Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, a former deputy governor of Lagos State during the administration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, tells OLUSHOLA RICKETTS about her life and why she picked an interest in politics
At 79, are you fulfilled?
Yes, I think I am. I think I have had a very good life. I don’t think there is much I still desire to achieve, though I still want to help the less privileged.
As a politician, I am fulfilled too. I have tried my best, though I wish I did more. I wish I was given an opportunity to do more. We had the opportunity to transform Lagos, but certain people I worked with at a time didn’t have the right kind of attitude and vision.
Was it your childhood dream to become a politician?
From an early age, I had wanted to join politics. I wasn’t pleased with certain things in the country; so, my desire to make things better motivated me to want to go into politics.
What can you recall of your childhood?
I come from a very strict and disciplined background. I also went to very strict schools. I think my upbringing prepared me for who I am today. In my family, we believe in certain principles and those principles have shaped my life.
I was taught basic principles such as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, ‘do unto others as you want them to do to you’ and ‘always speak the truth’. My grandmother was fond of saying “speak the truth and shame the devil.”
Where were you born?
I was born on Lagos Island, at 1 Victoria Street, which is now known as Nnamdi Azikiwe Street. I think the building is now owned by First Bank Nigeria Plc; it used to be my father’s clinic. My father was a medical doctor, while my mother was a nurse.
How many siblings do you have?
I am the only child of my mother but I have seven other siblings. My parents got divorced and my father married my mother’s friend.
How did your mother react to her friend’s marriage to her ex-husband?
She had divorced him; and, she didn’t want him anymore. She didn’t mind her friend marrying my father.
Didn’t you find it hard to accept your mother’s friend as your stepmother?
We related very well because she and my mother used to visit each other. I didn’t have a problem with her and my mother didn’t too.
Which schools did you attend?
I had my elementary education in Lagos, while I went for my secondary and university education in the United Kingdom. I was called to the English bar but I never practised as a lawyer, as I was later recruited to study journalism. At a time, apart from studying law, I freelanced for the BBC.
Did you enjoy journalism?
I spent eight years as a broadcaster, then left due to the poor salary. After that, I went into advertising.
After completing my journalism course, I was recruited immediately to the Voice of Nigeria as they were looking for an announcer. Since I was already freelancing for the BBC, I fit what they wanted and I became one of their pioneer staff.
Did you find advertising more fulfilling than broadcasting?
Advertising was more challenging because we were marketing people’s products. I later formed my own agency and I rose to become the vice president of the Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria.
Did you later make money in advertising?
Well, I made more money in advertising.
Do you still have an agency?
No, I don’t. When I joined the National Democratic Coalition, popularly known as NADECO, as a pioneer member, my agency went to bed because people were scared of doing business with us. From NADECO, I went into politics and closed the agency.
They say politics is a dirty game. Were you not afraid while venturing into it?
I wasn’t afraid as my father was a politician and he encouraged me to join politics. To him, we had only a few women in politics. He wanted me to join politics and encourage other women.
Are your siblings into politics too?
One of my sisters has decided to join politics and I am encouraging her. But my children are not interested in politics; they are businessmen and I don’t plan to influence their decisions. I think they have to find their own paths in life.
Did your husband and children support your decision to join politics?
My husband was a politician before I joined politics. Also, as stated earlier, my father was a politician. In fact, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which later transformed to the Action Group, was formed in my father’s house in London. My father was the first president, while the late Obafemi Awolowo was the secretary.
I joined politics when my children had grown up, but I don’t think they had issues with it. If they had, they didn’t show it.
Why did you agree to become Bola Tinubu’s deputy when you didn’t share the same vision?
It wasn’t that we didn’t share the same vision; we were both in the June 12 struggle. He was in NADECO in Diaspora and I was in NADECO Nigeria. I agreed to be his deputy because his own faction, the Justice Forum then, had the governorship slot and my faction, Afenifere, formed the party. We were the ones who started the struggle in Nigeria and the leaders in Afenifere at the time felt that if they didn’t have the deputy governorship, they would not be part of the government that had come in on their political party.
What were some of your exciting memories as the deputy governor of Lagos State?
I think the only exciting moment was when we were sworn in. Being a deputy governor did not fetch me any recognition, as I had been known before then. I was prominent while I was in NADECO and I had become a senator before I became a deputy governor.
Was there a time you wanted to quit politics?
I consider politics a normal way of life. I love this country and I don’t think there is any country like Nigeria. Despite the challenges I have faced as a politician, I have never thought of calling it quits.
Are you satisfied with the growth of Nigeria?
No, I am not satisfied. This is not the Nigeria we envisaged when we established NADECO. This was not what we planned for Nigeria while we were fighting for the return to democracy.
Where do you think we got it wrong as a country?
We got it wrong by making money the centre of our politics. In the past too, there was an emphasis on money but not as much as now. Today, politicians buy votes and the electorate think it is okay. Once they are given money, they vote for the person and forget their future. I think this is so because there is a lot of poverty in Nigeria. We need to educate the electorate that when you take money and vote for people with phony characters, everyone will suffer for it at the end of the day.
What impact did you make when you were in power?
When we were in the Senate, we fought for the realisation of the June 12 election. That was an effort. As a deputy governor, of course, everyone knew what happened to me. I wasn’t given much of a chance to make an impact. I had some ideas, but I was not allowed to put them forward because the governor, at a time, was not ready to listen to anyone. He (Tinubu) only listened to people who were in his circle and I wasn’t.
What are your regrets in politics?
I have no regrets in politics. If anyone says I didn’t perform well when I was in office, that is their opinion. When the problems became too much, I was asked by my family to resign my appointment as the deputy governor of Lagos State. It wasn’t a case of being forced out of office.
Did you receive your pension and other entitlements?
It was tough getting my entitlements. In fact, I had to go to court. Now, I am being paid a pension. I am not sure whether it is the correct amount, but I accept it. I have been given some entitlements but not all.
Have you ever wished that you didn’t resign as a deputy governor?
I have never regretted my resignation. The resignation was necessary to preserve my name and integrity. More importantly, it was also necessary to preserve my family’s name.
What is your relationship with Tinubu at the moment?
I have no relationship with him at the moment. How can we settle our differences when we are in different political parties? My situation as a deputy governor under Tinubu is similar to what Governor Ambode is experiencing now. I feel sorry for Ambode because I think he has tried. But it is up to him to deal with the situation as best as he can. I also dealt with mine when I had to resign as Tinubu’s deputy and I think I am alright.
Is there a possibility that you can smile and party with Tinubu again?
I don’t know. Perhaps, if he changes his attitude, it is possible. But he usually comes to greet me when we meet at occasions and I greet him too.
Have you ever made attempts to reconcile with him?
I don’t think it is up to me to reach out to him and tell him what he has done wrong to me. I think his conscience should be able to tell him what he did wrong to me. I didn’t wrong him.`
Do you have plans to leave politics in the near future?
No, I don’t think so. They say army generals don’t retire; they only fade away. I think politicians are like generals.
How was it like the first time you experienced love?
I don’t know if I can remember the first time I fell in love. I don’t even think any man broke my heart, but I know I broke one or two hearts. I didn’t do it deliberately, but things just didn’t work out between us.
Are you an emotional person?
I don’t think I am an emotional person at all; I am cool, calm and collected.
How did you handle admirers as a young lady?
As a lady, I had my own share of admirers. But for me, handling men was a question of being disciplined. I had many suitors, but I knew what I wanted before I went into any relationship.
Are you still friends with your ex-husband?
We are very good friends. I still go to Kano to spend time with him because he is from there but our marriage was dissolved years ago.
How have you been coping without a man?
I have always been an independent person. I have always been able to look after myself even before marriage. If you went to a boarding school, you must have learnt how to cook and look after yourself.
Also, I have a lot of people to share emotions with. I have my children, my siblings, my friends and political associates.
Were your parents comfortable with your decision to marry a Muslim?
They were not happy about it, to be honest with you. But when they got to know my husband, they liked him. My mother, in particular, became very fond of him.
How did you coexist with a Muslim husband?
He was worshiping God and I was worshipping God too; the only difference was that we were doing it in different ways. We didn’t have religious issues when we were together.
Why did you later separate from your husband?
It is a long story, which I wouldn’t want to discuss here. He has since married other women and I am friendly with them. A stepson even came to spend the evening with me recently. Our separation wasn’t caused by two of us but external factors.
Are your children Muslims or Christians?
I have two sons. One is a Muslim, while the other is a Christian. But it was obvious that their father wanted my sons to follow his religion and he did everything to influence them.
Were you comfortable marrying a northerner?
Why not? Are northerners not human beings? Are Muslims not humans too? My father’s sister was a well respected Muslim; so, I have cousins who are Muslims.
What were the qualities that attracted you to your ex-husband?
He was very kind, generous and had a very good sense of humour. Those were the qualities that made me love him.
Given another chance, what are those things you would love to do better?
I don’t know because when I try to do something, I put in my best. I don’t know what I could have done better than what I did in the past.
What is the secret of your success in life?
When do you regard as the happiest moment of your life?
The happiest day of my life was the day I gave birth to my first child. The lowest day was when I lost one of my children.
How did you cope with the loss of a child?
If you believe in God, you will know that the Lord gives and takes away. It was the time God wanted to call him. He was a very kind, gentle and popular man in Nigeria and internationally. I still remember when the priest told me that even Mary watched her son die on the cross. Then, who am I to complain? My son was 46 years old when he died five years ago.
What are those things you miss about him?
I miss his love because he was very caring, loving and generous.
How do you keep fit?
I don’t know if I still look young, but when I look in my mirror, I see that old age is creeping in. However, I try to eat a balanced diet and keep myself active by excising every morning.
What is your favourite food?
I just ate my favourite food, which is eba and okra. I am sure I will eat it till the day I die.
Do you take beer?
No, I don’t take beer; I don’t like bitter things. I drink wine if I go to parties, but I am not a regular drinker.
How do you relax?
I read books; walk around my compound; take care of my flowers; make phone calls and play with my dogs.
What is your favourite colour?
I love pink, though I don’t know why.
How would you describe your personality?
I know people think I am a tough woman. I don’t think I am tough; rather I am principled. Sometimes, when people see someone who is principled, they feel the person is tough.
Do you think a woman could become Nigeria’s president in the near future?
I hope so. It is possible if the men change their attitudes towards women. I think we need a woman as the president of Nigeria because the men have not done well.
What is your advice to aspiring female politicians?
They should get an education and they must develop a thick skin to be successful politicians. As a politician, all sorts of things will be said about you and to you.