In this interview with Business Hallmark’s Ayoola Olaoluwa and Araba Olawale Enifenilanfe, the Executive Vice Chairman of Ikorodu Local Government and National Chairman, Association of Local Government Vice Chairmen of Nigeria (ALGOVC), Princess Folashade Olabanji-Oba, speaks on a number of issues concerning the council, the contentious local government autonomy and her sojourn in politics. Excerpts:
It is not often that an urbane and successful businesswoman from the Diaspora like you will abandon her comfort zone for the murky waters of Nigerian politics? What’s the motivating factor?
It is not really an abandonment. For me, politics is a legacy project. It is about the people, giving back to the people. It is about blessing the source, that is those that had blessed me. One thing we all owe to mother earth is to make sure that we leave it better than we met it. That’s question we don’t often ask ourselves because we tend to get carried away with always wanting more.
But sometimes we need to evaluate how we have been able to achieve that. I mean not forgetting your primary purpose of what you aspire to be maybe when you were younger. If you have fallen short, you need to see where you can make it up. So, for someone like me, I am a sucker for love. I have been blessed with the gift of people, especially my mother. The best mother anybody could have asked for.
She was one person you could never outdo for love. She laboured for me to have my voice. She laboured for me to go to school. She didn’t go to school as she was a sickle-celler. She struggled and was able to live to the ripe age of 85 years. As her first daughter, she taught me so many things. But one major thing was that life is not all about money, that you must always add value.
Yes, money is needed to make the world go round. But always make sure that wherever you are, you add value. Contribute, participate, shoulder and nurture people. Nurturing is something that comes with womanhood. So, with my pedigree, people will wonder, ‘why this society?’
Yes, I lived abroad, I lived in the United Kingdom for eleven years and the United States for eighteen years. But my mother is from here, And for so many reasons when I was more older in life, I realised I must come back home, especially when both my parents became old and sick and I though that for somebody who had done so much for me, I must give something back.
So that was one of the reasons I decided to relocate initially to Nigeria to take care of them. But in coming back to Nigeria, I looked around me and I was like whao!, things were not what I thought I will meet. What a culture shock! Coming from an environment that is well planned and structured to Nigeria where it was difficult to plan, the gap was quite much. But there is something in me that doesn’t give up easily, that there is always diamond in the dirt. That sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have. We are stuck with looking at someone’s else green grass.
But if we really water our own grass, take care of our environment take care of what God blessed us with, we will also prosper. Honestly, I believe in this entity called Nigeria. I believe we have all that it takes to be ranked among the greatest nations on earth.
How do you then fit in? How do you make a difference in a world where everything seems to be going wrong?
Like I said earlier, I got a culture shock when I came back home. It wasn’t easy initially, But as they say, love conquers all. So, I had to reprogramme my brain. God never make mistakes, there are no accidents with him. There must be a reason why things are not going well and there must be a way to realign it.
So, I started to think, ‘how can I make a change, how can I be a blessing to my society’. Yes, I have acquired all these knowledge, but how do I give back? So, that’s how we got to where we are. And the more I was here, the more I fell in love with the community. So, I started to study the system and it took about one year to do that, Yes, I am a real estate person, that’s what I have done almost my entire life.
My mother, even though she was into retail trading and all that, was a developer. She invested heavily in real estate. I didn’t quickly learn that, but I know she put that in me. It was later in life that I realised that she had really impacted the nitty gritty of the real estate business in me.
Although, she was not formally educated, she sure knew what she was doing. And later, I started to volunteer to serve the people of this community when I will come home to ask what could be done and how could I be of help. And gradually, I started to make impacts.
In fact, that is what you call politics. When you look at the world politics, it has been so much demonised that nobody wants to touch it. As a first child and daughter, there were limitations that were set. My dad was a person that didn’t believe initially in the girl-child. He was initially against investing in the girls, with the pervasive kind of thinking in the olden days that was against investing so much in a girl-child who will will end up in another man’s house.
But my mother saw no limitations. She was a kind of person that believed a girl-child can even do better. She must have held on to that belief because her father invested in her too. She was supposed to be a sickcle-celler and abandoned to die young, but she became Kokumo who refused to die. At the end of the day, she was the pillar of the family.
The ones that went to school didn’t match-up to what she became in life. And so, she said there is something called destiny, you can rework it, you can rewrite it if you put much energy in it and have the heart to do it. And your heart, if it is right, will lead you to greatness because God always look at the mind. That’s how I found myself here.
Your mother was a pillar who supported your foray into politics. Was it because she didn’t have male children?
No, not at all. She did. I have a male brother. She had other children too, but like I said, she was my best friend, I don’t know what it was, but there was surely something between us. I think she saw a bigger, better version of her in me, And she made me believe because I was a shy little girl when I was growing up, no confidence, nothing.
But she made me to take up leadership role in our family by taking care of my siblings. Also, she will wake me up by three in the morning and leave the house by 4.30am for the market. Now, if I go to bed by 2.00am, I must wake up by 4.00am. And I don’t need an alarm to do that. So, those things she programmed in me, that everything is structured, you must know how to balance and juggle it.
One thing that is important is that there will always be challenges but you must never quit as tough times shall pass. I got that from my mum. And it has helped me greatly. And the terrain sometimes can be very hostile. but I pinch myself that no two days are the same. What you need is constant encouragement. Because it is like this for me, I have to make it better for people coming after me. What I am doing now is to help others, to try to make life easier for them. It is not about me.
You left a free world for a male-dominated society where women are sidelined and not given their dues in politics just because they are women. How did you break the sex barrier?
Women are like endangered species because of our cultural baggages. It happens even in advanced countries like the UK where you can be 20 at a business meeting and you will find only one woman present. But fortunately for me, most of the jobs I have done in my life are in the men’s world. And this really prepared me for the tough task ahead.
But I had to learn hard, I had to study the Nigerian factor. If you study and learn it, it will take away all the frustrations. That is one thing you must learn if you are going to be a good politician, you must concentrate on capacity, capability and competency. You could have beauty, brain and character on top of it all. Because to deal with people, you must have character. You must have integrity. Beauty for me won’t take you far, particularly if you can not sustain it and know how to manage people.
So, you must have the capacity by investing in yourself everyday. The you of yesterday must not be better than you of today and tomorrow. You must have tenacity of purpose and perseverance when it gets tough. All those must come together. Yes, beauty is good. You smile through it all, even if you mean to cry sometimes. I cry a lot sometimes. I am emotional when I am not able to get nasty like people will expect you to when they pushed you.
But I get over it. And once I moved on, no matter what you do to me, I just conclude that it is not about me. All I care for is love, I come in peace. We must change the stereotyping, and change our minds positively by not always condemning. Because what you condemn never blesses you. If you look at it from that angle, you will appreciate that honestly, this country Nigeria, no matter our diversities, our numbers, we can make it work.
By myself, I can do so little. But by joining hands in partnership with others, I can do much more. Being in governance, I can influence things, I can make a difference. Instead of condemning the representation, I can really be the representation that people are yearning for. It is about servant leadership. It is about stooping to conquer. And like I said, its worth everything for me.
How long have you been in politics?
I started getting involved in politics as far back as 2003. At that time, I was still going back and forth as a Diasporian. But I relocated totally in 2005. And from 2005 till now, I have been actively involved in politics. I started in Mushin. Then we used to leave in Ireakari. I joined a group under the mentorship of LAGUS. Back then you must have a mentor. Till today, he is still one of my greatest mentors.
Sometimes when am bothered, when things are not going well, I run to him for counsel. He is somebody I admired so much, somebody that is selfless, a party person. And today, I am a party person.
For me, it is about the party. No matter what happens, I am someone that believes in party supremacy. The party is like a house and you must do everything humanly possible to save your home. It is the home that brings all of us together. If we bring it down, then there will be no place for us to shelter. It is from there you reach out to the world to see how we can colour it beautifully.
How have you been able to impact your environment as a public official, especially after becoming the vice chairman of Ikorodu Local Government?
Well, I am a people’s person. I love to make them smile. The administration side of it is just to be able to put things in order, to be able to push out programmes, especially gender and youth friendly programmes. That’s my core area, where I can really add value and transform lives.
At the local government level, we are the go through person. It’s like an extention of your family. There is no barrier, no bridge. They can call on you at anytime of the day. Trust me, if my phone rings at 1.00am and I see it, I will pick it. It is my job, it is what I am here to do. I don’t wait until am called to do my work. If I am driving around and see anything that needed to be fixed, I will stop and promptly see to it.
Yes, I have a principal, the chairman of Ikorodu Local Government and I am the vice chairman. This is my second tenure as vice chairman. Am also the national chairman of the association of vice chairmen of the 774 local governments in the country. Before now, I was the national deputy chairman of the association for four years. That also for me is a project close to my heart, because most times people used to say vice chairmen are just decorative and that they are merely handbags. Their welfare is not always taken care of and they sometimes have frictions with their principals. But since I have been there, I have being able to add value, and more of an asset to our chairman. And most times when we have issues, we quickly resolve it.
Now, everyone is happy that there is a spirit of cooperation among all of us, that whatever we are doing, we are proud to be vice chairmen because we are there for the people. If you spend precious time fighting your chairman, the people lose. And it defeats the purpose you have been elected. This is an elective office, not an appointment. Being elected means you’ve got your peoples mandate to put smiles on their faces.
And you think you have largely been able to put smiles on the faces of the people?
I should not be the one to rate myself. It is still very much work in progress. But I know that somehow, that I have earned my name as the peoples princes. I cut across, many call me Mama Youth, Beyonce.
It is like my spirit is free, I always want to smile and also put smiles on other peoples faces because I know it is infectious. It makes you accessible. Whatever people are going through and they see that you are accessible, they believe you have no problem, no challenges in the world. So, they always approach you to help them solve their problems, and I always let them know that like everybody, I also have my down periods. But together, we had always overcome the challenges.
Lately, there have been agitations for local governments autonomy. What is your own position on this?
That is one good thing I will like to talk about. I will like to say a big thank you to his Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, who I will say had taken a bold step. But as you will agree with me, every politics is local. In some areas, the agitation is more than the other. But the main concern of his government is to make sure that we have local government autonomy in all ramification. And I think at the end of the day, we will get it.
The president has really tried, it is something no one had tried before. We underestimate all that his government had done and is trying to do. But I know that some day, Nigerians will realise that he has done so much for this country. We are a very big and diverse nation, and the times are not the same. We have gone through turbulence, unpredictable times.
So many things were thrown at us that were not planned, especially the period Covid19 struck. Nobody prepared for that. But you know, been a proactive government, we were able to save so many lives which is really the job of government.
Ikorodu seems to be growing at a slower pace compared to other fast growing divisions in Lagos State like Epe and Badagry. What do you think is responsible for this?
I think you haven’t gone through Ikorodu lately. Ikorodu is the fastest growing community in the state right now, because we have everything that is friendly, affordable and natural, nice people, weather, location. You have an influx of people moving in here than any other part of the country right now. Maybe you only took your trip from Majidun to Ikorodu Centre? But you really need to go inside Ikorodu proper.
The development and numbers here will blow you away. Our former kabiyesi used to say Ikorodu will one day become the headquarters and I believe that is already been fulfilled. And I want to say I am part of the people that made it a more enabled place for people to live in. One of the happiest moments in my life is when people call me Iya Ikorodu. I am always excited. For me, it is Ikorodu to the world.
Back in the days, we used to have many negativities, and our name was being mentioned for all the wrong things. That has changed now. Now, everybody wants to move to Ikorodu, they can buy land and have the pride of ownership. Ikorodu is a mini Nigeria. If you go round the city now, you will see that there is no part of the country that is not here present in Ikorodu.
You are a wife, mother and at the same time a businesswoman and politician. How do you balance all these responsibilities with your home?
I manage through the grace of God and my home is surviving by the grace of God. One thing I always ensure is that I carry my husband and children along in all that I do. I wish I could be home more. But I let them know the importance of the things I do. My children encourage me, my husband encourages me.
I remember a day I came back home after a long spell outside and was packing my bags to go again. My husband looked at me and said, “Whao!, Akanke, If I deny you, God won’t forgive me, because I see your genuineness of heart and I count it a privilege to be your husband”.
Yes, he needs me, yes, he misses me, even the children and all, they try to see the bigger picture. That is their own big sacrifice. At times, my husband will shout, “Ah, APC want to snatch my wife!” and all that, but when we are together, I try to make it up in quality time. When I make mistakes, I am quick to ask for forgiveness on bended knees. But you know, this is my job, the mandate I signed with the people. Nobody forced it on me, I voluntarily signed for it. And my family appreciates that.