By Morenike Taire
The cosy grounds of the home of former Oyo state governor Otunba Adebayo Alao Akala was already a beehive of activities by the time WW went calling on a sunny Sunday morning. The lady of the house and a woman of faith had already coordinated the day’s worship and was on hand, as was their 10 year old son Olamikunle, himself a budding but highly talented saxophonist. First Ladies are generally taken for granted as being seen, not heard, and their roles are hardly appreciated. Not one to lose sight of herself, her values and her essence, Oluwakemi Akala offers a peek into how she was able to adjust to public life while remaining ‘real’.
Well known as a philanthropist and counselor, everyone who knows the beautiful former First Lady knows that her quietness does not detract from her style; and Oluwakemi was at her most urbane and gracious as WW engaged her on this and a few issues. Excerpts:-
Before you became the wife of a politician and governor, what did you do?
I was first a teacher. I taught for two years then joined the banking industry. In 1999 when my husband became the chairman I had to leave. At first I was on leave then went back but when he became deputy governor in 2003, I had to leave altogether.
Can you outline changes in your lifestyle after politics?
Actually I am so used to being a politician’s wife now that it is like I can’t even remember who I was. Then, I was a regular person; you work in a bank so you work every day. Come weekend you just want to rest, no party, nothing. Now since 1999, ha! I have come a long way. I am like a different person now but a better person.
In what sense?
I am from Ilorin, and you know in Ilorin we are not fully Yoruba. So when I got to Oyo I really got to know people. I knew that when people say something they mean another thing. That put me in trouble a few times because I would just say it as it is. I got to learn so now I know what to say and how to say it and when people talk I know what they mean. I think I deal with people better now.
What about your friends? Were you still able to keep up with them?
I am not a friend-friend person and that is one thing I wish I could change. My friends are not up to five; I don’t know how to keep friends. My friends have to make an effort and fortunately they know that there is nothing there, but I am just too comfortable in my skin.
When you left banking, were there times you were tempted to go back or was it a clean cut?
I was tempted many times. You know I was in Ogbomosho and the change was too drastic so there were times I thought, ‘let me go back’; but you know I was waiting on the Lord and when you are waiting like that you have to be close to your husband.
How did you adjust? Was your family worried about you at any point?
I had to adjust. I was married to a politician and you know politicians, once they are there, they adjust. My family knew I could handle it; they came to see me once in a while. I lost my parents pretty early. I lost my father in ’81 and my mother in ’98. It was just my siblings.
How did you meet your husband?
1983 I was in Lagos for my youth service and you know my husband is a former police officer. I was in Police College, so I met him and went back to Ilorin. It was when I went back to Lagos in 1988 I just got a call and the voice sounded familiar. I asked who it was and he said ‘don’t you know me?’ I said this voice is familiar and the rest is history .
What do you do when you have a minute to yourself? Do you ever get to a point when you feel it’s too much?
You don’t want to know. Candy crush! I am on word-cross now. I started from simple Sudoku but when I got to the higher level I couldn’t cope. I love puzzles. Two days ago, I got to the end of candy crush and posted it on my Facebook. They saidcongratulations, no more levels. It’s really bad (laughs).
There are times I wish I could just have a break but when it comes it is always great.
You had a pet project when you were First Lady. Have you been able to sustain it?
Yes. I had Community Intervention Programme and that was just born out of a grateful heart. When I had my son I was too grateful to God and I thought, what can I do? I just wanted to do everything, which is not possible. I was into everything- pregnant women, HIV, whatever anybody needed. I would go to a local government, find out what they needed, do it. Women, empower them. I was just all over the place
Have you been able to sustain some of them?
Yes. You don’t have to be in government to touch lives. It’s more fulfilling when you meet people’s needs just because the needs are there. You know we have 33 local governments in Oyo state. We worked with widows, we were into the environment… We worked with British American Tobacco (BAT) because in Oke Ogun area they do charcoal business so we were able to plant trees to combat deforestation. We partnered with a few companies. Now I still do but somebody is there now as the wife of the governor and I don’t want to take the shine off them. I had my moment so whatever I want to do I just do under the carpet.
What motivates you the most?
I just told you that God has been very good to me. That is it so I just have to show it and the only way I can show it is…enikeni ti’wo ba n’ipa… (breaks into Yoruba song)
What do you think about president Buhari demolishing the office of the First Lady?
No no no! Sometime ago he had a meeting with the wives of the governors.
That was political
Political or not, he really appreciated their role so I would not agree that he has demolished the office
What do you think should be the role of a First Lady?
You know women are better managers. We were born that way so any First lady would know that she is supposed to be a good counselor to her husband because we feel the pinch the most. When you are there the First Lady should be close to the people. That role is very, very important.
The nation is in turmoil and conflict. What do you think should be the role of women in peace keeping?
I think we should start from the family as that’s the key. That is major because the family is where the children stay. The way we raise our children, that’s who they would grow up to be so if you don’t bring them up properly they will be miscreants. I don’t want to say we’ve lost it- we’ve missed it. Women are too busy to take care of their children.
We were brought up properly and we are trying to bring up our children but the main thing is to bring them up to know God because if you have the fear of God there will be peace. Women can actually do a lot, talk to their husbands and make suggestions on how to go about things. Do we do what we are supposed to do? Are we not the ones that will say, this person has done that to you, don’t agree o?