Life has been good outside government — Kemi Akala
Wife of a former governor of Oyo State, Chief (Mrs) Kemi Alao-Akala, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Garment of Praise, a fashion outfit poised to redefine the fashion industry. In this interview by SEYI SOKOYA, the mother of one, who clocked 56 yesterday, speaks about life after government, among other issues. Excerpts:
Not much has been heard about you since you left the office as the First Lady of Oyo State, unlike your husband, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala. Would you say that your low profile is deliberate?
My life as the First Lady of Oyo State has not been different from my present state. I thank God for everything about my life. Though I was always busy when we were in government, I see myself as busier now because I have more responsibilities. It is a combination of the continuity of some responsibilities in government and my passion now. So, that should correct the impression that I am keeping a low profile or relaxing after government. I don’t think I need to make noise about how we are impacting lives or the number of lives we have touched. For instance, I have had passion for fashion right from my tender age and now, it is one of my priorities. Some people even claim I have been out of the country since we left government. That is not true; I don’t know why the wife of a former governor should go abroad to relax and all that. There is life after office and if I may remind you, I have a 12-year-old boy schooling in Nigeria and I have to be there for him. If I want to flaunt myself as a First Lady, I won’t be a good mother to him. I see myself as a regular person. We were once in office and we cannot be there forever. I just feel that it is a right thing for me to do. Besides, we are into oil and gas, housing and farming and once in a while, I try to put my nose into the media, because we have Parrot FM.
Specifically, how has life been outside government?
We have been out of office for about seven years now, though I cannot say I have forgotten life as a First Lady. You cannot forget that if you have that kind of experience, but one just has to move on. I thank God that life has been good. So, I have been able to cope. You will agree with me that as the wife of a politician, you are busy forever, especially when you are Alao-Akala’s wife, who is known to be a man of the people; life has never been a dull moment. I try to take things easy when he is not in town, but it is a lot of work when he comes around.
How have you contributed to the success of the fashion industry in the country?
Despite the fact that I craved for fashion when I was young, as I said earlier, I had felt I could still do more for the field now. This was one of the reasons I took it up professionally, as well as to impact lives through it. Though I may not be a keen fashionable person, especially when it comes to trends, I know that one has to be comfortable in whatever one wears. At a point, I came across a set of good tailors; so, I decided to start making clothes for people. I don’t see myself as a fashion designer; I don’t like to be called that, but I have empowered and set up a platform for some people to explore their talents. Apart from this fact, it is an avenue to encourage and empower the younger generation that craves for fashion; it keeps me thinking all the time and makes me conversant with trendy fabrics.
At what point did you feel you should take it up professionally?
I had a set of friends back in Ilorin that we were just inquisitive about fashion. Whenever we were on holidays, we would sit with a tailor to try out some things. I am just happy that I have been able to actualise my dream on this scale now. What we do at Garment of Praise is basically different from the usual fashion designing. We bring life to clothing.
You clocked 56 on July 7, 2018. How do you see life now and what are your aspirations?
This stage of life would make one be grateful to God and feel good to be an older person, because it will make one become wiser and enable one to handle life better, as well as guide the younger ones. I think age is in the mind, because most times, I had to remind myself that I am over 50. Sometimes, when my husband calls me Kemi, I tell him; my dear, I am 56 now. Because he still sees me as that young Kemi. Above all, I thank God for the gift of life. On my aspirations, I have the world at my feet and there are still many territories to conquer. I still have a lot of things to do, especially for God in the Kingdom. I realise that whatever position you are is for the Kingdom. So, I know that God will give me the opportunity to do much more for Him. Left to me, I feel my 56th birthday celebration should be low-key, but the fact that it was a unique date and that it is Akala’s wife that is involved, it cannot be described as low-key.
Going by the political trend in Oyo State, it is obvious that your husband is eager to return as the governor of the state. Do you also have his support?
My calling is to support my husband. I tell people that I cannot be a politician, but a politician’s wife. Whatever my husband wants, I want. So, he has my 100 per cent support. I let people realise that it is God’s project. For instance, (Senator Musa) Kwankwanso was out of government, but he came back as the governor of Kano State. I believe strongly that such can happen in Oyo State too. However, it is only God that can do it. Politics is very interesting and the thing is that God will not come down to make things happen, so I am sure that God is going to use his Excellency, Governor Abiola Ajimobi, to actualise my husband’s dream. The atmosphere now is getting better for God to move because what I want, at the end of it all, is for everybody to acknowledge that it is God’s doing.
Don’t you think your husband should also join the league of state’s elder statesmen that have withdrawn from contesting and embrace the not-too-young ideology?
People are clamouring for Akala to comeback and aside this, he has the constitutional rights to come back. No doubt, he is the people’s man. The entire state, especially the grass-roots people felt his impact when he was in power; God helped him to impact a lot of lives positively. So, I don’t blame them if they want him to come back. He is not the main Akala; the people behind him bear the name and he would not hesitate to return if the people want him.
If you eventually had the opportunity to become the First Lady again, what would you do differently?
A lot of things. As I said earlier, whatever position you are in is for the Kingdom. I tried my bit, but if I had another chance, I will do more for God by touching more lives. I wanted to do everything for God after my prayer was answered, because I had waited on the Lord for long for the fruit of the womb. So, I thought of what to do to show my gratitude when the baby came. That was why I decided to create opportunities, as well as touch lives. This made me to go into a lot of things and I still do them. I may not be on the pages of the newspapers; I still try as much as possible to touch lots of lives positively. The downturn in the economy of our country has led to so much poverty in the land. One can only contribute his or her quota now to alleviate the pains on the citizens. In fact, the pressure now is more than when we were in government. My husband is now a household name; it has been ingrained in their subconscious. They are confident that with Akala, they will never be disappointed and I thank God that we are still able to take care of people. I remember that we I initiated CLAP when we were in government and by the grace of God, we are going to continue from where we stopped. However, the current First Lady has done very well, especially with OYSOWA; we never had that in Oyo State and it is something I am really looking forward to sustain.
How do you feel being a mother of one?
I am grateful to God. When I was much younger, I prayed to God to have six children but Kunle, to me, symbolises seven children rolled into one. I am so happy that I have him and that God is helping us to bring him in the way of the Lord.
How was your growing up?
I am so proud of my background. My father, Reverend Ayo Bello, was a reverend in the Baptist Church, while my mother was an educationist. So, I am confident to say that I was well brought up and I pray to God that I do that for my son too. My father was as popular as Akala back in Ilorin then. I was born in Kaduna and much later, moved to Ilorin. I had my primary education in the Kwara State capital. I had my secondary school education at Queen Elizabeth School. I had a break in the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and came back to the University of Ilorin. So, I served in Lagos, where I met my husband in1983/84. My mother advised me that the best job for a woman was teaching, and she eventually got me one. I was not comfortable with it because I felt that I could not leave my whole life in Ilorin and to the glory of God, I got a banking job in Lagos in 1986. My mum was an activist, and I actually should have understudied her because she was an active member of various associations and was well-traveled. My father too, was also a social welfare officer; this made me to mix and interact with a lot of people and I appreciate them now because I felt God was preparing me for the future, but I did not know. I wished I had paid more attention.