The Punch

Becoming a father made me more resourcefu­l – Oke-osanyitolu, DG, LASEMA

The Director General of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Oluwafemi Oke-osanyitolu, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about his experience as a father and how he balances work and family life

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What does fatherhood mean to you? Fatherhood is about setting a good example for your children, bringing your children up in a way that they fear God and are able to contribute positively to humanity and become good people in society.

Did becoming a father change anything about you?

I have not really changed. One thing is clear: I’ve tried as much as possible to be close to God and be focused as I help humanity. One event which happened when I was growing up changed my perception about life. What moved me to where I am – handling emergencie­s as both DG of LASEMA and a medical practition­er – is when I lost my elder brother, who was the firstborn of the house. I had the opportunit­y to be with him when he was sick and I saw how doctors were respected so much that my mother and father, who were at the epicentre of my life, started begging doctors to come and attend to us. With their white coats, some of them were so arrogant. This was what prompted me to move to the medical profession, so that I can add value to my parents and our family. I didn’t have the capability at the time. I had to adopt some of these capabiliti­es and traits of being a proper doctor.

Initially, I had wanted to be a lawyer. Most of the things I did in secondary school were art-related, so I had to change to the sciences at a crucial point of my secondary education. I had to change my lifestyle to be able to perform and graduate as a medical doctor.

So, when I became a father, it was serious business for me. Interestin­gly, while I was in lagos working, my wife was at the then university of Ife, Oyo State (now

Obafemi Awolowo university, Ile-ife), studying medicine.

So, when we started having children, we depended on family support, especially on the part of my motherin-law. The grace of God was also a huge factor, because it was not easy.

While I was practising in lagos, my wife was in school with our first child. Our first child started university as early as six months old (laughs). He went with his mother to classes and stayed with his mother’s roommates, so he was already exposed to campus life at such a young age.

How do you balance providing for your children’s financial needs and meeting their emotional needs?

My wife is a big factor here. My wife is very supportive. She is a medical doctor as well. We thank God we are still a work-in-progress. I say this because our children were exposed to learning at a young age, being born by two doctors. Look at my firstborn, who was already exposed to university life at such a young age, so you can imagine when his mother would take him to the lecture room and all her mates would be playing with him. I visit them during the weekend to see how they are doing. Our family is a dynamic family. All of us try as much as possible to be close and work together as a team.

At what age did you marry and when did you become a father?

I got married on May 24, 1996. I was 29 years old then. I became a father that same year.

Most youths believe that before they marry, they must make good money. When you married, what was the case?

I wouldn’t say I was even financiall­y stable when I got married. I was a medical doctor and had a private clinic I ran, but despite that, for the demands of the children, I had to save up for them. I had to read, buy equipment and others, but I also had to save for the future. Immediatel­y after my wife got pregnant, I started saving. Any money that came in, no matter how little, I would save some. Interestin­gly, I started my life in our family house, not that I had a house. It was the house I grew up in. My parents left for Ekiti and left a duplex for me in lagos. From that duplex,

I carved out a clinic. upstairs was my residence. That was how I started my life with my wife. I wouldn’t say I was buoyant.

My advice is that they should wake up to the reality. you don’t need to have all the money to marry; you just need to have the basic things. If you are able to save, you’d buy all these things in marriage. It is not a must that you must have a car, build a house, and all those other flashy things. What your focus should be is for you to have an understand­ing wife and ensure that your family works at a team. Things started changing for me when my son clocked 40 days. I noticed a lot of changes. you know when you are responsibl­e for your family, you won’t be spending recklessly. you’d be able to be focused. Before I do anything, I always think about my family first. Any money that I have, instead of using it to buy designer shirts and watches, I would have to save it, because I have to think of what my family would eat, what they would wear and their other needs. Fatherhood made me more responsibl­e and resourcefu­l.

As DG, LASEMA, responding to all emergencie­s in Lagos, how do you balance that with your responsibi­lities on the home front?

For the home emergency, I was lucky to have a good wife. My wife takes care of all emergencie­s at home. Everyone in my house is an emergency expert. If you ask my last child about emergency, she’d tell you everything about it. Responding to these emergencie­s also involve home management. The incident commander of emergency in our home is my wife. I am the incident commander from the outside; my wife is the Emergency II as we call them in the service here (LASEMA). We always discuss and allow communicat­ion to flow. Anywhere I am going to, I tell my family, they must be aware. They all grew up in the hospital environmen­t. Remember I ran a private clinic downstairs that time. My son lived upstairs in our one room. Ours is about team work.

How many are your children?

They are three. I gave birth to the first one in Nigeria, but the other two were born in Dublin. You’ve mentioned your wife many times in the course of this conversati­on. How did you meet her? Was it love at first sight?

It is a funny story. was gunning for another person, whom she was also friends with. We were very close friends; I was looking for a gentleman for her, who would be her husband, while she was assisting me to talk to her female friend to marry me (laughs). Her mother was and she’s still my mother and a confidant; we used to pray together for a good wife for me. So, interestin­gly, one day, my younger sister, Bunmi, came visiting and saw her (my wife) and I introduced her to my younger sister as my friend. My sister dragged me to a corner and asked me if all was well with me. “How can you be praying for a wife when you have one staring right at you?” she asked. I was confused. How can I begin to woo my friend? I thought it was mission impossible. I called Bunmi and told her that it would be difficult to change her role from being my friend to my wife. But she couldn’t understand. To her, I was not ready to marry. She reported me to my mom who encouraged me to talk to her (my wife).

That day, before I told her my intention, I took a bottle of stout. My friends already told me that I might not be able to talk to her to marry me. I approached her and told her that I loved her and wanted her to be my wife. She laughed and told me to go home, because she thought I was drunk. I insisted that I loved her and wanted to marry her. I left that night and told my sister, who took it up from there. My wife called me the following day and asked me if I was sure of what I said and I told her that it was all I ever wanted. Here we are today. The rest, they say, is history.

As a doctor, did you accompany your wife to the labour room when she was giving birth?

My wife gave birth to our first child at Gbagada General Hospital, lagos. I was on duty that day. She came visiting as usual and said she needed to stroll as she was having pains. As she stepped out, the head matron, Mrs Amusa, said, “Who is this woman? She is in labour, oh!” My wife didn’t know she was in labour with her first child. They took her in and checked her vital signs and it was true. They had to call for the senior medical officer, Dr Alabi, who was also on duty with me that day, because they didn’t allow me to take her delivery. He came and took her delivery. Since the others were born in Dublin, Germany, I couldn’t be there with their mother.

How do you discipline your children when they step out of line?

We talk to them. My parents were teachers. My father used to be the Secretary General of the Nigeria union of Teachers. He used to be a principal. My mother was one of the commission­ers in Ondo State and a proprietre­ss of schools. So, I can boldly say we are teachers. We learnt how teachers train their children, but ours was a kind of hybrid. We talk to them and punish them if need be. We have realised that talking to them yields a lot of results.

What are the values you learnt from your parents that are helping you in parenting?

I learnt quite a lot. The first thing I learnt from my parents was how to make your children your friends. When you make your kids your friends – talk to them about the work you are doing, talk to them about the challenges you are facing and how they can help you make life easier – we find out that it is easier to parent them that way. When you make mistakes, accept it and apologise. Before anyone tells your children about what you have done outside, let your children know so they’d be able to defend you. let them know you for who you are. My children and I have no boundaries. We talk to each other; we relate very well with each other. When they want to do something and realise that I won’t accept it, they make sure they link up with the incident commander of home, which is my wife, their mother, to see if she can help convince me.

They always come around her to get things done.

Have you received any gifts from your children which you cherish so much?

They always give me a parker pen and some nice wristwatch­es. So, if they want to give me a gift, they give me these items and it is such a beautiful experience.

How do you celebrate your children when they make you proud?

First of all, we pray about it. We always thank God whenever good things happen to us. After that, I will ask my wife to check from them what the person wants as a gift, and we would give the person the gift they want.

How do you bond with your children?

We chat a lot. We talk. We travel together. We always like being in one another’s company.

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