Dame Abimbola Emmanuella Fashola was born into the Ojo Ibadan family of Ibadan, Oyo State. She is a Secretary and Administrator by profession. She is a passionate, caring and purpose- driven woman who champions issues relating to education, HIV/AIDS discrimination, poverty eradication, parenting and skills acquisition as well as preservation of the environment.
She has worked in various positions at the British Council for 19 years but eventually resigned to support her husband’s aspiration in 2006.
As the wife of the former Governor of Lagos State; she built 4 recreation centres and the first retirement recreation centre in Lekki, Lagos/Nigeria.
She is the founder of LEARN (Leadership Empowerment and Resource Network) a Non- Governmental Organisation established to groom the youth to be self-confident and socially responsible.
Her NGO helps the youth, while still in college, to develop a passion and obtain the necessary skills for vocational and entrepreneurial training. She also runs a parenting seminar on sustaining family values and morals in children for a better society.
Her quest for acquiring knowledge, capacity building and personal development has led her to attend various conferences and seminars within the country and outside the country.
In recognition of her contributions to humanity, she was honoured by His Holiness, Pope Benedict the XVI. She is also a recipient of several other local and international awards.
Dame Abimbola Emmanuella Fashola is a devoted wife and mother.
She recently came on my Instagram Live show called Inspiring Woman Series With Kemi Ajumobi, and this edition of Women’s Hub tells it all in details so if you missed the Live conversation, you can read it here now.
We began the interview with her sharing on her childhood, which she described as loving and caring. Growing up with her mum initially was the best life she could ever wish for and then, after a while, they moved to her dad’s place. “But with my mum, I got everything I needed. I got the father’s love, the mother’s love and the sister’s love. I remember my younger days, when it rains, my mum will say, ‘what are you people doing in school? Just sit down”. She would butter bread for us, gave us tea and let us sleep. I still do it up till now. Once it starts to rain and I’m getting ready to go out, I just remember my mum and say “where am I even going? It’s already wet, outside is wet. Just sit down and rest, another day, you can always pick it up.”
Abimbola grew up being pampered both by her mother and father and everyone around. She describes it as “everybody letting you be yourself. There wasn’t any air around us and not that we had everything we wanted, but we were contented. We never lacked anything when we were growing up. It was all very peaceful and there was no cause for complaints from the parents’ side.” It was a matter of knowing what your parents want and you just behave yourself. She recalls it has been a beautiful journey when she remembers and she tries as much as possible to be that girl in her womanhood.
Meeting Babatunde Raji Fashola
My late husband’s father introduced me to my husband. My best friend then was having her engagement party and I was there doing my normal bit which is ensuring that everybody is comfortable, everything is okay and things are moving the way they should be. He just looked at me, and he said “oh, well done my dear. You’re doing very well, what’s your name?”. And he told me “I have a son, I would want you to meet him”. He said I should not go home yet that his son will be coming for that party as well. So, when the son came in, he looked for me and called me, and then introduced us and that’s how it kicked off.
His involvement in politics and your experience
I never saw my husband going into politics because to become a governor, you must go into politics. My husband loves going to court. There is no day he comes back, even before we got married, he would be asking me to come to court and watch him and see what’s happening there. And before I took on another job, I was interested in journalism, so I was working back then with Sketch and I used to cover court cases. I told him I wasn’t interested in courts, and that I’ve been to courts before and I don’t think I like the business of going to court. But you could see the joy in him anytime he comes back and he’s got a case, fought and won or they are still battling it in court and all. So, I know that his interest had always been in going to court, defending people.
So, when it came to him working for Lagos state, (you know he started off as a Chief of Staff to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu). I remember him supporting everyone who came out aspiring to be governor of Lagos State back then. So, when the table turned (I was not even around, we were away for a vacation) he called me and said Asiwaju has never asked for anything like this from him before. Asiwaju could not even ask my husband directly, he had to send so many people to speak to him because he knew he was going to refuse totally. It was clear my husband would not be interested in it but Asiwaju believed that he could do it. Prominent Lagosians spoke to him. So, he called me and said this is what they have asked him to do. And I said I didn’t see this coming and I don’t understand where this is going to go. As chief of staff, I had to go to functions, representing her distinguished senator, Yeeye Asiwaju. I wasn’t really keen on it. I’m from a background that is very quiet; you just mind your business, help those within the community, be relevant around everyone who needs it and do things for people.
To now see him going into politics, the first thing I told him was, “I am not so sure that’s what God has called you for, but we’ll put it in prayers. I’ll keep praying and when I return, we’ll revisit it”. He said he has not told them any answer because he needs to speak to his wife and family first before he gives his answer. So, when I returned, we prayed about it. Then he said, “Abimbola, this is to help my State, this is to help my country. I want to show them that this is possible. We can do well in our country, in our State, we can make things work for us. It is only believing in ourselves and getting it right and everyone coming on board”. And so, I just felt, okay, if that’s the way you see it.
I didn’t have any ‘No’ from God; neither did I have any ‘Yes’. Maybe I heard ‘Yes,’ and I didn’t want to accept it. I remember back then, Asiwaju used to tell me, “Abimbola, if you do not accept, I will look for another wife for your husband because you are the one not allowing him to accept.” And we would laugh about it. I said God will make a way, and that was it. That’s how he joined and they did the primaries.
Pressures being former First Lady of Lagos State
The pressure you usually have is people believing that you have everything. That you have money, you have the influence to speak to anybody. But from the background I come from, my father would always assist the children of his friends or those he doesn’t even know, to get jobs, but he won’t help his own children. So, coming from such a background, when it becomes personal, it’s always very difficult for me to ask anybody to help me. I just turn to God. And then when people now put pressure on you, wanting you to do this, to do that for them saying “you can speak to a commissioner or a bank manager”, I tell them “No”, I wasn’t brought up like that. I can’t speak to anybody. This position I am in, I came in through my husband and if I can’t tell my husband and if he can’t assist me, then so be it.
On recent cases of rape, especially with children
My take on rape is that it is not right and I do not support anyone who is a rapist. I do not support anyone who is a pedophile. We have to be very careful as parents. We need to pay attention to our children more than we are doing right now. I always say, one interesting thing about COVID-19 season for most parents, is that, you get to know what your children are up to. You get to know your children more. The things we have learnt sitting together as a family in this pandemic season are more than the things we have learnt while we were up and down making ends meet and leaving our children at the mercy of our helps. You have gardeners and all sorts of people around.
For the young ones who are not as enlightened, when somebody is inviting you to play, genuinely, some may be thinking it is actual play, but the person who wants to harm you knows what he’s aiming at. So, we need to be very careful. We need to educate our children more and the young ones around us. Rape is not just for the young ones. Then, for those ones who are in the university and somebody will lure you, it is important to live a contented life. Don’t fall victim to these people who really don’t mean well. You have to speak out as well whenever anything happens to you.
We need to bring up strong children, let’s discuss everything. I don’t know if there is anything that parents should be hiding from children anymore. There is nothing we should be hiding from our children. When you hear something, call them around, tell them this is what has happened, don’t let us have our own personal experiences before we start to talk because in the past, when we started LEARN, those were the things we were doing seriously because we had a lot of problems in Ajegunle. People were telling me that when you get there in the evenings, they are showing pornographic films all over in clusters. We had some young boys who will come in and tell me ‘help me ma, one big man is raping me because of recharged card’. We helped so many of them. We started sensitizing the parents, and then children.
What I want to advise is that, anyone who knows anyone who is a rapist should report. Every state should have sex offenders’ register so that you are able to know them and if they do not commit an offense, after some years, you can take their names off. But they need to do that so that once you hear their names, you run away and their pictures should be out there as well, so that before you employ anybody, you check that book to ensure that you are not employing a rapist or a pedophile into your home. Sometimes, it’s even people within.
How important is it for parents to have a relationship with their children?
My take is that our children find it difficult to speak directly to their parents, especially when it comes to things like sex education. Firstly, because we are going to scream, secondly, because we may start to hit them. Thirdly, they don’t want to look bad in the presence of their parents. So, which way should we go? Sometimes, you may not be able to handle things yourself. You must be fair and sincere with yourself. Our children give us that face we want them to give to us, especially when they start to get to their teenage years and then the university. They would want to present themselves as holier than thou. When my older son was in the university, when he wants to go out, he would tell me, (because I told him to always tell me where he is going.) And if he makes the mistake and doesn’t call me, when he gets there, he will say “I forgot to call you mum, I’m here”. So, when things want to turn bad, wherever he finds himself, he would think about what his mother would say.
But do I know everything that happens in his life? No. But I know that there are people who would know. So, sometimes, you can set up friends who are close to them and slyly ask what’s happening to them, you’ll see them trying to flow. I like to know things first-hand. I don’t want somebody coming to tell me this is what your son is doing. Please let me know, once I know, I’ll be able to sort it out, whatever it is.
That’s what children should understand. The moment you carry your parents along, there is no battle they can’t fight for you. They will fight on their knees for you, they will fight speaking to you for you to be a better human being and they will fight with the resources God has given them. That’s why they need to have their parents on their side.
Fewer women involved in politics and governance in Nigeria
This has been a matter that we have been struggling with for over 30 years now because when we were in the British Council, we were running programmes like this to bring out women, not during the year of an election, but before the election. Preparing women. I remember working with so many women and some of these women are still talking about this. But for you to be able to get there, you must have your own party. Women must have their own party. If you still want to use all these parties, they will tell you to step down for one person. So many women who aspire to be there, when it gets to the last stages, they will tell them “your turn will soon come”, or they will give you some kind of position or appointment or something, and ask you to step down for the man. Sadly, it is these same women that will go and vote for the men. So, it is important that women start their own party, Women’s Party, men who want progress will join us. Women will run it, but men will come there to teach us and assist us to get better every day. But without that, they will always be telling you to step down for somebody.
In other countries, you have so many parties. It is such occurrences that gingers so many other people, so let’s have a party. Abroad for instance, you can have a Christian party. We don’t have any Christian party in Nigeria, yet, we have a lot of Christians. Why don’t we have a Christian party? If we had a women’s party four years ago for instance, by 2023, we would be talking something, we’d have something more to see, we would have some seats to be won because of the people we women would have brought in there. Truth is, some people will vote because of the people, and not because of the party.
So, we need to start to look at having our own party. The last election, they did in South Africa, I saw that they have a Christian party. So, we can have a Christian party and other party names. Also, you must understand that politics involves money. So, if we have a female party, we have to all contribute so that if we say this is the woman we want, we have to all support that woman. Let nobody shake us, let nobody tell us we cannot do it. Nobody can stop us; we’re the only ones stopping ourselves. That’s the way forward.
Words of encouragement in this COVID 19 pandemic season
I’ll like to say that, for those who have lost loved ones due to this COVID-19 pandemic, please accept my condolences. God in His own wisdom will grant you the joy of understanding what He has done and to move you to accept it and continue to live in His love. For those working in this period, the nurses, doctors, the health workers, the drivers, the cleaners, everyone, God will protect each and every one of you, your families will not get caught in the job you are doing. You are working for people to survive; you won’t lose any member of your own family.
And for those of us who are alive and are struggling by the day, because some people have lost their jobs, for some people, their businesses are nowhere to be found in this pandemic season, I pray that we will find our purpose in this COVID-19 season. God will open up a new way for us that we would continue to see God in all that we do. We will not miss the essence of this standstill. I call it standstill because if things happen in our country, we run to another place. This time around, there is nowhere to run to. Every part of the world is on standstill.
So, this standstill will shift for our good. I just pray that every one of us will not miss it. I’m afraid for our country because we don’t take things seriously. Other countries are making PPEs, and all, we are ordering. Most of the things we are selling, we are ordering. We have tailors; we have designers, all sorts of things available. We can order those raw materials but we can make the end product here. When you make it here, you have more money.
So, let’s look inwards. Let those who are farmers go to the farm. Let’s have more farmers. It’s there in the Bible, “Till the ground for it to yield her fruit”. Let all of us look inwards and see those things we can do and God will guide us, we will not regret this COVID-19 season because it will be better for every one of us.