Adebimpe Akinsola was once a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly before she later became the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Tourism, Arts, and Culture. Subsequently, she was appointed as the acting commissioner for the ministry. In this interview, she tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about her career and family
How would you describe your tenure as the Acting Commissioner for Tourism, Arts, and Culture, Lagos State?
I was a teacher before I ventured into politics and in 2011, I became an honourable member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. Now, I am in the executive arm of government. To me, it is an experience that is not quantifiable as I have both the experience of being in the legislative and the executive arms of government. I see this as a big opportunity which I cherish a lot. In this ministry, we have done a lot, courtesy of the governor. This state had never had a Special Adviser on Tourism, Arts and Culture; I am the first person that has been appointed to the post. Tourism is a sector that so many governments have not tapped into and it can fetch so much revenue. Luckily, we have a governor that is very passionate about the sector. He wants to use this sector to turn the economy of Lagos state round.
But are you a lover of our culture?
Yes, I am very passionate about culture. As a Yoruba woman, I really cherish our culture. In fact; I love every culture in Nigeria. Our culture is our identity. I see my coming to this department as God’s directive because I’ve had so many things in mind, especially in the area of language. I have noticed that in Nigeria, there are some ethnic groups whose languages are fast going into extinction. I like to promote the language and culture; you will even see it in the way I dress.
When it comes to cuisine as well, I would gladly say that Nigerians have the best. In Lagos state, there is fine cuisine that people don’t even know about. I was having a chat with someone about Imoyo. Some people think it is just fresh fish but that is not Imoyo. The Imoyo I knew about while growing up was different from that, they prepared it with crabs. The major content of tourism in Nigeria is in Lagos, so this is the place to be. We have the Badagry Heritage Museum, We have the Slave Market. In Ejirin, you would find the first post office and the first police station in Nigeria. So this is a place to be.
How would you describe your childhood?
My mother had eight children and I was the sixth child. Out of the eight children, four are left. I lost my father before I started primary school. While growing up, some people saw me as a quiet person, but I was very active whenever I was given a task to perform. I always put my best in everything I did and when I was in primary school, I used to participate in cultural dances, sports as well as beauty pageantries. I was a sprinter in primary school and when I was not running for my school, I was representing the school at a fashion competition. I have always been good at dressing. During our inter-house sports events, we normally had fashion parades and I always emerged winner among the lot. I also love dancing too. I remember when they wanted to open Savannah Bank, which is now defunct, I used to go and dance there. I also used to write the stories that we dramatised in other schools and we were paid stipends.
Sports and fashion now fetch people huge sums of money. Why did you not choose acting as a career?
While growing up, I wanted to become a nurse. I grew up in a very remote area, Igbogbo, Lagos. We did not have a lot of women going to school, so I picked two people to be my role models at the time. They were from Igbogbo but they did not reside there because they went to school.
When I was young and I saw women driving, it used to inspire me and I made up my mind that someday, I would put on a white dress like the nurses do and drive to the hospital. I knew that to achieve my dreams in life, I had to go to school, so it was my passion to attend school regularly. I had friends that did not go to school and whenever they were playing; I always had my nose in a book. My mother used to tell me that I had a very pleasant life. I was a very understanding and modest child while growing up. Whenever my friends wore flashy outfits, I was always contented with what my mother gave me. I always ask God for direction and anywhere I find myself in life, I believe it is God’s will.
How was life for you without a father figure?
I did not really feel my father’s demise and I give all the thanks to God and my mother. I took so many traits from my mother who was very hard working. I lost my father in 1968 and my mother did not remarry. She was not educated; my mother was a farmer and a trader and she used to come to Lagos to sell some of her items. We have other siblings through my father but I would say that it was my mother’s children that really went to school. Even though my mother was not educated, she believed so much in education. There were days when we would return from school and our mother would sit on her bed, holding a long cane. She would ask us to bring out our books and read out loud to her. Even though she did not understand what had been read out, especially when it was English, she would still insist that we read out loud to her. She did not let us feel our father’s absence because she gave us everything we needed. My mother is dead now; she was 90 years old. I lost her last year.
Why didn’t you and her other children encourage her to remarry for the sake of companionship?
When we were young, she told us that according to Yoruba tradition, when a woman’s husband died, she would be betrothed to the late husband’s younger brother. They offered that she should marry her late husband’s brother, but she refused to do so and for that reason, the family asked her to leave. When we were young, there was an old man who normally passed by our house and after he had gone, my mother would say, ‘Look at him, that is the person they want me to marry,’ and we would all laugh.
Before her death, we asked why she refused to remarry and she said that she could not allow anybody to disturb her from taking care of us. She said that if she had remarried, she might have had other children and if the new husband refused to shoulder responsibility for caring for us, we could turn out to be bad children. She told us that she refused to remarry because of us. For this reason alone, when she was getting older, we did not allow her to do any work as all her children supported her. She was a very strong and honest woman. I cannot recall anytime my mother had a fight with anyone.
At what point in your life did you become a teacher?
I started my teaching career in a primary school. I taught there for about three years before I proceeded to the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, formerly known as Lagos State College of Education. When I finished at the College of Education, I did not return to work immediately because I had married and travelled out of the country with my diplomat husband. All through that period, I was taking care of the home and taking different courses. When we returned to Nigeria, I got a teaching job. This was in 1992 and it was at a secondary school, Iganmu High School, Orile, Lagos. I taught there for ten years before moving to the United Christian Secondary School in Apapa. I was there for about five years; then, I was posted to Apapa High School. I retired from teaching in 2011 when I realised that I wanted to go into politics.
Aside from all this, from a young age, I have always had the love of my community at heart. It is not as if I have so much money but if there is any way I can help my community, I don’t think twice before I do so. I am very passionate about my community and the young people who are there and that was the main reason why I ventured into politics.
As a woman in politics, how would you describe the terrain and how did your husband feel when you told him of your decision?
My husband knows that I am very passionate about my community and most of the time; we are always going to places together. My children were already grown up before I took politics seriously, so I did not have kids I needed to cook for at home. My children can take care of themselves because they can all cook. My husband is also a very good cook; he is not the type that would wait for you to cook for him. I think it is due to the way he was brought up. I remember there was a place we lived, where our neighbours said that I had charmed my husband. He is a very caring person. If we have problems with our pumping machine, my husband is the type of man that would put kegs in the car and get water for us. He would never allow a woman to carry anything heavy. Sadly, because he does chores around the house, some people think it is the work of charms. I don’t go to the market; till now, I don’t know the prices of seasonings and the like because my husband does all that. So I did not really have the problem of staying at home to take care of my husband. Probably because of his background and exposure, my husband does not make a big deal out of doing house chores. We don’t have home help till now. All my children can cook, so we don’t need anybody. If I need to do the laundry, I take my clothes to the dry cleaners.
Aside from that, politics also depends on the individual. For me, it is a profession. You can either take it seriously or not. Politics is something people should not be desperate about because if you are, then you would find yourself in all sorts of trouble. Especially if you are a woman, you have to be focused and know your aims and objectives. Politics should never be practised with the do or die orientation.
Who do your children think is a better cook between you and your husband?
They say that we are both good cooks. They like my cooking, but they love it when their father cooks vegetable soup for them. I also love when my husband cooks vegetable soup because he is good at that. That was why I could venture into politics because, at the time, my last child was already at the university.
Do you still enjoy dancing?
Yes, I still do and any good music would get me in the dancing mood. I like dancing a lot. When they made me the Oluomo of Igbogbo, once we were done at the palace, from the moment I stepped out until the evening (of that day), I did not sit down. I danced throughout. When I celebrated my 50th birthday a few years ago, I danced throughout. In my church, I love the choir and they dubbed me – Mama Choir – because I always take care of them. I love doing church work as well.