Hon. Bakre Olanrewaju Omolola is a lady of virtue, a passionate businesswoman and humanitarian. BOO, as she is fondly addressed by her admirers in the political circle, Hon. Omolola Bakre grew up with an interest in the care and wellbeing of people in a clinic run by her mother upon the latter’s voluntary retirement from active service with the Ogun State Hospital Management Board. With an early exposure to service and care for the people through her upbringing, Hon. BOO has been ingrained with the virtues of care and compassion to humanity. In her private capacity, Hon. BOO runs a non-governmental organization (NGO) through which she has been helping to improve the living conditions of her people, Bakre Omolola Helping Hands Foundation, which was established to empower widows, youths and the downtrodden. Testimonies abound of the remarkable impact of her foundation in the lives of beneficiaries. She attended Ositelu Memorial High School, Ogere Remo between 1992 and 1998, and proceeded to Nigeria Institute of Journalism Ogba, Lagos, to study broadcast journalism. She got a higher diploma in Marketing from the polytechnic of Ibadan in 2004. As a typical Ijebu who places premium on education, it was during her degree course in Economics at the Lagos State University (LASU) studied Economics that she got a calling that would later see her bag a university degree in Housing Development Management from South Bank University, London, United Kingdom.
In this chanced interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, Hon. Omolola Bakre stated that her interest in politics was borne out of the need to do more for the people and better serve them in the areas of empowerment and human investment. “I’m into politics in order to have the opportunity to speak for my people and serve them the more”, she says, among other topics that surround her journey in life.
Please, introduce yourself.
My name is Omolola Olanrewaju Bakre. I’m from Ogun State, Nigeria; Ijebu Ode to be precise. Presently, I’m eyeing a seat in the Ogun State House of Assembly.
Tell us about your education.
I attended Oshitelu Memorial College in Ogere Remo. After my secondary school, I went to Nigeria Institute of Journalism where I obtained a diploma in Broadcast Journalism. Later, I went to The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where I obtained my HND. I then did my youth service at Indomie in Ota, Ogun State. Because of the dichotomy between the HND and BSc, I decided that I had to go to university. So, I went to Lagos State University where I studied Economics. I dropped out at the third year and traveled to London.
What was your growing up like?
I grew up in a polygamous family. I grew up with my step-dad. My mum got married to my step-dad when I was about two years old. Obviously, it was tough for a little girl growing up in the midst of those you can call outsiders. Thank God I survived.
Tell us about your charity project.
Four years ago, in London, I was into supporting different kinds of charity organizations. There is something about me; the little I have, I always want to give out. Then at a point, people started asking me if I was into charity. They’d say you always give; why are you behaving as if you have all the money in the world? And I’d tell them that you don’t have to have all the millions before giving out. So, two years ago, I just made up my mind to officially start my own charity project called Lola Bakre Helping Hands Foundation. We do random visits to hospitals. Recently, I visited the hospital in Ikeja and settled the bills of patients nursing different kinds of ailments. For some I paid N40, 000, to N30, 000 to N20, 000 and so on. When I returned to London, I decided that I needed to do more. So, I planned my Foundation to be focusing more on children in education and widows. I did an empowerment for widows in Ijebu recently. I consulted my Ward leaders and we had a meeting with the widows where they told me what they’d need to do and how we could help. Some of them asked for grinding machines, which I bought for them. Also, I bought sewing machines, hair dryers and other tools to help them. I also visited my former primary school, CMS primary school, and I was shocked at what I saw. Some kids were sitting on the bricks and also using bricks as tables to take their studies. I was moved to tears. And I asked myself, is this for real? Well, I realized I could not do everything. So, I decided to do the little that I could. I provided them with 50 chair and tables. After that, I spoke to the teachers to recommend some of their brilliant pupils who are indigent so I could start paying their tuition fees until they finish their primary education. They gave me six of them and I have been paying their fees as promised. I also bought for them books, writing materials, school bags and uniforms. I did the same thing for a school in Ijebu. It’s a big project no doubt. So, in August, we are planning to launch the Foundation and then we can have a patron. I know it’s not something I can do all alone because a lot of people are expecting so much from me. Yet, no donors, no patrons.
Is that why you went into politics, to be able to do more?
Like I told you, I love to give. Meanwhile, during the course of my charity activities, I met a lot people who asked me if I was into politics and I said no. and they said don’t you know that charity and politics mix together? They said that if in the future I plan to build a school where students won’t be paying much or a free one, it would be accomplished easily if I have political power. They also said that if I decided to go into politics and I write it in my manifesto that this is what I want to do, they might grant me political power. So, I went to Ijebu and consulted with some leaders and they were surprised that I was into charity works. They said I’m the kind of persons they even want in politics because politics is about service to the people. They said anyone that could give is the right person for politics not those that would come and steal people’s money. Then, I was introduced to different leaders and I spoke to them. My plan really was to wait till 2023 before I started but they advised me to start early because whoever is there in 2019 would want to spend two terms and that would mean I’d had to wait for eight years. They said though you are young, if you add eight years to your age, you are not getting younger. They advised me to start now so people would know me and hear my voice. They said that even if eventually I don’t win the ticket for the state’s House of Assembly this first time, people must have noticed my name and felt the impacts through my charity works and for the fact that I belong in APC the ruling party. They said even through that, one might be considered for political appointment. That’s why I decided to give it a trial. I know it’s not easy but then my type of politics is not do-or-die. Whether I win or not, I’d remain a member of my party and continue to give it a push. Like they say, winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win. I’ll continue with it because I always want to give back to my community. There was a particular woman that I met who told me that ‘omo mi (my daughter), please I have not eaten for two days’. I was shocked and I shed tears. I asked myself, not eaten for two days? I then asked after her kids, and she said they are graduates but they were still looking for jobs. But what can I do? You can’t give everybody money, what you do is empower people. And that’s what I have been doing and shall continue to do whether in politics or outside.
As a female, have you experienced any challenge that normally comes with seeking political relevance in a game dominated by male?
Honestly, I have experienced different challenges. I have met some men who had said ‘oh, don’t worry, we’ll put you through, we will speak to the governor for you’, bla bla. But after some time, they would give you a call and say ‘can you meet me somewhere’? And I would be like ‘is this politics or something else?’ (general laughter). In fact, they will tell you that ‘you are a young lady going into politics, you need to be dating someone so you can have your way’. Why should I do that, why must I sleep with a man to do what I have passion doing, for God’s sake? I always tell myself that, I’m not here to date any politician; I’m here for my career. Even if I’m not married, I’m in a working relationship. So, let’s focus on what I’m here for; to serve the people. Once, I met a man and told him that I want him to be my godfather. Soon after, he just said ‘see, I’m not your uncle, we are not related, please’ (laughter).
So, how do you hope to survive politics without a godfather?
A lot of people said that to me too. They said ‘how do you survive without a godfather?’ and I said to them, ‘okay, every time, people do make history. May be I’m making history too by pushing to survive politics without a godfather. And I don’t have a sponsor. People that I met in politics have told me ahead that what the godfathers would ask in return for the favour they do you, you might not be able to give if you are principled. Anyway, what I’m planning to do now is a fundraiser, likely in July, where I’d have my friends and family donate to my aspiration. I have someone already in relationship that is helping in his little ways by printing for me t-shirts, caps and other campaign items. So, I’d prefer it that way than messing around with some godfathers. Also, I have my plans. I’ve done a lot of consultations. I’ve met with my leaders, the ward chairman, the woman leader, the youth leader, the ward coordinator, I have met a lot of them who have been telling me that I’m in the right path. So, we are waiting to hold the congress first, and then we know where we really are.
Why did you leave school at the third year to London?
Before then, I had been visiting London. But I just decided to stay back during one of the trips because I realized that my Visa would soon expire. Mind you, my staying back in London was not about money. It was more about the environment. They live a different life than what you have here. You find that they have good roads, there is regular electricity and there is free medical care. I was sick at a time and, even though I had visiting Visa, I was still able to register for free medical services. If I had fallen sick in Nigeria, obviously I would have needed to raise money for my treatment. So, what happens if you don’t have a family that could raise money for your treatment? Nobody cares. That’s why I said to myself that I have a better life here, let me just stay. I had my HND already. It’s not that I didn’t have a degree, so I can always go back to school.
How were you coping in London when you decided not to return to Nigeria?
Before I got my papers, I was working at Burger King, trying to survive in other persons’ country (laughs). I left Burger King for Tesco Supermarket where I started working to perfect my papers because I realized I needed to be legal. And I knew I needed to go back to school because I couldn’t continue like that. It was during this period that I met my husband. And I had to come back to Nigeria because I didn’t have a Visa. So, I returned to Nigeria, got married in 2008, then got my Settlement Visa and returned to London. Even with the Settlement Visa that they gave me, one was still not entitled to a lot of amenities like public funding and the rest, so I had to work for three years. Then I went back to school to study and got B.A. in Housing and Social Work. I started working with Thorough Council and later I moved to Family Mosaic.
Please, share your challenges working in those places.
I worked as a social worker with people that were experiencing domestic violence and children in needs. In fact, it was quite challenging, especially working with people who were suffering domestic violence because during that period, I was experiencing the same issue. So, it was difficult for me to continue with the job. I said to myself that I just couldn’t do it properly because I was facing the same issue. So, I moved to Family Mosaic where we were dealing with accommodation and housing. And I preferred that kind of job because it gave me rest of mind and it didn’t remind me of my past. It was just about caring for people that didn’t have accommodation that I needed to house if they had the criteria.
If by chance you get elected into the House of Assembly, what would be your priorities?
My first priority would be youth empowerment. In Ijebu alone, there are a lot of youths who have left school but have no job. That is Ijebu alone; I’m not even talking about the whole of Nigeria. I have also met many women who will tell you that ‘please our kids finished school but they have no job yet’. So, I feel if there is an empowerment and the youth can get jobs, there won’t be much pressure on the family. I can’t say I’ll create jobs on my own. That’s why I want the political power. When I’m there in office, we can look at how we can create jobs. I know it’s difficult to get jobs where you don’t have factories. So, we are going to look at that. We are going to let our youth have jobs, probably skills jobs. You have a degree and you don’t have job, we can set you up with jobs like tailoring and stuffs like that, jobs that you can do temporarily to at least keep body and soul together. Then we can also give your CV to people, recommend you.
As a working mum, how do you cope with your routine?
Well, so many people have said to me that ‘what is she looking for?’ I’m a mum, I have three kids and I’m coping well, working full time and surviving. I run a salon in London selling human hairs. I’m happy. So, it depends on the mind. I have my daily routine which I don’t miss. And I don’t even feel it. In fact, people do say that I might be a female but I have the heart of a man. You don’t just get married and start having kids; you also need to get a career. So, I always want to make a difference.
What’s your style like?
I like wearing good designers. But I don’t believe in wasting money on wearing much expensive dresses or jewelries. I wear whatever that looks good and fit on me, not necessarily designer wears all the time. If I had to buy say, slippers for 400 Pounds, I’d think again and say to myself, if I use a part of this money on my people back home, it will make a lot of difference. So, I’d go for a less expensive but nice one. That’s the way I do it. I just don’t like being wasteful.
What’s your beauty routine?
Do I have a beauty routine? Well, Monday to Friday, I’m just normal. But on weekend, say Saturday, I like to take special care of myself. I do facials and I visit the spa and relax. But I like going on holiday. I love traveling. I’m here today and the next day I’m in America. Probably five days after, I’m in Canada. Whenever I feel the pressure is getting much, I tell myself that I need to go somewhere quiet and relax myself.
What are your favourite food, drink, music and colour?
My best food is rice. My drink was Coke but I mellowed on Coke. It’s water I take most now because water is good for body. I don’t take alcohol. My colour is pink and purple. I’m not car freak. I could drive any car. But I love Range Rover.