The job of an Alaga Iduro, Ijoko is more spiritual than physical —Olaoluwakitan Abiola
Abiola Olaoluwakitan Deborah is the Chief Executive Officer of Amoke Alaga Exqusite introduction and engagement compere. She has a B.Tech degree in Statistics from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) and also bagged M.Tech in Statistics from Federal University of Technology (FUTA), Akure, Ondo State. In this interview by OYEYEMI OKUNLADE, she spoke about her foray into Alaga business and what it takes to be seasoned on the job.
How did your journey to self discovery begin?
I have a craft company that has been in existence before I started the alaga business, it is called Treasury Hands, where we make crafts such as hand fan, beads, adire and so on. The craft business has been in existence for 10 years while Amoke Alaga started about five years ago. Naturally, I love singing and dancing. My grandmother was an Alaga. My aunty who anchored my engagement programme told me that my grandmother anchored her engagement 35 years ago. I have always watched them but on one occasion I went to dress for a bride but the Alaga came late. While waiting, I got pissed off and I offered to give it a trial. By the time the Alaga came in, the bride’s family was almost seated. When I finished, people started asking me for my complimentary card and I told them that I was not a professional but just decided to anchor the programme to save the day. They told me I have a flair for it and ask me to print a complimentary card .’ That was how Alaga stated.
Did you go for any training?
Yes, I learnt all it takes to be a professional Alaga for two years.
What make you tick in the field?
I always counsel my students that before going into any line of career,one must have convictions. People might tell you that you are talented but the first thing you should do is to ask your maker if you should do it. If God gives you the go ahead, every other person is a late comer. Whenever I am going for events, I go with my shoulders high because I know it was God that said I should go into it. I tell people that Alaga business for me is a call. I always ask God what He would have me do. So when you go to an event with your conviction and you know that it is a call, it becomes easy. Insults do not get at you again because you develop a tough skin. Also, when you are focused and you know your onions well, by the time you finish, they would eventually come to commend you and even get your contact. We’ve seen many challenges and after some time, we were able to set standards. When you set your standards, try as much as possible not to compromise on it.
You mentioned that you ask God before you go to events, is Alaga business spiritual?
It is a secular job but also spiritual. I tell people that as an Alaga of an engagement, you are the minister in charge at that event. You are speaking into the couple’s lives as well as their home and that places you on the pedestal as a minister because at that moment because whatever you declare will come to pass. So in order not to go and say negative things, you must ask God to give you the power of positive utterance and answered prayers. At events such as engagement, you don’t know what the people who have come to grace the occasion are battling with or the principalities and powers that would not want the marriage to be fruitful. For your words not to fall to the ground, then God has to back you up. Therefore the job of an Alaga of an engagement ceremony is more spiritual than physical.
There appear to be so many branches to what you do, how do you juggle them?
I tell people that to be jack of many trades and at same time master of all, then you will do less of sleeping and more of thinking. Alaga business is majorly during the day while I do my craft work mostly at night
How do you balance your career and your duty as a wife and a mother at the home front?
When you have a husband who understands your job very well and is ready to support you, then it will be easy to combine the two. There were days that my husband had to drive me down to events, days that he stayed with our baby at home because I exceeded the fixed time of an event more so that there is a limit to the time you can put a child in the crèche. Also, my mother has been supportive too. She takes care of my baby any time I have to go out. If you don’t have a supportive husband, you cannot do an Alaga job. Another important thing that has been of help is good planning. If you have a proper planning as an Alaga, you will not have clash of events and commitment at the home front.
What is your defining moment in this occupation?
When I look back, I thank God for how far He has helped me. I have received and have also been nominated for several awards- winner Alaga of the year Blingz Award 2018, Norminee Alaga of the year by APPOEMN, Top Ladies in business award 2019 and Indigenous Global Standard Company of the year 2019. In addition to these, when people that I look up to, including my colleagues, come to me to mentor them, this tells me that I am doing things well and it really humbles me. It is normal when the younger ones approach you to mentor them but the moment you see people of your mum and dad’s age come to you, it is really a big thing.
How well do men perform in this profession?
They do well. Alaga business is not a gender sensitive one, it is all about training. When a man is well trained, he will excel.
Where do you see yourself in the next decade?
I see Amoke Alaga as a global brand. This year, we were nominated for Best Africa’s Indigenous Brand. So in the next ten years, I see us as a global brand such that when you think of Alaga, ‘Amoke Alaga’ comes to your mind.
Your advice to the Nigerian youths especially, the unemployed graduates among them?
When people come to me that they are unemployed, I laugh and tell them my story. I have a B.Tech and M.Tech but I have never been in a paid employment. When I tell people that I want to start my PhD, they ask why and I tell them that I am not going into it because I want to work for somebody but because I want to develop myself. As long as you can think, you can work and make money from anywhere. Thank God that Alaga business is a zero capital skill; the skills you need, God has endowed you with. You don’t need to be a professional singer before you can become Alaga of an event. You can also learn how to dance. You can even volunteer to be an apprentice under somebody; it is not until you have money to tutor under somebody. Alaga business is a very lucrative venture where you don’t buy instruments or materials yet you would be paid your money and also be sprayed at events. There is a notion that I want to change, Alagas are not beggars so people should stop seeing us in light of one. We go to learn the skills, pay for the training and invest our time into this business that promotes culture. When people invite us to events, we carry out research in order to meet their expectations so we can sing the oriki of their lineage, sing for dignitaries, etc.
Do people pay you what you charge them?
There is no particular charge but based on location, timing, the stress we would go through particularly considering the environment or condition under which we would work are all what we put into consideration before charging a client.
What has this business earned you?
It was from the Alaga business that we were able to set up Amoke Alaga Academy where we train people on the job. Also, we started Amoke wraps which focuses on purchasing, wrapping and setting up engagement gifts. It requires you just giving us your list and we buy the items, wrap and set it up at the venue of the engagement. These two enterprises were birthed from Amoke Alaga business.
What are your successes as an Alaga?
The number of students that I have been able to train is part of my successes. In the craft world, by the grace of God, I have trained more than 5,000 people. There has never been a time I enter a major market that someone does not greet me. Another achievement is that I have been able to write books on engagement and a training manual.
What are your challenges?
Challeges are quite much but many of them were faced at early stage. The first challenge is the pricing. People tend to under-price us because they feel it is just for you to come and sing and dance and they also make statement like ‘at least you would make money there.’ I tell people that they are not compelled to spray me at their event and I can even decide to do a no bowl event for you. Another thing is that people tend to ridicule us because they feel it is a job of riff-raffs or primary school teacher who wants to make ends meet. Itn addition to these, when clients take book us for travelling jobs, they don’t care about our welfare. It is now that you don’t book me for an event without the details of my lodging. In those early days, they would tell us to go and sleep with other vendors and at times, they give us a place to sleep but tell us no feeding. They don’t carry us with dignity. Those are part of our challenges. At early stage too, I had the challenge of where to drop my baby when I have an event but thank God for my husband and mum who stood by me.
So what is your association doing to reduce to the barest minimum these challenges?
That is where proper positioning comes in as an individual and association. This job has to do more with personality or individual because it is not the association that would help you talk to your client and in every association, we have people that compromise. This is where branding comes in and when you are talking to your client, spell in out by putting everything in white and black. Have a copy and let your client have one so that it doesn’t become an argument. Position your brand in such a way that you would not be rubbished and make the work less stressful. There are some of the challenges we can solve while the client would solve the remaining.
One of the challenges that I feel might not be overcome is timing because we have discussed it at individual and association level but discovered that at times it cannot be helped. I just see it as a Nigerian factor.