The former deputy governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Sarah Sosan, tells ‘Nonye Ben-Nwankwo about her life and also how she got into politics
Your son got married recently, you must have been very happy on that wedding day…
“Oh yes I was. Marriage is something most parents look forward to and I had looked forward to that especially for my first son. Even for my daughter, I am praying that very soon her husband would come. When my son showed me his girl and eventually told us that he would like to get married to her, we were excited. Many people looked forward to the marriage. I could feel that a lot of people were looking forward to the opportunity to give me the required support. I was so excited and I give glory to God that I was alive to witness my son’s wedding.
Are you comfortable withyour son’s wife?
Oh yes. She is a very nice girl. In the past, I used to be a bit cautious about inter-ethnic marriages. But these days, you find out that love is the most important thing. You don’t have to choose a wife for your son or a husband for your daughter. You just guide and counsel them on the way to go. Tell them not to look at riches. Marriage is everlasting. Wedding is one day, courtship is for a period of time. It is who your soul clicks with that you should marry. I thank God he found a soul mate, a professional and all the things I looked forward to in a daughter in-law. In fact, she is my daughter.
So you see her more as a daughter than a daughter-in-law?
Yes. I had one daughter before and now, I have two daughters. My husband and even my children took her as one of them. I am happy for the kind of love that we extended to her and we welcomed her into the family.
But don’t you feel she has come to monopolise the attention your son used to give you?
Ever since I grew to become an adult, I knew there is a stage in life that your daughter or son would grow and get his/her family. You responsibility is to assist them to build that family and play your role as a mother. I didn’t have that problem when I got married, so why would I give another person that problem. I know the relationship I have with my son and I know it cannot be affected. Thank God, there hasn’t been anything like that for the few months they have been married.
Was it your dream to become a teacher when you were growing up?
It wasn’t at all, to be sincere. I never dreamt I would be a teacher. It was by accident or maybe destiny that I ended up being a teacher. It is what has helped me to where I am today. Initially, I had wanted to be a nurse.
But both professions are poles apart…
Yes, I agree with you. I had been admitted to the nursing school after I had passed the aptitude test. We had been given admission but on a second thought, I asked myself if I could really face it. I have a phobia for injections. I can’t stand the sight of blood. So I had to think about it real good and did something about it.
So teaching just came to your mind?
It wasn’t really like that. I hadn’t readily thought of what I was going to do thereafter. But I had a cousin who I used to take care of. She had lost her parents. Her father was one of my favourite uncles. I didn’t just want to leave my cousin idling away, I decided to go and get a teacher training form for her. I looked at the ambience of the school and I liked it. The students were smartly dressed. I learnt they had a one-year course for those who had school certificate; I then decided to pick the form for myself. I said if I went in there and I didn’t like it, I would opt out and look for something else to do. Most of my friends were already in the trading business and they kept asking me when I would join them. But I didn’t want to do that. I already had my school certificate and I wanted to read up to university degree. That was how I enrolled into the teacher training college.
So what did you do after the one year course?
After then, I followed it up with a Nigeria Certificate in Education and then I got my degree. That was how I got stuck in it and I enjoyed every bit of it. But then, I am not a very patient person.
How did you cope with the students you tutored?
They got to know me. I believe in diligence and hard work. When I got into teaching, I put everything I had into it. I started teaching from the primary school level. After the one year training at TTC, we were deployed in schools to teach. From there, we became absorbed into the system and from there, you had the opportunity to develop yourself. While some of us did that, many also stayed at that level.
Teachers are perceived to be very strict and ‘wicked.’ Were you described as such?
Sincerely, I was very strict. But I think it has to do with the training we got. We were trained to be firm and disciplined. You must have such characteristics before you try to instill them in children. That influenced my lifestyle. I always want things to be done properly, I never liked half measures. I am very strict when it comes to anything that has to do with work. When my kids were growing up, they would bring their homework to me and I would try to teach them. If they didn’t get it right, I would take my rod and beat them. These days, when they talk about it, they laugh and say ‘mummy, you really dealt with us o.’ But you know, in school, you cannot really use the rod. Most times, you would rather punish them. But then, you would wonder why it was difficult for these children to understand what they were being taught. But as I grew to become a mature teacher, I discovered that you just don’t teach them, you also relate what you are teaching them with real life situations and they would remember.
For somebody who was an educationist, would you say you made an impact when you were the commissioner for education in Lagos State?
When I decided that this would be my profession, I gave it my passion and commitment. I remember that the issues of having challenges in the educational sector didn’t start today. Then in 1978 or so during (Lateef) Jakande’s era, there were challenges in the classroom then. We had three classes merged as a class due to inadequate classrooms and two teachers handled the class. It is not a new thing. It is just that government will continue to try and overcome these challenges. You know that head teachers can be somewhat overbearing. But I wouldn’t want anybody to chastise or scold me over something I ought to have done. I made sure I did my work perfectly. No inspector would come and find that I derailed. I have always had passion for this. So when I look back, it has been in me to do things right. Even when I was in the inspectorate (I served in the Inspectorate Department of the Lagos State Ministry of Education), everybody knew me for discipline. As commissioner and a professional teacher, I knew what we were facing in the sector. I knew the challenges. So it was impossible for me to be there and would not be able to do the things I had recommended that should be done all the years. God put me in a position to change things and I thank God that the team I worked with was so hard-working. Our governor gave us all the support. Before the Inspectorate, I worked at the State Universal Primary Education Board formerly known as State Primary Education Board. We didn’t work like civil servants in that department. We would work as late as 10pm. Leadership sometimes influences the way you work. We were joyous in doing what we did.
How did you feel when you were called to be Governor Babatunde Fashola’s running mate back then? Did you expect it?
I never expected such. I was in SUPEB then. That day was a Holy Ghost service day. I was just waiting for my driver to arrive from an errand so that we could close and go home. I got a call from Alausa. I didn’t know anybody there. Apart from going to the Ministry of Education, I wasn’t familiar with the political terrain. So I got the call that I should come to Alausa. I wondered what the problem could be. The calls came repeatedly and I told the caller I was waiting for my driver. I was told it was urgent and that I should just leave my driver and come over. I just had to go. I was then given the news.
You must have been excited…
No, I wasn’t! Naturally, I don’t get blown away with news easily. I don’t allow things to get me easily excited. I took the news calmly. We discussed. When I got there, I saw one of my fathers. He is late now. He was a member of the board of SUPEB. He was from my axis. He was my father’s colleague politically. He was the one that nominated me. I am sure my father never expected that I would get into politics. I never showed interest in such apart from going with them to vote. But then again, I would remember that in 2003, the Peoples Democratic Party was looking for a running mate for the late Funsho Williams. They went to our division looking for who they felt deserved the position. Eventually, they came to me as well. The governorship candidate saw my resume and said I fitted what he wanted. But there was a snag.
What was the snag?
They had wanted a Muslim running mate for him. I come from a Muslim background and they asked me if I could switch my religion but I refused. Then again, my father wasn’t in support of it. I wasn’t a politician, my father was the politician. I remember vividly that my husband was on the phone with the late Funsho Williams for over one hour and he was telling him to try and make me change my mind. So in 2006, this other opportunity now came. So I think it is God’s will in the right direction. So I didn’t need to change my religion.
Were people disappointed when you were appointed?
Of course yes. Some people wondered how I would come out of the blues and be given such a position. But they eventually gave their support. They eventually accepted and we worked together.
Didn’t your husband feel somehow intimidated by your elevated status?
It is natural. Any one that is married to any woman in top position would prepare his mind for such. By then, you wouldn’t feel bad. Initially, I am sure, deep down inside of him, he might not have been very comfortable. The focus would just be on the wife. I think a husband that is wise should prepare his mind for such. It is just to stay back and allow the wife to continue with her thing and come back home and meet you. Being a mature person, he gave me all the support and with the trust he had in me, it made it easier. Sometimes, I would just call him from work and tell him I was going to Abuja. It happened so many times.
Take away the prestige that comes with it, is it really easy to be the number two person in a state?
As it is not easy with No 1, it is not easy with No 2. My portfolio – education, happened to be one of the key areas of development. It needed a lot of attention and details. We faced a lot of challenges. It wasn’t easy, I must confess. At times, I would sleep for just three hours. I gave my work so much fervor. It wasn’t easy but I enjoyed it so much. People see most positions as if you have everything and you must meet their needs. It is not only in the political sector. We get a lot of requests. Nigerians tend to attach so many things to these offices. We are salary earners. Oh yes we have allowances. So if you sit down to distribute all you get every month, how would you take care of your family?
Do you miss being a deputy governor?
I would say I enjoyed the work part, I have to be sincere. Everybody loves good things. It is good to be in a top position so far you manage it properly. I miss it but I still don’t miss it. When I remember the challenges that come with the position, I think twice about missing it. If I were still there, I wouldn’t be relaxing like this. I thank God my party is still the ruling party. We still have the opportunity to contribute.
Your husband must have been happy that you didn’t go back for the second term…
Yes. He said, ‘thank God, at least I can have my wife to myself now.’ The children were happy. But then, things have not changed that much. It is not just as hectic. You are still called to do one or two things. I attend meetings and programmes. These may not have been things one was doing before.
Did you have time to cook for him back then?
I will not lie, I would cook just once in a while when he would insist that he would rather eat the vegetable soup I prepared. He would say the way I prepare it is usually different from the way other people prepare it. So at very few occasions, I would just make the meal for him.
Would you insist he sat on the high table with you each time he followed you to an event?
I have always enjoyed dancing. When we go to parties, I would tell him to just go home. He is used to that. But then, if I am called to a high table, courtesy demands I go with him. I would always tell the moderator that I came with my spouse.
Do you still dance?
I still dance very well. It is one thing I do very well. I dance to any kind of music. I dance disco, traditional dance and everything.
Is it goodbye to politics now?
It is not. I am still an active politician. I know the future is still bright. As one ages, you get more mature. This work needs you to be strong. It needs wisdom and maturity. It is not goodbye to politics.
Why do we still have this perception in Nigeria that any woman in high position got there through ‘bottom power’?
It is so unfortunate that we reason like that in this part of the world. But I think it is even eroding. Many women have been able to prove it. I just told you how I came into the office without being a politician. We have so many women at the top now, would you say that all of them slept their way to the top? Lagos State government gives women a lot of attention especially in the service. Gender balancing is superb. High level of illiteracy before now was accountable for such perception.
We learnt you were born in Ajegunle?
Your humble background must always be known so that it motivates and inspires others. I grew up in the boundary area of Ajegunle (Lagos). I am not ashamed to say it. It depends on what an individual wants to be in life. I grew up among Urhobos, Ijaws, Igbos. I learnt to live with them. I went to school with them and I ate their food. I am an all round Nigerian. Those days, things weren’t as expensive as they are now. We had electricity and water. I was an only girl and my mother was very strict. I was very playful and my mother never spared me. I could play from morning till night but I thank God my books didn’t suffer for it. I attended my primary school in Ajegunle. I enjoyed my growing up with the non Yoruba people. The kind of training we had impacted on our lives now. There wasn’t any segregation. I had many friends and I know many of them would wonder if it was the same Bisi that became the deputy governor. My mother is from Lagos Island and often times, we would go to island to spend time with my grandparents.
From Ajegunle, you moved to Ikoyi, how were you able to adapt to the life of luxury?
The training the parents give to a child is very important. From my humble background, I moved to the middle class level and from there, I moved to where I am today and I give glory to God. By the time I got married, I moved away from Ajegunle before we got our own house. By the time I got to office, I moved to Ikoyi because that was my official residence. I had the training when I was growing up that whatever situation you find yourself, it is not by your power but the mercy of God. I am not swayed by things I see. That has been my nature. I know some people don’t remember where they are coming from but I always remember. But no matter what, my parents tried to send me to school. Whatever education I had was self motivated. I have never allowed power to get into my head. Who said that person selling boli can’t be the richest woman tomorrow? You have to be mindful of what you do. It might be that person you looked down on that would be the person that would save you tomorrow.
As a politician, how do you see the way politics is going now?
Where we are today has to do with leadership. Our leaders have to look and think about what they are doing. The comfort they have today is through the sweat of some people. You don’t know what will happen the next second. They have to learn how to use this power God has given them. They need to fear God. Political position is not hereditary, it is by chance. It is God that promotes and when you are there and you don’t change the lives of people, it is bad. As we are going to vote, nobody’s blood is worth being shed for anyone to be in power. The violence all around is just too much. God will help this nation.