Folorunsho Alakija is Forbes second richest woman to emerge in Africa. She celebrates her 65 th birthday today and she spoke exclusively to Kemi Ashefon on what makes her tick
At over 65 years of age, what do you do to look this young?
I can assure you, my secret is in Christ. He is the one who has beautified and continues to beautify me. God created me the way I am. It has not been as a result of what I have been able to do but what He has been able to do with and through me. I think He did a little overtime on me at the very beginning when He was creating me; He was pleased and so am I. All my life, I have eaten what I like, when I like. In fact, I started what some would call a diet just today. It is a new lifestyle of eating habits which I pray I will be able to sustain. I have begun exercising again and bought a treadmill. I also make haphazard attempts at facials a couple of times a year. Therefore, I can only attribute your complement to the grace of God.
In a word, describe your personality?
What dictates your fashion sense?
My passion for fashion, my artistic and creative talents, and spirit of perfection and excellence all combined together dictate my fashion sense. What I wear to any occasion is determined by the occasion itself: whether the time of the day, the weather, or the type of occasion; for example: a state function, a business meeting, or children’s party. Other determining factors are the environment, the societal segment, and the part of the country or world I am in. Once I am decided on the type of outfit or look I need or want to portray for the occasion, I then ask the Holy Spirit for the colour and He directs me. On a few occasions when I had chosen not to listen to that soft inner voice, I had found myself in error when I got to the event.
You tie your gele yourself?
Tying my gele comes to me naturally as it does not take me more than two minutes to do so. It is an art I thank God for because many ladies pay others good money for a two minute job. They should hire me! I tell my make-up artists who offer me the service that they should rather learn from me and pay me. There are many ways to kill a chicken and in like manner, tying gele has many methods. So, I show them my style, for free of course.
What is your definition of wealth and who is a wealthy woman?
When the word ‘wealth’ comes up, what readily comes to people’s mind is money, affluence. But wealth is beyond that. It can be classified as a large amount of something, ranging from experience to talent, and many other things. It is really a word that quantifies and qualifies anything. For instance, you could say this or that person has a wealth of interesting qualities. Many people have said the same to me because there are so many parts to being who I am, who I have become and who God has created me to be. I am a businesswoman, a fashion designer and milliner by profession: I was an executive secretary, and I am a philanthropist, an evangelist, a wife, mother and grandmother. The word wealth qualifies and measures one’s success in achieving set targets and goals, prosperity, and blessings. Blessings can be in the form of good health, the education of children and even living to a ripe old age. The Bible even declares that we shall be fruitful and multiply; it is all part of prosperity and wealth. Therefore, a wealthy woman is someone who has been able to achieve some, all or even more than these because grace for wealth is unlimited from our God. He desires to bless us all on a daily basis. We just need to learn how to key into it so that we do not limit ourselves.
Women have been segregated for a while, how can we come to the limelight? Is it through politics or the economy?
By saying “NO” to no! By saying, (like President Obama), “Yes, we can” and he did; he has become a two-time black American President in a nation where there has been race and skin colour barriers for centuries. He refused to take no for an answer, took it to the Lord in prayer, worked doubly hard and lifted the barrier. The rest is history. It is always said that where there is no pain, there is no gain. There are sacrifices to be made at times. Going the extra mile stands you out for success. After all, proper preparation prevents poor performance and where there is no preparation, failure is inevitable. Therefore, women will definitely always have to put in extra work to prove their point and make a difference. I believe there is nothing a man can do that a woman cannot do, or even do better if given a chance. God created women with certain qualities that make them diligent, thorough and extremely hard working with special strength from the inner man. We can accommodate pain, persevere and see things through to their logical conclusion. How else could we carry extra baggage for nine months, go through the excruciating pain of child birth, the most painful pain in the world and, raise the children to become presidents, engineers, doctors, lawyers, legislators and the leaders of tomorrow? Women can come to the limelight through any sphere. There is no hard and fast rule. Women have made their mark in business, professional fields, politics, government and even in religious ministries. In Nigeria, there are female Deputy Governors, Federal Ministers, and Commissioners to name a few. In other parts of the world they are country Presidents, women leaders and even female children who have taken the bull by the horn to try to make a difference in their countries.
Are there challenges in a woman having the upper hand in socio-economy sector in the country?
But of course, such challenges will never cease in any male-dominated society. The women have come a long way to get to where they are today. There were the days when they were relegated to the kitchen and the most they were allowed was to learn hairdressing and dressmaking. Times have changed only because the women have not taken it lying low, but have faced those challenges by proving their ability through sheer hard work, doggedness, enlightenment campaigns, and advocacy etc. Also, there is also the male ego to contend with but God will honour the woman’s ambitions if she does not do it in a confrontational manner. We women must learn to make our point boldly but respectfully and prayerfully then, God lifts us up to where we want to be.
When and where did you meet your husband? What was the attraction?
My husband and I met in December 1972, a fortnight after my relocation from England after my studies. We met at a mutual friend’s party in Surulere, decided to continue seeing one another and have not stopped ever since for over forty years now. Our love grew over the years on a daily basis. It was not infatuation on either side. He liked what he saw and was convinced more and more that I had all the ‘materia’ he was looking for in a wife. I was particularly attracted to his physique and love for children; he has always been strong, loving and reliable.
What role does he play in your successes?
My husband has always supported me morally and financially. He allows me to work, whether for others or for myself. He does not renege once he gives his word and I continue to appreciate him.