By MoreNIKE TAIRE
ALTHOUGH occupants of the office are widely considered as ‘spare tyres’ because, essentially, the functionality of deputy governors depends on the whims and caprices of their principals; most of the deputy governors of Lagos State have unarguably proven to be effective.
The state, in fact, holds the record for having had the highest number of female deputy governors, totalling five.
In Nigeria’s 62 years as an independent nation, while no woman has ever attained the position of president, vice-president or even been elected state governor – making the upper cadre of the nation’s executive arm appear the sole preserve of the male folk – quite a number of women has been opportune to occupy the position of deputy governor in some states across the country.
The state of Lagos, which also produced the country’s first female Head of (Civil) Service and Secretary to the State Government; seems also to have adopted an unwritten code of appointing women into the above positions.
Beginning with Alhaja Lateefah Okunnu who blazed the trail to become the first female deputy governor in Nigeria when she was appointed deputy in 1990, other notable women who have held this position in Lagos are Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu (1992-1993), Mrs Bucknor Kofoworola Akerele (1999-2002), Princess Sarah Adebisi Sosan (2007-2011), Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire (2011-2015) and Dr. (Mrs)Oluranti Idiat Adebule (2015).
The tradition was born following the tenure of Alhaja Lateefa Modupeola Okunnu, OFR; who was the state’s- as well as the country’s first female deputy governor, having served in that capacity from 1990 to 1992. Before this stint, Mrs Okunnu was a civil servant with a wealth of administrative experience. Following a fulfilling career in both the Lagos State and Federal Civil Services, she reached the pinnacle of her career in 1986 when she was appointed a permanent secretary and later a director-general in the Political Affairs Office of the Cabinet Office.
While the deputy governor of Lagos State, she was appointed chairman, Caretaker Committee of the National Republic Convention, NRC, a role she played enviably well until 1993 when the Party’s Executive Council took over.
She retired from the Federal Civil Service in 1994. Born to the royal Oyekan family of Lagos on December 3, 1939, Alhaja Okunnu was educated at the Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Okepopo between 1945 and 1952; and Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos, between 1953 and 1958. She later went to Queen’s College, Onike, Lagos, from 1959 to 1960; University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA in 1972 as well as the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London (1978). She holds a Diploma in Education and a BA (Hons) in Geography.
She is presently the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa of the newly established International Muslim Women’s Union, as well as the National Coordinator of Muslim League for Accountability, MULAC, a body established for championing transparency and accountability in the private and public lives of Muslims and the Nigerian society at large. She was a founding member and president, Muslim Ladies Circle, Lagos (1979-81).
Since her retirement, she has remained active and a worthy matron to the various Muslim associations to which she has affiliations. Lateefah Modupeola Okunnu was in fact one of the earliest female conscripts of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria MSSN, when it was established by young foresighted Muslim students in the Alakoro area of Lagos, in 1954.
Her emotions and passion towards, MSSN, remains high pitched nearly 67 years after she joined it. She is best described as one of the MSSN amazons and matriarchs of all times. As a young girl, she and her colleagues stood and fought to change the course of events for many young Muslim girls in various schools and encouraged them to make the best of their education.
No wonder she herself, amongst other feats, rose to become the first female deputy governor of Lagos State and married a man of achievement and former Minister of Works during the civil war era, one of the most challenging periods of Nigeria’s nationhood; Alhaji Lateef Femi Okunnu.
In 2016 her alma mater, Queen’s College, Yaba admitted her to its maiden Hall of Fame for distinguished old girls of the school and the likes of Mrs Efunjoke Coker, MFR, first indigenous principal of the school; Prof Grace Alele-Williams, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, Mrs Sola David-Borha, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita and Hajia Aisha Abubakar inducted into the Hall of Fame.
She is listed in “Who is Who in Nigeria,” a biographical work featuring outstanding members of the society whose contributions have led to its advancement.
She is also Director of Finance, Eye Foundation Aid and Clinical Research for the Prevention of Blindness.