Mrs. Haleemat Busari is a trained legal practitioner with several years of extensive work experience in the areas of corporate governance and commercial law. She has sat on the board of several blue-chip companies in Nigeria.
Recently she was selected as the running mate for Jimi Agbaje, Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate in Lagos State.
In this interview, she spoke about her life, politics and issues bothering women.
How were you selected as the running mate for Jimi Agbaje?
I think my work and antecedents spoke for me. Until recently when I was announced as the running mate of Mr. Jimi Agbaje, I was the Group Head, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Honeywell Group. I held that position for more than 20 years.
Before now, I have been involved in various engagements on how to move Lagos and Nigeria forward, so at a point, I think I was noticed. I am really grateful for being considered for this role.
What was your initial reaction when you were selected, and why did you accept to work with him?
My initial reaction was to retreat into myself and go back to my maker. I am a Muslim and we have something that we do when we are trying to take serious decisions. It is called Istiara. It is a process whereby you go into yourself and you talk to your God and ask Him if the decision you are about to take is what He wants for you. And that was exactly what I did because that is how I run my life. I take decisions based on what God has in store for me. Sometimes I am passionate about some things but sometimes some things are not good for you at a particular time when God hasn’t approved of it. And so, my initial reaction was a case of asking God if this is what He wants me to do, and how He wants me to impact. I prayed about it for a couple of days and I felt at peace. You know there is a way you feel at peace with something and you know it is the right thing to do.
And like I said, because it is also something that I am passionate about and I am always thinking of how to do things differently, so I felt like God is giving me a platform for me to implement this passion that I have always had. So, it wasn’t very difficult for me to accept the offer.
Do you think that women are beginning to get the chance they deserve in terms of being considered for political offices in Nigeria?
I will like to look at it from the perspective of if women are presenting themselves for such positions. Women must begin to understand that only they can empower themselves.Women can naturally multi-task and they have smart minds; they must use these attributes to their advantage as far as politics in Nigeria is concerned. I think we should get way from feeling weak and helpless because when you feel helpless you have already defeated yourself.
I think that in starting politics we need to understand that we are endowed with different abilities and God given abilities and I think that we should learn how to harness and build our different abilities. I also think that as women we need to learn how to plan ourselves and our lives and put structures in place.
I keep talking about financial independence for women, in as much as I am traditional, I also believe that women must work. Even the Holy Book says that women must work. The Koran allows me to work. So I think that as women one thing you have to do is that you have to run your home. You have to look after your husband and children. You have the weekend, cook your food and freeze it, portion it. During the week it is brought out and it is warmed. So there is food at home all the time, so that is not an excuse for you not to work.
You have children, you should have support. Some of us have mothers and some of us don’t. Those of us that have mothers, use your family support. If you don’t have, put your structures in place that keeps your family going and allows you to work.
And then, my husband played a very important role. I am a woman – a working woman but I am also a very traditional woman. There are some values that I hold and some of those values are the fact that as a married woman, if you don’t have your husband at your side, there is very little you can do. I mean it is only an unwise woman that will take decisions without carrying her husband along. Though in the real sense, it is the women who always take decisions in the house.
So, he also has to play a big role in it because whatever comes out of it, both of us are going to have to deal with it. If I don’t have him behind me, there is no way I can do it.
I always emphasize that you have to have your husband in your corner, else it won’t happen. That is a mistake a lot of women make, they don’t know how to have their husbands in their corner. Once you have your husband in your corner and put structures in place at home, the man would allow you to work.
Do you think Agbaje’s administration if elected, will allow women to head key ministries like finance, health, education, commerce and even industry?
The duo of Jimi Agbaje and Yemisi Busari, when elected as governor and deputy governor of Lagos State, intend to be a responsible government. As a government what we intend to do is to use people who are achievers, responsible and would help to impact and build a new Lagos. If these people are women who have the skills, they will be given a fair opportunity to serve. Once we have people who have the right skills, right knowledge doing the job, we will immediately see the results. But if we put an engineer in the health, that ministry will not perform because a square peg is in a round hole.
Considering the fact that we have political gladiators who determine how the party affairs are run, how are you going to achieve this, ensuring that things are done right?
I agree with you that it happens in politics, but one fact is clear. Even in the political space where some interests are looked after, the fact remains that in recognizing those interests, we must still look at the greater good. I still insist that within the political structure, they may have said that certain slots should be given to some people, yes, but you will tell them to bring the best. Nigeria is a blessed country, and if I bring it down to Lagos, Lagosians are very enlightened people and well educated. I am not talking about the indigenes alone because Lagos is a commercial hub. Lagosians consist of all the people that contribute to the economy of Lagos.
The point I am making is that in that space, we have a lot of people; but one fact is clear that even in doing those things, we will still seek for people who will be relevant in such places and it is doable.
Most deputy governors in Nigeria are rendered redundant by their principals; do you think you can put up with such treatment considering where you are coming from?
One of the first things I asked my principal when I was approached was if he was looking for a ‘spare tyre’ deputy or one that would work hand-in-hand with him in moving Lagos forward. What he told me was that he was looking for somebody to do the work together with. It was at that point I agreed to be his running mate.
As far as I am concerned, I am not being done a favour, I am also bringing something to the table. So, I think that my principal and I would work closely to move Lagos forward by the time we get into office.
What are the challenges you have faced so far?
I really won’t call them challenges but it I will just say that it is a different terrain. A couple of days the hours are long, you are meeting, you are trying to convince people, trying to canvass. You also find that in talking to people, sometimes they have a mindset already about certain thing, it is not all the time that you encounter people you have an open mind. So you are trying to let them see where you are coming from and where you are going. Eventually you are able to connect but you see people who are very rigid with their position. I have also discover that because of the poverty in Lagos and in Nigeria as a whole, people tend to be very money-conscious and so a lot of things are based on money and this is part of the problem. In dealing with this challenge you have to be adequately prepared and have your thought properly articulated and marshalled. It is time consuming because you need to engage and explain. A lot of people don’t even try, they just believe in parting with money and get what they want which, at the end of the day won’t have a reaping effect.
Having been in and out of the boardroom, what lessons have you learnt?
I have really learnt a lot of lessons in the boardroom. One of them is that you must be hard-working and always be on top of your game. I have also learnt to always defend what I believe in.
Life in the boardroom has taught me never to be afraid of speaking the truth. It taught me to be always prepared before every meeting.
You look stylish even as a muslim woman, what inspires your fashion choices?
I think my mind inspires my looks. I don’t dress to impress anybody; I wear what I think I am comfortable in. Being stylish comes naturally for me.
How do you pamper yourself when you have the time?
I love travelling a lot. I love going to the spa also. Despite my busy schedule, I look after myself very well.
When I’m at the spa, I feel very relaxed and meditate, in fact. As a matter of fact, some of my best ideas come to me when I’m at the spa.
Any favourite destinations?
I do not have a particular preference; I go anywhere I think would be nice. I love to experience new cultures, new foods and meet new people as well. As a matter of fact, my best experiences in life are those that I have garnered in the course of my travels.
How do you spend your weekends?
I try to reserve weekends for my family. However, there are times I have to work at such periods and they understand this fact. As a woman, if you have your husband on your side, he’ll be able to tolerate certain demands of your work.
But in spite of my busy schedule, I do my best to reserve the weekend for my family. I still find the time to attend social events at such periods.
As busy as you are, do you still find the time to cook for your family?
Yes, I still do. Even though I don’t make my husband’s food every day, I crave to have it done always. It is always a thing of joy for me to go into the kitchen to prepare food for my family.