Businesswoman and Forbe Magazine listed richest woman in Africa, Folorunso Alakija has been married to her husband for many years and the union is blessed with children and grand children. In this interview the elegant lady talks candidly about her life. Read on…
You are looking pretty good and sharp, well below your age, what is the secret?
I don’t have any secret. I do all the wrong things at the right time because I have no particular routine. So if you are looking for a method or ideology, I’m afraid, I might disappoint you. Every good thing about me, especially my look, is by the grace of God because I eat at odd times; I eat the wrong things; I sleep at odd hours, and I exercise always. So I can only attribute what you see to the grace of God, not because I’ve done the right thing at the right time.
Looking back at your life, did you envisage that you would go this far in life?
What do you mean by go this far? Or is it in my age?
I intend to live up to 100 years by the special grace of God. Everybody wants to live for as many years on earth as possible. I’m not usually ill, I thank God for that and nobody wants to die young, so I’m just like any other person who wants to live long. Of course, I still pray to God for Him to give me long life as He gave the opportunities to my parents who died in their 90s. So I see no reason why I would not also aspire to live long.
With your marital experience, why do you think marriages don’t last long these days?
Well, I give glory to God, but a lot has to do with individuals and their marriages. As a result, it’s in the hands of the couple to ensure that their marriage works because you have to please God in that area, and you can’t reciprocate according to God’s commandment that we should have children and we should see our generations come to life and live in happiness and joy without making some efforts. Both parties are responsible in ensuring that their marriages work. So it takes a lot of patience. Submission on the part of the wife and love on both parts and respect and honour for the wife by the husband, communication between both of them, understanding, perseverance between both of them are very crucial elements to a successful marriage. And remember that it takes two to tango, if it is only one person playing the role, it would be bad. It’s like a chain and once a link in a chain breaks, it can never be the same again unless you mend that chain. The key thing is to ensure that the chain does not break because no matter how you mend it, it can never be the way it was; the best is to find ways of ensuring that you don’t break that chain. So as I said, if both parties put all these things into practice, the better for a sustainable and lovely marriage.
Folorunsho Alakija is a brand that is synonymous with success in almost all spheres of life in Nigeria and beyond, how have you been able to build and maintain the name over the years?
I’ve always believed in God, I’ve always believed in being upright, I’ve always believed in working very hard, loving my neighbour. I’ve always tried to please many people as much as I can. As I was growing up, I’ve always been conscious of my reputation. I don’t believe in lying, deceiving people or cheating, I’m a very straight forward person. That is how I have lived my life all these years and I pray that God will continue to give me the grace not to change and if I’m going to change, it will be for the better.
Presently, and with all your achievements, what do you still look for in life?
Basically, I’m still looking out to fulfill two things. I still want to be able to fulfill the will of God according to His plans and purpose for my life. God has a purpose for every human being and you have to discover your purpose in life, because if you don’t, you will miss it. And if you miss it, you will be asked before you enter the gate of heaven why you did not fulfill your destiny. I also want to be able to be alive to see more of my grandchildren.
You also look strong and healthy, how have you been able to manage your health?
That, if I may say, is also by the grace of God, and not through what I do. I know a lot of people who look after themselves, but still don’t enjoy the grace of good health as much as they would have liked to. So like I said, it’s not because of what I do, but only by His grace.
How has life been with your husband, Mr Modupe Alakija?
Life with my husband has been wonderful. He is an extremely kind, loving and caring husband to me and a wonderful father to my children. He has been a good gift and blessing to us all. He dotes on all of us and he provides and attends to our needs.
How well do you know him?
We know each other inside-out because we courted for three and half years before we got married. So it’s like knowing each other for over 40 years. When he winks, I know what he means; if he coughs, I know what he means; if he codes me with any particular tone, I understand him. So we both know each other well more than anybody else.
What has really kept the union going all the while?
God has given us so much grace that we are very much into each other in the sense that we don’t hide anything from one another. We ensure we please each other as much as we could without any inconvenience on the part of any of us. We have lived a good life together for over 40 years, and we are still counting. Of course, there is no perfect marriage; every marriage has its ups and downs, and just like any other marriage, we have had our own fair share of challenges, but we thank God for His grace.
If you come back to this world, would you like to marry your husband again?
Absolutely, I will not even think twice about it.
How did you meet?
We met like any other young man and woman then, became friends and here we are today.
What attracted you to him?
His looks; he was a tall and handsome man.
Do you still see that in him?
What kind of person is Folorunsho Alakija?
Folorunsho Alakija is one person that is extremely hard working, very warm-hearted, someone that likes putting smiles on the faces of others and who likes giving pleasant surprises to people. Folorunsho is also passionate about her family and her husband who has given her the opportunity to have four wonderful sons and be the woman he wants her to be. She is someone that has been, is and will forever be passionate about God.
How rich is Folorunsho Alakija?
I am rich in what God has blessed me with. I am rich in my husband, my children, the people around me and also in the Lord.
Prior to the arrival of your grand – daughter, how did you feel not having a female among your children?
At the early years of my child bearing, I really longed for a girl, but it didn’t come. I was initially disappointed but took it in my stride and accepted it the way it is. I later consoled myself that my sons would marry and make up for the girls I don’t have. God answered my prayer, as my first grandchild turned out to be a girl. So God has fulfilled my heart’s desire because I had been the only female amongst five ‘boys’ all along, but now I have a partner.
What went through your mind when the baby girl arrived?
She arrived the day after my 57th birthday and I had just spoken to God to give me a birthday gift that money could not buy. That was how this bundle of joy arrived the following day and I was extremely happy.
How would you describe a total woman?
A total woman is someone that is self-conscious of her looks and her behaviour as a woman.
You are respected for your fashion statements; how did they evolve?
Apart from having studied fashion designing as a profession, I believe that God puts a lot of talent and creative ability in me. And then, as I came to the world, I picked a lot of things along the way with the interaction with my mum and dad from whom I learnt a lot about fabrics, colour and creative design. I believe all that helped me in my career as a fashion designer. In terms of what you call fashion statements, I would say I am just being simply the Foluso Alakija, a woman well conscious of her looks.
As a fashion designer, what determines what you wear?
Definitely the occasion, weather and ‘tempo’ of the gathering.
As you ‘journey’ towards 70 years, how do you intend to live your life after turning 70?
I pray that by the time I’m 70, I would have been able to fulfill all that God destined me to do. After clocking 70 years, I intend to occupy myself with two things: writing a book on marriage and stretching my hands more to widows and orphans.
Where do you shop?
I shop locally and internationally.
Are you a label freak?
I’m not into labels. I like looking for unusual things no matter where I find them. I don’t like paying for a label because of its big name.