HE Olufolake Abdulrazaq, on a mission to impact the people of Kwara positively for the betterment of the state
Her Excellency, Dr Olufolake Abdulrazaq, wife, mother, diplomat and First Lady of Kwara State, was born on the 2nd of August, 1967 in Lagos, South West Nigeria and proceeded to the United States where she started her early education and later returned to Nigeria to complete same.
Abdulrazaq was admitted into the University of Lagos where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History in 1988 after which she proceeded for her one year mandatory National Youth Service Corp at the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna from 1988 to 1989.
In 1990, she bagged a Postgraduate Diploma in Mass Communication before she proceeded to acquire a master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy in 1991, all at the prestigious University of Lagos. On 5th of October 2019, Olufolake Abdulrazaq was conferred with Doctor of science Honoris Causa (DSC Hons) in Excellent Governance and social empowerment by the European American University.
Olufolake started her public service career in 1993 at the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where through hard work, dedication and forthrightness, ascended the ladder to the peak of her chosen career. Abdulrazaq was the third secretary/foreign service officer at the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lagos liaison office from 1994 – 1998, where she proceeded to the Nigerian High Commission, London, where she served as Counsellor; Political Affairs, Trade, Investment and Administration from 1998 to 2004.
From November 2017 to September 2018, she served as the acting Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abuja; she was also the Acting Director and Head Trade, investment and economic cooperation division from September 2018 to April 2019.
While serving in South Africa, France and the United Kingdom, Abdulrazaq has been commended as part of the team that organised successful presidential visits to these countries, she is also the Alternate Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the board of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission.
Olufolake Abdulrazaq is currently the Director, Economic Consular and Legal Department, a position she has been holding since March 2019. She is a lover of family, children, sports and all creative endeavours and has in many ways impacted the lives of the indigent and less privileged in the society.
The ascension of her husband Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to the office of the Executive Governor of Kwara State, presented an avenue for her to broaden her humanitarian work through her office as the First Lady, and her personal initiative called Ajike People’s Support centre, where through a well thought out strategy and an all-inclusive selection process, she hopes to reach even more indigent people.
In the beginning
I was born in Lagos, during the Civil War, over 50 years ago and it was a lovely childhood. Not long after, my dad went to the US as an information attaché to the embassy of the United States of America where I went with him. Much of my early childhood was there and he inspired me so much because apart from being the information attaché, he was also a prolific writer and he used to have so many stage plays in so many places around the US. I remember going with him to the University of Massachusetts to watch one of his plays. His plays were on Voice of America and so many others. So, those were my enduring memories as a child and I told him, (I think when I was seven), that I wanted to become a diplomat. We returned to Nigeria and the rest of my schooling was in Lagos. I did a first degree in history, and I did a postgraduate diploma in mass communication, and then I did a master’s in international law and diplomacy and then later on I got the doctorates in good governance and social development. While I did that, we went ahead to get the necessary forms for me to join the Foreign Service.
My mum was a bit in the background, serene, but making sure things were on in the background as well. That was basically my childhood, very happy, always engaged in debates with my dad and his colleagues. So, it was a fabulous upbringing for a girl to grow up in because, you were not in any way hampered. I was always allowed to join the big people’s table and discussions and to make inputs. He would turn to you and say “what do you think?”, and that was always fantastic because, you now learn a lot more and also participate in the conversation. Even though I was interested in those big and important conversations, I was also girly and I did all those things that girls were doing. I did not miss out on anything. I always recall my childhood with a smile and I’m grateful to my parents for that.
What would you bring back from your childhood and why?
I told you I enjoyed going to the theatre. My dad in the early 60s ran what he called Stage Craft, so, he used to put on shows for people to watch. I wasn’t born then. But later on, I got used to going to watch his stage plays which were featured all over. He was also one of the founders and early writers for Village Headmaster and my mum’s elder sister was casted Fatia, who was the niece of the Village Headmaster. So, I loved the drama of those years and that type of life, it was very nice.
I grew up with a lot of events in the back garden, with entertainment and my dad played instruments. He would play the flute and the saxophone and things like that really inspired me. I didn’t imbibe any of those things, but that was nice to grow up to, the garden with music, and laughter. Those are the things I would love to bring back from my childhood.
Getting into diplomacy
It was lovely to get into. You have representation from all the states of Nigeria and you go for training. Basically, the training for me, was what I had done in my masters in international law and diplomacy. So, a lot of it was similar. You have to go for a training to be a full-fledged foreign service officer and diplomat, and over the 28 years, I’ve served in different departments and I’ve been posted to different countries around the world, served in places like South Africa, the UK, France, and also, I’ve gone on different diplomatic trainings in different countries like Germany and Greece. Sometimes, you do exchange programs and all that. I’ve served in various offices such as the office of the honourable minister, permanent secretary and other such high-ranking offices.
Thankfully, it’s been a wonderful 28 years of doing this. I will like to encourage women to get into such fields and make their mark because at the end of the day, half of Nigeria’s population is female, so, why not go into diplomacy? I know sometimes women are a little bit reticent because it involves a lot of movement around the world and they wonder how to raise a family with such things to do. But I have to tell you that diplomatic children are one of the most exposed and learned children that you can find because, they’ve been exposed to various cultures and civilizations and they’ve seen a lot. Take for instance; my experience with my dad in the US was part of what shaped me into my diplomatic sojourn.
So, this is where we are, and obviously, the crowning glory of a diplomat, is when you’re able to go out as an ambassador and represent your country somewhere. I think that’s what every diplomat looks forward to in their career.
Being First Lady of Kwara
I’ve been in government for 28 years and always exposed, at the highest level too. So, it wasn’t a huge transition. For the governor, he has always been an international businessman. His background is in oil and gas management. He was an oil magnate and his company was the first indigenous oil company in Nigeria. So, He’s always used to being very busy, active, and always traveling because his job entailed that anyway. So, I wasn’t worried as per capacity or as per what we’re going to bring to the table, as we were already practically in that environment.The only thing is, a lot of the times, your time is not your own anymore.
The governor drove himself to the inauguration, which made headlines because he has this attitude of being very simple and always likes to drive himself. So, he jumped into the car, I jumped next to him and the kids jumped into the back and we practically just drove ourselves to the inauguration and that made headlines about how simple he is. I think everybody can see that that is his nature, the simplicity that he brings to the job.
The first day was very amazing, it was good to meet everybody and it was very obvious that there was this quest for this type of development and for this type of change in Kwara. It was fantastic and everybody was on board. The support has been immense and I’m very happy with how everybody has been supporting across the board, helping with the vision for the state and it’s been great to that effect.
What makes Kwara tick?
Kwara is like a melting pot. It’s called the state of harmony. With all the different tribes in the state, they stay together. It’s called a state of harmony because, it is very harmonious. It’s fantastic to be there. Now, why would you want to be there? The food, the culture, there are lovely things to do, the Wara (cottage cheese) that’s very well established in Kwara, it’s fantastic to be there and there are sites to see. Recently, I was at the Owu Falls, just to show people that we do have this amazing waterfall in Kwara. There are so many different places to visit that are very beautiful. If you’re so industrious, you come and you do so many things.
Recently, at the African Fashion Week, we showcased the Aso-ofi and Adire from Kwara. That is also a huge industry in Kwara. There are also festivals we have, and so, it’s very cultural and very beautiful.
Championing the cause for TB in Kwara state
Recently, all the First Ladies of the states were made champions of TB by the First Lady of Nigeria, Dr. Aisha Buhari, and it made us go back to our states to look into what is actually going on with TB. First of all, we mentioned polio and how Nigeria has successfully eradicated polio. We also played a part in doing that because; I also worked on polio vaccinations. Then, we were now told to do the TB and this now made us to go back to our states, and look at what was going on in the TB area. I had a meeting with the team from the state and also with the Stop TB team which works very well with the First Lady of Nigeria as well, and we mapped out a strategy of how to go about things.
They gave us all the statistics and we saw that the TB centre in Kwara was working very and that it had the capacity to even take other people from other states. People were being properly looked after and the doctor who runs the centre is well versed.
Obviously, we have a few incidents, but we’re happy to note that in the last four years, those incidents have been going down. Although, what was now reported was that, there seemed to have been a spike in drug-resistant tuberculosis and this is a worry because the drugs don’t work. Nevertheless, we’re working really hard to make sure that those types of cases are really taken care of and eradicated.
There is a massive campaign. I did some jingles on radio and TV with the Centre to tell people where they need to go if you have the problem or you think you have a cough. This was what my sensitization was about: that if you have a cough that has lasted for about two weeks, or a little bit more than that, you really need to go and check it out because it may be more than what you think it is. So far, so good, we’re working on that, and we’re hopeful that the same way we saw an eradication of polio; we’ll be able to see an eradication of TB very soon.
How is Kwara managing COVID-19?
I think the measures that were out in place, even before we had an incident in Nigeria, the governor was very proactive. I think Kwara was one of the first states to pull children from schools and introduce the media tuition on television and radio and there is also the online tuition. There was a total lockdown at some point in the state and this really helped to contain what was going on. The first few cases were imported into the state but the contact-tracing was done so well in that they were able to look at people and see where they had been and were able to get to the root of it. And, therefore, we don’t have very high numbers. Some days are better than others, but Kwara doesn’t have high numbers.
The government did the lockdown, we pulled children from schools, we did the palliatives. I, on my own part, was very proactive in sending out palliatives to very vulnerable communities around Kwara, to various care homes and vulnerable centres that we have. I also gave out PPE. I got some calls from some front line workers and doctors about running low on PPE. So, I was able to get a lot of PPE and sent to various isolation centres, general hospitals, nurses, doctors and so many different parts of the state.
The governor also distributed face masks around the states and I decided to augment that and distributed some more around the state. Coupled with that, were all the sensitization we did through my organisation. And obviously, we can’t relent yet. There is a new protocol now in relaxing a few of the lockdowns but that is something that we need to caution against because people may now feel that because lockdowns are being removed, then they can relax. I need to implore and charge everyone not to relax. The easing of the lockdowns is in place because we have to move certain things forward, but it does not mean that you have to relax on your personal protection. More than ever, it is important that you keep these protections in place because you can see that the infect rate hasn’t come down as much as we would like it to come down.
I have to thank family members and so many other people who actually said, apart from being the First Lady, you also need to do something that would give you an additional platform to reach more people. I’m people-oriented, so, it was fantastic to have that idea to set up this additional platform with which to reach people. I had some people who came up to me, brought me a concept as well and they’re still part of Ajike now and they’re doing a fantastic job. This was the genesis of how we came about Ajike, and it’s basically for me to be able to reach more vulnerable groups like women, youth, and children.
I talk about the youth a lot because I have a lot of youths around me, and like have them in everything that I do. The youths are our future, so the more we engage them, the better it is. So, that was why we did Ajike. I wanted to do things like skill acquisition for women, I wanted to be able to empower our children and reach the youth because I happen to be matron of many organisations, so, I knew I had to reach the youths. They are my target audience when I’m talking about drugs and sporting activities. We’ve done a lot on grassroots sports like softball, baseball, table-tennis, football, and this is the reason why Ajike is functioning.
Youths in substance abuse and cyber crime
I am the matron of the Drug Eradication Committee in Kwara and this is something that the committee has been working on and they are doing a fantastic job. We have a lot of other groups that are involved in this activity, including the governor, obviously, the governor as head of the entire government is well aware of what is going on and we’re trying our best to curb this menace. Recently in 2018, UNODC did a survey and Kwara was seen to have a 13 percent drug prevalent rate and therefore, we were judged to be the highest in the North Central zone of Nigeria. In 2019, it became something that was on the back of our mind that we really needed to work on this and get to the bottom of it. So, that is why we started a lot of initiatives, making sure that a lot of youths are effectively engaged in grassroot sports and youth centres. They need avenues with which to channel their creativity. It’s very important we put in avenues with which to engage our youths so that they do not go towards the negative curve. Apart from youth centers, there is also a need to create jobs. When you channel their energy into something positive, this is what works. The young people are generally restless; they need avenues with which to engage, so you cannot close off society from them. They need to be part of the discussion.
In Kwara for instance, the governor chose a 26-year-old to be commissioner for youth and sports, this was a very deliberate thing because, he made sure the youth are connected to that ministry so that they can engage themselves positively. So, this is the way we’re trying to work and make sure that we mitigate these effects of drug abuse. On Cybercrime, as a nation, we have very technical youths and they are very vast in using computers. We’re one of the best in the world and there was a time that Mark Zuckerberg visited Lagos and he went to the computer hub in Yaba centre. It’s because around the world, everybody acknowledges that Nigeria is so good when it comes to computing. However, we need to make sure we channel them positively and the society needs to make sure that we endorse positive role models.
Increase in rape cases in recent times
This is a contending issue that we’re all working on at the moment. We noticed that during this period of Covid-19, rape cases seem to spike. We started hearing about rape cases left, right, and centre, including the rape of young children and babies. The last case which has just been solved was the rape of a three-month-old baby. Thankfully, the man was caught, but the baby needs so many surgeries. It is so inhuman. It is ungodly. It is a terrible crime against humanity.
We had actually been working on sexual and gender-based violence since last year. We did a huge walk against gender-based violence with the involvement of some celebrities with a lot of sensitization. With the Northern Governors’ Wife Forum as well, we did a sensitization video with the First Lady of Nigeria. So, this spike that we’ve now seen during the Covid-19 became so terrible that we had to do something. All the First Ladies came together and issued a communiqué and a certain agenda that we were going to follow; we formed what is called the Nigerian Governors Wives Against Gender-based Violence. We wrote to the Governors Forum who got together and declared a state of emergency on rape and gender-based violence, and this had spurred on activities in all the states to make sure that this becomes a front burner issue that needs to be tackled.
Thankfully, now some states have changed their laws from life sentencing to death sentencing if you rape anybody and stringent measures against any perpetrator. We’ve seen that some states have passed the Child Rights Law and some states are urgently trying to make sure that it’s passed. Some states have passed the VAPP Act and some are trying to get that passed as well. All these things together are making sure that we stem this tide and people are being caught and being made an example of because this is terrible, especially these young babies.
We’re doing jingles to tell everybody that all hands are on deck to make sure perpetrators of rape are brought to book. I want to encourage people; if you see a child that is withdrawn or withdrawing, or suddenly stopped socializing and speaking, or you notice something is off, please try and reach out because we can’t do this without the community. We need everybody to become part of this and to be involved. This way, we can rid our society of this menace.
The Nigerian Governors’ Wives Against Gender-based Violence are doing our best to make sure that we lead the advocacy, that sexual assault referral centres are in place, to make sure that all the laws are passed, that everything is working well as it should be. The laws are getting stringent by the day, all the governors are assenting to all these laws to put these perpetrators behind bars.
How important is it for victims to speak their truth?
We’re all built differently and some people are a bit more sensitive than others. The first thing I’ll like to contribute to this is the fact that we have to break this stigma of silence around rape because, a lot of the times, people do not want to come out to say they’ve been raped. They’re not even encouraged by their families or friends. A lot of people don’t want to own up to the fact that their daughter may have been raped or their son because of the stigma. This makes sure that people keep quiet and when people keep quiet, the perpetrators go scot-free and the cycle continues.
Rape is one of the least reported crimes ever and it is also one of the least convicted crimes even when they do get reported because sometimes, the victims cannot take the psychological trauma, the mental torture. They may report initially then later on, pull out because it’s a very terrible thing to their psyche and their emotional well-being and they cannot continue, so they pull out.
For some, it takes a long time to heal to be able to talk about it to one person. Some people go to their graves with their secrets. So, we need to understand all those varying factors and encourage that the stigma around silence is broken, and that women will not be stigmatized for being raped because if women continue to be worried that they will be seen in a certain light if they speak about it, then they will not speak about it.
Importance of enlightening the men too
In my experience, men are part of the narrative. I remember I told you I had a walk last year and I had a lot of celebrities support me, most of them were men. In the recent video done by Dr Amina Mohammed, she said that she was inspired by her sons to talk about this. I remember not too long ago, one of my sons sent me a link to something and said if there is anything you want to be busy doing right now, it should be this because it seems to be spiraling out of control. So, I would say there are actually a lot of men involved in this fight. Unfortunately, maybe they feel they cannot be as vocal as the women, but I want to encourage them to be very vocal in this fight.
I told you we’ve also started partnering with experts in the field. One thing we’re doing with these experts is to make sure that they provide workshops for boys and young men. These workshops do not only train men on how to treat women, where to draw the line and where you need to start recognizing that No means No, but it is also making sure that young men who are supporting us in this fight are able to stand tall and counsel their friends who may not be so better behaved in how not to behave. So, I think men are becoming more and more part of this narrative and coming into the forefront. In most decision-making places that we have now, it’s actually men that are still making the decisions. A lot of men are involved in this fight and we just need to make sure that we encourage them as well to come on public platforms and be able to speak.
It’s important that everyone strives to achieve their dreams. We know there may be impediments along the way, for instance, people call me as early as 5 a.m., sometimes cold calls but those who dare to dream, tend to make a way in life. I want people to not limit their ambitions. Don’t say ‘oh no, this is not for me’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m not from a certain background’. No. The billionaires around the world, a lot of them are hardly educated; a lot of them didn’t even finish school. So, it is the courage and the conviction to your dreams that matters. And believe me, if you approach people with proper ideas, well-structured thoughts, doors open for you. We have some people who fall back; they may think they don’t have the right capacity or don’t know the right people. A lot of people don’t know the right people, but they persevere in what they want to do and hopefully, we work on making sure that there are more jobs in the society.
However, I always counsel people not just to wait on jobs that can be given to you. If you’ve got the creative spirit, try to go into the creative industry. If you’re entrepreneurial, try to go into the entrepreneurial industry.
I believe that parents need to support their children to achieve their goals and their aims and give them that confidence to believe in themselves. And for the young people themselves, please do not imbibe any negativity. Do not surround yourself with people who tell you that you cannot do something. Surround yourself with people who are positive, who wish you well, and who would make sure they lend a helping hand in your journey and help you along your way.