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Convincing Chief (Mrs.) Biodun Olujinmi, former deputy governor of Ekiti of State to grant this interview was an uphill task.
Convincing Chief (Mrs.) Biodun Olujinmi, former deputy governor of Ekiti of State to grant this interview was an uphill task. For a woman who was swept off her exalted seat as number two person in a state reputed to have produced the highest number of intellectuals in the country by a gale of impeachment of her former boss, Ayo Fayose and declaration of a state of emergency by President Olusegun Obasanjo, politics is an unwanted menu on her table, at least for now.
Assured the interview would not thrust on politics, an appointment was fixed. Spotting blue ankara with silver accessories, Olujinmi hopped out of an executive bus that brought her home and delivered a disarming smile on the laps of the waiting reporter as both walked into the ambience of her home.
And as you move from one living room to another, you are struck by the designs. From the choice of interior decorations; the brown leather chairs, the works of art, the big flat screen and beautiful flowers, Olujinmi simply comes off as a woman of taste, style and affluence. "I just love beauty and I have always tried my hand on little things that can enhance my home", she said.
Prior to her emergence as deputy governor of Ekiti State, nothing was really known about the private life of the Omuo-Ekiti born journalist turned politician.
Raised in the notorious Ekotedo, in Ibadan, a haven for thugs, fraudsters and hardened prostitutes, Olujinmi later danced to the political drums of Ekiti and launched herself into limelight. Since then, she has earned herself considerable media attention and the appelation of "Iron lady of Ekiti State."
As she settles down to tell the story of her life, she picks her words like a preacher to her congregation, but carefully avoiding the controversy trailing Ekiti politics.
She also responds to the rumour of her romantic involvement with President Obasanjo and how her husband of 26 years is taking it in this encounter with FUNKE OLAODE.
Looking at the interior decoration and the works of art which adorn your walls, as a serious woman and politician, how do you make out time for such detailed aesthetics? Well, I just love beauty and I have always tried my hands on little things that can enhance the home. I have a weakness for beautiful homes. When I go into people’s home and see how things are put together, I try to improve on my home. I found that these things don't cost me much. What it costs me is innovation. I have always been a simple person, so I look for moderate things and they come out nice.
You mean all these interior decorations are cheap?
Most of them are not expensive at all. For instance, the throw pillows are just 1,000 each. I know some that are 10,000 upward. I move around a lot and once I see small pieces, I put them together. The home is the only thing you have. It is a place where you can make yourself comfortable. You know after the noise outside you come back to the home. And if you have a quiet, peaceful and nice place you can rest.
Are you also a collector of art?
Yes. I do a lot of gallery hunting. I look for pieces that could enhance small corners, wall place and all that. It is something I have done over time and not something I just wake up to admire.
Looking at the way you dress sometimes, one is likely to be misled that you are still a youngster. What do you want to achieve considering your age?
I have always been a tomboy. I grew up as a tomboy. In fact, most people who knew me in journalism would tell I had always been a tomboy. And I have carried that over time and it has paid off. Now, I find it cumbersome staying too long in the traditional attires. In fact, when I was going to take a chieftancy title in my village, I asked them "will I be able to wear trousers and shirts?". It took them a very long time before they could answer me. Eventually they did and so I feel very comfortable in simple clothing. I am not very trendy when it comes to fashion. I just love to be myself and wear what makes me comfortable. Although when I see local materials that I like, I buy. I realize that you don't have to be in heavy labels to look good.
What is your typical day?
I have been out of home for years because politics has kept me busy. This is properly the first time I would be staying at home for a month. And now that I am around, I will wake up and say my prayer after which I would come down and take a look around. I will check my little kids and go out to engage in whatever I want to do that day. I come back in the evening to my family. But I love to fill my day because if I am not tired enough and I come back home, I won't find good sleep.
You have had a shinning career. Is there any childhood trait that has helped enhance your career?
Everything about my childhood has helped me to become who I am today. I grew up in a place where we were not really expected to do well. I grew up somewhere around Oke-Padre. When I was growing up, Ogunpa-Oyo where the fraudsters and trickstars were, was just beside my home. And directly beside it was a brothel where there were prostitutes. Between Soleye and Olorisaoko were thugs. And of course, Ekotedo was known for a typical red light zone. Considering that kind of a setting, we were not expected to do well. But I tell you, all of us or even 90 percent of us who grew there turned out well. Though we grew up in that setting, the Catholic church was just directly opposite our house and our parents were eager for us to turn out and be good citizens. The traits they left with us still remain with me till today. That we must be hardworking, be honest, you must be a fast thinker. And because we were street wise and the love of God that was imbibed in us through the church, we turned out well.
You talked about growing up in a dangerous environment. But your parents could have moved you out to avoid being influenced by bad characters?
They didn't have the means. They could not afford anywhere better and that is the reason they stayed there. And besides, they needed somewhere where their business could thrive. And because my parents were Catholic, the church provided the succour they needed. So, I thank God for the church because it has been a major force in my life and the lives of my siblings. And as small as dangerous as the environment was, there was still God.
How many of you in the family?
We are seven and I am the eldest.
What were your parents doing at that time?
My mother was a seamstress while my father was a photographer. He ran a popular Ariyo photos at Oke-Padre then. And since he was living very close to the church he was sure of good business.
When exactly were you born and where are you from?
I was born in Ibadan almost inside the church on the 25th of December in 1956. I tuned 50 last December. My parents were from Omuo Ekiti in Ekiti East Local Government area of Ekiti State.
What is your educational background like?
I began my early education at Sacred Heart Primary School, Idi Ikan in Ibadan. I later moved on to Our Lady's of Apostles another Catholic school. I went to Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). After my training at NIJ, I joined the Nigerian Television Authority, Ibadan where I worked for 10 years. I left for the Delta Steel company between 1983 and 1989. I also worked with the Tribune. I came back to Lagos and worked with DBN television. I veered out after sometime to start a communication outfit. It was from there that I went into politics.
Then as a trained journalist, what influenced your decision to go into politics?
Well, all my life I have always been a journalist. Though my father was in Action Group but I didn't set out to be a politician. It was my husband that was in politics. And I usually told him that, that would separate us for good. He kept on telling me not to worry that he would not go too deep into it. I would cook for them. That was the era of Social Democratic party (SDP). But when we were living at Ajuwon, very close to Iju Water Works in Ogun State, I was engaged in philanthropic adventure. I found out that there were so many children of school age who were not going to school. Most of them could not afford to go to private schools available. And there was no public school in the area. So, I decided to assist. I had about four shops in front of my house. So, I employed teachers. We later went to the local government for approval. The inspector of education gave us the curriculum. We started primary one and two. In three months the shops were too small for the kids and we had to move them to a mosque because we had over 140 kids. By then we had employed eight more teachers. I now went to the local government and told them that we needed a proper school. We eventually got a piece of land which I later found was in the Lagos area of Iju. We put a few structures there and the Ifo local government assisted us. Then Lagos state came and took it over. Not only that, I also assisted in re-shaping the health center in the area. The uncompleted health center that was being used as refuse dump was cleared. Ifo local government also assisted. So, when it was time for politics in 1994 and they were looking for someone to contest for the House of Assembly in the area, they approached me. But I said no. But my husband persuaded me and that was how I got into politics. And one thing led to the other and here I am today.
Madam, what are you currently into?
Currently I am not doing anything. I am on suspension and because the constitution says when you are an elected officer you can’t go into full employment. And you know there are so many petition writers in my own side of the country. I decided until our tenure is over I won't go into any full time work.
Being a hardworking woman who has been in active politics, are you not idle now?
Yes I am, but I believe it is for a short time. And that is why I am occupying myself with beautifying my home.
What do you do for leisure?
I don’t really have leisure time. I look like an extrovert but I am more of an introvert. I love being with little kids and my family.
Do you go to parties?
I don't get invited to parties because people probably see me as an anti-social person. I don't really have many friends who believe they should invite me to parties. So, I seldom.
For how long have you been married?
I have been married for 26 years to my husband, Ariyo Olujinmi.
How did you meet him?
Our meeting was very unusual. As soon as I finished from school, I took a loan and bought a Subaru car. Then I didn't care about men per se. Then there was a man who rode a yellow Toyota Crown and was always waving to me. And that was what Mr. Lade Bonuola who was then the editor of Sketch Newspapers and a big brother was also using. So I always assumed he was my boss that was always waving and flashing telling me "you are late to work". The pranks continued until I was coming back from office one day and saw a man across the road and said "I am the one that always waves to you in the Toyota Crown". I was surprised and embarrassed that I had been waving to a stranger. He asked for a ride. Normally, I didn't give anyone rides except my colleagues. This man entered my car and I drove to a filling station. My full tank then was 5 naira 20 kobo. After filling my fuel tank he wanted to pay and I resisted. This man looked at me and said "you would beg for this sometimes soon". I didn't take him serious. In our own case, it wasn't love at first sight because we grew to love and appreciate one another.
And since we are meant for each other, a relationship started and today here we are.
How many children has that union produced?
I am blessed with many children. I have step children. I have my own biological children and I have adopted children.
How has it been in the last 26 years?
It is rough and tough. But because he is being focused. He has always believed my wife is my wife and whatever quarrels that we have, we just have to settle them. You can’t go anywhere, you can't leave this home. Your religion being a Catholic will not allow you. My husband has always been the stabilizing force because he is much older than me. And because of that we have been able to manage our home.
But marriage is for better for worse?
We have been managing but it has not been easy. You know as a woman there are certain things that would happen and it would look as if heaven would come down. But you just summon up courage and work it out. My husband is totally frank and can't be bothered if you are angry or your ego is injured. And when I sit down and reflect, I see wisdom behind it. At times he would say come down from your high horse. You know when your husband says that to you, you just feel down. And when you sit and settle down you find that he is just trying to correct you.
What was your best moment?
It is everytime. My father's name is Ariyo. My husband's first name is Ariyo. My son is Ariyo and my grandson is Ariyo. So, I am surrounded by happiness.
Do you have any regrets?
There is no time to regret anything. You make mistakes and move on with life.
As a successful woman politician, how have you been able to combine your role in public office and home? Can you comfortably say your husband is enjoying you?
Of course, he is enjoying me. Let me say something to you as long as you are a journalist and you are a woman, politics is pass business because it is not easy balancing journalism with family. And if I was a journalist and a married woman for so long, politics is just my new thing. When I was at NTA I remember I would get to work in the morning and my assignment would be to travel to Ondo State because NTA then covered the whole of Ondo State. I would take a drive to Akure and might not come back until seven in the evening. And I would still write my stories, read press review before closing around 10pm. Even then it was tough because my marriage was still young. But I managed. So, my husband has been used to it.
Are you saying he is enjoying you s-xually?
That one. My husband is something else (laugh). I always tell people that I am like the GSM. I recharge heavily and then expend, recharge quietly with work. And when I go back again I could recharge seriously. So, I recharge heavily anytime I am around. And now that I am here full time, he is enjoying himself.
Then madam, how he is your husband coping with the rumour that you are ‘somewhat’ very close to the presidency?
He has heard too many things over the years. You see, one thing about leaving your wife to go out there and do journalism or politics, is like building trust. Except you have absolute confidence in the person, you can't afford it. And that is why we see most men not being supportive of their wives. And you that is being invested with such good will must also reciprocate. If your man does not believe in you forget it you can't do well. So, as a woman you have to be confident that when you go out there, there are too many things that would shape your decisions. We had been through too much of hard times, we had been through too many travails for me not to know the daughter of whom I am. Like I said, he has heard many stories. The irony of it is that we tell each other whatever information we heard outside because I have also heard so many stories about him concerning women. And when texts are sent to me about him concerning a woman, I would send the text to him and reply the sender "thank you, I have always known that he is like this. But I still love him that way. That is how we have been able to maintain peace. You see everyone wants to pull you down.
Closeness to the presidency is one thing, there was an allegation that you have been romantically involved with president Obasanjo?
They say all sorts of things. When you are a woman, there is no way they won't say you are romantically linked to the men. Of course, for you to make a head way in a male dominated terrain like politics, you need to be close to the men. You must go to every meeting with them and you must understand them. And if you are loose with them, you won't get anywhere because most of the time, men talk. And their own talk is not as simple as women's talk.
They go deep. So, you just have to watch it. And if you don't you will never attain that height to which you are aspiring. Linking women with men has been there from creation. But as a woman, know yourself and when you move with good people, you will only find encouragement, affection and good men who are there to lift you up when you are down. Most of my friends are male. So, I am not romantically involved with the president.
Then what is the relationship like?
He is like a father to me. He respects us as women.
How have you been able to convince your husband and assure him that all is well?
He doesn't need to be convinced because he knows the person he is dealing with. And when you know the person you are dealing with, you will know how far that person can go.
What is your philosophy of life?
Be happy. I have always been around happy people. I just want to be around children. You know children don't have dull moments.