She is, unarguably, an unrepentant follower of President Muhammed Buhari. She heads one of the country’s cash cows, the multi-billion naira Lagos International Trade Fair in Lagos. Mrs. Lucy Ajayi’s name is synonymous with whatever the head of state represents and she said that much and many more during an encounter with Saturday Vanguard in her office at the sprawling Trade Fair complex in Ojo, Lagos.

Excerpts: “ I was appointed the Chief Executive officer of Lagos International Trade Fair in April last year by the president. Before then, I had been working closely with him from 2009 when Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, was formed. I didn’t know him in person, but I heard so much unpalatable stories about him, and I grew up with such stories, until I traveled to South Africa in 2008, and it was so shameful that non-Nigerians were telling me about him. I was shocked. In fact, that very day, if there was an opportunity to come back to Nigeria, I would have rushed back to see him. They equate him with Nelson Mandela there in South Africa. I was even told that during the inauguration of President Obama, he was invited alongside Nelson Mandela, but the powers that be then didn’t allow him to leave Nigeria for that inauguration. But against all odds, if you go to the United Nations, the two pictures are hanging there, the pictures of Nelson Mandela and President Muhammad Buhari.

Why I left South Africa for Nigeria

“While still in South Africa then, a ten year-old boy said he heard about Buhari in history, he now asked, “Madam, you are here, I learned you are the fifth highest oil producing country in the world, how come you guys are poor? And I couldn’t get answer to that question. By then, I was looking for a job, I couldn’t get a job. I actually relocated to South Africa because my husband got a job there. So, I had to close my modeling business here in Nigeria and went there to join him, they termed me a second-class citizen. The disparity between the blacks and whites is there already, not to talk of a visitor going there. After a year, I told my husband I had to go back to Nigeria, I heard of how people made their country what they want it to be, why can’t I go back and make my country what I want it to be? why don’t we come and do same in our country and be proud of being a Nigerian? I will tell you, I am an accidental politician, because I didn’t know I was going into politics, I just wanted to come, do what I could do, empower who I could empower because I was doing that before when I was running my modeling agency. But when I came, there was an economic meltdown, the advertising agencies who were my clients then, said most people didn’t advertise anymore. The economy was bad so I couldn’t go back into modeling, so I went sojourning, looking for what to do, whether to be a contractor or be employed because I still thought I was employable and tried to see the then Lagos state CPC chairman, Chief Ajibade Amiabata.

Encounter with CPC

“We met at a social gathering but, what I saw that attracted me was his bus. There were Buhari posters all over the bus and the whole Buhari thing came back to me again. I went searching for the then newly elected CPC chairman. He actually confirmed some of the things I heard in South Africa about Buhari which Nigerians don’t know and its our duty for us to know. If we have this kind of person and he’s still alive with us, please let’s take the opportunity and work for him. He said he had no money but he only wanted Nigerians to do the right thing. In fact, I told myself that this is what I want, a leader that will make Nigeria work. And it confirmed what I heard about him In South Africa. Also, I had a background in publicity when I was doing modeling.

I worked with many journalists in Lagos. As we progressed in CPC, I noticed that we were not getting enough publicity because they didn’t have money. Immediately I joined the party, I embarked on the massive publicity of the party using my inter-personal relationship with journalists. The first interview for CPC was done in my parlor because then, we didn’t have an office, so for every success, that is a story.

My state chairman was very shocked when he saw one page with his picture and he said you didn’t have money, how come you are getting this publicity, and that was what brought me to the limelight. So the media men continued to help me with publicity, and I think most of them know about Buhari, but, it was not in their position to state as media men, until you tell them to, and there were no such difficulties in telling them what to write about him, and I am happy that my team did a very good job.

How I came to the limelight

“So when there were publicity and propaganda committee for 2011, I was nominated, that was how I grew from a local government party chairman to a national committee, and we did what we could do, and through my active participation in social media, we started spreading the Buhari’s song. And when he lost in 2011, some bigger people left, and that was what created space for me to come up. There was this CPC renewal committee headed by Nasiru El-rufai then. And that was how I got to the committee for three months with no dime. I was in Abuja with the former SGF and we were all in CPC because Buhari said he wasn’t running for presidency anymore, that we needed to bring out younger Buhari’s.

He wanted to bring some of us up, and that was why the story was going around that El-Rufai was going to be the next president, but, in the process of that, ACN Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu came, and suggested that they merged. Then, we were trying to round up our mobilization in CPC. And then the merger list came, and I was the only woman there to negotiate on behalf of CPC and ACN. It was an eighteen-member committee, but, I didn’t know until two weeks to the inauguration, and that was the peak, to negotiate for Buhari, and other parties.

We did the merger talks for six months, and it came to pass in 2013, and I was happy. After that, I was made the vice president of Buhari youth organization. I got my own heat, I had issues with the South West, and so I was expelled from the party. You know, one thing led to the other, and I got this appointment. I have never lobbied in my life, but, I kept on saying, my work will speak for me. The Nigeria I want is that you will finish your schooling and get a job to do, not, that you beg to feed and I feel the only person that could do it is President Muhammad Buhari.

Why do you think they are attacking Buhari?

“It is obvious because they are all corrupt. They hold the masses money in their hands, and Buhari wants it out. In 2011, Buhari gave a speech, he said what we have in Nigeria can go round Nigerians four times and still remain, but these monies are in few hands, and he wants to get them out, but, it is not easy. And I know with the God we serve, we will get there. Many of those that had stolen monies told him that they would not support him because when he emerged, he would jail them.

Buhari’s image at the trade fair

People at the trade fair complex believes that I am the Buhari they know. They now believe that Buhari has Igbos at heart. They say because each time you talk, we believe you are carrying out his programme of action and that has led to the ease in doing our business here unlike before. So, through you, we have known the mindset of Buhari. Here I don’t see anybody that will raise a PDP flag in this complex, and nobody will touch my banner. So, it means I have won for Buhari, and APC by extension. This year, I sent two people to Mecca to go and pray for Muhammad Buhari, my Vicar is in Jerusalem to pray for him too.

Seeing the saint in Buhari

The media have a role to play because they did a lot to spoil it. I wish they could go back and say the truth. The truth is that President Muhammad Buhari is real, he cares for this country and wants to take Nigerians to the height God wants us to be. When it comes to Buhari, anywhere I step into, you can’t beat me. It is either you agree with me or you don’t show your disagreement openly. Some will say, there is no food on their table, and I tell them, “to get gold you must pass through the fire”.

I will also encourage my fellow women in Nigeria to embrace Buhari and in no distant time, changes will come. We can all see what is happening now. Other political parties have aspirants but we have a candidate in Buhari. They all should wait till 2023 before they could become the candidate. For now, there is no obstacle on Buhari’s way as our president. He is an embodiment of integrity and above all, he is for the masses.

Coping with challenges at the Fair

I told you, I like challenges. I want to repair. I feel that if something is already made and good, you won’t see the best in me. Go and see what I am doing with the traders, they are saying I would soon be tired, but I told them I won’t. Look under the bridge, do you see any hawker there? My stakeholders here do not have the guts not to pay to the government, and they are appreciating it. It should be noted that for the first time, we returned about N900 million as TSA to the Federal government and we are going to do more.

For now, traders here have the presence of management which they did not have before. Now, they can easily work into the office and their problems will be solved. My mandate is to make her look like an international trade center and that is what I am trying to do.

Surmounting skirmishes among traders

My mandate here is to lease land, we don’t go into their internal administrative crisis, except if it affects the complex. But if there is any tension, I marry them by calling for meetings and these traders here are billionaires, they are adults and they concede when you have a superior argument and to that extent, they have been so nice.”

By Emma Nnadozie / Punch

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 2415 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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