Pharmacist turned politician, Mrs. Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, is Commissioner for Employment and Wealth Creation in Lagos State and an influential member of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration in Lagos State. it would be understating the obvious that the pretty former commissioner for youth and social development has continued to endear herself to the people of her Alimosho constituency through various developmental projects before and after her foray into politics. As former supervisory councillor in Agbado/Oke-Odo LCDA, Akinbile-Yussuf etched her name in gold when she initiated massive empowerment programmes funded from her personal purse, a scheme that won her the attraction of leaders of her party thus her subsequent recommendation for higher assignments. She shared the story of her journey to public life with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, and the desire to do more if given more opportunity. Enjoy…
Your performance has been remarkable since your time at the former ministry, what are your success secrets?
It has been God, first and foremost. I give all the glory to God Almighty. He blesses me with sound health and I watch my health too, I do exercises at the right time and I eat right.
Do you have a beauty routine, like visiting the gym?
Honestly, I don’t have time to go to the gym. But I have my routine. I do my fitness at home when I wake up in the morning and I repeat same before I go to bed at night. I don’t get tired to have my Salat prayers every day, I don’t get tired to have the daily exercises. This has been the regular practice for about 18 months. I discovered that I was adding weight so I decided that I had to shed the pounds. That is just it.
How have you been coping as a working woman and housewife?
There is no big deal in coping with both. I believe I’m taking after my mother with that. She does a lot of things at a time and she doesn’t get tired. I have been able to also do that without even knowing that I’m doing anything much. It has been part of my life. When I get home from office, my children do not see a commissioner but their mother and my husband does not see a commissioner but his wife. When I get to the office, I do my job as commissioner. I have been able to balance both without stress.
How does being a pharmacist impact your performance in your field of appointment?
Professionally, I’m a trained pharmacist. I finished from University of Lagos. The difference between pharmacist and any other profession is that pharmacy is a self-serving profession; it is about service to the people. It is service to humanity especially when you are a community pharmacist like me. Not all pharmacists are community pharmacists; we have industrial pharmacists, we have academic pharmacists and so on. But as a community pharmacist, I relate more with people in the community and I attend to their needs. Anybody that came across me when I was still practising as a pharmacist would attest to this. I was the superintendent pharmacist who attended to mostly the customers and patients and prescribed for them. This is what I love doing. If you are talking of prescribing drugs, no other person has the know-how but a community pharmacist. Yes, you can have the idea, you can have the faint knowledge of prescribing drugs, but if you are not a trained and thorough pharmacist, you can’t do it like an expert. During the course of my service in the community, I loved to give back to the society; I loved to render service to the community. It is a service that I love to do at all time. I was always there for the people with the little I could do to assist. That is what actually brought me into politics. I never planned to come into politics. But because of what I was doing to assist the people of my community, the people asked me ‘why not come into politics so that you can do more?’ and when people ask you to do something based on what they feel you have been doing to assist them, they mean what they are saying.
People call you Moremi, how did it come about?
I didn’t name myself Moremi. Truly, I have Ile- Ife background but it was the people that started calling me Moremi, saying that ‘oh, this is a woman liberator, this is a woman that can stand and fight for us, this is a woman that we can believe in, this is a woman that doesn’t look back once she decides to achieve a goal’. That is how I was named Moremi. There was this particular empowerment programme that I did in Agabado Oke-Odo in 2014 where I gave out a lot of things to people. There had never been such a big empowerment programme in the history of Lagos State. I was just a supervisor then and people were wondering ‘how would she be able to organize such a big programme, how much is her salary?’ but they were so excited when the programme held successfully. The Lagos State house of assembly deputy speaker then, Hon. Kolawole Taiwo was present at the programme. He actually came to confirm if it was true that a supervisor was organizing such a big empowerment programme. He was surprised and concluded that indeed this person has the trust of her people. He was amazed because he knew that I did such a big project not with the money I was getting from government but from my personal resources. He then said that if a person could do this from her personal pocket, she would do better if she had support from the government. That was where the Moremi moniker first came up. As soon as I was appointed the commissioner for youth and social development by His Excellency Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the name started becoming popular.
Now that you are popular with the name, would you accept to be officially installed as Moremi?
(Laughter) well, my community christened me Moremi. I don’t know anything about being installed officially. Even when I met the Ooni of Ife at an occasion in Ife where I represented Mr. Governor, he asked me ‘how come you are now Moremi’ and we just laughed over it. I’m a princess with royal blood. I believe it is done out of the love my people have for me because I never joke with their welfare. Even where I have not said I was going politically, they are already saying it everywhere that I must go. And when people come to me to ask if it was true what they were saying, I would just tell them, please, excuse me, I’m a full and committed party person, and the party is supreme in every member’s political life. So, whatever the party decides for me or where the party believes I’m fit into, I am okay with it and I will not hesitate to follow the line. I don’t have any special ambition outside what the party decides. I never contested to be a member of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s cabinet, but the party believed that in Alimosho, it was me that they wanted to represent the people. I have never disappointed the party and the people and I will never do for any reason.
So, you don’t know anything about fliers and posters being pasted around announcing your next political move?
That is to show how much my people love me. They will say Uzamat is going for this, she is going for that. That is where they honestly want me to go. But anything can only happen when the party says yes. I have never been too ambitious.
How have you been reacting to the call to seek higher offices?
I have not been reacting. In fact, when I heard of any of those calls, I just laughed and let it pass. Meanwhile, to the glory of God, those calls are just to show appreciation by the people. At least, no one has called on me to go back to be a councillor or back to be a supervisor after my tenure as commissioner; the calls are for me to move higher. I want to appreciate my people for that. I have never lobbied for any position. I will not force my way into any position.
How did you react to the story that you were being considered for deputy governorship in 2019?
As you are hearing, it is the same way I am also hearing it. It is like a flame but the source of the fire I don’t know. However, I have said it severally; the will of God will prevail at all times. However, there is no challenge that is too big for me to handle, I have held several positions in the past which I did very well. I believe in the party supremacy. Whatever the party believes I am worthy of doing for the people, I will not hesitate to do it to the best of my ability. I don’t have any special ambition. My only ambition is service to humanity. The first time I heard of the story, I just smiled. A friend called me about it. Soon, it started spreading and I was asking myself, how did the story start? Where did the story start from, I didn’t know even till date. But I’m still thanking God for the story because for people to remember you for that kind of position, it means you are doing well and you are doing things special in different ways. I’m not the only woman in Governor Ambode’s cabinet. So, I thank God and whoever it was that flew the kite (general laughter).
How do you react to negative stories about you?
When I hear of negative story being written about me, I ask myself, is the story real or a rumour? If the story turns out to be the truth, I tell myself that may be I have not done enough to serve, so, I would have to work more to earn people’s confidence. But if it is falsehood written about me, I would just laugh and ignore it. So, long it is not the truth, it is not about me. There was a particular story a blogger wrote about that got the attention of my son. When he saw it, he came to me and said ‘mummy there is a story here that the writer mistakenly attached your picture’. He felt it was an error because he knows that all that was written by the blogger had no connection to me in anyway. When I saw it, I just told myself that, well it is politics time again, such a thing is expected. But it was complete falsehood. But if it is a story that I have to react to given that I have an image and name to protect, I definitely would react. But in the case that a story writer needs my attention, I wouldn’t give such a writer my attention so cheaply. I would just ignore it.
What is your take in drug abuse and as a mother what is the role of mothers in curbing the menace?
To the glory of God, when I was in charge of the ministry of youth and social development, drug abuse is one of the serious issues that we tried to tackle. There was a day we went out to some of our centers and I saw a boy of 11 years smoking Indian hemp. Many of them were at the centers. I was shedding tears as a mother. So, I had to initiate a programme across all the districts that campaigned against drug abuse. We brought in celebrity singers who had sung against drug abuse for the campaign. We are losing so many young souls to drug abuse. I can tell you that 25 to 30 percent of our youths are indulging in drug abuse. The reason is very simple. We are not in control of drug sales in Nigeria. The drugs are free flowing. There is nobody controlling sale of drugs. If you don’t buy drugs from the pharmacists, you can get it from roadside hawkers or Mallams. It is only in Nigeria that you see touts selling drugs, people that know nothing about what they are selling. That is why we are losing so many innocent lives to ailments that can easily be prevented. It is that bad. So, as mothers, the most important thing to do is to re-orientate ourselves and be watchful on our children.
You have done a lot to impact your community and people around you. Is giving in your blood or there was a circumstance that encouraged you to commit yourself to societal needs?
God bless the memory of my late mother. I would say, giving is in my blood because I picked it from my mother. She was a free giver. She was ready to share a plate of rice among her children and children of neighbours. I took after her. She affected a lot of lives positively. I heard so much about her from neighbours that even me as her child never knew before, and this really gingered me to keep doing more to assist people around me.
What was your growing up like with your mother?
When I was growing up, honestly, I didn’t like my mother (laughs) because she was very strict. She trained the same she trained the boys. I didn’t realize in time that she was actually trying to make me. It was when I became an adult and mother myself that I began to appreciate all she was doing to me then. I was closer to my father than to her as a young girl. Her training actually helped me to be self-reliant. So, growing up was both fun and challenging.
What gets you going in life?
What keeps me going is recognizing the fact that life is full of challenges. What keeps me going is recognizing that when you surmount a challenge, you move to the next level and prepare yourself to meet other challenges. That is life for you. Don’t sit and mourn your challenge, look for a way out and move ahead. See every challenge as phase that will pass.
What has politics taken away from you?
The first thing politics took away from me is privacy. I used to be an introvert. I didn’t go out; I stayed indoor most of the time. But today, I have to be everywhere.