I’d just published this story about an apprenticeship gone wrong when Tunrayo* reached out, saying she’d had a similar experience with a Nigerian politician who’d been her role model since she was 9.

She talks about finally getting the opportunity to work with this politician, abandoning her family, enduring abuse, and almost losing her identity and life to her work. 

As told to Boluwatife

Image designed by Freepik

I became fascinated with a particular Nigerian politician at 9 years old. Fascination doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was obsessed. I even had pictures of the woman in my room. 

Let me tell you how it started. I decided I wanted to be a journalist pretty early in life. I loved watching the news and following political stories. Though a businessman, my dad knew a lot about the political happenings in my home state. That’s how I got to know this politician. Biodun* was a prominent political figure in my state at a time when it was almost impossible to see women at the forefront of politics. She was 20 years older, but I wanted to be like her.

I admired and wanted to be like Biodun so much I’d write short notes about my admiration and paste them on the noticeboard at the mosque. Biodun was partly the reason I didn’t study in the UK. I graduated from secondary school around 2010 and had already secured admission to the UK — not for journalism, though. My dad thought studying law was better. 

Just before I was meant to travel, my dad changed his mind and decided I’d better go to school in Nigeria instead. His reason? Biodun also studied in the UK and was a chain smoker. He knew how much I idolised her and feared I was ready to imitate this woman in everything, including smoking. He was right because I did get into smoking years later because of her, but we’ll get to that.

Eventually, I got admitted to study law at one of the universities in my state. Ironically, that brought me closer to Biodun — it was the same state she worked in. By then, my obsession had grown to commenting on all her social media posts and fighting everyone with anything negative to say in the comments. I followed every single thing she did. I started calling myself a “Biodunist” and made her picture my wallpaper on everything I owned. She was also my display picture on all my social media accounts — the love was that deep. 

It was politics that finally brought me the opportunity to meet her. My penchant for writing led me to work for several media houses as a student, and I regularly wrote articles criticising the state government in power. This made me well-known to some members of the opposing political party in the state, and I became friends with many of them. I also became active in student union politics and championed several causes to ensure female involvement in school politics. 

In 2014, I organised a female conference and magazine launch to highlight women doing great work in their fields. Of course, Biodun had to be the face of the magazine. I repeatedly sent several invitations to her via Facebook, but I didn’t get any headway until someone I knew from my political activities gave me her contact. Surprisingly, Biodun responded, and we started chatting on BlackBerry Messenger.

I couldn’t believe my luck. It was my chance to impress her, and I tried my hardest. She loves rap music — BBM had a thing where you could see what people were listening to, so I started listening to Nicki Minaj and Drake because she did, too. One time, we were chatting about Game of Thrones during exam season, and I’d literally leave my books to watch new episodes so that I could respond if she talked about the series.

Biodun wasn’t in office at this point, but she planned to run again in 2015, and I somehow became involved in her campaign. She knew I was her staunch supporter and that I knew my way around politics. So, she sent me a data modem and tasked me with creating social media accounts for her campaign. 

I should note that we hadn’t met at this point, and I wasn’t being paid, but it felt like I was part of something great. I bragged about my work with her to everyone who cared to listen. I went for Hajj that year, and instead of praying for myself or my family, I stood in front of the Kabba praying for Biodun to win the election. I cried like a baby when she lost the party’s primary elections.

Remember that conference I organised? She didn’t come, even though she promised she would. She sent a representative instead, but I couldn’t stay angry with her for long. Especially since she came through for me some months later when I got into trouble with the police because of my outside-school political activities. She promised to send lawyers if I wasn’t released. It didn’t get to that, but I took that assurance as her reciprocating my love for her. And my loyalty tripled.

We still kept in touch when I went on to law school. She’d always tell me how stressful work was for her since she didn’t have a personal assistant, and I’d respond by saying I wished I was there to help her. I moved into her house immediately after my final exams in 2017 and resumed work unofficially that same night. I say “unofficially” because no one gave me an appointment letter. I was supposed to go home — my mum had even booked a flight for me, but I refused to leave her side.

Biodun was planning to run for governor in 2023, and I was tasked with building a roadmap for her to get there through humanitarian initiatives, charity, and the like. That became my life’s work. In my head, I was going to help make a difference in the state.

My daily schedule involved waking up around 11 a.m., going to Biodun’s study, and working with her until 3 a.m. I lived in the same room with her maid and slept on a bunk bed. They also had a dog in the maid’s room who peed everywhere, which meant I couldn’t observe my daily prayers regularly. 

I ate once a day in Biodun’s house — only breakfast, and that was typically bread and eggs. I rarely ate more than once a day, and that happens if the maid brings food to her study and Biodun tells me to come and eat. That wasn’t often because she did a lot of diet fasting. I also wasn’t being paid, so I sometimes called home for money so I could buy food. Looking back at it now, it was a far cry from my privileged background, but I didn’t see it at the time. I was working with my idol, and that was all that mattered. 

It also didn’t matter that I took monthly flights with my own money during NYSC year for monthly clearance just so I could keep living with Biodun even though I was posted to a different state. 

Our schedule got a lot tighter in 2018 because of the preparations for the general elections the following year. Biodun wasn’t contesting, but she needed to ingratiate herself with the party, and she handled many campaign efforts and empowerment projects in our state on behalf of the presidential candidate.

We flew together everywhere. I was always in the car with her, never more than a few feet away. No jokes; I followed her into the toilet several times and even helped her dress up. I was the one carrying campaign money and following her up and down. People began calling me her PA, and it thrilled me.

If you know anything about politics in Nigeria, you know there’s never a shortage of enemies. Biodun’s house was always full, with different people going in and out. That crowd got bigger with the campaigns, and we began killing a cow daily to cook for people. I was the one handling money, and sometimes, when she directed me to give someone money to buy something, I’d naively exclaim that the item shouldn’t cost that much. That brought me a lot of enemies. 

There was also a lot of backbiting and passive-aggressiveness going around, and I soon started feeling unsafe. I had to bring some friends to come live with me because I worried about even eating food at the house. I’m honestly not sure if I was attacked because I was found unconscious one day with my three cats dead beside me and three random scars on my back. This was just before the elections in 2019, and I’d briefly returned to my family home. I was hospitalised for a week, and after I was discharged, I still returned to Biodun’s house despite pushback from my family.

2019 was also the year my eyes started to “clear”. Biodun landed a ministerial appointment and got an actual PA. I didn’t mind it because I thought there was a way personal assistants were supposed to dress or look, and I didn’t fit that position. Where did I even want to see money to buy good clothes? I was literally dressing like a maid back then. But that wasn’t the only thing that changed. 

I’d always known Biodun had temper issues — she was known for screaming at people and throwing objects, but I always knew to avoid her when she was in a mood, so I was hardly the focus of her outbursts. But the night before a dinner to celebrate her appointment, she called me a stupid person and threw a remote at me because I couldn’t find golden spoons to rent for the dinner.

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We also went from working closely together to hardly speaking to each other. We were still living in the same house, but there was now a PA and several DSS officers around her and I couldn’t just approach her.

Those first few weeks after her appointment, I felt like I was just floating around—going to the office and returning to the house with no sense of direction. After a while, I was officially given a title as research and policy assistant and a ₦150k salary, but I didn’t feel like part of the team. 

I’d thought the ministerial position would provide an opportunity to work on the projects Biodun and I had discussed as her roadmap to governorship, but she was no longer interested. We’d planned to start a recycling project, but that got abandoned. She’d also placed someone on a scholarship but suddenly stopped paying the fees and ignored prompts about it. 

Around the same time, she bought aso-ebi for everyone in the office for someone’s wedding. People would reach out for help, and we’d ignore them, but if the person died, we’d send cows and visit for optics. I didn’t recognise who she’d become, and I felt betrayed. What happened to the visions and the people we used to go see back to back during the campaigns?

It suddenly became like I didn’t know how to do anything anymore. Biodun would scream at me and insult me in full view of everyone for the slightest thing. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house or office without permission. One time, I went to the mosque, and when she didn’t see me in my seat, it became an issue. I was also working long hours. I had to get to the office before 9 a.m. and only leave after she had left. Sometimes, I’d return home by 9 p.m. only to continue working till well past midnight. 

The office politics was even worse. People who work in government offices have the opportunity to go on training programs with an estacode allowance (or travel allowance) to cover any expenses. Biodun’s chief of staff made sure he was the only one who went for those programs. He actually didn’t even go for most of them; it was the allowance he wanted. 

In 2020, I summoned the courage to leave Biodun’s house. I rented an apartment but had to lie to her that it was my friend’s place, and I just wanted to visit her during the weekends. That was how I packed my things small small till I moved into that apartment. 

Moving out was a lifesaver. I really began to see how I’d grown into a shadow of myself. I could cook and eat without worrying about going out to buy food and having to explain where I went. I should mention that my mum had been worried about me for a long time. My dad had passed away at this point, and she expected me to return home to manage his business, but I couldn’t even visit. I was also constantly taking money from my trust to survive. She didn’t understand why I just couldn’t leave.

The final push I needed to leave came during the EndSARS protests. I wasn’t allowed to join because I worked for the ruling government, but it was a cause that affected me. My younger brother was a victim of these SARS officers, and it was personal to me. So, I’d sneak out of the office to attend protests. I could do that because the presidency had directed most officials to return to their states to try to diffuse the tension. 

On social media, Biodun formed solidarity with the youths, even helping project the #5for5 demands. But on a WhatsApp group with other party members, she was inciting people to throw curses on the youths for protesting and claiming a political opponent sponsored them. I was appalled by it all and even got into a public argument about it on the WhatsApp group until some people reached me privately and called me to order. I was so disappointed and ashamed. This wasn’t the Biodun I knew and admired. 

The presidency also called for stakeholders to present reports about the protests, and I attended one to get pointers on how to prepare Biodun’s report. You won’t believe no one talked about the lives lost at the Lekki toll gate or the damaged properties. The “stakeholders” were rather discussing contract approvals. 

I think that was the point I became disillusioned with the whole thing and decided I was leaving for good. I did leave sometime later during a meeting with Biodun and some other staff. They were complaining about something I supposedly did wrong, and I just stood up, plugged in my headphones and walked out.

Four years later, I’m still glad I left when I did. I can finally breathe. Since then, I’ve grown in the political space and have done important work that I care about. I also manage my dad’s business now.

I can make friends with whomever I want. I couldn’t do this while working with Biodun because I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone connected with other politicians. She also made me write damaging and insulting articles about other people, and I regret being used to do so much of her dirty work, but I’m moving on from that. 

Most importantly, I’ve grown, and I now know my worth. I wasted so many years of my life following someone mindlessly, but I know better now, and no one can make me go through that again. I don’t have any political leader because I can’t do that running up and down for someone else anymore. I’m grateful for my family and appreciate how much they stood by me while I figured things out. I’m in a better place now, and my experience has taught me to treat people with respect. I know how it feels to be treated like shit, and I have a responsibility to make sure I don’t pass that on. 

For every young person aspiring to get into politics, it’s important to develop yourself first before putting yourself under someone else because reaching your full potential will be difficult that way. Also, don’t trust any politician. They change.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

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