Lanre Tejuoso: From Palace to Politics

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Lanre Tejuoso

Avant-garde, suave and simple, the blue-blooded figure sits quietly in the lounge with an affable, glistening face. Courteous and courted by many, the prince has taken a leap of faith: he left the palace for politics. Meet Senator Lanre Tejuoso, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and the first son of the Osile Oke-Ona Egba, Oba Adedapo Tejuoso. The prince’s path, as Funke Olaode writes, criss-crosses the depth of humanity, commonality and royalty

His gait is graceful. His skin glows. His mien is majestic. And, his mind is expansive. Avant-garde in outlook and suave in taste, Senator Lanre Tejuoso is pragmatic as a politician and meticulous as a medical doctor. As he sits calmly on a sofa, his gentle gaze scanned his environment. “Have a sit, please,” the senator said gentlemanly. His face beamed with a studied smile. He is not just a high-flying federal lawmaker. Tejuoso is heir-apparent of a monarchy. Empathetic and energetic, his life is far from being couched in the aloofness of palatial fantasies but in the palpable reality of the grassroots.

Decades of affluence have not robbed him of what matters most in life. Beyond his opulence and a swathe of achievements in medicine and politics, Tejuoso is an embodiment of passion for the people, focus on the future and ambition for the common good. His grandmother, the late Iyalode Bisoye Tejuoso, was one of the few female industrialists of her era. Wealthy and with tentacles spread across various sectors of the economy, the young Tejuoso found full-fledged wings in her to fly. The young prince first cut his teeth as a businessman under her grandma’s tutelage.

Yet, there is something about the Ogun State-born prince that has endeared him to many. It is deeper than the intellect he possesses. “I have to respect tradition because I know the source of my background – royalty. I have to respect that by placing my family in a position of the custodian of their heritage. My father, Adedapo Tejuoso, Osile Oke-Ona Egba, is a king. I believe I must respect that honour bestowed on our family by making sure I behave the way I am supposed to. The fact that I am in politics doesn’t mean I should be loud. There must be a level of decorum,” he stated.

Unlike many privileged individuals who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Tejuoso has learnt to keep a calm head over his shoulder. But what does he owe that to? “My upbringing with my grandmother, Iyalode Bisoye Tejuoso, and my mother helped me,” he simply said. “I was pampered while I was growing up. I was always following my grandmother who was a big-time trader, industrialist and an estate developer. This engendered an entrepreneurial spirit in me because by the time I graduated, I was already trading in importing chemicals and exporting cocoa for her.

“I thank God that one did not derail or got easily carried away because going to medical school wasn’t the easiest and with the kind of pampering (I got) at that time and for one to succeed in medicine at that time I believe the grace of God and the ability to take life seriously helped me. Again, my father was a disciplinarian and was able to monitor and manage the excesses that could arise from my being pampered. My father, Oba Dapo Tejuoso, was the main factor in shaping that aspect of my life.”

The name Tejuoso resonates in the South-west and beyond. Has the name opened doors for or shut doors against him? It must be a mixed-bag of experience being a prince, no doubt as he explained: “I believe growing up the name shut doors more than opened them for me. Because in most cases, when you are doing what your mates are doing – trying to seek some support in business – there is an impression that you don’t need help. And even when I went into politics I wanted to raise money nobody believed that they could give me anything. They wondered why should I come and struggle with them. I got fed up and refused to meet anybody. My father didn’t make it easy for me either. This is because he decided that he was not going to put his money in politics. I was practically on my own then. For me, it is not a burden to be a Tejuoso. It makes you more creative and put you on your toes to be the best.”

To his credit, Tejuoso is like an old wine that tastes better with age. He always looks radiant. You will be pardoned if you assume he is just 40 years old. The secret of his good looks? ”As a medical practitioner, I practise what I preach. We tell our patients how to live a successful, healthy life. We know the dos and don’ts for you to stay healthy. And once you don’t overdo things, you should be able to maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle,” he said matter-of-factly.

The blue-blooded politician is considered the first person in his royal family to dabble into politics. “I broke the jinx because of the state of the nation. There are so many things we see outside the country and I believe we can replicate something similar in our country. I realise that the only way to be relevant in terms of contribution is for you to be part of the system. We see more people complaining that things are not going on well but they are not doing anything about it,” Tejuoso argued as he explained why he left the comfort of royalty and luxury to plunge into the murky arena of politics.

Commenting on his contributions to the health sector since he came on board as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Tejuoso disclosed, “When we came in I realised that the duty of a senator on paper is to introduce laws, bills, ensuring that the policies of the country are improved. When we came, we found that there were so many laws by our predecessors that were not being implemented. I decided to look into what can make positive impact in the health sector of the country. The most successful country in Africa is the country that has robust funding for their health sector. I realise that Nigeria has the least amount of money in terms of funding for the health sector. There was a meeting of all African countries in Nigeria in 2001, called ‘Abuja Declaration’.

“There, they decided that to have a successful health sector as a country, you must earmark minimum of 15 per cent to health in the annual budget. To date, we have not surpassed five per cent while in the said five per cent, the government doesn’t release up to three per cent. So countries that are not as rich as Lagos or Ogun states – such as Swaziland and even Zimbabwe regarded as poor – are already fulfilling that law as their health sector is better than Nigeria. To me, success in health sector is subject to funding. And before we came on board there was a law which says a minimum of one percent of consolidated revenue fund must be reserved every year for the health sector to make sure that our primary health sector is functional. It was signed by (former) President Goodluck Jonathan. Again, it was not implemented. When I became Senate Committee on Health’s chairman, together with my committee members we decided to pursue that to a logical conclusion. We started two years ago and we succeeded in 2018. We had the one per cent in place in the 2018 budget, which is a major achievement to make progress in the sector so that every Nigerian can go to a primary health centre close by.”

A grassroots person even though Tejuoso is based in Abuja, he frequents his home base – his constituency – like he is stepping into the bathroom. But having served as a commissioner and now a senator is there anything holding Tejuoso back from contesting the 2019 Ogun State governorship election?

“Unfortunately,” he stated as he began to answer that question. “One of the things we need to change in this country is the issue of zoning that is killing merit. In America, they don’t ask which zone are you from as the party only looks for the best candidate. Unfortunately, the present governor, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun is from my constituency. By convention it is not my turn. I believe that this should be the last time – at least in Ogun State – that people will say that it should be the turn of this and that. After the 2019 election, we are going to advocate for merit and not zoning. I am not coming out in 2019 to contest the governorship poll. But in 2023 we are not going to encourage zoning.”

An optimist as well as a realist, Tejuoso believes that while Nigeria is currently facing harsh economic situation and widespread state of insecurity, it is always calm after a storm. Even though he is not a seer, this is what he sees: “I can see a lot of positive changes in Nigeria today. Nigeria’s problem is more of (a) leadership (problem). I believe now that the issue of corruption is being handled and people are now aware that you can’t dip your hands into the treasury – that is a good start and right attitude to move forward. This present government is an administration of continuity. It didn’t say because it was the PDP government that started a particular project, it will abandon it. That is why we can see the railway project being completed. We have our challenges as a nation but I believe the future is bright.”

If there is anything that gives the Ogun prince joy, it is his family. He is a father to five grown-up children and two grandchildren. “I was extra-vibrant when I had my children. I thank God that he gave me a rare privilege of becoming a grandfather at a very young age of 49. I got married very early at the age of 22. I graduated as a medical doctor at the age of 21. Everything happened very fast – to God be the glory – and one tries to do it well,” the prince said.

Beyond politics and ambition, Tejuoso is every woman’s dream. He has been married to his sweetheart – Moji, daughter of billionaire industrialist, Rasaq Okoya of the famous Eleganza – for 31 years.

To him, the secret of a successful marriage is to know God early and have the ability to build oneself and the relationship. It also involves managing weaknesses and strengths – this is vital because you cannot find a perfect human being. “We have developed a lot of thirst for Christ very early and this has helped me and my wife,” he said.