A former deputy governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, speaks to JOY MARCUS about her time in office and other issues
What can you remember of your time as the deputy governor of Lagos State?
I have beautiful memories of that time, especially the acceptance by the people, which was quite unexpected. I remember going out on projects with people lining up and wanting to say hello to me. Even when the security operatives tried to chase them, I refused. I told them that I was elected by the people, so I had to greet and relate with them. In fact, I had a lot of goodwill and I did not disappoint the people because I was very active and energetic. I was involved in a lot of official and social projects.
How do you feel being the first elected female deputy governor of the state?
It was highly exhilarating because when you look around, you will find that all the top political offices are occupied by men. Interestingly, I have held other high-profile positions that were supposed to be male dominated. So, becoming the deputy governor was like a crowning. When I was at the Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry, I was an executive director. I was the first female to be appointed to such a position. Even in my early years, I was the secretary to the Lagos State Transport Corporation. It was supposed to be a very tough position because there were different people to deal with – drivers, engineers, technicians and conductors. It was a very large organisation. Although many people thought a woman couldn’t hold it together, I did. So, on getting to the position of the deputy governor, I was already prepared. I thank God that it was the hard work which had been synonymous with my career that actually made me to be identified and nominated for that position to be the running mate to Sir Michael Otedola.
Are there things you wish you did differently?
Yes there are. I would have ensured that the relationship between the governor and the deputy was more cordial. I wish I was able to handle third parties better because there were a lot of people who wanted to be more deputy than the deputy. And the sad thing is that such people had a way of getting across to the governor to one’s detriment. Also, I would have loved to have gone out of my way to approach my governor in a better manner and explain certain things to him. But it was after we were thrown out of office that I realised that the third force was at work and the governor was acting under certain presumptions. We didn’t have a confrontation but after some months, there was a kind of undercurrent which I cannot explain how it started. It was after we left office that I found out the reasons for the undercurrent.
I would also love to have been more involved in governance because I had to create activities for myself in order not to leave the office as a non-performer. So, at the end of the day, I was not regarded as a glorified spare tyre. I got more involved in the corporate world which helped Lagos State’s internally generated revenue. I had a lot of support from the corporate world which really helped the state.
You mentioned an undercurrent between you and the governor. What actually happened?
There are things you can’t place your hands on. However, some of the issues included not being informed of state activities and me having to hear about it late. In government, there is something called a ‘daily manifest’ through which you know what you and the governor would be doing for the day. But it got to a point where that was not put out any more and there were times I arrived late at functions where I was supposed to receive the governor according to protocols. Arriving late at those functions wasn’t of my making because it looked like I was trying to steal the show and it didn’t leave a good taste.
What were some of the innovations you brought on board while in office?
Bringing dignity to the office and making sure that things were done appropriately at the time they were supposed to be done. Part of the innovations were also setting up a procurement system and making sure that the government had a system of ensuring that land had been identified before been allocated to people. We streamlined the land allocation process and went into building of houses and hospitals. We were there for almost two years before the military struck. I’m happy that we were able to do a lot within the few months we spent in office. We also built bridges and the Jubilee Housing system. We did a lot of street lighting in the rural areas and tried urban development. For me, the few months we spent in office were action-packed.
You contested the governorship position in 2007 but suddenly went out of the scene. Can you tell us what happened?
Actually, I tried to contest but my party did not allow me because I came out as an aspirant. I was against the anomaly in the party at that time because they were not doing what the constitution of the party said about direct primaries. So, about 69 of us came together to protest and we were suspended by the party (Peoples Democratic Party). When I was suspended, I couldn’t contest the primary and that was the beginning of my disenchantment with the PDP. Meanwhile, I am one of the founding members of the PDP in Lagos State.
Initially, I was the vice chairman and deputy national chairman (South-West) of the United People’s Party. The chairman was Dan Suleiman, while Ralph Obioha was the national secretary. From there, we went to the Alliance for Democracy but we were not registered; so, we merged with the PDP with an understanding. We brought a ‘party’ into PDP but it was not as well received at the state level as it was at the national level because I had a tough time with the state people. I am a law-and-order person. When the party said no grouping, I decided to disband my party and told them all to go and merge in their local governments. I was advised not to do it but I am a party person. I later realised that nobody dissolved and everyone was operating on group level. The experience was not a pleasant one because everybody had groups, and that could be regarded as anti-party activities. And that was part of what destroyed the PDP in the long run. However, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo came on board, me and my husband supported him to become president and I was appointed to the Federal Character Commission but I found out that I couldn’t really be myself there. So, I contested the governorship position. I was to have left the place but they insisted on keeping me and after the first five years, I decided I had had enough. Since then, I have not been able to seek any public office because I am not in tune with how things are done. I cannot do things in a way bereft of integrity, honesty and proper conduct. I don’t seek for public office and even when I’m asked, I say that I am not interested. I have been in politics but I’m not looking for any appointment as a politician. However, I keep encouraging people to perform well and to do things the right way. I mentor people and a lot of my mentees have gone into elective offices. Some of them have been appointed but I keep telling them to do the right thing by Nigerians because when you go outside the shores of this country and see the rate of development in nations that used to be behind Nigeria 20 years ago, you will wonder what our leaders are proud of for having held public office. I don’t have the intention of seeking any elective office because the money they are spending is too much and it makes me wonder why they are spending so much to be elected into public office. If they are spending that much to be elected into public office, then they will steal. There is no free lunch anywhere, so whatever anyone spends, the person would want to recover it back. That is why I keep telling people that by collecting money from politicians, they are short-changing themselves. The last time I went to Mecca, I shed tears when I saw how the place had been transformed. It made me wonder what we have to show for our oil money. We have airports that are falling apart, and roads that are not passable. The construction (and reconstruction) of Lagos–Ibadan and Benin–Ore expressways have been on for over 20 years, still we haven’t got it right. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode tried to do something tangible in Lagos State but we all know how he was treated; he was shoved aside. That is why I don’t see myself holding public office. The PDP is bad and the APC is not better, yet their members are busy crossing from one to the other. I am one of those who prayed for (President Muhammadu) Buhari to get there. I fasted and prayed for Buhari to win the election. In fact, I just came back from Mecca where I went to thank God for answering my prayers. I also prayed more for Buhari to have the right entourage to work with, so that we would get it right. If we don’t get it right in the next four years, there will be no Nigeria. Also, there needs to be an orientation for the people to seek what is good for them because most people don’t know the difference between good and bad. Nigerians have to know that there is no free lunch anywhere; so, they should stop looking for handouts.
Despite your record as someone who is against corruption, there was a time you had a case with the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police. What really happened at that time?
I am a victim of Nigerians’ way of doing things illegally. I was actually fighting my late husband’s battle. My husband had a piece of land which I had forgotten everything about. Then, my cousin in-law called me that some people approached her about a land. So, she sent the people to me and they brought the copy of a Certificate of Occupancy and I saw that it was my husband’s land. At that time, I was really grieving my husband because it was shortly after his death. So, I called my agent to go and identify if the land was there and he did. I also told my lawyer to check all the records and he told me that the land was clean. However, we didn’t know that the land we were checking on was the one next to my husband’s own and my husband’s land had been built on. Meanwhile, the papers indicated that the land was bare and that was why I did the transaction. After the transaction, the people who bought the land started building on it but they were approached by the real owner of the land. When I was informed about it, I asked the man who was building to stop because I was not in the country at the time. When I realised what happened, I decided to refund part of the man’s money because I didn’t have the full payment. But the man was approached by some people who asked him to scandalise me, or he wouldn’t get anything in Lagos. Then the man went to the SFU. When the SFU invited me, I explained everything to them and after sometime, I travelled. Unknown to me, the powers behind the man were very strong and the next thing I heard in the news was that I was wanted (by the police). When I returned from my trip, I gave the man the balance of his money and I explained to the police that I didn’t defraud the man because the consent to mortgage was not obtained and the building plan approval was also not obtained, despite going to three banks. They also said I witnessed my husband’s signature in that transaction but till date, I have been asking them to bring out the paper so that I can see it. They sent a photocopy that was not right and I have been asking for the original document which I have not seen. I am still in court and though a judgment was passed, I have yet to see the ruling and I am appealing. In Nigeria, the process is that when you are transacting government land, you get the governor’s consent, so if anybody comes to transact on the land again, it will show that someone is already there. In my case, there was nothing to show that anything had been done on the land, and that was why I did the transaction. The people behind the ordeal thought I would be taken to court in handcuffs but they were disappointed by my God because all my life, I have been fighting corruption.
What were some of the wrong perceptions people had about you while in office?
Some people felt I was handpicked for the position without contributing anything. However, that was not true because by the time I came on the scene, my governor was already out of funds and we brought in money. I didn’t go there as a freeloader. Nobody did me a favour because in the first place, my pedigree was one of the things that helped my governor to win. Also, it was my good working relationship with the former governor, Lateef Jakande, that made him give his approval for the party to support me.
Some people feel that deputy governors should be assigned a portfolio so that they wouldn’t be sidelined by the governor. What is your take on this?
I am happy you brought this up. Like I said earlier, I had held an executive position before I became the deputy governor of the state. When I was an executive director in the bank, I had my portfolio and I was in charge of operations. My duties and roles were well spelt out. So, the managing director knew the boundaries (though still would like to come into one’s area) but what I was supposed to do was spelt out. When I was invited to be the running mate to Sir Otedola, I didn’t just accept it. I asked them about the duties of the deputy governor. Then, they listed about 30 functions of the deputy governor designed by the Ibrahim Babangida administration. I looked at it and was pleased because I felt that I would be occupied but after we took the oath of office, they put it aside and said we would run the Nigerian constitution which says that the governor would assign to the deputy governor what to do. Then, I told them that I didn’t sign for that because if the governor decides not to assign anything to me, I would not be able to perform. This made many deputy governors from the private sector to protest and we consulted the Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, who invited us to a meeting. We told him our grievances, and he told us to write to him which we did. That incurred the displeasure of our governors and that was where the problem started. Actually, there is a portfolio for the deputy, but the constitution suppressed it. My take is that some of those functions should be brought up as the primary functions of the deputy governor. That way, there will be no clash because the deputy will still come to the governor for acknowledgement. Deputy governors having their roles and duties should be the norm, but what is being operated in Nigeria now is abnormal and that leads to clashes between the governor and the deputy.
Do you think women are well represented in government?
Nobody will invite you to take a position unless you have been visible and are contributing to certain areas of life. That is the only way you can be identified for something. Women representation comes from knowing how many women are well exposed out there and are ready to stand the heat. A lot of people are waiting to be called upon to serve but if you are not up and doing, nobody will notice you. However, it is unfortunate that the environment is not conducive because Nigerian politics has become so monetised, and not many women have people who have confidence in them to put down the kind of money that will be needed to help them run for office.
That is why I am hoping that the Buhari administration will create the kind of atmosphere whereby money politics will be played down and more women can come up. I am not happy with the number of women in elective offices but there is nothing one can do since there is no conducive atmosphere to bring more women on board. Also, violence has become part and parcel of politics; and women, by nature, are not violent.
Since you stopped being active in politics, what have you been up to?
I have been mentoring people and engaging in consultancy services in the private sector. I enjoy my quiet life. I am not someone who lives flamboyantly. I contribute to charity and less privileged homes very quietly. I am not one of those people that make so much noise whenever they give to the less privileged. I don’t believe in hoarding money. As a matter of fact, I can’t boast of having N5million right now in any of my accounts. If I have one million, it will be distributed because I believe that God can take anybody at anytime.
Do you still spend time with friends?
Definitely, I do; that is what keeps one going in Lagos. You can’t compare Lagos life with anywhere else, because there is something always going on in Lagos and what gives one a good feeling is having good friends who are going into one thing or the other.
What are some of the lessons you have learnt over the years?
I have learnt patience. When you are patient and not laid back, you will succeed. I am a goal getter and a very private person who has been thrust into the public glare through the grace of God. I believe that with patience, you will achieve a lot. Don’t be quick to judge a situation. Always try to hear the other side before forming your own conclusion. Above all, the fear of God should be the utmost thing in your heart. If you fear God, you will love your neighbour and not try to hurt them. Also, I believe that it is in giving that we receive.
What is your educational background?
I studied Economics at the University of Lagos. I also studied Finance and Business Management at Long Island University, New York.
How do you rest?
God has favoured me because I can sleep anywhere, even at public functions. If I close my eyes and have a quick nap, it revives me.
How do you like to dress?
I love to dress simply but classy and I don’t like much make-up. I do my make-up and tie my gele myself. It may not be exotic but it usually looks nice.