Abike Dabiri-Erewa has always been a familiar face. Right from her days at the Nigerian Television Authority, where she made her mark as a newscaster cum reporter, she has always been a jolly good fellow. From the tube to politics, she has emerged as an Amazon; a parliamentary activist of sorts, especially when public interest is in grave danger. Not a few female lawmakers admit that her performance in the House of Representatives influenced their decision to become legislators. What then is Abike’s oeuvre? She reveals this herself, beginning with her birth.
Born on October 11, 1962, the Ikorodu, Lagos-born tells you: “My father was working in Shell and he was always on transfers. My birth was said to have taken place in Jos, while my mother was cooking okra soup in the kitchen. She fell into labour and simply found her way to hospital to have her baby. We were seven children and my mother made labour process sound so easy! In fact, when my elder sister, Joke, had her first child, she had to ask our mother why she never told us how severe labour pains were.”
If the mother was troubled by pangs of birth, her post-natal experience was undoubtedly hellish! “I cried non-stop for seven days! My parents were so worried and whenever I was taken to the hospital, there was nothing medically wrong with me. I got them really worried!”
Though still alive, her parents, Alhaji Ashafa Erogbogbo and his wife Sadiat, would not have to be worried again over their ‘baby girl’ who clocked 50 this year. Indeed, she has made a success out of her life having been a lawmaker of note in the House of Representatives. For instance, she pursued the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill with the fury and tenacity of a lioness. First elected to the parliament in 2003 on the platform of the then Alliance for Democracy, her adroitness in public affairs influenced the then Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari to appoint her, Chairperson, House Committee on Information and Publicity, despite protestations from the Peoples Democratic Party dominated parliament. Masari never regretted making that decision. Currently, she chairs the House Committee on the Diaspora, a position she had also held in the last legislative session.
Abike, as she is fondly called, talks devotedly of her parents. “My father was strict but very loving with a great sense of humour. At 86, we call him ‘a young daddy’ and he would go to any length to give his kids the fatherly protection and quality time needed. He imbibed in us the virtues of Godliness, fairness, truth and justice and integrity.
“From my mother, Alhaja Sadiat Abeke, the virtues of kindness, conte-ntment, and putting God first in all you do came to us. She could give her most valued possession to help anyone in need. They have both been married for 60 years now and they never cease to amaze me. They are my first role models.”
Is she glamorous? Yes! But the mother of two would always tell you there is more to her than glamour. “I have always maintained that there is more to a woman than what she wears. A woman can also be a part of whatever goes on in her society— she can be a leader, an administrator or a successful professional. Even in politics, a woman can make an indelible mark. When I was going into politics, some people wondered what a TV gal, who had anchored Newsline for many years, would do on the floor of the House of Representatives. On the other hand, I had some people who believed in me and encouraged me. Fortunately, I got my people’s votes and won.”
If she is so entrenched in politics now, what was the initial attraction to the tube? A graduate of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, she rhapsodises, “I was not attracted by the glamour as some people thought, passion and strength of communication were the pull. Knowing that you can do a story so captivating and so consequential, knowing that you can help set an agenda and knowing that one story can positively change someone’s life and fortune. But sometimes, as a legislator, if I am somewhere and I see, ‘this is news,’ I always wish I had a camera. My first job was at a television station and I remain in love with it. I will still do something in broadcasting later.”
On women, of course, she believes that Nigerian women can do well in any position of authority. “We have very qualified and highly competent women. Women you can trust and women who can deliver.”
In a vocation like politics, those involved are always thinking of the next phase. Where does she see herself after the House? She was quick to say, “Let me take each day. Now, I want to put my all and my best to my duties as a legislator, a good citizen of Ikorodu, Lagos State, and my country Nigeria; a loyal party and dedicated party member; a worthy daughter of my parents; a good sibling in my family; a dedicated friend; a darling wife to Segun, and a sweet mother to my children.”
Not a few wonder how her husband copes with her busy schedules. Or is she married to a politician? “He is not,” she interjects. “He is a very sound, very accurate, very intelligent and a political analyst. On my busy schedules, my husband feels sorry for me, more often than not. There are a lot of calls, texts messages, e-mails and you are trying to solve one issue or the other and I try to attend to virtually all! It’s a hectic lifestyle but he is always very supportive in any way that helps ease the workload. As a legislator, there is no closing time. So, just by having a shoulder to lean on makes things a lot easier.”
On how she has fared as a wife and mother, she heartily laughs and suggests, “Maybe you need to ask them; but I don’t think I have done badly at all. For me, family always comes first.”
The lawmaker spurned the stereotype of most successful women as superwomen not cut for the kitchen. “Who says?” She queries! “Though busy, I decide and oversee what my husband eats. Also, I do my best to serve him personally. I love my beans which I still try to cook myself because I just like the way my mother taught me how to cook beans and a few other delicacies. A wife has got to be a wife, no matter what success she flaunts as a career.”
At 50, Abike radiates goodness and effulgence that belies her age. “I give God the glory. I feel great in every sense of the word. What I desire at 50? Well, I want to continue to be who I am, improving where I have to and never get tired of learning. As long as you are alive, you learn every day. I want to live a healthy lifestyle and be moderate in all I do,” she says.
Style, she believes, should not mean indecency. She says, “It means to be elegantly simple. It doesn’t have to be very expensive or what is in vogue, but I believe in simplicity and would not follow fashion blindly. I prefer long skirts and trousers. I have a few Ankara fabrics that are elegantly sewn by my designers. For suits, I buy them whenever I travel abroad, but I am an advocate of indigenous designing. For shoes and bags, I will confess that I am not a designer freak but I am comfortable in low heels. For bags I love Gucci.”
Just like every other woman, she also likes jewellery. “But I don’t like the bogus pieces. I go for nice and timeless pieces. Moreover, I am a perfume collector and love to mix and blend whatever I put on.”
Before she switched off this interview, she was asked: If given the opportunity to be president for a day, what are those things she would want changed in the country? “Although, these may not be realisable in one day, but I will tackle corruption first, put policies in place for qualitative and affordable education for all. Moreover, I will prioritise power, agriculture, health, technological development; provide an enabling environment for jobs creation. Take on youth and women empowerment and much more.”
– PunchFollow us on Twitter @YNaija