On July 15th, 2017, wife of the Vice President of Nigeria, Oludolapo Osibajo clocked 50 and she was celebrated world wide by family, friends and most importantly her loving husband, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of Nigeria. In her instagram post, she revealed that her doting husband surprised her with a cake at Midnight to celebrate her new golden age. In her words, “thanking God for 50th years of His Grace Cake at Midnight.
Her husband also posted a loving birthday message on his twitter “My Gift from God, watching over me, my support at my side, my wings, my wife. Happy Birthday Oludolapo. You are my treasure” To mark her birthday, there was also stunning photo shoot of the celebrant by celebrity photographer, TY Bello.
Her Excellency, Oludolapo Osinbajo is the Wife of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and a grandchild of the late Obafemi Awolowo.
In this exclusive interview with the Murya Magazine crew, she reflects on her life, the secret behind her unassuming personality, and her humanitarian activities, among other issues.
For the purpose of our readers, could you let us into your world by telling us about yourself?
I am a wife and mother. I belong to many families, biological and otherwise. My world is a quiet one. I imagine I am like any other wife and mother in Nigeria, with the same goals and aspirations, the good of my family and friends.
I studied Law but I never practised. Rather, I had a very delightful and enjoyable business making cakes instead. My spare time is spent working at handcrafts (I love knitting and crochet) and gardening, this keeps me out of my neighbour’s houses!
I love reading and I write. I have two published books: ‘They Call Me Mama’ a documentation of some of my experiences with street boys and men (known as area boys) in Lagos, and ‘Selah’ a collection of writings on my understanding of what I have seen and heard. I also write a daily Bible-based devotional called ‘Let us pray’. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and I aspire to be like Him.
Most people see and describe you as a woman with a very modest lifestyle, what is secret behind this attribute?
I have read that we are all a result of our ‘Nature’ and ‘Nurture’. I imagine the answer lies somewhere between. I think by nature I am a rather private person, perhaps what is perceived as a modest lifestyle is my attempt to avoid detection and stay under the radar.
Tell us more about the charity efforts you have done before and what you are doing now?
I think my work with area boys in Lagos is the most well-known of the charities I have done. I saw in these boys and girls, lost treasures. Spending time with them radically changed my life. The time I spent talking to them and attending to their needs, feeding, medicals and counselling changed their lives to the glory of God.
This to me was a school about human nature: it affords me the opportunity to learn what men and women are capable of doing, and more interestingly, the effects of trauma on a human being and the causes of anti-social behaviours and possible solutions for a reversal of this negative trend.
For many years, I visited many groups of area boys, to speak and care for them as well as seek opportunities for them. They were lost and needed to be found and restored. I took food to them, trailed behind their arrests, from police stations, to prisons. I met their mothers and other family members.
They called me when they were arrested, when their wives are in labour and when they just wanted someone to talk to. One loved to call late at night, and I realised later that he just wanted to hear me say goodnight in the way our mothers greeted us, he would talk on and on till I said ‘Ka sunre’. He, like many of them just needed a mother’s love and care. I imagine this is why they allowed me into their lives. I cannot imagine why else they accepted and listened to me. For many years, the safest place for me in Lagos was under the bridge, they were fiercely protective of me. They called me ‘Mama’.
I also worked with prostitutes, in trying to cause them to turn away from the destructive lifestyles. Correcting them in love and not condemning, while also offering a way out by changing their lifestyles was the work I had to do there. I don’t know why, but it was harder and more emotionally gruelling to work with prostitutes than to work with area boys. While it lasted, I recorded some successes and disappointments, but I wasn’t deterred. I had to keep going, keeping my eye on the person within, without the outer layers of deviant behaviour. This was the goal, to restore them to decency and wholeness.
The work with the area boys thrust me into working with women. I knew that the more support and strength women had, the easier it would be for them to bring up and nurture their children successfully and make no room for deviant and anti-social behaviour. So, I started organising training courses for women to give them an opportunity to earn an income no matter how modest. The profit from this would help to keep their children from hunger and keep their children in school etc.
I once met a boy under the bridge who told me that he ran away from home because he was always hungry. Armed with this information, this inspired me to start organising short training courses free of charge for a variety of groups of women. I remember the jewellery making course I organised for some prostitutes, a few weeks after the training, one of the girls moved out of the hotel, rented a small room somewhere and stopped prostituting.
The courses were not only for economic purposes. We also organised life skill courses for women and girls. There were courses designed to teach young women how to cook, others instruct them on how to handle gynaecological issues, their finances and a lot more. Our courses were packaged to equip and strengthen the girls and women to be the best they can be and taught free of charge.
I worked with women for several years before registering: The Women’s Helping Hands Initiative. Our courses are still running as we speak and they are all free. Though, I am unable to be present at the training as often as I would love to just as in the days before my husband became the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I still try to visit whenever I can.
Project Ayodele and Step Up training programmes we run and they are both for men and women. Since my husband’s the inauguration, we have trained over seven thousand people across Nigeria, from Abeokuta to Minna, from Abuja to Gombe, from Owerri to Kaduna to mention a few. I am glad that I am able to continue this even now. Step Up started in 2009 and Project Ayodele in memory of my mother who passed away in 2011.
I started Precious and Knock Knock advocacy campaigns many years ago to plead for the safety and care of women and children. The campaigns were particularly taken to schools and market places by my humble self and a host of others who joined in the quest for a safer society to make sure the protection of children and women from physical and sexual abuse.
For many years, my friends and I would put on our walking shoes and walk around the markets, talking to the women about keeping children safe from abuse by proper monitoring. Whenever the opportunity arose, we shared our leaflets and talked at Parents Teachers Association meetings, Women’s rallies and Neighbourhood meetings about how precious women and girls are, about how precious our children are and the need to nurture and protect them. I still do that today when I have the opportunity.
The Women’s Helping Hands now runs two shelters in Lagos state for victims of physical and sexual abuse and has a total capacity of 250 beds. The victims are admitted and cared for in the shelters at no cost to them for a time to stabilise and settle them. The shelters are equipped with a clinic and 24-hour nursing care, counselling, and a skills acquisition room for those who need it.
A good number of your admirers would love to learn one or two lessons from the way you manage your public and private life. What would you say to them?
I am glad you said ‘private’ life. I have learnt that if it is possible to keep the two apart, your private and public life, there would be more peace. As much as is possible, It would be useful to ask for wisdom to find out what is private and what is public, and keep each one in its place and not mix up the two.
However, the public, I believe have a greater interest in the private lives of those that are in the public space, and this is where the dilemma occurs. The challenge of, as the saying goes, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ I think we should ask for counsel and wisdom about how to do our duty to the public and give a report on this so that they are aware and satisfied; and hopefully receive the grace of God to keep our private lives private!
There is a peculiar bond between you and the wife of the President of the Federal republic of Nigeria, Mrs Aisha Buhari. What is the secret behind the bonding you both enjoy?
I am very happy each time she calls me her sister. Mrs Aisha Buhari is a very warm and joyful woman. It is very easy to form a bond with her. Her two topics of discussion are Nigeria and Nigerians. And so we have a common area in which we are both interested and involved. I think also she is a person that loves people and I am grateful she accepted me in her heart, and so the bond is between one woman and another, one wife and another, one mother and another, one Nigerian and another. It’s all about love and acceptance. It does not matter that we speak different languages, come from different parts of the nation, practice different faiths, have different careers; we truly enjoy one another’s company and by the grace of God care for one another.