Susan Jumoke Fajana-Thomas is a Nigerian-born and deft British grassroots politician and member of the Labour Party. Susan’s started as a socio-political campaigner on housing and other issues related to refugees and asylum seekers. About 10 years ago, she contested on the ticket of the Labour Party and was elected a councilor in Stoke Newington. She was a known face as a broadcaster with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) before she left the shores of the country in 1991.
Fajana-Thomas was recently in the country, to receive an award as the ‘Most Outstanding Ekiti Woman in the Diaspora’ given by the Ekiti State government. She spoke with Sunday Sun about politics in Nigeria, the United Kingdom Uk and other issues.
First off, why are you in Nigeria?
I’m here to support two special events. The purposes of the two events are very dear to my heart. One of them is Adire Heritage Festival and the other one is about mental health. The Adire Heritage Festival, which started in Budapest over 10 years ago, has now come back to its roots, which is Nigeria. The Nigeria version started three years ago; so you say that this the third adire festival, which is a five-day event filled with activities. The other event is a mental health summit in Abuja. I have been supporting the organization called the SDF Initiative for a while now. It is about raising awareness around mental health, for people to be able to lay the same emphasis on mental health as we have done on physical health but more importantly to see the end to the section of the lunatic act that made it a criminal offence for attempted suicide in Nigeria.
Looking at the Nigerian situation, what is like being a politician in Britain?
There is joy in being a politician in the United Kingdom more than in Nigeria. Being a politician in the UK is about service to the people; it is about representing your constituents, it is about supporting and making policies that will make people’s lives’ to be better. It is not about accumulating wealth, which is what happens in Nigeria. It has to do with doing something good for your community, and for the society. In that wise, I’m very happy that I’m a politician; I’m very happy that in my little way I’m making a difference to people’s lives.
In Nigeria, politicians tend to hold their meetings in the dead of the night. Is it the same in the UK?
It’s the same thing over there, in a sense. Some meetings happen in the evenings just to allow for inclusiveness. For instance, if you are a local councilor, who has a full time job, its only in the evenings that such a person will be available to attend meetings. Again, in terms of holding meetings, it’s easier to sit in the evenings, because of the convenience for many people. Again, as politicians, you don’t have the structure of 9-5 in your working day, in other words, I start work at 9.00am and close at 5.00pm. That does not happen to politicians. That’s why you see that there’s always something happening, in the morning, afternoon and at night, there’s something happening. Wherever there are issues to be attended to, people need to be out there attending to them.
Are there differences between Nigerian and British politicians?
Of course there is world of difference in terms of practice. The politics in the UK is different as I mentioned earlier. The way we see politics in the UK is different. In Nigeria politics is like a career, it’s about accumulating wealth, there’s no accountability, no checks and balances. All those things don’t happen in UK politics where because there are checks and balances, you are accountable to your constituents and to the general public. Your personal behavior and conduct are scrutinized on daily basis because you are representing people, and they see you as an example and a role model who is more or less placed on a pedestal. Some of the things that happen among politicians here in Nigeria cannot happen in the UK.
What’s take on women in politics in the Nigerian context?
Nigerian women are very intelligent but they need to prove themselves around the table leading their party. Actually, they are as intelligent as their male colleagues, so that they are formidable as their male colleagues, to represent their people in a way that will
make them the leaders that are reckoned with in Nigeria.
What lesson have you learnt about life?
Lesson I have learnt is that there’s no way that is smooth. In every path, in every way, there will be potholes but when you get to the potholes two things can happen: you can either avoid going into that pothole or go into it, whichever way to choose, just make sure that you come out on the other side. I have learnt that hard work pays regardless of what people around you may think, what friends and colleagues or family members even can think about your commitment to your cause. When you follow your cause with determination and rigour you will always get to your destination and achieve your goals.
As a fashionable person, what does style mean to you?
I don’t use the word fashionable, I use the word stylish. I have always been stylish in the sense that I wear what I feel comfortable in. I wear what I think would make me look good and I wear what I think is trendy, rather than fashionable. I wear what suits my body shape, so I have always combined that. I still believe that looking good, especially for women, is half way to being successful. The message that is important is that you cannot be looking shabby, and dress up in an untidy manner, looking unkempt and think people will give you a chance. But when you are smartly dressed, when you are presentable, people will turn and look at you and that is important. In every sphere of life, in whatever we do, it is good to look good.
How do you unwind?
How I unwind is very simple. I’m not one of those people that go out of their way to take a holiday in a far away land, to unwind. Relaxing is very important to me. I like Turkish Spa. Anytime that I’m really stressed, I go to a spa, just have a day of pampering. When I’m able to do that I’m back on course and I love nature. So I can go and unwind in the bush, I love flowers. So, it is very easy for me to really unwind if I’m in that state where I need to slow down.
Ekiti State government recently gave you an award. What does that mean to you?
I thank His Excellency, the Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Office of Diaspora Affairs and Ekiti youths for this recognition. I sincerely thank my Ekiti connections, my parents, my mentors, and friends for helping me reach the stage where I can proudly hold up an award from my root as a mark of my achievement. I am grateful to Mr. Femi Odere and Victor Adeyemo.