Princess Abiodun Islamiat Oyefusi may be the daughter of the late Ayangburen of Ikorodu, but she surely did not depend on that to make her mark. A law graduate with merit from Aberdeen Law School, she also holds an MBA in International Business from the University of Hull. The Prince2 Project Management Practitioner is currently an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Governance U.K. and Ireland. But beyond these, she has over 25-year Board and Public Sector experiences developing Governance Framework and managing multi-million dollars projects. She is currently the Governance Partner for TLGPPartnetship. The honourary member of West Africa Women Association is most importantly, a strong advocate for women’s equality and rights working with various legal NGOs such Lawyers Without Borders. She also currently serves on boards of various NGOs such as SoulLifters, Global Girl Child Development. In this interview with Chiemelie Ezeobi, the 2023 Deputy Governorship Candidate for the Labour Party in Lagos State, shared her journey, venture into politics, assessment of the 2023 general elections, her ongoing advocacy to empower women and the project to provide succor for abused women
What do you stand for?
I am a women advocate and I am part of the lawyers’ forum that supports women. I am also a strong voice for the girl-child.
When you say women advocate, what does that imply?
We continue to lobby for women’s rights and equality in all aspects of life where women are so deprived of equality in terms of null implementation of 39 per cent at all levels.
From the private to the public sector and even from the lowest level of the government right up, in all aspect of work, we need women to be represented on an equal ground and given an opportunity to showcase and serve the people. We will continue to serve women’s right in terms of domestic abuse, legal child, the right to education, destruction of early child marriages, and different aspect of the law that promotes equality for women.
Was Law what you set out to do from the onset?
It wasn’t something I planned to do but along the way, it’s the career path I found myself on, and for me to try the politics and affect where I’m going, affect the people I’m trying to support, I have to know the background how effectively you can achieve the objectives.
So did you always want to go into politics and how did it prepare you for the experience?
Yes, I come from a background of politicians. My father was the late Ayangburen. Hence, it’s an act of service. My uncle, the late Adeniran Ogunsanya was a strong politician, and my aunty, the late Denrele Ogunsanya.
How long have you been an active politician?
I’ve been active in Nigeria since 2014, but I’ve always been in politics right from my university; even when I was overseas I was part of a major political party in the UK.
So how has the journey been so far in politics?
It has been very educational, exciting, and eye-opening. However, you see many gaps in what we need to do and what we aren’t doing right; you know why the girl child should be motivated to go into politics, and you see why women aren’t given a level playing field to compete. It’s difficult to bring women to the forefront of politics, but it’s not impossible.
So what was your reaction when you were picked as the Labour Party Deputy Governorship candidate?
It was quite interesting because I didn’t apply for it. I was still contemplating leaving PDP because it got to the point that I felt they weren’t following the Constitution. They weren’t implementing their party constitution, which put position for all women. We had this national congress to elect the head, and there was only one woman among 22, and I was so disillusioned that how do we carry on from here? We seem to be going down the drain. Even in the Senate, we saw the previous dispensation, there were about 14, and in the current one we are about seven, so we seem to decline.
So I felt like we needed to do something drastic. I was part of the women that went to NASS to campaign for the 35 per cent; I came overseas to participate. So when His Excellency (Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Labour Party Gubernatorial candidate for Lagos) contacted me to be his deputy because we both were in PDP, he was Lagos West senatorial, I was the East, we already had an aligned program, our vision of the way things should be run in the country, all we need to do to make a difference. Also, we are the true Lagosians, the way Lagos should be would need a Lagosian with the soul and heart, and empathy for the people to push for more. We wanted to bring it to reality.
How do you do it all in business and politics?
What I keep saying to the women is nothing comes free, it’s a struggle but it’s worth it because you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the girl child, for the future. If we don’t do it now, lay the foundation, give them the opportunity to be able to be somebody in future for equality, it’s going to be harder as we go on. So I say to them don’t give up, politics in Nigeria isn’t for the faint hearted, it’s not sweet or rosy, you have to be prepared to put in the work and if you get knocked down, get up and keep going again.
If you don’t get knocked out, you’ve not learnt anything in politics, you can’t be effective to anybody because I’ve said it’s better to journey and build character and experience than arrive and not learn anything. When you journey is when you get the experience and build the character and know where you should be going. But when you just arrive, the place doesn’t mean anything else to you, you don’t value it as much. Yes Nigeria politics is dogged, men’s club but there’s nothing that can’t be achieved. So you’ve got to have the vision, determination and courage to stand up and get it and that’s how we do.
Where you disillusioned at the
electoral process and the election itself?
I must confess, I’m very disillusioned. I’m very sad; more than that, it’s confusing you wonder where we are going. First of all, I want to say thank you to all the Lagosians that stood up and voted for us and thank you to the youth for believing we can make a difference.
Secondly, I want to say we are sorry for what they did to the youth. We are very sorry because that is not democracy. When people go out to exercise their civic rights, and they’re beaten and chased away from the polling unit, it’s not what democracy is all about. It gives a wrong impression, especially for the people coming out for the first time.
We are sorry for everyone that got beaten and matcheted. We have four in a coma and over 22 people dead. People are still in the hospital. We want to apologise on behalf of Lagos State and say to the dead that your labour will never be in vain. We pray for eternal rest and mercy upon your soul as we stand.
But this was not the purpose, and we must never allow that to happen because no one should die because they want change. It’s not right. It gives a wrong impression of our nation. It saddens me that we went back to the colonial era because this is the sort of thing we see in the movies, and it’s happening live in our front. It was so bad that I couldn’t even go out because there were shooting at almost four polling units.
They stabbed, beat, and collected their tags. People who looked different from Yorubas were chased from the polling units. One thing I brag about is the election proves Lagos doesn’t belong to any party. We won on the 25th February and this March we won. Even with all the violence, we would say this; Lagosians are tired of the one-party system. We want democracy, but because we have a one-party system, there’s no accountability — nothing.
Some violence on the February 25th was not as violent as on the 18th, so for me, it’s sad we just went back to the pre-colonial era. You think, are we in the world? Did something happen? And the bigotry, the narrative it’s a war instead of an election, it’s very condescending and difficult to comprehend.
Lagosians are very welcoming. We’ve never had a narrative of such. My father stood and fought for them in Ikorodu and said that land must be given and that they have a right to build their property and business. Even myself, I am more Lagosian than the current sitting governor. So where was the problem? The problem wasn’t about an ethnic group. It was actually about keeping APC in power. It was purely political, but the narrative for the non-educated people they played on people’s emotions and mindset was just wrong.
What about those injured in the elections?
That’s what Labour Party stands for. Our logo is Our Lagos. Lagos belongs to all of us. This is what everybody worked for. Every citizen in Lagos must feel like they’re Lagosians. This is what our manifesto and slogan stand for. Nobody is left behind. We take everybody along with us.
So it’s painful that the current government can come out and deny it
although people are in the hospital. We have people at LASUTH that their eyes were gorged out, we were there but they never once came out to apologise to these young people for what democracy did to them.
The government is the constituted authority of that state, you’re responsible for every citizen of that state. It’s your responsibility to offer some sort of empathy to the people but never once has this government come out to do so, all they did was deny that there’s no violence despite the fact that people were in hospital, videos were loaded, there’s hospital bill, they never offered to treat anyone free, they never visited anybody.
Most of the people dead or attacked in hospital they are in Labour Party but there was a dead guy, he wasn’t even Labour Party all he wanted was to vote, but they looked at him and said he resembled an ethnic group and they matcheted him.
But do you think Labour Party could have planned for better security for those that want to vote?
I have to accept that we could have done better but we depended on what we were told by INEC. They told us there would be security at the polling unit. INEC told us BVAS would work, but it didn’t. So at some point you have to trust people given billions to provide a free and fair election. I think that’s where we need to accept that we shouldn’t have trusted the way we did, maybe we should have made our own. Not that We didn’t make provision, we did, but it wasn’t enough.
So what’s your next step, personally and as a party?
We are in court still as you know and we are awaiting the outcome. Personally, for me, it’s time to develop my community. It’s time to reach out and ensure that the agenda of the party is achieved. It’s time to do everything possible and push to the forefront while we await everything positive regarding the outcome of the court.
Based on that, we will determine where I’m going in politics but for me, my life long dream is to see women at the forefront of politics. In my lifetime, I’m praying to see a woman president, or vice president or governor.
So it’s time to develop the community, it’s time to help the girl child, help the women to empower them, to position them ready for the next elections coming. If they don’t sign our 35 per cent into law, we will get it because politics is not about the court. You have to prove yourself, contend, meet the electorate, and sell them the vision for them to buy it.
What we’ve been doing is trying to build up women, try to help our community flourish. For example, on the 1st of May, we have this community medics van with the support of doctors and medics, the Lagos chapter and the diaspora. We provided the van, and they catered for us. As much as possible, for every community within Lagos state, we are hoping by the end of the year, we will get three, one in the senatorial district.
We are also looking to provide a Safeway House for people who suffer from domestic violence and have been identified. We reach out to them and help them. They have nowhere to go. We can’t throw them back into that environment they were abused. So we are building the first one. It’s already in the process. We pick them up to help the woman and child from this abuse, give them accommodation to settle down, rebuild themselves during the period and help them back into society.
Another move is that we are also hoping to hold a roadshow of politics to educate the youths so we can change their mindset on what politics is all about, what’s the agenda of each party and the manifesto.
What life lesson should the youths learn from the life of your late father, the Ayangburen of Ikorodu?
My late father became king at 39. When he was king, he was the longest-serving king of Ikorodu. He brought everything into Ikorodu. He was so good he was the only king that his children never became government commissioners.
Anytime a Governor says to bring one of your children to make them SA commissioners, he will tell them I don’t have any children that want to be SA or commissioner. He would ask them, SA or commissioner, how many people can you employ for my people? How many positions can it create? That’s why you always find Ikorodu people at the top of civil service.
He believed he was put in the position to serve his people. He often said when he gets to His maker, He’ll ask what he did with the position given to him How many of his people did he empower? That’s the kind of service he imparted to us to emulate.
We are in government for service and not to line our pockets—service first before anything. When we change the narratives about what politics is about, then we will see real people come forward. But if we continue with the craziness we have now, we have constituencies budgets given by the House of reps, senate and you go to the constituency and see bad roads, no light, water, nothing. What happened to the millions collected?
Look at the COVID period, the palliative was hidden from the people and after, we see them coming out using it as souvenirs at parties. And these people are still in power representing the people. Another thing is the houses being built, the only government that had empathy for the people was Lateef Jakande, and it’s still standing anywhere. Where is the low-cost housing for the people you buy or rent from the government?
When you built the houses, there’s no money to buy the window, talk less of the whole building, where would they get the money from. So the entire thing is just standing there, they build the shop same thing. That’s why you see people trading on the roads continuously when you make shops people can’t buy, they’ll rather pay to touts or people coming to tax them to sell N3,000 because there’s no way they’ll sell for N3 or 4,000 and be able to pay for the shop that’s why everything is empty. So we need policies and systems that work for the people, and it starts from us
So the whole system and fabric are destroyed. In big public schools, only 50 per cent of our children are in public schools primary, and 25 public schools in secondary, which means the rest are private schools. So look at the family selling something by the roadside or in a small shop. Is he going to pay for the private school, light, and water? So where is the government working for these people?
You were recently given an award, what was it about?
I was given the Icon of hope. The award is about people that have distinguished themselves in their field of politics as a beacon of hope for the women and people. It’s a privilege and honour to be given that award because past recipients are key people in society like the Ooni of Ife.
For me, it’s an opportunity to go ahead further in recognition of things that have been done that are impacting people. It’s an honour to be recognised and to see that the award was coming from young people and different community diversity. It gives me hope that the young people haven’t given up on themselves, and not everybody wants to exit…
We plan to build young people up so that the local government chairmen and counsellors would be someone that’ll contest as governor or president in the future. So if we build them up, give them that hope and support they need, we know the future is for them.
We can change the narrative because right now, the narrative is wrong as we believe politics is when you make overnight money. It’s just wrong. It brings the bad of society into politics. The belief that the youth would never be given power is wrong. My father always says three rules, the love of God is in a child, the strength of God is in your youth, and the wisdom and patience of God is in the old. So the old is supposed to guide the youth and not rule them, so that’s it.