Comrade Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu, an outstanding former Labour leader and his twin will clock 80 in a few days. In this interview with ADEOLU ADEYEMO, he spoke on his experience, state of the nation, governance and other issues.
What was your childhood like?
I’m looking up to my 80th birthday with my twin brother in some days and my wife will also be 76 on the same day. My twin brother and I were born in Osogbo, our father’s compound is Odeyemi compound while our mother’s compound is Balogun Biro compound. My wife hails from Osogbo too. My twin brother is Hussain Sunmonu. We were born on Tuesday, January 7, 1941 in Akimeshiem, Gold Coast, Ghana.
We had a blissful and memorable childhood. At the age of seven, we were brought home to Osogbo in 1947 and immediately, we started our primary school at Ansarudeen Osogbo and by 1951, when we were in Standard 2, we crossed over to All Saints School, Osogbo where we finished our primary school, that was in December, 1954. Our father, Alhaji Sunmonu Adeniji, had four wives and our mother was the first.
There was communal love among us all. I used to consider my father as the luckiest man in the world. We ate from the same pot and lived in the same house. He was a cocoa farmer and product merchant. He went to Gold Coast in 1945 and returned in July 1965. My twin brother and I always did things together.
Tell us about your secondary education?
By January 1955, my twin brother and I made a promise that we would attend the same school and this resulted in our being taken to Osogbo Grammar School. We also promised each other while in the primary school that we would get married the same day. You would call that youthful thinking but very amazingly, God sanctioned it and we got married 61 years ago on the same day and same ceremony. We had to leave Osogbo Grammar School because, our father, who was making it great as a cocoa farmer, suddenly ventured into diamond business while he knew virtually nothing about it and consequently, he lost his wealth and recession set in.
What then happened?
It was hellish. We had it so bad but God rose to the occasion. After the collapse of our father’s business, our mother came back home in July 1955 when we were 14 years old and broke the sad news to us that our father had lost his wealth to the diamond investment. It was like the whole world crashed down. She had to borrow to pay our last school fees in 1955 and we decided to withdraw from school that year.
I thought God had a definite purpose for stopping our education. Perhaps, He wanted us to be good practising Muslims and again, he wanted us to be engineers, because if we had gone through the programme in Osogbo, we would not have ended up being engineers. As of that time, there were no science courses in Osogbo. Eventually, we had to move down to Ghana, Gold Coast to be precise. On getting there, we joined our parents in their kolanut business by moving from one village to the other to buy kolanut and pie and sell to waiting Hausa customers.
So your education stopped permanently?
No. Fortune smiled on us when we came back to Osogbo in February 1957. We had contact with the then Alake of Egbaland, Sir Oladapo Ademola, who was willing to sponsor our education. He promised to sponsor us and asked us to go back to Osogbo and tell the principal to send our educational bills. When we got to Osogbo, a letter of interview came from Yaba School of Technology for me only and I went for the interview. We fasted for three days. We proceeded to Yaba and requested to see the principal. We were so unfortunate that we did not meet him. We later met his deputy who was very principled – Mr. J.R. Skropy.
I pleaded that my twin brother was sick and as a result, he could not prepare well for the exam. That affected his performance and I told him that, my wish was to see him in Yaba with me as a student too, since we had never got separated since we were born. To my surprise and to the glory of God, my request was granted. We were there together and graduated with brilliant results. After graduation, we both got a job at the Federal Ministry of Works as assistant technical directors in 1961.
It seems you are closer to your mother than your father or is this an assumption?
Somehow, I think that assumption is well thought of. For me, my mother is my favourite because she laid our education foundation for us. My sincere gratitude goes to my mother, who, despite being a petty trader and an illiterate, loved education. She invested all she had on us educationally and she monitored us throughout the time we were in school.
There was drama one day when we sneaked out of school and headed home. On sighting us, our mother marched us back to the school only to see that school was in session. She had to instruct a teacher to give us six strokes of cane each. Since then, we never ran out of school. That does not mean my father too had no interest in education. For the fact that he was always travelling to ensure he had money to sponsor us does not mean he did not love us too.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife at a conference of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN). She was the only female MSSN member from her school in Ibadan. Her brother was our classmate both at Ansarudeen and Osogbo Grammar School. It was not easy persuading her to accept my proposal but later she yielded and gave in. My mother liked her and that gave her a soft landing.
Who is more gentlemanly between you and your twin brother?
We cannot assess ourselves because it is natural one appears to apply sentiments when describing him/herself. As I see it, the Islamic injunctions which we had imbibed since childhood have, up till today, made us to take life very easy. We have always been following the dictate and teachings of Allah. We have been alive to our individual responsibilities. We have no cause to go against constituted authorities. People who know us will attest to the fact that we have been good ambassadors of our profession, families and the society at large.
What is your philosophy of life?
Being a former Labour leader, we were always under watch of the government and it was not easy at all. I have always looked up to God for everything I do, I count so much on Him. Therefore, my philosophy of life is to serve Allah and humanity to the best of my ability till death comes knocking.
What can you recall about your parents?
This is an emotional question of sort. My parents were very rooted in Islam and they made sure they brought us up in that way. Right from childhood and up till now, we still pray five times daily. My parents loved us all and they made sure they went through several challenges of life to make us survive.
Childhood was not all that rosy. We had our rough moments but through our caring parents, we weathered the storms. They were disciplinarians who did not over-pamper us. Discipline was their watchword. They never supported our excesses. My mother was firm and disciplined. My father was an astute businessman, always going up and down to ensure he puts smiles on our faces.
Being identical twins, can you recall the challenges and advantages associated with that?
Oh yes! Of course. As a labour leader, there were challenges sometimes. On February 28, 1978 when I was elected as Labour leader, instead of my supporters coming to me to carry me; my twin brother was carried. In fact, the picture being circulated was his, because people found it difficult to identify us because of the semblance.
Do you often have some misunderstandings, even at this age?
There is bound to be conflicts in any sphere of the society. That we are twin brothers does not mean we would not have our differences. We differ in opinion and principles but not most of the time. By the time we don’t disagree, we may not agree. Our conflicts and misunderstandings are healthy and decent. But upon all, peace has really existed between us but we have our differences.
What are your thoughts on governance in Nigeria?
First, our security needs to be built up because it is being severely threatened. Any society that loses a firm grip of its security is running a failed state. Our federalism is being run as a unitary republic, not as a federal republic. Ours is like a parliamentary system of government and not a presidential system. We pretend to operate a costly presidential system of government which we cannot afford. We should go for parliamentary system of government because it is relatively less expensive and people have direct control on those elected. We should go back to base but if we don’t do that, problems will continue to arise. The military are the architects of our insecurity. Our military structure has to be completely reorganised. It needs clinical overhauling.
Do you have any regrets serving and sacrificing for Nigeria?
I have no regret in all for the sacrifices I made for the survival of Nigeria. I look at things and in my own perspective, if we don’t return to the basis, this country may crash, because what is not sustainable will crash. We have 36 states and out of these, only seven can stand on its own without going to Abuja for funding. The 36 states should be restructured to six or eight regions. This will save the money we use to run social and economic activities; so we don’t have to wait on commissioners and politicians. Emphatically speaking, I have no regrets serving Nigeria because it remains my fatherland but we need restructuring. Our federalism is too expensive.
Any advice for the president?
I think President Muhammadu Buhari should see to the issue of insecurity and youth empowerment programmes. The security bodies need total restructuring. Our security has collapsed. Everybody is scared; let him do something to that.
Advise to Nigerians?
Nigerians should be supportive of this government. We should not curse but pray. We need prayer and the government needs to be more proactive. Governance begins from our homes. By the time the home is disciplined, the larger society will be disciplined too. The government cannot do it alone. It needs our support and prayer.
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