The father of the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, Elder Olutayo Soyode, says in spite of his daughter’s position and the exalted office of her husband, he dreads going to Aso Rock for a visit. He said going to the villa was like going to jail, given the way his movement would be monitored and he would need to sign various forms before he could go out, for security reasons.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the 74-year-old said he loved to be free and he wasn’t the type to sit in one place and be watching television under heavy security.
Soyode, who was a close associate and son-in-law to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, explained that it was the will of God that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo rose from being a university lecturer to become the Vice-President and that all her daughter wanted to be was a confectioner despite being a qualified lawyer.
He recalled that by the time his late wife, (Dolapo’s mother) was delivered of Dolapo in the United Kingdom where they met, he was believing God to have a male child, as it was customary in his family to have a male as their first child. However, he said if she had been a male, he might not be as close to her as they are today.
When asked how often he visits the villa to see his daughter’s family, he said, “I don’t go there often. Going there is like going to jail, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like locking me up. The way you see me, do I look like someone that can be kept in one place and before I could go out, I have to sign papers and there would be plenty phone calls? I would just run mad because I’m not used to such.
“I’m a free man. That place (Aso Rock), is a very good place but I’m not the type to live there, so I don’t go there often. Anytime I go, I do give them time, like telling them I was coming for two days. I don’t even live with them. Let us say we are in Abuja now, you possibly can’t visit me for this interview. They won’t allow you to come in, and if you have to, you would have to sign different papers.
“If I go there, I would be there alone, watching television. I can’t do that. I would rather stay where they can visit me and anybody can see me.”
How does it feel to be the father of the wife of the Vice President?
I don’t have any special feeling because I have been in politics for a long time. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was my father-in-law, who is the President Nigeria never had, as far as I’m concerned. I was by his side and I worked with him full time. I have been in the limelight for a long time and so all these are just icing on the cake.
How did you meet your wife, Chief Awolowo’s daughter?
I met her in London where we were both studying and we fell in love. It was basically about students meeting each other in the UK during studies. I felt that before Chief Awolowo would say his daughter must not marry me, I needed to adopt what we used to call two-in-one, meaning marriage and pregnancy, so that by the time he would know, his daughter would have been pregnant and stopping us from getting married would be difficult. You know in that atmosphere, people tend to be more reckless. So, I did the two-in-one and both of us had to tell our parents what happened. When I told my father, he screamed, saying I had put him in trouble. When she told her mother, I didn’t know how she too screamed, but I remember one afternoon, at about 2:30pm, a call came in from Lagos. When I picked it, the person said, ‘is that Tayo Soyode?’ I said yes. The person said ‘this is Obafemi Awolowo.’ I started trembling and knelt down, till the phone almost fell in my hand. I had to put the phone down. I couldn’t pick his call again. Later, my dad called and instructed me to pick his call. About one hour later, Chief Awolowo called back and I picked. He said he had met my father and my people in Lagos.
Let me quote him. He said, ‘what I have done is that, you’re going to do certain arrangements. I have made sure that your marriage is going to hold on March 27, 1967.’ He made that call around January. He said he had booked the flight for us to come home because we had to do engagement and other things. Immediately, I dropped the call, I told my father and he told me he would give me money because he wouldn’t like the whole family to be disgraced. I made a lot of money that period; Chief Awolowo would send me money, I would tell my father and he would still send me money, and my dad would always say even if he had to sell his house he would, so he could send me money too. I didn’t return the money (laughs).
You must have expected Chief Awolowo to scold you when he first called, but he called you to give you a date. Would you know what appealed to him?
People say things that they don’t know about Awolowo. He was very humane; he could understand the situation then. After he made some findings, he found out that this man too had a perfect family and he was not just an upstart. He was educated like the daughter, so no problem. The man just adjusted. If he had not adjusted to me, papa would not ask me to come and be in politics with him. He had a son, he had people around him. Why me? He decided to do so and I found it comfortable working with Papa and his wife. He knew that I would do well and he didn’t regret it.
Looking at Chief Awolowo’s clout, how conservative was the wedding?
We came back to Lagos and we had a good wedding. My wife had 90 bridesmaids. The whole of Ibadan was closed for us. Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo was the governor (of the now defunct Western Region) at that time. It was a glorious wedding. And Wole (Awolowo’s late son) was the one who took his sister to the altar, Papa did not do that. An elderly father could tell the son to do it. Tokunbo (Awolowo’s youngest daughter) was the chief bridesmaid. My brother was the best man. I got the money for suit for the best man from the money I saved at that time. In fact, I became so rich at that time. It was about nine years into our marriage that Baba told me to resign my appointment where I was working in the maritime sector. He must have seen something in me. He told me to resign and join him politically. That was my first time in politics and I was with him till the very end. I imbibed what he taught me till today. I had been with him as far back as 1975.
Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo looks so reserved, but you look so energetic. Does it mean she took after her mother?
I must be energetic because I was a seaman. The mother was very reserved and she’s like that too. I call her Dolly Baby. She is very tactical, like Papa. Don’t look at her meekness as weakness. She’s light-hearted and she has always been quiet.
Did you ever have to spank her?
I wasn’t the type to spank; but I know how I dealt with all of them. Tell me any child that does not like ice cream, biscuits and sweets or going to amusement park. The person would not go, and I was an expert in that. The mother had more money than myself but I must do something that my children must remember me for. Papa too was giving me his car once a month to take them to the amusement park.
What if your son-in-law offers you an appointment, would you take it?
I can’t take any appointment from the government now. We (Nigerians) are not mature up to that level. There are lots of things I can offer this government from my experience, but I would rather do that privately. Else, somebody would come and make noise about it.
Since your wife died, you might have been alone. Why didn’t you remarry?
I have not even thought about it. What more do I want; my children are grown up and they are doing fine, so what am I bothering myself about? Remarrying would just be like committing suicide, and such a lady would be coming to suffer. I’m not lonely and I can never remarry.
When your daughter brought the Vice-President, who was quite older than her…
…No, she didn’t bring Vice-President, she brought her fiancé. Yes, he was 10 years older than her, and to me, that was a plain answer to my prayer. I used to wonder how it would be if she married someone of her age. I look at her as too simple and I used to wonder how she could manage herself. So, when she brought a teacher, I said thank God, he would be able to guide her. So, I was very happy about it and I was never disappointed.
What was your perception of the vice president when your daughter brought him?
You see, you are looking at the attention now. But let me tell you a story. In our family, we were always having males as first child. But in the UK then, they had a system, such that three months to your wife’s delivery day, both you and the wife must be going for exercise. They used to teach us how to handle emergencies. We, men, used to frown and so we knew ourselves. In her ward, there were three of them and by the time I got there after she was delivered of her baby, I heard she had a girl and I wasn’t so happy. When I stepped out, I met the husband of one of the women and he said his wife gave birth to a set of male twins, after having two boys at home previously. I then felt better. When I left him, I saw the husband of the other one and he told me his wife just had another boy.
So, I felt let me go back and even see the baby girl. Then I saw the way people were giving flowers to their wives, and my own wife’s bed space was like Sahara Desert. At that time, I had so much money, so I went to Interflora to buy flowers. When I went back, Ayo was awake. When she saw the flowers, she was shocked, mocking me for buying flowers because she knew I wasn’t the type. That moment, Mama HID came in from Lagos and saw the flowers, she was full of gratitude and she embraced me. Till date, Dolapo never forgets my birthday, from day one. As I’m here now, she would be asking, ‘where is papa. At any opportunity, she would ask of me. I see myself as a very lucky man. If she had been a boy, my punishment would have been hard! If you look at my son who took to politics, he was always asking me about the latest in politics. But Dolly Baby would look at my face and ask how I’m feeling. So, I tell myself that I could have suffered heavily if I didn’t have her. From the beginning, God would have seen my needs. Look at what Dolly has done.
Have you ever had any premonition that she would rise to such a level?
I never saw it coming. What I thought was that she would have been a very good confectioner, because she told us clearly that she would not practise as a lawyer but she would please us. That was what she told her mother, Mama HID and myself. Her mother and Papa were so keen for her to be a lawyer. She said she would be and immediately she was called to bar, she called and said she wanted to go into cake making. I had to open a cake shop for her and she started and she was doing that very well. She never practised for one day as a lawyer. If she had continued on that confectionery line, she would have gone really far. That was her natural passion. And many people don’t know she’s a very good artist. As you are sitting, if she takes a pen, it would be your copy. She loves gardening too and it’s part of her love for