‘Recession has made it difficult for people to part with money’
By the time he was presented in August 2016, as the District Governor, Lions District 404-B1, Alhaji Waheed Ayinla Kadiri was prepared for the task ahead. Twice, he evaded the elevation to the leadership of the district, but his virtues drew him closer to the exalted office. In fact, from a young age, he constructed his path from lessons he learnt in life. Today, he is one of the most powerful players in Lions Club. But his tentacles stretch upto the town-planning universe.
“Let me just say I am lucky. I am what I am today by God’s grace,” Kadiri says, flashing a toothed grin: “When I got to The Polytechnic, Ibadan, it was a technical college then, and with my background, I couldn’t afford a bed, I couldn’t afford a room, so, I had a mat that I slept on, even at post secondary school level, and early in the morning, I will roll up the mat and put it under somebody’s bed. I had no accommodation– somebody just saw me, I don’t know how, and he kept me on. It was like he adopted me, another student, who was on scholarship from his office, was giving me – may be equivalent of two pounds, every month, and that made my life so easy.”
So, with that background, there was no way he would shun the act of giving back, “it would be unnatural and inhumane not to give back,” he cackles.
“In my second year, I got a scholarship and what did I do with the money? The money from my scholarship, I added that to the school fees, the balance I invested in my junior brothers to pay their school fees, that’s how it all started,” Kadiri explains.
The mix of high and low, gritty and fancy, cool and naff is what he brings to everything he does. This, no thanks, is to his Muslim background. He says, “the way I was brought up, I have been driven by the fact that I must give back. I am from a polygamous home, but we were lucky, because we didn’t discriminate against one another. We were together. My dad had so many wives, but the lesson I took away from my upbringing in a polygamous home is that you must work hard to survive. Also, you cannot be greedy; you must just take enough for yourself and leave for others, that’s that duty of a settled polygamous home. If you are 10 or 12 or you are eating from, may be a tray, you cannot afford to be too greedy or faster than the others, someone will knock you and say, Se iwo ni kan ni? and you cannot afford to be too slow, because there won’t be anything for you, so that background, may be it started me off, and looking back, I also think I have been influenced by the primary and secondary schools I went to. I attended a primary school developed by an Islamic society, whose motto is, Fisebillah and what does Fisebillah mean? “For the sake of God”, whatever you do, you do it for God’s sake, therefore, you are not expecting anything in return, you are not trying to please anyone, but your maker, so, it started from there, then I went to a secondary school in Oshodi, now Ikeja Grammar School, and the motto there is “Learn to serve”, it’s been put in our head that whatever you do, is not just for yourself alone, you must be ready to serve, and co-incidentally, I am now. God invited me into this club, which says, “we serve”, it’s like I am just progressing from an attitude of serving to have seen like minds that I can have together with, so that’s just it.”
So, at what point did it occur to him that he would become a Lion?
“I think it’s been ordained. It has been gradual, but without any formal consciousness, then when I got into Lions’ Club, my experience in the club made me to vow that I will never leave the club,” the town planner reveals.
His ‘missionary journey’ as a Lion started in 1986 and 30 years after, he became a district governor. “There were about 26 of us there. Today, I’m the only chartered member that is active in the club, so, I have been there for over 30 years,” he recalls.
A quick scan of his life shows a movement from planning to academics and now a life devoted to service. You’re bound to imagine how he has navigated the different callings of life, effectively.
“You must be something before you can be a Lion no matter what, either you have a profession or you are gainfully employed, because you need the resources to sustain the passion to give to others, it’s only the man that has that can give – so if you are jobless, you cannot be a Lion, you don’t have to be rich, but you must be able to give a bit from what God has given you or what you can put together and that is why it is meant to be a club. It is not a thing you can do as an individual, which is why the motto of the club is, “we serve”, not that “I serve”. If I put down my N100, you put down your N100, he puts down his N100, if there are five or 10 of us, we would have been able to put down N500, what we will do with that N500, our N100 individually cannot accomplish it, that’s where the concept of synergy comes in, 1+1 may be more than two, when you bring in people, that’s three,” he explains.
His experience in the club also made him to vow that he will never cease being a Lion, because as secretary of Ota Lions’ Club, there was a project in Ota General Hospital called “Revolving Drug Box”. Then, about 1987 and 1988, Ota was notorious for automobile accidents.
“The purpose of the drug box was that when an accident victim is brought to the hospital, the tendency is to say go and bring money, go and bring this drug, but it could be in the middle of the night, so what our club did there was to stock the box with essential drugs for emergency so that when anybody is brought there, they will take from those drugs and take care, when you are stabilised, you can not be asked to bring back, that is why it is revolving, it is used and replaced. And in May 1988, armed robbers attacked me in my house two times within 48 hours. The second time was more deadly, because it was like they were not able to get what they want and may be somebody had told them we had more than they took away and they came back and they were more brutal. I was rushed to the hospital at about 2:10am and it was from that box that I was treated. I would have bled to death, but for that box,” he says.
Since his presentation and inauguration, his Saturdays and Sundays have become fully occupied by club activities, as way of showing leadership.
“If you are managing the 68 clubs in our district, and you don’t show exemplary leadership or commitment, you are not likely to succeed. Maybe be because of my background, you just don’t do things anyhow. If a club says their event will start by 2.00pm, a day before, I will phone to ask whether will still start at 2.00pm. And the only person that may be there before me is he, because he has to be there to start off. We have been able to achieve that and I am lucky that my vice district governors are very cooperative and my regional chairperson, even the club presidents, they are buying into what you think and what you do,” he says, exuding such a natural air of calm competence and channelled passion.
What has been the challenge of being a Lion not just as a District Governor now?
“I want to say the challenges before now and the challenges as at now – you must distinguish between the two. Before now the challenges has been what did we do to be of relevance, looking for the right projects and that we overcome that through ‘community need assessment’, what will this community need? In the 80s and 90s, our projects were bore hole, bus, shelter, renovation of hospitals and all that, what do people really need now? Some clubs even constructed culverts. Then, our activities were flamboyant; everybody will know Lions’ Club is here. Now, as a result of Nigeria’s recession, it has been so difficult making people part with their money. That is the greatest challenge,” the former rector of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic says.
Like how many members do you have in a club?
“For a club to be a good one, it must have 20, you have some that are lower because the system is this – you can only add to your membership, when members become available. The beauty of Lions’ Club is that people don’t apply to the club, they get invited, you must see something in someone and say ‘come and join us’, now when you join, you are added to the club and you are reported as a member to the international headquarters, you are given a number, that’s when you are a member, but also, the club also has the power to remove members for mainly two good reasons – if you don’t attend meetings, you can be dropped,” he reveals.
Romance with town planning, how did it start?
Kadiri, a small, swarthy man with intense manner, says, “when I got to the final year in secondary school, it dawned on me there was need to know what I wanted to do after.
There was no guidance. All this guidance and counselling were not there. Then, I always wanted to do design oriented programmes so that I can use my hands and all that, let me tell you a funny thing, when I was taking my school certificate examination, I never knew anything about GCE, you know you just go and pass your exam, get promotion and that was it, but there was a cousin of mine, I am using cousin because of English, brother – you know – my uncle’s son who grew up with my dad and everybody thought he was my dad’s first son who somebodywas working in Ibadan, he came home and said, “Waheed, technical college, se wa lo to ba se tan?” and I said, “why not”, that was how I got to technical college and because I did not do science in my O level, nobody guided me that about subject combination, just any eight subjects, so when I got to Ibadan Technical College, I had to do one year of what is now called pre-ND or whatever, and there I had opportunity of interacting with those in normal courses and I found ‘town planning’ and I fell in love with it and that’s it.”
Did you at a point think you would teach town planning?
“I had no choice. There was no alternative for me because of my background. Luckily, when I finished from Ibadan, I got a job with the Lagos State government, which gave me scholarship to lbadan. Within two years, I got another Federal Government scholarship to travel abroad. I went to Glasgow. When I came back, I found out that the civil service was not what I wanted to be in. But luckily for me, one of the senior town planners I worked with as a very junior person, within those two years, had retired and set up his own consultancy outfit, so from my youth service, I went into the private sector and it was like I was crazy, how could you leave civil service with this assurance and go to a one-man business? My boss, Mr Williams, was very good to my family, and me but when economic downturn came, he emigrated, so that was how I got to the Polytechnic in Abeokuta. One of my colleagues who was lecturing there said ‘Why don’t you come’ and I stayed there for 31 years. I joined the polytechnic in 1985, and Lion’s club in 1986. I retired in 2016 as lecturer, I have been opportune to hold some positions – Head of Departments, Director of Schools, Deputy Rector, and Rector at Moshud Abiola Polytechnic for eight years two times.”