Very few men can be compared to Chief Moses Aboaba, the founder of the Chief Moses Aboaba Trust Fund. A 79 year-old former Head of Service in Osun State, who was also at a point, Permanent Secretary in the same state, is indeed a man with rare passion for human emancipation. He spoke about his successes in the civil service, his dream for a better Nigeria and his foundation in this interview with Lukmon Akintola.
The Nigeria that you use to know is not what we have today, what is your impression?
A lot of people have lost hope in Nigeria, but I have not. I had the best of the old era. I am not a politician even though I read political science. I graduated from the University of Lagos in 1971, but before I went to the university I was a civil servant in the old western region and western state. I wanted to make a career in the civil service right from when I was a clerical officer. I never knew that providence and God would make me have a successful career as a civil servant.
You could have impacted your people more as a politician, why did you avoid that career pathway?
If you go abroad, you will find out that political scientists and lawyers are the one who feature more in politics. But honestly, I very much enjoyed the service before the military. As at that time, the legislature of the old western seat had members who were on part time basis. Only the ministers were earning full fledge and how much were they earning? Permanent Secretaries were earning N2,700, and they had the power to influence policies. If you compare the three regions that were there, then particular under Chief Simi Adebo, there was symmetry between him as head of service and Chief Obafemi Awolowo as head of government. No wonder they achieved the much they did. The Western Nigeria civil service with due regard to the other regions was the best, best paid, and best working. In terms of impact on the society, they were serving, no other region equaled them. I believe to be a politician is for you to be ready to serve the people not for you to go and serve yourself. But the situation we have now, people think that politics is the best way to become rich overnight. They think politics is all about earning what you have not worked for and denying the society what they deserve, I can’t be part of that.
You are often described as a product of grace, why is this so?
I know the kind of difficulty my parent went through for me to get educated, particularly my mother. Before I could get my secondary education, it was not easy. Then no matter how brilliant you are, if you don’t pay school fees, they will send you home. In my case, God was always sending help through one person or the other. Another thing that also helped me was that God put some brilliance in me such that nobody would come around me and want me to leave. At a critical time when they were giving S75 not school certification, I wanted to take that and go away, but our then principal told me to wait because he knew I could do better. He even told me to come and pay after my result was out. There was also an association in my community then, they call them Igbajo Development Group (IDG), they gave a bursary of E20 that time. My principal said I should share the money. He said ‘give your mother E10 for her petty trade, so that she can feed you and use E10 to buy relevant books to prepare for your final exam. As it turned out, when the result came, only eight of us passed, and I was the only person from Igbajo.
How then did you manage your university education?
It was the same story, but then I was married with two children. I don’t know how I was going to do it, but God did it and I was able to go. I sold a Vesper Scooter that I was using to go to work and it was proceed from it about a hundred pounds that I used to pay for my first year in the university. After my first year, I became an indigent student. As God would have it, one company called Richware came to my school to advertise for part time workers. I was one of the 100 they interviewed. They eventually took 10 of us, but after a week, it was so rigorous that I was the only one that remained because I had no alternative.
What do you mean by having no alternative?
As at that time, I already had a wife and two children staying with my mother at Osogbo. I had to take care of them and I had to pay my school fee. That was the job I did till a week to my final degree exam in 1971.
You had a lot of opportunities, why did you return to the civil service?
When I left the service, I left with the notice that I was coming back. Upon my graduation, I later bought a new car. You know what it means to buy a new car in 1971, there was the temptation to stay, but I resisted because I had written the competitive exam to return to the civil service. There were people who left the civil service with me. They are people like Olu Adeyemo, the Oba of Aramoko, who was my class mate. There was also Olubayo Balogun who later turned Tafa Balogun. They call me brother. I told them lets go back and we went back to the civil service. They took the three of us because we were very brilliant and from the University of Lagos.
You also rose to the post of Permanent Secretary, tell us about that.
Asides rising to become a permanent secretary, I was also the first head of service of the government of Osun State when the state was created in 1991. However, I retired in January 1992.
There is so much politics in the civil service, how did you get to the top?
It was God. Without a Godfather, I excelled in everywhere I worked. Everywhere I worked, I was loved by my boss, and I would work there until someone would notice me and I would move to another office. That was how I worked until I was discovered and taken to the office of the then Governor, late Bola Ige. It was Bola Ige that appointed me as Permanent Secretary in 1983.
Permanent Secretary in what ministry?
I was Permanent Secretary Cabinet. Hitherto that time, I was the Secretary Cabinet; I was head of the state tender board and servicing the secretariat of the cabinet. You know that is where all the critical things including the secret of the government are planned. I think I was number 15 on the seniority list. The service was so stressful because a lot of my seniors who thought that I was going to supersede them were not happy. There were people appointed into the civil service before me. I was promoted ahead of them. So, if you look at it all, you will realise that it has just been God’s grace. Honestly, if God has helped me in such a way, what is the worth of life if I cannot in my own little way impart life in whatever I do?
Your road to where you are today must have informed your foundation, is this right?
Before we started the foundation, we had been touching lives. About 20 years ago before my late wife died, we established a foundation for widows. They didn’t need to beg from anyone, they didn’t have to fornicate around before they can sustain themselves. So far, we have spent close to about N10 million in trying to assist them. Annually, on July 6th, the anniversary of the death of my late wife, we give out to widows.
Tell us about some of the achievements of the foundation?
We give interest free loans to widows in my community. Many of them have had good stories to tell, many of them have been able to get money to send their children to school.
How did the Chief Moses Aboaba Trust Foundation start?
My children came to me and insisted that since I was getting old, it was important to have a foundation that will embrace all. That of my wife will not stop working, but this will encompass all. That was how the Chief Moses Aboaba Trust Foundation started with the objective of helping the poor.
How does your foundation define the poor?
When I say poor, there is focus on education. Those I know are brilliant but cannot afford education, once we identify them, we will assist them. We also help people who we know that if they are treated they will be well. Having been a product of the civil service, I thought that the service we have now is not like what we had before. We should do the little we can to reverse the situation. They have alleged a lot of things against the civil service not knowing that it is not their doing, but the government that was in place, particularly after the Gowon era. The Gowon era was still tolerant, but the military came and they were immensely envious of the civil servants that headed the service and in the bid to destroy those people they that was what informed the reform of Obasanjo in 1976, which led to the exit of very brilliant minds, people we normally honour. I just believe that God has spared my life to be able to contribute my own quota. If I contribute my own and you contribute your own things will eventually change. It is not good to be mourning over the pains of the country without you having something to contribute. To be able to make some corrections through the instrumentality of this foundation, we decided that we would be organising an annual lecture on good governance, but it will be in Osun State. In fact, it is supposed to be for the whole country. We had one last year and the second one is this year. It is normally supposed to hold on my birthday February 4th, but we had to shift that of this year due to the preparations for the elections. The last lecture was delivered by a professor of political science from the University of Ibadan. The essence of the lecture is to impart my constituency which is the civil service and the ruling elites. So we decided to pick one of the new permanent secretaries who was also a colleague of mine in the civil service, a colleague of mine in secondary school and later Managing Director of Trans International Bank.
How do you fund this foundation, do you get grants from any government?
We don’t get support from government. Like I told you, no matter how little, be seen to be doing something. With our foundation, we expect people who believe in the course to be able to donate to the foundation. The money people donated at the launch of my biography ‘Power Of His Grace’ instead of taking it as my own, I diverted it to the foundation. We regularly invest in treasury bills, we do it six monthly. Whatever it generates, we use it and keep our expenses within our means. Last year, we gave scholarship to a student of the University of Lagos who wouldn’t have graduated without the scholarship. We also gave to another student of the Osun State University. We will also give this year.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for the impact of my life on the common man through the assistance of God. This is because I have been a product of God’s grace and people have helped me at every stage of my life. Even when there was nobody to help me, God was always there for me. And I just believe that God has spared my life to be able to impart not just my generation but the generation coming behind me. This is because some of my mates are already gone; it is just God that is keeping me. When you look at every stage of my life, to even go to secondary school, it was God that made it possible not to talk about going to university. Even in civil service, I was the first person from Igbajo to be a clerical officer. Igbajo people used to be educationists, most of them principals. I was the only senior civil servant from Igbajo at that time, and I was the only one to rise to the position that I was. Nobody knew me, but it was only God that knew me. On reflection, I think God has a plan for every one of us and it is not until we have stolen Nigeria’s money or are as rich as Bill Gate that we can make an impact. Honestly, what I am doing now is to live my life for the people and for God. The legacy I want to leave is to be remembered for the positive impact I made. Is it in the civil service which is my constituency, I am doing my bit via the annual good governance lecture, to help the poor, to help the widows. The foundation I setup for my wife has been helping widows for over 15 years. I want to be remembered for what God has used me to contribute to the society.