Posted by BY MIKE AWOYINFA, SHOLA OSHUNKEYE and NDIDI KENNEDY-UKAGA on
Appointment was for 12 noon, last Sunday, at her official quarters in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. And she was already waiting, ready for the team. The team was ready too. After all, you donít get to interview the first daughter of the president of the Federal Republic everyday.
Appointment was for 12 noon, last Sunday, at her official quarters in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. And she was already waiting, ready for the team. The team was ready too. After all, you donít get to interview the first daughter of the president of the Federal Republic everyday.
But then, we would have to wait a little longer. After exchanging pleasantries with the team, Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, an epidemiologist, Ogun State Commissioner for Health and first daughter of President Olusegun Obasanjo, politely excuse herself for five minutes to freshen up.
Fifteen minutes later, she was back in the living room, clad in a brightly coloured Hollandis skirt and blouse. ďGentlemen, can we start?Ē she asked briefly. And the session began. The first few minutes of the interview was somewhat tempestuous as the Ogun State Commissioner of Health showed us that she is a true daughter of her father.
ďWho is Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello?Ē we had asked the highly cerebral woman innocuously. She flew up into a temper instantly and describing the question as ďsillyĒ, wondering whether we did any research on her before coming. Despite the provocative observations, we maintained the focus of the interview and still got her to answer our questions anyway.
But when Dr. Obasanjo-Bello finally settled down to business, she gave the Weekly Spectator troika more than they bargained for. She was in her element as she answered all questions frankly, sincerely and with consummate knowledge. She spoke on her father, President Olusegun Obasanjo, his separation from his her mother, her own failed marriage, her relationship with the late First Lady and her stepmother, Chief Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, her fatherís actual age, her political ambition and sundry other issues.
For instance, when asked to comment on the soaring notion that the president is stubborn and vindictive, she said: ďItís a trait. What is being vindictive? I hope I am a little bit vindictive myself. It is part of life. Somebody does something to you, why shouldnít you get back at him or her? What is wrong with that? If you think you are that great and you can do something nasty to me, I hope I can get back at you and do 20 times worse.Ē
On the presidentís admission in a report with a national daily that he loves women, she has this to say: ďI think he does. I think in his life story, he would have to admit that.Ē
Well, those are just tips of the iceberg. Below are excerpts of the no-holds-barred interview:
Who is Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello?
Ask me a real question. People ask me that question all the time and I donít understand it.
We want you to tell us about yourself as Iyabo Obasanjo.
In terms of what?
Being the presidentís daughter.
That is already defined in terms of being the presidentís daughter. You have already said it. When people say who am I, any human being is several things to several different people. If you say Ďtell me about your background, growing upí, then I can tell you.
How was it like growing up as Obasanjoís daughter?
Growing up as Obasanjoís daughter is like growing up as Obasanjoís daughter in terms of the fact that everybody has a father in terms of growing up. I donít think growing up as Olusegun Obasanjoís daughter has anything to do with what we are saying. Everybody grow up as somebodyís child. So, growing up, your experiences depending onÖ
What are the peculiar experiences that your status as Obasanjoís daughter conferred on you as a child?
I donít know. I donít know if itís peculiar. Unless I tell the story of my life, then someone would say Ďokay that is peculiar.í My childhood was spectacular because the things that happened to me are natural to me. Itís part of who I am.
What are those things?
I donít know. Unless you want to hear my life story. The question of Ďwho are you?í I have always thought was a very silly question. I am sorry to say. You canít ask me who I am. I can just say I am the wind.
How did people relate to you as Obasanjoís daughter while growing up?
I think people related to me normally.
How much of Olusegun Obasanjo is in you?
I would think half of him while the other half comes from my mother. From genetics, if genetics were right, that you get half of your genetic potentials from your parents, I guess half of my persona, my character, who I am, to some extent would have to be him.
Can you explain the half? What it is that you share in common with him?
I donít know itís for other people that know the two of us well who can tell better than I can. I think that a lot of my natural traits are much more my fatherís and I think more of my environmental influences, my mother. And I think as I grow older, more of my natural traits are more of my fatherís and more of environmental influences are motherís.
Are you as stubborn as your father?
It depends. That is other peopleís perspective I guess. I think most human beings can be stubborn but I guess, like everybody, I can be stubborn, I can be hard headed, but I donít knowÖ Itís for other people to say.
What virtue do you share in common with him?
Virtue? I think, basically, we are happy people. We are happy, hard working, goal-oriented people. We are not greedy people. We donít really care that much about ostentation and things around. We are very simple people. Thatís who we are. We tend to be a little bit on the intellectual side but at the same time we are very down to earth. That means that we can walk into our village, any village at all, and we can eat and drink with the people and we can meet presidents of the world and feel natural. I think we are very simple people in general.
In terms of generosity, how generous?
We are generous people but we are not generous in the kind of ways that Nigerians want people to be generous. That means that, Nigerians want you to be doling money out and them hailing you as the big man and that kind of thing. I think we are generous to the extent that we do good and we donít need to make so much noise about it and be ostentatious about it. I think we try and do as much good as we can in terms of trying to leave a better world behind and influence the world we live in to be better. But not necessarily the way Nigerians wants you to do good which is the fact that every penny you give, the amount of noise make about it is 20 times what is given.
I think my dad has done a lot of more good to individuals than people realize. He is not the kind of person. Nigerians like noise making and that is not in his character.
Talking about generosity, how do you feel when people describe your father as tight fisted?
He is tight fisted and there is no doubt about that. I think he is tight fisted but I see it more as a factor of his up bringing and his generation. He is tight fisted because he grew up not having much. A lot of people tend to forget where they come from. If you are somebody that has a lot of common sense and you grew up not having much, you tend to want to manage what you have.
Keep what you have?
Not keeping what you have, no. But not throwing it everywhere just to show you are in control. If somebody says I need N10, you ask him or her what do you need N10 for? Maybe N1 is all you need. That doesnít mean the person is stingy. That means the person says, Ďlook, you can manage with less,í and I think more Nigerians need to learn to know how to manage with less. People throw money around too much.
We are in a society that is very frivolous and it doesnít help in the managing of personal finance, it doesnít help in managing the countryís finance. We are in trouble all the time in this country in terms of our economy because you say somebody is stingy. He is not stringy, itís proper management. Most problems in life donít need so much money to solve them.
The reason this tightness arose is because people say for a man who has been there, who is big, rich, he ought to have affected people at a very personal level.
He does affect people at a personal level. Itís the Nigerian perception. I donít even know what it means being a big man or even being rich. It is perception. There are a lot of world leaders that are not considered rich in terms of naira and kobo. Richness does not mean anything. Being a big person, what does it mean? What does it mean to be rich? It is how much influence you can have. And I think we can go back to character and what we define as somebody that is successful, somebody that can impact the world they live in better than anybody else.
Mr. Clinton is not a rich man in terms of the US economy but he is a very successful man. He is not successful by throwing money at people. My dad has influenced more people than you can think but it doesnít mean you sit down and give them money. He has influenced the world he lives in more than any Nigerian alive. Not because he has given money to more people but because he has attempted to make life better for more people than anybody else. And I think that is what is important.
What are your fatherís flaws that you know?
I know more of his mistakes on a personal level, not on a heroic level. I would class him as a hero of the Nigerian Society. But for me personally, Clinton is my hero.
Talking of your fatherís mistakes, what mistake do you have in mind?
Oh, he has so many like any human being. Like I said of Clinton, that he has his frailties, my father has his mistakes too. So many of them. Many of them are personal that I know. Itís like anybody growing up with anybody or living with any human being, and you say, Ďlook at that fool, look at what he didí. I know more of his mistakes and his frailties than most people do.
Did you inherit his temper?
I think I managed mine better than he did most of his life. And as a woman, I need to know how to manage mine better. I think I got control of my tempter earlier in life than he did.
Does temper run in the family?
I donít know. Like I said, I donít know about genetics. I donít know if my own temper is different but I know that I have learnt to manage, like everybody in life knows how to manage anger. Anger is distinctive. Not that you shouldnít get angry but you should know how to manage it. Anger is a great emotion; it can propel you to do a lot of things.
Hate is a great emotion. It can make you do wonderful things in life because you want to overcome. But at the same time, managing how you react when angry is very important. So, I donít know if it is inherited or itís just that I noticed about myself.
Did you ever advise him that Ďdaddy donít be getting angryí or something?
I am not around him enough to advise him these days.
What about the few occasions you are with him?
I hope not. When I see him, what we talk about is not his anger. I donít see him enough these days. So, when I manage to see him, I donít talk about his anger. Itís not important.
Do you think you have lost a father by not seeing him enough?
I will be 40 next year. I think the last thing I need now is a father. He is my friend. What I need right now is a friend and I think he is a good friend.
How close are you to him?
He is a good friend to me. And I think thatís what I need. I need a father in terms of a counselor, an adviser and a friend. And I think I have a good father. At 40. I donít need a nurturer now.
When people say your father is vindictive, how does that get at you?
It doesnít get to me. Itís a trait. What is being vindictive? I hope I am a little bit vindictive myself. It is part of life. Somebody does something to you, why shouldnít you get back at him or her? What is wrong with that? If you think you are that great and you can do something nasty to me, I hope I can get back at you and do 20 times worse.
But as Christians the Bible says: when somebody slaps you on one cheek, you turn the other side?
It is the same bible that says that all sinners will end in hell fire, and that Jesus will overcome Satan. So, if you couldnít do things to people that wrong you, God will forgive Satan and take him to heaven as well. And that is not the plan.
So itís in order to be vindictive?
Itís not to be vindictive just like that. T o me, living is about being happy and overcoming. And if that is the case and somebody hurts your soul and then goes around thinking ĎI have done something great by hurting this person,í I think that life itself teaches that you should be able to get back at them and move on. Not that you should now make that the real reason for living and you leave your own purpose in life. I have never seen my father as a vindictive person but I think that in life you should be able to get back at people. That is life.
If we donít have those human values, that means anybody can do anything and get away with it. The reason I wonít do anything to you is that you are a human being, you have a soul. That means your soul would be hurt and you would want to get back at me. Itís part of the things people should learn when they are in nursery school; that if you are a little boy and you throw sand into another somebodyís face and the little boy comes and punches you, you are learning that if I do something against a person, the person would react. That is human. Itís only stupid human being that would say Ďevery time somebody hurts me, I just take it. That person will end up hating himself or herself.
Whatís your religious persuasion?
I am a Christian.
What faith? Born again?
I donít know what that term means. I was born into a Baptist home. I have tried to be a Baptist all my life. And in the Baptist way, you are not known to have accepted Christ until you are an adult because we donít do baptism as a baby. So, like every good Baptist, I accepted Christ as an adult and got baptized and that is my faith.
What is this we are hearing about Fola Adeola and you?
Good question. It is interesting that here is somebody that has never contributed to his community, and I believe Fola Adeola was on one high level something that the Queen set up on Africa. He has never contributed in any charitable thing to Abeokuta and itís environs. I donít know when he left Abeokuta but he dusted the sand from this place and moved to Lagos, had his beautiful house and beautiful wife; and now he thinks he could come here and try and use our peoples vote to rise up. I heard he wants to be a senate president. I can tell you, we are going to fight it out.
Somebody who has never really participated in improving the lives of the people in this environment. I live here, and as you can see, I have no light, I have no water. What has he done? I have carried people from accident site in this town with their blood on my hands because I was trying to carry them to the hospital. I can have people stand and tell you how many scholarships that I have awarded and other things that I have done, just to help people.
Not that I have money. But for some moneybags to wake up one day and think that he wants to ride roughshod over us, and has not done anything, without making any sacrifice, but just because he has money, I think he has missed it. I donít have a lot of money but I have people.
People are saying he was relieved of his job (at TRANSCORP and PENCOM) on your account, on account of his ambition to run for Senate from the same senatorial district as you.
If, indeed, he has an intention to run for senate, I believe at the federal level and at all levels, people that have ambitions are being told to resign.
I know a lot of people, not only in TRANSCORP or anything, but people in different posts that are talking to their bosses that Ďlook, I want to run for this postí and their boss says, Ďlook, if you want to run then you have to goí. I think that was what happened to him. He wants to come and compete with me for the same senate seat. He is welcome and I want him to know that itís not a free seat and that he is going to have me to deal with.
Why do you want to be a senator?
I want to be a senator because I believe that I have been with my people and I understand their needs. I believe at this stage, I have been commissioner for three years, I have served at this level, I have done the best I can, I have tried to build relationship locally with my governor, my colleagues and everybody in the political milieu here in Ogun State. And I think the next logical move for me is to move up. I like to learn and I think I have learnt a lot about how the executive works at this level. My next call would be to go and contribute at the federal level but as in the legislative arm because I donít really think I have a good grasp of that.
But I think not only to learn but also contribute. If you look at the presidential system in the United State that we are using, a lot of people with a lot of intellectual capacity go into the senate to help effect change. They are able to contribute to bringing bills that change the society they live in. I hope I would be able to work well with my colleagues, with the presidency, with the governor of my state to make a change both for my country, for my state and for my senatorial district.
Where are you going to get money to fund the campaign?
Like I said, I will be 40 next year. I have worked since I left the university, even when I was doing my Masters, I was working. When I was doing my PhD, I was working and itís over 20 years of active working. So, I have some reserves. But other than my reserves, I will secure contributions from friends and well-wishers. I wish that were what Fola Adeola should do.
He should contribute to seeing somebody younger than him than coming to throw his hat in the race. A lot of people have contributed and they just feel maybe this is an opportunity to see somebody that will make them contribute. I think there are lots of people that would still contribute. I have tried to build bridges in my short life and I have tried to make a lot of contacts.
Have you met Fola Adeola in person?
We have met several times in passing, we are not friends. But it will be a good race.
Do you think you can beat him?
I will beat him, not that do I think. I live here, I have three years of quality contributions and I think the next election is not going to be about money. It is going to be about service and integrity. With service and integrity as the yardstick, I think I can win.
But you havenít been long in politics?
But I am good at it.
How did you get into politics?
Like a friend of mine said to me recently, she said Ďlook Iyabo, from the time we were in the university, you have always been a political person, you have always cared about your countryĒ and I think she is right. I have always had passion about living in a better country; I have always wanted to live in a better country. So, I said I would do something.
In terms of active politics, I got into it sometimes in 2001, 2002. Once the campaign for 2003 election started, I moved around a lot with people. I meet our governor at the 2002 convention, I met a lot of the Ogun State politicians, started to miss with them and talk with them. I campaigned with different people at different levels during the 2002, 2003 election.
I was coming to Abeokuta regularly distributing things. I founded Iyaniwura Foundation to help women in politics at that time with the focus on women. I just did my own to help PDP win both in my state and in my ward and all the way down to my community.
After the elections, I was trying to go back to what I was doing. There were a lot of other things going on. If you recall, my car had been shot with five people dead. My goal in life at that time was not to be commissioner but I was trying to do a lot of other things. I was offered the position of commissioner by the governor, I thought about it and decided to do it. Of course, that brought me right into politics and I have to participate in politics to see that my governor is always seen to be doing what he should be doing in terms of healthcare for the people.
How much of a grassroots person are you?
That is exactly what I am. If you come to Abeokuta you would know I am a grassroots person.
Would the name Obasanjo be a bonus or a minus, asset or liability, when you go to the mainstream politics?
I am in the mainstream politics, but I donít know. I told somebody once that it gives me 100 percent name recognition. I think thatís good you for politics because one of the things to start with is letting people know who you are. Like every politician, part of what you first ask is what is the name anyway. Who is this?
Is the brand Obasanjo a positive brand or negative brand?
It depends on who you are. For me, it is a positive brand. My name is who I am. Itís my name, and I love it.
For the voters, do you think it is a positive brand?
I just told you he is a hero. If there has been any progress in our society, he has contributed significantly to it. So, why would that be a negative brand?
What about the third term issue, did we really want to stay?
I donít know you have to ask him.
But you are the daughter.
So what? Like I said, Iím almost 40. Maybe if I was 10 and I have been following him around I would have known his programme. So, you have to ask him. It is his own opinion.
How did you feel when the campaign for third term was going on and your father was being bashed in the media, left, right, centre?
I was trying to do my own politics, so I couldnít be bothered.
Although he said he never told anyone he was going for third term but his body language was for third term.
All these questions are for him.
The physical resemblance with your father, what does it make you feel?
It doesnít make me feel anything because you donít know you physically resemble anybody. You just go on with your own life. All the time while growing up, when I was a child, even when my father was commissioner for works in those days, anywhere I went people would say Ďah, she looks just like her fatherí. I never really believed it because I just felt I was growing up as myself.
How do you react when people say you are using Obasanjo brand to intimidate Fola Adeola?
Fola Adeola is trying to intimidate me because I have been the one on the ground. Fola Adeola is trying to intimidate me with money and with the influence of the elites.
Since you said you are a grassroots person, donít you think you would have served the people better staying back here in Ogun State going to the House of Assembly?
(ÖCuts in) It is because I canít make change. There are levels of change that I can make. I am an intellectual person and I have to understand that any good politician is a grassroots person, whether a president or senator or governor. It means you relate to your people down there. But in terms of contribution, I feel that I have the capacity to contribute to change my country, and if I do that at that level I would make a bigger impact.
What was your closest brush with death?
Closest brush with death? I think I have had quite a few.
When the robbers were shooting, you were not in?
When armed robbers shot my car was my second closest brush with death. I almost drowned when I was about 10, 11 years old at Lagos Bar Beach. Then, the Bar Beach was really a beach, not what is now. I was there with my cousins and I drowned. I literally had given up, I could not see the beach anymore and I was gone. But a strong wave came and brought me back. That was the only time in my life that I actually agreed that I was dead.
I had my appendix out a few years ago. That was also horrible because it got infected after surgery. I had septicemia. When I went back to the hospital, I was told I would be fine, and that I should go home. Itís just the reaction. So, I went home and didnít go back for two days. By the time I went back again, I was almost dead. With those experiences to me, the shooting of my car was not my closest brush with death. But the horrible part of it was that five people died in that car. If I had been in that car I would have been dead but I was watching it yards away. I didnít know when it started. It was a horrific brush with death.
Five people died for no reasons.
To me, if there is anything that says why we should work to improve this country, itís that. Itís unnecessary. All these violence and death are really not necessary.
I was at that location because of politics. It was a day after the election and I was participating in politics. That event showed me that I really have to do more, that these people couldnít just die like that. At the end of the day, something better has to come from it. If you then have to participate actively to make that change, we cannot just have people waking up with guns and shooting. What kind of society are we leaving behind? I really believe we have to do better for ourselves.
Has Nigeria under Obasanjo been safer?
I canít tell. I am a statistics person and I studied epidemiology. I deal with statistics. So, when people say relative things, itís very hard for me to say because itís relative. For instance, if I say something is better or worst, itís my own personal feeling.
We donít have a lot of statistics in this country, so how do we know if something is safer or not. Weíve always been a violent country and we have to understand that. From the First Republic, from that first coup, there were several people that lost both parents. From that first coup, we became a very violent country. After the civil war the crime rate became high.
What has been your fatherís greatest achievement?
The economy. I think we have a better and stronger economy today than when he came in. The economy is a working progress but we still need a stronger economy.
He promised he was going to give us light. Do you feel embarrassed not having light in your own house?
I donít feel embarrassed because he promised he would give you light and he hasnít done it, I donít feel embarrassed.
Letís look at it, for 30 years; no new power generating plant was constructed in Nigeria. Within those 30 years, Nigeriaís population doubled. We double our population every 25 years, according to statistics. Do the maths, if we are growing at the rate of four percent per year, every 25 years we will double. And which sector do we plan in terms of doubling anything in 25 years? We donít. That means that the same power generated now was what was generated 30 years ago before he even came into power.
To build one new power generating plant, whether nuclear, water or solar, it takes about 10 years. That is why white people plan. We are in a society where we never plan. We donít use our population to plan. If we are going to be doubling every 25 years, itís either you stop the growth or if you are not going to stop it, you plan for it.
Or else you are not going to have enough jobs; you are not going to have enough water, enough light or enough anything. If we doubling every 25 years and there is no plan to provide anything, in 25 years the economy cannot grow two percent. We are just trying to get 4 to 5 percent growth. Itís a problem and a challenge. I wish he had solved the challenge better than he did. But sometimes until you get to it, you donít know how difficult it is. Maybe itís not him alone, maybe everybody was not prepared. So,
Iím not embarrassed.
What was the worst you ever made?
I know the worst decision but Iím not going to tell you.
What happened to your marriage?
That was the worst decision I ever made.
What makes it worst?
In retrospect, it was a very stupid decision.
Whose fault was it?
I was at a wedding ceremony yesterday and the pastor, very, very wonderful preacher, he was fluent both in Yoruba and English, and he said there is no innocent party in a divorce. When he said that, I said Ďyes, this man is right. ĎThere is indeed no innocent party in a divorce.í
So, what is your relationship between you and your ExÖ?
Just like the relationship between anybody and the ExÖ It pains but not sour.
What about the children?
They are fine.
Under whose custody?
They are under my custody.
Where is your love life going?
(Laughs) Politics is my love life for now.
What about the report that wedding bells would soon ring again? That you are seriously in love with Mr. Ade Fadahunsi of the Nigerian Customs?
That is rumoured. I didnít put that in the papers. I donít know who put it. I think itís just false.
What is the relationship between both of you?
I have a lot of friends, not anything romantic. I am very good at building relationships with people. I have built relationships with a lot of males over time.
I want to an all female school, Queens College, and all female schools build confidence. Because boys and girls compete in different ways but when you compete in such environment at that age, I think that helped me.
I went to the University of Ibadan to study veterinary medicine. There were five girls in a class of 50. You will be in a study group and you will be the only girl. From then on, I have never been in any situation in my life where I wasnít the only female or one of two females or one of three females. From there, I did my Masters and I was definitely a minority in there, till I did my PhD.
It was always me or one or two girls. So, for me, I have had to build relationships with men. I personally think men make better friends, I donít mean in a romantic way. But you could talk to them, deal with them. For me, a lot of women get too emotional and you do not solve any of lifeís problems by being emotional.
So, Fadahunsi is just a friend?
I have a lot of friends.
What ripple did the story create?
It doesnít create ripples because for me I find that if you live by what the media saidÖ I have read some things that are just ridiculous. So, for me what does it matter? If I say most of the things I have read, you will burst into laughter.
If you read The Punch yesterday, Baba was quoted as saying yes, he loves women. He admitted. Is it a fact?
I think he does. I think in his life story, he would have to admit that.
And you consider that a huge flaw?
I wonít say itís a huge flaw, it is a minor flaw.
How has it affected the unity of the family?
Of course, it doesnít. We are all human beings.
Does your mother feel bitter not being with your father?
I donít think she feels bitter not being there. But like every woman that met somebody when you were both young and you tried to build your life together. I think that is what she is bitter about, not that sheís not with him. She is bitter about the fact that a lot of women have been in the same situation.
You meet somebody meet somebody, they are both very young, trying to build life together, try and have children, try and raise those children right. I think a lot of women in that position would be bitter, not because of being president and being First Lady. No, my mother is not that kind of a person. I donít think itís right.
I think we need to build strong families because strong families make strong society. We donít have strong families and thatís part of our problem. The pastor said that yesterday and I reflected on it. We need to find a way of building stronger families. When we used to live in compounds, a compound was a unit of society. And those compounds had to be strong.
Now, families have started to go western and not leave in compounds. But if that basic unit of the society is bad, that is when criminals are born. Thatís where every flaw in society is born. Family is used to first checkmate things, then you build it, and build it up.
Why havenít you tried to bring mummy and daddy together?
At this age? You know every young person always wants his parents to be together. Thatís just natural. Children want that. Even when circumstances are terrible, that is their ultimate goal. But as an adult, I donít think that is part of what you want to do. Letís be realistic.
What actually went wrong between your father and your mother?
I think you have to ask them.
STELLA AND ME
How close where you with late Stella Obasanjo?
Not very close.
Why were you not close with her? Did you see her as a rival to your mother?
I donít see her as a rival to my mother but she never tried to be close to me. She never tried to draw me. Yoruba culture says when you come into a house and there are children there, you should show them respect. You should honour them. You shouldnít even call them by their first name. She never showed me that.
Was she disrespectful to you?
I believe so. Thatís my own feeling. She is not around to say that, so I would not emphasize that. But I think that is how I felt.
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