Dr John Ekundayo is an engineer turned civil servant and Monitoring & Evaluation practitioner with the Lagos State Civil Service, where he is director, Monitoring & Evaluation Department. Ekundayo, also a senior pastor of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), speaks on turning 60, his experience as an ‘accidental civil servant’ and why he thinks followership is a major hamper in the nation’s quest towards stability and progress. He spoke with Gboyega Alaka.
It’s a diamond celebration for you. How does it feel to be 60?
It feels good. And when one looks back at the vicissitude of life, one can only give thanks to God, especially knowing my background. I feel good and gladdened to have clocked 60 years on the face of the earth.
You are a director with the Monitoring & Evaluation department under the Lagos State Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget, how would assess your years in the service so far?
It was Governor Nasir El-rufai who wrote a book and titled it ‘Accidental Public Servant. I would also like to write such book and title it, ‘Accidental Civil Servant,’ because I came into the civil service in 2012 by ‘accident’ after completing my PhD in Management in Malaysia. I was given a scholarship by the former Lagos State governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN; and the scholarship came with a one-year bond to serve in the state’s civil service. So I came to serve one year, and as God would have it, I was retained.
Literally, you never planned to work in the civil service
Yes. My thinking was that after my bond service, the governor would offer me a political appointment, which I so much desired, having spent seven years in South East Asia – four years in Singapore, three years in Malaysia. I studied Organisational Leadership, while my PhD was in Management; so, I wasn’t thinking of working in a regimental and hierarchical structure like the civil service. However, I must say coming to work in the civil service has been a route that God has used to train me on how government works.
So what do you now think of the old perception that the civil service is a moribund place to work?
That is the perception of people outside, but let me make it clear that the Lagos State Civil Service, which I’ll be exiting soon, is a prestigious establishment to serve in because the same way things work in Shell and Chevron is the way things work here. A lot has changed from the days of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola. So, it’s either you chip in or you’re chipped out.
You are an Ekiti boy, born and bred; what qualified you for scholarship in Lagos State?
I was doing a research study for my PhD in Malaysia; I started in 2009 and completed in 2012. So, I was always reading, especially news about Nigeria online (I did my Masters in Singapore) and I discovered that the then Governor Babatunde Fashola was making a lot of waves, even as a governor in the opposition. So I got curious. I tried to contact a few people that could connect me with him, but it didn’t work. One day it occurred to me to search Google for his email details, and that was how it all started.
You wrote him for scholarship?
No, I had already started my PhD then but I had not gotten my topic. My supervisor didn’t quite like the topic I chose, so he asked me to read wide and come up with another. Finally, I said to him, ‘I want to major in Followership.’ I said I wanted to study a governor in Nigeria who is in the opposition but creating a lot of waves. He said, ‘John, would you be able to get access to him?’ I said I would. That was how I wrote BRF the email and he replied; first, through automatic response. But in less than one week, I got an email from the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Admin. He said the governor wanted to know what I actually needed. I found out that when I sent an email to this lady in the morning, by evening or almost immediately, I was getting a response. That was how we went until I met and interviewed the governor in his office on the 1st of November 2010. I can never forget that date. I saw leadership at a glance. I saw that we could actually have access to our leaders. And that’s why I dedicated the book that I co-wrote (Monitoring Evaluation and learning Processes in the Public Sector with Spotlight on Lagos) to him.
You haven’t answered the question about the scholarship
After the interview, I said, ‘Sir, I want to make a request.’ He said, ‘Say it.’ So I thought, ‘should I ask this man for money? No. Should I ask him for scholarship? No. A voice said, ‘Ask him for opportunity to serve,’ which I did. In fact he thought I wanted to start immediately, because he said, ‘Take him to Mr so so. But I told him I wanted to complete my studies in Malaysia first. That was what led to his offering me a scholarship of N4million to complete my studies. It was a lot of money at that time. I came into the service in 2012.
You could have opted out after the one year; what kept you in?
I actually wanted to quit and to go into the universities – I love research studies and writing about leadership. I love interviewing leaders. But as I was about to finish the one year bond; I had even written my ‘thank you’ letter; some people, whom I’d served under – not two, not three, and whom I respected so much called me and said, ‘Where are you going?’ I even told them that I preferred a political appointment, but they said ‘Why not remain in the service?’ I thought that if I turned down their offer, I would be making out that I knew too much. That was how I became a civil servant, which I have come to see as a training ground. In fact, that was what my wife told me after sometime.
You co-wrote the book, ‘Monitoring Evaluation and learning Processes in the Public Sector with Spotlight on Lagos; tell us about it?
Yes, along with Afusat Omorinde Lawal, Joel Olabode Subuloye and Olumide Olugbenga Oladipupo. The book chronicles what we do in Lagos State. It epitomises my experience since 2012 when I first came into the Monitoring & Evaluation Department – we call it MED, to when I came back to head the department from July 31st 2014 till date, even criss-crossing Nigeria and beyond. The essence of MED is that it is more about how money put in the budget is expended. Do we have value for money spent? Let’s assume the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is completed this year. If I used to travel the road to the Redeemed camp in one and half hours and I can now go it in 30 minutes, then it means travel time has reduced. That is the value of Monitoring and Evaluation. But if after its completion, I am still spending three hours, there is no value for the money spent. It means the outcome in Monitoring and Evaluation is zero and there is no positive impact. That is what Monitoring Evaluation and Learning is about. Usually, impact is the last stage or Level-5. That is when, for instance, you start seeing industrial/residential estates, commercial activities, springing up as a result of the completed road.
In advanced countries, it is now called MEL (Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning) with the Learning focusing on feedback. Learning from a previous project will feed into our policy going forward, and then into our budgeting.
How would you assess governance from Governor Fashola’s perspective?
He has had a great impact on me. I’m a Christian and a pastor, whereas he is a Muslim; I was just an ordinary Nigerian and he didn’t know me from anywhere, but he didn’t consider these. He said something on the day of public presentation of the book. He said: ‘This is the first public presentation of a book written on my administration that I’d be attending.’ And then he said ‘John Ekundayo has shown the Nigerian dream;’ that you can believe in something, just like the Americans love to say, and make it happen. But how many leaders will avail such an access?
You said you opted to study Followership. Why followership?
I once participated in the TV debate, The Big Issue on TVC; and I said Nigeria’s problem is followership. Even though Chinua Achebe once wrote that leadership is Nigeria’s problem, I want to say that was in the past. The problem with Nigeria now is followership. We have our permanent voter’s card that we can use to influence the choice of leaders. But if a politician comes to me with five thousand naira, a bag of rice and I decide to vote for him; if such candidate wins and doesn’t remember me, I am my own Achilles heels. So followership is talking about you having to be an exemplary follower to have an exemplary leader. Most Nigerian followers are transactional followers rather than transformational followers. We are more about, ‘What can I get now?’ Somebody wrote an article titled, ‘Do followers get the kind of leaders they deserve?’ I will say, in the case of Nigeria, yes.
You schooled in places like Singapore, Malaysia; why not the conventional Nigerian destinations like UK, USA or Canada?
That’s part of the leadership conundrum we run in Nigeria. I studied civil engineering in Ife; I love that profession very much and was registered with COREN as far back as 1992. I should have a prosperous career. But it was not so. It got to a point that I was frustrated. If you didn’t have the right connection, you couldn’t get a job in any of the high profile companies. Although I worked with DTB, Sakamori, but once the contract finished, they would lay off staff. I was in such a situation, when I decided to go for further studies abroad. I also decided to change my line and do my masters in Organisational Leadership.
As an Ekiti boy who came into the civil service in Lagos and rose to the position of director, what does that tell you about the state?
Yes, I’m an Ekiti boy; I finished Grade One (Distinction) from Oyemekun Grammar school, Akure. But I see Lagos State as very gracious and a miniature Nigeria. For me as a spiritual man, I could say that is why Lagos is prospering more than any other state in Nigeria. Lagos State has been blessed with leaders, many of whom were not born and bred in Lagos. But Lagos took them in and they have contributed their cerebral endowment and competence to building the state. How I wish somebody from Ekiti can also work in same manner in Imo State or Kebbi State and vice versa.
Looking back, how would you assess what God has done for you?
I give all the glory to God. First of all, I’m a husband; I love my wife, Mary Anike Ekundayo so much. God has blessed me with four kids and another adopted, making five. I also have three grandchildren for now. God has also taken me to nations. Presently, I have two of my children staying abroad. One of them is a senior lecturer now in a higher institution in New Zealand. So I have seen the sure mercies of God. You could refer to me as a late starter, but God has made it up for me, especially in family. Two of my children have first class in their degree courses; I didn’t have; one is a PhD holder; so it gladdens my heart and I am fulfilled.