TEJU Phillips was commissioner for commerce in Lagos State. A top politician, yet down-to-heart, she hardly put on airs, despite being the only daughter of the late business mogul, Ambassador Deinde Fernandez. Meeting her in her Dolphin Estaste, Ikoyi residence, you would be struck by her warmness and hospitality. Talking to Effect, Phillips, who is also a Director in Skye Bank tells you about her upbringing, foray into politics, her lifestyle, women abuse in offices and lots more.
Now that you are not very active in politics, how have you been keeping yourself busy?
My time is occupied professionally as an accountant. I’m in the banking industry and involved in humanitarian services. I also concentrate on my family. I’m still involved in politics anyway.
In what aspect of politics are you still involved in?
Politics is a way of life. In all its ramifications, I’m still an activist by nature.
In Nigeria, we see politicians as people who want to grab, grab and grab, considering your background, what actually led you into politics?
I came from the corporate background. I was in UAC for more than 10 years. My father brought me into politics. He wanted me in politics so that I could help the people and influence the world whichever way I could. He wanted you to recognise the needs of people and do your best to meet those nees and leave the rest to God.
When you were the commissioner, what was perception of the public?
Like I said, I was coming from the corporate background. It was a completely different environment. I came in and I was able to see another side of the world. It’s like a coin. I saw the other side of the coin and I had to settle into it with my nature, I was able to cope. I have always had flair. Even in the corporate world, I mix with people freely. I’m quite free with people and I hate people being treated unfairly. That was to me a good focus when I was in political office.
What’s your take on the Dino Melaye and Remi Tinubu row in the Senate?
I think it’s quite time that women rise to fight for their rights, especially in the area of abuse of women in offices because one day some women will get up and do the naked dance. These women will fight for our rights. I wasn’t in the senate but we should try and respect one another. All manners of abuses of women must stop. Abuses like dragging a woman, using vulgar languages on them must stop. One day, its going to be an eye for an eye because women will rise up and teach some men a lesson with the naked dance. Iyabo Anishilowo was slapped in the senate too, who knows who will be next.
What did you do in UAC?
I was in the property division as a commercial manager. As an accountant, we grew from being an accountant to manage a division. I was a divisional/commercial manager before I left. I was reporting at that time to the managing director of my division.
So, from the university you joined UAC?
No, No, No, I went for my articleship with Peat Marwick. From Peat Marwick, I worked briefly with my father and I joined UAC.
Why didn’t you continue to work with your father?
My father’s entity was over in Nigeria and that was why I joined UAC a year after. If only to gain professional experience, I joined UAC.
You said your father’s entity was over in Nigeria, what do you mean by that?
He moved his business from Nigeria to overseas.
Does it mean he didn’t believe in Nigeria?
No, No, my father was in the United Nations. He was transacting businesses across the world.
Tell us about your growing up, in the midst of affluence. Were you spoilt?
As the only child of my mother, I wasn’t spoilt. I grew up in boarding schools, from the primary school to HSC, until I qualified as an accountant. I was always in and out of the home. I was under proper tutelage.
Learnt your father liked you so much, and considering his wealth, were you spoilt with money?
I had a lot to spend. My father was a disciplinarian. I could not just dress anyhow. you dared not wear any type of glasses, however, I had enough to spend. When I was a student, I could shop anywhere, you go on holidays abroad but I was focused on qualifying as an accountant and thank God I did.
Does your background attracted more friends to you?
It’s a combination. Even though because of my background, I think I have humility in me, so, I accommodated all manners of people but some people not take time to understand me and see through me. They went away with wrong impressions. However, others who were close to me, loved me.
So what informs your humility?
Its natural. It’s God.
Did take after your dad or mom in the area of humility?
My father could be described as very humane person, he loves his people (The Isale Eko People) He never forgot them. Anytime he was in Nigeria, he would visit them, he was generous to them. He loved tradition. I think I took my humility from both sides. My mother was quiet and humble. My father was rich, loud but humble.
What do you mean by loud?
He enjoyed big life
What has life taught you as a person?
Life has taught me to be humble, tolerant and how to manage people. Do not covet your neighbour things; you never know what makes the grass greener than yours. Just be contented with whatever God has given you. As for those who have been unfair and wicked to you, God is watching. So, I leave it and allow God to judge.
You also hold a chieftaincy title from Egba land, can you talk on that?
My mother was miss Lipede. I have that lineage and I have chieftaincy from Abeokuta, from my mother’s late uncle, Oba Lipede.
Can someone describe you as a Princess?
Definitely. I’m a princess on both sides; Lagos and Abeokuta. My father was from the Olumegbon family. I’ve just kept cool and calm as Teju Phillips.
Of recent, we read about your son who chose to be a DJ. He studied Economics abroad and has his masters too. As a mother , how do you feel?
I was disturbed. Well, that’s today’s world. We should continue to pray and leave them to Gods guidance. If you have a child that is focused and can do well in whatever he touches then you have less to worry about. You just pray Gods mercies for such a child.
So, you are happy about his decision?
I’m abiding with his decisions.
What informs your style?
What I wear depends on where I’m going. A little bit of the mood for the day. I plan what I wear, it just didn’t happen. I put things together for occasions.
What’s this fashion trend you cannot do without?
I wear the cheapest and the most expensive. As long as you can put things together and look nice. Those who knew me understood that clothes doesn’t have to be expensive before it comes glamorous on me. I put them together nicely.
You served in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as commissioner, some people see him as a nice man, some see him snobbish, others consider him to be arrogant. What is your assessment of the man, Tinubu?
Amidst all odds, you can’t say Asiwaju is arrogant or snobbish. Mark my words, I say amidst all odds. you can’t put Asiwaju, on the pedestal of people who are arrogant or snobbish. Asiwaju is deep but not a perfect person. Nobody is perfect in life. I remain objective about things and I will not pretend. He is full of wisdom but he’s not a perfect person just like any other human being.
How do you spend your day?
I have a lot of meetings to attend. At my age, we need to celebrate ourselves, attend our parents’ funerals, our children’s weddings, I’m really packed full. I try to mange the time. Just like am granting this interview impromptu now. You didn’t feature yesterday in my program; I quickly juggle things to get the interview done today.
You look really trendy, your hair, eyebrow, skin are on point. what’s the secret?
Eat rightly. Exercise, and for women, do your massage and make sure you apply your moisturizer and oil in whatever treatment you give your body. I’m not heavy on vitamins. But I try to eat rightly. I give myself less worries. I manage people around me and leave everything to God to judge.
You’ve mentioned ‘judge’ twice in this interview, is there anything it connotes?
I won’t expose that yet but there are reasons. For the treatment I have got, for the expectations I did not believe I could get. Expectations for injustices.
I noticed you travel a lot, what’s your favorite traveling destination?
I udied in England. I love England. There are few spots and places that are idiosyncrasies that I still stick to. I still go to the park to take my tea, probably once during my trips.
Now that the economy is bad, what advice do you have for women?
You have to look inwards and see other things that you can do for survival. Cut down on some vital things; improve your knowledge to make other things happen. The economy issue is all over the world. It’s a global problem now.
You have beautiful eyeballs, has anyone told you that?
All the time. I didn’t create myself, God did. I look after myself. I enhance whatever virtue God has given me and one of them is my eye. My eyebrow, my lashes are well taken care of. I visit my optician to ensure my eyes are still very good and it should be well laid when I go out.
Tell us about your husband?
He is Engineer Lanre Phillips. I met him in England and we got married in Nigeria. We met as students. We’ve had a beautiful marriage. Anyway, there’s nothing that is perfect, you have to work towards everything.
How did he feel when you were going into politics?
He supported me. He didn’t give me hassles. Only that he wasn’t too happy. He knew that I worked hard. He wasn’t happy with the result at the end of the day ;because he believes I’m a hardworking person.