Why I won’t condemn people with many wives —Setonji
Honourable Setonji David, a civil engineer, is a lawmaker representing Badagry Constituency 2 in the Lagos State House of Assembly. SEGUN KASALI brings his story.
DO you usually have sleepless nights?
Yesterday, I slept around 1 a.m. and woke up after 4 a.m. because there were books I needed to read. You read to acquaint yourself with many things in order to brush your understanding. But our system is in trouble because people perceive politicians as being wealthy. There are some people who are out to do what is right. The bulk of the challenges I have has to do with the needs of my people. There are a lot of things we are lacking and that gives me a lot of worries.
Isn’t that impacting on your family life negatively?
No. It does not affect my duty as a father and husband at home. My wife and children understand me.
When did you meet your wife?
I met her at the University of Ife and that was in 1986 and we got married in 1991. I met her by chance though I can’t remember precisely the event that led to me meeting her. I wasn’t in Ife. I started working in the civil service in 1986 while she was still a student. She was living in Lagos but schooling in Ife. It was during one of these vacations that we met at Ilupeju.
And she just said ‘Yes’?
Naturally, she was reluctant. It took us time. We didn’t know we were going to marry really. But, with time, we discovered that we were compatible.
There is no one without at least a flaw. What has she been trying to change in you?.
There are so many things, but I don’t want to talk about them. There are things she likes and there are things she does not like. She didn’t like me going into politics. She never liked politics because of the way people see it and you know women rarely take risks. So, she was vehemently opposed to my going into politics. But by my own nature, I pursue whatever I like.
How did you convince her?
It was my victory that convinced her. When you are consistent at something, you will eventually see the reward. Women are a special breed. They can do a lot of things regardless of the intelligence of any man. Some people don’t see it that way though. When you become violent, it means something is deficient in you. Why can’t issues be resolved amicably? Violence against women is one thing I hate. I always love encouraging couples to settle their differences without fighting. We will always have differences but not resorting to taking advantage of the other person. I always encourage men to be careful not to harm their wives. It is not a good thing at all.
How do you manage admirers?
I don’t have that kind of challenge.
You mean you don’t have admirers?
I am a politician. A lot of people come to me for one thing or the other. However, it doesn’t go beyond that.
You were not born with a silver spoon.
That is correct. Life has been quite interesting. My parents were wonderful people. My father did everything for us. My father and my mother were one of the best and I got every bit of encouragement from them, especially from my father. Whatever I needed within his power, he gave me. Just as I said, we didn’t have a silver spoon status, but we were contented.
Were they both disciplinarians?
I remember a time I came back home late from school and I was unable to convince my father why I came late. I think I was playing football and I came very late. My clothes were dirty. My school was not far from home, just about 30 minutes walk. So, within one hour, you were expected to be back home. But when you closed around 2:00 and you are getting home around 6:00? So, my father was furious My mother was also a disciplinarian. She never condoned any form of indiscipline. In fact, my mother was worse. There was a time, with the way my mother was so strict, that I wondered if she was my mother. Unlike some mothers, my mother did not pat me in the back.
And both are now late?
Yes. My father died in 1986, while my my mother died in 2006. He died at the age of 98 and was a wonderful person. My father was a disciplinarian. The centre value was moderation, sincerity, diligence in whatever you are doing. Those were the values my parents instilled in us and we are enjoying then today.
You must be known for a lot of things in the community.
I was known for reading. I don’t know how to place it, but it is better for others to see you and then tell people about you than you telling your own stories, especially when it comes to your behavioural pattern and value system. I believe those I grew up with can say more of that. I rarely fight with people. I always try to make peace in any situation I find myself. If you ask in my village, I doubt if anyone would tell you there was a time I fought. I am a peace-loving person. I always want to find a way around ensuring there is peace.
No youthful pranks?
I can’t remember any, except if I wanted to defend what I believed in. I was one of the supporters of the late Chief [Obafemi] Awolowo in those days. So, I believe in his values, principles and philosophies. People say the sage is dead but I still appreciate he provided the greatest for the greatest number of the people.
What exactly did you love in Chief Awolowo?
I love education and I am an apostle of free education. I still believe in it. I believe everything is a right. To my own understanding, it is not even limited to primary or secondary school. Sometimes when you say things, people just laugh at you. It is possible for us to have free education at all levels, free medical services. During the days of UPN, there were four cardinal programmes and when Alhaji [Lateef] Jakande came, he was able to implement those things in Lagos State. I still believe in them because I believe everyone has a right to life. Even as a student, I bought Nigerian Tribune because of my love for Baba Awolowo. The policies and programmes of Chief Awolowo were geared towards making life easy for the people. These were the things I read in the papers and they shaped my way of thinking.
As a Badagry man what do you think are unique to you?
I cannot say. I just said it earlier that I cannot be a judge in my own case. It is left for them to see me the way they want to. Sometimes, people may want to take advantage of you because of how nice you are and they may be tempted you have all the resources which you might be limited to. Sometimes, people think I am a rich man, but I am not. But, I thank God that we are moderate.
Are you saying you are not a rich man?
I was taught when I was a civil servant that you have to be moderate and you have to be circumspect the way you spent. Well, I am rich in spirit. In my heart, I am contented.
What are your unforgettable memories?
You know my father was also an activist. In those days, he championed a lot of causes in our area. I remember when I was still in primary school… I don’t want to talk about this. Sincerely speaking, I don’t want to talk about it now. I am writing a book.
Are there regrets?
Whatever I do, I always make sure I follow the path of righteousness. I am not a perfect person because I have my shortcomings. I don’t have regrets because I always mean well in whatever I do. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean I will start regretting it. It doesn’t mean that everything I do is right. So, I rarely have regrets, that is the truth of the matter. Whatever I am doing, I have my conviction that what I am doing is right. It doesn’t mean it is always right. But because I am convinced about it, I pursue it.
Before coming to this House of Assembly, I contested four times. I tried it the first time, it didn’t work out. I tried it the second time, it didn’t work out. I tried it the third time, same thing happened. It was at the fourth attempt that it worked and this made the people to be calling me a particular name, which I don’t want to tell you.
How do you relax, sir?
I swim and I play lawn tennis. I also play table tennis and I love travelling. I trained in swimming. Of course, everybody talks about Badagry like it is a must you know how to swim. However, on my own part, it is the drive.
Polygamy is prevalent in Badagry.
I don’t want to condemn anything that has to do with family life. Your family life, your way of life might be different from mine. If you have two or three wives, that is your own cup of tea because you have your reason for going into it. By my nature, I can only do one wife. So, I cannot condemn anyone with more than one wife.
What makes you cry easily?
Insincerity and wickedness can make me feel bad. This can make feel sad. How can we degenerate to the extent that we don’t have any value system again? For instance, people have been killed because of desperation for money. How did we get to the level that it is money that matters. Unfortunately, again, we are in a society where no one asks you where you get your money from. Those kind of things make me feel bad because it is not going to get us anywhere.
What is your fashion sense?
It was when I got to this place that I started having a lot of agbadas. It was not my thing.
I don’t know why. I just feel uncomfortable. Unless we have a special occasion. A two-piece to be compared to a three-piece always makes me comfortable.
Does it have anything to do with being an engineer?
Maybe. It is not impossible that my profession also moulded my value system to an extent. I am a civil engineer and as you know, in engineering, you are always in the field.