November 3, 2013

Why, like my father, I treat Igbo like my people — Princess Adenrele Ogunsanya

Why, like my father, I treat Igbo like my people — Princess Adenrele Ogunsanya


Princess Adenrele Adeniran Ogunsanya became a card carrying member of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun, NCNC, when she was seven years old. Her iconic father, Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, was a chieftain of the party, and she learnt at a very young age to be different, as most of her friends came from Action Group families. Still a consummate politician, she is the Secretary General of Lagos State Women’s Forum and former Secretary to Lagos State Government during Governor Babatunde Fashola’s first term , making her a very important figure in the inclusion of women in politics in the country at large. 

She chats with Morenike Taire about Lagos, change and contemporary politics.

There’s a lot of concern and we share that concern over the fragile state of peace and stability in the country vis-à-vis the ethnic tension that we have been seeing. Is it a valid concern or something that politicians are just using to their advantage?

Let me talk about Lagos. I think it’s a cause for concern when certain people want to use it for political reasons. Nigeria already has enough problems.

Don’t you think we are being a tad too careful about that? And I will give you an instance. In July, the David Mark-led Senate cited this concern as the reason for allowing the controversial marital age thing to remain in the Constitution. How can a balance be struck between this quest for ethnic peace and our everyday realities?

It’s about time Nigeria sits back. Each area has its own reality in the sense that when you look at countries like Japan and China, Korea and other countries that are doing well, they have certain aspects of their culture that they maintain and have managed to balance out well. We are beginning to lose sight of those parts. There are little things that make society work that we put aside and we want to be completely Western. We have to sit down and analyse well. The child marriage thing, for anybody that is not from that area , you can’t blame them. We look at it as wrong and I think it’s wrong. It’s wrong from the perspective of what has been happening to a lot of young girls. But when we do major changes, we have to be extremely careful; we don’t consult well. We don’t even counsel. When we see in the Western world people being counselled, we say what do they need counselling for? But we have gotten to that stage. If we have imbibed all their other ways, we must know that we will get to like them one way or the other. We have to sit down and do total analysing of each problem. We are not doing it right. We need to start to investigate well. I still believe there is going to be change because people have been set in a certain way, Okada was thrown out of fear of people being hurt. I know that we need normal transport and I am sure that will be addressed. Even with paying tax, we find it so difficult because we haven’t been paying. Years and years ago, I could be guilty of the same thing. I understand that the economy is bad but sometimes we have to go through hard times for things to get better. We are not all about corruption. Let’s go and make sure we give change a soft landing.

Let me digress a little. You have made an analogy between tax payment and Okada. You pay tax when you make profit. I think it’s a totally different thing from transportation which is an essential service.

I do know that provision for more transport is in the pipeline. The light rail is in the pipeline. We are beginning to adjust.

What then happens when religion is brought into it and someone says, ‘this is my faith and it can’t change?’ Where does that fit in?

That is where I think counselling comes in because of what has happened to many young ladies. They’ve done horrible things to themselves and they have problems that they carry for the rest of their lives.

Was it much better when we had regional governments or is there anything we should borrow from that?
There are lots of things that the Federal Government is handling that really should be handled by the states. There is clamour for various things like state police that really should be in the hands of the states. Maybe I am a bit biased but I like the parliamentary system. The only solution to our challenges is to give states more power. The needs of one state differ from another and the state knows what it needs best.

Take socio-political ethnic groups such as OPC, Arewa and the rest of them.

They are good as long they don’t get violent. They have played their roles. As long as we don’t play them up against each other.



Can we say one thing that we all have in common or are we really just a geographical expression?
The biggest unifier of Nigeria has been football, but that is on the light side. We are Africans and we should also remember that our being together is much better than for us to break up into small banana republics. We would not be able to command the same respect. Nigeria is still looked upon as one of the biggest countries in Africa, particularly on the west coast and we are more or less the leader so if we do break up, it will not be a good thing.

At the time of the civil war, the whole country was united against secession but now Nigerians seem to be more comfortable with the idea of everyone going its separate ways.

I think we say it when we are angry. I don’t think it’s a deep down thing. We have mixed too much. I am from Ikorodu and there has been a ruling house there for almost two centuries. A lot of people have even brought their parents here because of insecurity. What makes Lagos tick is the diversity. Do not go to Marina and say it’s no man’s land. I like Lagos as it is. I am sixty five. When I was five or seven, there were people whose families are still here. This is their home, but remember that there are genuine indigenes. Lagos people like enjoyment.

I was surprised to walk into Harrods (London supermarket) to hear D’Banj’s song being played. Those are things we should be proud of. We have a wonderful vibrant youth who have a lot to offer. We should also have a succession plan. That is why our founding fathers were always nurturing someone to come up but now we have a youth leader that is 65 yet we have young people with better ideas that can move us forward. We want to die in a position. We want to be this and that. We have people saying, “anything you want to offer me, just anything, I will take…”

It seems now more of a resource driven venture on the individual as well as on the national level…

It’s no longer chop I chop; it’s now chop I chop I chop.

Give us a Peek into your political future
I just want to be in politics. It is not position I am after; I am after a better Nigeria. I am no longer a chick but I love politics, it is like a game of cards, not as vicious as it is now. What is important at the end of the day is the people.

The prevailing notion seems to be that the role of women in the whole thing is to support, etc.
I was watching the convention of a political party and when the women started dancing I wanted to say ‘go and sit down jare’. To be honest women have been short changed regardless of how many women they now display in the cabinet. The majority of them are not the real politicians. We see a lot of women but some are representing themselves. We are the best mobilizers. We do most of the work and at the end of the day they give us women leader and they feel they have filled the quota. They give us the same exams (with men) and we excel. The problem is that we ourselves we don’t help each other. They don’t think of the issues that concern women. There are some people in the Senate that carry about women’s issues but fail to address them. We have still not got it right. We are the ones left at home with the children. When there is no food the man can go out, have a bottle of beer , eat at his friend’s and come back home and frown as if he’s not eaten anything; but the mother will be struggling with the children. There are good fathers too but that is a very rare thing. To be honest, we are short-changed. It is women who sell out. I think Mrs Sarah Jibril only got one vote when she contested the PDP presidential primary which means she voted for herself and that was a very painful thing because people should at least made a statement that this is a woman . We don’t show solidarity for one another.

Tell us your thoughts on your new party, the APC.
People with strong characters should play it down a little and accommodate. You must give and you must take. It will be a wonderful party at the end of the day if we just learn to be accommodating and let go of certain things.

A lot of people for this particular reason do not believe the union will work…
They are entitled to believe what they want to believe but I am in APC and I think it will work. There are certain people in it who are focused.

Is the party constitution a living thing or is it set in stone?

There must be some agreement before it can become the constitution of the party. Maybe so far everybody is satisfied with it. I don’t think any constitution should be set when you are evolving. I am sure it will play out well.

With all these new things happening and your vast experience, how do you predict 2015 will play out?
It will be an interesting time. I hope it will be a time for change. The bottom line is we shouldn’t live in an illusion that it is business as usual. I have never seen a nation that would have lasted so long with all the things that go on in it. Nigerians are just fantastic people. They are very resilient. I even strongly believe that if we had proper electricity Nigerians would have just got on with it and not even look back. You know a lot of cottage industries fell by the wayside. I pray there won’t be violence. I really pray hard because the signs are there.

What kind of signs?
Well, you know what I mean.

You mean people coming forward and saying if so and so does not win
We must be wary of them and we must take cognisance of them. We must be prepared. The place is already like time bomb. Let us hope we disengage the bomb before it goes off and I am sure Nigerians are capable of doing that. We’ve been in situations that are just amazing and we keep going on. We need to change also because we need to have a good image because we are part of the global village.

A lot of people are disenchanted with the ACN government in Lagos now
Disenchanted, how?

Well, like we had discussed before, multiple taxation…
I don’t think Lagos State intentionally multitaxes anybody, and if you feel any discontent it’s easy to go to the tax office and lay your complaint since that avenue is open. I don’t think the intention is to multi tax for no reason. We make a lot of fuss. I, too, at first would complain because I had to cough out money. The governor is not God, he can’t do everything. He’s done all he could do, we wish he could do much more and there are things that people don’t even take notice of that have been corrected. Administrative things and lots of things to make things easier. When people say elitist I just shrug my shoulders and I say you can’t please the whole world.

Still there are certain policies that have rubbed whole blocs of the voting populace the wrong way. Of course there is the Lekki tolling, there is the fee hike in LASU (Lagos State University)

It boils down to what I’ve been saying. It’s for a reason. If you want good value we must pay the correct price. Maybe the people of Lagos should join the government in clamouring for a special status for Lagos State. People from the different corners in Nigeria are in Lagos here. It’s a heavy load to carry. My home town (Ikorodu), every second, someone is bringing in furniture and the number of people on the street….

And they had a big fashion show there the other week…

My area is a really indigenous area

It won’t be for long!

But we don’t tell people that. We are open minded. If we are so magnanimous and accommodating, something should come to us too. They should give us our due. I am not saying everybody who is not from Lagos should leave. That’s what makes Lagos. I have Ibos who are like my blood and it won’t change. It’s a legacy, people make fun of us that we like these people but we do and will continue to like them and they also did well for us. My dad did well for them and they also returned it. What I am saying is they shouldn’t refer to Lagos as a No Man’s Land. They don’t send people back at hospitals. They don’t ask where are you from? If Ibos misunderstand me, then they are not getting it right because they are my people. But Lagos is where I am from. You know they say because you want to eat the best meat, then you will start calling a cow, broda? We are indigenes of this place.

It’s a bit like the United Kingdom…
Yes, they are very territorial about their own area but other people live there. The English are about their own area and they can be very snooty about it. So are the Welsh. But when it comes to a war they get together but it is clear where each and every individual stands. If you to Chicago on Saint Patrick ’s Day you would think you were in Ireland. They still identify with home. They don’t say we now have American citizenship they are no longer Irish.

Like in Liberia
They met indigenous people there and till today it is clear who the indigenes are and they have that politics going on.