Basirat, a daughter of a former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, and the current spokesperson for the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bolaji Abdullahi, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about her father
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Basirat Abdullahi. I studied Business Economics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Hull, United Kingdom. I am the first child of eight children of my dad, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi.
How was it growing up?
It was quite fun growing up. Dad was always there for us. Even when he became minister, he found the time to visit me in school, I was in boarding school then and he always attended our visiting days, and to me, that was one thing one hardly saw with most parents who are always busy or are top government officials. But dad always put us, his children, first, and he instilled in us good values.
What are some of the values you have learnt from your father?
One of the most important values I’ve learnt from him is to have integrity, and to keep one’s words. I’ve also learnt honesty and the value of family, because family would always be with you no matter what. I’ve also learnt the importance of friendship and keeping the right kind of friends.
Despite his busy schedule, how did he create time for his children?
He always creates time for us, even if it is just to watch movies or talk to us, and correct us. He followed our educational progress and he always checked our results to ensure that we were doing well and he would tell us the area we needed to improve on. One thing dad never did was to criticise us or make comparisons. Dad could sit down with us just to have conversations and ask us what was going on in our lives. Other times, we could talk about his work and share our opinions with him.
How much influence did your dad have on your course of study and that of your siblings?
My dad always allowed us to have our opinions. I remember a letter he wrote to me on my 14th birthday. In the letter, he said that whatever I chose to become, whether a farmer, lawyer, or a trader, the most important thing was for me to become useful to myself and the society. So, he is not really particular about what one chose to study, as long as what one is studying has positive impact in one’s life and society.
Can you describe him as a father?
Dad is a caring person who believes that the most important thing one can give to his children is education, not just education in terms of going to formal school, but in terms of teaching them the core values of life and helping them to understand the important things. I can discuss anything with my dad, that’s how close we are. Dad does not mind sharing his experiences with his kids so we can learn from them. As they say, experience is the best teacher.
How does it feel to be a daughter of the spokesperson for the ruling party?
To me, it feels normal because he treats us like every parent would. Dad does not spoil us with things that he feels we do not need. For example, he does not spend his money on buying expensive gifts for us, like an iPhone, just for the sake of it.
Do you get any special privileges as the daughter of the APC spokesperson?
No, I don’t, unfortunately. I wish I could. I get treated like every other person.
How has your dad’s name opened doors for you?
As I said earlier, my dad has taught us to be independent and stand on our own. So, for me, I never use his name to get favours. If I want something, I would rather work for it than say, “Oh, my dad is Bolaji Abdullahi, so I deserve this or that.” But I would say his name has helped us and given us goodwill. I remember sometime last year when we went shopping for my birthday at Shoprite and then someone turned and said, ‘That is ‘Omoluabi.’’ Dad did not hear him, but I turned and smiled. To me, that was a positive response for people to recognise him for good.
Is ‘Omoluabi’ (a Yoruba word for someone with a good reputation) his nickname?
I don’t know, really, but I think the name stuck when he was being interviewed during the ministerial screening at the time. From his character, one can say that he is really an Omoluabi.
What would you say about his tenure as sports minister?
I would say he achieved a lot during his time as a federal minister. I think that when you give him a task to do, he gets it done, no matter the challenges. And I think he did a good job as minister, and I know he would also do a great job in his current portfolio.
Was there any major change in your family’s lifestyle when your dad was a federal minister?
There was no major change for us as a family; we lived our life the way we used to before he became a minister. I would say the only basic change was that he had to move to Abuja while we stayed in Ilorin, Kwara State. And he was always coming home every two weeks.
How would you describe his social life?
I can’t say if dad really has a social life, to be honest. During his free time, he reads books or watches movies. Expectedly, when he was minister, people came around to visit him, but he does not have a loud social life of going to parties and all that. But he attends events when the occasion demands it.
Your dad is a Chevening scholar. What kind of books does he read?
One of dad’s favourite books is The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, who is one of his favourite authors. Dad has most of Coelho’s books in his library. One of dad’s favourite books is also The Man Who Sold His Ferrari. He also has books by Maya Angelou and books on the prophet (Muhammad).
Who are some of your dad’s closest friends?
Dad has few friends, but one of his friends I’ve known since I was a child is Dr. Femi Akorede.
How close is your dad to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki?
With the Senate President, I think they are very close. He is my dad’s political principal and they have worked together since 2003. Don’t forget that it was because of his loyalty in their relationship that my dad lost his job as a minister in 2014. They are quite close. You could say that the Senate President has mentored my dad politically.
What is your dad’s view about President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
Dad thinks President Buhari is a better alternative and someone who can get the job done.
How did he feel when he was removed from office as sports minister by former President Goodluck Jonathan?
I wasn’t too happy about it, since I knew he was passionate about the job. Often at home, all we heard him talk about was how he was going to fix this or that problem in sports. One could feel his passion and sincerity to do a great job. So, I felt losing the job had deprived him the opportunity to do the big things he had in mind. On the other hand, it was also a relief because it put him in a difficult place politically, having to choose between two political principals. His loyalty cost him the job, but I am happy he chose the path of honour instead of immediate gains, which is what he taught us, his children, before he even ventured into government and politics. The day it happened, he was actually on his way to attend a sports event in, I think, Poland. He got to London and heard about it. He called me and said he was coming to see me in Hull, where I was studying. He then told me what happened. He didn’t want me to read about it first on social media. I was proud of him because what he did was consistent with what he has always taught us; that nothing should be so important that we cannot do without it.
Your dad was out of public office for about two years before he was named spokesperson for the ruling All Progressives Congress. How did he spend his time outside public office?
I would say it was one of the most productive periods of his life. My dad sees himself primarily as a writer and that period gave him the opportunity to write. In fact, he was writing two books at a time. He has completed one, a book called ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ for young female adults. The other book, I think, is about the previous administration. I don’t know the title. He also started a course in Public Finance at the University of London. I don’t know how far he has gone with that. But he has been quite busy. I remember that he was even kind of reluctant to take on this new assignment because he was worried that it would disturb his writings.
Did he feel disappointed not to have been named minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government prior to his current portfolio?
I don’t know. I have never really thought about it or asked him. I know he worked very hard to put this government in place. He was deputy to a former Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, in the policy department of the campaign. If he felt disappointed, that would be natural because he is human. He was looking forward to playing a role, especially in education. That is his passion. I saw the policy paper he wrote for education reform in the country. So, if he was disappointed, it would be because he did not have the opportunity to work on this. But he is the kind of person that moves on very easily. I have never seen him grieve over anything. As a minister, I believe my dad did a good job and he was committed to it. Dad believes in development and believes Nigeria has a long way to go, especially in terms of education. But I don’t know anything about him feeling bad or sorry about not being appointed at the time, because he believes that God has a reason for everything in life.
Can you describe the moment he was named APC spokesperson and how he felt about it?
Like I mentioned, I know he was reluctant to take the job. I’m sure you know that he was not just named like that; there were a lot of consultations before the news was made public. At that time, I believe he was not keen on the job. But when he finally accepted it and was named, he made up his mind to do it. I also know that he was concerned about how the job might affect his reputation. I think Nigerians generally think he did well in his previous assignments, so he was keen to protect that.
What has changed about your dad’s approach to work from his days as sports minister to his current position as APC spokesperson, and the fact that he has worked under two different ruling parties?
I think it is not about the political party, but his person. Whatever position he occupies, he often gives his best. His philosophy is that if you take up a job, you must do it well. He always says that even if you are a cleaner, clean so well that people would say to themselves, “If you are looking for a good cleaner, go to that person.”
Being the spokesperson for the APC, how does he feel about the perceived disappointment of Nigerians about the performance of the ruling government and the President’s vacation on medical grounds?
I don’t know about that. It is his job to answer that kind of question, maybe you should ask him.
What are his likes and dislikes?
Dad likes reading and watching movies. In terms of people’s character, he hates lies and does not like people who are phony.
What is your dad’s favourite drink?
I think it is Coke.
What does your dad think about Nigeria’s development thus far?
My dad believes if we can fix the country’s education sytem, we can make every other thing right.
What is his favourite outfit?
Dad likes to dress casual or in traditional outfits. It depends on the occasion. I know he likes to be comfortable in any outfit he wears.
How does your dad react whenever he’s angry?
Whenever dad is angry with me or my siblings, he probably might shout and then after a few minutes, he would call you and sit you down, and tell you what you did wrong. But one hardly sees him angry.
What is your dad’s favourite meal?
I think it is pounded yam and vegetables.
What was his daily routine like before he was appointed as APC spokesperson?
His daily routine includes jogging, taking a shower, breakfast and spending time in his study, reading books. At night, he watches television. When he was a minister, he went to work in the morning and came back home at night.
What kind of music and sports does your dad like?
Dad loves music by Barrister. He likes and plays football and badminton. He relaxes more with reading books than listening to music.
What are some things Nigerians don’t know about your father that you would like to share?
To be honest, dad is a public figure, and there are a lot of things people already know about him. But some Nigerians believe that everyone who has occupied public office spends money extravagantly, but dad is not like that. Dad is a simple man and he is not extravagant. He would not allow us fly first class simply because he has been a federal minister, he allows economy class. I think that says a lot about his personality.
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