Chief (Mrs) Alaba Lawson, the Iyalode of Yorubaland is the proprietor of Lawson’s Group of Schools, the Chairman Board of Governing Council and the chairman of Abestone Microfinance Bank. The astute educationist and entrepreneur who will be installed as the 19th and 1st female President of Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) on Thursday 25th May, in this interview by TAYO GESINDE, speaks on her success story.
The price I paid to get to the top
It is the fear of Jehovah God. The fear of Jehovah God is the beginning of wisdom. When you fear God, He will give you the wisdom you need to succeed. So the secret is to be God fearing and obey the principle and tenets of Christianity. The price I paid to be where I am today is contentment. And I believe everything I lay my hands on must prosper. That means I have somebody behind me and the person is my creator. I believe in His own right time, He will definitely unfold what I really need and that is why I believe that second by second I get new mercies from Him. I trust Him and I believe if He wants me to be something, He will provide for me and give me the necessary things to be used to achieve what I am to achieve. I listen to my inner being to direct me and in prayers, my Jehovah leads me on. Those are the things that keep me going. I can’t explain it because these are the mysteries of life that you can’t explain. Jehovah knows everything that is why it is better to obey Him so He directs your steps just like King David. He has always been my driving force and I will continue to cling unto Him.
Life as an entrepreneur
School business is part of entrepreneurship. I have passion for it and it was a divine call to me too. I wanted to be a stage actress but by divine intervention one day when I was in Green Park, England, (I went there to have a baby) some school children between three and six came with their teachers. As I sat down and watched them, a chord struck in me and I was never the same. The spirit was telling me, you could go into this. I tried to ignore the voice but it was persistent until I decided to go into teaching so I enrolled at St Nicholas Teacher’s Training for Montessori Method of education. And I thank God today that looking back, I am not regretting taking that decision. I came out with distinction after two years. I was the first coloured lady to be rated such by two white school principals, Mrs Humphrey and Mrs Child. In fact, the testimonial given to me read thus: “Mrs Lawson is very hardworking, her enthusiasm to work is second to none and we shall miss her in the college but we are looking forward to the work she is going to accomplish with the youth in Nigeria. That was in 1975, now seeing what Jehovah has used me to achieve in my life with my passion for the young one, I thank God.
Chief Adeyemi Lawson gave me a place to use. The challenge was getting approval for the school. There were inspections upon inspections to the site that I wanted to use. When the first inspectors came in they complained about the flowers I had planted to beautify the place. They said I should uproot it because it was not okay as the children could play with them and put their hands in their months which could cause thrush. I told them I planted them because I wanted them to know how to take care of their environment and they were not going to touch it but they insisted and I had to uproot them. Then, the ministry of health must first approve before the ministry of education unlike now that you don’t even know whether they have approval or not. Then, they would even ask for your annual plan for the next five years before you will be given approval. I don’t call all those things challenges, I call them things that make one to grow.
Combining the home front with my business
In fact, I always had my children around me so I always had time for them especially at weekend. I made sure I did their cooking, washed their clothes and I made sure I gave them the discipline they needed.
On the allegation that women bosses are difficult to work with
People always ask my staff how they have been working with me. To be a boss, you have to be self-disciplined because people must emulate you. I am a highly disciplined person, alias no nonsense. It is not that I am tough, when you move close to me, you only need to understand my philosophy of life.
My emergence as first female President of Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA)
I feel great and fulfilled. I joined the chambers of commerce in 1982 at the instance of Chief Adeyemi Lawson and I thank God there were many things I had done since I joined the chambers. It was during my tenure in Ogun State that I got the Commerce House, I also inaugurated Ota /Agbara Chambers of Commerce. I also had the privilege to have the Oodua Joint Trade Fair, which was adjudged the best. I was co-opted to national executive in 1992 but was later elected as deputy treasurer, national vice president and now 19th but first female president. NACCIMA is the voice of the organised private sector in Nigeria and the peak office of entrepreneurship in the country. As president, I will collaborate with government in helping the SMEs to grow so that our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will grow. That is one important way of ensuring we are improving our economy. SMEs must be well looked after in other to eradicate poverty.
Women’s representation in politics
Women are coming on gradually. We now have more women in elective and appointive offices. One thing I want them to know is that anything you want to do, do it judiciously. Let it be purely on merit. If you want to compete with men, make sure you know your onions and you are the round peg in the round hole. If you get there, work hard.
Lessons life has taught me
We need to be more prayerful and move closer to God. We should work hard and success will always be ours. Also, if you are God fearing, that will help you to go along the right path. Don’t be in a hurry to look for money. Money is not everything, your integrity matters and it is greater than money.
On whether Christians should hold traditional titles
Being a Christian should not disturb one. When I wanted to be made iyalode, I took my Bible and I was installed amidst pomp and ceremony at the palace arcade. Christians should not run away from traditional titles so that they could influence people. Being iyalode doesn’t mean you are fetish or anything. I have never and will never. I have several titles and yet I do evangelism even outside Nigeria. All you need is to rely on God to direct your affairs, once you do that you will be at peace with God and yourself.
Advice to young women
Try to be upright and know that whatever challenge you are facing, one day, you will overcome. Don’t allow your integrity to be stained.
Don’t fall into temptation because you want to be rich. And once you attain a high post, make sure you touch other people’s lives.