Princess Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Finance, has always been a voice in the 40-member House. In this interview with journalists in her office, Tejuoso, who was recently voted ‘the Best Dressed Female Lawmaker’ in the Assembly, speaks on her sojourn in the Assembly among other issues. Thegazellenews.com was at the interview session and we bring you excerpts from the session.
During the last Ramadhan period, you held a Ramadhan lecture despite being a Christian, why?
As a member of the Lagos Assembly, I represent everybody in my constituency irrespective of age, religion or status.
That programme was a good opportunity for me to congregate with my Muslim brothers and sisters, understand who they as well as their religion. It was also an opportunity for me to show them that I am always available for them just like I am
there for the Christians.
At the event, the Chief Imam said I was the reason for the setting up of the association of Imams in one of the areas of Mushin Constituency 1 because whenever I want to dialogue with them, I ask them to congregate in one place for the peace and unity of the constituency. I was happy it was a good programme which ended well.
People do not understand you. Who really is Princess Adefunnmilayo Tejuosho?
I am someone who is very firm and knows what she wants. I believe it has to do with my upbringing. There are certain things I will do and certain things I will not do. I will not compromise my standard for anything.
My father would always tell me to be ready for the consequence of anything I want to do. He would say if I cannot bear the consequence, then I should not do it. So I weigh options in anything I do. That is why it is good o do what is right at every time. I don’t live to impress people but God. I believe that if I satisfy my God, then I am doing fine. Sometimes people say I am very frank, but that is the way I was raised-to say things the way I see them.
I remember the day I told my father I wanted to join politics, he asked me if I am sure I could do it since I can’t lie. He told me politicians tell a lot of lies and wondered how I could get involved with people like that, but I said I would do it the way I know how to do it and he promised to always pray for me to do what is right. Basically, I am more flexible and my children would rather ask me for anything before asking daddy, because he is firmer. My staff are like family to me and would even sometimes take advantage, but I don’t mind since I know that where there is love, people are bound to take advantage as long as it is positive.
People often have the impression that you are very arrogant and mean. How do you react to this?
God has created us in different ways. For some people, the first impression they have of you is that you are arrogant. Arrogance is a perception; it is not who I am. I saw a movie the other day where I heard that fear is not real, but danger is real. You might think I am arrogant looking at me from afar, but when you get close to me, you would see that I can speak and talk with anybody. I am the kind of person who gives back what you give to me.
I don’t poke my nose into what does not concern me. If people want me to get involved, I would, but if they want their privacy, I give it to them since I sometimes want my own privacy. These all might be seen as ‘she is arrogant’.
Then, of course, I attended an all-girls secondary school and there are certain ways I have been trained to comport myself. I’m not one that would get anywhere and just open my mouth since, through my education, I know that a lady is seen and not heard; you don’t shout and make noise over the place, you just do your job. That is why you see that I like to work; I like to be at the floor of the Assembly and make my contributions to issues as much as I can. If I don’t have anything to say about an issue, I won’t talk. But I am always conscious of the fact that I am the voice of my constituency. They have given me the trust that I would talk for them. So when a lot of times you see me talk, it is not because of myself because at the end of the month, I get my salary whether I talk or not, but the truth is that I represent people.
When issues about domestic violence crop up, I get very passionate to ensure I contribute to make it a thing of the past. When we talk about issues of children, I worry and add a voice. I don’t want any law to come through my table and I would not do what I think is right on it so that when they ask for what I sad in future, documents would show. You don’t have to take what I say, but I want it to be documented for people to know I said what I said especially for posterity sake. If I don’t talk and a bill is passed into law or a motion is brought before the House to become a resolution and I don’t say anything for or against the motion, I would feel bad knowing that I am supposed to speak up. I think that is where people might say: ‘oh! She would always contribute’. It is not because it is exciting to me but because it is my job and I have to do it well.
In your first term, you were the only female among the lawmakers. How was it like then?
Sincerely, I never felt anything because as a lawyer, I am used to working with men. Our leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, would say power is not served alakat. You have to work for it, you have to earn it. So I try to earn what I believe is my right, I try to show to my colleagues that I am not just a woman here, but I am qualified to be here and can compete with the male folk. I am glad there are more women now.
So it is very easy to fly gender issues.
From the way you have described yourself, will I be correct to say you were stubborn while growing up?
Was I stubborn? Well, I am the last child of my mum and my mum had five children…
Are you from a polygamous home?
I wouldn’t say that, but my father had another child before my mum passed on. He was younger than me and lived with his mum while I lived with my parents. In our own unit, we were three girls and two boys. My two elder sisters are into the law profession as well. One of them is a chief magistrate in Lagos here; the other is a lawyer living in America, one of my brothers is a doctor living in America while the other one is into business administration. I always maintain that I did not come from a poor background; therefore I cannot come and tell you now that I came from a humble beginning. That’s not me and maybe that is one thing about me. I don’t pretend. My father gave me a very good life; sometimes he would sacrifice for us to get the very best of life. We went to the best school.
I went to the University of Lagos Staff School from where I went to Queens College, Yaba, Lagos. Then I went to St. Francis High School and the West Virginia University in America. Then I did my law degree in Buckingham University in England and my father paid for everything. So it wasn’t like I had to work, struggle and then go to school. He struggled to be where he is and didn’t want us to suffer. My mother was a full time housewife. It was a good upbringing for me and I enjoyed growing up with the family. I won’t say I was stubborn. My father, a medical doctor, trained us to be sure of ourselves. He would always warn us not to rely on any property he would leave for us. He would ask us to focus on our education so that we can get the best out of life since it is not possible for him to leave his medical certificate for us when he is gone.
This same principle I pass on to my children. My daughter said one day, somebody looked at my picture in her phone and said: ‘oh! That’s where you got the look from. It means you are not snobbish after all, you are really nice’. It is just a look. When growing up as a woman, you are told to put your head up, cross your legs when you sit and such other instructions and they become part of you. These might be why some people think I am arrogant.
They feel when I walk in the corridor, I won’t put my head down but up, but that is the training I had. I love people. In my constituency, they know who I am and love me the way I love them. The same way I was trained I also impact. I tell those I meet, ‘dress well, look tidy and don’t come around me in tatters looking for anything because I won’t give you. If I go to a bank and the staff are looking tattered, I won’t put my money in that bank. One’s appearance is one’s letter of recommendation. So, when they say I appear in a particular way, then that is their perception.
At what point did you decide to go into politics?
It’s been a while now. You know meeting people and the complaint that there is no power, no this, no that, and then they would go back home grumbling. Like I told you, my father was living fine and had machine to pump water and generators for power. When we got home, we just went to sleep.
When I got married, it was the same thing; my husband lives fine and I didn’t suffer. We would get home into the comfort of our rooms and close the door and forget everybody else. But at a time, I felt it was not fair and that when I complain, I would only end up criticising the government and nothing more. So I started attending political meetings to see how I could get involved.
Eventually, I was given a ticket to the House of Representatives, but Sani Abacha was forced on the party and I withdrew two days before my election because I don’t believe you can be honourable in a dishonourable dispensation.
It was just my principle. As a Christian, I always believe you have to be fair in everything you do. Then, I made up my mind that if they imposed Abacha on the party, I would resign, because the things that went on at that time were not pleasant. You can’t be part of an unpleasant group to make a difference. So, that was the end until the time of Alliance for Democracy (AD). In 2003, I was elected to be a member of the House of Assembly.
As a woman, how would you describe the action of Mrs. Patience Jonathan?
She has done everything to support her husband. She might not always be right, but she wants to do it. I feel sometimes as we go up in life, we feel very comfortable and then begin to make mistakes. But it is good to quickly retrace our steps and correct those mistakes. For example, the involvement of Mrs. Jonathan in the Rivers state saga is not too pleasant. I just hope she retraces her steps for peace in the state.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a lawmaker?
For me, challenges are not issues, but the way I handle them is the issue. I do believe everything that happens to me is the will of God. I feel there is nothing that has happened to a politician that has not happened to me apart from going to jail and I pray I do not go to jail. I try to keep my hands clean at all times. But in life, there are intrigues and you cannot control intrigues or other people. When I first came in 2003, one member told me that the House was full of intrigues. With time, I know what he meant; it is a House of intrigues where some people feel if they don’t pull you down, they cannot achieve. I feel this is a bad way to live and eventually, they would be pulled down as well. We can see that those who tried to pull other people down have ended up down themselves. It is not me, but the will of God.
When I have challenges, I would comport myself and ask God to handle the ones that are too much for me. And He has always handled them. For me, it is not the challenges, but how you handle them. Some people go through challenges and never recover, but once you are able to recover from yours, then God is faithful.
How have you managed sexual harassment in politics?
There are sexual harassment in everything in life, even in journalism. The female is the female, always attractive, but the men must learn to be decent. They should realise that where a woman is not interested, you don’t have to harass her. If you are two consenting adults, there is no problem. The harassment comes where either the man or the woman is not interested. We all go through it as women, but the thing I want us to appreciate is that some of us will never give in to it no matter what we have
How does your husband feel about you being in politics?
My husband is a very self-sufficient person. He has a lot of self-esteem and loves his wife. He supports my moves. He is a politician and even ran for the governorship seat in Ogun state. He knows the terrain. I dated my husband for 13 years before we got married. We know ourselves very well. If you come and tell me this is what Kayode did, I would know if it is true. The same applies to him. We trust each other and at the end of the day, we get to bed and we discussed what happened earlier in the day. He advises me on what to do and I advise him too on how to go about issues. Sincerely, my husband is a wonderful man.
What actually scares you?
I am a very bold woman. In my family, my siblings would tell you. When I was going into politics, they confirmed I could do it. It would take a lot to scare me, really. If I believe in anything, it would take a lot to push me out of it.
As a gender activist, how would you react to issues of rape and other violence against women?
We are working very hard with a lot of non-governmental organisations on issues related to these. The other day, Mrs. Falana had a walk against rape. Some other people have been working with us to ensure that we enlighten the people. We don’t want the victims to be ashamed because it is not their fault. We must all learn to appreciate other people’s feelings and opinions. The punishment for rape is severe; the criminal law has been amended so that you don’t think you can get away with the crime. Even in the law, we talk about rape in the marital environment and we are beginning to be more sensitive to it.
What is your next political move?
My next political move? God will tell. I honestly do not know and I won’t lie to you. I don’t make plans for the future. I only ask God to guide me as per what He thinks I should do to continue to represent my people. You can feel you want to go Abuja to the House of Representatives or Senate, but your people believe it is better to be seeing you everyday. You also know that democracy is something we are just getting used to as a country.
It has also shown that it has come to stay this time. I know with time, the people will continue to support wherever one decide to go. But right now, all they say is: ‘please stay back here and continue to help solve our problems for us’.