Mrs. Haleemat Oluwayemisi Busari, running mate to the Lagos State People’s Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, is certainly no figurehead. Having been a corporate lawyer with many years of outstanding success in her chosen field of enterprise, Busari in this interview with MARY NNAH, pledged to bring to bear all her experiences in the corporate world to govern Lagos State in tandem with get principal
Let’s talk a bit about your career in the corporate world
I am a lawyer of almost three and a half decades. Up until about a couple of months ago when I was announced as a running mate of Mr. Jimi Agbaje, the Lagos State PDP gubernatorial candidate, I was the Group Head, Group Legal and Regulatory Affairs of the Honeywell Group, a Nigerian conglomerate. That is the role I have played for 20 years or more.
That means you have never had any political appointment before now
I was never a politician but I have always been somebody who is passionate about how we can change status quo; how we can improve our environment and how we can do things better. I think that is part of what has informed the personal charities that I have gotten myself involved in over the years. There is no way you can impact society from a position of authority unless you are empowered. However in your own little corner, you can do whatever it is you can to impact society and that is what I have always done.
But I do not run an organisation because my time in terms of work has always been taken up but in my spare time, I get together with friends and do things within my personal capacity. I have quite a number of people that I have seen through school and who are on my personal payroll but these are things I don’t like to talk about because they are personal things I do to impact lives. I recall there was a particular chap I used to see through school and every time he used to say to me that his mother wanted to come and thank me and I said to him, the day your mother sees me is the last time I will pay your school fees. I told him she didn’t need to see me but all she needed to do was that every time she remembers me, she should say a prayer for me. That’s all I require, I do not need her to come and say thank you to me.
Now, there are so many hindrances preventing women from making progress, especially in politics. How do you think women can survive especially in a male dominated society like ours?
I am very clear as to how women should do things and how we need to run our lives to survive in a society lie ours. Number one is that women should try and get away from this myth that we are ‘weak’. I think that should be the starting point – you know feeling weak and helpless – because that is where all the anxieties arise from, because you have already defeated yourself when you feel that you are a woman and then you are thinking, “How am I going to cope”.
So, I think the starting point is that we need to understand that we are human beings endowed with God-given abilities. And I think that we should learn how to harness and build our different abilities. I also think that as women, we need to learn how to plan ourselves and our lives and put structures in place. I keep taking about financial independence for women. I am a great believer of it. In as much as I am traditional, I also believe that women must work. Even the Holy Book says that women must work. The Quran gives me that mercy to work. So I think that as women, one thing we need to do, as multi-skilled people, is to plan better. So you have children, yes; so you have to run the home, yes; and so you have to look after your husband, yes. But whatever happens to planning? You have the weekend, cook your food and freeze it; portion it, so that during the week, it’s brought out and it’s warned so that during the week there is food at home all the time. So that is not an excuse for you not to work. You have children; get support. Some of us have mothers, some of us don’t. Those of us that have mothers, use your family support. If you don’t have mothers, pay for it. Put infrastructures in place that keeps your home going and allows you work. And most importantly, have your husband behind your back. You have to have your husband in your corner, if you don’t have your husband in your corner, it won’t happen. That is the mistake a lot of we women make. We don’t know how to have our husband in our corners. So once you have your husband in your corner and you put infrastructure in place at home and there is always food at home, the man allows you fly and do what it is you want to do. So we need to think, plan and pray.
Do you know men also have confusions? Yes, men do! They have confusions about taking some decisions. They are also scared because they are human beings and they are also vulnerable like we are. So it is all about planning and facing your reality. It is all about facing it through and asking yourself, ‘okay, so what do I have to put in place to make this work? But a lot of we women like to have helpless situations, like “oh God, I’m so weak, I don’t know what to do or I can’t do anything.” So we just have to get a hold of ourselves and put our lives in order.
Gender disparity is still a big issue in this clime. Do you think women are beginning to get the chance they deserve in terms of holding political offices in Nigeria?
I would like to look at it from the perspective of women presenting themselves for offices. Nobody will empower you if you don’t empower yourself. It is not a case of getting a chance, it is actually a case of are you presenting yourself. And how do you present yourself? You must be focused. You must know what it is you want in life and work toward it. And you must hold onto that which you believe in strongly and it is from doing all those things that leads you to wherever it is that you want to get to. So you want to be a senator, for example, and all your life you have done nothing with yourself and you wake up one morning and say you want to be a senator. How does that work? What skills do you have in you that assist you to achieve that objective? When you get there what are you going to do? What do you understand that they are doing in the chambers? So it is actually preparing yourself and identifying what it is you want from life and working towards it and of course with God’s help you wold be there. I mean, God is a big factor in my life, so, no matter what you do, there is also the God factor. You have to believe in Him, trust Him and hand things over to Him.
Is being a female deputy governor an advantage? If so, how do you intend to take advantage of your position peradventure you get into office?
I think it’s an advantage and again, it depends on who is involved. A woman is a natural mother. A woman is so many things rolled into one and some of these skills are innate. A woman is a natural diplomat, negotiator, an influencer and these are skills that are innate in women and so the sensible women in the course of growing up, would have grown on all these skills. Now, how do you now bring it to bear? In governance, you are constantly negotiating and lobbying to get things done –policies, regulations or you want to build infrastructure or bring in a new education system- and I think that because women have all of these natural innate skills, it is going to be an advantage.
Naturally when a woman comes on the negotiation table, trust me, things change, especially a woman who knows her onions. This is something that I have seen very often in the course of my 30 years in the corporate world. Women naturally have the ability to decipher things and we are able to see where things are going, which men can’t sometimes. And when you have a room all filled with men negotiating, sometimes the ego allows negotiation to break down because everybody is at one another’s throat and feels that I am a better man. But women don’t see things that way. We want to achieve and so we go in there ensuring that we connect with everybody and we get the best deal out of what is on ground, which is why I think in this situation, it is going to be an advantage because you even have an experienced corporate woman who has been a boardroom guru for many years and so all of these are what I am going to bring to bear in the governance of Lagos State.
How would you differentiate yourself from every other deputy in the past that were more or less figureheads without real power?
One of my issues when I was asked to serve was that I don’t just want to go to work in the morning and sit on fancy desk and chair and when it is 5pm I pick my bag and go home. Or in the course of the day, the governor can’t attend a meeting and wants me to attend a function that I am not even aware of and have not even been briefed on. How do I perform when I get to such meeting? So that is not what I intend to be. Now, I intend to run an inclusive cabinet together with my principal and we would work together. We would sit down and think together and we would agree that these are the things that we need to do; we would also agree on how they are to be done and who would do them. We would give ourselves timeline and we would monitor what it is we are doing and we would correct ourselves and would have conversations. We would change track several times if need be, which is why I say we would monitor and if we see that something is not working, we would speak to each other on the need to go back to the drawing table. So I am not going to be a deputy governor who merely sits and takes instructions and do only what I am told to do. Mark me; I am not saying we would have a government where we would be at each other’s throat. We would work together. We would have a cohesive government because we would engage and together we would run the state.
Personally do you have things you are bringing to the table, maybe things that would impact more on women in Lagos State?
Being deputy governor of Lagos State is not all about women, so I don’t think we should get it wrong. I am not going to be deputy governor of Lagos State just to fight women’s course. So we need to get that straight because we lose the essence of what we are trying to do when we think that way. We are trying to govern a state and do things properly, we are trying to make Lagos liveable for Nigerians and make life easy for people in Lagos; we are trying to make sure that we have an economy that is going in Lagos. We are trying to create a future for young Lagosians; it is not all about Lagos women, it is about Lagosians generally. So please don’t restrict me to women in Lagos State.