I was told I would not last 6 months in office —Adepoju, FRIN DG
Professor Adeshola Adepoju will round off his eight-year tenure as the director-general of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) this month. In this interview with PAUL OMOROGBE, he tells how the journey began, as well as a brief account of his stewardship.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the DG of FRIN?
My journey to FRIN was God. I was in Leventis Foundation as the head of Rural Enterprise Development when on the first day of the month of August in 2002, I saw a note hanging on my door. It was from my uncle asking me to report immediately to the college (of Forestry) in Jos. It was already late to go from Zaria to Jos. So, I left the following day which was the 2nd of August. I got to Jos and saw that they were to do the accreditation of Agriculture Extension and Management (AEM). They needed somebody who was qualified which was part of the conditions for them to be accredited. I was just finishing my PhD and waiting for my defence. My defence was in October of that same year. So, I had to stay back to assist them in the accreditation process. Eventually, they were given and I became a staff. So you can just see that it was God working His things. That is how I joined FRIN.
From day one, I knew that God wanted to do something because the journey started turbulently. The staff on ground noticed that I had a PhD and was obviously going to rise. Even the provost of the college and the deputy provost had no PhD. None of the heads of departments had a PhD. It was a turbulent one. I had no office for three years. I was sitting down under a tree and the entire job of the system was heaped on me. I was taking about six to eight courses. I was writing the reports for the system and all of that!
Before I knew it, almost all the jobs of the system were heaped on me because they felt ‘he doesn’t know how to say no.’ But little did I know, like David, that God was preparing me for a day like this. My family was paying for it because they were not seeing me. I had no life of my own. Life was about FRIN — if I was not in Ibadan, I would be in Abuja. If I was not in Abuja I would be in one institute or college or the other. I still had to do my work, teach my courses and write my papers. Despite all these responsibilities on me, FRIN never thought it right to give me a concession or promotion.
But God was more than enough for me. I don’t remember breaking down or falling ill in the course of those assignments. Most times I drive myself to Abuja. Twice I came face-to-face with armed robbers. They even shot at me, but the bullet missed and hit the tyre. So, outside God I don’t think I’ll be able to get to where I am today.
Why I said it is only God that I can see in all of these is because in 2012, after the uproar in FRIN in 2011 and Professor Badejo’s (the then Executive Director’s) appointment was renewed, there were about four petitions against me. The board did not intimate the system. They went to investigate the petitions, and after their due diligence, they called me while I was in Jos. They summoned me and the ED to Abuja. That’s when they informed me that they had received four petitions against me. And that they had done their due diligence investigation, and realised that the system had been unfair to me. I was on level 13 and I was due for next promotion.
That was when the chairman of the board asked the ED, ‘In all of this, what has been done for this man with all the responsibilities of the institute on his shoulders and he is not relenting or complaining?’
The ED said nothing had been done. The board said I should be rewarded with a level promotion. That was how I was moved to level 14 at that meeting, with a caveat that it must not affect my next promotion. So by providence in 2015, I was already at level 15.
Becoming the executive director
I did my interview when the position of executive director was open. Surprisingly, it was God again. This is because I was counting on my bosses at that time to be happy that I would be put in charge to run the affairs of FRIN, but I met a brick wall and hostility.
How do I know that? On the day they concluded the promotion exercise in Kaduna, the chairman of the board called me and said, ‘young man hold on to your God because nobody wanted you because you were too blunt. But there was nothing anybody could do to stop you because you almost scored 100 percent. Even when the questions asked were not primarily in your area of study.’ That is why I said it was God Who was mindful of me and had this planned for me. That was how I became the candidate recommended.
How FRIN got an enabling law
We tried little things and we saw them become landmarks. We tried to dive into the international community and they said we don’t have an instrument as an Institute. Why will an Institute not have an instrument which could be a law or an act? I tried to mobilise other institutes that were related, but nobody was forthcoming. So I was left to go solo. And like David approaching Goliath, God conquered this issue. That is how we got our law on August 18, 2018. That law fired us into the international space.
Before I knew it, I became the chair of MAB-ICC at UNESCO. We brought it to Africa for the first time. I thought I was going to hand over, but the chair was renewed. That hardly happens.
Some time ago, I made a proposal to UNESCO to be funded by India. I pushed and pushed about three years ago, but it was not forthcoming. Only for me to receive a call last week that the Indians are now ready for it and that I should refresh the proposal. They said they have searched and discovered that the Institute is not doing badly and that they are ready to help the Institute in man and biosphere at Omo Biosphere Reserve and Shere Hill in Jos.
Amina Mohammed’s challenge
One of my former principals in the ministry of environment, who is now the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Hajia Amina J. Mohammed, challenged me when she came here that she wanted FRIN to be able to compete with IITA in all areas. So I said I will try my best.
The first thing was to produce a policy document for the Institute. We were able to produce a document that can serve as an organogram and guide to the development activities at FRIN to compete at international levels. That is what explains the transformation, and the remodeling the equipping and refurbishing, not only the Institute, but almost all the colleges.
Establishing new colleges
When we looked at the new FRIN law, it said that the FRIN should have a college in each of geopolitical zones. We had four then. One in Ibadan, two in the North Central at New Bussa and Jos, and the fourth was in Kaduna which is north west. So, we realised that the Southeast, South-South, and Northeast were left out. This informed the new colleges in Ishiagu Ebonyi State, Fugar Edo State and in Borno.
The 25 million trees mandate
Then came the challenge in 2019, when Mr. President made a statement at the UNGA committing to planting 25 million trees. We felt that it should become an annual commitment. That was when my boss then, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, who is now the Emir of Nasarawa, appointed me as the national coordinator of the afforestation programme, a post I still hold till now.
When we began the journey, coincidentally, that was the year COVID broke out. At the Institute, we were able to do 11 million seedlings, FRIN being the coordinator. We added what other people did and that gave us 21 million seedlings.
In subsequent years, we were not able to produce at that scale anymore. But on a yearly basis, under the Green Bond programme, launched by Hajia Amina J Mohammed, we plant and also make sure we give seedlings to as many states as possible.
What fears did you have when resuming as the head of FRIN?
Coming in as ED was scary, because of the precedents and the past experiences of those who have occupied this office. It got to the point of me thinking, “Are you sure these people will not kill you?” It got even scarier when you heard that people had told you that you would not last six months. That was the maximum they gave me. They said that in four to six months they will have gotten rid of this chap because I was the youngest that ever headed FRIN. One of the directors was bold enough, precisely on December 12, 2016, to tell me that nobody has tried these things I am doing in FRIN and lived to testify about it. She said that God was not with me but living in me because my survival up to that day could only have been God.
The first thing I did when I came in was flood the compound with solar lights. Little did I know that they were some of the top staff of the Institute who came at night to do spiritual baits, charms, and incantations at junctions and all of that!
I also ensured that no matter what was going on in the country, staff promotions were done annually. Because if you allow promotion to stop in the physical you are empowering it in the spiritual. It was that scary, but we have tried since we came to demystify all of that by not taking anybody to heart. Sometimes people come to me and say, ‘don’t be angry over a past incident.’ But I tell them I have dealt with that past issue. It’s past, it is gone!
What are your future plans?
That is in the hand of God. Like I told you, once you are still relevant in the scheme of God, you are limitless. Just keep doing what He wants you to do. Once God designates you, no man can stop it. That is my ultimate belief. I am still a staff of the Institute. I am still a professor of research – that is my first calling. But I will first embark on my accumulated leave to go and thank God seriously. Then, we will wait for His next plan of action for us.
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