (flight) ticketing, hotel bookings, and visa counselling and that has helped me today. If I had refused to help my brother who once denied me help, I wouldn’t have been where I am today. So, that’s one story of my life that I cannot forget in a hurry.
How did being an orphan affect you?
God in heaven has given mankind his support, our earthly parents are just there to guide us and the scriptures say that it is not only our biological parents that we should honour. As much as a child honours people around them in society, some people can also be referred to as parents. Being an orphan does not limit a person from becoming successful in life. For example, as a Christian or as a Muslim, there is a congregation of worship with leaders who could serve as parents, especially, when they are very good leaders and that’s why a pastor is also regarded as a shepherd. Shepherds are meant to look after their biological and non-biological children.
For me, it was in the same area I grew up as a boy many years ago that I found the person who became my adopted father. He attended Eckankar in the neighbourhood we lived in. One day, he called me and I told him that I didn’t have a father; he singled me out of all the children playing football in front of his home. As long as they are not lazy, we need to tell the youth to do whatever they find doing with all their might. Being an orphan is not a yardstick that one wouldn’t be successful because we were born into this world and the one who created us designed everything. For any orphan, I want to beseech them to be focused and look up to God. Although we live in a country where there is a lot of influence and some parents influence things a lot for their children, they (orphans) need to be focused and avoid bad company.
Was there any point in time you felt like throwing in the towel?
Well, at every point of breakthrough, you could encounter failures. Of course, there were several times that I felt that way.
What motivated you and kept you going?
Faith in God and testimony of people who were once in my situation or had passed through what I was going through at that moment motivated me. I felt motivated by the fact that if God could help such a person, then He could help me. There are places a person should position himself to hear good testimonies and get motivated. For instance, there are no testimonies in a pub. You hear that where sound doctrines of the scriptures are practised and people there share their testimonies of how God helped them and with that I get encouraged.
However, one cannot wait for people to motivate him or encourage him; one must keep moving ahead. So, I can tell you that faith in God has helped me and He is the one who can help me and has always done that. One also needs someone to talk to and that’s another thing that has helped me. When you can talk to somebody, not just anybody but a trusted person, that can give you a guide. It could be a parent, a pastor, or a leader. Some of them have been faced with challenges and can tell you how you can handle them.
Apart from talking to people, one could also read books, and thank God for the internet today; everything we are going through can be found in the Bible and the Bible is the complete encyclopaedia that can guide one in life.
In all of it, one cannot afford to be lazy. Laziness cannot be condoned. What your hands find doing, do it diligently as if there is no tomorrow. Just because a business collapses does not mean the owner should stop doing business. No, it doesn’t work that way. What they need to do is to find out what the cause was and how they found themselves in that state. When they identify that and are ready to adjust themselves, then they are on their way out of the problem.
Are there other ways?
Also, when we are faced with issues, we should try not to be alone because oftentimes, there are bad thoughts. I have also experienced suicidal thoughts or thoughts that made me want to do some irrational things, especially when in debt, and that kills a lot. One would be thinking about how they would achieve this and that and before you know it, it would be far gone but instead of staying with such thoughts, he should otherwise share the issue with somebody, a respected person, maybe a cleric or a very respected person who can tell you the truth on how to overcome whatsoever challenges they are going through. Also, one must be prayerful. If you say you are a sinner, yes and that’s why there is forgiveness, so, you go to God and He will say, “Sin no more.”
When I was much younger and I was in debt, it took me some three to five years to pay up the debt. I was in the same office then. My neighbours used to tell clients not to do business with me because I was a debtor and all that and at a time, I prayed to God that he should let those who have mocked me see my testimony and know He is the Almighty God. In the same environment, even after 18 years there, God has remained faithful. Even when I was in trouble, I remained steadfast. There was a time when I was the only one left after 100 workers left. I was the only one in the office; I was the receptionist, the human resource person, everything. I kept closing alone and resuming the next day. You may think problems will go away all at once, but that is not possible; it takes a gradual process.
What’s the biggest challenge for business owners and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
The biggest challenge in entrepreneurship in Nigeria is that the government and the financial institutions don’t believe in small and medium-scale companies. They believe in the established ones. As much as business is more of a risk, the government needs to believe in the upcoming small-scale businesses. Before now, I didn’t have bankers coming to me because I was a debtor and didn’t have a fat account balance. However, when they saw the number of transactions, they came around but that’s not the time I needed them. If God had not helped me to put myself together, of course, I wouldn’t be here today.
Banks in Nigeria have killed a lot of businesses, and that’s why they are entrapped. You see them give (loans) to those who have enough already and of course, everybody likes good things but that’s the reason why you see the economy of the United States and the United Kingdom growing because they focus on small and medium-scale businesses and these are the people who provide most of the employments in their country.
A lot of young people are selling their properties and some leaving well-paying jobs to move abroad in droves. As a travel and tourism adviser, what do you make of this?
I always advise people to be well-informed about where they want to travel to before they do because relocation is not a visit; the person is leaving Nigeria for a strange land. Firstly, before one leaves, one should study the (new) environment. Secondly, going with a visiting visa to stay back is illegal immigration. If one has a good-paying job here (in Nigeria), it’s the same thing. So, the first error is not being educated about the place a person is going to. Secondly, I won’t say people should not relocate but they should find out the type of visa required for them to work (abroad) so they won’t get there and get stranded. Nigeria is losing human resources every day and it’s quite alarming; this will have an impact in the next five to 10 years in Nigeria. Many people who follow the ‘japa’ trend are looking for comfort but the reverse is usually the case. In overseas, you pay for everything; you cannot dodge bills. So, this is major information people don’t know. I will say that ‘japa’ is good if you have the right visa but ‘japa’ is not good if you do not have the right visa to stay back in a foreign land that you have little or no knowledge about.
What are the drawbacks that people should be aware of?
We see a lot of people coming on the internet to cry or talk about their regrets because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do before relocating. Many people in Canada, the UK, and the US are stranded and some are doing well. Also, ‘japa’ has caused a lot of breakups in homes and families. So, if anyone wants to travel for greener pastures, they should ensure to have the right visa so that their family can also have access to a visa to travel with them or be able to visit them.
Some people sold their properties worth millions of naira for half the value because they got a visa but didn’t realise that when they get abroad, for them to be able to build or have such a property, they would need some two to three years to get well settled abroad before they could start saving, and that will also take years to achieve. Some opt for the option of getting a second passport in the long run, which is fine but that is because the government is not working on a lot of things.
It’s Difficult To Overturn Presidential Election Result In Nigeria – Adegboruwa
In this interview with Solomon Odeniyi, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN speaks on the decision of the presidential tribunal justices on the transmission of results among other issues.
What do you make of the judgments of the tribunal of the petitions seeking to remove the president?
I think that the issues decided by the justices have fairly been foretold by the apex court on the issues of nomination, the validity of nomination, and the issue of the status of the Federal Capital Territory among others. These are matters that within the legal profession we knew were already decided in a way that the justices came down yesterday. To a large extent, the judgment of the presidential election petition court was not surprising to us who have been watching the proceedings.
Does it mean you agree with all the declarations of the justices?
My concern is the decision of the justices concerning the conduct of the Independent National Electrical Commission. I thought that the judges had an opportunity to help INEC strengthen our democracy. If a body which is given power by law says that it wants to conduct elections electronically and failed to do so and didn’t advance any cogent reason before the court on why it did not do so, I didn’t think it was proper for the justices to endorse or ratify that conduct. By saying that INEC is not bound to transmit elections electronically we have gone back to the days of manipulation.
We have gone to the days of electoral lawlessness. I thought that the justices would have used that opportunity to at least chastise INEC.
All the reforms we have campaigned for and gained through the electoral act that was amended before Buhari left have been rubbished by this judgment. Everything we gained in the 2022 electoral act has been reversed. I’m not saying the justices were not right in dismissing the petitions, but to have remained silent about the conduct of INEC and to have endorsed the obvious lapses that INEC committed despite the huge fund, was a disservice to the electoral system. I am hoping that the Supreme Court will take time to correct that. Other than that, I cannot fault the Lordships’ decisions on the petitions.
But the petitioners failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the elections were marred by irregularities, are you saying the justices should have gone ahead to rule on what was not proved?
I generally think that the lawyers for the Labour Party and PDP will go back to the drawing board. But there’s no effort or amount of industry that the lawyers could have put in to overturn that election because the burden on them was too high to prove.
For you to claim that an election was not properly held you have to trace the exercise to every ward and polling unit and INEC was not cooperating. You will recall the dramas that played out in getting the certified true copies of the results. It is a difficult thing in our law in Nigeria for you to overturn an election, especially a presidential election.
We senior lawyers knew from day one that these petitions would end the way they did. The judgment was not surprising to us at all. It is true that maybe the lawyers of the petitioners could have done better, especially with the kind of witnesses they produced. When you have a case where 10 witnesses were being disqualified, then maybe they could have done better in those areas.
Don’t you think anyone challenging an election outcome shouldn’t rely solely on INEC who is also a defendant for their evidence?
No, I think that it’s a difficult thing for a petitioner to rely on any evidence other than the one given by the body that conducted the election.
But they are also a defendant in the petition, aren’t they?
See, if you bring your evidence of results collated by agents you will have to prove that the results are correct because INEC is the one recognized by law to conduct elections. When you bring foreign materials or foreign evidence, that is different from the one supplied by INEC, the courts may still throw them out. I think it’s a reason for us who are advocating that the burden should be on INEC to show that they conducted the election properly and not petitioners to show that the election was not properly conducted. So long as the burden is on the petitioners, INEC will always run away with this technical victory.
What I am trying to say is that it is INEC that has the materials used for the conduct of an election. They have the documents, they have everything. So, it is for INEC to come and show that they have conducted the election properly and not for the petitioners to come and show that the election was not properly conducted because they will be handicapped without materials and pieces of evidence.
So, looking at the judgments now, do you think the petitioners stand a chance at the apex court based on some of the witnesses and pieces of evidence that had been knocked out at the tribunal?
Well, I think that from what the justices read out yesterday, the facts of the case were irrelevant to the fate of the two petitions.
This means they should have isolated the points of law and submitted them to the justices for determination, which means that those petitions would have been determined even before the winner was sworn in.
As it were, the evidence of Labor Party and PDP were irrelevant to the decisions of the justices. Those pieces of evidence were either thrown out or they were not found credible. It’s a lesson that maybe in future petitions like this; you could just isolate the legal points. If somebody wins in another state and doesn’t win in FCT, can he be declared President? If somebody has a criminal record as it were, can he be declared President? If somebody has a passport of two nations, can he be declared President? If somebody was nominated and nominated by another party, those legal issues could have determined the petition. All of us would have been at home without the tension generated, and all the blackmail on the judiciary which were unnecessary would not have emerged. Because of this, we don’t expect that the Supreme Court will do any different thing because the decisions relied on by the justices were the decisions of the Supreme Court particularly the one for the Vice President which was determined in May. Based on the position of the law as it were, it’s going to be an uphill task to upturn that judgment.
What would be your advice to the petitioners and counsels?
My advice is not just to the petitioners but to the lawyers, and to all lovers of democracy to focus on INEC. The proper institution to help us midwife and drive democracy properly is the electoral body.
INEC should be unbundled. There are too many things being done by the body together. Also, we must make INEC independent. There is no reason a president who is interested in an election should be the one to appoint the chairman of the body. We should remove INEC from the presidency, by that; we would free INEC from politicians. In that way, they would work without fear or intimidation from any quarter.
Why I Am Surrounded By Bodyguards – Rivers Varsity SUG President
President of the Students’ Union Government at Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, Anele Miracle, who was seen in a viral photo with bodyguards, tells DENNIS NAKU, why he chose to arm himself with security details and over 12 other aides, among other issues
When were you elected as SUG President at Rivers State University?
My name is Anele Miracle, the President of the Students’ Union Government at Rivers State University. I am a 300-level student in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences. I was elected on October 14, 2022, and inaugurated on January 30, 2023.
How would you describe the electioneering and outcome of the election that brought you into office as SUG leader?
So, my election was such that the students’ community got so much involved in it. Over time, the students’ community felt that the process of electing their leaders was not solely in their hands. So, for them to change the narrative, the election took a different turn, by getting a lot of them involved. The students were the ones who picked me, who took over the elections, and the campaign process. On the day of the election, they came out en masse as against the normal routine of the electioneering period. In fact, my election had a significant number of votes as against the past elections held in the institution. I won with a margin of over 1,000 votes. I had over 2,700 votes, while my opponent had 1,500 votes. The other one had 500 votes and all that. So, in the past SUG elections, the position of President was such a competitive one, that the margin one could only win with could just be 100 to 300 votes.
How did your opponents react to your emergence?
It was very evident to everybody and apparently, they knew that the students wanted me. So, without any sentiment, they had to embrace the outcome. Some of them came to me seeking to work together, and we are working together, while some of them – you know nobody likes failure – decided to go back to their shells and continue their normal lives.
Have you reached out to the disgruntled ones?
Yes, I believe that my position is just an interim one. It is just for one year, and there is life after school. So, not winning today doesn’t make them a failure. Of course, I have reached out to them and opined that they should work with me to achieve their aspirations. For them to have contested, they must have visions for the students which can be realised through my administration. So, yes, I gave them that inclusiveness.
You were seen in a viral photo recently, surrounded by armed bodyguards. Can you explain what it was all about?
They are not armed bodyguards. They are normal students. You know the position of the office of the President is accompanied by a lot of respect and dignity. So for me, I decided to add more value to the office just to make sure that the beauty of the office comes out. And they (bodyguards) are normal students, members of the Man O’ War. So, the only thing we do is just to make sure that we kit them up to look more respectable and more valued. They are just for occasions, you know. You saw me working around, and I don’t think you saw me walking with anybody or people gathered around me.
How did you hire them to work with you?
No, they are normal students and Man O’ War officials assigned to work with me.
Who assigned them to work with you?
The management. The moment you’re elected as the SUG President, you have the privilege to work with Man O’ War officers because the office is such a sensitive one. So to avoid harassment, embarrassment and all that. For me, I just added value to it by making sure I kit them up,and it looks like they’re were hired from outside. No, they were not. They are students and members of the community.
How did you kit them up?
It’s just by getting their security outfits. If you saw the pictures on the Internet, you would have seen them wearing kits for bouncers. One of them wore a suit. They are not armed at all, the management will not allow that. I’m still a student aside from the position, so why would I go about with armed security? Although, there was an occasion I was harassed sometime ago. Aside from that, I have not received any issue of harassment from any student or anybody. So, why would I arm the security (aides) working with me?
On what occasion were you harassed and where?
Oh, that was the day of the town hall meeting with a former governor, Nyesom Wike, at the Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt. Some cultists came up with the notion that some dollars were given to the SUG president, so they stampeded me with some other SUG presidents. Even some of our guys were stabbed and all that. So, my security aides helped me to escape the scenario and rescued some of our colleagues. So, that was the benefit of having them around me.
The kind of security aides you have suggests that your life is not safe. Are there issues of insecurity or cultism at RSU that raise concerns and bother you?
To be very frank with you, the issue of cultism and insecurity in the Rivers State Union has been addressed a long time ago before I emerged as the president. This university, some years, say five years ago or so, was noted to be a school where cult activities were recorded. But in recent times, the vice-chancellor, chief security officer and other management staff with the support of the Students’ Union Government have been able to tackle that issue. So, we cannot say that we have any issue of insecurity. The little ones that could be found daily are minor issues that are addressed by the chief security officer and with my support and my team. So I must say that there has been peace in the school.
How many security aides do you have?
They are just two as you may have seen in the picture. My chief security officer and my aide-de-camp.
How much do you pay them as aides, considering the risk involved?
No, I don’t pay them. We are all working for the students’ community. Nobody pays me; it’s community service, if you ask me. It’s a privilege for me to serve, and maybe a little allowance can come to the office of the president. They are recognised by the management of the university, but they work with me, and from time to time, they could be given incentives. But the management doesn’t pay me or anybody. It is something we pledged to do as a service to the community. So, why would they pay us for it?
Aside from the CSO and ADC, how many other aides do you have?
The SUG constitution allows me to make five appointments. The CSO, the chief press secretary, the personal assistant, the attorney general and the chief of staff. However, the president is at liberty to make other appointments. So, what I have is my social capital project committee, which comprises one person per faculty. We have 12 faculties, so I have 12 representatives that could serve as liaison officers between the SUG and faculties.
I also have my committee members for programmes; whenever I’m organising programmes, there is a directorate for programmes. Then I have the directorate for projects because there are things I want to achieve and these people help me to do the planning and execution of the projects. Aside from that, I don’t have any other. I have a head of media and communication who works under the CPS and is very important.
With your retinue, are you not concerned that other students may see your lifestyle as extravagant and a waste of levies paid by RSU students to fund the SUG?
First off, everything we do is based on transparency and accountability. The university is very much concerned about the management of the funds given to us. So, for you to be given any money, you must account for it and there should be something very convincing that you did with the money. So, we don’t have direct access to the money, the management will not allow us to take money that we are not going to use for the benefit of the students. So, I’m not living an extravagant life.
I try my best to communicate my intentions in a very light and subtle way to the management and the community. And my video or picture seen on the Internet was not funded by anybody. It is something we chose to do for ourselves. The only thing we tried to magnify was to make it look as though we hire them (security aides) or we pay them. Everybody has their style of leadership. So for me, I try to make it more presentable and more valuable.
How would you describe the relationship between the SUG and the management of the university?
Well, the Students’ Union Government cannot work independently. We are a middle body between the management and the students’ community. So for you to succeed as a body, you must make sure you have a very cordial relationship with the management and also ensure your relationship with the management doesn’t affect your constituents.
It was reported recently that some government universities increased their tuition. What is the situation at RSU?
The vice-chancellor and the management are very compassionate about the welfare of the students. So, it has not considered that (increasing the school fees) and I pray it doesn’t even think of introducing any increment because it knows that it is not favourable to us as students. So, the management has not informed me of any intention to increase the fees, and I believe it won’t have such an intention.
If that happens, how would you handle it?