*My parent objected marriage to Gov. Ahmed
*I once sold ice block, eba to survive
*Speaks on challenges in Govt. House
Mrs. Omolewa Yetunde Ahmed, wife of Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, is a woman passionate about, her family, faith and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), LEAH Foundation.
In this tell-it-all interview, the First Lady speaks on her experience in politics and how she has been impacting life of womenfolks, children and less privileged in the State. Excerpts:
Early life and family background
I was born in the ancient city of Ibadan some forty-something years ago. I come from a large family with many brothers and sisters. I don’t think there is a nation of the world where I do not have a relative. My Mom raised me mostly by herself because my father was a polygamist; I have a full brother and a sister.
I attended St. Theresa’s College, Ibadan and then I proceeded to the Kwara State Polytechnic where I obtained a National Diploma in Banking and Finance. I went on to the Kano State Polytechnic and did my Higher National Diploma (HND), graduating with honours. I also have a Post Graduate Diploma from Bayero University in Banking and Finance as well. I served at the Central Bank of Nigeria and worked briefly at a Mortgage Finance house. I have been self-employed doing my own business. Now I am in ministry and in politics.
My Mom is a deeply religious person, a staunch Baptist woman and so I grew up in the Baptist church. I came to know the Lord personally when I gave my life to Jesus in Form Two at St. Theresa’s College, Ibadan. They used to call us in those days ‘SU’ out of ignorance – I later came to know a group called Scripture Union but in those days when you started attending any fellowship they would call you ‘SU’. I used to get lot of beatings from my mother who was a strict Baptist, having a child who was ‘SU’ was seen as a taboo. Oh, I took a lot of beatings! But I didn’t stop attending fellowship.
After High School, I had a delay in getting into Higher Institution, everyone was going to University of Ibadan or University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) but I had no admission. Having to stay home for about three years brought about discouragement and coldness in my heart. Going to Kwara Poly was a last resort for me. I can say, at this time I backslid.
After my marriage to my husband who is a Muslim, I thought I had to change. I was determined to make things work; I did not want anyone to say you knew what you were getting yourself into. So I started learning to pray as a Muslim. I did that on my own, not because my husband forced me. My husband is not forceful on religious issues; he just lets you serve God however you want. At a point I became confused, I had stopped going to church, I had stopped praying, I was just there. I knew there was a void in me; something was missing.
One day, December 25, 1997 in Kano, I took my bible and I went to Living Faith Church. Before then, I had tried to attend church but I found my mind was not there; but that day I went to Living Faith Church with one of my husband’s friends who was visiting. Immediately I got to church, I knew the void inside me was filled and that I had the answer I had been looking for. That day, I re-dedicated my life to Christ and since then I have been living for the Lord. I have said to him “this second chance you have given me; there will be no going back. The day I want to have an alternative, just please take me home”. That has kept me till now in the faith. If I don’t want to serve him anymore, I am ready to die.
Marriage and relationship with husband
When I finished at Kwara Poly, I had to do the compulsory Industrial Attachment so I went to stay with an Aunt of mine. My husband was working at District Savings and Loans at the time I was there for my IT. We met there and even though we were not in the same branch, every time we met there was a connection.
While I was doing my IT, I was considered one of the best staff there, so my bosses were really pleased with me. I fell ill at a time and everyone in the branch and the head office and even my bosses, came to the hospital to see me except my husband. I was hurt and wondered ‘what is wrong with this guy?’ I wasn’t so sure why, but I was hurt when he didn’t come to see me.
I had a friend in my branch; he was also a friend to my husband; so when I got back to work I told him I was upset with his friend. So he went back and told his friend about it. When he realised that I was angry, he tried to make up for not coming to see me. So one day he came to my branch and we talked; we became friends and the rest they say is history. One thing led to another, then we were married. At the time I met him I was not back to the Lord.
When I was going to marry my husband it was a bad shock for my Mom. She found it difficult to relate with him. She couldn’t imagine me choosing to marry a Muslim. My Dad was indifferent to it. It actually took my Mom a very long time to come round. She was really disappointed that Omolewa who had known the Lord was going to marry a Muslim.
I got married in 1995 to my husband on the 24th June. By His grace, we are where we are today. When my friends from secondary school and those I grew up with heard they were surprised. They were like “Omolewa! You – Mrs. Ahmed?”
Our relationship has been good. My husband is a very nice man, he is a very loving man and I bless God for his life. In every marriage there will be ups and downs. At first it was tough but gradually, the Lord did a lot of work on my person. There were lots of things I had to let go, attitudes I needed to change. There were pains from the past. It has been a tough journey but thank God for the grace of God that has kept me. I say to myself God loves me specially because the kind of opportunity I got is not very common. But getting here took me twelve years of pain and trying to make restitution. I had known the truth but went back. I also want to say that even though you have missed it, you do not have to continue staying there. He is a God of second chances. When he gave me the second chance he equipped me and kept me.
There are things I have gone through, I know my being alive today is by the grace of God. The emptiness and the search for love brought me to the Lord in the first place because I was not getting it from home. I got love from the Lord and I am still getting it from Him today. I know the Lord will perfect all that concerns me.
For a long time, the devil held me bound in condemnation. Twelve years after my marriage it took the Lord speaking to me from the book of Romans to deliver me from condemnation. He said “your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.” That was when I had my release.
About her husband in politics
I didn’t want him involved because we were made to believe people must be diabolical and they must be thieves. I didn’t want to be involved in politics but you know the plans and purposes of God must be accomplished. Looking at what I have been through and places I have been to, I realised that those were God’s training grounds for this assignment. Being in politics with my husband is a calling and a ministry for me. My greatest joy and strength comes when I am in service; something is missing when I am not doing service.
I married a man who loves people and having people around. The only year we ever lived alone with nobody else under our roof was the first year we got married. From then till now, we always have people staying with us. I often tell myself this was what I was born to do, to be a blessing to others.
When we got into politics, it was like an expansion of what we had always done. I love to share and even with my limited resources, I always feel compelled to share with others; this applies to every area of my life. There is a greater force that causes me to do it. Politics is a bigger platform to live my purpose. Looking back, the initial reluctance was based on what I had heard about politicians.
Journey to Kwara State Government House
The political journey for my husband started in 2002. He had always been a banker and he came into contact with His Excellency, Dr. Bukola Saraki who was his boss and mentor in the banking industry. This is the person God has used as a helper in this journey. He (my husband) was a Regional Manager at Societe Generale Bank where Dr. Bukola Saraki was a Deputy Director before he went into politics. They developed a good relationship in the course of working together and my husband supported him during the campaign. After he won the election, he picked people he could work with, invited them for a retreat where they came up with a policy document of things he would like to do. My husband was opportune to be on that team at the time – he just got a call and his boss asked him to come down to Ilorin. That was 2003 and we were living in Kano, my husband later called me from Ilorin asking me to bring down his certificates. He was at the time a Senior Manager with GTBank, so he was given a leave of absence to serve as the Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning – a position he occupied for six years before he was transferred. In 2009, the ministry was split into two – Economic Planning and Budgeting was carved out with Finance standing alone. My husband was then made the first Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budgeting. In 2010, he resigned to join the gubernatorial race and here we are.
Challenges as a politician’s wife
Managing people’s expectations has been a major challenge. People’s expectations are very high; they believe you must have a lot of money so you can’t say ‘no’ to their requests. I have learnt that I can say no. This office has really helped me to know who my friends are; a lot of people have fallen away because I cannot meet their expectations, even Christians.
I tell people I will not apologise for my inability to satisfy their expectations, I will not compromise my faith. It is a major challenge because people believe as a Governor’s wife you have the key to all the wealth. They do not care if your integrity is tampered with or if you are using the office wrongly and taking advantage of the office, which is a sin.
I have worked twice as hard to make people know I am a Christian and being a politician does not change that. From the time my husband was the Commissioner of Finance they believed he ought to have all the money so they had all these unrealistic expectations. As a Commissioner’s wife, I ran my businesses, which I still run now as a Governor’s wife. I have a catering business – a gift that the Lord has used to open a lot of doors for me; putting me in contact with people I could never imagine I would have known. You know, the bible says a man’s gift makes a way for him, making him to stand before kings and not mean men. When I go to functions where my catering outfit is catering and I see something lacking, I put aside that Governor’s wife role and I step in to take care of business. Even though it is a business, it is something I want to excel at and I am accountable to God for.
I do not postpone, I do not delay, I do not tell you I will do what I can’t do. I do not ‘post’ people because to me it is unrighteousness. If you ask me for N10 and all I have is N1, I will tell you this is what I have. I detest raising people’s expectations and dashing them. Many people tell me, “Madam you can’t be a politician” but I tell them “I am not a Politician, I am a Minister”.
You know, in Politics even if you won’t do it you still tell them you will. I am not like that. My faith has brought me into a commitment to go all the way with the Lord. I am also very conscious of my covenant with God.
How she navigates the religious divide
My faith has helped me to relate with and respect the Muslims around me. My Christianity teaches love and I try to demonstrate it even surrounded on all sides by Muslims. My PA is a Muslim, my personal driver, my orderly, my SAs are all Muslims, but we have the best of working relationships. The Lord has helped me to appreciate their persons and to see beyond the religion so that even when I want to talk about my Christ, they find Him appealing because I am not just talking the talk but living it as well.
I have a lot of support from the Muslim women in Kwara because the Lord has helped me show the love of God. My organisation does not ask if you are Christian or Muslim before you are attended to. People in Kwara State know that Fatai’s wife respects them. People got to know me so they were able to see me as Omolewa not just in terms of religion. I respect everyone.
One thing I do in the Ramadan month is to honour my husband. I dedicate that month to him. I suspend all my church activities either on Sunday or during the week and dedicate that time to him. For them, that month is a sacred month. I prepare the meals for my husband and I’m there for him. I use it to say ‘thank you’ to him for giving me those eleven months to be with my Jesus.
I know my boundaries without losing my identity. As a Governor’s wife I am Governor’s wife for everyone whether Muslim or Christian. We hold talks on how to be a better wife and taking care of your health – the Islamic way. All Asalatu groups in Kwara are invited. During the Lenten period I replicate it as well. When I’m in town, I attend the lectures, I dress their way – I respect their culture and their religion. We call prayers for both the Muslim women and the Christian women. It has been an issue of balancing and respect. I learn a lot when they give their talks. The Lord has helped me reach out in love.
Past experiences that prepared her for present role
God has graciously identified me for leadership roles since I was young. I learnt responsibility right from Primary School where I was chosen to be Head Girl. In Secondary School, for the first time in the history of my school, as a Form two student I was made the Agricultural Prefect for the junior classes in the third term. At the time it didn’t mean anything to me, but looking back, I realise it was part of God’s preparatory for me. I was made the first Senior Labour Prefect from a class that was not HSC in St. Theresa’s College, Ibadan. I recognise now that God was actually creating those roles especially for me as a preparation ground for what I would come to do. I was always given responsibility either in the fellowship, the boarding house or anywhere I found myself.
God has always given me assignments beyond my age. He always helped me do my best; I always wanted to make a mark, leave a good legacy and make a success of it.
Even marrying my husband as a Muslim has been part of that training process. Although I will not say that any young lady who has known the Lord should compromise; in fact if you really know the Lord, you will not compromise for anything. Marrying my husband helped me and taught me a lot of patience. I learnt to be extra patient and because of the circumstances, I took a lot of things other women my age would not have tolerated.
I have always been in positions where I have to be more mature than my age. I believe those are some of the things the Lord has used to prepare me for this office.
I just eased into this role; I discovered that it was so easy and normal for me to function in this office. I don’t really know how to explain it but it was natural for me.
When my husband became Governor, I registered my NGO but it was not because I was doing anything different from what I had been doing over the years. I had been paying school fees for orphans and supporting widows for as long as I can remember. I do things under instruction; the Holy Spirit has been guiding my steps to come up with programmes. Many times the Lord speaks to me even in the bathroom; my personal staff and people who work with me know anytime they answer my call, to pick a pen and paper because an instruction will be coming. From day one after moving to Kwara, it has been easy to do this work.
Activities and programmes as wife of governor
Our byline in the foundation is ‘touching the lives of people positively’. Our mission is – not leaving persons the way we found them. It could be a smile, a touch, anything that makes positive impact. I tend to work more with women; I am concerned with Women’s Health. I love children a lot and I work with children too. Health, Education and Social welfare are our major focus areas.
I believe in the empowerment of women and I am a testimony to starting small. I believe everyone in life needs an opportunity. Most of the time, women are not given the opportunity. Even though my husband worked in the bank, I started my business selling ice blocks. Every successful person has a story. I started my catering business making ten naira wraps of eba. I would take the profit from my food sales and go to the Sabongeri market to buy a dozen plates or glasses and put them in my store. I started my business from nothing. The only thing I had when I started my business was a gift of enjoying what I was doing. In church, my service has always been anything to do with hospitality or protocol. I have cooked for many of the big ministers – name them; I was always in charge of cooking for them. Doing that was a big privilege for me because I was not an ordained worker; I was just a sister in church who loved to cook and to serve.
As a Governor’s wife, I still run my catering service and trading company. I got a loan to buy the first deep freezer I used for my ice block business and it grew. Thank God for where I am today. Towards the end of 2014, I had an empowerment seminar for women from all the 16 local governments across Kwara. We bought tools for the women and as I released the tools I was asking the blessing of God on the land of Kwara. I pray about and for the work I do; when I give tools and equipment to people, I do not release any tools to people without praying first.
We have a programme that we call ‘Adopt a Child’ which is very dear to my heart. I have combed the nooks and crannies of Kwara State even more times than the Governor because when I want facts, I don’t simply send people, I go out myself. In the course of moving around, I realised that people from the rural areas did not benefit from many of the policies that had been put in place mainly because of ignorance – we have in Kwara State about seventy per cent rural communities. I noticed that a lot of children still don’t go to school even though education is free. Thank God for the programme Dr. Bukola Saraki started which my husband continued – that is the good thing about continuity. He didn’t have to say that was Saraki’s programme, I will start my own. He has gone a step further from where Dr. Saraki stopped.
We discovered that these children couldn’t take advantage of the free education because they were so poor; they couldn’t afford some basic things like school uniforms and shoes. So, we set up the ‘Adopt a child programme’ to help provide for their basic needs. In adopting, the children are not taken away but their school needs are taken care of. It costs only about N7,000.00 to keep a child in school for a whole year. We adopt the educational needs of those children and in this tenure I am looking to package this programme so many people can adopt more children. I got a few of my friends to buy into the programme but we are still fine-tuning it, the vision is still under development.
From this programme, I realised that many of these children have potential but because they don’t go to school, the potential is still unrealised.
I also run a programme called the LEAH Reading Club. Reading helps to broaden minds, the programme is for primary school and intermediate classes in secondary school. We got students from all the schools to be involved as well as professionals in a reading camp. It was an eye opener and a new experience for me. By the grace of God we will be having another edition soon. They had a drama presentation for His Excellency and his cabinet members; afterward they kept asking me “where did these children come from?” I told them “they are the children from our public school system”. The same children went to make a presentation in Abuja.
There is so much to learn and it makes you appreciate all that God has given you. My predecessor told me that being the Wife of Governor is not a way of life but a call to responsibility. I have kept that in my heart and keep working at it.
Her empowerment programmes for women.
LEAH is my ministry. I have been called into the ministry and LEAH is the face of the assignment given to me. It is not a programme under the government even though I work very closely with government because of my office. I have the LEAH Cancer Project, which has a centre for screening and a modern laboratory. This is beyond any tenure in office. I have set up a vehicle responsible for taking care of LEAH. Today LEAH has the LEAH Heights Enterprises. LEAH came to me from the scripture – Leah was a rejected woman, not by any fault of hers. She suffered shame and despise through no fault of hers. LEAH reaches out to all people not just the people of Kwara State. LEAH stands for Life Empowered Anchors Hope. Empowerment in any form gives people hope. I have been blessed with a very active and working team.
The woman involved in the cancer project is a very passionate person. Many other women work with me who have the experience and the passion to carry things along. We touch lives through counseling and other programmes. We also work in collaboration with other NGOs.
We do training sessions for women, but for our own programmes we talk to the women to discover what they want to do. If they are coming with their own ideas of what they want to do, they will be more committed to it rather than just buying sewing machines and giving them to everybody. If we cannot afford what they want, we negotiate with them and see what else we can do to help. Although there are some who waste the resources they are given, we can say we have a seventy per cent success rate. For our selection process we go through our religious organisations, which has helped us tremendously. We have found that people tend to tilt towards religion when they are in need. For instance, if I want to empower 10 widows I give slots to each of the groups and organisations. It is now left for the organisations to be fair and just in bringing forward the right people. We still interview the people who have been brought forward to make sure they are really people in need. We are in a process and we are continuously refining it; we don’t always get it right but we keep working on it.
Social welfare programmes include helping disabled students who want to go to school, based on cases that are presented to us. We have stepped in to get boreholes and transformers for many people in the rural areas. As opportunities present themselves we deal with them. In all our programmes, I interact with the people and talk with the people to identify needs. I try to demystify whatever notions people have about my office as the Wife of Governor.
A disabled woman recently received an award for her relentlessness. She is crippled in both legs and her husband left her with two children. I gave her a freezer to help her cool the drinks, which she sells.
We have a fund for children who are in need of cataract surgery. In Kwara State we have a very good eye centre, the best in Nigeria established by Dr. Bukola Saraki. When they have really bad cases, they are referred to us in LEAH.
There is a woman who had three children who were all blind. They had been taken around for many years to herbalists and prayer houses; her husband abandoned her after a while, leaving her to care for the children on her own. She was told about the eye clinic in Ilorin and she came here. She was referred to me and we paid her bills for the surgeries. My staff at LEAH also went home with her to set up a trading business and rent an apartment for her. Now she is living well and taking care of her children.
Most often, the health cases we handle require us empowering the women to be able to live better lives.
God blesses you to be a blessing to others. I believe in honesty and fairness. I ask God for grace all the time to be fair. Whatever you sow is what you reap, so be careful what you sow.
Advice to young women
I always love to share this part of my life with young Christian ladies; make sure you marry within the will of God. Don’t say because Mrs. Ahmed did it and she is a Governor’s wife you can do it too. If you are in a wrong relationship don’t make excuses to justify yourself.
Be hardworking and always do your best in whatever you are given to do.
Culled from: The Princess magazine