What was the feeling like when you turned 40 recently?
I felt a sense of achievement when I looked back at the things that I had done and where I was coming from. We had a family party and I recalled that people like President Muhammadu Buhari even became a head of state after turning 40. I felt good as a youth that I belong in such category, making it to the House of Assembly before 40.
Coming from the famous Ojora dynasty, you have a name that rings a bell. Did the name open doors for you while you were growing up and did you enjoy special privileges?
Maybe at a point I felt privileged. But we were mostly treated the same way at home. We lived just normally like every other child. My early childhood was at Apapa here in Lagos, and in a way, it was a privileged area. But then, Ijora was also part of Apapa and my dad, the late Chief T. A. Lawal Akapo, was a traditional ruler. He was the late Ojora of Lagos. That was where I started my early life, then moved to Surulere to join his younger sister. From then, it was Surulere for me until I moved back to Apapa much later.
What memories of childhood do you hold dear?
Oh, I will say I had freedom to mingle with neighbours and everybody, unlike what we have today where we pay a lot of attention to our children. I would not want to use the word cage, but today, we try to protect our children, unlike then when children were free to move around in the neighbourhood.
As children then we were cautious not to do wrong, because even when we were outside our homes we knew that if we did wrong, our neighbours could report us to our parents. That does not happen anymore. Today, neighbours mind their business, which is not too good for the society. In those early years, I had lots of friends. But as I grew older, the number of my friends reduced. I am more of an introvert.
In spite of your privileged background, you did all your schooling here in Nigeria. Was that your choice?
Yes, it was my choice, because the schools here were okay. There was Queens College, Vivian Fowler. We had good public schools and my friends were there too, so there was no point thinking of travelling out for education. I also had other siblings who had studied here and were already doing well. So there was no motivation for me to go abroad to study. I had everything here that was obtainable over there.
Why did you choose to study Law?
I actually didn’t study Law as a degree course. I did a diploma course, though I wanted to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut-off mark required to study the course, so I opted for something else. I still went on to do the diploma course because of the interest I had in Law. But, of course, growing up, I discovered that there were other courses that one could do apart from Law.
So you went into business?
It was actually my love for charity that led me into business. Gradually, I realised that I was reaching out to people and that was giving me satisfaction. I love to give and open doors for people to earn a living, but I needed extra cash to do so. So I decided to start something small, which God took control of and it became big.
When you say small, what business was small?
I started with cleaning services. I employed people and we were getting jobs. Initially, it was not regular. We asked around for people who needed their rugs washed or offices cleaned. So I bought different kinds of cleaning equipment. After a while, other things started coming in, and it became a general merchandise company.
Initially to me, it was not really about creating a business to make money, but to use the income to help people. It used to sound strange to me when I met people and they told me that they didn’t have school fees. I believe that education is the most important empowerment one can give to anybody, and if the person does not have the capacity to study, at least let the person be productive in something else.
And that really helped. Because some of the people we started out with as a team in the cleaning services were able to get some money and went back to school while some used the money to do other things. In fact, recently, one of our legislators in Apapa Local Government asked me if I could recall that he was one of the members of my cleaning team. I had totally forgotten. So those are the kind of results I get now. And such results motivate me more to empower more people.
What was life like growing up in the palace?
It was fun. As a child, I had the opportunity of having access to many dignitaries who came around to see my father. That actually motivated me to go into politics and desiring to play a role in the public service. I used to see him hold sessions as people came to lay complaints, and then there was conflict resolution which he played a major role in. Those things gingered interest in me to think of public service.
As a lady, did you not think that conflict resolution is a man’s role?
No, I didn’t see it that way at all. I saw politics as a thing of the mind. Before my dad became a traditional ruler, he was also a legislator at the local government level. Perhaps it is in our blood. I just love it. There is a difference between wanting to do something and actually loving what you do.
Are there other siblings of yours who are into politics?
Yes, there are. I have two brothers who are active in politics until recently, one became a traditional ruler. Another one is in politics on one side and business on the other side. But there are others too who are into politics.
Politics is generally considered a dirty game. How do you handle that as a lady?
Well, it depends on how you want to look at it. To some extent, it might be dirty. But then, what definition are we going to give the word dirty, and to what state of dirtiness? My definition of politics is marketing, just like you market your products. For instance, you go out there, you engage people, meet your customers, promote your products and let them see the need to buy your products. You don’t have to hurt your neighbor before you can achieve that, except you think you don’t have that marketing skills or strategy, then you decide that you just have to get there by all means. At that stage, politics becomes a dirty game. But to me, it mustn’t get to that point or stage!
What is the worst scenario you have seen in politics?
I have not had it rough like that, maybe because I do a lot of things with levity. I do things my own way. If it works, fine, if it doesn’t, I walk away. It doesn’t have to be at all cost.
May be because Apapa seems to be a sane area…
No, I don’t think so, because even in Ikoyi, there are different kinds of people. There are the elites, the middle class and every other kind of person. So it is not about the area because the kind of people here are also the kind of people there. It is about how I present myself and how well I can engage them.
Have you ever needed something but could not get it?
Yes. In life it is not possible for us to get everything that we want. So whenever I strive to get something and I can’t, I move on. I believe that I should learn from the reason why I didn’t get it and then re-visit the process that made me not to get it and improve on it. I let that rejection, because I wouldn’t want to call it failure, to serve as a foundation, a worksheet to be improved upon. You make a presentation for a project but unfortunately you couldn’t get the contract; you definitely go back to office to ask yourself questions where you went wrong and then improve on it.
What fashion or style appeals to you?
I love to dress responsibly and neat. I really don’t bother about how expensive a dress or an outfit is as long as it is presentable and clean. I am not an extravagant person, so excessive fashion does not really freak me.
But do you do designer wears?
I am not a freak for designer things. I do anything I like or that interests me. If it is a no-name brand that makes me comfortable and happy, I go for it. On the other hand, if it is a designer brand that makes me comfortable and happy as at that particular time, I go for it. I am not strictly particular about any.
What fashion accessory would you say you can do without?
I am not a jewelry freak. So I can do without it.
Can you recall any special moment you have had at the House of Assembly so far?
Yes, it was the first time that I walked into the House of Assembly: The day of the proclamation. I was so happy and I said to myself, yes, this is one of the days that I had so much looked forward to. And I thanked God for it.
As a lady in the House, are you given equal opportunities with the men?
I will say yes. It depends on how you approach it. The slate is on the board, we all have equal opportunities to make use of what we have all been given.
Of course there are one or two complaints, but you know, we have all been given same opportunities. We are all committee chairmen, both male and female. So it really shows no difference. But it still boils down to how you can play your card.
But the House is still male dominated. Does that mean that the female members are more or less laid back?
I don’t think so. Maybe the dirty part of it may not attract participation and one could say look, I’m not just ready for that part of it. During the electioneering period, there are challenges. But again, it depends on what you want. You won’t say for instance you are a student in a higher institution and one day you witness a violent riot during a student protest, and because of that, you say you are not going to school again. So we all get involved; no sitting at the back. As a lady, you keep pushing and pushing till you get to the Promised Land. What I want, I want, I go for it. If I don’t get it, life goes on.
Before marriage, were men intimidated by your family name?
It is the individual that really would be able to explain that. Some people got to know or heard the name and didn’t care, while some others heard the name and said to themselves, I don’t want to go there for one reason or another. So that’s life.
But were you affected in anyway by that?
No, because I believe that if you are not good enough for me, then why are you hanging around? You might as well take a walk!
What kind of Lagos are you looking at in a few years from now?
My wish is that we have a Lagos like Dubai; a Lagos like New York. I also believe that we will get there with determination especially if we all play our part and pay our taxes. We should not all the time be waiting for government to do this and that. We should also ask ourselves what we can give back to our communities and the society. We should all be responsible and take charge in our environment and communities, and we will get there.