BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
For the first time in history, an African woman has been elected to occupy the lofty office of the Vice-President in the International Inner Wheel, a worldwide service organisation constituting primarily of wives of Rotarians— until recently, other women professionals. Here, we bring you that woman, Mrs.Oluyemisi Alatise, a principled and well-respected Nigerian entrepreneur cum philanthropist. Enjoy our chat with her!
We’re quite thrilled by your election; to you, how does it feel?
The excitement is all over the world. It is the first time in 93 years of existence of Inner Wheel in the world and 48 years in Nigeria. I feel very lucky and happy. Friends say I worked and deserve it, but not all merits are awarded. Actually, I’ve served as National Representative as well as member of the board of directors. I thank God for this special privilege to have been elected by 3,500 clubs in 103 countries of the world.
But what earned you the election and how many others contested?
We (Nigeria) had nominated candidates twice in the past but failed. We’ve however spent the last ten years projecting the name of Nigeria through seminars, symposia, workshops and foreign joint projects, which were adequately reported within Inner Wheel worldwide. Also, we have been very transparent with our finance and made integrity our watchword. The first time we sent in nomination had 6 contestants, the second time also had 6 contestants, but the winning era had 3 contestants. Netherland, Finland and Nigeria. Netherlands has over 3,000 membership, Finland has 1,500 and Nigeria has 650 members. So it is not our number in Nigeria that made the victory but voting from other countries who believed in Nigeria candidature.
What challenges does this bring?
There is no challenge that can be more than what we have been facing in the past. We have been experiencing dwindling membership in Nigeria and the introduction of Female Rotarian is part of the reason. We cannot present Board Director yearly, except we get our membership beyond 1,000. We are working towards formation of clubs and getting good members interested, though.
As part of service to humanity, Inner Wheel is keen on women and girls; what’s your take on the unproductive one-year search for Chibok’s abducted school girls?
The fate of those girls is of international concern. Questions are asked in all international meetings and we are very embarrassed about it. It’s part of the reason the last government failed. We believe the new government will be positive about their rescue. The killing of innocent children, both boys and girls, is very distressing. I wonder how government can be so complacent with the vote of huge amount of money on security, and it cannot defend its citizens; defenceless children.
The girls will not return the way they were taken; they would have been abused both mentally and physically. I do not know what compensation can be enough for what they would have experienced.
What’s your advice to the President-elect on how best to improve and protect the lives of women and girls in the coming administration?
From the family profile of the President-elect, I am sure women and girls will feel safe under his administration. The school premises should have adequate security both structurally and physically. These insurgents are criminals and should be treated as such; no religion preaches what they are doing. The Islamic religion preaches peace and respect for women.
Back to Inner Wheel, what will be your duties as Vice-President and what legacy do you hope to leave behind?
The Vice-President is the Co-ordinator for the UN Representatives. I want to leave a legacy of integrity, transparency, dedication, commitment to duty and selfless service. The tenure is for one year. After which I will stand for election again to contest for President.
Lastly, you’re known to be very thorough. Tell us about your childhood, growing up and factors or people that shaped your personality?
I was brought up by a disciplinarian father and mother. I translated it into bringing my children up. I was not popular initially, but they have grown to appreciate their upbringing. I do not have any regret in my style of parenting; they are today all successful women and men. Praise Almighty Allah. I was shaped up very early in life; I was a child parent, even though my parents were alive. They had grown beyond high earning capacity by the time I got to puberty. I had to be responsible for myself and my seven siblings. My holidays in secondary school were spent in the Kolanut farm.
I earned my school fees and paid for my siblings fees. Hard work, strong will and tenaciousness are natural to me. Despite my hard growing up, I loved and cared for my parents till they died. I pampered and spoilt them to the admiration of their peers. My wish was usually to see them smile anytime I make them happy. No matter the magnitude of service or kindness I give, I expect no reward from recipient, because I know God will reward me. Those were the prayers from my parents; God will reward you not man. I thank God for their impact in my life.