The Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, Chief (Mrs) Fatima Olufunke Raji-Rasaki, was once the First Lady of Lagos and Ogun state, when her husband, Brigadier-General Raji Rasaki, ruled the states.
In this interview, she spoke about her foray into politics, her battle in Ekiti State with Governor Ayo Fayose, the defections in the National Assembly and moves to impeach the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the state of the nation and why she left the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC).
We know you very well as former First Lady of Lagos State. Can we know how and when you went into politics?
Let me first of all say that every human being is a political animal. Everybody has that instinct. My journey into politics started during the days of Better Life for Rural Women, when my husband was the governor of Ogun State. That gave me the opportunity to interact with women and gave me the idea of how women are faring and the role they play in their various families. I discovered that 80 pecent of the women are breadwinners of their different homes and they have lots of responsibilities, like taking care of the home, children, husband and the extended family. They work very hard, but earn very little. That programme really exposed me to the reality of life, especially of the women in the rural area. Since that time, I’ve developed the passion of uplifting the less privileged in the society and I vowed that in whatever capacity I find myself in life, I will make sure that I help the less privileged in the society. For me to really exhibit that passion is the reason I joined politics. So, after my husband left the service, I went into politics fully so that I would contribute my quota to the system.
Which party did you start with as a politician?
I started with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for Senate. In my home town, Ado-Ekiti, my father was one of the old politicians in Ekiti. He is well known during the days of National Party of Nigeria, NPN. He was with Ciroma, Shagari, they all did politics together. In Ekiti State, my father is well known and he suffered for politics. Funny enough, twice he went on exile because of party politics. The first exile was in 1963//64 during Operation Wetie. In 1983, there was Operation Wetie again and he went on exile. When he came back after a while, he quit politics. When I came out, people now felt that this family had suffered because of politics and they needed to be compensated. By the time I came, everybody embraced me and I came to contest for Senate. I came three weeks to the primary.
I started the politics in Lagos State and by then we were leaving in FESTAC town. I started with PDP from inception in 1999 until when I finally left the party just few months ago. When I got to Ekiti, I wanted to contest for Senate. I came third. When we came back from that exercise, the party wanted to compensate me with the position of a deputy governor. I said no; I rejected it because I wanted to go for elective position. I told them I would try again next time. Miraculously, something happened, and they now gave me House of Representatives. That was 2007-2011. After that, I didn’t want to go for a second term, I went back to contest for the Senate again, but I didn’t make it. I said, I would try again and this is the third time that I am trying and God now crowned my efforts with success. I made it. Presently, I’m in the Senate, representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District on the platform of PDP. Just few months ago, I crossed over to the APC.
You have been in the PDP since inception, until lately. What made you to leave the party?
The trouble started way back in 2015. After the primary in 2014, there was a power tussle, the governor (Ayo Fayose) felt threatened. But unknown to all the leaders in the party then, he had his own agenda. When he came, he came in from Labour Party. When he was impeached he went to ANPP, to NPP, from there to ACN, from there to Labour, back to PDP. When he came in begging all of us that he wanted to return to PDP. We felt that time that we needed somebody that would understand the politics of Ekiti. And that was why some of us agreed. He (Fayose) deliberately came to me that we should come together and form a group.
The first question I asked him that day was I hope his own ambition would not disturb me if we are in the same group. He said he wanted to go for governorship and I said I wanted to go to Senate. He saw the buses in my compound with the picture and writing Senate. I wanted to go to Senate since 2007, but God said ‘your ways are not my ways’, that I have to start somewhere. God does not make mistakes. He has been preparing me for that position. Eventually, we formed the group together; I was the leader of the group. I contributed, I participated very, very well. The people of Ekiti can bear me witness on the role that I played. He now felt threatened that this woman is powerful because I was able to pave the way for him. People did not want him because of his antecedents. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across him while he was the governor the first time, when people were saying all sorts of things about him, I still stood my ground. I don’t want to believe in hearsay.
We started that group, even to the detriment of my own political career; by the help of God we got him there. None of us was aware that he had his own hidden agenda. He started changing some structures, replacing them with those people that came in from Labour. Before we realized it, he had changed all the structures. All the leaders, he said he wouldn’t recognize them again. Everybody went his ways, some sat back at home and did not participate in any political meeting again. Those who were still agile went to another party. That was how this man scattered the leadership of the PDP in Ekiti State. Only few of us that still had the plan to contest were still managing him.
Eventually, when we did the general election and I won by the grace of God, I just said I don’t think I can continue with him. First, I don’t like his style of governance. I thought he would take Ekiti to the next level, but he (Fayose) just still believed in riding Okada, eating corn, we now felt that we didn’t want to remain the same way, we need someone that will take us to the exalted position. God was on my side, after my own general election, I just stepped aside. Whenever he called any political meeting, I will not attend because he’s the only one talking and nobody can contribute. He’s Mr know all. And I don’t want to be party to that. He is the executive governor, he’s the chairman local government, and he’s everything. Even up till councillors in the wards. Councillor is the least position in this political sector, he will be the one to nominate them. You that call yourself a leader, maintaining your people in that local government, he will not consult you, he makes you irrelevant.
As long as this guy is still sitting on top of PDP in Ekiti, I prayed that God should just show me the way, wisdom and the next line of action to take. I left everything in the hands God. That when the time comes he will show me what to do and God has remained faithful. I didn’t fight him openly, but I wasn’t part of his government. We were three senators in every state. It was only I; I stood my ground because I can’t manage what is not manageable. I stood my ground. I was doing my own thing so it was a game of cat and mouse. I didn’t attend any function he would attend, even within my senatorial district, if I know there’s something going on and he would be there, I will not attend.
Was that not affecting your job?
Of course, it was affecting it. What has a beginning will surely have an end. You cannot fight a sitting governor. You know the reasons? Because of the resources. He will use the state resources to fight you and that was what he did. It was only God that was fighting the battle for me and when the time came, God told me to move on. I’m happy that not one of all the leaders that really fought for him is still with him today. He’s very daring; you can see that the calibre of his House of Assembly is the worst in the whole country.
Why did you say that?
He presents a budget, he reads it out, he came with his gavel, he presented it, he approved it by himself and he hit the gavel. We were not in a Banana Republic. In another occasion, he asked the Speaker, who is the Speaker, and then the Speaker said you are the Speaker, His Excellency. He did so many things that to some of us in the state were even ashamed to say that we are representing Ekiti State. He didn’t even make any Ekiti indigene, both home and in the Diaspora to be proud. He was the one representing everybody in Ekiti; he’s the one at the helm of affairs of the state. Have you seen any governor behaving like that?
Now that things have change in Ekiti, how is the political atmosphere?
July 15th was the day they announced the result and they announced Fayemi as the governor of the state. In fact, there was a new breeze. There was freedom, because everybody in Ekiti, all the sons and daughters of Ekiti, all of us were under bondage. Because this guy had really turned himself to an emperor. When you are representing your people and it got to a stage that those people you are representing are afraid of you, they are jittery, because everybody need to have a sense of belonging, to be free and walk on the street, you can’t talk evil of him and walk freely on the street without being afraid. Even those outside they cannot come in, he did it on purpose because he didn’t want anybody to challenge him. How can you be calling yourself friends of the poor and you know that in Ekiti we don’t have any industry, we don’t have company, it’s purely a civil servant state and you are owing them for nine months. The retirees are there; they are not collecting their money. Every second, he talks directly on the radio, he talks directly on the television, even if you ask who the commissioner of information was in the state, nobody will give you direct answer because he was the one doing that job. That is not democracy that is dictatorship.
You are three senators in Ekiti, how did the other senators feel?
The two of them were managing him. I have my own principle. I cannot manage what is not manageable. They were able to manage him to some extent, but he fell apart with the other lady. Towards the tail end of the election they tried to mend something and they knew I have already taken my stand. I wouldn’t want the same thing that happened to reoccur because I knew that he would never change his character. Even when we were doing his own election, he told people that he had changed, which means, he knew that something was wrong with him. He disappointed a lot of Ekiti people. I didn’t experience the first one, but if I want to compare, I’m sure this one is worse than the first one. We needed somebody that will take Ekiti to the next level. I need to identify myself with progressives. After my own election, I saw the type of governance that was not what I bargained for, I made my stand clear, I have my own life to live and it affected my performance. But God on my side, he never won. He was instigating people to go to court against me, but God was there fighting my battle because He knew I accepted this guy with my heart and I really worked even at the detriment of my own political career, I know what I’m saying.
Your case is the other way round. Politicians are leaving APC to PDP and you are leaving PDP to APC, why?
Politics is local, depending on what is operating in your state, or where you are representing. If you are in a family and you don’t feel you are a part of that family, you are at liberty to leave and go and set up another family. You have liberty to do that, that is a democratic sector. As I said earlier, I cannot manage what is not manageable. I will not make noise, I have my own plans and I will carry it out quietly.
Oshiomhole was talking tough to Saraki that he should step down because he joined PDP, what is your take on that?
Let me talk as a legislator not as a party member. If Saraki decides to resign honourably, saying okay, if this is what you want to use to witch-hunt me, I’m towing the line of honour, take it, I want to be free from every encumbrances, he can do that, on his own accord.
But as a legislator, we don’t have that number to impeach him because we need two third. APC still has the highest number in the national assembly, we need two third not half. Which means part of the PDP will still come and join us before we can make that two third, maybe to impeach him, but we don’t have the number. I’m talking on the legislative side.
That morning you heard Saraki was leaving, how did you feel?
I felt somehow because we love him. We are in the same group. Even some of us in the APC we are in the same group because in the Senate you have your group. He is in our group.
What do you mean by group, is it like a caucus?
Yes, we have caucus. Even part of APC, we are together, part of PDP we are together as a caucus. I, as a person, I tried to speak to him that he should see reason. He has joined them to build the house, we know that as a human being you are hurt, but that is one of those things that we will come across in life. If they know that what they did to you or the treatment that you got, if they realize it’s not supposed to be like that and they come to apologize, just take it in good faith and leave the rest to God. After all, God has been fighting your battles. Some will be talking peace to him and some will be talking battle, whichever way is stronger. He’s from PDP maybe, he was not comfortable there, that time, when they were not comfortable they moved, this time they felt they are not comfortable, they moved again.
So, it’s acceptable to decamp from one party to another just like that in Nigerian politics?
Yes, it’s acceptable. Under one condition, if there is a problem in your party. You feel you are threatened in your party and they cannot put their house together, but on a normal day, you can’t just wake up and say you are bailing out, what would be your excuse? He can move, it’s not strange, before you know it, some of them that have moved can still move back. That is politics, that is democracy. We are on vacation now, maybe when they get to their various constituencies and maybe their leaders are able to talk to them or their followers tell them to rethink or have a change of mind, they can still consider that and go back; some of them. There’s nothing strange there.
So, you are going back to Senate in 2019?
It’s God that gives position, He is the one that gives promotion. If it’s the will of God, so be it. This is my second term. No legislator has limited term, it depends on your people. By the grace of God, if God helps me and my ticket sails through, at least I will really sit down to my bills. In the 8th Assembly I was having a lot of distractions. My governor and myself have been running a rat race since 2015. He was just instigating all sorts of legal actions; the person that we did primary together, the person that we contested the general election together, he encouraged the opposition then to take me to the tribunal, I won, he said we should go to appeal, I won the appeal, he now went back to the 2014 primary and asked that guy to come and challenge me.
As I am talking to you, the case is still at the Supreme Court. So, I won all the litigations. I think about four months ago, he encouraged the boy to go to appeal. So, he likes pulling people down. I can say it to his face, he derives joy from other people’s misfortune. The loss of his election, God deliberately tore apart his government. He owns the people nine months salary; everybody has turned to a beggar. He calls himself Peter the rock. Every governor is going to China to go and bring investors to their states, he went to China train station to go and address people. He’s just doing things that Equity sons and daughters are ashamed of their identity because of the governor’s attitude. There is a breeze of freedom that the election brought to us. He never believed it.
But some people said that the election was rigged?
The election was not rigged at all. You cannot hear anywhere that they snatched ballot boxes. Even the security officials were not intimidating anyone. They just maintained that peace.
As 2019 election is drawing near, what is your advice to women?
First of all, we should love one another; love ourselves and educate ourselves. Reasons I say this is simple; that in the House, both Houses, we don’t have enough number of women. Finance is our problem. We don’t have that finance to move like the men. We don’t have property to sell or use to borrow money, but if we can educate ourselves, the population in Nigeria today, women are more than the men. If we use that our numerical strength to stand for ourselves, vote for ourselves, we will be more than the men.
We should love ourselves, help, and educate ourselves, enlighten ourselves. Why are we using our number to support the men, if our issue comes up they are not there for us. They forget that women are part of those who voted them in. When we just get up and talk about gender, they spark. So, that we can have enough number in the House of Representatives and the Senate so that when our matter comes up we are able to pass it through. There are many issues that concern the women and men will be dictating that we should remove some clause before they could support us. It’s not them that will be dictating to us to remove something they considered controversial. – The Sun.