By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Spending most part of a day in the office of the deputy governor of Osun State, gave one a glimpse of what governance is about. Almost everything she attempted to do was punctuated by a call or someone to attend to. There were of course, the courtesy visits. We even witnessed her manage a near crisis situation.
There was no boring moment. Each of these she carried out with all courtesies, a smile to share and with a sense of responsibility. I came away understanding why only a few women get to such positions in the political arena in Nigeria. It is not a job for the weak and lazy neither is it a job for the unwise. Her support and loyalty to her boss is perhaps why she remains one of the exemplary female deputies in the country today.
A native of Ilesa, Dr Erelu Olusola Obada began her educational career at Queens School, Ibadan where she obtained her West African School Certificate, Grade 1. This was followed by a diploma in Advertising administration at the Watford College of Technology, Herts, England. But having been fondly called â€œlittle lawyerâ€ by her father all her life, she decided to earn that name even after her father had passed on. Her quest for knowledge took her to the University of Buckingham, England where she obtained her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986.
Her impressive Curriculum Vitae shows that this articulate mother of four has received over 12 awards including Outstanding Achievement in Business/Industry by Nigeria Women Awards 2001, and holds about five traditional/religious titles.
Most interesting in her CV, is the over 18 community appointments that she holds, many of which explains her clear solidarity with the ordinary people in Osun State. Surprisingly, the wife of Otunba Dr Felix Babatunde Obada holds these appointments very dear to her heart as she considers people a veritable source of enriching her life. Check this out: Matron, Palm Oil Sellers Association of Ijesaland, Matron, Garri Sellers Association of Ijesaland, Matron, Quarry Workers Association of Ijesa land amongst many others.
Recognised as one of 10 Distinguished Women of Excellence and one of the 50 Distinguished Personalities of Osun State, Erelu Dr. Olusola Obada is a member of the National Cocoa Development Committee. As the chairman of Osun State chapter of the Cocoa Development Committee, the suave deputy governor is like the face of cocoa in the state. She speaks about cocoa with a passion and encouraged my colleague, Dare and I to share a drink of cocoa.
Her journey of life took a turn yesterday when she turned 58! It was a good time to reflect on life, politics and of course, cocoa. We began with politics as she tells us the secrete of her success as an exemplary deputy governor.
Most deputies and their bosses donâ€™t get along well. What is the secret of your success?
Let me start by saying that the constitution of this country assumes that the office of the governor and his deputy are one. We also know that there cannot be two people piloting a plane or two people driving a car. It is not possible. The Bible says give unto Caesar what is Caesarâ€™s and to God what is Godâ€™s. Deputies are meant to play supporting roles because there are no defined roles in the constitution for them. So deputies actually function at the discretion of the governors.
So the question is, what kind of relationship does a governor have with his deputy? Where there is synergy, a common purpose, and both of them do not lose sight of their desire to serve the people, then it is easy for them to carry each other along. So they call deputies spare tires, but I would say that we are necessary spare tires.
Once in a while, I say to my governor, your excellency, can you imagine driving in the night and you have a flat tire and then you open your boot and find that you donâ€™t have a spare? It is then that you know that spare tires are extremely important and very invaluable. So the secret of my success is the fear of God, a good relationship with my governor. But this is not as if we do not have diverse opinions about some things or that we agree on everything all the time. But one thing we have promised ourselves is that we would always sit down and discuss things. We have done that for six years and Iâ€™m sure that in Jesus name, we would do that for another two years until we leave the stage.
You were the second female deputy governor after Mrs Kofo Akerele-Bucknor. How did you fare with no female predecessor to rub minds with?
If I may say a word or two about Mrs Akerele Bucknor, I always refer to her as a trail blazer. The same for Mrs Sinatu Ojikutu. I call them trail blazers because if things had not happened the way they did, we who came after them would not know how to behave properly.
So, we learnt a lesson from what happened and because of that, I always give them that place of honour for having been there and for showing us the way because that was indeed what they did. Mrs Akerele Bucknorâ€™s experience helped in guiding us on how we should behave and what things are expected of us.
The year 2011 is just around the corner. What are your plans?
That is in the hands of God.Donâ€™t you think you should take your two-term experience a step higher?
That is in the hands of God. I say a prayer to my God everyday that what will give me peace of mind, a chance to serve my people well, whereby I will not be disgraced in any form or manner, that is what my God should do for me in any capacity and anywhere. Moreover, itâ€™s a little bit too early to be talking about that. But I know that in whatever position I serve eventually, so long as Iâ€™m serving the people, I shall be thankful to God because that is what brings the greatest joy.
What is your take on the electoral reforms?
Well, Iâ€™m of the opinion that some things need to change and those things have been taken into consideration and brought forward in the report by the Uwais Commission.
The council of state have sat upon it and their recommendations have been sent to the National Assembly. We should wait and see what happens thereafter. But I know some changes need to be made and those changes are already before the National Assembly. And they more than cover the areas Nigerians would be happy about.
There is the issue of the fake Police report as regards the electoral petition by the Action Congress. What do you make of that?
I told you earlier that it is good that one should have the fear of God. If a politician because he is so desperate to unseat a governor, would descend so low as to forge such a fundamental document as a Police report of events that never happened, then I fear for the polity of this country. It is the height of criminality.
It stinks to high heavens. Anyway, as you know, the matter is back in court. I donâ€™t want to talk too much about it. Suffice it to say that God is on the throne, He has never left my governor and myself and He will never leave us in Jesus name.
As a member of National Cocoa Development Committee, how far have you gone with the cocoa rebirth programme?
Well, Iâ€™m happy to tell you that since the first national cocoa day held in Ibadan in 2005, there is a new awareness created not only for the production of cocoa but also for its consumption because of the health properties which hitherto Nigerians were totally ignorant of. We have been canvassing for increased local consumption, for Nigerians to appreciate the health benefits of cocoa, for them to know that it is a complete food.
In fact, it is a miracle food that God gave to us on this planet but many people donâ€™t know about it but now the message is getting across that cocoa is good against diabetes, it is wonderful against high blood pressure, it can reduce the risk of heart attack and most of all, it is a potent alternative to viagra. It acts like viagra for men and increases your libido whether you are a man or woman. Then the times you come down with malaria are totally reduced. Cocoa boosts your brain power and it is all natural no chemicals. It is a natural crop that God created for us to benefit from.
What alternative uses can cocoa be put to apart from the powder?
Every part of the cocoa is extremely useful and important. The pod itself can be used for animal feed. You can also make black soap with the pod. And then the beautiful things that many people are not aware of is that the sweating of cocoa, can be used to make wine.
You can also use the powder to make wine. From the beans, you can make both white and black chocolate. Then of course, you can have body creams, hair lotion and cocoa bread which is a combination of cocoa and flour. So it has many great uses. We have planted in the past few years the new high breed seedling of the three year variety. You know it used to take 12 years to gestate.
In fact, as we speak, the new high bread variety of 18 months is here with us. So it is a veritable means of creating employment. In the 13 cocoa producing states in Nigeria, cocoa is not just a crop, it is a way of life and it embraces the whole community.
Are the youths involved?
Yes. Farming is no longer confined to old people who did it at the subsistence level. Now, people are going commercial. Itâ€™s a whole new world and people can dove tail into any part of it and make a living. The opportunities are actually limitless for the youths.
Can we say that the glory of cocoa is back?
The glory of cocoa is definitely back but it can be better. Before 2000, the glory of cocoa totally went into oblivion and cocoa farmers had in fact, gone ahead to plant other crops because they were not getting enough encouragement.
We used to have the cocoa marketing board in the 80â€™s but it was scrapped and that left the market open to all kinds of shady people who could now trade in our cocoa and take it abroad. Because of the high demand, people could not even wait for the cocoa to dry properly before buying and carrying it abroad and this affected the premium rating that had been given to us.
Nigeriaâ€™s cocoa quality suffered until the advent of the National Cocoa Development Committee under the last administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Since then, new variety of this high breed seedlings as well as chemicals, herbicides, fungicides were also given to farmers at half price to assist them. Iâ€™d like to ensure that this continues so that our farmers will not be discouraged again.
How has life been at 58 especially as deputy governor?
I give glory to God for life. I thank Him for the opportunity he has given me to serve my people in this capacity. I could have gone through life without having this opportunity but he made it possible for me. Life is not a bed of roses. There are new challenges everyday but God said He will always make us over-comers. It has been rewarding in the sense that he has placed me in a position to be able to assist people- students, women, the sick etc. It has been extremely enriching.
With all the needs you have to meet and the lean resources available to you, doesnâ€™t that put you under some kind of pressure?
The truth is, there is no way you can meet all needs. But, I have found out that the smallest gesture goes a very long way. You cannot be the answer to every bodyâ€™s problems. But when you talk to people, and say kind words that show care and understanding and that you appreciate what they are going through, and you do the little you can, no matter how small, they appreciate it. The needs of our people are not really so great so long as they have the basic necessity of life which everybody is actually entitled to.
You cannot be a good politician if people easily irritate you. That is why I am matron of so many market association-palm oil sellers, garri sellers, yam sellers etc and we are on one-on-one with each other. I love them because they are genuine, happy, interesting people and politics is about being there for them.
What has been the greatest challenge?
There are challenges everyday. But every challenge creates new opportunity.
As you grow older, what are your reflections now and are there things you would have done differently?
Not too long ago, I was given a honorary doctorate degree by Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso. I fell to the ground, knelt down and thanked my God because that was one thing I wanted to do to continue my studies until I got a P.hd. Iâ€™ve been trying to do a Masters programme but I canâ€™t combine it with my work. I thank God but I wish I had done that much earlier.
Then on reflections, I think I have just started the story of my life. I will reflect when Iâ€™m 85 or 90 years old. But suffice it to say, thus far has God assisted me and I give glory to Him. But there have been things in oneâ€™s life that formed oneâ€™s character and polished oneâ€™s personality to arrive at who I am today.
What was your dream as a child?
I had always known Iâ€™d be a lawyer because my father told me I could wriggle out of any difficult situation. So he used to call me â€œmy little lawyerâ€. Although I read advertising first, after my father died, just to satisfy him wherever he was and to fully actualise myself, I went to read law. To tell the truth, lawyers make the best politician because they have an insight into almost everything. So it is nice to have that background for politics. Perhaps, the only profession a lawyer cannot be engaged in is surgery!
What is your philosophy of life?
The fear of God. It sounds like what every body says every day but when I say it, it is with total awe of God. When I look back and all that God has done, only a divine power could have done it. So the fear of God and you must love your neighbour as yourself and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What are your wishes now?
Happiness, joy, wisdom, again, the fear of God, success in everything for my family and total unmitigated victory over every opposition.
A lot of women who hold important offices like yours get carried away and donâ€™t know how to come out of this role at the end of everyday to going home to be the submissive wife and mother. Many have failed in this regard. How do you get by?
From day one, I knew that one day, I am going to go back to my house. So Iâ€™ve always had my feet firmly planted on the ground. I have no airs about me. There is no pretense about me. What you see is what you are getting. I do not put on any airs and graces. So blending back into normal life is not a problem. Iâ€™m still mother to my children and wife to my husband and Iâ€™m still mother to everybody here. I feel my life is enriched by people. I tap into the good in people no matter how bad they may be.
When you have to get away from governance and rest, what travel destination do you like?
You wonâ€™t believe it but I love going to Abuja. I