There aren’t too many Lawmakers in the Lagos House of Assembly today who can flaunt the sort of intimidating political credentials of Hon. Wasiu Eshinlokun Sanni, the current Deputy Speaker of the House. Let us tell you a little. Upon completing his secondary school education where he passed out with all round distinctions (Grade One) he proceeded to study Agricultural Economics for his first degree at the Ogun State University. There, he also emerged with one of the best results. Afterwards, he went to the University of Lagos where he studied International Law and Diplomacy for his Masters degree and scored 3.69 points.
It was in the University that he had his first shot at politics. He had won the vice presidency of his course association and also desired to be the Director of Sports, being a popular footballer in school at the time. He soon relinquished his position as his course association’s vice-president and contested for the post of Director of Sports of his department which he won and subsequently became the Sports Director for the entire University. Not so long after, he ran for the Director of Sports for the Student Union Government and that marked the start of a remarkable political career for this outstanding politician. But his first real accomplishment came in 1999 when the Isale – Eko-born Lawmaker was elected a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. He didn’t return for a second term but was later appointed SSA and SA to former Lagos Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on Political and Legislative Matters. He went on to become a two term Chairman of the Lagos Island Local Government Council before making a triumphant return to the Lagos House of Assembly in 2015 where he is the Deputy Speaker and clearly one of the most influential personalities in the Assembly today.
On Monday, 16th July 2018, City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL and Head of Photography Desk, FEMI ADELEKE, were guests of Hon. Wasiu Eshinlokun at his magnificent Marwa Gardens home not too far from the House of Assembly complex at Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos. Despite the heavy downpour early in the morning, we were surprised to find his living room filled with visitors waiting to see him. We had to wait patiently till it was our turn. He spoke about his life as a Lagos Deputy Speaker.
How did you begin your foray into politics?
It was a long time actually. I had just won the vice presidency of my course association and my interest in vying for the post of the Director of Sports for my department was ignited by a friend who encouraged me to go for it. I was a popular footballer playing for the University at the time, so it seemed like I was perfectly suited for the position. So, I gave the vice-presidency position to the person, a friend of mine, who emerged second during the association’s election while I went ahead to contest for and won the Directorship for Sports of my department. I later became the Director of Sports for the entire University. Later, I also ran for the Director of Sports of the Student Union Government and from that point, there was no turning back for me anymore.
I went on to participate in student unionism which subsequently marred my chances of becoming a lecturer in the University. I had all the qualifications and more than merited the job because I had the best result both in my second and final years. But I didn’t really plan, at that time, to go into serious politics. After I left the University, I joined SDP then, only as a card carrying member. It was the agitation by the youths in my area for more representation out of the 26 slots available to them in our ward that dragged me straight into partisan politics. The youths were asking for more slots but the elders of the party were insisting they couldn’t get more than one.
I told the youths I was going to join them in their agitation and that we should go together the next day. And that was it. Without mincing words, I told the elders they must give us nothing less than 6 slots but they refused so we resorted to open elections and I was persuaded to contest for the post of vice chairman of the ward. You won’t believe that we won 21 out of the 26 positions that were available. And that was how I began my journey into partisan politics.
Tell us about your time as Chairman of Lagos Island local government, what were the legacies you can say you left behind?
Oh, quite a lot. We recorded a lot of firsts in my time as chairman. Remember, I served for two terms as chairman and then got re-elected back into the Lagos House of Assembly. So, it’s been like a continuation of what we started while I was chairman. One of the highpoints is the fact that we remain the first local government council, in the whole of Nigeria, to give pupils in all the local governments in our area free school uniforms, free bags, free sandals, free text books and exercise books.
This was our own way of encouraging parents to send their wards to school. So, we said, all we need is for you to release your child to us, we will take over everything from there. We did this consecutively for seven sessions, from 2008. We bought JAMB and GCE forms for pupils whose parents or guardians may have had difficulty in procuring the forms for them. For secondary schools, we provided them with Higher education note books. We renovated several schools in the area and transformed them into modern structures.
The ones that were beyond redemption, we completely rebuilt them. We took care of the aged and elderly and gave them N10,000 monthly along with food items. So, you can see that long before they started stomach infrastructure in Ekiti, we have been doing it. I think that, in my time as chairman, I really did my best in terms of executing projects that the people benefitted from.
We have assisted well over a dozen people get employment with LASTMA, LASIEF, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and also the Advantage Management Services Pent. We have also been able to get about two dozens of our youths absorbed into the Lagos state Neigbourhood Security Corps. We have a lot of Empowerment programs that people are benefitting from. We also have Empowerment programs specially designed for the widows. There’s a whole lot that we have done and are still doing. We have also done a lot of financial empowerment for people and helped about 20 people benefit from the Lagos State Trust Empowerment Fund ranging from N250, 000 to N5m.
Share with us your first-time experience in the House in 1999. Were there difficulties along the way?
Well, there were no difficulties as such. In our time then, I think we were even lucky because we had some couple of months on our hands before resuming at the House after winning the elections. We didn’t come into the House immediately, so we were able to go for trainings and we were adequately prepared for the tasks ahead. And I can tell you that all the things I learnt back then have really helped me along the way. Till today, I still apply some of the things I learnt from the training. The training was conducted by Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the current vice- president of Nigeria. So, this really helped. And after we had begun work as Legislators, about nine of us were sponsored by the U.S. government to visit the United States where we had the privilege to attend plenary sessions of U.S. Congress. I have also attended Harvard Law School where I earned a certificate in Leadership and Negotiation. I really learnt a lot during my first time in the House. So, it was not difficult adapting and settling down in the House, it was no big deal.
What has been your biggest challenge so far as a Lawmaker?
For me, I don’t like to believe or see anything as a problem. I always believe that there is no obstacle that is insurmountable. However, one thing I see as a bit of challenge for me is the fact that, as a Legislator, I do not have the power to undertake projects such as road construction, I can only make laws. Unlike when I was Chairman of Lagos Island local government, I had the executive power to undertake such projects, all I needed to do was carry along everybody, starting with the leaders of the party and work closely with the relevant government ministries. But I am happy with the little I have done as a Lawmaker. The people are always appreciative of the little things we have done for them.
Can you compare being a lawmaker now and then? What was it like back then when you first got elected in 1999? Was there so much attraction to the office like it is now?
No, of course not. There wasn’t much attraction like we have now. What majority of us had going for us was nothing but our passion and commitment to serve the people. In terms of financial rewards, the office wasn’t attractive then. I remember we were receiving a salary that was just over twenty thousand naira. By the time tax and other deductions are made, you are left with less than twenty thousand naira. But we didn’t mind. We didn’t even see it as a problem. All we wanted was the opportunity to serve our people and make a name for ourselves. It was much later that they reviewed the wages and it became a little more attractive.
What were you doing before you delved into politics?
I was into teaching. Remember, I studied Agricultural Economics. So, I was teaching senior classes. And I really enjoyed the job then. It’s nice when you impart knowledge into young people.
How do you see the leadership style of the Rt. Hon, Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa? What has helped him lead the House so far without any publicized rancour?
It’s all about experience. I believe what has helped him is experience. And he also has lots of experienced second termer and third termers surrounding him as well. That is why you can see the unity in the House. It’s not as though we don’t argue or disagree on issues, but at the end of the day, superior argument will prevail.
What are your aspirations if and when you are done as Deputy Speaker? Will you be going for House of Reps or the Senate?
I don’t know yet. I can’t answer that question now. If I wanted to go for House of Reps I would’ve gone for it long before now. Everything will depend on my party really. If my party and my people say they want me to go and contest for a higher elective position, why not? And if they say they are okay with what I’m doing here, no problem. So, for now, I cannot tell you what my next move will be.
You seem to me like someone who is not loud like the conventional politician. You don’t make noise like the average politician, yet you have shown that you relate easily with the grassroots. How have you been able to manage this?
Let me put it this way, I know when I need to make my presence felt as a politician and I know when to be silent. When you don’t know the right time to talk and establish your presence and the right time to be quiet and stay in the background as a politician, you will have problems. People will start seeing you as a loquacious and cantankerous fellow, which will not do you any good. Yes, I go out, I socialize. As a politician, you must socialize, honour people’s invitations, but you must do so with a lot of wisdom.
How do you juggle your tight schedules as Deputy Speaker with playing your roles as a father and husband in the family?
Ah, it’s really hard, I must confess to you. It’s very difficult for any politician to have sufficient time for his family. But I have been very lucky with the kind of wife that I have, she’s a home builder. She is the one who helps me to keep the family running when I’m not around and she’s doing a good job.
To the glory of God, all my children are doing well. My first child is a medical doctor, her name is Azeezat and she currently practices in the UK. The second is Maryam, she holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations & Development studies while the third, Fawaz is currently an undergraduate in his 3rd year studying International Business. My wife is Alhaja Olamide Bilikisu Sanni and she’s been very wonderful