Saturday

Africa's richest woman. Folorunsho Alakija set to mark 65th birthday and 40-year wed­ding anniversary


Folorunso Alakija 
It is double celebration for busi­ness tycoon, Mrs.Folorunso Alakija. Next Friday, the philanthropist will turn 65 years. Not only that, her marriage to Mr. Modupe Alakija will clock 40 years.
Meanwhile, the Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil and gospel preacher is full of excitement ahead of the celebrations. Although Mrs. Alakija is a workaholic, she’s also not found missing in social circle. For her, everyday is fun, consid­ering her dressing, carriage and demeanour. As a fashion designer in the 80s, she made her mark in the fashion industry as President, Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). Her label, Rose of Sharon metamorphosed into Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions; then Digi­tal Reality. This reporter met Mrs. Alakija during the week during the Rose Of Sharon Weekly Fellowship where she officiates as ‘The Servant – Leader’. She was in a convivial mood as she answered questions posed to her.
You’ll turn 65 in a few days’ time. How do you feel about your new age?
I think I feel much younger than the age figure. It’s the grace of God.
Is there anything special to mark the occa­sion?
Of course, I will celebrate the 65th birthday and my 40-year wed­ding anniversary.
Do you do anything unusual to keep this trendy?
Well, I did something lately. (I don’t know how to tell lies, (laughs) I went on a crash diet. Its not that I hadn’t done that before. I had done it two or three times over the years. It’s not fun, but the result has been rewarding. I only hope that I can keep it up. I have definitely gone down. I want to look maybe 20 years younger than my age. Every woman does, Everybody wants to look nice. It’s not easy. We only need to watch what we eat and adopt a new life­style in the way we eat and our choice of meals.
You’re intimate with your hus­band, what has been the secret of your happy marriage of 40 years?
We are very close and there’s no doubt about that. Members of the family are also very close. It boils down to give and take and a lot of patience. We ensure we communicate with one another.You should also understand your partner and be able to work things out between the two of you. Moreover, you should not allow external influences come between you. That way, you would be able to keep your home and have a blissful marriage.
With your busy schedules, travel­ing all over the globe on business, how do you cope with the home front?
I have a very understanding family.I unveil my plans to my husband. He also tells me about his plans, We juggle things and the children tell us about their plans. I try as much as possible to balance both and I priotise things as much I can in addition to prayers.
At what point in your life did you take a detour into business?
I had my heart set on managing my own business as far back as my teenage years. I spent every sec­ondary school holiday in my mother’s fabric shop at Ereko area of Lagos between Tinubu and Idumota. I helped out by attending to clients and I got used to fabrics like Sindodo lace, floral polyester and nylon fabrics, voile and other cotton. I knew all these helped to prepare me for a future in fashion designing. No knowledge is lost and the things I learnt as a teenager in my mother’s shop gave me insight into business and that helped me later in my life. I started trading after I returned from England where I did a secretarial course and I continued as I moved up the corporate ladder. I was into importation of ready-to-wear cloth­ing; scarves, and jewellery from Europe. I became the representative for manufacturers of drinks and I had wholesale outlets in Iponri Shopping Centre, Surulere and Alade market at Allen Avenue, Ikeja. All my life I took small practical steps while I kept dreaming big dreams.
Could you throw more light on that your preaching at the Marriage Seminar in which you admonished women on Aso-Ebi?
The tradition has since spread from identifying family members to wearing Aso-Ebi even at gather­ings of friends. At first glance, this makes sense, since the Aso-Ebi can give people a sense of belonging and attachment. Of course, the aso-Ebi adds beauty, colour, glamour and uniformity to every event. Of course wearing Aso-Ebi to events can become very costly and result in expending resources not budgeted for. Some Aso-Ebi can run into thousands of Naira or even millions, and by insisting on this tradition, some families may end up stressed, distressed, and even in debt. As early as the mid 70s, I had more Aso-Ebi in my wardrobe than I knew what to do with, and the idea of carrying on the tradition puts me off, because it was eating into my salary. I stopped wearing Aso-Ebi with friends since 1977. I discovered my own style and that stands me out in the crowd.
As the first female Chancellor in Nigeria, how did you receive the news of your appointment, what does the conferment mean to you?
It means a whole new level, especially the chancellorship. I have four other honorary doctorate awards. It’s not that this one is of less importance. This is the first chancellorship award. Not just that, it is the first from a public university in Nigeria. I think I heard the gov­ernor saying, it is the first from the South of the Sahara, (I had to check on that). To God be the glory, Promotion does not come from man, it comes from God. God ministers to people and he makes them to act on his wishes, his desire, and purpose. I guess I’m working in God’s purpose because it’s not something that I orcchestrated, I believe that it’s the Lord’s doing and it’s marvelous in my sight. I con­gratulate Osun State University for taking such a bold step to appoint a female Chancellor. I feel really humble. I also bagged an honorary degree in business administration. I thank God for the opportunity.
How do you spend your day?
My typical day begins with early morning devotion and I receive phone calls to get my work started. I would do all those before I go to office to sort out my correspondence. On the days I’m not in seclusion for the Lord. I work very long hours in my businesses or my philanthropic endeavours. I strive for excel­lence in all I do and sometimes, it seems the hours of the day are not enough to get things done well. I look forward to the end of the day when I can pamper my husband and talk about all the trappings of the day. We look forward to watching the news together and sometimes I sit with him to watch Arsenal football matches.

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