Adeola Balogun and Tunde Ajaja
The father of the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, Elder Olutayo Soyode, says in spite of his daughter’s position and the exalted office of her husband, he dreads going to Aso Rock for a visit. He said going to the villa was like going to jail, given the way his movement would be monitored and he would need to sign various forms before he could go out, for security reasons.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the 74-year-old said he loved to be free and he wasn’t the type to sit in one place and be watching television under heavy security.
Soyode, who was a close associate and son-in-law to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, explained that it was the will of God that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo rose from being a university lecturer to become the Vice-President, and that all her daughter wanted to be was a confectioner despite being a qualified lawyer.
He recalled that by the time his late wife, (Dolapo’s mother) was delivered of Dolapo in the United Kingdom where they met, he was believing God to have a male child, as it was customary in his family to have a male as their first child. However, he said if she had been a male, he might not be as close to her as they are today.
When asked how often he visits the villa to see his daughter’s family, he said, “I don’t go there often. Going there is like going to jail, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like locking me up. The way you see me, do I look like someone that can be kept in one place and before I could go out, I have to sign papers and there would be plenty phone calls? I would just run mad, because I’m not used to such.
“I’m a free man. That place (Aso Rock), is a very good place but I’m not the type to live there, so I don’t go there often. Anytime I go, I do give them time, like telling them I was coming for two days. I don’t even live with them. Let us say we are in Abuja now, you possibly can’t visit me for this interview. They won’t allow you to come in, and if you have to, you would have to sign different papers.
“If I go there, I would be there alone, watching television. I can’t do that. I would rather stay where they can visit me and anybody can see me.”
In the interview, Soyode also spoke about his relationship with the late Chief MKO Abiola, the trick he deployed to get late Chief Awolowo to allow him marry his daughter, and what had changed about him as the father of the wife of the Vice-President, among other issues.
Read the full interview bellow:
In this interview with ADEOLA BALOGUN and TUNDE AJAJA, the father of the wife of Nigeria’s Vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, Elder Olutayo Soyode, speaks on life as a son-in-law to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, her daughter, what he knew about late Chief MKO Abiola’s travails among other issues
How does it feel to be the father of the wife of the Vice President?
I don’t have any special feeling because I have been in politics for a long time. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was my father-in-law, who is the President Nigeria never had, as far as I’m concerned. I was by his side and I worked with him full time. I have been in the limelight for a long time and so all these are just icing on the cake.
How did you meet your wife, Chief Awolowo’s daughter?
I met her in London where we were both studying and we fell in love. It was basically about students meeting each other in the UK during studies. I felt that before Chief Awolowo would say his daughter must not marry me, I needed to adopt what we used to call two-in-one, meaning marriage and pregnancy, so that by the time he would know, his daughter would have been pregnant and stopping us from getting married would be difficult. You know in that atmosphere, people tend to be more reckless. So, I did the two-in-one and both of us had to tell our parents what happened. When I told my father, he screamed, saying I had put him in trouble. When she told her mother, I didn’t know how she too screamed, but I remember one afternoon, at about 2:30pm, a call came in from Lagos. When I picked it, the person said, ‘is that Tayo Soyode?’ I said yes. The person said ‘this is Obafemi Awolowo.’ I started trembling and knelt down, till the phone almost fell in my hand. I had to put the phone down. I couldn’t pick his call again. Later, my dad called and instructed me to pick his call. About one hour later, Chief Awolowo called back and I picked. He said he had met my father and my people in Lagos.
Let me quote him. He said, ‘what I have done is that, you’re going to do certain arrangements. I have made sure that your marriage is going to hold on March 27, 1967.’ He made that call around January. He said he had booked the flight for us to come home because we had to do engagement and other things. Immediately, I dropped the call, I told my father and he told me he would give me money because he wouldn’t like the whole family to be disgraced. I made a lot of money that period; Chief Awolowo would send me money, I would tell my father and he would still send me money, and my dad would always say even if he had to sell his house he would, so he could send me money too. I didn’t return the money (laughs).
You must have expected Chief Awolowo to scold you when he first called, but he called you to give you a date. Would you know what appealed to him?
People say things that they don’t know about Awolowo. He was very humane; he could understand the situation then. After he made some findings, he found out that this man too had a perfect family and he was not just an upstart. He was educated like the daughter, so no problem. The man just adjusted. If he had not adjusted to me, papa would not ask me to come and be in politics with him. He had a son, he had people around him. Why me? He decided to do so and I found it comfortable working with Papa and his wife. He knew that I would do well and he didn’t regret it.
Looking at Chief Awolowo’s clout, how conservative was the wedding?
We came back to Lagos and we had a good wedding. My wife had 90 bridesmaids. The whole of Ibadan was closed for us. Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo was the governor (of the now defunct Western Region) at that time. It was a glorious wedding. And Wole (Awolowo’s late son) was the one who took his sister to the altar, Papa did not do that. An elderly father could tell the son to do it. Tokunbo (Awolowo’s youngest daughter) was the chief bridesmaid. My brother was the best man. I got the money for suit for the best man from the money I saved at that time. In fact, I became so rich at that time. It was about nine years into our marriage that Baba told me to resign my appointment where I was working in the maritime sector. He must have seen something in me. He told me to resign and join him politically. That was my first time in politics and I was with him till the very end. I imbibed what he taught me till today. I had been with him as far back as 1975.
Maritime has always been a lucrative sector and some people would rather not work for their father-in-law. Did you have any reservation about leaving your work to join him?
It was my father who told me to say yes immediately. He said many people would be dreaming of working with Awolowo. In fact, before I agreed, my father had said yes on my behalf. I have never regretted that decision. He made me to know everybody, including people like Chief Lateef Jakande and late Chief Bola Ige. I was among those who formed the Unity Party of Nigeria and we went to all the states. During Abiola’s electioneering, I was in charge of his campaign in the eastern states. He won the election but General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election. When Abacha came on board, we expected him to install Abiola as President, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. All the ministerial nominees in that military government were hand-written by Abiola himself. Ask anybody, the best friends of Abiola were mostly military people. All our people were made ministers.
Are you saying that Abiola wrote the names of ministers for Abacha?
Yes, he did, when the man said he would not give Abiola the presidency. Where trouble came in was when Abiola went to declare himself President. Those who told him to declare were not even part of us. We were the ones who worked for Abiola to win the primary. We even voted against our former chairman, Baba Gana Kingibe. Mama HID Awolowo told us to work for Abiola, who was never one of us. He was in another party before but many of the people who took the credit were never there. We were surprised that the Abiola we supported started drifting towards other people. When Abacha had to pick his cabinet, Abiola was given the option of listing members of the cabinet. Ebenezer Babatope was our minister of transport and Alex Ibru was the minister of Internal Affairs, who was in charge of prisons. Initially, Abiola was not locked up in a cell but was given comfortable places to live outside the prison. Abacha left Abiola to enjoy himself, but something happened that changed all these. The so-called people who misled Abiola told him to continue to claim his mandate and reject the bail conditions. Ibrahim Coomasie was the Inspector General of Police and he was given the bail paper. Abacha said people should ask Abiola if there was any bail on earth that did not have any condition. We wanted Abiola to be flown to Lagos by an Air-Force man. There was another suggestion that he should be driven to Lagos but he was afraid he might be kidnapped. We were making another arrangement when we learnt that Abiola had rejected that bail in writing insisting he must be declared President. We were weeping when we got back. That was the first time Abiola was put in a proper prison. If you noticed, within three weeks, Abiola’s health had started deteriorating. That was the end of Abiola. We lost contact with him.
People believed that if he had taken that bail offer, he would forfeit his mandate?
Well, did he have the mandate now? In such a thing, you accept anything. It is when you are free that you could claim a mandate. He was misled and it always annoys me. However, Abiola remains a hero. If he accepted the bail condition, he could have found his way out of Nigeria and maybe declare government in exile; that was our own thinking.
Some people have always said that Abacha, rather than Babangida, was behind the annulment of the 1993 election. Would you know if Abacha was truly the architect of it all?
I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t in the military, but it was IBB who was in power then. I don’t know how they took the decision among themselves, but he was the one who pronounced the annulment. He was the president then and he announced it with his own mouth. And with his own mouth, he talked about stepping aside.
Some people believe that there would be reprieve for Abiola once General Abdulsalami Abubakar got into power…
After Yasser Arafat who had come to visit Abacha left for his country, I woke up Saturday morning and I was told Abacha had died. I saw people dancing on the street that he was dead. I couldn’t believe and I wondered why people were dancing, when our own hero was in his custody and it was Abacha’s people who were guarding him. I then thought, if Abacha had died, who were the people that would be giving Abiola food? I told myself that if Abiola would survive that prison custody, it would be by the grace of God. If Abiola was in another custody, I would dance too. It didn’t take more than three weeks after when he died. It didn’t surprise me too much because he was among enemies. Abiola’s death was not natural.
Don’t you think Abdulsalami had a moral burden to free Abiola before he died?
It must have been difficult for him to do anything because if he messed up, he would have been dealt with. Al-Mustapha was totally loyal to Abacha. He was the one who called the meeting. He could have become Head of State if he wanted; he could just have killed all of them with a machine gun. He called a meeting and they didn’t know yet that Abacha was dead. That was when they installed Abubakar, who couldn’t have been his own man at that time. He’s an experienced military man too.
Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo looks so reserved, but you look so energetic. Does it mean she took after her mother?
I must be energetic because I was a seaman. The mother was very reserved and she’s like that too. I call her Dolly Baby. She is very tactical, like Papa. Don’t look at her meekness as weakness. She’s light-hearted and she has always been quiet.
Did you ever have to spank her?
I wasn’t the type to spank; but I know how I dealt with all of them. Tell me any child that does not like ice cream, biscuits and sweets or going to amusement park. The person would not go, and I was an expert in that. The mother had more money than myself but I must do something that my children must remember me for. Papa too was giving me his car once a month to take them to the amusement park.
Since your party couldn’t get to Aso Rock as Abiola and Kingibe never made it, now that you have the opportunity, what has changed about you?
You are correct. Now, I can always go there anytime I like, but it has its headache too. Maybe if I had not been a politician from time and she happened to be where she is now, I can get away with it, but people already knew me, and there is nothing I can do. A lot has changed now. In those days, I was able to talk to anybody, but now I cannot. At this level, if I have any observation, I have to make it private. And I really miss being very vocal about my views.
How often do you go to Aso Rock to visit your daughter and her family?
I don’t go there often. Going there is like going to jail, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like locking me up. The way you see me, do I look like someone that can be kept in one place? Before I could go out, I would have to sign papers and there would be plenty phone calls; I would just run mad because I wasn’t used to such. I’m a free man. I cherish my freedom and I’m not used to having security aides around me. I love to be free. That place is a very good place but I’m not the type to live there, so I don’t go there often. Anytime I go, I give them time, like telling them I was coming for two days. I don’t even live with them. Let us say we are in Abuja now, you possibly can’t visit me for this interview. They won’t allow you to come in, and if you have to, you would have to sign different papers. I would be there alone, watching television. I remember when her husband and Buhari had been elected but not sworn in. In their church, I was trying to call her but she didn’t hear, so I stretched my hand to tap her, but I just found that my feet were no longer on the floor. Those security people carried me, I had to be screaming her name, then she looked back and shouted that he’s my father. I don’t know where they would have thrown me to. I even told her I would be referring to her as Her Excellency.
What if your son-in-law offers you an appointment, would you take it?
I can’t take any appointment from government now. We (Nigerians) are not mature up to that level. There are lots of things I can offer this government from my experience, but I would rather do that privately. Else, somebody would come and make noise about it.
Since your wife died, you might have been alone. Why didn’t you remarry?
I have not even thought about it. What more do I want; my children are grown up and they are doing fine, so what am I bothering myself about? Remarrying would just be like committing suicide, and such a lady would be coming to suffer. I’m not lonely and I can never remarry.
When your daughter brought the Vice-President, who was quite older than her…
…No, she didn’t bring Vice-President, she brought her fiancé. Yes, he was 10 years older than her, and to me that was a plain answer to my prayer. I used to wonder how it would be if she married someone of her age. I look at her as too simple and I used to wonder how she could manage herself. So, when she brought a teacher, I said thank God, he would be able to guide her. So, I was very happy about it and I was never disappointed.
What was your perception of the vice president when your daughter brought him?
You see, you are looking at the attention now. But let me tell you a story. In our family, we were always having males as first child. But in the UK then, they had a system, such that three months to your wife’s delivery day, both you and the wife must be going for exercise. They used to teach us how to handle emergencies. We, men, used to frown and so we knew ourselves. In her ward, there were three of them and by the time I got there after she was delivered of her baby, I heard she had a girl and I wasn’t so happy. When I stepped out, I met the husband of one of the women and he said his wife gave birth to a set of male twins, after having two boys at home previously. I then felt better. When I left him, I saw the husband of the other one and he told me his wife just had another boy.
So, I felt let me go back and even see the baby girl. Then I saw the way people were giving flowers to their wives, and my own wife’s bed space was like Sahara Desert. At that time, I had so much money, so I went to Interflora to buy flowers. When I went back, Ayo was awake. When she saw the flowers, she was shocked, mocking me for buying flowers because she knew I wasn’t the type. That moment, Mama HID came in from Lagos and saw the flowers, she was full of gratitude and she embraced me. Till date, Dolapo never forgets my birthday, from day one. As I’m here now, she would be asking, ‘where is papa. At any opportunity, she would ask of me. I see myself as a very lucky man. If she had been a boy, my punishment would have been hard! If you look at my son who took to politics, he was always asking me about the latest in politics. But Dolly Baby would look at my face and ask how I’m feeling. So, I tell myself that I could have suffered heavily if I didn’t have her. From the beginning, God would have seen my needs. Look at what Dolly has done.
Have you ever had any premonition that she would rise to such a level?
I never saw it coming. What I thought was that she would have been a very good confectioner, because she told us clearly that she would not practise as a lawyer but she would please us. That was what she told her mother, Mama HID and myself. Her mother and Papa were so keen for her to be a lawyer. She said she would be and immediately she was called to bar, she called and said she wanted to go into cake making. I had to open a cake shop for her and she started and she was doing that very well. She never practised for one day as a lawyer. If she had continued on that confectionery line, she would have gone really far. That was her natural passion. And many people don’t know she’s a very good artist. As you are sitting, if she takes a pen, it would be your copy. She loves gardening too and it’s part of her love for arts.
How do you manage missing your late wife?
I miss her a lot. I was able to adjust a bit because of political activities I was involved in. After Papa’s demise, I’ve been very busy because we took over. Papa died in 1987 and from that moment, we were in charge of Awo’s movement. I was the National Director of the organisation, travelling all over the country, keeping everybody together. When my wife (Ayo) died, I used political activities to keep myself busy. That was what saved me.
When working with Chief Awolowo, what was your specific role or office?
Papa gave me the National Liaison Officer, whether that one is in any constitution, I don’t know (laughs). I was going with him anywhere he went.
You were close to Awolowo, what is your reaction to the statue built in his honour by Lagos State government?
I saw it but I didn’t talk. What would I say when the two daughters were there. I saw it but I didn’t condemn it. What is important was for him to be remembered and that is why I appreciate it. I know Papa didn’t wear boots. He was always wearing nice shoes and all of us would remember that because every two years, Papa would always distribute his shoes to all his sons-in-law. He used to buy shoes a lot. If he saw a pair of shoes that he loved, he would buy three pairs. It was a must. He would put one pair in Apapa, one pair in Ibadan and one pair in Ikenne. So, shoes were always many and wherever he went, we didn’t have to carry shoes around. After two years, the house would be full and he would have to distribute them to us. So, I got many, and thankfully, we were of the same size. But even if Papa gave you shoes and you were not of the same size, you would put paper inside. Papa’s shoes? That was like a blessing.
You really don’t look 74, what is the secret?
That is the work of God. By the grace of God, I would be 75 in January. My kind of work was so physical. We didn’t sit down in the office growing big stomach, no way. Sea men could come and start beating you up, so we were always on the alert. The last thing I did was being a fisherman. When I went out, I would be on the sea for 40 days, fishing. When we came back, for eight hours, you could not step on the shore, because the ground would feel like it was moving. So, the standard was to sit for eight hours. You can’t have pot belly when you do that kind of job.
What fond memories of your growing up do you still have?
My father was a very tough and strong man. He was very popular. And my family too has its own pride. If my father could marry a Miss Caulcrick, one of the biggest families in Lagos, he must be tough too. He was in UAC, he was one of the founders of Nigeria National Shipping Guard. My father too was in that line of business which I took over. I grew up like every other person and I later went to the United Kingdom. It was natural for me to do Maritime Studies because that was what my father was doing. So, I followed in his footsteps and I don’t regret it because it gave me experience. If you are working on the sea, you meet all sorts of characters.
How did you receive the news that your-in-law was nominated as the Vice-President?
I was in Jerusalem then. People called me to congratulate me. On the third day, I got a call from my daughter, and knowing what she wanted to talk about, I went to the toilet. She asked if I had heard and I said heard what. She said they had picked Yemi as the Vice President, and she sounded positive about it. I knew that the country was lucky to pick him as the Vice-President. The man is very brilliant. When Nigeria was in turmoil and the President was sick for a long time, and he was the Acting President, it didn’t change him and it didn’t change his wife. They are just wonderful people. God used Tinubu to pick somebody from Ikenne. When did Yemi start politics? I started politics in 1976, yet they might not even know me in my local government, but look at a man that just started. That is what God can do.
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