•Hon. FUNMI TEJUOSO MUSHIN Constituency 1 Opens Up To City People
They don’t come any better than the absolutely gorgeous and incredibly brilliant Honourable Mrs. Adefunmilayo Tejuoso. Put her to the test and she would match you beauty for beauty, brain for brain, elegance for elegance. Ask anyone who knows this charming lawyer turned politician about what stands her out from the crowd and they’re most likely to tell you it’s her brilliance, from the moment you begin a conversation with her, you’ll realize you’re talking to perhaps one of the smartest women to come from this part of the continent. And her modest accomplishments as a politician speak for her.
For four consecutive terms, she has continued to earn the love and trust of her people in Mushin, retaining her seat as the Lawmaker representing Mushin constituency 1, a feat no woman but only a couple of male legislators have achieved. She has also held various positions in the Lagos State House of Assembly including Deputy Chief Whip, Deputy Speaker, Chairman, Lagos state House of Assembly Committee on Finance and Chairman, Judiciary, Human Rights Public Petition and LASIEC. She is married to Prince KayodeTejuoso, a man she has variously described as herrock and pillar and who has enabled her accomplish all she has achieved politically.
For a long while now, City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL, had been on the trail of this extremely busy legislator, requesting for a chat with her, but her often tight schedules stalled the interview until a couple of weeks ago when squeezed out time for us just before the House went on recess. But it was worth the wait, Honorable Funmilayo was in her elements and she gave us a fantastic interview, letting us into parts about her background that she’d never spoken openly about. Here’s the first part of that fascinating interview.
A lot of people know you and your accomplishments, but very few know about your background, your family. Tell us about your mum, dad, and growing up years…
My name is Honourable Mrs. Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, my parents are late now. My mother died over 30 years ago and my dad recently died a few years ago. I was born to the family of Chief Dr. Emmanuel Ademola and Mrs. Victoria Modupe- Smith. My mother came from Ekiti, that’s her home town, my Dad is from Lagos. I was born in Lagos, Island Maternity. I actually grew up in Suru-Lere, precisely No.45 Adeniran Ogunsanyastreet, my father’s house.
I went to staff school, University of Lagos. My father was a Medical Doctor, hence I went to the University of Lagos staff school with my siblings. Then I went to Queens College Yaba, Lagos, for my secondary education and completed my secondary education in St. Frances High School, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA, and proceeded to West Virginia University to study medicine because my father, being a medical doctor, encouraged me to do so.
I got a first degree in Pre-Med, it’s called P.A. in Biology, that’s what the certificate reads from West Virginia University. But after that I realized that one, I didn’t like sight of blood, two, I couldn’t stand the smell of the laboratory, three, they gave us a dead cat to take home and we had to dissect it and learn everything about it from the organs to the muscles, everything. I think all of those things just put me off.
I Am Very Proud That I Represent MUSHIN
So, when I finished my first degree, I told my dad I’m not going back to study medicine, I just don’t like it. He was quite, you know… he wasn’t too happy, let me put it that way. He tried to encourage me, saying I would get used to it, that people get used to it. My mum had told me a story of when she also wanted to do Nursing because my father was studying Medicine and she saw blood and fainted. I was like, wow, maybe that’s who I am, may be I’m not cut out for this thing.
My dad now said, okay, come and do your NYSC and take that period to think about it, when you finish you can go back to America to go start medical school. While I was doing my NYSC, I applied to the University of Buckingham to study Law because my two other sisters were Lawyers and I thought let me veer into that as well. I applied and was given the admission into the school and as soon as I got the letter I took it to my father, then I was serving at Queens College, Yaba, my alma mater.My dad is the kind of person that would encourage you but he won’t push you.
And when he realized that I wasn’t going to change my mind, he said it was fine. He paid my fees and I went to University of Buckingham and when I finished I came to Nigeria Law School and was called to the Bar after that. I practiced for a while at Idowu Barristers & Solicitors, before that, I was with Ademola Odunsi& Co.and later Smith Tejuoso& Co before I started politics.
So, tell us, how did you now make that transition from Law to politics?
Politics was not my ambition. I did not plan to be a politician. I just realized that, being a Lawyer, I was doing a lot of help for my constituency. At the time, I didn’t see it as doing help for my constituency but just doing help for people. I would handle their matter pro bono, help them, make sure that they get bail, represent them in court and things like that for free. So, people started encouraging me to come and run.
Then, it was even for House of Reps, not even for House of Assembly. Then, a friend of the family, Mr. Akintoye Rhodes, he was chairman GDM, the Grassroots Democratic Movement then, and they all encouraged me to run for House of Reps. I got a ticket for the party to run but that was the Abacha era and two days before the elections I had to withdraw because I told myself you cannot be honourable in a dishonourable dispensation, so that was the end of that. Prior to that, my husband can be said to be the main architect that actually encouraged me to do politics.
I remember that prior to running for House of Reps, we’ll gout, we’ll complain about NEPA, no light, no water, no diesel and you come home and turn on your generator when there’s no light, or turn on the pumping machine when there’s no water.And one day, my husband said to me, you know, we have this conversation a lot with people and you’re so passionate about how people should do it this way, how people should do it that way, why don’t you try to run for office so you can make that difference. I didn’t like politics. I thought politicians were tough and rough.
I come from a very conservative family. My father was a Civil Servant. He worked for the federal governmentfor a long time, he used to be chairman of the West African Health Examination Board for like 10 years. He threw himself into his job. My father was the kind of person that if he goes to a party, 30 minutes he’s ready to go home and himself and my mum had a signal, once he signals to my mum it’s time to go, it’s time to go.So, my family and siblings are very reserved people.
I have a sister that’s a Deputy Chief Registrar here in Lagos state, I have a brother that’s a medical doctor in Philadelphia, I have a sister that’s a Lawyer and a Nurse in Philadelphia, I have another brother that has a Masters in Business Administration in England, so, really I’m the only one that has chosen to get involved in politics, and of course, initially to my father and siblings, it was a terrain they were not used to but then, they prayed for me. So, that’s my path, I always that there’s a reason for everything.
But I still tell myself that I’m not a professional politician, I’m a professional in politics. I believe that you do politics as long as you can and when you’ve been able to contribute the best that you can, you go into other things. You must have a profession to fall back on so it doesn’t become a do-or-die for you and that’s who I am.
But how have you coped and accomplished so much being a woman in a male-dominated House of Assembly?
Well, for me, as a woman, yes, I appreciate the fact that I’m a woman, but I don’t play the weak game. I believe that we’re all peers. My bible tells me to submit only to my own husband and so my colleagues are my peers. We work as a team, we debate strongly sometimes. We lobby when we believe in a particular cause that people should support us and that is how we work here. But apart from that, my background is quite sheltered, let me put it that way. I don’t like to lie and say, oh, I suffered, I did this or that. I have people that I grew up with and they’re still alive (laughs).
My parents actually gave me the best that they had to offer. My father paid our school fees till as long as we wanted to go to school. If you want to do your Masters, Phd, he would support while he was alive. My mother would also tell us that you should not rely on inheritance, she would say in Yoruba, ‘emagbojulogun,’ instead, rely on your own achievements. My Dad would also say that he can leave us everything but he can’t leave us his degree. That certificate calling him a medical doctor he cannot transfer it to anybody else, you have to get your own. Which is why I am also concerned about the youths in my constituency to take their future into their hands, do their work diligently, sit for your exams and master what you’re doing so that when you get into the work force, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
As the longest serving female member of the House, you seem to command a lot of respect among your colleagues. The men come into your office all the time to discuss things with you, they call you Aunty, sister, Madam, and seek your attention regarding one issue or the other. Many of your other female colleagues that you started with couldn’t even make it past the first term, and you’re already on your fourth term and still counting, what would you say is your staying power?
Let me give all glory to God almighty, it’s really not me, its God.
To be honest, I don’t think there’s any special thing that one does, it is just the favour and the mercy of God. What I do as a human being is that I make sure that I’m prepared for my work because experience helps you and gives you an edge kind of. You’re able to tell people if you go this way, this is going to be the outcome, if you go that way, this is going to be the outcome. And more often than none, it results that way. When people see that you understand what you’re talking about and you have the experience, I believe they’ll listen.
Even in the chambers, you’ll see people asking, should I say it this way, should I say it that way, talking to us because some of us have been here longer than others. That’s why, for the legislative arm, it is crucial that we keep people here for a very long period because they help to make things easy. For instance, when you’re talking about appropriation, you need experience. If there are laws that you have to make sure that you pass quickly, you need experience because you don’t want to make mistakes.
Because when you pass laws, it goes through public hearings, so you must know what you’re doing. I believe also that because we have a speaker that’s also a fourth termer, it makes it easier for everybody because he knows what he’s doing. And you know, being a mother, when you’re eating, you eat with everybody. When you want a drink, you ask other people, ‘are you thirsty?’ I think that’s a plus for women. People might not say it enough, as a mother, as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter, there are certain things you do at home that comes out with you and endears people to you.
So, those are the kind of things I’m talking about, we laugh, we joke, we see each other as brothers and sister, older and younger and just like I respect those that are older than me, the ones that I’m older than will also respect me. The ones that are older than me will also respect me because I’ve been here longer than they have been. So, it’s a mutual thing. For me, being an honourable member means you have to be honourable in everything, not just by name alone. You have to know what you’re doing. I feel that if one knows what he or she is doing, they’ll get respect from their peersand I believe if they know they’re not wasting their time they’ll continue to ask for advice and seek more knowledge from each other.
What would you say is the biggest bond you share with your constituency because I know that, with a place like Mushin, you couldn’t have gotten their mandate four times on a platter of gold without having to earn it?
The people in my constituency are the best people in the world. They’re wonderful people, they’re loyal people and they appreciate the little things that one does for them. I guess you know the Yorubas have a way of talking that when a mother comes home from work and has something to give her child, the child will always be excited when mummy or daddy comes home. But each time mummy or daddy comes home, there’s nothing to look forward to, the child will not be excited. Even if it’s a hug, that when mummy comes she’ll hug and kiss me, you’ll be excited to see mum.
But if mum comes and just goes to her room and slams the door, the child is disappointed and no longer looks forward to seeing mummy return next time. It’s the same thing with your constituent. If you promise them you’ll do certain things, even if at the end of the day you were only able to do 80% or 90%, it’s a pass mark and much better than doing nothing. And legislative work is lobbying. You want them to do your road, you have to lobby. You want them to give you running water in the nooks and crannies of your constituency, you have to lobby.
You will come to the floor of the House and be a voice for your constituent. When you fight for them all the time and they know that when that person is there, all those things that they need will come to them, then they’re happy to keep you there for as long as you want to be there. It doesn’t mean other people won’t come out, it simply means they will prefer you to those other people because you’re tested and trusted.
I do a lot to make sure they get whatever they deserve, I care for them and I believe they see that I do. I do a lot of scholarship programs,I do a lot empowerment programs where we buy them things like sewing machines, grinding machines, barbing kits.When the Keke Marwas and Okadas were very popular, now we’re moving away from them, I bought and gave to them without asking for anything in return. I just wanted them to be okay. We invest in their future so that we also can have peace of mind.
How have you been able to deal with the restiveness of the youths in Mushin?
Things have changed. I think that because in the past we had bad roads, a lot of people would do bad things and come and hide in Mushin because the roads were not good. But when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu came, he decided to give us good roads. He didn’t say oh, the roads are for Ikoyi or VI, or GRA, he made sure that every single local government had development.
So, what now started happening was that, because our roads began to look good and were pliable, the police could come and look for criminals and get them out and arrest them. So, nobody was coming to hide there anymore because when the roads are bad, they would hide and the police won’t be able to chase after them and fish them out because of the bad roads, potholes and everything. But with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, things became better for us, we had dividends of democracy. We had good roads, with our governor now, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, we have electricity and the streets are lit all over.
People are looking forward to good things. Now in Oshodi, we have CCTV cameras to catch people that are doing bad things. These are the kind of things that are making my local government a better place to live in. Now, when you say your address is Mushin, you get employment because we’ll stand for you. A lot of them have been able to get employment from banks, they’ve been able to get employment from government sector, private sector and so on and so forth because if I sign this person and I say I’m guaranteeing this person, I‘m sure they’ll give him a job, which is what we have been doing.
Not only are we getting them jobs, we have also been able to empower them to stand on their own as entrepreneurs. And they have been able to be successful. So, when they’re able to make sure the roads are good, nobody can hide there. We have our street lights, the streets are not dark anymore. We have running water, people have more self esteem, they feel more self worth, and they carry themselves in that manner.I think with all these developments we’re having in Mushin, our youths are well behaved.
They have degrees, some of them have Masters, they have Ph.ds, many of them are medical doctors. I know there’s a lady, Mama Shehu, her son is a medical doctor and Mama Shehu actually sells water. In my ward, Baba Alfa, his son is a Lawyer, these are people we encouraged, made sure they go to school, made sure they finished school, and they’re thriving. That’s just to name a few, to tell you that good things are happening in Mushin.
Mushin is now a place that we’re very, very proud of. We have people that have been senators, ministers and governor, we have governor Jakande, we have governor Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson from Mushin. They all live in my ward, Ward L in Ilupeju Estate. If we have these kinds of people, so what are we worried about? We have all sorts of Chairmen, we have Commissioners that have been able to perform well. So, we’re proud of our heritage. I’m very proud that I’m from Mushin. I’m very proud that I represent Mushin constituency 1, my people have been very supportive of me and I couldn’t ask of more than they’ve given me because they’re definitely very honourable people.
What are your aspirations, ma, for Mushin and its people? If you were to give us the Mushin of your dreams, what would it be like?
I think we’re getting there. I would like us to have more playing grounds for our children to be able to play, if we can also have even a swimming pool, that will be good. We would want more secondary schools on the Fadeyi – Onipan axis because our children have to cross the Ilupeju axis to Fadeyi–Onipan for secondary school.
We have enough primary schools all over my constituency but we’re like Oliver Twist so we want more secondary schools in the Fadeyi axis so that those who are there will not need to commute to a long distance to go to school. We have to thank the government for that, they’re already working on upgrading two primary schools into secondary schools so that the older students can do secondary in that axis.
The government is doing a lot, not just in the education sector, but also in the ministry of justice, health, environment, transportation, you name it, we’re happy as the people of Mushin with the government of Lagos State and we’ll continue to ask for more.