Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Godson Echegile is one of the finest political elites from Delta State, who has served the State meritoriously at local and national levels. The ex Banker and former Director of the Federal Housing Authority, who took a shot at the Delta State governorship elections in 2007 but lost, has taken a long hiatus from politics to focus on private practice.
The Chairman of Niscot Ltd., a property and estate development company, who clocked 60 recently, in this encounter, reminisces on his days of humble beginnings, the state of the nation, his support for youth leadership, amongst other life issues.
You clocked 60 recently. How does that make you feel?
I am grateful to God for sparing my life; I am grateful to my family and extended family, they have been of immense support to me. I lost my mother quite early, so the extended family played a huge role in molding me and making me become who I am today. So, I give all thanks to God, to my immediate family, my three wonderful kids, my elder sisters and my other siblings.
Do you feel fulfilled at 60?
Yes, and I thank God for life, for what I eventually became, and the height and level I have reached so far. I come from a very humble background, so I have every cause to thank God for the height he has taken me to.
Talking about your background, what was growing up like for you, where were you born?
I was born in Owa-Alero in Ika North Local Government Area of Delta State. I lived with my uncle for the greater part of my youth, and then went to secondary school in Imade College in Owo in Ondo State.
I worked for a while before going to Adeyemi College of Education where I studied Physics/ Mathematics but I didn’t teach as soon as I left Adeyemi because I got admitted to University of Lagos to study Natural Science. I graduated with a first class. In 1986, I started my banking career with Nigeria International Bank known as City Bank today. I retired from banking in 1996 as Executive Director.
With the same bank?
No, I went through many banks. I joined politics a bit early, in 1998 served as special adviser to Chief Tony Anenih, from there I went to Federal Housing Authority as Executive Director ( finance). I left the Federal Housing Authority in 2005 to try my luck at the governorship race in Delta State. It was after that race that I got appointed as Nigerian Ambassador to Sierra Leone by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
I came back from that assignment in January 2012 and I have been on my own as a private sector person.
As High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, what was the experience like?
My diplomatic experience was quite good for me. First of all, I served in the Republic of Sierra Leone and that is where the first University in West Africa, Fourah-Bay College is located. When I look at their war spanning almost 11-12 years, which was not a pleasant one, I thank God for Nigeria that we are still here together today.
Were you there during that period?
No, it was immediately the war was ending that I was appointed, I came in during the peace negotiations. While there, one thing I noticed is that Nigerians are very hard working, we are very committed with the drive to succeed. Anywhere in Africa you meet a Nigerian, other Africans get scared of them because we will take over their businesses. So that strength and drive in us as a people is what should not make us lose hope, that is one positive thing about Nigeria.
So, the ability to wield a multicultural society together is one thing that we need to do. To me, it is the challenge we have. The moment we succeed in doing that, the sky is our limit. We can learn from the Singaporean experience, where the Indians and Chinese live in one country. They have been able to wield themselves together under one leadership. So if we get it right; we have the size, the population that is our strength, so let’s work on the disunity in our land and we will grow from there.
How would you describe the relationship between Nigeria and Sierra Leone?
Very cordially, Nigeria brought peace to Sierra Leone and they have so much regards for us. It is a small country, barely the size of Delta State. Nigeria is like the big brother, always there to help in the spirit of ECOWAS, because the peace of Sierra Leone is peace of Nigeria. Remember when they had that crisis, we had to send our military there; a lot of resources went into bringing peace in Sierra Leone and Liberia. We had to work together to make it right.
In terms of tourism how would you compare both countries?
Nigeria is way ahead, but we are far behind East African countries. I go to Rwanda and Southern African countries regularly on consultancy and those ones are prepared for tourism. We are not, but because of our resources, we can afford to have five star hotels and accommodate people; that is what is lacking in Sierra Leone. They don’t have that much hotel and the capacity to build places like the Eko Hotel but we have it all. All we need is security then people will come.
So you think Insecurity is responsible for the bad economy we are experiencing today?
Insecurity is the reason for the bad economy. Most foreign investors won’t come and invest, even Nigerians who have their money outside won’t bring it in. Again, we can see that the purchasing power of the Naira is going down daily; so, we have so much to work on. But as a nation that is just 61 years of nationhood, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. The challenge is quite much but, I think we can get it right; we shouldn’t lose hope as a nation. We will wake up one day and get the right leadership, that will refocus the society, and then move us in the right direction.
The government should work on uniting the country, and get our security right and all things will fall into place.
You studied Natural Science at the University of Lagos, what informed your choice of career as a tenager?
I loved mathematics and so I wanted where I could express myself. If you remember in the 80s, banking was beginning to move from the “tally number” process to a more sophisticated level. That attracted me to banking as well as the dress code- suit! After my first degree in Natural Science, I had MSc finance, then MBA in management all from University of Lagos.
What events in life would you say influenced you as a person?
Two things played a major role; the death of my uncle (my mother’s immediate younger brother who brought me up in the 70s), and the death of my wife in 2016. She died of breast cancer. Those were very low moments for me. By September this year, it will be five years. I have remained unmarried, more or less married to the kids and they are my strength. I derive a lot of joy seeing, relating and sharing their thoughts with them. I just have three of them, two girls and a boy.
How did you cope after the loss of your wife?
I have always been close to my children and they have been wonderful children. Her death was a rude shock to the family, I had to provide a shoulder on which the three kids could lean on and to be able to communicate freely with me, share ideas and guide them right. It was shocking, it was bad but we can’t question God.
You talked about leaving the corporate world for politics. What is the inspiration behind that shift?
Two people influenced my coming into politics; Ambassador Dele Cole and late Chief Tony Anenih. They were people concerned about giving service and improving the environment and community. Again, there are things you cannot do as a person no matter how wealthy you are, you need the influence of the government to change policy direction, to address some ills of society. Those were the main issues that drove me into politics.
And when you contested for governorship, but did not get the ticket, you didn’t lose hope?
No. Anybody can contest; you would either win or lose. If you lose, sometimes, the winner still comes back to you to say “sorry, I defeated you or sorry you lost. I love some of the ideas that you campaigned on, can you help work on that? In such a case, you still have your own part in the government to play. In such a case, it is not a complete loss.
Are you looking at contesting again sometime in the future?
No. At 60 I should be an elder statesman. I hold an OFR (Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). I will remain a statesman to guide the younger generation, and see how far we can take the country before our exit.
Are you one for youth leadership or youth for president and why?
Sure, the reason is that they have their own society. If you look at our population, they constitute over 60 percent of the population. At times, I want to believe we are not on the same level with them; in terms of communication, they know what they want and probably how to help the society. So, I believe they should be given the chance to grow the society the way they want to see it in 20 or 30 years time and then let some of us begin to take the back seat. To me, our president should be in his 50s, should be somebody in the bracket of 40 to 50 years.
To me at 60, you can’t be as agile as you were in your 40s. Like I told you earlier, I came out with a first class; in those days, I could read a book of 300 pages in two days but now, it will take me a week or two to finish because diminishing returns have set in.
At 60, you should be tidying up and asking yourself, what will the society remember me for, and not wanting to take over the mantle of governance.
So what would you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a man who stood for justice, fairness and equity.
When you are not working, how do you take time out to relax?
I do a lot of sports starting from tennis, squash and swimming, that is what I do if I am not in Church. I am an active member of the Anglican Communion.
When it comes to fashion, what are you comfortable in?
I love the traditional African wear, if I am not at work that is what I wear.
How do you keep fit when it comes to staying healthy?
I have a gym at home, after my daily prayers, I start my day there. When I come back from work, I retire to the gym, I put in at least one hour daily.
What about food, do you eat healthy?
I try to eat healthy. I love African food that is why you hardly see me spend more than a month or two each time I travel to Europe. I love Amala, Tuwo, I am an African.
If you want to live anywhere else, where would that be?
That will be Delta State because it is a lovely place; warm people, straight forward, we tell it the way it is. It is not as stressful as Lagos, the kind of crazy chase for money. There you are your brother’s keeper, you wake up, your uncle is at your door; you sit down with him and talk heartily. So I spend my vacation more in the village than outside the country. If I am outside it’s mostly for business. It is just that insecurity has reduced that.
What is your advice for the youths who have lost hope in the country?
All is not lost; this is our rough time but, I know we will come out of it much stronger. We have done so well with democracy in the last 21 years. If the military had done half of what democracy has given us, we wouldn’t be here today. Yes, we are not there yet, but we will.
What is that one great lesson you would say life has taught you at 60?
Fall, pick yourself up, move on, don’t weep, don’t keep complaining, don’t remain at that point, put yourself together, you will make it again.