Mrs. Yemisi Wada, in this interview with ‘Nonye Ben-Nwankwo, talks about her brief marriage to former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, her life at 50 and her new marriage
Has anybody told you that you don’t look 50?
I thank God that all my life, I have been told I look younger than my age. Of course, I hated it then but now, I find it hilarious sometimes. I have been asked for my identification in the US and UK before I could purchase alcohol as recently as two years ago. Meanwhile, I was sure I was old enough to give birth to the boy asking me. Then again, my daughters’ friends ask if I’m their sister. I don’t like it. I tell people in firm tones I certainly am not. But it’s good genes. Both my parents look very young and my siblings too.
How do you maintain your figure?
I watch what I eat. I have never liked pastries or sweet things that are fattening anyway, so I guess I am lucky. Even though I love cooking, I am not a foodie. I also exercise a lot. I love walking. I am always busy and on the go. I would take the stairs instead of using the elevator in most cases. I would walk up and down an escalator instead of just standing. All these are conscious efforts to keep fit. It is interesting that growing up, I did all it took to put on weight and now with middle age, I am busy doing the opposite. I was a confirmed tomboy growing up and was very nonchalant about my looks. But once I turned 40, the story changed. Now, I make sure I make the extra effort before stepping out. When I look good, I feel good. I also think when you look good and feel good, you are a nicer and more pleasant human being.
What has life taught you at 50?
At 50, life has taught me a lot. I have lived through so many experiences that at times I wonder what guided my thinking when I was younger. I have learnt that truly, patience is a great virtue. I have learnt that I need to do what makes me happy and not wait to derive happiness from others because it’s a tough task especially in an atmosphere where survival is tough. I have learnt to feel pity for people who go out of their way to hurt you because the truth is, it is because they wish they had peace. I have learnt that in truth, money can never buy you happiness or fulfillment but a relationship with God has amazing dividends. Many people get it wrong making assumptions of other people’s lives and they are bitter and unhappy because they feel they are worse off. They make assumptions or listen to what they are told and set ridiculous standards for their partners.
How do you feel having a daughter who is getting married?
I am ecstatic. My daughter is getting married in July by the Grace of God. I got married at 24 and I am reaping the benefits as I have had the opportunity to grow up with my girls. I feel it has made us closer. I am happy because people are different and in her case, she is mature enough to take up that role. She has also found a good man by the grace of God from good stock and surely that must be every mother’s prayer.
Why did you choose to study law?
My father was a lawyer but that was not my motivation. It was the courtroom drama I used to watch on television and the whole wig and gown that attracted me. My father worked for the Lagos State Ministry of Justice. He was State Prosecutor at some stage and in those days, if I was home and he was trying any interesting case like the ‘Iyabo Olounkoya’ drug case, my mum and I would go and watch.
Your parents must have been very comfortable for them to send you to study in the UK.
To be honest back then, our economy was okay. The year I went abroad to school was when the Naira became N3-1 pound. Life was easier. My father came from quite a wealthy family and he inherited property but didn’t really like the idea of receiving income from them. He used to go out of his way to tell us he would not leave any property in his will and that we should work for our own money. He had property in Ikorodu and Ogba, which some companies were renting. My mother left work when I was still young and till today she’s a very successful business woman. So between them, we got by.
Did you ever consider practising in the UK?
Yes I did and even went to the College of Law in England before coming home to the Nigerian Law School but once my mates came back to Nigeria, it was a very lonely place, I, too, came back home.
Would you still remember those days you used to work in your ex father-in-law’s law firm?
I actually never worked in Chief Fani-Kayode’s Law firm. When I got married straight after Law School, my father wanted me to work. After my youth service when it seemed my then husband didn’t want me to work, my father threatened to pull me out of the marriage. Chief had some election petition cases in Kano, so he drafted me into his team to work on them and later the appeals in Kaduna. That was how I met Mr. Raji Ahmed who was in the team as well and we later set up a law office together, along with Mr. Robert Emukpoeruo. Working on those cases were the best times I had at the time. That was also the first salary I earned as a lawyer.
Why did you even quit practising?
Law is a long-term earner. At the time, being a single mother with three children and wanting to give them the best like I had as a child, I could not afford to stay in practice. Besides, I needed to be the boss of my own time to be available for my children when I was needed.
Don’t you miss the gown and wig or anything related to law at all?
To be honest, after a stint practising in Nigeria, I was not interested in continuing. The system was slow, tedious and I didn’t have enough passion to be patient with it.
What inspired you to establish Haven for Nigerian Children?
Seeing that there were children living on the streets and I was going up and down cuddling mine made me sit up and think. I decided to do something about it and pray my own children if they were ever in need, would meet a helper. I have often wondered if this is a selfish notion. If it is, well I am not a saint and that’s my Achilles heel. At least, it has created a passion and I intend to keep running Haven as long as God grants me life.
Why are you so passionate about the street kids?
I’m passionate about rendering assistance in any way. I counsel very well. Nothing gives me more joy than knowing whoever meets me or comes into my life in any way gains something from my experiences. That’s where I derive my joy.
You produced a movie some time ago, is it a one off thing? When will you produce another?
In trying to get the message across about these children living on the streets really needing our help, we produced a docu/drama called ‘Oluranlowo Mi’ which means ‘My Helper.’ Basically it chronicles the lives of four street boys. It starts from their lives at home, why they took to the streets and how they end up depending on the type of intervention they got whilst on the streets. The boys acted in the film themselves, though they didn’t act their own stories. After shooting the movie, the production bug bit my ever restless self and now we have just produced a crime series based in Lagos State called Lasgidi Cops, Serious Crimes Unit.
How is life being Mrs. Dahiru Wada?
It’s very interesting. My father in-law loves me very much and my husband has many brothers who are like him, very loving. So you’re living in an atmosphere of love. It’s a very nice feeling. The best description of my husband is that he is a gentleman’s gentleman. He is also very cultured and well travelled. He loves good food and travelling. He is very well read and extensively knowledgeable in all things. He is very generous and for us kind almost to a fault.
You reportedly said your husband doesn’t like partying and dancing but these are things you love doing. So how do you manage this?
If I want to party and dance, he is not in my way. We understand each other perfectly. Many times, you will see us at parties and before long, you will not see him because he would have left quietly. Having said that, my husband observes more at that same party and when we analyse the proceedings after, I would be amazed. Seriously we complement each other nicely.
Can you tell us about growing up?
Growing up for me was awesome. We lived in GRA Ikeja, we walked and cycled about in clean and safe environment by ourselves. Most of our activities were centred on the home and the street. We climbed trees, raised dogs, rode bicycles. It was bliss.
What fond memories do you have when you were still growing up?
I have several. The best was how my paternal grandmother ‘Iya Alaje’ would come and stay with us when our parents travelled. She was very wealthy but not literate and she loved a good life. She would ask us what we would normally eat and my brother, Bayo and I would lie that we didn’t eat pepper. That would mean no eba and amala. She would take us to Kingsway Stores and buy us ham and all the nice things for sandwiches. The funny thing though was only Bayo had a palate for those things. I preferred my eba, so why I went along with it still baffles me. I guess it was the thrill of getting away with such nonsense.
As a young girl, if anybody had told you your marriage would break up, would you have believed it?
No, I would not have. That is why even after three children, I knew I would remarry. I don’t know if it is that love of being a wife or to run a home. Whichever, I love being married.
Can you still remember those days you were with your ex-husband, Femi Fani-Kayode?
I have no fond memories of then except having my daughters, as I am sure he would say same if asked. What people do not seem to realise is that we were together for only a very short while. The marriage itself lasted less than three years. The fact that I have three daughters makes it seem longer but I left just when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter.
Did you decide to marry him because his family was influential?
I don’t know what that means because I grew up in a home where I had all I wanted. There was nothing I got there that I didn’t have before. Actually I had more at home.
What was the attraction back then?
It was a long time ago but I think at the time, all the men I knew were clubbing like I was but he was already serious in politics. He was a national youth leader of his party and the proposal was very direct as he said, ‘I am in politics and I need a homemaker.’
Since the marriage produced beautiful kids, would you ever say you regret it?
No way. In fact, I always say if I came back in another life, I would do it again to have these same beautiful and dramatically intelligent daughters. I would just have a better exit plan.
How did you meet Mr. Wada?
Dahiru and I met at a party in London. It’s funny how we met. I thought he was someone else and planned to tease him but his incredible wit got the better of me and in the end, the joke was on me. He actually insinuated that I was a airhead!
What do you love about him?
He’s gentle, he is patient and he is kind. He has a wicked sense of humour and he can gist. He has an infectious laugh and like me, he loves to entertain. Like me also, he is a very good cook. He is the king of roasts and curries. He is an amazing father. He loves his kids to bits. I am always complimented about how well behaved my boys are but it is because they live with a gentleman father and they live by example.