By YEMISI SULEIMAN
Secretary to the Lagos State Government, Princess Denrele Ogunsanya, certainly knows her onions when it comes to politics. Born into a home known for politics, with a father that was actively involved in politics in First Republic, young Derenle started singing political slogans for the NCNC at six. Several years later, as she coordinates the affairs of Lagos State as Secretary to the State Government, she takes us back to her growing up years, her involvement in politics, her strong views on women in politics amongst other issues. Enjoy.
How does it feel working with the present government in Lagos State?
Well, I enjoy my job because I have a lot from this particular job. For me, it is a privilege to be in the cabinet of the administration of Babatunde Raji Fashola. It has been exciting for me and, of course, everything has its own challenges but I have enjoyed it. And, I think it is has been the best time to be in an administration because it is an administration that works.
I enjoy seeing ideas develop and then seeing them become a reality and so much of that has happened. So many things that seemed impossible have become possible. Look at Oshodi, for instance; so many governments have tried to clear it up, but could not, but it has been done.
I think it is just the grace of God and being well focused, being level-headed, and again that is one of the things that I have enjoyed working in this administration.
How has the experience been so far?
My late father was involved in politics and public services – kind of all his life. It is a terrain I am used to but, like everything, it has its down side. But to be honest, there are more ups than there are downs. I have said it severally that regardless of what anybody might say, it is a good functional cabinet and we have enjoyed a good relationship with each other.
Lagos State is blessed. We have one of the best civil service in Nigeria. We have very seasoned, good people and, of course, in everything, you know there is nothing that is actually perfect. It is only in heaven or God that is perfect; but we have a very professional civil service. And, I have leant from them too. It has been a wonderful opportunity and experience for me.
What informed your going into politics?
Well, I was born into politics and I have been into politics most of my life. I started singing political slogans for the NCNC when I was about six, so I have been in that environment for a long while. My Dad was in the First Republic. He was a minister with Tafawa Balewa. So, my home has always bubbled with people and political activities. It is my terrain and I dare to say that I know everything about politics, even if I don’t know anything about anything else.
So, you always knew you would end up in politics?
I think I knew in a way, because of my Dad. He actually groomed me from when I was very young. I would be outside playing with other kids and he will call me to sit with him and his political associates. Then, I was always like – what is wrong with this man? What concerns me with what you are doing? I want to play but eventually, it paid off and I started quite early.
At what point did you decide to be actively involved in politics?
That will be in 1979; really, when my dad contested against Jakande for the governorship seat. I became very active but I have always (been in politics) in one way. My Dad made sure I blended into the terrain. For instance, he took me from a private school and put me in a public school. I left a private school on the mainland and went to a public school on the island. It used to be called Girls’ Seminary; it was an Anglican school – where you had people from prominent families schooling there.
I went there and it was a good school. It had a good standard and it is still there today. I think I always wanted to be like everybody else; because I wanted to be with my friends and have fun. I was destined one way or the other – there was no way I could get away from it.
Let’s look at Nigerian politics then and now. What are the differences?
Well, I have been in different regimes. We were friends; we looked out for each other. But these days, politicians don’t look out for each other anymore. The children of my Dad’s colleagues in the NCNC are still our family friends till date. We still treat each other vice-versa; we have a lot of families that are in the East and they are very much part of us.
Now, politics is now about self. It is no longer about service anymore. As times goes on, things will get better. But for this administration, it is about service. We need to hold onto that aspect of it so that it doesn’t disappear.
Generally, I think we need to re-focus, politics and public service is about service to the people and not about service to oneself. Yes, self will always come into play but it shouldn’t be about you, you, you. It should be about the people.
If you were not a politician, what would you have been involved in?
I would probably be in social works – something that has to do with people. For instance, I worked for some years at Shell and also with Conoil. I have been running my private business. I have been director of many companies and organisations. So, if I am not in politics, I will do my own thing but I will still do something that is people-oriented.
I love working with children. I could be with children all day long but I am unable to bear adults for that long. But with children, it is different.
How do you unwind?
Well, presently, because I am not a young chic, I have found ways to relax and all that. In the past, I didn’t. Even when I am relaxing, I am still working somehow because, it will dawn on me that I should be doing this or that because of the nature of the job. Being in politics, I don’t rest. I don’t have my own time but I create it. I love to watch movies. I like to write and I love to read. I read comics. I read serious books. I love documentaries and music.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I love all kinds of music; from Dbanj to Tu Face to Faze and Lagbaja.
Do you have any regrets being in politics?
No, no. Like I said, it is something that I love doing, so I have no regrets at all.
What are your plans in politics? Do you intend to go higher?
I would always be in politics. For me, politics is not about position all the time. I don’t have to occupy a position to be in politics. There are many ways you can function in politics. I could be a strong voice and not be in government. It depends on how you see (it). For me, I would love to go to the Senate but I shelved that for many reasons that are personal to me. What I am more concerned with is Lagos State; it must be well with Lagos State. I want to see Babatunde Raji Fashola come back and do a second term. He has done so much he has attracted so much attention to Lagos State. People have trust in him, because they know he will keep his word. What he won’t do, he won’t say he will do. So, it is important that he stays another term so that investors can come in. And, I know that a lot of investors are already coming in. That is more important to me.
What is your take on women in politics in Nigeria?
I was a bit upset with the issue of Sarah Jubril. It would have cost them nothing to show solidarity and vote for her and at least send a message but they were too busy working for the men. I believe there is something wrong somewhere and there is no way to justify it. They should have shown her some solidarity. Well, how many were they anyway. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Well, that is PDP and that is their business but I really felt disappointed that more women didn’t support her and she only got (just) one vote.
For what ever it is worth, Sarah Jubril is an accomplished politician; very active and, probably, will do better than most of the men. But life is a bit strange to me. I can’t believe she got just one vote. It is a sad situation for women and we need to go back and ask ourselves what is wrong with us because, certainly, there is something wrong.
Don’t you think it is because we are not ready yet for a female president?
I don’t think it has to do with that. We are just not thinking straight. The former women leader of PDP, now the minister of women affairs, tried to justify it. I don’t think there is any justification for that; they should, at least, show solidarity one way or the other.
So, on the whole, how would you say women have fared?
On a whole, women have played a role at every level and at every phase since the inception of politics in Nigeria. We have stayed above; we have been there from the very beginning with the likes of Margaret Ekpo, Ransome-Kuti, even the women in Aba (during the Aba Riot). Women have consistently played a role in politics.
Our women are the most and best mobilized and we are, by far, the most loyal and anything we do, we do it well. Most times, we have to prove that you are ten times better than a man before we can get the same position as they. But, we do the same exams in the university, they don’t set different exams for women and we excel at different levels. In the private sector, you see the wonderful work that our women are doing – in communications, banking, and oil and gas industry.
So, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be forward and placed in positions of authority. Lagos is a bit different. We have a woman as deputy governor. We have a woman as SSG; the deputy speaker is a woman; we have a woman as chief judge of the state; and, at every level. We have women that are in the National Assembly. When it comes to the civil service, you will find very brilliant hands that are women. But we need to do more. We need to see more women in the House of Representatives and The Senate.
We keep talking about the percentage for women and may be the percentage is for a start. But, we been at a start for too long and should have moved away from this 30%. I think we have not done well because, we can’t speak with one voice and the men enjoy it that way. I believe there must be more women in politics at every level, at the ward level, state level, and federal level, not just giving us women leader and think that women are there.
Of course, there are important women but we need to have agencies to push these women out, because many women have become bread winners of their families. Nigerian women should be allowed to play their roles; not at the back, but alongside the men.