Mrs Oluwakemi Alao-Akala is a former First lady of Oyo State. In this interview with YEMISI AOFOLAJU, she speaks on life in the Government House, and how it has been since her husband, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, left office, while revealing those values that endears her to her husband. EXCERPTS:
How has it been outside Government House?
Well, we have been out for a long time. I tell people that we are just regular people.
How do you mean?
I meant what I said. We are just regular people because one is going to be out one day, even if one spends 12 years. I am glad that whenever people see me now, they welcome me warmly.
What do you miss in Government House?
In fact, I don’t miss the fact that our guests were normally screened, but the fact that we have to buy diesel now to power the generating set. This is the only thing that I miss because electricity was on throughout, but now, I have to get diesel. Akala is a man of the people; we always had lots of people around us, even till date. Then, it wasn’t that I couldn’t go to the market; even now, I am still not a market person.
Security aides can really be overzealous in screening guests. How were you able to cope with their excesses?
You need to have your head properly screwed on your shoulders to be able to curb their excesses. The truth is, they could put one in trouble. There were people one would have loved to see but they denied them access, but I never encouraged this.
How did you do this?
Don’t forget that I am from Ilorin. For instance, I came down from my office on a fateful day and a lady rushed to me and when I asked what the problem was, she said she had been coming to the office for more than two weeks and had not been allowed to see me. For the mere fact that she is from Ilorin, I told her to join me in my car and we went to the Government House together. I never liked it when I am invited to an occasion for 2p.m. and the protocol kept telling me to tarry a while before coming. If you call a meeting for 2p.m, it is 2p.m by me.
Were you ever queried by the security agents for breaking protocol?
Who could have done that? All they could have done then was to grumble. There were times that events didn’t start on schedule that I would have to go back to my office because it would not have been okay for the wife of a governor to have sat in an empty hall, but most times I did not listen to the protocol. I just went ahead to be at any event at the nick of time so that I could leave on time.
What has become of your pet project while in government?
Community Link Advancement Programme(CLAP) was born out of a grateful heart . I am so grateful to God for blessing me then with a fruit of the womb. I had my baby as a First Lady of Oyo State and I made up my mind that any group or association or any local government that came my way would benefit from the project and we tried to do what could be done to launch the project which led to fund raising that was released to the beneficiaries.
I have discovered that in politics, you have to make a lot of noise, but I don’t like this because the scripture says ‘what your right hand is doing must not be known to the left’. I love helping people. My husband and I are both givers though we don’t make noise about it. The project is still on, but I am hoping to have another opportunity to do it in a big way. With another opportunity, I will do things differently because of people’s attitude that any good gesture extended to them is from government purse, even when you are trying to help them. There was a time CLAP empowered 10 widows from each local government area, because I discovered that what most petty business women needed was a start-up of between N5,000 and N10,000 to turn their lives around. At another time, the 13 councils in Ogbomoso and Oke-Ogun were given N1million each as revolving loan. It was only one council that was coming annually to give a report of what they had done and gained from it, having told them to continue to plough the loan back into their ventures. Some three weeks ago, I empowered 14 people with N36,000 per package per head for the multi -level marketing to earn some money.
How can this attitude be dealt with?
There should be a change in our attitude. We need re-orientation. I always tell women that we need money because we are the ones at home taking care of the household. We don’t have to wait for our husbands to give us money for Maggi. It is imperative that we use our money well in order to make more.
While you were asking God for a child, what was going on in your mind?
I had planned to have six children because I am from a family of six, and I was so sure that my case would not be different, because my brothers and sisters were having children, but I didn’t know what went wrong. At times, I was down, but I was cheerful most of the time because most people did not know that I never had a child until I had one. I was worried once in a while, but I knew I would have a child. I got blessed with the fruit of the womb through praise. I came across some books of praise- Prison to praise, Power in Praise, Power of Praise believing that there is nothing that praise cannot do. In March 2005, I asked a few people to join me in praising God at the Government House Chapel; though they did not understand why. By February 2006, I had Olamikunle. Unlimited Praise has now become an annual event.
You never tried having another child?
Laughs… My husband is responsible for this. I had ‘Kunle just before I turned 44.
And you kept this to yourself…
No. I asked some people to beg him on my behalf, but he told them that they should allow us to be so that we can take good care of my son. At 54, I believe God can still do it. Sometimes, I tell him, ‘my dear, e je a se kini yii!’(let’s have another baby), but I know the God I serve.
How do you cope with his other wife?
My Iyale (senior) is wonderful. If I am the Iyale, I don’t think I would be that nice because there is no woman who wants to share her man. I don’t know how God arranged this. She is a mother.
How do you relate with her?
We have a beautiful relationship.
How did you meet your husband?
You should know the story by now. I had my youth service at the Police College, Ikeja in 1983.
So you met there?
But you knew he was married?
And you decided to marry him?
I don’t want to tell you the main story… When I met him in 1983, the affair wasn’t all that serious until 1993. I went back to Ilorin after the service year because my mother felt the best profession for any woman is teaching, which I didn’t like. Moreover, I didn’t study education. I eventually got a job with the then Trade Bank and I was transferred back to Lagos in 1993.
So you renewed your relationship with him?
We didn’t renew anything. I guess that was how God wanted it.
How has your marriage to him been?
It is getting better. At 54, I’m now wiser. Our relationship is so good now and I know how to handle men better.
If you are asked to counsel young ladies, what will you tell them?
Counselling a young lady now could be a waste of time because I had once passed through that stage of being in love. One can only make a trial. The watchword for me is patience and remaining in a place of prayer; though this could be hard. All I tell whoever cares to listen is that a lady should have 99 per cent patience. If I keep quiet, it is because I want peace. It is just normal for one to stomach a lot of things, but once the man’s cup is full, one is bound to burst.
What was the reaction of your Iyale when you were made the First Lady?
Nothing gave me the clue to her feelings. But my husband was initially the chairman of Ogbomoso North and she was in Lagos. I started his political life with him. So, there was no doubt on who should be the first lady. I was with him in Ogbomoso and we graduated to deputy governor, then governor and we are graduating.
How sociable are you?
I enjoy my company.
Will you still support your husband if he decides to have another shot at public office?
I have no choice because I have not joined the association of egbe ki loko o se! (women who call the bluff of their husbands) I tell people that my calling is to assist him in achieving whatever he sets his mind to do.
What are you into now?
I am also into series of businesses ranging from telecoms, gas and oil, among others. Though I am not a fashion designer, but I have very good tailors who work for me.
Who are your clients?
Regular people like you, especially women and children.
How come your humility?
My background informed this. My father happens to be a Reverend who is very interested in the way we relate with people. He enjoins us his children to respect the elderly and greet whoever comes our way. I am equally teaching my son this.
What is wrong with the home these days?
Women are not doing much these days. We are too busy looking for money. I feel sad when I see the way girls dress these days and I keep wondering where the women in the homes are. We mothers have abdicated our roles. The society is the reflection of the home.
How did you cope with your husband’s women admirers when in power?
I was fond of singing the song ‘Oun to ba wu olowo lo nfi owo e se, Alao Akala fowo ko obirin jo’ because they (women) were the ones who voted for us. With me around, they could not really come around him. You know men are wired by what they see. A woman takes time to think before going into any relationship unlike a man who is easily swayed. Even if he pretends not to see them, they will be the ones to approach him. But since I know where I am heading to, I handle every situation with maturity.
So, you have never quarrelled over this before?
Once in a while in the past, but I am guided for where I am heading. Give it to him, he ‘relaxes’ whenever he is caught. Above all, he is a likeable man; a ladies man, but there is no vacancy.
What is life outside Government House like?
Life in the Government House is fake. There are so many people around you who don’t like you but pretend to. We are in the real world now.
How fashionable are you?
I am not a fashion freak. I love to dress in a simple way, nothing complicated.
What is your best colour?
Purple, and at atimes black and white.
Any beauty preference?
I have been using black soap for over 10 years. I also use Curel cream, which has proved to be wonderful on the skin. I also make up.
Why are you in low cut?
At this point in my life, I want comfort. I prefer pouring water on my head rather than sitting under the drier for hours.
Does your husband like your new look?
He does, though he prefers the traditional weaving, but my son likes it this way. I am also a wig person. My husband is a native man to the core, but not local.
How frequent are you at socials?
I honour the invitation of our women. It is fun, but it is becoming more of a burden now because at any gathering where we are present, Akala takes over as the musician stops singing the praise of the celebrant unconsciously for us. So, most times now, I ensure that I don’t join the dancing floor until I am about to leave the party.
What have you to tell women?
As women, we need to bring up our children in the way of the Lord so that they will have the fear of God. Lack of fear of God is the source of problems in Nigeria. The bottom line is that we don’t know God. You only fear the person you know. We must also work hard while we also consider the principle of sowing and reaping. It is imperative to imbibe the culture of giving.What has endeared my husband to me is giving. Have you seen a giver who lacks? Again, confessing positively should be our watchword because there is power in the tongue.
How grateful are you at 54?
I will forever be grateful to God. He has been wonderful, faithful, dependable and reliable. In fact, without him, I would have been a nobody.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
This question excites me. In 2002, I went back to Trade Bank and I was asked to write where I would want to be in the next seven years. I did and, indeed, what I wrote came to pass as I became the First Lady exactly seven years after. I see myself on a higher level in the next five years.
What if your husband advises you to go into active politics?
My assignment is to assist him.
Your husband contested in the last general election; what was the experience like?
The electioneering campaign went on beautifully. God is God. I thank God that my husband did not win. I am grateful that he is not a governor in this dispensation because of the global economic meltdown. He would have lost his sleep for not paying workers’ salaries. I would have had to embark on marathon fasting. But looking at it another way, I am sure that if he had won, God would have done something about the situation.
How will you describe your husband?
He is a good man. He has the fear of God, he is a man of conscience who loves the people. When he was a local government chairman, I could remember that whenever I asked him for something, he would prefer giving an outsider. I am always embarrassed when people come to me to help them appreciate him for a favour he had done.
What do you miss in his absence?
I miss his troubles whenever he is not around. Whenever he is around, there are many guests to attend to.
If given another chance, will you say ‘I do’ to him again?
Sure, I will. But now, I am wiser and I will know how to handle him better.