My Father Believed In A United Africa- Ambassador Fernandez’ Daughter, Teju Phillips

Olateju Phillips
Olateju Phillips
Chief (Mrs) Olateju Phillips, first daughter of the late billionaire, Ambassador Antonio Oladeinde Fernandez, said on Thursday that previous Nigerian governments did not allow her father to serve the country in any capacity.

She said this during an interview at her residence in Lagos.

According to Phillips, who is a former Lagos State Commissioner, Ambassador Fernandez represented many African countries due to his love for service but he was not given such an opportunity in his country till his death.

“He knew how to manage people and endeared himself to them. For this, he was well appreciated. His involvement with the United Nations made him to appreciate people especially Africans. He represented so many countries in the world, he believed in Africa and in a united Africa.

“Unfortunately, previous Nigerian governments never gave him the opportunity to serve the country. His sermon always was that Africa should remain one,” she said.

On the rumour that her late father was a recluse, Phillips disagreed, saying he was a man of the people, who loved justice, equity and had an undying love for humanity.

She said, “He was not a recluse but he cherished his privacy. He would always say you should remain who you are and he was unapologetically proud about being black.”

Phillips also spoke on her special relationship with her father, in this interview.

Where were you and how did you receive the news of the death of your father, Chief Dehinde Fernandez?
I was here in Nigeria; I just got back from seeing him in the hospital. I saw him on the bed and you know when you have a loved one, you don’t really want to see him die, I just saw sickness and I knew my father, a strong man, he will get over whatever is there. He was still bubbly in his voice and very sound, so I just thought everything will be alright one day.

So when I came back, I was getting news of the progress of his health, but two or three days before he died, I had been really sad, even before I got the news, I was already crying, so when it came, I was wailing in the house. I thank God, that I had a few days of beautiful memories with him.

What were your fondest memories of him?

There are so many, do I want to talk about the time he took me abroad to school or the time he would take me to the jewelers or the time he would bash me to tears.

Why would he bash you, were you very naughty while growing up?

Even as an adult, I am talking about two or three months before he died, he still spoke to me like a little girl, to him I was still his daughter. But he prepared me very well for life, so for the fond memories, it was packed full of so many things. Nobody would know the extent of the love he had for me in those tough days, I guess most of us his kids, we are like him, tough too.

Chief Fernandez has been described as a very flamboyant man, there was a picture of him dressed in animal skin with two tigers in front of him, yet you described him as a man who had no drama around him?

Yes, no drama. He was a genuine person, when I said drama, it means pretensions, no, he was a real man, he was happy with himself; he says it as it is, no drama. It is either you like it or you don’t like it.

What were the lessons and values he impacted in you while growing up?

The discipline is that, you must appreciate the value of money; you must learn to spend and keep money. And he was quite tough, you don’t get everything you want, no, excuse me. But he had his own way of spoiling us.

How was that?

Like he will just decide if a thing is good for you, he will give you more than you expect, for example if I say I want to do a project and he believes you are going to succeed in that project, he supports you more than you ever expect and if he believes that that thing you want to do, there is no end to it, forget it, he is not going to give you a kobo.

So he was your business mentor?

He was a mentor on so many things, behavior in life, choice of so many things that you will do in life and even when it is hard, he turns to you and say no. He had his moments and we all appreciated that and I guess his peculiarities are him. He lived life the way he wanted it and God made it possible for him.

He was very prominent on the African scene, he was the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United Nations, and he was adviser to the President of Mozambique and Special Adviser to the President of Angola. But he never did anything for Nigeria?

He was a man of people who knew how to manage people, he endeared himself to them and they appreciated him, he represented so many countries in the world, but Nigerians never gave him any honour in Nigeria. They didn’t give him the opportunity to serve them, it is sad.

But did he try to?

He tried, several governments, they appreciate him over there. In his own way, his people in Nigeria, he touched lives and they really loved him for that, he believes in Africa a lot and believe that it should be a united Africa and his sermon all the time is that it is best when we are united.

He was a friend to the late Nelson Mandela, Koffi Anna and a host of others. What do you remember about his friendship to all these great men?

For those two people, he made them to speak to me in my house on the phone. I spoke to Koffi Annan and I spoke to Mandela on telephone, when he was with them, he will say talk to my daughter, she is in Nigeria.

What were his hobbies, the food he loved, he was reputed to fly Tuwo from Nigeria to New York

Yes, he loved African foods, he enjoyed eating them, he was not pretentious anyway, he will eat Western food in the most cultured way but he would come back to his level and appreciate the African food.

Some people have described him as a recluse, who was always hiding all over the world. How does that make you feel reading that?

Excuse me! You are free to your own impression but I know he was not like that.

What are the things you will miss most about him?

His phone calls, those phone calls are educative. Three, four, five hours, we had done eight hours on the phone, from night till morning time.

So he kept in touch anywhere he was?

Anywhere and anywhere I am. I am going to miss his calls. I knew I have a genuine relationship, natural one with him. He fought me, he loved me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *