Mrs Oluyemi Titilayo Adeyemi-Showunmi, a Deputy Director with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lagos State Office and the visioner of a non-governmental organization, The Beautiful Beginnings Foundation, speaks with BAYO ALADE on life, family and giving back to society.
You recently celebrated your golden jubilee anniversary. At 50, you look much younger, in fact like somebody in her 30s. What is the secret?
That’s absolutely divine; it’s the grace of God, though I do try to do things in moderation. I go to the gym too for some workout, but then it’s still God all the way.
How was growing up?
I was born on March 23, 1971 in Ibadan to the family of Very Revd. and Mrs Samuel Adetuyi Ogunfowora of Ipara Remo, Remo North Local Government Area of Ogun State. My childhood education started with enrolment at Omolewa Nursery and Primary School, Ibadan and after the creation of Ogun State in 1976, my parents moved to Abeokuta and I continued with St. Bernedette Nursery and Primary School from 1976 to 1982. Secondary Education was at Abeokuta Girls Grammar School from 1982 to 1987.
I furthered my studies at the Ogun State University now Olabisi Onabanjo University, (OOU) Ago-Iwoye and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language. The compulsory one year Youth Service stint to fatherland was at Maiduguri, Borno State with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) where I later got employment. In furtherance of my educational pursuit, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Communication and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan in 2003.
I was employed by NEC as an Administrative Officer II and rose through the ranks to become a Deputy Director in Field Services and Administration in the commission. I am married to one of the most amiable and loving husband in the world and my family is simply amazing.
As a young girl you must have had some aspirations in life. What were those aspirations?
It is unlike now that one could have easy access to role models or mentors, but I know I had a very good reading culture. So, many of my role models then were those I encountered in the written works. Later on, I came across Oprah Winfrey. I love her personality and I wished to be like her; that was in the 90s. While growing up too, there was this dream I had of setting up a kind of free-education school for the indigent but exceptionally brilliant children and reflected on how to raise funds for all of these.
A statement from Oprah Winfrey caught my attention when she said it’s not about gathering all the resources but about impacting life in ways you can and I immediately set about doing that. Later on in life, people like Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Michelle Obama, among others, have been good role models too for my aspirations in terms of purpose.
Have your parents impact your life in any way?
My parents had great impact on me; I am what I am today by the grace of God and the influence of my parents. My late father was both an administrator in the old Western Region and the Ogun State Civil Service Commission. He was a Reverend gentleman with the Methodist Church and my mum, a nurse, who progressed in stages to become the Chief Matron and Head of Administration at the state General Hospital she superintended over.
They inculcated strong values, good home-training in us and laid the solid founding blocks for life abundance today.
My father lived an exemplary life; my siblings and I were raised with fear of God as the leading light. He did not only preach the words of God, he lived by it and his legacy of godliness, integrity and compassion which he bequeathed to us.
My father was not into corporal punishment as a way of raising children. His “I am disappointed”, in a grave tone, was enough to bring down our shoulders and make us downcast when we erred. My mum too was quite supportive; they were united in raising us in the path of godliness, integrity, honesty and believing in oneself. My father was my hero.
My husband has taken it a notch higher. He is also a very spiritual person and embodies all of these attributes.
Tell us about getting married to your husband?
I think it was his confidence that really attracted me. We actually met at the after-wedding party of my elder brother 2l years ago. My husband was in the company with some of his friends to the after-wedding party in our house at Olomore, in Abeokuta. There was this allure and confidence about him; he walked up to me and said that he likes me and that I would be his wife. I said just like that? Be your wife without courtship? I was equally drawn to him; I liked his personality, down to earth and unpretentious. The rest as they say is history today 21 years after. I feel blessed that I am married to him; he’s been a phenomenal husband and loving father.
Would you say women have come of age in the country vis-a-vis their contributions socio-economically and politically?
Absolutely yes; Nigerian women have been able to raise their heads and raise the bars too. They are doing exploits across all the sectors. I believe women are better managers and are able to multitask more than men at the home front and wherever they find themselves. Look at Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who just resumed as the Director General of the World Trade Organization, she had been at the World Bank and coordinating minister in the country. Likewise, the like of Dr Oby Ezekwesili and several others. On my own merit too, I have also been a pride to womanhood because issues of gender and feminism have not engendered quality service delivery in responsibilities assigned or not assigned.
Professionalism, proficiency, capacity, excellence and compassion have been synonymous in delivering effective and efficient services. My advocacy is a level-playing ground and more inclusiveness for women. The percentage is skewed in favour of men; why should it be so? If we agree that women are doing excellently well in areas of chosen capacities; why the limited visibility in policy direction, narratives, implementation and contributions to governance and socio-economic activities?
Women are said to be better managers of resources than men; are you a fan of female presidency in Nigeria?
Yes, I am a fan of creating equal access and platforms for all, irrespective of gender. I am a fan of ‘I got a position because it’s deserving,’ not because I’m a woman but because I have all it takes to deliver, because I have the requisite intellect and capacity to do it excellently well. I am a fan of ‘give it to the woman because she deserves it and not because she is a woman.’ Of course, if any woman with all the requisite expertise wants to become the next President of the country, why not? Let her go there and shine brilliantly well.
This is one of the reasons I started my foundation, Beautiful Beginnings, some years back. It is a foundation that is dedicated to teaching and encouraging the young girls that asides being good wife and loving mother, you can excel very well in your chosen path. I think when we start educating our girls right from young age; that it is not a man’s world; that they too could go and become whatever they desire in life; this will go a long way in making women more assertive and they can occupy their places of pride in the country.
What brought out the idea of setting up a foundation?
I think the idea started when I noticed how disrespectful people could be, especially the young ones when engaging others on social media. Imagine a younger cousin of mine saying “hey’; fine, it is a form of greeting but smacks of disrespect and doesn’t go with our culture. As much as I tried to correct the person, it didn’t work. So, I said this should be tackled from the foundation, when the children are still very young. I shared the idea with a younger girl and that’s how we started.
I just want our young girls to know that good manners and graciousness don’t take anything away from them. The purpose was also to imbibe in them a life of service to others, for to live to serve is to live a purposeful life.
Sometimes, we go to orphanages for them to know they have privileged backgrounds in the company of the mummies in the house; to see life from a different perspective and of course to learn to lend their support at a young age. The foundation in a nutshell is to impact the young girls for them to impact the society too just as Oprah Winfrey has impacted my life.
Are there things you wish you could change at 50?
No, not really. When I look at the totality of life experiences, I am grateful to God for His faithfulness and the abundance of his grace.
How have you been able to cope being such a quiet person and marrying a politician that is quite vocal?
Thank you, I think my husband’s ability to be vocal has to do with his stance for calling a spade what it is – a spade. This is one of the qualities I appreciate in him. He is a fascinating, phenomenal person.
He brings out the best in me and I am blessed to have him as my husband. He has been of great help in work-related concerns and relationships with people with his candid candor.
How do you feel at 50?
Life at 50 is an epiphany for me, a season of new beginnings. It is with a heart full of gratitude to the Lord for being my pillar of strength and support right from conception to date and just like yesterday, I have joined the Golden Club, the little girl of yesterday. I am eternally grateful to God for His unending mercies after all; the scripture says, “it is not unto him that runneth, nor unto him that willeth, but it is God who showeth favour.”
He is also a generous and compassionate person who wishes and wants the best for all around him and goes the extra mile to do just that. My prayer is that He would continue to wax stronger in the strength and joy of the Lord.
How do you unwind?
I read a lot and internet has made that easier. I unwind by reading, watching movies and being with family. I love my family to high heavens. Taking walks and travelling are other pastimes to for me. Being alone and having people around sometimes, which is a paradox, are ways of unwinding as well.
Let me also add that my spare time is also devoted to my foundation and on Monday, 22nd March a day before my birthday, we visited some homes/orphanages to lend support. I am a strong believer in equitable and fair distribution of the basic amenities that makes life comfortable and that living a dignified life irrespective of who you are is a right and not a privilege.
What is your wish at 50?
That we have all of these things that I have said – fairness, equitable distribution of basic amenities such that basics of life such as power, water, access to quality education, good road network, affordable housing and effective healthcare delivery system, are no longer regurgitating issues for us in our dear country.
In summary, I wish to see a great nation; good people in words and deeds, for a greater Nigeria.
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