THE story of Professor Jonathan Adeyemi Aremu, the backstreet boy who rose from obscurity to limelight, is a very riveting one indeed. Born without a silver spoon, the young Aremu managed to send himself to school against all odds and would later begin a successful career at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he rose from the position of Assistant Economist in 1980 to become the Acting Assistant Director of Research before voluntarily retiring in December 1992. A man continuously setting and resetting targets for himself, he would later bag a PhD and his story has not been the same again as the world has literally become his oyster such that the little unknown Aremu is now sought after by several multilateral institutions across the globe. The Kwara State-born technocrat, academic, Christian missionary who spoke with FUNKE COLE in Abuja, shares fond memories of his youth, career trajectory, among others. Excerpts:
What’s your typical day like?
My day starts at 5:30 am in the morning. Thereafter, I listen to news. I don’t have time to watch movies, as I have several messages to attend to on my Whatsapp and other social media platforms. And it is important that I attend to these messages properly and appropriately. You can’t afford to do it wrongly.
What kinds of songs do you listen to?
I hardly listen to music especially these new generation music. It’s too late for me to listen to such songs anyway. Those songs don’t appeal to me, and I’m not sure it will appeal to anyone unless you’re playboy. (Laughs).
What’s your philosophy about life?
Life is too short, but it’s good to make impact. Take for example, the life of Sir Isaac Newton who was supposed to be a priest but ended up impacting lives through science, because of his flair for science. Though his wife suffered a lot due to the nature of Isaac’s job and his devotion to the pursuit of technological advancement, yet he made a good name for himself. I believe is a good name is very important. Therefore, my philosophy towards life is to make a positive impact anywhere I find myself.
Have you ever considered joining politics too?
Unfortunately, I cannot venture into politics. I don’t like politics especially of the kind in practice in Nigeria where our politicians commit all sorts of atrocities and impunities in the name of politics. Take for instance a situation where roads meant to be repaired are left unattended to, while the funds that are meant for it are siphoned by the politicians. These are the sorts of issues with our politics which makes it unattractive to someone like myself. Look at the case of Governor Godwin Obaseki, who was denied an application form under a political party because of controversy over his certificates? It would interest you to know that we were both in the University of Ibadan 1976-1979. He read Classics and I read Economics. We both lived at Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall throughout. We both sat for the A-Levels which couldn’t be forged as at that period. But, look at what politics did to him.
But sir, you can make a difference in politics…
No, it’s not that easy because those who had integrity and wanted to make a difference got absorbed in the mess. Nigeria economy is not doing well, but, the salary our leaders are getting, none is getting that amount elsewhere. These are the reasons why we have infrastructural decay. Some of us do not like politics and can never be a party to it because before you know it, you will be totally useless, and you will lose people’s respect. I remember an incident when a governor (name withheld) felt that I must belong to a political party when he saw my house in the village. The question I asked is, ‘must I belong to a party to be able to survive?’ The answer is no.
What’s the best decision you have taken so far?
The best decision I took was to go back to school, my father didn’t have money, so I decided to take exams on my own to return back to school. I took the decision not because I’m qualified to take it but by God’s grace. Secondly, I was put in an office that equally determined what I’m today. I was posted in a department that was not common, a foreign investment, which permitted me to see the country’s investment policy, and through which I got inspiration to write a research on this, including my PhD thesis, because CBN trained me so much until I retired on December 12, 1992.
What motivates you?
To discover things and add value to the present situation and to impact lives positively. My bible says the world is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. For me, adding value to humanity by looking at how to make the economy better, which incidentally is one of areas of my academic scholarship is all I care about. I remember my inputs in helping to develop the Pan Africa Investment Code to negotiate investment protocol. For example, in CBN, our assignment research was on investment, in 1981, I did a research that led to the abrogation of Decree 36 of 1988 which was Industrial Development coordinating committee which was abrogated and replaced with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Decree 15 of 1995 which is an Act now. When I wanted to launch my PhD thesis, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said it should be launched at the NEPC because of my contribution. I want to be remembered for making impacts to lives and not just living like Methuselah.
What makes you tick?
I can’t be describing myself that I’m unique. I’m only who I’m. I really don’t know; it’s only outsiders that can answer that. I remember when I finished primary school; I left for Lagos to sell owu (thread) around Carter Bridge. I was selling for a woman at Awe. I later left for teachers’ training and I was among the Kemebiris who didn’t wear clothes at the time. Kemberi is a tribe in Kebbi State now under Borgu Local Government Area. I was a Grade II Certificate teacher in Papiri Primary School 1973-74; after I graduated from Igbaja Teachers Training College in 1972. Note that part of Kebbi State was in my State (Kwara State) at that time. So, it’s God that makes me unique because I know where I’m coming from. I’m a typical example of God’s grace but I prefer my relationship with God. I’m very close to God, and that’s where I derive my fun and relaxation. I believe if you count your blessings one by one, it will surprise you what the Lord has done. I remember how I came to be close to this man of God, Bishop Oyedepo of Winner’s Chapel. The church wanted to assist Rwanda refugees and my wife and I decided to produce bags which we gave to the church. Then the Bishop asked for the person who produced the bags in order to pay him. But then, I said I did them for free and he prayed for me.
What was the last book you read?
I don’t know because I can read more than ten books a day. I have a library here in Abuja and also a library in my office in Lagos on Akowonjo road, Market Link by Jimoh bus stop.
So how do you shuttle between Abuja and Lagos?
No, I have stopped shuttling. There are people who work there to monitor activities there. We have a warehouse there with products that we sell though I don’t do that again. My library is bigger there than here. If I have money I will get a bigger library.
Sir, I noticed that you been punctuating your responses with rich Bible quotes and all. You seem to have strong views on religion?
Religion is about what you worship. The word Christian actually emerged first in Antioch in Acts of Apostles. My background is ECWA and I thank God that I know Christ. Before I started my primary school, I remember the white missionaries gave us tracts which had helped my journey in Christianity. So, Christianity is about living a Christ-like life.
What is your management style?
Managing men and resources is the most interesting thing job you can find because every day affords you the opportunity to learn new things. Following my voluntary retirement in December 1992 I established Market Link Group. We went into manufacturing at first and subsequently diversified into consultancy and training. What I have learnt over the years is that if you must set the rules and boundaries but allow the individuals to use their own initiative wherever necessary. That way, you can get the best from them. As a rule, I’m liberal but firm at the same time.
Apart from your professorial duties, what else do you do?
I usually have schedule of meetings and take time off work to rest at Acropolis, a fun/relaxation spot which was designed by my son, which people have acknowledged as a nice architectural design. We don’t sell beer and hot drinks here at Acropolis. Because God built this place not me. So, it’s a full restaurant.
What’s your dress sense?
I wear corporate, and when I’m not going out, I put on something light, like the traditional buba and sokoto I’m wearing now. (Laughs).
What is your favourite dish?
It’s Amala and a very good soup. I like most of the Yoruba soup, but I like gbegiri, especially when combined with ewedu. I remember those days when I couldn’t buy meat when we buy food, so we get bones and begin to lick it. I was living at Akapo Street then close to Okepopo.ADVERTISEMENT
Do you cook?
Compulsorily, I had to learn how to cook, when I was alone doing teachers training. Even when I served in Plateau State, I cooked my meal. Sometimes too, when my wife travels to visit our children, I cook for myself. But, when she’s around, I do not need to compete with her, I eat whatever she cooks, I don’t dictate.
What is your choice holiday destination?
I like to say Canada because my children are there, UK is okay, but I don’t like too much cold. To me, the climate condition here is perfect. For example, my friend who traveled to visit his children kept calling me because of loneliness. He had nobody to visit. If I travel, I spend maximum two weeks.
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