By Funmi Ajumobi
Folake Marcus-Bello, a former ambassador, a politician, a lawyer, a journalist, a mother, an actor, an entrepreneur and a political scientist, believes that for a woman to succeed in politics, she must have what she tags “addresses”, saying she excels because she has five such addresses. In this interview, she speaks on whether the appointment of ambassadors should be based on career or politics. She advises women aspiring to be politicians, to solidify their homes and get the blessings of their husbands.
As a former ambassador to Zambia, what is your take on the issue of career and political diplomats?
When you talk about career diplomats, it means people that rose through the ranks. They grew in the system. The point to stop in the system is for you to be a director in your career. When a person becomes a director in foreign affairs, he looks forward to becoming an ambassador. And it is the dream of everybody who has worked in foreign affairs to be an ambassador.
But political ambassadors are people the President has used his discretion to appoint personally. The mistake people make is that they think those political appointees have no brains and no diplomatic training. Let us look at a few people who were politically appointed. Christopher Kolade was our ambassador to the UK. Do you mean he is undeserving? Justice Oguntade has just being appointed. I don’t even feel that I am undeserving because I am multi-tasked.
I have been a journalist. I am a lawyer, I am a political scientist. I have master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution. So, because I have not been through the ministry, I must be stupid on international relations? People who make the distinction between career diplomats and political appointees don’t understand that the President looks for people he can trust. The certificate we are given states it clearly, ‘That I (President) accept this person as my personal representative’. So, they might as well say that ministers are political appointees and permanent secretaries are career people.
Whether in America or the UK, there are career diplomats and there are political appointees as ambassadors and they all work together. It is only in Nigeria that people unnecessarily make noise about it. Once you are an ambassador, you are an ambassador. The President may send you to a place because you have a relationship there. For instance, you may have a personal relationship with the King of Saudi Arabia, which means you have their President’s ears. Our President might choose to send you there.
If for example you are an expert in coal mining and your country wants somebody to go to a country where coal is in abundant,, the President can use his discretion to choose you to go there. If you are an expert in peace keeping and Nigeria is in conflict with such a country, the President may choose you. This noise over political or career appointees should stop. An ambassador is an ambassador and His Excellency for life, since you have flown the flag of your country.
As a woman, how did you break the ceiling in politics? How did you get there?
It is a mother of hard work, luck and prayer. You have to pray to be at the right place, and at the right time. While you are waiting for this luck, you need to be self-developed. You have to be educated, and education does not necessarily mean paper certificate. You have to be properly educated in so many areas of your life. Your social life must be on the upbeat because you have to network. You have to sit down and deliberately have a plan. Like I tell people, a planless life is a useless life. You have to make a plan. It may not work according to how you want it. You have to have A B C of life. A is what you dream to be. You’ve got to have a dream. I remember that as a child, we used to watch a programme where they sing, ‘Dream your dream’. Dreams do come through. And under that dream is where you put your prayer life. Your B of the dream is your deliberate plan for your life. I started out with studying political science. And I wanted to be a lawyer. So I have to go to law school, I have to go and train and practice. Look for all the trainings on that and the networking required to actualise your dream.
Nigeria is where you need the third ladder. And the ladder is your multi-stream where you get your income. When I was in the university, I was the first female Vice President of the students’union in any higher institution in Africa. And when I wanted to be that, I actually wanted to be President. There were 16 people campaigning to be President and I knew I stood no chance . But politically, I got the 16 candidates campaigning for me to be the Vice President because Bayo Olowoake was going for the Presidency and I knew I would not win if I contested against him. I knew at some point I was going to end up as some political leader. Being at the right place, at the right time and being lucky was when I met Bayo Olowoake, my former President, and he told me that some people were setting a foundation and that he felt I would make a good woman amongst them. He introduced me to Governor Gbenga Daniel and I joined his foundation and the rest, as they say, is history. My C plan, is my multi-stream? I was selling land. My mother trained as a nurse but wanted to be a great entrepreneur and she was also into selling of made in Nigeria lace and she never sold any other type of lace until she passed on.
I have the second and third addresses and even the fourth address. I am a lawyer, even if I don’t go to court, I can sign. I am a solicitor and a barrister. That is my second address. My third address is my paper converting factory. And my fourth address is that I went back to school after being an ambassador. I went for master’s on international peace and conflict resolution.
My fifth address is that I am a mother. For some people, they may have a sixth address of being a wife. How you make all your addresses function is that you must learn at the feet of the masters.
So, my third stream is intact. So, even if when I was in politics, I did not allow my third stream to be affected, I was still selling and buying land. I also started to package food, garri and clean snail by getting a shop at Ilupeju. So, for a woman to succeed , you never know what life offers you. I was married, got separated. There are some things you don’t plan. Like the Yoruba would say, three stands can not throw away your pot of soup. You must have three stands so that your pot of stew can be seated on those three stands. Now, I have my three pots of stew. I have my dream, which when in my room I am praying for at night. I have the reality part of my life as I still work as a lawyer and my third leg, which is my paper converting business.
Nollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood are all to relax and distress you. They should not be the focus of your life. You must always look for friends, colleagues, association and people that will better your life on a daily basis. Everyday, you must improve your life. The young ones are very lucky as everything is on the internet. We had to learn from the feet of the masters. As a matter of fact, every aspect of my life, I have learnt at the feet of a master. In every aspect of the development of your life you must count yourself lucky and make the best out of it.
Do you believe in god-fatherism?
No, no, no. You can’t be in politics without a god-father. It is not possible. But not bed-father. There is a difference between bed fatherism and god fatherism. If you do bed fatherism, you cannot last. Because, the men would see you as an easy prey and they would take you through because you tried your luck and you suddenly found out that you become Panadol. When they need to distress, they call you and whatever you get is for a short time. But, you cannot step in without a god-father. Whether, the relationship between the god-father and you is maintained or not is a different thing altogether. But somebody has to find you and say, ‘oh! this is the person’. You have to work for politicians for them to discover your talents and your talents you must develop – talents of integrity, hardwork and honesty, humility and respect and, above all, the talent of believing in yourself. As they say Ph.D, doesn’t stand for Doctor of Philosophy only, it also represents pull her or him down, and the syndrome is very big in politics. They will lie about you, they will say things you haven’t done or have done but exaggerate. I use them my initials FMB and some people have called me Folake Marcus Bingo, a dog. Some people have called me a witch. There is nothing they can not call you, so you must never forget who you are. You must know who you are and maintain the standard of who you are because it will pay off at the end. The two people it has been easier for are Jonathan and Osinbajo. President Jonathan never campaigned until he was looking for second term. He’s just been lucky. But at the end, what did he get? He may not necessarily be a bad man, but about people who surround him. For Osinbajo, he was in Abuja attending a court matter. That was when he got invited to be Vice President. I am using this opportunity to call on Nigerian women to come out.
I will also use this medium to appeal to our banks, to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to make it easier for people who are no longer politicians or people on break from politics to be able to reintegrate. For instance, I have not been able to get a loan from the bank because they said I am PEP, politically exposed. Everything I have done was with sweat and blood. I have sold my land from the time I had my third leg to ensure my future and that at the end I have something to look forward to. Politics is not a joke. Politicians should have a second address so that when they are no longer in position, they can have something to fall back to.
How easy is it for female politicians to keep their homes?
As a female politician, are you ready to lose your home? Because your husband must be built on concrete for you to be a politician and a strong woman. Not cement so that whatever he hears , listens or thinks or observes, he will check with his wife.
And when they start giving him stories, he smiles and says, ‘I know my wife’. How many men can do that? So, women that want to go into politics must solidify their homes and get the blessing of their husbands. He needs to know that we are in it together. It is either we weather the storm or he leaves me or I leave him. But I need him. If he is ready, good, but if he is not and the woman still wants to go into politics, she has to take the bitter pill of leaving the husband. So, when the word hits you, you must be able to come home into loving arms telling you he knows who you are. If not, you brace yourself.