Dr. (Mrs.) Bisola Sodipo-Clark, a medical doctor, is the Chairman Governing Board of the National Ear Centre in Kaduna. She comes from a strong political family, the patriarch of which was late Chief Molaja Sodipo, the first Egba man to be elected into the House of Representatives during the pre-independence era. She is also at present married to a politically-active elder statesman, Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Clark, both of which she has benefitted from. Sodipo-Clark is now contesting for Ogun Central Senatorial seat on the Peoples Democratic Party platform. She speaks with SUNDAY ROTILEFON on why she left the medical profession for politics and her chances in the senatorial race….
You are a medical doctor, what informed your joining politics?
Well, they say apple doesn’t fall very far from a tree. In the first place, I come from a family of sterling political and community leaders. My grandfather, Chief Molaja Sodipo, was the first Egba man to be elected into the colonial/pre-independence House of Representatives in 1959. My uncle, the revered Chief M.A Majekodunmi, founder of St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, was the first administrator of the Western region. Another uncle, Dr John Adewunmi Sodipo, was the physician to the first Prime Minister of Nigeria. Apart from that, I was formerly Commissioner for Health and also Commerce, Industries and Tourism in Ogun State. I have also always led medical courses as a public health physician. My practice as a medical doctor is geared more towards community demographics epidemiology that deals with how communicable and non-communicable diseases impact on communities. So, within that background, I am also married to a renowned politician, but I think I have always had a history of public service and so has my family.
What has been your experience in politics and politicking especially with all the intrigues in your party both at the state and national levels?
Remember I was part of the military regime that birthed this democratic dispensation in 1999. I was a commissioner back then. So I have been used to politicking and at the same time I have always been a PDP stalwart. I don’t particularly believe in jumping camps from one party to the other. If you are somewhere, you must have some amount of commitment and an initial understanding of where you are and where you intend to be in the first place. Well, there is no party so to speak without its issues, without its ups and downs. It is like a family, if you are in a family, you have the good, the bad and the ugly; but you stick to it because the purpose of that family is essentially good and that’s what holds your society together. But with regards to the PDP, I think it is essentially the party that is the most democratic; the most nationalistic. It allows everybody from all walks of life to be able to achieve, as a team, what they want to. Also, our president, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has been able to emerge, I believe, because of the democratic process that exits in the party. This is not to say that the process is perfect. Democracy really is a process that will need to evolve through defined structures and certain processes being in place. I will like to liken it to a woman who is pregnant and is expecting a baby; you are going to have some birthing pains definitely but at the end of the day, what you are expecting would take care of these pains. Knowing that, there is going to be planning, there is going to be strategy, and there is going to be ways of being able to form a process which is going to lead to something which eventually we hope would stand the test of time.
So, those are some of my reasons. The other reason is that the present government of our president, I believe, has laid a lot of structures that I think should be sustainable. It is easy to do things which I think might be popular, but to lay foundation for some structures does take some process. For instance, in the transportation area, in terms of the rail and airports, they are not as they were eight years ago. If you look at the recent Ebola crisis, if you look at the fact that a lot of other countries near us are still battling with it.
So, we have a lot of issues, but it is good that we have what it takes to address them and I will like to see the government re-elected so that those good things can continually get to us.
If you also look at the area of agriculture, we have forgotten that we used to have problem with fertilizers not reaching the farmers. All the scandal in those areas are things of the past. We are now producing rice, ofada rice, which incidentally is much better than par boiled rice because that is the nearest thing to natural rice or the bran rice. Also, there has been a lot more of private participation in government, which will enhance sustainable institution and which will then create more employment for our youths. All said, it has been an interesting experience.
What job experience have you got and what have you done for the people of Ogun State that makes you think you deserve to be their Senator?
I honestly believe that service is a natural thing, it is very easy to stand on the soap box and say “oh, I can do this and I can do this,” but I believe that my own very nature is just to get things done. Doing things for people to me is my way of giving back or giving to God. I believe that whatever you do, you do it as a principle and it is God that gives back to you. Initially, before I served as Commissioner for Health, I had served in various capacities, both at home and abroad. When I finished my post-graduate studies in England, I was put on a board as the main researcher in London where they had an issue with high infants and maternal mortality indices. I studied the research to see what was happening. At that time, there was a high influx of foreigners, especially Somalians, Malians, Bangladesh and others, to the inner cities of the UK known as Tower Hamlet at that time. I did the demography and led a joint research between several NGOs, the community itself -White Chapel.
The London Hospital called the joint units of epidemiology and obstetric gynaecology. I stayed with the community for some time to get a feel and then designed a questionnaire used on each and every foreigner. And then, we got an idea of what was causing the problem. Sometimes, in areas where you want to help people, the first thing to know is what the people want and their problems. You may have your ideas, but you need to go into that society and find out what the issues were. We found out the issue were quite simple, at the end of day. It was called access, that is, it was difficult for them to go from where they were because they did not understand the language of the hospitals that were near because they did not understand the sign post in England. That was all. And then we called women who would be able to go and accompany them. What did we achieve? Number one, we were able to find out what the problem was. Secondly, the research we did at that time is part of the reason why till today, while in England, if you go to the hospitals in the East end of London, you will see that they normally have signpost in various languages; they will have it in English, Bangladeshi and all other languages.
These were as a result of the research that was done and later, money was moved in there. Eventually I came to Nigeria and did the same thing. I worked with the USAID policy department, I did more or less the same thing for the whole of South-west in Nigeria at the time and from that particular research as well, we brought forward a policy again, and it was the basis of the policy we now have in place of one woman, four children, for spacing. We did it again almost the same way. If I am here, I want to serve you, I want to serve the students, I must know who is there; how many are you, what are their ages, what is their interest, what will make them happy? You know, that is the first thing I have to do. So, when they ask, ‘have I been in politics’ that is the basics of my being, of my life, those are the things I am used to because you cannot make a change if you don’t know what the change is all about. I have been used to working with systems, systems that work. In anything I put my mind to do, God has really made me succeed. The process is still there for you to see, that was 17 years ago. You see, structures, processes stand the test of time.
What informed the electrification of some communities in your district?
When I started the Senate race, I wanted to see what the issues were. It was at the communities that some of the issues were exposed. A few communities visited complained of lack of electricity. An old man said, “we don’t have light; we have contributed money, we have done so many things. For three years, we have been contributing and yet, we have not seen one minute of light”. Another said, “where we stay, we see Government House across the road and there is always light and I stay here and there is no light, you know’’. So, I made a promise and I ensured it was fulfilled. I am not one of those who make empty promises.
Considering the fact that Ogun State is ruled by APC and most of your opponents are men, what are your chances?
With due respect, I stand head and shoulders above the men in every sense of it. Is it in education, pedigree, achievement or is it in vision or in ability? Absolutely, we are not coming from the same place. If it is in terms of progress, then the difference will be clear. Everybody must try, it is a democracy. I have the experience and I also have the connections by the grace of God to be able to create things that would help the people.
If elected, what are you going to do differently?
I am going into the Senate, I am not the governor. But what you are trying to do in the Senate is to be able to enact laws and policies that would be able to enable development to come in at a faster rate in every area. There are several areas; I look at education, we need to be able to provide more qualitative education, and I am talking about qualitative education in every sense of its ramification, not only in terms of the three As, but in terms of ethics, values, comfort, exposure, we need to have these.
Number two, for women, we are trying to be in the vanguard because we are still few and still struggling. It is an uphill task, but if we make laws and policies that give us soft landing, it will make it easier for the women coming behind, for my children, for my daughters and granddaughters, for us to be able to take our rightful place.
And there are so many areas. For instance, there are basic ones like enacting laws against violence against women; there are also laws which will allow equitable distribution of places for women. This government is already doing that in the sense that the Beijing Affirmation has already been exceeded, we have 35 per cent but there is nothing wrong in us having 50 per cent, and capable women there to be able to work. If a woman is able to work hard and show her mettle, then she should stand the same chance a man has to be able to get to where she wants to go.
There is also the question of the elderly. I was very depressed a couple of years ago, I remember the latter years of my parents’ life, how we used to have struggle to try and see if they will get their rightful pension. Apart from those who rightly need to have the pension that belongs to them, we should be thinking about something like old people’s homes, soup kitchens; we should be the ones to care for them. I believe that a society that cares for its old, cares for its young, cares for its women has already won the race of civilisation and development. Those are few areas and every other area that make it comfortable. Youths, for instance, need employments; unemployment changes their personality, it causes so many other things and we cannot do these things by some populist method. We need to lay down structures in every area: industry, hospitals, etc. We need to get into issues; I am not going to run for an election based on sentiments but on things that get results that would move us forward.
Do you still believe that politics is a dirty game?
Politics is not a game for the weak or the frail, believe me. There are many areas that need to be refined in it. It challenges so many things we need to think about, it challenges justice, thinking and more. But I believe that that also does not mean that we should leave it to those whom we will complain about. If we cannot use those skills we acquire to conquer the terrain we are in, then why did we get it? Education, exposure and everything are tools for survival and by the grace of Almighty God, we will get there and we will clean the Augean table.