Simply put, Hon. Tajudeen Ajide, current chairman of Surulere Local Government, is a fine mix of two subjects: football and politics. Born to a grassroots politician father, Ajide showed strong leadership quality on the streets of Surulere, where he was born and bred.
Popularly known as ?Sportcity?, Surulere is home to two major stadia in Nigeria?s commercial city of Lagos and these provided opportunities for youngsters like Tajudeen Ajide to flourish in football, the most popular game in Nigeria.
?As a kid,? he started, ?my brothers and I would comb the whole of Lagos to play in youth football competitions and there is no football field that we did not play, most especially in Surulere axis, where we grew up. There is no play ground that we did not play football. Three of us, Ganiyu Ajide (former Super Eagles defender), my older brother, and I played for a grassroots team and we usually moved from Campos to Isale-Eko, Sawdust, Whitesand, Obalende and many other football fields because this was the kind of thing that brought respect to kids of my era. Grassroots football kept us away from crime and other vices and even in the off season you would still see us hanging together and playing off season competitions. Those things develop the mind and make you responsible. People know you and know the family you are coming from so you would not want to do anything that would tarnish your family name.?
The street games, he said, prepared him for the man he is today. ?The things I learnt from moving about playing football were numerous. In fact, it prepared me for my political ambition. It made us to be responsible and imbibe some leadership quality as well as relating to others as a team. I also imbibed the spirit of giving back to my society and good feelings for my society and our people. Then, eminent Lagosians like Oba Oyekan, Okoya Thomas, Alhaji Shitta-Bey, Alhaji Muse-Ariyor, and others sponsored competitions and helped drive youth development programmes. Some of us also picked up the habit because we benefitted from it and that is why even before I got into office as chairman, Surulere Local Government, I was sponsoring youth tournaments in Surulere. I was abroad and sending money to my friends and ex-internationals Taju Disu and Henry Nwosu, who helped organise and drive the completions at home.
He noted that the death of grassroots competitions in the area of sports is affecting the kind youths the country is breeding.
?Youths are restless by nature. Then, our restlessness was well annexed in the area of sports. While majority of youths took to football, we have some that excelled in table tennis, tennis, boxing, athletics and other games. I don?t think it is happening now. In Lagos State before, we used to have many teams in the local leagues, which were the LGFA. We used to have three divisions and the national leagues as well. When I was in Prime Stars, we had about four clubs: Eagle Oil, Obanta, Nicon, and my club, Prime Stars, in LGFA Division 3. We were battling to qualify for the national league, and it was so keen that if you lose a game, you were out. We had to beat Eagle Oil home and away to qualify. So, as a club you knew you were facing a lot of competitions, good one for that matter. So, we have to be on top of our game to stay on top. This same scenario played out at the national level.
?This is no longer the situation now and that is why you have many youths gunning for money where there is none. They don?t know what to do with their talents. We don?t have enough stadia. Lagos State is doing a lot in this area but we cannot leave it for the state alone. We have to support him in the grassroots as local government administrators and as individuals that benefitted from this game. It would help our children to develop in mind, body, and integrity.?
Ajide?s transition to politics has not in any way diminished his first love. ?Surulere LG has a bolstering club, Sportcity FC, and we have won all the trophies in the grassroots soccer in the state. We hope to take it to the next level by moving into the nooks and crannies of the local government to fish out up and coming footballers and expose to national and international recognition. We have put in place tested ex-internationals in Taju Disu and Ganiyu Ajide, who would do the job for us.?
He is also well known for his unalloyed support for ex-footballers as patron of Players Union. Some of his beneficiaries are Peter Anieke, Peter Fregene, Sylvester Egbogie, and Yomi Peters.
Ajide, who returned to the chairmanship saddle in July 2017, speaks further about his passion for football and politics and how he intends to take Surulere to the next level. TAIWO ALIMI conducted the interview.
Football and politics
I am into politics because of football, because I believe that football is a very strong tool to drive the talent of the young ones and take them away from criminality. It has done so for me and many of my friends that have made a success in life. It is not having wealth that shows you have excelled in life but how you carry and control yourself that matter. A wealthy mind is a wealthy man.
For me, I will continue to play politics and play football politics and use my resources to help ex-players that are in need. It is not a hidden thing and it is what I will continue to do. I will continue to aspire to any position that I can use to help my colleagues. Look at the entertainment practitioners; they are all over the country, in politics and aspiring to get into political offices, they are gunning for House of Representatives and local councils, and football players that have numeric strength, we are not able to do it. It is because they needed it to help themselves and the federal government even has subvention for them, which they draw from. The thing that brings the whole of this country together is football and we cannot utilise it to our advantage. We cannot blame the governments for our problems if we cannot organise our own affairs.
Player union and players? welfare
We are supposed to be there for each other and help those that are depressed and not for selfish interest. I am a politician and I stand tall here saying there is nothing you do without playing politics. What do I mean? That is by dialogue, talking to people, debate, making people understand that you must always deliberate with people to make them understand where you are going. In addition, there is nothing you do without power. Even when you have money and there is no power, it is nothing. That is why we are where we are today. Why don?t we have ex-players in the corridors of football power or as Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president? Because we don?t know how to play football politics. We exploit our people with little money and influence for their selfish interest. Look at all our mentors, ex-players like Peter Anieke, Yomi Peters, Peter Fregene, and others. Some have died in penury while others just make ends meet. I only try in my own little way to help keep them alive.
Blueprint for a better Surulere LG
You just need to go round the Surulere to see what we are doing. We actually hit the ground running because I have been thinking and sleeping over what I want Surulere to be like. I have been sharing ideas with Surulere people and I know where I want to make impact in the coming months.
We are constructing a customary court complex on Benson Street, in the Surulere I Magisterial district.
My preoccupation is to deliver legacy projects that residents and the current local government administration would be proud of. The old structure was in such a terrible state that it posed danger to the lives of those working there. The ceilings had caved in and the roots of a tree planted on the premises were sprouting inside the main building. So, we thought it is important to building a befitting customary court.
The Lagos state Government has the most vibrant judiciary in the country, which became possible because successive administrations in the state devoted attention to judicial officers? welfare, provision of befitting structures for work, and creating a functional and dynamic legal system. So, our effort is meant to serve justice administration in the community and complement the efforts at the state level.
We are also working with the Community Development Association (CDAs), to ensure equal distribution of resources. All areas must feel our impact.
Top on my priority is to empower Surulere youths and we are going to do that in different ways. In the area of sports, we have seasoned catch-em-young administrators who will be mandated to comb the community for aspiring sport stars.
Football helped me gain a lot of exposure home and abroad and I believe that through careful grooming we can also raise the bar in grassroots football and help raise the aspiration many youths, who would in turn raise their respectful family. We cannot over-emphasise the need to help our youths focus on activities that will help them be better citizens of this state. We want to provide avenue to give them training in different kind of handiwork, so that they can be employable. Our plan is to look inward for and fully engage our people so that they would not only be good for themselves but for the community.
I believe in doing good because it will come back to you. I don?t look down on people yet I don?t allow people to take me for a ride. I respect all but have zero tolerance to sharp malpractices. My philosophy in life is do unto others as you would want them do to you. I take my job very serious. When I want something done, I would be the first to get there and would follow up until I get that thing done. I don?t give up easily, yet I take my time well and think everything though before I take decisions.
I like to dress simply. I used to be a Jean and shirt person and on returning to the country I used to wear only that. But due to my office I now wear local attires. I love good shoes and wrist watches too.