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The Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, describes his childhood and love life in this interview with ADEOLA BALOGUN and OLAYINKA OYEBODE.

How do you feel being 50?

Honestly, I think people want to get me into this mood of being an old man, and I don’t like that at all. Everyone talks about it as if there is such a big deal about it. Well, I know it is something to attain the age of 50 in the demographic point of view. What they say is that our life expectancy here is 47 or 49. So, if you cross that, it becomes a big deal. Aside that, I really don’t see the reason for all the fuss about it. I would have loved to have that day just like any other day; get up, say my prayers and go out to have fresh air and probably go to the beach with my kids and stay there for a while. But there is so much fuss. Everyone is saying that it must be celebrated. My colleagues here would not even leave me alone; they want a celebration and I have agreed to give them the chance to celebrate with me, though totally against my own wish.

Why don’t you feel particularly excited about the birthday?

I don’t feel really excited about it. I had a birthday last year and the year before, so what is extraordinary about this one? The only excitement I think about this birthday is that it is going to be on a Sunday. I was born on Sunday, so it is like a cycle.

Maybe you are not excited about it because there are certain things you are yet to achieve.

Well, I don’t think that is the major reason. Honestly, with my background and with what God has done for me, I am very grateful to God. It has not been a bad journey. God has been faithful and marvellous. I see a number of people who are of my age group who have gone farther than me. But I also know that there are a lot more who see it as a dream to get to where I am too. I think I have had more than my own fair share.

So, what have you achieved?

When my background is compared to where I am today, I think I have achieved a lot. From a very humble background, I became educated. I have done well in terms of acquiring knowledge. I still feel happy about my contributions to my community. I feel happy when I think of what God has done through me. I am not one you would call a rich man, but I also don’t belong to the downtrodden any longer. If I have to look back to the number of firsts I have had in my life, I really need to keep praising God till the end of my life. It is not about money or material wealth, it is about every thing in life. Should I start from my father who had eight boys before me but had to bury all of them with his own hands and I became the first one to stay? Should I just sit down and look at it again to see that I was in fact the very first in the Ikuforiji family of Epe to be a university graduate? In my school, Epe Grammar School, when I got there in 1971, it had only two or three candidates who had passed their school certificate exams in Grade One. Until I got to Form Five, nobody else in the school made a Grade One. I broke the jinx in 1975. Out of the 105 candidates that sat for the exams, I was the only one that made Grade One. In fact, out of the five or six secondary schools in the entire Epe Division, I think it was just I and, maybe, another person. My political career too has been wonderful. I am the very first person from Epe to win a general election. In fact, the only person who represented my constituency before me was Chief S. L. Edu, and it took 52 years before another person emerged. He represented that division even before I was born. I broke the jinx after 52 years. And it took two years after his death before I could do that. Again, in the history of Epe, we were not used to returning candidates for election. If you go in for an election, don’t go back, because they are not going to vote for you. I am the first to be so re-elected by the people of Epe. Not only that, I am the first speaker in Lagos State to be returned and re-elected as speaker. In fact in the history of the state, I will be the first to be speaker twice.

Which day will you consider the most memorable?

Hmn, positively speaking, the most memorable day for me was probably the day I was awarded a scholarship in Form Three, that was on March 22, 1973, a Thursday I think. That was the time Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, the father of our present Secretary to the State Government, was the commissioner for education in Lagos State. It was called Lagos State Relief Scholarship for Secondary School Students. About 104 students were given scholarships across the state, and I was one of them. I remember that day like yesterday. It was published in the Daily Times of that day and I had the paper with me for a long time before I travelled out of the country. By the time I came back, they had messed up my collections. I was so excited about the scholarship, because I was to pay about seventeen pounds ten or so as school fees. What used to happen then was that my mum would give me half and my dad would pay the balance. My mum had given me eight pounds and I kept it, because as a young boy, I didn’t like to go and make half payment and be embarrassed by being called out at the assembly. So, I bought the money order and kept it. But when the scholarship news came, I could not wait for the close of school before going home to break the news. So I left school during break and took the back door to enter the house. I met my father in his arm chair. The old man was relaxing with a wrapper around his waist. I wanted to pull his leg, so I told him I came to collect my school fees. He heaved and was about getting lost in thought when I said, ‘Daddy, the government today gave scholarships to some 104 students.’ He said, ‘Ah, that’s good.’ He started praying for the government that gave scholarships and the beneficiaries. Then he went back to his thoughts again. I then said, ‘Daddy, I am among those that were given scholarships.’ When I realised that he didn’t hear what I said because he was thinking about how he would get the nine pounds, I repeated it. Instantly, he jumped up and landed on the arm chair like a small child. He was about 65 then, and you can imagine a 65-year-old man jumping into an armchair. He bolted out of the door, ran outside and started calling his senior brother, who lived across our house, shouting at the top of his voice. As he was running, his loin cloth fell off, but he was too excited to care. People who were around were alarmed to see him that way. They started thinking that the old man had run mad. You know I told you that he had buried eight sons before I was born. I came in through the back door, so not many people saw me. Those who saw me thought I had died immediately I entered the house. So they rushed at him to prevent him from causing more embarrassment. They didn’t know that he was only excited about the scholarship. He was shouting, ‘Mo sori re o, won fun omo mi ni scholarship o.’ I still remember that the two crates of minerals he used to celebrate the scholarship, he took them on credit. Later, he asked whether I had told my mum about the scholarship and what would become of the eight pounds she had given to me. When I told him I had not, he suggested that we share it. Whenever I remember this, I laugh. We shared the money.

Would you like to share your saddest day with us?

I got married very early, as a young guy in the college abroad. I met a very young woman who was very brilliant. I think that was really what attracted me to her. When we came home, she contracted cancer, which we thought would be taken care of with a minor surgery. Unfortunately, it turned out to be fatal. One day, I phoned the doctor who was in charge to ask how she was doing after she had been diagnosed, he told me that he was sorry, that they had done the best they could but the case was serious. I then asked for how long it would take her to get through it, but he said she might not be able to live longer than a month. I shouted and he said probably two months. You can imagine the agony I went through when she passed on. I think that was the saddest period of my life. She had my first child and we were together for about five years.

What about your experience during the assassination attempt on your life?

It’s not an experience one can forget so easily. It was done because of politics, but it was taken too far.

After that, did you do anything to forestall such, for example, acquiring African insurance?

If anyone had given me anything to prevent bullets, I would have become a slave to such person.

How do you feel about sharing the same birthday with the late MKO Abiola? Do you share anything else?

He had a background that was similar to mine and I think his philosophy mostly agreed with mine. You all know what Abiola was – very generous, always the best for everyone. He died in custody fighting for what he believed in, despite all that God gave him. He had no reason whatsoever to lay down his life for the survival of democracy in this country. He had everything that any man in life would have wished to have, but he believed in something and he put everything he had into it.

Would you say his politics influenced you in any way?

I wouldn’t say so. I am just myself. I am my own person, but I love what he was doing as a person. I love the fact that he did not compromise his stance.

What would you say brought you into politics?

Service. Like I told you, I had a very humble background. Unlike those who think accumulating wealth is everything, I felt relatively happy with the little I had very early in life and I felt the society around me was really in a mess. There were just a few who could live well enough in the midst of multitude. As a young man, I had been used by God to touch many lives. If I tell you some of the things I have done, you will feel challenged too, because at the time I had very little. What others would have thought was difficult to share, I shared. I had sent people to school, paid school fees for people who were even older than myself; people I didn’t know from Adam, but we became friends. I paid their fees through school because I always remembered my own background. From where I came from in Epe, I was doing all those things without even thinking of politics or anything. I think my background influenced that. But at a point, I realised that even if you are richer than the richest man on earth, there is a limit you can go as an individual. That it is the government that has the muscle to affect the lives of people. So, I felt it was time to go into politics to see what I could do. Initially, it was like, let the voice of my people be heard at the seat of government in Alausa. I felt then that the government did not even realise the plight of my people, so let me go and be their voice. I started a football competition for young ones around my place in 1995. At that time, my passionate plea to government was to help renovate our recreational ground to make it befitting, but the plea went unheeded despite the money I was putting into the competition. I kept begging the government for years until I became a member of the House and then the speaker. Within two months that I became the speaker, the place became a befitting recreational arena. Through the grace of God and with the assistance of the commissioner for sports, a second place has also be turned into a beautiful arena. So, going into politics, it was really service that motivated me.

With your humble background, was there a time you almost lost hope as a kid?

I must confess to you that it was never so. Maybe because of our religious beliefs. The ambition had been there a long time ago, despite the fact that I had to trek to school barefooted. I had always been hopeful and I kept looking forward to becoming something in life. Because I was very brilliant also, I had hope. Before 17, I had finished school. And like I told you, I had scholarship the following year to go to Romania. By the time I came back at 23, I had a master’s degree. And for somebody with my kind of background, you can imagine the scenario. I was not hopeless, but the background is not what you would want to match with someone who is the speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly.

As speaker of Lagos State, the opposition are not happy that the state government insists on going ahead to conduct elections in 57 local government councils instead of the 20 that are recognised by the constitution. Are you and the house backing the government in this?

I am not backing the government. And the house has nothing to do with backing the government. But the house recognises the fact that the 1999 Constitution of the federal republic saddles the house with the responsibility of creating local governments, not the National Assembly or any other legislative organ. The house has carried out the assignment as prescribed by the constitution. And for anyone to say that election will hold in any way other than these 57 local governments, the person must be joking. The Supreme Court of the land has even settled the case. After all, the PDP in 2004 went to court and the Supreme Court came out with a verdict that the state government had the right to conduct election into the 57 and that it could not invalidate that election. If that was the case then, what has changed since then? Nothing.

The former deputy governor of the state, Femi Pedro argued in a recent interview that Lagos State deserved to have more than 57 local governments, but his grouse is that due process was not followed by the state government.

I don’t want to take issues with people who don’t have legal or constitutional rights to dispute what they are getting themselves into. I am the speaker here and this is the house that the constitution says can create local governments. And this house has created local governments. How can somebody say in one breath that the state deserves more than 57 local governments and in another breath say that the 57 should go? You don’t politicise the lives of 18 million people. Lagosians want this and they expressed it in a public hearing. Who is the former deputy governor or whoever to now come up and say that the government is not right? When he was the deputy governor, did he talk about government not doing it the right way? It is just like politics of the jungle. People should stop this nonsense.

You said you lost your first love to cancer, but you went ahead to get married again. How long did it take you and how did you do that?

It took me two years. God has a way of doing things other than ours. I think it was just after a few months that I lost my first woman that I met my present wife. We didn’t know then that it was going to result into something. A friend of mine had his fiancÚ in Obafemi Awolowo University and the graduation ceremony was coming up. He said we should go there to see his fiancÚ, so I was the one that drove him there. After the ceremony, he asked us to see her off to her friend’s place, that they graduated together. When we got there and saw the young lady, I told her friend my mind but she told me not to bother because she would not take me seriously. By then, she was about 20. That excited me the more. It was actually the following year that I had the opportunity to pin her to a corner to talk to her during the wedding of my friend and his girlfriend. The whole thing started and a year after, we got married.

As a Muslim, you are allowed to marry more than one wife. Why are you still married to one?

Islam only allows you to marry more than one, it does not say it is compulsory that you marry more than one.


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