Forty-two-years-old Mrs. Olasubomi Iginla-Aina, mother of three and recipient of the Member of the British Empire (MBE) award, on Nov 26, 2019, is a United Kingdom-based Nigerian charity worker. She has consistently worked behind the scene in touching numerous lives across the globe, Nigeria inclusive. The founder/CEO of Lightup Foundation, London, has been providing succour, inspiration and empowerment to the youth. The award was given to her by Prince Williams who represented Her Majesty, the Queen of England. In this interview with EFFECT, Iginla-Aina who has led Lightup effectively and remarkably for the past 20 years, speaks on what drives her passion.
What was your growing up like?
It was quite a bit of challenge. I lost my mother a few days after my 11th birthday and had to be raised by my grandmother. My mother died of heart attack. A fire-brand woman, she fought for people’s rights and would not want people’s injustices to linger on just like that. Indeed, I lost a character, because if she was alive she would have contested for one political position or the other. She just did not want people’s rights to be tram- pled upon. It was just like I lost everything. It was a painful one because I came from a polygamous family; my father had eight wives and 31 children. So, no much attention was given to us. He was a wealthy man, the likes of Folawiyo, and a very successful rich man. He felt that when he died we will have much but then I was always fighting for him to pay our school fees. It was a challenge because we would be at home after school had opened yet to pay our school fees. I had to fight him to pay my siblings’ fees. My father had a tough upbringing and that might have formed his ideas and values. He had 11 siblings and all of them died, except him. He was the only child left for my grandmother. My grandmother exposed my father to some hardship because she wanted him to grow up as a man. And that was how he also exposed us to tough times; we did not have access to all his wealth. So it was tough for me because I would roam about the street looking for friends. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had a lot of crash programme with elderly people, who would in- still some values in me and my grandmother was tutoring me. She spoke to me as an elderly person, and I had this network among elderly persons. And leadership was taught me, but I lost my grandmother a year after my mother died, and had to sit with her friends, after her death and they also imparted to me. So, you hardly found me among my peers. These women had to send me on errands and this exposure here and there helped to shape me in becoming a leader. And anywhere I go people want me to be their leader, and God helped me grow up quickly. I did my GCE in SSS 1 and had five credits and four A’s. I had results that my senior did not have; I become the Presi- dent of Red Cross of Surulere. I emerged as a leader at the Red Cross then.
Who influenced your growing up?
My mum influenced me most. I grew up with her. She taught me how to fast and to sit on a mat to pray even though she was not a religious person. She was highly gifted. I grew up praying and fasting. I learnt this from her. My mum was always full of humour. Everyone that came to our house never wants to leave. My mum was down-to-earth. She had every reason to be proud; her beauty made statement everywhere she went; she was extraordinarily fashionable. As a result of her kindness and benevolence, people took her for granted and cheated. She had great prophetic grace which most of her children displayed.
Are there other people who influenced your life also, aside your mother?
God used the good, bad and ugly to shape me, even those who were pulling me back. God used them to make me, to equip me more, and fortify me more. God would sometimes bring people into my life; they play a role and leave shortly after and some would be there longer. Even my elder sister, she was always crying whenev- er I was crying. I faced a lot of challenges in my life.
But what I realized that it was during these challenges that God used in lifting me up to a bigger elevation.
What was the best gift that you received as a child from your mother?
The best gift I ever received as a child was an unfulfilled promise from my mum. While I was in Yewande Memorial School, Surulere, Lagos, I would either come last or within the range of the last five positions in class. I was quite playful, but my teachers saw the potential in me and would always write ‘there is room for improvement’ in my report sheet. My mum believed in me and decided to get a Ghanaian teacher for me, one Mr. Mensah, and he taught me every subject playfully. At the next exams, I came 5th; this was a big surprise to my family and my mum called me into her room and told me that if I came first, she would take me anywhere I like in the world. But she died shortly after making this promise. I cried because of the unfulfilled promise, when I came first she was not there for me. It was then I made up my mind to excel in life, so I can go anywhere in the world.
Were these challenges what made you to form your NGO?
To be honest with you, I have had this NGO before it was formed. Mr. Frank Olize showed my story on Newsline back then. Everything I did was on charity and there is nothing I can do without charity; so it is like a divine call. I cannot start business in isolation of charity. I am happy that God used me.
With all the challenges, have you ever given up?
Around April, one of our directors in Light Up Foundation took our network line away that would affect the company but I have to start calling the companies. So I do thank God who always allowed me to know things before they happen. As I was taking my kids from school, I was crying because what God gave me, somebody wants to take.
Sometimes in April too, God told me that He would take me. That time I saw myself lying in state. I was married to a doctor. The time God wanted to take me, He said the righteous are taken so that they cannot see days of pain. I knew that God was to take me. I was being prepared to go home but I cried to God to please spare me, because of my children and that I do not want to go yet.
I stepped out of my room because I nor- mally give my children command. And my son said: “Mummy, I saw angels taking you to heaven’ and he said God will give him a new mummy. I started crying, knelt down and start begging God not to take me. I asked him how many angels he saw, and he said they are numberless. Truly, God wanted to take me away.
Another instance was when one student in London was to be rusticated. On the road, a thought came to me, and she called me that her GP wants to expel her. And immediately I called her and she told me that she had just that day to present her case. After I did that and presented the girl’s case and presented her as a girl having self-motivating problem. That was how I solved the problem of Miss China- za, a Nigerian in London, and today she is a lawyer.
Do you have office in Nigeria?
We are being funded by the government in UK and Scotland, and in Nigeria it is through self effort that we pay those working for us. The office in Nigeria, we are demolishing it. We work with prisons in Abeokuta and we sent experts to teach them computer and how to repair them. So, when they release these children from prison we unite them with their families; that is in Nigeria. The main goal is to work with the male juvenile prisons in Nigeria. We have over 800 children.
What is the age range of these kids?
Mostly under 18 years. Our object is to make sure they live a better life, but in London we go there to encourage them as a volunteer worker but in Nigeria we provide for them ourselves. In Nigeria, we have free school in Ikare village near Badagry between two seas.
We started a school, because the people there are so poor. And we see poverty there. We established a primary school there. There is Primary One, Two and Three. The school has been on for the past three years. I do seasonal work in Light- Up and I pump money into it.
At times, I do odd jobs to pay the peo- ple. And even the work that I do, the money had been spent, before the money comes. Everything I spent on Light Up is a widow’s mite.
What is your sense of fashion/style?
I like to look good and God will take me to the place where it is being sold cheap. When I am entering the shop, is the time they change the price tag So I buy my wares just for “one pound” instead of the 50 pounds others buy them.
How do you relax?
I don’t know how I do it but I know there is a divine grace upon me. And it is available to all.
Because I go to a meeting of different kinds, I hardly had time for myself. But one thing happened after showing Abike Dabiri my award in Abuja recently. They went and rented a hotel room for me, and my son said: “Mummy, this is the first time I’ve seen you sleep for a very long time.”