She is courageous and vocal like her father. Princess Adenrele Adeniran – Ogunsanya, daughter of prominent Lagos lawyer and frontline politician in the First Republic and a close associate of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, she bares her mind on a number of issues including her closeness to her late father which many people misconstrued; how she joined politics at a tender age, her defection to the Action Congress (AC), which metamorphosed to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and subsequently, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the death of Chief Funsho Williams, the Lagos State PDP gubernatorial candidate, her stint as Secretary to the Lagos State Government under Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) between 2007 and 2011, among other issues
Tell us about your background
My name is Princess Adenrele Oyebola Oyetokunbo Adeniran – Ogunsanya. I was born on 18th of January 1948. I am a native of Ikorodu. I am a Princess of Ikorodu. I was born in Manchester in the United Kingdom (UK). I had my nursery education in England. Subsequently, I came back as a child, when my dad returned home as a qualified barrister. I now went to a private nursery school in Yaba, Lagos, Saint Agnes, and later, I went to Anglican School in Broad Street, Lagos, Girl’s Seminary. It is a typical Lagos school, where one meets very wonderful people, who were older than me. And it was a good mix and it made and grounded you as a Lagos person. I enjoyed the school nicely and I have always loved to be among people. I don’t like going or moving with stuffy people, but I think my dad got an inkling, when I started sitting at meetings as a child of the Zikist National Vanguard, that were always held in our home at 13, Obaloke, in Apapa Road, Lagos. In those days, all the lawyers, that lived in that area, like Tunde Coker, Ladner, Frank Akinrele, Desalu, Gbajabiamila, GNA Okafor, Alli Balogun and other prominent Lagos lawyers at that time, very distinguished and colourful people lived in that area. Then Apapa Road was not different from what it is today. I grew up and enjoyed my childhood there. In it again, my dad was a very happy person and it was there my dad won an election in 1959 into the House of Representatives. After that, I went to Our Lady of Apostle, Yaba, Lagos, for my secondary education for one year. Because, at a time, I did a Common Entrance Examination and I was picked to go to Methodist Girl’s High School, Sabo, Yaba, Lagos, and my dad wanted nothing other than Queen’s College, Lagos, for me.
He even decided that, if I did not go to Queen’s College, I would go abroad. And my dad was an old King’s College, Lagos, boy, and if I was a boy, he would have sent me to King’s College. Because with all that my dad had, he was very passionate about them. And so, I had my secondary school and I did my O/Level and A/Level. I left there and went to the Sorbonne, University of Paris, France. I did a course there called, ‘civilization francais’ (French Civilisation). It was an 18 – month course and, then I came to Nigeria. I went to University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos and did a diploma course in International Law, Industrial Law, Business Law. It was a course made for people going into the industry. And from there, in 1971, I went to work in Shell Nigeria Limited from 1971 to 1983. It was Shell Nigeria and later became ConOil, but when I started there it was Shell Nigeria Limited. We had a lot of expatriates there and I was an assistant to one of the managers in the department for training and development and employees’ relations.
It was there, I was until 1983. After 1983, I started doing business and along the line, my dad contested an election in 1979. And since I have interest in politics, when I was young, my dad used to discuss politics with me. In fact, he used to allow me to sit at meetings, especially, to sit at meetings with any youth group that came from Ikorodu in order to discuss Ikorodu matter. I used to be very angry, because there was a game we used to play, then, ‘ten-te’, so badly, and this man would say, come and sit down. But I would ask, “What concerns me with all these things? He would convince me that, it would let them know I was. In addition to that, he would send me to Ikorodu and I would spend a nice time with my grandmother. I used to enjoy it, because there were festivals in Ikorodu and he would send me home to go and be there. You know, parents have ways of knowing the attributes of every child. From there, he was sending me to represent him at every meeting, and that was how my journey into politics started.
You were very close to your dad, why didn’t you take after him to become a lawyer?
He wanted me to. I was in a hurry. Well, I don’t know. I did law, but I didn’t do the law course. And when they were talking (lawyers) and I used to quote what I had learnt and he used to get angry. But God has control of everything that we do in life. He would say, ‘I told you, you could do this’. I don’t know they were circumstances.
You haven’t said anything about your mother. Were you not close to her?
My mother is dead. Well, I lost my mom, when I was four years old, but I was in close contact, because my dad made sure I went to England on holidays when I was small, so that I would stay with my mom and grandmother. My mom’s name was Helen John. She was a native of Manchester, England.
It seems your dad loved you…
I think my dad was hard on me, but I knew, that he loved me greatly, but I don’t know. I wouldn’t see my dad for any other father. And if I have to come to this world again, I wish he would still be my father. He was a very down-to-earth gentle person, but he was strict. And he understood and I think, like his father, late Odofin of Ikorodu, Chief Suberu Ogunsanya, who was down-to-earth too. And I can tell you instances of what he did, and I think, he did it purposely to teach me lessons. Like I would go to the family house, even after I had married. He would ask, ‘where are you going’? And I would say, ‘nowhere! Why’? ‘It was because I wanted you to follow me somewhere’. And I would go out with him. He would say, ‘Turn right, turn left,’ and we would get to this house. He would come out and see any of his friends and he would be excited. The friend would shout, ‘Ogunsanya wa wo mi o’ (Ogunsanya has come to visit me o). The friend would say, ‘you can’t come into my house’, and my father would ask, ‘don’t you love me,? And he (dad) would go into the house. The friend would also say, “I can’t offer you anything”, but my father would drink a bottle of Coca-cola. Sometimes, my dad would say, ‘se won nta akara l’adugbo yi’? (Are they selling bean cakes in this area?). I could remember that, the friend would tell my dad, ‘e fi mi se eniyan l’adugbo yi o’ (you have made me an important person in this area). That was the kind of person my dad was. My dad used to plait my hair as a child. He would plait my hair very early in the morning, because I lived with him, with my nanny and my cousin, Aremo of Ikorodu, Chief Adeniyi Ogunsanya. He (Aremo) took care of me, and he would take me to school.
Could you remember vividly any particular time your dad sanctioned you for doing wrong?
I remember all the time. My dad was extremely strict, and you couldn’t just go to him, unless you had an invitation. When you had an invitation, you would have to give him, at least, a week before you could see him. And you would have to behave well. I laugh when many people think that he was strict, but he would impress it on me that, not loving you, but remember, that one day, I would be alone or you would be alone. For instance, if when I was in secondary school, I came home early during holiday from London and he had got a job ready for me. One time, he got a job for me from a public relations outfit and I was doing the holiday job. Some people think that he loved his child and loving a child doesn’t spoil a child. They are two different things.
On these occasions when you were being sanctioned, how did your mother react, being a white woman?
My mother wasn’t around, and I had told you earlier, that I had come home with my dad at the age of four and she was not staying with us.
Don’t you have male siblings?
I do. I have two brothers. I had a brother who was also of the same mother with me, but he died when he was young.
But none of them was close to your dad as you were…
I would not want to say that, but my dad was close to all his children.
How would you describe the relationship between Late Chief TOS Benson and Justice Michael Odesanya who were close friends of your dad? They all hailed from Ikorodu and also went to United Kingdom together to study law?
They didn’t go to the same school, but I think, they went to the same primary school in Ikorodu. And I think, it was Madariola Private Nursery/Primary School in Ikorodu. It was a well-known school.
How would you describe their friendship when they used to visit your dad at home?
It was interesting. I had the honour of going out around with them during one summer in London, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly when they were all in a black car. This is because they all cracked jokes and laughed like they were young boys. They were talking about all those things young men talk about. And they made me laugh and it is something I would always remember. In fact, they were fond of one another. They were a great delight and it was nice to sit in a black car with them, just the three of them.
How would you feel if some people tell you that you rode on your father’s back? Wouldn’t you feel offended?
Why would they offend me? I worked hard for whatever I have. But if I say my father’s name has not helped me, I would be an ingrate. It is a gift from God and my father gave it to me, if I rode on his back. When my dad was alive and he would also look at me and say, that is my daughter. And that is it. I have no apology for that. At a stage, when I was much younger and people would say it to me and I would get offended. For an instance, I did an interview where somebody asked me if I wanted to fit into my father’s shoe and I told them my father’s shoe was too big for me. He was alive and in a hospital, but he called me when I came home to take food for him, in the evening. And somebody said he said I should come now, and I went. When I asked what’s problem, he said, ‘I am angry,’ And I was wondering what I had done wrong. He waved a paper in front of me and said, ‘my shoes are too big for you? Adenrele, my shoes are not big for you. You are going to be great as I am’. I said, ‘I didn’t say I want to fit into your shoes, because you are a great person’. I don’t take offence to that. I am glad that I belong to the family that I belong to. I am glad of the name he has left for me. I am glad for all the things he did and I am proud of him. I have no apology. It is not my fault, if some people don’t have somebody like my father.
Who is your husband?
I married a doctor, a dental surgeon. His name is Adeniyan Adeniji. He hailed from Ibadan, Oyo State. And we had four children, but I had a child that I lost, a girl. So, I have three boys. We were cordial. There was no misunderstanding.
Where did you meet him?
I met him when I was in University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos. He was in the College of Medicine.
How did you meet him?
We met at a club. It was the normal way you meet through friends, through associates.
Was he also from a rich background?
I don’t know why there is much emphasis on this rich or poor background. What makes people rich is not money or cars and it is the background that they have. And some people don’t have as many cars. And a Yoruba adage says, “bibire ko se fowora”. Sincerely, he came from a good family background and they were all educated. And I think, his parents were educationists and they retired from there. So, I don’t know, why people pay more attention to riches and I think it is a problem, particularly when we Yoruba people use to say, “Awon ibo like owo” (that Igbo people love and worship money). What concerned me, if the man was rich, but he had prospect. He was handsome. He came from a good home. His mother came from a good home. His father was educated. What is money? Money can’t buy certain things. We pay too much emphasis on money and that is why we are in a position we find ourselves today. People just grab and grab. He came from a rich family and they owned their home. They had cars. His siblings were all educated. And that is what matters. We have people who are rich, with no substance.
You are very fluent in Yoruba dialect, how did you learn the language?
I was four years old when I came to Lagos and my dad was a nationalist. He was also someone who would always want me to be a traditionalist. Traditionalist in that I know my tradition. I think we are not fair to our tradition and the things you must do as a Yoruba girl, like when I started my first job, I had to distribute my first salary to everybody. My dad was like that. Of course, it is not easy for a young person to pick up a language and I picked it up and I could speak it. I speak in Ijebu dialect too, and when I started speaking Ijebu dialect and everybody would shout at campaigns. It is not as fluent as my Yoruba, but it is getting better.
Initially, you were in the opposition party, PDP. Why did you defect to AC which later metamorphosed to ACN and subsequently, APC?
Well, the main reason was that Funsho Williams died and when he died I could not get someone that could be like him. It was very difficult for me to change. If you had known my father, he never switched parties. So, I switched and that is why it is difficult for me, I can’t and I don’t have any intention of switching to any party. I think, when you are jumping, today, you are in APC, tomorrow, you are in PDP and I had been in AC, ACN and I am now in APC, which is the same thing since 2006. That is 10 years ago. I know there is a change coming and I don’t know how, but I know it would evolve and I know it is coming. I intend to remain in APC and go about my politics. I try and keep my people close to me. I do what I can do and sit and watch, as it goes along. But I think, a politician must have followership. Some of these high-table politicians don’t have followership. We gather people together and help them, and it is not necessarily money all the time, but I am there for them. I think, it is a great thing and that is what politics is all about. It is about concern and where you come from, your own constituency. I do that and sit and watch, as the game plays out. But I know, it would be interesting and I know, people will learn a new lesson. I think politics is important to the people that you represent to have a rapport with them. And that is how you will know their needs and problems, while some keep distance.
You were once Secretary to the Lagos State Government between 2007 and 2011 under Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. What was the experience like, being your first time in public office?
I don’t think so. I had been on the seat of an international organisation before, Shell Nigeria Limited.
But public office…
I have been at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). I served four years on the board, and I was quite active. I don’t think, it is different, but I enjoyed it immensely. I learnt a lot. I was particularly happy to work in that very dynamic cabinet, the cabinet of 2007 to 2011. For me, it was a glorious journey. I have no regret. I feel privileged to have served with Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola. It was good for me and I learnt a lot of lessons. You know sometimes, it is good to get to see people, as they really are. And it was a wonderful thing. I enjoyed it because, if you had come to my office, then you would see how I was close with the people there. And I am enjoying now and when I go to places people start milling around when they see me, because one way or the other, their lives have been touched and I know. For me, I think that is what service is all about. The acknowledgement is the dividend that you get. Many people don’t understand it. I was telling someone that Bola Ahmed Tinubu has touched the lives of a number of people and that says something, and it goes a long way.
Your father was a politician and you are also a politician, would you allow or encourage any of your children to join partisan politics?
I would because I encourage other people’s children to be politicians. I would encourage my children but it has to be their choice. It must come naturally from them and it is not what they do not want to do. And I will definitely not push my children, but I would like my children to join and some of my siblings too, if they have keen interest and it is important. Most of what I do, I do truly, because I have no apology. And I say it, with passion, that I had a wonderful father.
Hasn’t any of them signified an intention?
I have two brothers that are into politics.
What about your own children?
They just told me, one is showing interest. But I am leaving him to take the decision on his own.