Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija has been a household name in Nigeria over the years, but stepped on the world stage when Forbes Magazine named her the richest woman in Africa. Today she is the Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil and Executive Vice Chairman of Dayspring Property Development Company. In addition to this, she is the Founder of Rose of Sharon Foundation, a non governmental organization that caters for widows and orphans across the country. At any empowerment program she organizes for tless privileged, she does it with modesty and humility as she danced and ate with them. She is down to earth and has deep passion for God’s work hence the establishment of Rose of Sharon Ministries, a place of praise and worship to bring back dancing and eating lost souls to the kingdom of God. In this interview she tells her story. Excerpts:
You have authored Growing with the hands that gives the rose, University of Marriage and now The cry of widows and orphans. How did you make out time for these with your busy schedule?
It’s the grace of God. It’s not just me. Many years ago, God told me that I will author books and it’s not that I didn’t believe it, I did, but I just didn’t know how or when it would happen. Now, the rest is history. So I give Him the praise. It has been through His grace. When He calls you to do something, He gives you grace to achieve it.
With your most recent book, what do you intend to achieve?
I basically want the world to be aware of the plight and challenges of widows and orphans. The world should rise up and show concern by doing something about their situation. Enough of lip service, it’s about time that we took the bull by the horns and began to do something. These are human beings who are supposed to be our mothers and sisters. Let’s be our brothers keepers. Let’s do something about their situation. It’s really about advocacy. We want to use the book to knock on doors, to wake people up from their slumber, to make them realize that there are some human beings in our world that are going through traumatic experience.
Your Rose of Sharon Foundation recently marked its fifth anniversary. Tell us your motivation for the foundation and how it has fared?
Our focus is the alleviation of the suffering of widows and orphans, just as the scripture says. We do so through the design and execution of programs that give financial independence and educational opportunities to widows, their children and orphans. A journey that started with three widows on 23rd May, 2008, has blossomed into a network of almost a thousand widows today. Since inception, the foundation has empowered 970 widows, 11 of whom are in the university; awarded scholarships to 1, 366 widows’ children and 72 orphans. The loans given to widows are interest free and the scholarships have no conditions attached. It has also provided accommodation for business purposes for 82 widows. Moreover, we have provided some free healthcare check-ups and free legal services to our widows with the support of other agencies.
What have been your challenges in your efforts to better the lot of widows?
Funding has always been a challenge. We’ve never had enough funds to be able to attend to the needs of all those who require assistance because their number is alarming. It’s when you get involved in it that you realize the number of widows in the country. Already, in Lagos State, we are overwhelmed . They seem to know one another and where to find each other. They are each other’s friends. As a result of the empowerment that we provide, they go back and advertise Rose of Sharon Foundation to their friends. We always find that we are empowering more. We will need to hire more hands for counseling and verification.
What’s your typical day like ?
I thank God for the staff God has given me, who give me maximum support. I give the instructions, they do a lot of groundwork and I do the supervision. They support me in every way. The foundation members and the trustees are working and they are supportive. I’m not working as a loner. God is kind; He is bringing the right people at the right time.
Aside your business, you also run The Rose of Sharon Ministry, coupled with the widows and orphans foundation and you are also one of the front liners in your local church . How do you cope with all these assignments?
I have told you it’s by God’s grace. There is nothing you cannot achieve with God and with God there is nothing you won’t achieve. So, it’s a matter of holding to that pillar, praying, letting Him know that you cannot do any of these without Him. That is when He steps in and makes things easier for you.
Your spiritual life is so intriguing; coming from a Muslim background, you preach the gospel even more than those nurtured in Christian homes. How did you become a preacher?
I’m not competing with anyone. I don’t know I’m even there yet. I just believe that I will continue to answer Him and do His bidding, His will. I set my time to please Him. I want to make heaven and I want my family and my friends to make heaven.
What’s your advice to women who are determined to improve themselves?
As you start, ask God to help you stick to your plan and He will because when you are spiritually at peace, you will, have peace of mind, which will help you attain and maintain a physical and emotional balance. It’s essential to draw up a “things to do” list on a daily basis and set priorities in executing them, making sure that any unfinished task get posted to the next day’s list. Remove what is bad for you. As you do, consider what would give you more time for yourself, your health, rest and recreation, and more time for and with your family. Learning to say “no” as it’s also a practical way to re-organize your life. We do not have to keep saying “yes” to every request just because we want to be nice.
Can you tell us how you met your husband?
I returned from England in December 1972 and within 2 weeks of my arrival in Nigeria, I met Mr. Modupe Alakija, a dashing young lawyer, at a party in Surulere. Though I was in the company of my elder brother, he insisted on driving me home and from that point on, we dated regularly for three and half years and we got married on November12th 1976. During our courtship, we partied, dined, visited friends, combed streets, markets and generally had a swell time in each other’s company. We went out frequently for lunch and dinner visiting suya and decent mama put joints. I also have fond memories of many times we drove to Badagry and Epe just to buy fresh fish.
You dress beautifully, what inspired your style?
I derive a lot of pleasure from dressing beautifully and appropriately for every occasion. My embroidered headties are my signature accessory and have become synonymous with me. Nobody looking for me has any difficulty in fishing me out in a crowdwhen I am in my native attire. I receive even more compliments for my head ties abroad. My long skirts and blouses, day suits, evening wears and casuals must always be impeccably fitted, as I would never wear anything less. My colours must be bright as the African weather. I love to look beautiful and have beautiful people and things around me.