By Wale Akinol
Hon. Funmilayo Tejuosho combines beauty with brain. Born into the family of the late Dr. Smith of Lagos, she is married into the famous Tejuosho royal family of Abeokuta, Ogun State. A fourth term member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Tejuosho, in this interview, explains why she is the best candidate for the speakership of the parliament.
I want to serve, not only my constituents but also Lagos people. I believe I am experienced. I have the qualification to lead the House. My colleagues have approached me to hold that position and I am very sure that with the various things I have done since 2003 in the House, they (colleagues) are very confident that I will be able to lead them. I am sure that, by the grace of God, I will be able to carry them along as a team player and, together, we will be able to move the House to the next level.
In Lagos, we talk about continuity, but continuity has to do with improvement, making sure that you are not static in a particular position; improving our state, continuing the oversight and being effective. Our leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, will tell you power is not served a la carte, you have to work hard to get what is due to you.
That is why I am not saying, as a woman, the speakership should not just fall on my laps. I am saying that, as a woman, I should work hard to achieve it, and get what I believe it is that I can do. I am a lawyer by profession. It wasn’t something that was given to me. I had to work hard to become a lawyer. I believe that with my background, the experience that I have already in the House, I will be able to hold that position of speakership, with integrity, with honour and carrying my colleagues along.
There are five or six of you in the race at the moment, and I think you are the only woman. What is your cutting edge?
People always say what a man can do, a woman can do better. But I always say that what a woman cannot do, cannot be done. I feel that in terms of experience, I have gained a lot of that over the years. I was the Deputy Chief Whip in 2003 when I first came into the House. After that I became Deputy Speaker. Those are two principal offices as compared to my fellow lawmakers also aspiring to become the Speaker. As Deputy Speaker, I served as Speaker several times when Mr. Speaker was not available. Even when I was Deputy Whip, I served as Speaker when Mr. Speaker and the deputy were not around. I have handled my work with diligence. I continue to strive for perfection even though, as human beings, we cannot be perfect. Apart from that, my colleagues who understand how much effort I put into everything about my work in the House have come together to support me.
Like you said, you have been consulting. What has been the response?
The response has been impressive. Even when I don’t initiate meetings, some of my colleagues in the House do, that we should talk to the fresh people, and so on and so forth. You can see the zeal in my colleagues that I should lead them. I have also spoken to several notable people in the society and the response has been very encouraging.
What about the party leadership? Are you also reaching out to them?
I have reached out to them and the response is very good. Being a woman who has been very loyal to the party, being somebody who has been steadfast and always of help to make sure that Lagos continues to be on the world map as a centre of excellence, I have been sufficiently encouraged by the party leadership to become the Speaker of the Lagos House.
Zoning is a factor in government offices allocation. The Deputy Governor is from Lagos West, your senatorial district. Can the district have the numbers two and three offices with you as Speaker?
We must appreciate that we have West, Central and East Districts. But Lagos West District is very large. The district is divided into two divisions – Badagry and Ikeja. The deputy governor-elect is from Badagry Division. I am from Ikeja Division. That is working in my favour. The senatorial district is very large, and, being that large, that is the only district that is divided into two in Lagos. Being from Ikeja Division, I am entitled to ask for the position of Speaker. However, there is no fast rule to the speakership being zoned to a particular area. We are talking about the competence of the office holder, we are talking about experience, somebody who can provide effective leadership. If some people are favoured in terms of where they are coming from, the rule of the House says as a first timer, you can’t be Speaker. We need somebody who is competent and experienced to lead the House to the next level. And I have these qualities.
You are in the House for the fourth term consecutively. You must have struck the right chord with your constituents. What is the secret?
I want to thank God that they (constituents) appreciate what I am doing. It is one thing to work hard, it is another for your constituents to appreciate it. I believe I have been able to bring dividends of democracy to my constituency. We see development in Odi-Olowo/Ojuwoye Local Government, that is Mushin Constituency1, and we see how Lagos State government has been able to do a lot of roads, put street lights, ensure water is running in the taps in the constituency. I have been able to provide transformers for several streets in the constituency. I arrange GCE and JAMB forms free to students wanting to write the exams. I pay for their coaching and most of them do well in the exams. I buy school bags for young children. My constituents appreciate it because I was doing it even before I became a legislator in 2003. As a legal practitioner, I give them my services free. I help them to get employment not only in the public service, but also in the private sector. We have a lot of graduates in my constituency and we know how difficult it is to secure jobs. All these have helped to endear me to my constituents who believe I should continue to represent them.
The name Tejuosho rings a bell. Many Lagosians are itching to know this woman who wants to be their Speaker?
I started off in politics as Mrs. Tejuosho, but my father, Chief (Dr.) Smith, of blessed memory, was from Lagos. I am married to the Tejuosho William family, a royal family in Ogun State. The royal family has achieved so much. I also want to do more. I have four children. Everything you do, you think about your family, you think about where you are coming from. In fact, my father told me to always remember the child of whom I am. That has actually kept me happily married for very many years. Some of my in-laws are also in politics. I have a brother-in-law who is a senator-elect in Ogun State. Obviously, I am portraying the family name in good light. I thank God that I have been able to serve the people of my constituency; I thank God that I am married into a family that is well known. But there is a lot of pressure on you to always do the right thing, but with the right upbringing, it is not difficult for you to do it.
You are aspiring to break the jinx that has seen men being the Speaker of the Lagos House. What do you think the state stands to gain by having a female Speaker?
We have so much to gain. Any position of authority you put a woman, she tries to put in extra effort to ensure she does not disappoint. She knows that all eyes are on her.
First of all, the home has to be intact. The children must be educated. You must set good examples ,from the home front. From the example of being able to manage the home front, a woman can manage the public office. People say when you train a woman, you train a nation because everything we do, there is a ripple effect on the people around us.
Giving the office of Lagos House Speaker to a woman will open the doors for other women to excel. If you look at other states, they try to emulate Lagos. But many other states have had women Speaker – Ogun, Oyo, Ondo. For us to be able to highlight the efforts of women, Lagos is where we can actually show what we can do as women if positions of authority are given to us.
Definitely, we will make laws that will impact the home, impact the society.
We have a lot of challenges of young girls growing up in Nigeria today, and when they see a woman in a position of authority, you become some role model. This encourages young girls to aspire. And their focus begins to shift from things that don’t have meaning in their lives. We should focus on things that will make our female children to excel. We still don’t have a woman governor. We were thinking of getting one from Taraba.
Something like that encourages us, it gives us hope as women that ‘if that woman can do it, I too can’. We need that balance in the society; we call it gender equality. But we should not only talk about it, we should do it.
I am sure you have a blueprint for the job you are aspiring to get. Can you let us into it?
This is a blueprint of a House of 40, a blueprint that will not discriminate on the basis of governing party – opposition. We cannot be like the PDP – led government where Lagos State was victimised because we were in the opposition. Every local government is important, and where you have a local government that is not getting attention, you have people migrating to the one that gets attention. That is not pleasant. We must thank Asiwaju Tinubu because when the local government allocation was withheld by the federal authorities, we were able to look inward to generate revenue internally. In the House, we have to work as a unit so that we can move the state forward. We must continue to make laws not only for women and children, but also for the whole society.
We must recognise those in the minority, the less privileged, the physically challenged, women, children. We need that balance in education, health, commerce and industry so that we can provide for all these people. We need an insurance scheme. At the moment, there is a bill before the House on medical insurance. This, among others, is crucial to the survival of a nation. Medical treatment must be available for all and sundry, not just for children under five and over 60. We must have a social security system in place to cater for the people. We thank God we have the Office of the Public Defender where people can go for free legal services, but we need to have a system where can save people money that they can use for other things. We appreciate the fact that the incoming government wants to provide free meals for school children.
This is important because if a child is hungry, what he is being taught will not be understood. All these things, as lawmakers, we need to put the machinery in place for the executive to act on. We must look at our laws. The criminal justice system of Lagos State is very good compared to other states, but we are still looking into it to make sure it is even better. We know about rape. We have the Child’s Right Law. We have child marriage and so on and so forth. Despite the Child’s Right Law, we still have female genital mutilation. This is something we should include in the law. I have spoken to our Muslim sisters who told me FGM is not in the Quran. The society should accommodate the needs of the less privileged. Our laws should look at the issues and balance them. This does not mean we cannot accommodate some of our traditions that are not harmful.
Many people misconstrue the role of the lawmaker to include the provision of infrastructure like the executive. What is your experience like?
The reason the society is still learning the role of the lawmaker is because of military rule. Each time the military seized power in the past, they suspended the legislature. People didn’t really know the role of the parliament, but now there is stability. Now, democracy is here to stay. We need to let the people know the difference between the different arms of government.
Even while we were campaigning, we tried to enlighten the people on the roles of the different arms of government; that the lawmaker is not the one to make roads, provide water, etc.
We had town hall meetings which we should do more of. A lawmaker’s role is to make laws, ensure the budget is passed and do oversight of the MDAs. However, a lawmaker must be able to lobby the executive to do those things his constituents are asking for.
The resources are limited, but the lawmaker must make case for his constituents so that they can get their dues in the various sectors – health, transport, education, commerce and industry, etc.
You have been around for 12 years now in the House. Can we talk about your memorable bills?
I have co-sponsored a lot of bills, but I have a private member bill.
Private member bills are very rare. In 2003, I sponsored and made sure that the Domestic Violence Bill was passed. I think in that year I was the only member that brought a private member’s bill to the House. Since then we have not had many because private member bills are a bit more difficult to pass. Executive bills are easier. In coming up with a private member bill, you need a lot of research, you have to work with NGOs, make sure the bill can stand the test of time.
So, I have the Domestic Violence Law to my credit. Right now, I am working on the Gender and Equality Law to make sure we have equality for all. I have co-sponsored a lot of laws. Child’s Right Law, we worked on it with Senator (Mrs) Tinubu when she was the First Lady. When the Domestic Violence Law was passed into law, the government of Babatunde Raji Fashola put the machinery in place to implement it. I wish to commend Asiwaju Tinubu because it was during his tenure that we put the law in place. He supported the law. We got a lot of people from Amnesty International to write on the issue. When we talk about gender equality, we need more women to come on board. And we must appreciate the fact that if the home front is at peace, every other thing is at peace.
A man cannot function if his home is in disarray. We have the Public Procurement Law, the LIRS Law, bills on education, the criminal law which we made sure that all those things that should not be there were removed. For instance, you cannot say the penalty for rape is six months imprisonment and expect the punishment is commensurate with the crime.
Do you think Lagos is ready for a woman Speaker especially when the position of Deputy Governor appears to have been ceded to women?
Lagos is definitely ready for a woman Speaker. I have support not just from my colleagues in the House, but also notable people in the society who have called me on phone to encourage me to go ahead. It is not like in the past when women had no education, where when there was no money, only the male children were sent to school. Woman are just as qualified for public offices, if not better qualified, than men. Lagos is ripe for a woman to be Speaker.
Women appear to be going beyond the 30 percent appointments the Beijing Declaration provides for them. They even want to take everything?
I think it is a good development. The people say the hands that rock the cradle rule the world. We trained those men that become future leaders. If you look at those men that lead, they have mother figures in their homes, to balance the toughness in them. You cannot rule a nation and not have sentiments or compassion for people. If a woman can train a man and he becomes the president, why can’t the woman herself become the President, Governor, or Speaker? So not only are women ready, we are capable to lead in all ramifications.
You have been around for 12 years. The House is a place of intrigues, high wire politics. Can you share your experience?
I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and I believe that if I still have my held up high, I have been able to manage everything that is happening in the House and remain standing. I feel that we are 40 members with different upbringing, different backgrounds, different religious, but we have to work together as a unit. We should dwell on the strength of each, and use the stranght to balance the weakness. I have been Deputy Chief Whip; Deputy Speaker; Chairman, Women Affairs Committee; Chairman, Finance Committee. I have seen that the strength of my colleagues is powerful while some are very weak.
I too have my weaknesses and strengths. But I have learnt to use my strengths to encourage my colleagues who are weak. That has made us close to one another to the extent that some tell me some of their inner-most secrets. My colleagues support my speakership bid because they see me as a person of integrity, a person they can trust. General Buhari has tried to become president for four times.
His strength is integrity. Now that people want change, integrity, people voted for him. We have come to the stage in Nigeria where the people value integrity.