By Christy Anyanwu
Koko Obioha is the daughter of Senator Florence Ita- Giwa and chief executive of Hair by Koko Beauty Lounge, Lekki Phase One. The unassuming executive has been in the hair business for about eight years, starting off when she was in the United Kingdom. Koko, a graduate of the University of Essex, UK, deals on luxury hair products but it has now expanded into full beauty services as well as sale of beauty products. In an interview with Sunday Sun, at the senator’s residence, she spoke about her mum.
What would you say about your mum?
My mum, my mum, my mum; where do I start? I have big shoes to fill. Let me just say that my mum is someone worthy of emulation in so many aspects. In fact, I don’t like politics today because of what I saw as a child. My experiences and all that I saw my mum go through politically. When you think of women in politics in Nigeria, let me be modest, her name is among the top three. She is a feminist. She is someone that has stood up for women and has been a spokesperson for women, even down to the home. She beautifully ran a home as a single mother. We, her children, never felt any vacuum. She played both roles excellently and successfully balanced her home and political career. That is something I’m trying to do now as well with my son. There is no nanny, and no matter how good a nanny or relatives can be, they cannot fill the role of a parent, most especially the mother.
What advice did you get from her that you have held on to?
There is a quote her mum (my grandmother) used to say that she has passed down to me, which is: “You cannot be the child of a lion and act like a goat.” Expanding further on that, she would say that if people notice that you are too soft they will trample on you. I’m naturally a soft person. I have like a dozen staff; so in managing people this has helped me a lot. In Nigeria, our work ethic is very poor, especially in my sort of industry where there’s not much professionalism. It’s a skill-based industry, so anybody can just walk up to you and say, ‘I am an experienced stylist or experienced colourist.’ You then employ them and later find out their character. I have had all sorts of horrible experiences. In those experiences, what my mum taught me has always come into play that if you allow the world see you to be soft they will trample on you. That is one thing she told me that I hold on to.
As a teenager what did she tell you about boys?
Compared to an average Nigerian or African mother, my mum’s ideology towards that is that if you have a boyfriend, bring him home instead of hiding outside to carry on your romantic escapades. I introduced my boyfriend to my mum, and we went to cinemas. The parents know each other. At least you know who your daughter or son is dating. I would come back home and tell my mummy where we went to this or that cinema or park. In that sense, transparency was her ideology. If you have nothing to hide be open.
What aspect of fashion sense did you learn from her?
She loves fashion. Now, I know the best places to get my red carpet dresses. The Middle East has the best. Everything I wore during my wedding was from the Middle East. They are the best when it comes to fashion. Some of the top designers are from the Middle East. The outfits that celebrities like Beyonce wear on the red carpet are from the Middle East. I learnt my fashion sense from her.
What about cooking?
I learnt about cooking when I was in the fattening room. I was in the fattening room for 10 days before my wedding. I wanted to experience the fattening room and coming from the UK background, I had heard so much about it. I started living in the UK when I was nine years old. I like to embrace culture. I wanted to know how to dance the Calabar dance, they call it Ikwombi. Not as if I couldn’t cook before the fattening room experience because I lived on my own for a pretty long time. So trial and error was the order of the day in the kitchen. You cannot live with my mother and not know how to cook. She would bombard you with food. My mum celebrates food, she loves food. So, I can cook both Nigerian and continental dishes. Ask my husband.
How did she feel when you told her you were marrying an Igbo man?
I don’t think the tribe was an issue. The families knew themselves as acquaintances. It wasn’t even the tribe, it was more about the fact that my mum thought I was getting married too early. I was 24 and my husband was six years older than me. My mum felt I just finished my Masters and did not even come back to relax a little in her house. My mum and I are very close. It wasn’t the easiest of things then. Everybody has learnt to adjust. I have been married for four years. Even the relationship between my mum and my husband is very good. You often see them gisting together.