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Managing Apapa Traffic Gridlock Has Made Me Asthmatic — Comrade Opeifa

Comrade Kayode Opeifa, as the Executive Vice-Chairman of Presidential Task Team on Apapa Traffic Gridlock, has the onerous task of restoring sanity to the malignant Apapa traffic gridlock.
The gridlock that has made access to the Lagos ports traumatic.
For a task that was interventionist in nature which was originally meant not to last for two weeks, has now dragged for over a year now.
In this interview with FUNSO OLOJO and SEGUN OLADIPUPO, Opeifa, popularly called Comrade, revealed the enormous losses he has suffered in the course of the national assignment.
His health suffered. His family life suffer. He has lost a car on the job. He eats on the go many more inconveniences he has so far suffered.
We thus usher you into the life of Opeifa which is eventful and impactful.
My Early years

My name is Kayode Opeifa. I was born in Surulere at Randle General Hospital, then Surulere Health Centre.

I had my primary education in two schools, one at Saint Isaac elementary school, Ayilara and Shamsudeen Islamic primary school, Shifau, Ojuelegba. If you want to enter my primary school, you will smell those Ojuelegba stuff because they sell hemp all around the place. 
That was how we grew up but nobody known to me among my age grade in my street takes cigarette except some boys who eventually became  armed robbers and were killed by using tyre to burn them.

So, some of us grew up in such environment but we did not allow the environment to affect us. I also went to victory Primary school just for one year.

I finished from Victory High School after which I went to the University of Ilorin. I studied Biochemistry with Chemistry and I graduated with second class upper.

I was a student activist. I played handball and I represented Ilorin three times at 1982, 84, and 86 but I didn’t win any medal  but I represented Unilag in 1988 and I won a medal.

I went to the University of Lagos to study Biochemistry for second degree but I specialised in Toxicology and I went from there to Lagos State University from where I went into exile during Abacha’s time.
 My Activist years

When I was in school as a unionist, we fought Buhari, we also fought Babangida when students were killed at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). We were in final year in 1985 but we fought.

We formed the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). I was the first Vice Chairman for Lagos. 

I joined LASU in January 2nd,1990 and I became an executive member of ASUU and I later became a member of Senate . I was the youngest member of Senate before I clocked 30.

I was an ex-officio member of   ASUU and later became ASUU Chairman in LASU. That was when the late Abubakar Momoh was the chairman. It was at LASU we elected him as ASUU chairman when I was ex- officio. We hosted the convention then.

The other part of me is Human rights and activism.

Q.  Why did you leave LASU in 1997? 

A. I ran away when Abacha  was killing people and there was opportunity for me to go abroad and I left. 
I went to Chicago and I came back in 2005 to run for  election for the House of Representatives in Agege and I had the party ticket under AC but it was taken away  by the combination of Atiku Abubakar and leadership of AC headquarter against the wish of AC Lagos. 
They did that because they had to return the incumbent then. I took it as will of God. My case was similar to Anarchist but as a party man, I told Asiwaju to forget it.

I was made Special Adviser in Transport even though I didn’t study Transport. I was in charge of traffic.

Q. Was that a compensation for your name that was substituted?

A. I didn’t see that as a compensation , I saw it as a merit. I saw it as a recognition for a committed party man. It was in 2007, I was in the US but we were persuaded to come back by Asiwaju. 

If I had gone to other party, I would have won and Asiwaju knew that too. In 2011, I became Commissioner of Transport and there was no Special Adviser. I appreciate Governor Fashola and Asiwaju for that honour.

Q.  What were your major challenges as the Transport Commissioner in Lagos then?

A.  Because of my upbringing by my mother and father who was a retired soldier and community leader and the first person to register an electrical engineering company to compete with the white people.

I don’t see challenges, I see opportunities. If my father could be the only Nigerian founder and owner that built National Stadium, what should stop me. What  I see are opportunities.

I was born by a mother who hustled a lot so to her, nothing is impossible.

The opportunity is for me to develop myself in a field I have been called into. So, anytime I travel abroad for a break or whatever, I go for training, I do webinar, I do short courses and that has improved my knowledge.

But if say what were the issues. The issues were that we came into government after Asiwaju, somebody that is seen as he can never be wrong and Transport ministry was headed by Banire, so coming into the shoes of two big people, and I had left Lagos for sometime so I needed to quickly catch up. 
So we needed to be on top of the game, we needed to quickly get to the street level of Lagos.
 We came in at a time the Federal government halted Lagos state to a standstill and the issue of LASTMA. 

Then we had LASTMA that was very aggressive and I had to make them to be more civil and having lived abroad for almost ten years, anything I saw in Lagos looked like it was bad and there was an issue of how to make it look good. 

We had to work with people who think that most things are impossible, so those are the issues. We were in the field where we had no training and I had to train myself. I do a lot of reading and learning from people around me who studied transportation. 
Then I decided that the principle must be that everything must work and I must duplicate everything I saw in the city of Chicago.

Their trains work, their roads marked, traffic light, street light and all that. 

Luckily for us, we have strong civil service in Lagos. I don’t see challenges, I see opportunities to get things done.

Q. Tell us the outstanding feat you achieved that could stand as your legacy.

A. In terms of legacy, I will say the institutionalisation of the ministry that is, everything we did, we had a master plan for it.

The thing there for me is that Lagosians appreciated us. We had almost 99 percent compliance on 14 October, 2014 when we had no sounding the horn .

People talk about reengineering of LASTMA, people talk about bringing street light back to Lagos roads, people talked about bringing lane marking.

So nobody can claim all these but only the Governor that can be talking about legacy. We should be thanking God for giving us the opportunity to work.

The most touching one is that FIFA under -17 was hosted in Nigeria in 2009 and FIFA already had a mindset that Lagos centre would be an issue that was why they didn’t allow Lagos to host the final. They gave us group matches and semi final. They sent people thirty days before the game to work with us to develop capacity and I worked with them. 
By the time the competition started and day after the semi final, before they moved to Abuja, we had a meeting and they said they were shocked and they couldn’t believe it that Lagos security and traffic management was excellent. That they never had any issue 

Q.  With the arduous task of the PTT, how do you combine it with family?

A.  It is tough but we were initially to be given two months but I personally advised Government to make it two weeks so that the job doesn’t drag. After the first two weeks, we cleared the Apapa side but with much issue on the Apapa -Oshodi Tincan side. 

Don’t forget as a student, I did sports, I was involved in activism and I later worked as Adviser and Commissioner for Transport, all these things have helped me but these are attitudes that have been developed at a younger age. 

I don’t choose food, I eat any kind of food provided it is healthy. I can sleep anytime I have the opportunity, even under the rain, I can sleep. I don’t womaniser and I don’t drink, if this is not part of it, and I don’t club.

I used to be a very strong fan of Ayuba. I was a member of the Alale corporate and I also promoted him at some point.
 So, for me, social is being around people who are determined to make Nigeria better. 

Q. In this your packed full activities, where It’s the place for your family?

A.  My family complains. I keep telling my children that the fact that they were born in America, they may choose America but some of us that were born in Nigeria, will hold on to her.

My family suffers it so also my health. I was not asthmatic until I developed asthma on the job. 
In 2008 on stadium bridge, Fashola asked us to go and manage a tanker that fell and spilled it content on the road and was burning and we managed it till next morning and nobody knew that anything happened. 

On this Apapa gridlock, I have lost a car, I now have pot belly because I can no longer engage in regular exercise, my academic life, my finance have all suffered due to my assignment in Apapa.

It is so bad I couldn’t travel for my son’s graduation. I travelled and I spent only five days and four of the five days were inside the aircraft and I had to run back.

I have denied my children of many things but I keep telling them that somebody must have way for the younger generation but I can’t wait to leave this job one day because I no longer know my children the much I knew them before. 

This job has also brought a lot of insults when you see people accusing you of corruption and all that and when you see corruption fight back.

Sometimes you wonder why you have to work so hard to correct the system. 
Nevertheless, when you see the work you are doing is yielding fruits, those who need to know, those matter appreciate what you are doing.

Q. Was there a time your wife stands against you to say enough of what you are doing?

A. There was never a time because she understands what we are doing. That’s what God created me for. To solve problems.

She knows I won’t be better if I don’t do all these things. 

Looking into the scriptures, every human being is created for a purpose. David, before he killed Goliath had killed lion and bear. 

Samuel had to stay with Eli to learn to hear voice.  Daniel has to deny himself of King’s meat and Moses had to be born like a slave, brought up by a king.

I am fulfilled with what I see in Apapa.

I keep saying when we left in 2015, this thing was not there and I thank God is not there now.

Q.  What are your regrets?

Nothing to regret about except that I strongly believe that it is time for me to go and take care of myself. We have fought a good fight and everybody in Apapa knows that they have to obey rules and those who are still hell bent will give up. 

Q.  Are you eager to exit this job?

A. I told you, I exited this job long ago, it is the people who sent us here who says we should wait for a while before Lagos state take over.

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