Apostle Folorunso Alakija is the Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil and also serves as the Chancellor of Osun State University. Though said to be one of the richest women in Africa, Alakija remains humble in spirit with a quiet mein that does not portray her status. She remains firmly grounded and steadfast in doing her bit to better the lives of those less privileged but prefers to keep her philanthropic deeds quiet. Not one to hog the limelight as some in her shoes are wont to do, she much prefers a simple life and jealously guards her privacy.
Folorunso is a firm believer in women striving to bring out the best of themselves concerning work and financial empowerment. To her, women should be focused and decisive about what they want in life. She is a living proof of the selfmade woman and certainly is an inspiration to many. She holds sway to the belief that a life lived for others is a life of fulfillment. But all this, compares to nothing without her ardent love for God which she expresses at any given opportunity as her love for Him is exemplary. She accredits everything she owns and has in her life is simply by His grace. Blessed with a loving husband and four children, all boys, Alakija does not stop extaling the blessings that has brought her this far. In this riveting encounter with AZUKA OGUJIUBA, she talks about her life’s journey so far now that she has clocked 70!
In your body, mind and spirit, how do you feel about turning 70?
In my body I feel very good. In my mind, I feel like am 40 or 50. In my spirit I want to go, go, go!
Usually, some women are hesitant to discuss their age and in fact, do not celebrate it. It has even been said that it’s rude to ask a woman her age. For some reason, such women feel ashamed to admit how old they truly are. Some even go as far as reducing their age. Why are women afraid to admit their real age?
I think we should enjoy every season of our lives. We’ve enjoyed being as boisterous as we could be in terms of activities, we’ve enjoyed all of that. And there is a time when you need to begin to slow down.
At 70, I think this is the season for me, but I don’t see myself slowing down quickly because I still feel much younger. To the glory of God, one is aging gracefully. Just accept it, don’t fight it. That’s how God created us. So, embrace it and make the most of it. That’s the way I see it.
The story of your life has shown beyond doubt, that a man is just as blessed as he can see and grace is abundantly sufficient. Was there any time whether in business or marriage, that you were so overwhelmed you felt the need to quit?
Quit!? Folurunsho doesn’t quit. I don’t quit. Quit doing what? I’ve always enjoyed everything that I’ve done. Anything I’m not going to enjoy, I don’t even get involved in it, in the first place. I never quit, once I get started, I want to get to the finish line.
You’re also lucky to have a supportive husband. Oftentimes, when a woman is very successful, the man get intimidated. How have you been able to balance marriage, motherhood and business?
Each one of those roles are totally different. You just take one cap off and wear another one to attend to each appropriately and infuse them and balance them. You have to be a wife first before you can be a mother. So, anything the bible has told us to do as a wife, you have to put it into practice. Everything you have to do as a mother comes from a natural instinct, that’s the way God created womanhood. For business, business is part and parcel of me. I grew up in a business-oriented family and I enjoy doing business, I’ve always done business ever since I was old enough to know how to spend money and enjoy spending money. So, I’ve always done one thing or the other because going to school, coming back, I was always with my mum. She was always doing one business or the other especially when she is not at home with us. I learnt a lot through her, how to run your business and how to merchandise. She was into textiles and as a result, I learnt a lot about textiles and colours. Mixing and matching, everything like that. I leant how to relate with the public and also with my clients from her. So, you see, that’s where I got my tips in business. The fashion part is inborn. I just discovered my love for fashion from within myself just like my other siblings. My mother was not as fashionable as my dad. And also, I come from Ikorodu, a part of Lagos where people are always fashion conscious and are into textile trading. They know a lot about clothing and how to wear it and as a result, I grew up learning all of that and having that’s as a potential and talent that I have continued to develop.
You have achieved remarkable successes all round, from business endeavours through to your family as a mother, wife and businesswoman, what more do you wish to achieve as you turn 70?
I would like to grow more with God. Know Him more and develop a much better and intimate relationship with Him. I call Him “The God that gives the Rose”. He’s the one that has the hand that gives the rose. In my first autobiography, I titled it “Growing with the hand that gives the Rose”
Are they things you think turning 70 will deny you of?
I don’t really think so, but maybe I wouldn’t be able to run as fast I could when I was a 15 or 20 year old girl. Apart from that, I feel fine. I just thank God for the grace and the ability to continue to be able to carry on and l feel ten years younger.
The global effect of Covid-19 is still being felt by many. Forbes reported that your net worth dropped by $1billion. We’re you phased by that?
Certainly not. I thank God that I wasn’t really looking at what any magazine says about what I have how much more comparing what I have with that of others. I do not seek to know what is in another person’s pocket. I am not in a competition with anyone. I don’t allow those things to bother me at all. It is God that gives and when He does, He does not add any sorrow
You always have a happy disposition. You also seem to have a solid marraige. In today’s times, marriages are more difficult to sustain talkless of lasting as long as yours. What is the secret behind a marriage like yours?
God is in total control. If you have God, you will have peace in your heart. You will be able overcome any challenge with the help of God. There is no perfect, relationship, marriage or situation or perfection in anything that we do or experience, but we have to learn and know-how to forge ahead and learn from our experiences to move on.
As a woman who loves fashion, who has been involved in the business of fashion, one of your trademark looks was you love of trousers. Do you still wear them?
I stopped wearing trousers last year when I became an apostle. I love them, but you will give anything up for Jesus.
At what point in your life did you know you were called to become an Apostle?
It was a calling. I didn’t call myself. God told me, although the call came three years ago. I was ordained then, but I never used the title. But the same became a lot stronger last year, precisely two weeks to my birthday. I did not plan on doing anything for my birthday last year, I just wanted to stay at home and spend it just like any other day while giving glory to God in my heart, but then He impressed something different in my heart.
Was there any remarkable event that confirmed His call in your life?
God spoke to me 12 or 13 days to my birthday last year but I wanted to sure that it was Him speaking to me. So I asked other men and women of God and our ministers in the ministry to pray about it, and all those who that did but one, came back to affirm that God wants me ordained as an Apostle before my birthday. The one with the contrary view said God wants me to be a Pastor, but as you know, majority carries the vote.
What church do you attend?
I attend the Redeem Christian Church of God.
There are only two globally acclaimed female billionaires in Africa, youself and Isabella Santos. How does it feel to be celebrated as one of Africa’s richest women?
I’m glad you said the world says, l am not the one who says. But whatever God has done for me, however He has done it, l am grateful to Him. It hasn’t been because of what I have done, no! It’s because of what He has done with me, in me and through me. To have brought me this far, I give glory to Him.
Have you met Isabella Santos before?
Yes. We met at an event in South Africa.
Having had your hand in so many things, including fashion, oil and gas, printing and so many other lucrative things, at what point in your career did you hit the gold-mine?
The backbone of our business is Famfa Oil, the oil exploration and production company, that’s the most lucrative of all.
You have managed your business properly thus far and you will no doubt, want to see the business continue to thrive way beyond you. Are your children part of your succession plan?
We run a family business and all our children work with us. They are doing everything they need to do on a daily basis. They are running the business and we are overseeing what they are doing. We are guiding them. Of course, they are going to take over by God’s grace.
You have been out and about doing good, impacting lives through charity, so you intend to slow down anytime soon?
No. I don’t see any reason why I should. That too was a call of God, and when God calls, I obey. When he says, “Do this”, the first thing I ask is “How” then l obey. I do exactly what He wants me to do. Ever since God told me what to do with widows and orphans in 2008, I have been running with it, doing the best I can, with all my energy, intellect and money.
What do you actually do for the orphans and widows?
We empower them. Most of them are in business. Some of them chose to go back to school and about 11 of them have graduated. For the poor children, we give them scholarship. We started out initially with two children per family, but we got overwhelmed
and reduced it to one child per family which we send to school from whatever age we find them. We help them out up to university level to the glory of God. We do the same for orphans. We give them scholarships. We give the orphans stipends too, since they don’t have any other parents to support them. We also give them accommodation.
Do the orphans and widows have to apply to the Foundation or the Foundation goes out to look for them?
They approach us and some are introduced. We come across them one way or the other. We also make sure we do our homework to ensure that they are truly orphans and widows. For the first few years, we got our fingers burnt; we learnt the hard way and we tightened up.
Who are those who influenced and inspired you from the early days of your career and business, and would you say that they are proud of what you have achieved thus far?
l am sure that my mother must be extremely happy where she is right now. My dad too. They both died twelve years ago within one month from each other. She influenced me the most between the two of them. I think it’s the same for many children. She was a business woman all her life. She wasn’t educated but I saw how tenacious and dedicated she was both to her children and to her business. She was dogged in all areas and she brought us up well, too. I would say we are still benefitting from how she raised us. We thank God for her life.
How many children did your mother have?
We were all seven, but we lost one a few years down the line.
How do you plan to celebrate your 70th birthday?
In a couple of days, I will be presenting five new books to the general public. I will spend Tuesday celebrating Jesus, dancing, rejoicing, worshiping and glorifying Him in His presence. I will be celebrating Jesus for what He has done for me, how far He has brought me, where I am today, and where He is still going to take me. I will be celebrating Him for the wonderful people around me, my family and everything He has ever done for me. I give Him the glory.
What is your advice to young women who look up to you as a mentor?
My advice to women is that they must be focused. They must be levelheaded. They must know what they want out of life and be willing to face the challenges that come with it because nothing comes easy; nothing ever gets dropped on anybody’s laps. You have to go the extra mile all the time. You have to ensure that you keep your eye
on the ball. You must see a light at the end of the tunnel and work towards that light. Women should not be copycats. They should get advice where and when they need it. They should draw a plan and work towards those plans. They should make sure that they are not misled by friends they don’t share the same mission with. They need to ensure that they get what they want in life rather than what life throws at them. With that, they can become great achievers.
Speaking of Fashion, you have mentioned having a passion for it. What drives or inspires you in terms
I stopped being a fashion designer 20 years ago but fashion is still my passion. Its inborn, I love clothing, shoes, bags everything that you see women embracing. You would always find women paying attention to fashion. That’s how we are, that’s how God created us.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you do before going to bed at night?
The first thing I do is to give glory to God for sparing my life, for enabling me to see another day. I do the same thing at night.