Interview: Senatorial ambition, mere permutation of the people – Babatunde Irukera

The Director General of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Barr Babatunde Adekunle Irukera has said he is yet to decide if to run for the office of a Senator of the Federal Republic in 2019. 

Irukera who was a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) before withdrawing shortly to part’s primaries in 2015, said the news of his Senatorial ambition were permutations of his supporters.

The Egbe born legal luminary and a high profile Kogi State politician expressed happiness about the confidence that the people of Kogi West Senatorial District have reposed in him, and added that he wanted to be appraised in future on the basis of his current position as CPC DG.

In this exclusive interview with E-Reporter News’ Chief Editor, Williams Charles Oluwatoyin, Barrister Babatunde Irukera, bared his mind on his political future and a wide range of other issues from family to his personal life and professional career.

E-REPORTER NEWS: Who is Barr BabatundeIrukera?

Irukera: Barr Babatunde Irukera hails from Egbe, Yagba West LGA of Kogi State. I was born on the 4th of September 1968 in Kaduna. I had some time growing up in Zaria, but most of my childhood was in Ilorin. Growing up for me generally full of fun and discipline because of the prudent nature of my parents.

I grew up in a close knit and conservative family, in a conservative city of Ilorin.  My father worked in a university before he retired and became a monarch, my mother was a primary school teacher.  So I was raised up in the then typical middle class family. Born into a family of four, I have two older and younger siblings.  We all grew up together in the same home and we were very close.  I got involved in farming at a young age.

My father had a large farm, which he was not just actively involved in, but was selling the produce and processing some of them for further trade and preservation.  I took a major role in harvesting and selling the fresh maize from our farm. I also help the family in processing garri from the cassava we grew at the mill that my mother ultimately established, and which created employment for many, especially women who worked at the mill. I believe I had a strong and diverse background, and that has given me advantage in all my endeavours.

E-REPORTER NEWS: Could you tell us brief about your education and your early career?

Irukera: I attended the Federal Government College, Ilorin from 1980 to 1985. I enrolled into the prestigious ObafemiAwolowo University, Ife to study Law, and upon graduation in 1989, I proceeded to the Nigeria Law School in Lagos in 1990 from where I was called to the Bar in 1991.

I had a stint with a new generation merchant bank as an in-house counsel as a Corps Member in 1992, and in 1993 I became General Counsel of a publicly quoted property and trust company –  Associated Properties and Trust.

Thereafter, my family and relocated to the United States of America In 1995, where I was able to carve a niche for myself as a successful Immigration expert in 1996 after passing the Washington State Bar examination. In 1997, I started a partnership called Thomas &Irukera which ultimately become Partners, Attorneys & Counsellors, both in Chicago.

I returned to Nigeria in 2006 and became the founding and Managing Partner at Simmons Cooper Partners, now a leading law firm in Nigeria in April 1997. I have been the Vice Chair of the Africa Committee of the International Section of the American Bar Association and currently chairs, the Competition & Consumer Protection Committee of the Section of Business Law of the Nigerian Bar Association.

I am married to Mrs. Foluke Irukera from Ijumu area of Kogi state, we are blessed with three lovely children, all three in school. My wife and I devote a significant amount of our time to supporting them through the growing up process just as we both had strong and secure parental support growing up.

E-REPORTER NEWS: As DG of the CPC, What are your duties and responsibilities?

 Irukera: As Director General, I am responsible for managing an agency of approximately 270 employees and 8 offices across the country.  They were 7 when I was appointed; I have established an additional one in Kano and I look forward to establishing more.  Specifically, I am keen on creating a CPC office and training location in Kogi State.  In addition, perhaps, even superior to managing the organization, I am responsible for the vision and strategy to fulfil its statutory mandate which is the protection of consumers from abusive, unscrupulous and exploitative behaviours, and when such happens to pursue remedial action on behalf of consumers.  This is a broad mandate and the Council in the time I have been there has embraced this responsibility ambitiously.  I believe the Council is better known by consumers, more respected by industry, and more engaging with industry, consumers and other regulators.  It has been a challenge of some sorts to bring the Council to where we are now, yet there’s still a significant road ahead to truly institutionalize customer care and respect for consumer rights.  However, I am confident that the entire consumer protection framework in Nigeria is becoming more robust and the reforms we are pursuing will certainly be that even further.

E-REPORTER NEWS: You have been active in the political scene for a while now. Why are you interested in politics?

Irukera: I have always been interested in politics from study and analysis standpoints, and certainly from a holding government accountable standpoint.  For years, I have been involved in constructively critiquing governments whether while I lived in the U.S., or since being back in Nigeria.  However, my first engagement with the political process was many years ago in 2010 when I returned to Kogi to provide support for a respected professional senior colleague, teacher and benefactor who contested in the primaries of the state gubernatorial elections.

My next engagement at home, and outside Lagos was to coordinate key portions of the 2015 presidential elections in Kogi.  I was involved in the campaign nationwide at the top of the process and I physically participated in campaigns in 33 states, including visiting some states multiple times, especially Kogi.  At the state level, I led a team of hardworking and vibrant Kogites in organizing our state, reconciling factions within the party and building consensus towards an APC victory.  Our incredible hardworking was fruitful as quite unexpectedly, APC won Kogi State with a sitting governor PDP over. Even with a history of strong ties with the then PDP presidency, as well as a long and historic record of not voting progressives, neither PDP nor our party, APC expected the electoral outcome in Kogi.  Since then, and with the consensus we succeeded in building, I have remained active in Kogi State politics, including contesting, before withdrawing in the gubernatorial primaries in 2015.  Of course since then, I have continued close and full engagement at all levels to ensure that we get the best possible leadership and governance always. Why am I interested in politics?  The reason is simple.  Politics and governance are inextricably linked, and my greatest professional passion is good governance and leadership.  As such, my interest in politics is natural and obvious.

E-REPORTER NEWS: There are insinuations that you are interested in running for a particular political office comes 2019, how correct? If true, which office?

Irukera: Indeed, I have heard insinuations that I may run to represent the good people of Kogi West as Senator in 2019.  These insinuations are not really insinuations of my “interest” in running.  On the contrary, I characterize them at best, as permutations.  The reason is understandable.  The rotational arrangement focuses on Yagba, and somehow I am considered a potentially strong candidate and representative.

Frankly, I am as gratified as I am humbled by the pressure and consideration.  It’s an incredible honour, especially in the absence of a declared interest or ambition, for people to consider you worthy as their representative, and beyond that, openly agitate for it. I have never had that experience until now, and I find it overwhelmingly humbling.  Much as Okun land and Kogi have been my passion, I did not realize there was something that could even further endear the land and our people to my heart.  My attitude to political office is “TIME WILL TELL”. I have a job at hand, and an important one for that matter-protecting 180 million consumers.

I believe how well I do on this should be the credential for me to be considered for further service.  I believe my record of public interest cases and consumer protection distinguished and identified me for my current role, as such, I expect what I make of it to be crucial to what I do from, or after it. But, frankly, I welcome the permutations and speculations in the context of it being complimentary and as a vote of confidence on me that my own people, especially those senior and more experienced than me, feel that I have the ability to serve and provide leadership.

E-REPORTER NEWS: In Nigeria today, politics is seen as the fastest way to garner wealth, why would you seek for political office?

Irukera: I strongly disagree that politics is a way to gather wealth.  In all my knowledge of political activity, and my experience as a commercial lawyer, and now as a political appointee, I am absolutely convinced that the only way to become richer than I am in political office is to be corrupt.  There’s absolutely no other way.  I agree that public service brings visibility, and life after successful public service is likely to lead to significantly more wealth, but to say that wealth built from the job itself seems to be inconsistent with the whole concept of it.  I agree though, that depending on what one was doing prior to public office, it is possible to make more money on a job in political or public office.

However, for me, thankfully, God has helped me succeed as a lawyer beyond mine, and many expectations, so political or public office is not a route to more wealth.  In particular, the combination of factors at this current time actually present an incredible opportunity to gain more wealth remaining in private practice as a business lawyer, but I have reflected, and agree that the opportunity to make a difference in lives and governance in political/public offices are so important, and not always available.  And this is a guiding principle for me.

E-REPORTER NEWS: What would you bring to bear, if eventually you are elected into a political office?

Irukera: I suppose what I will bring to any office I find myself is a record of integrity first and foremost.  Next is a deep understanding of people and the real issues and needs, then my record of passion and determination to make people’s lives better.  My entire legal and public service career of almost 30 years has been about fighting for, or protecting the rights of people; from assisting immigrants in the U.S to remain, and assisting refugees and asylum seekers to escape from their fears and find a home and peace in the United States, to landmark cases representing minorities against large companies who discriminate against them, to suing large pharmaceutical companies for exploiting Nigerians, to large products manufacturers whose products harm consumers, to service providers whose conduct is exploitative, and now as Director General, CPC, all I have ever done is to fight for and represent people, especially the vulnerable.

E-REPORTER NEWS: So far so good, what are your achievements in office within this short period of your appointment?

Irukera: As noted earlier, CPC is better positioned today than when I started less than a year ago.  We receive far more, and resolve much more individual complaints now than before.  We have succeeded in opening another office, stabilizing industry, such as the recent runway excursion by a Dana flight in Kano, sensitizing people more about their right, building confidence in consumers that they have a right to quality and engaging goods producers and service providers to provide better quality. And we now have a complaint resolution mechanism that is transparent, sensitive and easily accessible to consumers.  A particular accomplishment that we hope will become public soon is the development of broad healthcare industry to support statement of rights of patients.  This is so vital, and we are happy we are bringing this to the public very soon.  Internally, the agency is better structured, better resourced, better trained, more motivated and skilled for the important work ahead.  This is very crucial because, without that zeal, the Council cannot accomplish much for consumers.

E-REPORTER NEWS: What are your guiding principles?

Irukera: Integrity, and leaving a legacy.  People are the greatest assets ever.  Serving them right and leading purposefully in a manner that makes a difference and leaves a legacy is the true definition of success for me.  For those I serve, I want them to remember the time of my service as a time they were prioritized and respected, and for those I lead, I desire that they remember the impact of our time together and attribute their progressive development to that impact.  Ultimately, what truly matters and counts is not the difference on how much we make, but how much difference we make.

E-REPORTER NEWS: Convince me on why I should vote for you if eventually you pick a ticket to run? Why are you the best for the job?

Irukera: If I run for election, my claim to fame would be the record of my life and history of what I have done, and whether it provides sufficient evidence and comfort that I am a safe bet to deliver on promises I make, whether I possess sufficient knowledge of what it will take to serve people successfully in the position and finally, whether what the office requires is materially different from the personal and professional life I have led.

I always say, the real test of suitability is in the existing record, not the promises of future conduct.  If the requirements for the job do not match the record of a candidate, or aspirant’s life, there is no reasonable expectation that they will fulfil that requirement.  We should go into office to continue what we have perfected, or perfect what we are known for.  There is no sensible expectation that office should change a person, it should be the life and character of a person changing the office.  Regardless of whoever runs for office, this principle must be sacrosanct. Being proactive has always been the better strategy for success.  We must choose our leaders, and not allowing them to choose us. We should decide what we want and engage those who have those qualities, and choose what we want.  If we follow someone’s ambition, our lives or fate only intersect at the electoral point, we continue our travels in different directions, but choose, raise and follow those we decide, then, our lives and faith would converge at a point without intersection.  At that point of convergence, we continue our journeys together in the same direction to the same destination.

E-REPORTER NEWS: What is your greatest fear?

Irukera: Not accomplishing my full calling and potential.

E-REPORTER NEWS: What motivates you?

Irukera: Making an impact, changing lives, creating level playing field between the powerful and the powerless.

E-REPORTER NEWS: How would you describe yourself?

Irukera: Opinionated, strategic, almost activist, result oriented but reasonable.

E-REPORTER NEWS: What are your favourite quotes

 Irukera: Sorry, I don’t mean to be arrogant, but my favourite quotes, are actually my own original quotes. Not that I don’t read or learn a lot from others, just that the limited number you ask for are actually mine.  The first ones, I have given earlier are:

  1. ” Ultimately, what matters or count most, is not the difference in how much we make, but how much difference we make.”
  2. “The greatest demonstration of maturity is restraint, and a key evidence of restraint is disagreeing without being disagreeable.”
  3. “How you address, or what you say about people speaks far more about your own character, than it does about theirs.”
  4. “No one or people can ever go to, or get to a destination their leader isn’t taking them.”

E-REPORTER NEWS: What are your hobbies?

Irukera.  I am addicted to news; I have been an ardent sportsman playing competitive basketball and badminton.

E-REPORTER NEWS: Any message for your followers?

Irukera: I don’t have followers. I have co-travellers. We are in it together, our destinies are tied, what we all bring makes us colleagues and mutually important, our mutual decency is indubitable. All I have to say is, life is a marathon, indeed we may be in difficult times, but staying focussed and keeping our eyes on the ball has never been more vital; it’s the only way to make the sacrifice well worth it.

 

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