No country survives a division from within; that is why it has become necessary for Nigeria to seek out true Nigerians who are an embodiment of a diversified yet unified country. Anthony Oneya, current Senior Special Assistant to the Kano State governor on Lagos Affairs is the poster-man for that concept. The Delta-born, Arewa raised, Kano envoy to Lagos is a reflection of what it means to be a Nigerian. Speaking exclusively with TOMI FALADE, Oneya, the economist son of the former military governor of Kano and Benue States respectively shares his journey to SSA and how his tenacity and military background have contributed to the many successes his office has recorded in the last few years.
If you were to describe yourself, would you say you are a politician?
No, I am not. You may say I am around politics, but that does not make me a politician. I am from a family that has always wanted to make an impact in communities over time. My father used to be the military governor of Kano State, he is retired now. He also became the Chairman of the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) as it was known then; he has worked with CAF, FIFA and all the rest of them. Now he is more into community participation back home in Delta State, and he is one of the grassroots leaders in his community. So yes, I am around politics, but not as a politician. HERE IS HOW I OVERCOME QUICK RELEASE AND MADE IT BIGGER, STRONGER AND LONGER WITH THIS NAFDAC-APPROVED NATURAL REMEDY. CLICK NOW TO SEE!
It seems like your family has already made a very big impact, which can mean you have big shoes to fill as a scion of such a prestigious family. Growing up, did you have that sense of duty to the people or did it come later?
Yes, growing up I have always had that sense of duty. I remember that as a child I would see my dad come out dressed in his military uniform and I would shine his shoes for him. I ended up going to military school and wore my first military khaki at the Nigerian Military School, and when I come home for holidays, I would greet him like a military personnel. So, yes, I have always wanted to be part of that circle, that responsibility.
What would you say in your background prepared you for the positions you hold today?
I think it’s everything. I work as the Senior Special Assistant to the Kano State governor on Lagos Affairs and I am also the CEO of the Dominic Oneya Foundation which I started in 2017.
Back in the university, I attended the University of Abuja and my dad was the NFA chairman at that time, he had just retired from the army and handed over to a democratically elected governor in Benue State. He had moved from Kano and became military governor of Benue State, so he handed over to George Akume. I loved to play basketball and we had a basketball court in the female hostel and it was really bad, so I got a couple of friends who would help fix the court. Back then you could tell who was a minister’s son or a governor’s son, you just could tell who was a child of the top class guys. But I was one of those ex-governors sons that stayed in the hostel and people thought Dominic Oneya wasn’t my father that he was probably my uncle, so I would go with my friends and take a head pan and cement to plaster the court. It was a community thing and we rebuilt the court. I think that made me quite popular in school and when I contested for Director of Sports, I won. I contested against Psquare at the time; I became Mr. Campus and Mr. Popular.
I had responsibilities and people genuinely looked up to me. You could hear people constantly debating my identity. I remember when my dad was the military governor of Kano State, late General Sani Abacha had asked my twin sister and I to come and see him in the State House, so we flew with late Alhaji Muhammadu Adamu Dankabo to see General Abacha. When we got there he said that he wanted to meet the kids that people were talking about, and I didn’t get it. At that time you could tell that military governors’ kids were wayward, they were always here and there, so when the country had to deal with the issues of governors they were also dealing with the issues of governors’ children in schools. So he wanted to meet us because he was impressed with us and wanted to know why we were like that. It was the first time I met him and that gave me a different opinion about him. It gave me the feeling that people were following me and that was when I started my own entertainment outfit in school called the Luciano Family Entertainment. We had members like The Natives. The Natives used to have members like H.I and AJ. H.I, brother to Tuface Idibia and AJ is still in the industry. We also had Psquare and mentors like Six Foot Plus, Mode 9, Terry Tha Rapman; it was cool. If I had known that entertainment was going to be a business with a boom, who knows maybe I would have taken it out of school and further.
Since you have resumed office, what would you say is the percentage of the positive impact your own tenure has brought, and are you the first SSA on Lagos affairs?
Yes, I am the first SSA and the only SSA that does not sit in Kano. Maybe that is why the perception of me being a politician always comes up. If I was sitting in Kano I would be around political things. To be honest with you, I can’t categorically give credit to my office because when I find investors, I direct them to the next SSA, whether sports, agriculture, and many others and vouch for them. The truth is that they can always find their footings in Kano themselves, but the thing is that if you want to go to a place you have never been before you need to find someone that knows what it is all about and that is where I come in.
For example, Lagos had only one underpass until recently, the tunnel at Maryland. There is another one now at Guinness towards Agege. In Kano, we have over 10 underpasses. So what we have done in Kano is that we’ve connected the bridges and linked roads. It is the next bridge network you will see in Nigeria. We can also boast of our own equivalent of LASTMA, called Karota. We have our neighbourhood watch, which we learnt from Lagos. We hope that before the end of this administration, we have our own BRT system in place. In Kano, a system like that is complex because if it happens, we must have a 24-hour service. In Lagos, commercial activities run from morning till night. In Kano, commercial activities run from morning till night and resume at night till morning. We are still coming up with how to manage those logistics. Recently, I was talking to some people about how we can host the first Kano City Marathon.
You are a Delta-born ambassador from Kano State to Lagos State, which is three different states in three different geo-political zones, three very different languages and cultures. Would you call yourself a true Nigerian?
I would say that I have had the best of all worlds and I’ll tell you why. I went to the Nigerian Military School and joined the Nigerian Army at a very young age. As a soldier, I understand what it is to serve. Now, I have been a soldier, I am a civilian, I grew up in the north, I am Urhobo by tribe from Delta State, I was born in Lagos, so I am a fan of ‘Nigeria can work’; that is my perception. People say, ‘Warri no dey carry last’. It is only someone who has never left Warri that would say something like that. By the time you come to a place like Lagos, you will see the competitiveness of things and realise you are nowhere near first. I say I have had the best of all the worlds: I grew up in a Muslim society with the Arewa culture. I live in a Yoruba community and I am also a chief in my village in Delta State.
Looking forward, what are your plans politically, do you have the plans to fully go into politics fully?
I think where I am from our people, our fathers, elders, unlike the north are not preparing their children for the future of politics. In the north, they start preparing the young ones to take over. I am from Delta State and I work for an APC governor, yet I am from a PDP state. My father is a grassroots leader in a PDP state, and I know they would not encourage young people to take up some of these roles, because our fathers still want to be there. I don’t see myself wanting to be part of a system where I am not welcome to change things. I am the first of my kind SSA, which means once I am done with this assignment, another governor can pick me up and ask me to represent them. People that understand investment and commerce know that Lagos is the centre. So with my background, I could be that ambassador for states. That would likely be my participation in politics, so I have no plans to contest for any office, not in the nearest future.