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My father’s casket wasn’t closed until I washed his head

By Chioma Gabriel
P rincess Adenrele Adeniran-Ogunsanya, Secretary to Lagos State Government, SSG, grew up under the tutelage of her late father, Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya who was prominent in  the politics of First and Second Republics.

As a child, Adenrele accompanied her father to political gatherings and became known in his political circle as her father’s ‘hand-bag.’ Those who knew always saw her nestled close to her father’s heart even as an adult. They were so close that even after he died and his body was deposited at the mortuary, Adenrele made several trips to the mortuary to still talk to the body of her father until the mortuary attendants advised her to stop and let her father rest.

Even on the day he was to be buried, the mortuary attendants refused to close his casket until his facvourite daughter came and touched her father and traditionally washed his head.
Looking back, Adenrele said in this interview that it is impossible for her to forget her father who was both father and mother to her and was her best friend until his death.

She also speaks on the politics of the day and the innovations of the State government to make Lagos more comfortable for the citizens.

It’s been two years that you started your journey as Secretary to Lagos State Government. How has it been?

It’s been a fantastic time for me to be part of an administration that means well and that serves the interest of the people of Lagos State.

Before this time, you were in PDP and in the political camp of Engineer Funsho Williams but after his assassination you left the PDP to join AC and then Fashola’s government. Do you think you are better-off in AC than in PDP?

I have no regrets about joining the AC. I have said it over and over again and I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. It took time for me to change. I tried my best to stay in PDP. I had been part of the formation of that party, the PDP, through the likes of Chief Bode George and many others. But it was obvious I could no longer remain there. I was not wanted there and that was in PDP Lagos, not by the general body. Our views are not the same.
In any case, this is the state that I belong to, I have no other state. I can claim I’m a Nigerian. I can claim any other state and even by association, claim the Eastern part of Nigeria. You know the relationship they have with my father and the great affection my father had for the Igbos. I also have great affection for that particular area but this is where I have my roots.

You had a problem with Lagos PDP, not the national body. Was the problem in the state then too big for the national body to resolve?

The national body, I think for some reasons, their hands were tired. I never had any problem with my friends at the national level. I still maintain my friends but I’m definitely not in PDP and I don’t intend in any way to ever go back. I have often said it, that if for some reasons, the journey reverses, and I don’t think it will,  PDP is definitely not an alternative.

Currently, one can say that Lagosians have mixed feelings about Fashola’s government. Do you share this opinion? He seems to be walking too fast for most people.

Princess Adenrele Adeniran-Ogunsanya, Secretary to Lagos State Government, SSG
Princess Adenrele Adeniran-Ogunsanya, Secretary to Lagos State Government, SSG

I don’t know of these Lagosians. But anybody that loves Lagos and has the interest of Lagos at heart would not feel any kind of hesitation for an administration that is trying its best to survive against all odds and to make a difference for the betterment of  everybody’s life. I’d say that in Lagos State, we don’t make a preference. We have in Lagos,  people  from every single state in this country and Lagos has become home to them.

We don’t discriminate. We give everybody the best and to the children ,we give them the best education; the best services in the hospitals. We are trying our best at security. We are trying our best to make sure the environment is clean. We want to make it  an environment in which we can survive.

We are thinking of the future because environmental issues are very serious issues. If our climate does not survive, how will we survive? We have to do something about it. We have to wake up.

There are so many issues we have touched in Lagos State to affect lives positively and we did not publicise many of these issues. We try to touch everything that will enhance the quality of every human being and we try to bring what we have on ground up to international standard.. I don’t think anybody should be hesitant.

I know people. Many people find it hard to accept change. People have been used to the old system. To change now is difficult for  them. And I agree that financially, times are not easy but I believe that we must make Lagos a better place. We must bring Lagos up to an international standard..

Lagosians should be able to live the same kind of life being lived anywhere in the world. We have to learn to be able to make sacrifice. Some people think this government is an elitist government but that is far from the truth.

We cannot afford to get angry or agitated. We must continue to explain and I think that most of the work we have done have been because of  the common man.

If you look at Lagos today, development is in every single part of the state. People expect more all the time but Lagosians too must wake up and understand that they are part of the administration, they have roles to play. Their complaining does not help anything.

Solution is what is important. Everybody goes through hardship but because some people don’t complain, they think all is well with them. Some people think I have never gone through any hardship, that I don’t have my own problems.

Everybody has problems. And we must brace ourselves. We must keep moving. We must move away from this unwarranted situation. We are open to criticism and where we think we have not gotten it right, we will correct it. And that has been one of the main things that is beautiful about this administration.

So, it’s not like the government is purposely displacing the poor as in small traders being displaced from their businesses without an alternative?

That is far from the intention of government. It’s just that people are not susceptible to change. If this administration is moving people from an area,  immediately that idea is conceived, it begins thinking of an alternative place. But it is not easy for them.

A typical example was when a market was to be moved, I think it was Alaba or somewhere, the people refused to go because they are used to being in the old place where they believe their customers know about. It’s not true the government displaces people without giving them alternatives.

It is not true. There are so many things the government is doing. We are repairing roads but everything is not being done at the same time. You can see the road to my place also needs repairs but we will get there. People need to be patient.

Princess Adenrele Adeniran-Ogunsanya

There is no part of Lagos that some improvement is not being planned. People should be patient and remember that all would not be done in a day. We understand their fears but some fears are unwarranted. You know this is a democracy. People are entitled to their opinions. But what we must understand is that this government is an open-door government.

It listens to the people and therefore, rather than complain, people should feel free and come to the right place to lay their complaints. The Governor does not want to see unemployed youths. His greatest fear is seeing people unemployed or having them suffer and that is why each time he wants to move a market, his first question is where to move them to.

There is this perception that this government is anti non-indigenes and some of the demolitions made were targeted at areas or markets dominated by non-indigenes. The Governor was alleged to have said that Lagos is not for everybody.

No. The Governor never said a thing like that.

Although it is not possible for a hundred million people to live in Lagos, he never said that. People should stop twisting words. Nobody can say that this government is against Igbos. I, for one is an Igbo-associated person. My accountant even in the civil service is from Imo. We are not discriminating against people. In different areas of Lagos, certain people are more concentrated but that does not mean we shouldn’t develop those areas.

Development is going on in every part of Lagos and the non-indigenes should please bear with us. People say ah, he breaks down churches, he doesn’t break down mosques. That is not true. The Governor is like me. He is multi-religious. His father is a Muslim. He is a Muslim. His mother is a Christian. His wife is a Roman Catholic. So, it’s not possible for him to discriminate against Christians.

You see, religion shouldn’t be brought into it especially in the South-West because in a typical family in the South-West, some are Christians and some are Muslims and they are husbands and wives under one roof or children of the same parents. When my father was alive, he was a lay President of the African Church and his elder brother, Suberu Ogunsanya was the Aare Musilimi in Ikorodu. We celebrate together.

Religion can be used to foment trouble in other areas, but not the South-West and definitely not in Lagos because, here, you will find two brothers living under one room and of the same parents belonging to different religions, celebrating together and respecting each other’s religion. It is the same God. The government is not anti-Christianity.

When this government started, it seemed to be enjoying a fantastic relationship with the federal government and even got paid a back-log of local government funds but recently, the tune has changed . There is  bickering  over the creation of 37 LCDAs. There have been calls that the state government reverts to the constitutionally recognised 20 LGAs.What have you to say about that?

I know it is well with Lagos and this thing would be worked out. We have done what we think is best for us, to be able to disperse the necessities of life to every citizen in Lagos.

We are not in normal times and must deliver the dividends of democracy to everybody. I think the federal government should do its part by concentrating on supplying  Nigerians with basic infrastructure like good roads, light, water and should realise that whatever we do here is to better the lots of Lagosians. You must also have heard that President Yar’Adua is going to dialogue with the state government on this issue.

Apart from the federal  government, other parties in Lagos don’t seem to fit into the development as they prepared candidates for only 20 LGAs whereas AC is making case for 57.

It couldn’t have affected them. The issue is that these other parties don’t have the support that we have in Lagos. They might have it elsewhere but not here. So, I don’t understand their fuss. When you don’t have people, you don’t have people and nothing can change that overnight.

There are speculations that Fashola may not be interested in a second term in office and in this country, there have been issues about discontinuity in government. One government starts one thing and another cuts it off. Is it true he’s not interested in a second term?

Well, I’m not in Fashola’s mind. But I think the governor is more particular about doing what he has received the mandate for now. This premature talk about second term should not come up now. We are not in normal times in Nigeria. In some areas, there has not been light for three weeks, three months. Here, I have been living on generator for three weeks. This country needs to move forward. So, I think Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola does not think it wise to be discussing second term now. For me, it’s premature.

You talk about projects but there is no project that will end with us. Governments come and go and it is for the incoming government to continue where others stopped. By the grace of God, I think we should go far in the projects he has commenced. There are so many projects but it is an on-going thing. The important thing is, let’s get it going. We never know the work of God. A substantial part of the projects could be completed and there would always be additions.

What I’m saying is that in addition to what we have on ground now, there is a projection into the future. We  start projects that we think will stand the test of time. We make projections of about  thirty years ahead. There are a lot of projects that we do in Nigeria that are just for now. It is a waste of tax payers money. But in Lagos, we are projecting into the future and doing projects that will stand the test of time.

This ten lane construction of roads towards Badagry does not seem like what could be completed in this administration. It came up in the time of General Adisa and later died. The fear is that after this regime, another regime could come up and abandon the projects and all the demolitions made would crop up again. That is what I’m saying  about continuity.

I appreciate what you are saying but I don’t believe any sane government would want to discontinue a beautiful project like a ten-lane road construction or any viable project for that matter. I understand discontinuity of projects but in Nigeria, first ladies fall more victims to this. But for them, it’s an ego thing.

A first lady would start a major programme or project like Better Life for Rural Women and another would come up and prefer Family Support. These are understandable because they are personal dreams. But even then, a project like Better Life for rural women should have been a continuous project and that shows you that we still have not got our thinking right.

I also want to say this thing because as a people, we are used to complaining. Some people don’t want to be part of the solution. People sit down and complain and don’t proffer solutions. We must be ready to make some sacrifice. It has nothing to do with whether you have money or not.

People should use their voice. They should use it well. People have to get involved in government, and lay their complaints at appropriate quarters. If you notice, most of the promises made by the governor during his campaign, he has tried as much as possible to fulfil them.

And he is not having any problem with his commissioners and aides?

I’m not aware of any problems between him and his commissioners.

Okay, lets get a bit personal. You and your father were known to be very close in his life time. Would you say you have realised his dreams for you  politically and he would be so proud of you?

I always say to anybody that cares  to listen that my father was very good to me. We were too close and he was both father and mother to me as well as my best friend.

When my mother refused to come and live in Nigeria and handed me to him, it was two of us together until he died. He was the one bathing me as a little girl and dressing me up and taking me to everywhere he went, even attending political meetings in the NCNC/Action Group days and I was called his ‘hand-bag’ amongst his friends.

I was little  and would usually sing political party slogans  in open campaign vehicles with my hair flying in the wind. Indeed, my father was very good to me and his name deserved to be heard.. I can only take it as far as I could. I pray that some of my nephews and nieces, even my children would take if further. I have tried my best. Nobody is perfect. Only God is perfect.

They used to call you your father’s ‘hand-bag’. Would you say this ‘hand-bag’ contains as much as your father would have loved it to contain?

I think I learnt a lot from him and I’m grateful to him because he charted a path for me that brought me this far. So, by and large, I just thank God.. I would like to be more content but I am content.

You had a privileged childhood?

Yes. It was my father and I initially but he got married again but we retained our closeness because he personally took care of me.

I grew up at a wonderful time to have grown up, at the time that there were lots of men who were full of charisma, who were patriotic about their country, who meant well. It was a time when there were ideologies in politics, a time when there were values.

Our house was always a bee-hive of political activities and as a child I had the privilege of knowing and even associating with my father’s political cronies of the first republic. In terms of social amenities, there was never a problem.  Really, I can  count by the fingers the number of times we didn’t have water in our family house in Surulere.

Whenever I go to our house in Surulere even till date, when I turn the tap, water still comes out. And it’s not borehole because we don’t have a borehole. We’ve never had a bore-hole. I tell my kids stories, about how Lagos was, about how much fun it was and they think I’m talking about a different country.

A driver used to pick me up from school, from my primary school and I used to avoid wanting to go with the driver because I wanted to go with my mates in scholars’ bus. And it was clean. There were so many things that are around today that were alien to us in those days. So, I just pray that we get some semblance back. It is true that there is a lot of sophistication around but there is no depth in that sophistication.

Politics has changed. I sang political slogans in the old days as a little girl but nobody would do it now. Little kids would not be allowed into political terrain now because things have changed. No parent would permit that. Then it was safe even though it had its own hazards, but nobody can do it now. It was because it was only my father and I and he took me around.

But this is the first time you are getting involved with any government?

Yes. But I have served in a federal position or a board position and I have been an executive of a party at a national level but I have not served a government before now. I had an opportunity during the 1979-1983 period to serve in government but my father declined, saying I’d not done my apprenticeship.

My father said I had to pay my own dues. He told the gentleman that brought him the news that he should go and bring his own child. He told me that particular person has served him but I haven’t served yet.

Wasn’t that an obstruction?

Well, that was how he felt. He wanted me to achieve things for myself. It’s the same way he felt about going to speak specially for me to be able to get into Queen’s College. He refused. I sat for Common Entrance then and was posted to Methodist Girls High School.

My first choice was Queen’s College. My father clearly refused to go and ‘leg’ for me at Queen’s College. He said he could do it for other children but not for his own child. It’s a principle thing.

But you were too close to him, always sitting next to him and resting your head on his heart…

I’m happy he did it that way. I realised that the way he handled things pertaining to me helped in building my character, it’s part of making me strong and I have no regrets or hang-ups about what he did.

I knew that what he did was right. He said he could do it for others but not for me, that I should make do with what I had. If he was alive, he wouldn’t have lobbied for me politically. He would just have watched me develop and do my own things. He would want me to get anything on merit.

I remember the time your father died, you told me how you used to go and visit him at the mortuary and talk to him until the attendants begged you to stop, that you were making him restless. Why were you doing it then?

He was my best friend. He was the one I always confided in and I thought I could still confide in him. He was my mother and he was my father. We had our differences but it never lasted long. He understood me more than any person. There was a day I was driving and I saw a woman by the road side having a baby. I think the labour caught her on the road and so, I parked and came down to assist the woman in the delivery.

It was a long time and I was very young and somebody ran to my father and told him they saw somebody like me with a woman having a baby by the roadside. My father knew immediately that I was the one because he told them that is the kind of thing I would do. So, my father knew me so well.

When I was going to talk to him at the mortuary, I was just saying my mind. I can’t remember the exact things I was telling him but I can also remember that the gentleman at the mortuary, an old man refused to close my dad’s casket until I came because he said there was no way he would close it without me being there, that I must wash my  father’s head. So, he said unless I came and do it, he would not close it.

He used to see me come to the mortuary to talk to my father at the general hospital but on that last day,  due to the hold-up I encountered on the way, I was late. Every family member was there to see him for the last time but I was held up and the man stood his ground.

So, did you wash his head?

I did.

But it’s strange, so unimaginable.

(Laughter). Well, I did.

You have other siblings. Are you in good terms with them?

Yes, there’s Adeniran Ogunsanya, Jnr, and others and we have never fought over properties since our father died. None of us has ever fought the other. We might have differences on issues from time to time but we never fought.

You have children and grandchildren?

Yes, I have four kids but I lost one of them, a girl. I have three grandchildren from my eldest son.


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