…and the joys and pains of being Lagos’ first lady
DAME Abimbola Emmanuella Fashola, the amiable wife of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) of Lagos State turned 50 on Monday, April 6, 2015.
Born on April 6, 1965, she began her formal education at K IKotun Memorial Nursery and Primary School, Surulere, Lagos. Her secondary education was at Marywood Girls Grammar School, Ebute Metta and Yejide Girls High School, Ibadan, Oyo State. She received her professional training at the Lagoon Secretariat College, Adisa Bashua, Surulere, Lagos and University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, where she obtained Advanced Computer Certificate.
Mrs. Fashola had a stint as a trained journalist with Daily Sketch Newspaper before joining The British Council in 1987 and was there till 2006, when she resigned to support her husband as the next governor of Lagos State.
Mrs. Fashola met her husband 21 years ago and few months later, they were married. The marriage produced two children (boys).
She told ENCOMIUM Weekly more about herself, family, husband and office as the first lady of Lagos State in this interview…
Thank you, sir.
How does it feel to turn 50?
It is still me. I don’t think I have changed except I am getting older.
Do you feel your new age?
I don’t know how people feel it o. Those who have turned 50 are always asking me. It is another day.
Are you sure you can still do most of the things you used to do some 10, 15 years ago?
Physically, ability to walk around without pains in any of your joints.
Oh oh! I think I can even go more miles. When I was young, I don’t think I did much walk around as such. I don’t feel any pain at all when it comes to walking. Maybe if I run, I love to walk.
What was your growing up like?
It was very beautiful. It was full of love from my mother, father and family members. I have had my family supporting me ever since. I just love to be in the midst of my family. You know you are free to express yourself. You are not afraid that somebody is going to chastise you for saying things you should not say. We were not gagged, so to say.
Where was your childhood?
We thought it was in Ibadan?
No, no, no. I lived only three years in Ibadan and it was in a boarding house at Yejide Girls Grammar School. So, all my life I lived in Lagos.
What childhood memories would you say you still cherish?
I cherish when we used to take bus to school. Bus 88 to K Ikotun Nursery and Primary School, Surulere, off Bode Thomas. I cherish walking from Simpson Road, Ebute Metta to Marywood in Apapa Road. I cherish my days as a Girls Guide in secondary school. I cherish when I used to cook for the family. My younger ones go to the market to buy the foodstuff while I do the cooking.
Do you still have some of your old friends who are still your friends?
Yes. I am somebody who believes so much in friendship. We have been dragging ourselves ever since and we are still together.
Are your parents still alive?
My father is late and my mother is very much alive.
How old is she now?
My mom will be 73 this year.
Are you the first child?
Yes, of my mother. I am from a polygamous home.
How many are you from your mother?
We are five.
And how many are you from your father?
About 11 but my mother has the highest.
What about your other siblings?
We are all together. My father was somebody who loved his children very much. If I did not tell you I am from a polygamous home you will not know because we all grew up together. Even at a particular time when my father moved to Ibadan after his retirement, we all lived together on our own. When I got married, my elder brother and sister left for England and the younger ones are still living with my mother even though not all of them are her biological children. Everyone always rallied round my mother.
When would you say was the best moments of your 50 years of existence?
The love I had from my father. The love I continue to have from my mother and my siblings because we are really there for one another. And the love I am having from my husband and my children. I have a lot of children now. Being free and being myself is also what I cherish.
When will you consider the happiest moment of your 50 years of existence?
Happiest moment? I think every day. One’s blessing is renewed every morning. Every day is a blessing. So, I don’t really see a single thing I can hold on to as the happiest moment.
Not even when you got married or you had your first child?
Yes, I was happy when I got married and when I had my first child, but I don’t think the joy of the first child is different from the second child.
When would you consider the saddest moment of your life?
When my husband had problem in the state, that led me to remind him that when he wanted to contest for the governorship, I told him he should not do it.
Since you mentioned it let us ask you. When you heard that your husband is being pushed as the next governor of Lagos State in 2006, what was your initial reaction?
I wasn’t even at home. We were on vacation. The children and I were on vacation when he called me that he’s been told to run for the governorship. I said you are kidding, you can’t be telling me that. What has politics got to do with you? It is law that I know you are very passionate about. I am not interested o, don’t even think about it. He said okay, I just said I should inform you, when you come home (from vacation), we will discuss it. When we returned he told me that there are no reasons, he thought he should accept the offer.
One, he said if God has spoken through Asiwaju (Tinubu) that he (Fashola) should run for the governorship of the state then he should accept it.
He said Asiwaju has always done things for people and if he (Asiwaju) should ask him to now serve his people, he thinks it is a great thing. That it is an honour that has been bestowed upon him. Therefore, he should accept it.
Two, he said it was an opportunity for him to prove that we can move Lagos State to a greater height. He said nobody can do it for us. That only Nigerians can improve Nigeria and take it to a greater height. That that is what he is going there to do.
So, on that note, I had no choice than to accept. But it took me a while before I could accept that, because I started thinking about so many things. I was working at the British Council then. I had a colleague there (British Council) who in her insensitivity told me that my husband was going to be the next person that would be assassinated after Funsho Williams. I told her she was sick, that they can never kill my husband. That is not the will of God for my husband. She is a white woman, she spoke carelessly but I gave her a fight for it.
You resigned from The British Council in 2006, was it because of your husband aspiration then to be the next governor of Lagos State?
There were two reasons I resigned. One, my younger child was just born and my job became very tedious. We close officially at 4.00 p.m but I don’t leave the office till 11.00 to 11.30 p.m because I had a lot of work load. There were so many Nigerians migrating abroad and I was in charge of the English Language test. I was conducting over 1,000 tests every month. If a particular candidate wanted the result to be sent to seven different universities, I had to do it. You can imagine if all the 1,000 students wanted their results sent to seven universities each or wherever. It was becoming too much for me, and I thought rather than committing mistakes in sending the results, I better call it quits.
Now, I had a better excuse to leave and support my husband in his aspiration. When I was leaving The British Council, they did not want me to go. Every time they saw Asiwaju (Tinubu), they will tell him you are the one that snatched one of our staff, we didn’t want to release her.
Did Asiwaju Tinubu actually get in touch with you when he selected your husband as his successor?
At functions when we meet (laughter), he threatened me that if I did not release my husband for eight years then he will look for another wife for him.
Let us talk about you and your husband. Where and when did you meet your husband?
I met him 21 years ago.
What circumstance was it?
It was at an engagement. My best friend was having an engagement. She is the grand child of the late Oba of Lagos Oyekan. I was there helping her to serve and he was one of the guests. He introduced himself and from there we became friends. That was how we kicked it off. He came visiting our house and my sisters got to know and liked him.
What would you say attracted you to him then?
He is tall, good looking, has sense of humour, friendly and caring. It didn’t start off as marriage thing then. We started as friends. That is why till date we are still friends. There is nothing we don’t share.
For how long did courtship last?
How will you describe the experience of being the first lady of Lagos State for eight years?
It’s been interesting, it’s been an eye opener. It gives you true perspective of human beings whichever way you look at it.
Did it in anyway affect your private lifestyle?
Of course. I can’t buy boli (roasted plantain) anymore. I can’t buy my corn anymore. When I was at British Council, I looked forward to the examination or test period, particularly during the rainy season when there will be corn sellers close to the hall or event centre where the test is being conducted. I can’t just go out without caring about my appearance. Gone were the days when I could just wear jeans and shirt to the office at The British Council.
In fact, when I was still at British Council and I needed to go out to represent Her Excellency, Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu at a function, I would dress gorgeously and my colleagues in the office would look at me in amazement and would ask me where are you going after work? They were not used to such elaborate dressing. Theirs is a simple dress of shirt and trousers and many of us working with them are already used to such simple attires.
So, when I became first lady, I had to adjust to formal dress every day. That was something I was not used to.
Do you miss not being simply dressed?
I do and I always do it when I travel abroad. I just want to be free.
Are you saying being the first lady doesn’t give you freedom to do whatever you want to do?
No, it doesn’t give me freedom. It is restriction everywhere. Restriction from protocol, restriction from the security people, restriction from everyone around you. Sometimes you go out and you just want to be yourself but you will be reminded you are the wife of the governor. Sometimes, you go to functions and you want to sit at the back. You will hear, oh madam you can’t sit there.
But I still try to enforce that when it is family function. I will tell them I don’t want to be in front. I don’t want to be first lady here. This is my home, let me sit where I want to sit. Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on our leaders by asking them to sit in front even at informal occasions. Except I love to be in front. If not just let me sit wherever I want to sit and enjoy myself.
Your children are boys, don’t you miss not having a girl?
No, no, no. You know why I say no, the home I come from we don’t separate the boys from the girls when it comes to house chores. My mother made sure everything the girls were doing was also given to the boys to do.
Two, the female children of my siblings and friends have become mine too. Anytime I travel, I buy things for all of them. So, I don’t miss not having a girl.
How easy is it for you bringing up your boys because it is believed that bringing up boys could be pretty difficult?
Again, the home I came from, there are about six boys from my father and three from my mother. I played the role of a mother to all of them in the house. Virtually, I brought them up. Now, they are fathers. That helped me a lot in bringing up my own boys.
So, there is really nothing new that they are bringing up that I have never seen before. I always tell them you don’t play pranks. You are internet children. The children of nowadays did not live the type of life we lived. I always tell them they are not enjoying life at all. Their life is all about their handsets and internet. They are always tweeting, etc. We enjoyed life. We went out to parties, disco parties, picnics. We had friends that we moved around together.
I think technology really has made our children anti-social. Even when you take them out in order to make them relate and fraternize, you will see them go into a corner and be playing with their phones again. Even three years old babies are already addicted to iPad, laptop and so on.
What would you like to be remembered for as the first lady of Lagos State for eight years?
What would I be remembered for? Hmmm! That I was there supporting the people behind the administration with different programmes and projects. We created awareness for healthy living through immunization for the children, checking your BP and so on through the Ministry of Health.
There was also empowerment for the women through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
There was also our contribution in the area of education to ensure that our children can be the best that they can be.
In the area of environment, we also made our mark by encouraging and canvassing for the people to make their environment clean. We also promoted awareness on climatic change.
In the area of agriculture too, we encouraged farming and outlets where they can take their products to. We also encouraged the farmers to get financial empowerment.
On the women issue, we were there for the women ensuring that we have total woman. For a woman to be a total woman, she must keep her home if she is married. She must be there for her children. Support her husband and make money. She must be financially independent. No matter how small it is, she must get something doing. That is the only way a woman will not get involved in any mischief. That also is the only way to keep her sanity.
We were also there for the youths. We created awareness for them to be the best they can. Empowering them with skill acquisition and all that. We also trained the youths in leadership attributes and attitudes. So that wherever they are, at whatever age, they do not need a title to be a leader.
Your predecessor went into partisan politics after leaving office. Are you likely to do the same thing?
That is not my calling. My calling is in supporting people to be their best.
So, what will you be doing after leaving office as the first lady of Lagos State?
I am going into my NGO, Leadership Empowerment And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N). Years gone by we have done a whole lot of programmes. Especially our summer school programmes which is about skill acquisition for the children, improving their English and Mathematics as well as giving them sex education, how to be good citizens and leadership qualities. We also exposed them (children) to brain stimulation games such as draught, scrabble, etc, so that at any given time they are at their best.
It used to be Lagos Empowerment And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N) but now that we are taking it to other states, we have changed it to Leadership Empowerment And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N). I have somebody who has been driving it all this while as the project manager, Mrs. Awoyemi. I am going into it fully as soon as I am done as first lady of Lagos State. That is where my passion is and that is where I am looking forward to.
– TOLANI ABATTI