Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija is a philanthropist and owner of Rose of Sharon Foundation, business tycoon involved in the fashion, oil and printing industries. She is a devout Christian and also founded the Folorunsho Alakija Scholarship Scheme, which has consistently aided quite a number of indigent Nigerians who cannot afford good and quality education. Mrs. Alakija, who celebrated her 66th birthday recently, share with us the secret to her looking ageless and how she feels being the richest woman in Nigeria
How do you feel being referred to as Nigeria’s richest woman?
I didn’t say so; if that is what people say, I claim it and I pray that the Lord will do more in Jesus name.
What’s your advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
What I have to say is that they must make sure that it is coming from their hearts; it has to be their hearts’ desire because there are many challenges to be faced. Nothing goes from the lowest level to the highest-level overnight. Perseverance is a tool that we must imbibe and they must realise that nothing is dropped on anybody’s laps but working hard to achieve an objective is key. Everybody can aspire that they want to be one thing or the other, but I assure you, there are challenges all the way and hurdles. So waiting at a particular spot doesn’t help you achieve anything in life; they must be ready to face the challenges they will meet along the way but they should look at the light at the end of the tunnel. Women must find strength and follow towards it and make their way because there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Distractions will come, challenges will come and all sort of huddles to drag you down. But if you are focused right from the beginning and what you are doing comes from your heart, one will definitely achieve her goal. It also applies to every aspect of life.
Could you share with us five tips to doing business successfully in Nigeria?
There are a lot of challenges in doing business in Nigeria. There is no way that we will talk about it and not mention corruption. Corruption is one challenge. Infrastructure is another challenge but corruption will face you stark naked in your eyes but you have to overcome it and the only way you can overcome it is by holding strong unto your God. You have to trust God for everything; you understand He will always make a way for you. Because there is no way you will talk about God without facing challenges. There will be issues when you will find out you have to compromise in order to have your way. Things that your religion doesn’t permit, it depends on how you hold on to your God so that He can make a way for you. Another challenge you face is infrastructure for your business, starting with power. If there was adequate power, profit made would have been doubled. You will have challenges with those who are trying to take what you have made. Armed robbers and those who think why it should always be you and not them. That is another challenge. The road network is another challenge. Finding funding, which bank is going to believe in you to want to give you a chance? But I always believe in starting small. I am the greatest advocate of Ayo Megbope, who started her moi moi business with N1000 and today she is raking in hundred thousand dollar annual turnover and that has brought her into the limelight. The fact that she started small, she was focused and was determined, took her to the White House on two occasions. The list is endless but like I said you must be determined, you must be focused and determined and you will get to your dreams.
You recently celebrated your 66th birthday. How do you relax?
You’d be shocked but I relax by working and doing more work because I enjoy working but I look forward to the times I can be with my family and relax but I also enjoy doing the work of the Lord. I love working a lot.
What is the secret to your looking ageless?
That is the grace of God upon my life. I started exercising three or four years ago, three times a week to help me keep fit. But, I look for any opportunity to tell my trainer not to come. So I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I eat anything and everything, so I don’t think it is that. I’m learning to eat right so I would attribute it to the grace of God and the fact that I am surrounded by friends and family one of whom is Mrs. Judith Alakija. So this gives me peace and if you have peace, you have joy and if you have joy, you will continue to look younger than your age.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I have heard that a lot of times. I find it difficult to answer. In fact I really want to live that to those coming behind me to answer. Maybe someday when I must have gone to the great beyond, I can look down and begin to listen and watch and hear what they have to say about me.
What was the greatest decision you ever took?
That was becoming born again and I thank God that I took that decision. That was 26-years ago, 1991 precisely. It was a sad experience I had and I was looking for God everywhere and I realised that the place to find him was in my heart; to give my heart to him, so I gave my life to Jesus and everything became beautiful.
You are the grand patron of the Africa Cinematography Festival (ACF). Why are you throwing your name behind this project?
I believe in the youth and I believe in the ability of Nigerians. Each and every one of us is extremely hard working as a people. We are visionaries and we have the abilities to become whatever we choose to be.
And as for ACF, we are focused in the film industry and there are so many talented Nigerians both young and old. We must not let the older generation go away with the talents they have. We can’t move the movie industry forward without ensuring that we bridge the gap between them and the young talents to keep moving the industry forward. We must not let the talented ones be discouraged. The talent in the industry in Nigeria and Africa is awesome; we must showcase it to the world. We must let the world know that we must be reckoned with. For too long we have been kept down, we need to join the race. We are tired of all the negative reports about our country. We need to join the race and let the world know that there is a lot that can be achieved starting from Nigeria, there is a lot that we can gain as a people that all of us a can be proud of, so we need to project that to the world. We have to let those in authority know that there is a lot the film industry can contribute to the economy of Nigeria. We must let the youth know that they can contribute to the growth of the economy.
I share the view that the future of a country, nation or people is a direct function of what the younger generation makes of it. This fact, as common a cliché as it is may have become in our national discourse, stresses the need to prioritise the empowerment of those within the bracket.
Our youths need to be taught life skills and be empowered with adequate capacity required to enable them become major contributors to the economy and society. Obviously, it is a worthwhile venture to undertake.
Achieving this of course requires strategic participation from players in both the public and private sectors. It is no mean feat, but the reward is greater and this is the satisfaction.
This why I believe the Africa Cinematography Festival (ACF) is a platform that I am proud of and also share huge optimism in its ability to contribute immensely to the overall development of the nation and particularly the movie industry.
Are you saying this AFG could be used to rebrand Nigeria?
Of course, it is part of the rebranding of Nigeria and to uplift the economy; everything should not just be oil all the time. We have clamour for diversification for a long time; I believe this is a good way to diversify the economy at this trying times. We did not realise the potentials that are within that are innate in our people just because we had that recourse and cashed in on it. We did not look within or around us, we did not look inwards, this is one of the needs to push forward. So, this is one of the gap feeling initiatives that need to take off and find its mark.