Vanguard awards

April 8, 2016

My father taught me responsible leadership – Dr. Nike Akande, LCCI President

By Nkiruka Nnorom

CONGRATULATIONS on your election as the president of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. So, how does it feel to be the president of the leading Organised Private Sector (OPS) voice in Nigeria?

torchbearerAkande-pix-1I feel highly elated because I have been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for many years and I have always been particular about women emancipation. The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1888 and only one woman has assumed this position but she didn’t live long, though she was not young on the job, but she only stayed for less than one year. Since then, we have been looking for an opportunity to have another lady and am here, I am happy.

Secret to success

I will promote the private sector and everything about the economy of the country.

Rising to the top for a woman in Nigeria is not an easy thing, especially in a male dominated profession like yours. How did you manage to break out of the corner that male chauvinists usually box female counter-parts in Nigeria.

For a woman to get to the top is not easy at all! I agree with you, but with determination and hard work she can get there. The only secret to success is hard work; even men too appreciate a hard-working woman. Hard-work is the secret. Whether you are a man or a woman, you must be hard-working and be consistent in whatever you do. Since my young age, I was the school prefect at queen, even when I was at Harvard, I was the chairman of the international group. I have always held important positions in life and may be because I come from a family that is not polygamous and my father only had four girls. I am the first; so they have always groomed me for important positions in life and I have always maintained the dignity and ethics of a very responsible lady.

So what you are saying is that the positions you have occupied so far did not happen by chance; it is something you worked through.

Yes! I have worked through. I have been a member of the Chamber for many years. I have served as chairman of this, vice president, deputy president and so on. So, what is left for me to be the president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and industry?

I’m sure the success you are enjoying today did not come without challenges. What are some of the challenges you have faced in getting to the top.

Nothing comes easy. The challenges were there. You know, I look simple; I smile a lot, but I know my right and I feel that am qualified. So, I stood my ground and I said you cannot try that. You know they have edged a few women out and they tried it and I said no, no, no, you cannot try this and I thank God. You see, everything is God; it is only God that will help you. Even if you work hard and people want to destabilise you or not give the position you deserve, when God is on your side, you will definitely succeed.

In other words, you have never felt intimidated by male counter-parts?

I have never. Let me explain to you. I said my father had only four of us and we are all girls. So, sometimes I forget that I am a woman. My father was a very important and my mother was equally important from Aboderi  family. So you cannot intimidate any of us. My father will say ‘my angels’. He calls us his angels. You know what a man can do, a woman can do. Most of my friends are men; we attend school together, I do whatever they do. So, I have never been intimidated and my father has always encouraged me: “try and be a good leader to your siblings’ and it is always there with me. Anywhere I go, I try to be highly responsible.

You spoke passionately about your father and your parents. How was growing up like for you.

It was such a wonderful growing up age because in those days, my father was like a mother to many people from Ibadan because if you don’t have a male child, your friends those will be making fun of you, ‘go and marry another wife and have a male child.’ My father came from a polygamous home but he didn’t like it. So my father will say, ‘what is the difference. Just show them love’ and he showed us love. And I and my sisters were very close; we are still very close.

As a growing child, what was the training that actually kept you going?

As a young child, because of the sort of environment I grew up in, when I was young, I was a Unilever scholar at Queen’s School. Dr. Michael Molawole was the Human Relation Manager at Lever Brothers and they gave me scholarship, not that I was an indigent student. Since that time I realised that if I could start early like this and I continue, God will always be on my side. In my final year at Queens, I was a school prefect in school. At every stage in life, I was always very conscious of whom I am and the family I come from.

I like to be important; let me put that way. I like to be important! Being the first child of my parents, you know I will be going with my sisters and I will be doing the big sister. That has always been in me. I don’t know whether you call that ambition, but I always like to be important in carrying people along. I have always liked to lead and God has always helped me; I have always held important positions in life. I like to lead; let me confess but a subtle way. I don’t lord, but even on your own, you will like to associate with me.

Let’s say it’s innate

Yes, I think so.

You are a married woman with kids. How do you combine your role as a wife, mother and your job?

I have always been asked this question. It is not that easy but I will say it is a question of time management. If you want your husband to support you, you have to respect him. Once most women get to a certain stage in life, they feel so big. My husband is a successful man; he is a lawyer, he is well-off, but I give him his respect. Anywhere I want to go or want to do anything, I let him know about it. Information is also very important. If you keep everything away from the man and he hears from outside that your wife did this and that, he won’t feel happy. Funny enough, my husband likes successful women.

Successful women

You know, not every man can tolerate a successful woman, but he will always encourage me. When I told him what you (Vanguard) want to do for me, he was very happy. He said once he is sure, his radio will announce it at Ibadan, he is that type of person. Not every man can tolerate it, but you know I respect him. Anything that concerns him, I try to give him his due respect and do things that will make him happy. Of course, occasionally, we have our differences, but that is only natural, but we try not to offend each other.

Twice a minister of industry, what was your experience and what was your take away from that position

The first time I became a minister, I was not even in Nigeria; I was in Ghana. I used to do a lot of things like I said. I am a bit restless about work, but I do it with ease and you know I smile a lot. So, people don’t see stress on me or anything. I used to do consulting work for UNIFEM, UNDP and few other people. I went to do a consulting work for UNIFEM in Ghana and my name showed up was it in CNN in those days. They phoned the ambassador that I was not in Nigeria. So the ambassador then was looking for me and he traced me to the hotel where I was lodged by UNIFEM people and he said ‘now you are my property and I have to send you back to Nigeria’.

Any regrets?

Yes, we all have; we all have challenges in life. But, you see, one thing in life you must learn is that there is nobody that does not have a challenge. It’s how you take. If anything happens to me, there is nobody that it hasn’t happened to before; I won’t be the first person. So, I go ahead and continue to do what I do best in life.

What will you like to be remembered for?

I will like to be remembered as a woman who came to this life and touched many lives; a woman who contributed her own quota to the development of this country; a woman who is not selfish, who thinks about the welfare of others and this is what has guided me in life.

Considering our monolithic economy which is negatively impacting the state of the nation, how do you intend to promote on the economy of this country with your wealth of experience.

Like you rightly said, I do have experience; I have been exposed. I was even the first woman president of the Harvard Alumni Association. So, all these things have really helped me in life and I was ready to take up the post of the president of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Am particular about the private sector and the economy; and if you have noticed, since I became the president, I have been working round the clock, trying to do many things to help our members benefit from my wealth of experience. I have met them in Abuja.

Diversifying the economy

Most ministers in abroad, when they come to Abuja, the ambassador say they want to meet me and I have always met them if you have been following the papers. I have actually just taken over but I have done a lot since I took over and there are lot of things they want to do for us at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and many people are joining because they know that there is a future for them at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

We know that the price of oil is going down, so we have to think of how to diversify the economy. To diversify the economy, we have to look at areas that we have not fully exploited. Let’s take agriculture and rice for instance. We import all these rice from Taiwan, but that they can be grown very well. You know, I wear many caps; I am the chairman of NEPAD Business Group. We organised a forum ‘Investment in Rice’ and the former minister of agriculture was there.

He was surprised because I went to town and I brought most of the people producing rice in Nigeria. Honestly, some of the rice they produce is like Uncle Bens. When somebody said I should do that programme, I didn’t know there are opportunities for investment in rice. We also did the one in cassava and they were always very happy.

And then, industrialisation; that is my pet subject. Industrialisation is the key to economic development, employment generation and poverty alleviation. You know, industrialists in this country have a lot of challenges. Number one challenge is power. If the issue of power can be solved, most things will fall in place, and also other infrastructural facilities that we need in this country.