By Agatha Emeadi
lola Adefusika is the chief executive of JOED Garden, a foremost homes and garden shop in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. A widow for the past 24 years, she has proved that widowhood should not be hindrance to achieving fulfilment in life. Through the grace of God and determination, focus and hard work, she surmounted the difficulties that came with widowhood and in the process became a rock for herself and children. And the great effort has paid off beautifully, and you see that in the broad smiles that adorn her face. In this interview she reveals that praising God always, maintaining consistent trust in His faithfulness and making sacrifices for her children have produced unquantifiable gains for her.
JOED Gardens used to be a beehive of activities in GRA. Was it affected by COVID-19 like many other businesses?
JOED Gardens is still at Ikeja, not closed down, but slowed a bit. Those who know that I sell stuff for gardens and homes still reach out to me. I still sold some items last week, but most people do not operate gardens like before; instead they are using interlocking bricks and cementing their environments. Naturally, the switch to interlocking pavement has affected the business and it is not as buoyant as it used to be. I was not selling furniture, but pieces that beautify the garden and home like cast iron chairs, garden benches, fountains, animal features that beautify the grass. I dealt more with items for homes and gardens, not really furniture.
What actually led you into such masculine business instead of the beauty and fashion world?
I am an artist who did not know anyone in Nigeria back then that was selling pieces to beautify homes and gardens. I studied Textile Design in London before I went to Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America for my Master’s degree in Visual Communication and Illustration in Graphics. I have always been in the arts field. I love colours and shades, so you can see I am a pure artist who loves to do things different from what other people are doing.
Now that you have wound down on the homes and gardens business, what are you engaged in?
I have just gone into properties.
What are the challenges of the new business and how are you coping with the chauvinism associated with it?
For me, there is nothing like a man or woman in any business. I would rather say it depends on oneself, the strength the person exhibits, the contact list and the energy to go out to see what puts food on one’s table. I have never seen any profession that either a man or a woman owns. What I know in my dictionary is that anybody can do anything with God’s guidance and mercy.
What volume of property business do you do?
Well, I just started and taking it one day at a time.
You have been widowed for 24 years. Kindly take us through your journey and how you were able to raise your children to enviable heights?
It is all by the grace and mercy of God. Not that I am better than any other person, not that I have done more than what other women would have done, but it also comes with a lot of sacrifice. Sacrifice of knowing what one wants as a person, being honest, following the rules and normal standard practice through the mercy of God.
Where were you when he passed unto glory?
I was with him in the hospital.
What manner of illness did he succumb to?
He was diagnosed of cerebral malaria and after three days, he passed on.
Where did you meet?
We met in Washington DC on my way back from Atlanta. I was touring America after my graduation before coming back to Nigeria. He saw me and was like, ‘who is she?’ But a couple of years ago, he had seen my photograph in his friend’s collection and said then “I will marry this lady.” My friend then told me he had seen my photo five years earlier and said he would marry me. From that meeting in Washington, we dated for some years and finally got married. Honestly, there is power in the tongue. We lived together for only 10 years.
How has it been without him?
He is not there means he is not there. There is nothing much to say, other than giving God the glory. It is not easy for someone who already had a companion to stay without having one again; it is not an easy task at all.
How did sacrifice pay off in your widowhood journey?
It simply means there are some people who bite more than they can chew. Sometimes, when one looks at the bitter lemon that life has thrown at the person, you choose to make lemonade out of it. It is a time to look inwards, talk to oneself and draw the lines. Maybe, certain things one was doing before, you need not be reminded to cut your coat according to your size. After my husband’s passage, my life revolved around my children; being there for them was my priority. If I can’t leave my children with my mother, whatever meeting, appointment must suffer because I could not leave my children with house helps. If my mother was not available, it meant I had to stay with my children, no matter, whatever business was involved. Maybe if I had honoured all the ideas and meetings, I would have been a rich woman, even though I am not hungry. There were jobs that would have involved travelling outside the state to source the materials, but I turned most of them down to be with my children because they were very young then. I never left them for nannies or house-helps. If I must go, then my mother would continue and thank God, she was alive then. It was a lot of sacrifice, but my children were more important to me than the money.
Please share your widowhood experience with us?
Widowhood is loneliness, a change of one’s lifestyle because one had a marriage where there was love. I had a husband who cared so much and loved me, and suddenly he was no more. The first lesson was that there were certain places, parties and events we used to go together; as a choice, I turned many of them down because he was no longer going with me. Of what use, what flavour or brightness will I get when one gets there? You would feel left out because your own company is no longer with you. Even though widowhood is not a stigma, I have never seen it to be so and that is what I tell widows when I counsel and talk to them. For the fact that I became widowed does not mean I am different from any other woman, no. It is something that happens as far as life is concerned. I would not be the first and neither would I be the last widow on earth. Finding oneself in this space does not stop one from picking up the strings of life and move on, but the most important is putting God first, then the children before any other thing. As a widow with children, I never allowed any man come into my house. Never! I didn’t want my children to grow with such picture. It was not my priority and that sacrifice has paid today. I am enjoying my children; they are my world. When we sit down to talk, they remind me what I did for them, how well I brought them up, how I would drop them in school in the morning and pick them in the afternoon every day. Some of their friends would even tell them that they have both parents who are super rich but never sacrificed time for them like I did with my children. There was no activity in their school that I was not there. When my husband was alive, he would drop them in the morning on his way to work, but when the job of two people becomes one person’s job, it is not the end of the world; today when I look back, I am most grateful to God.
What about the challenges of high bills, how were you able to overcome all that?
The way I look at it is that, there are other happily married women who also pay bills while living with their husbands, so what is the difference? I do not look at myself as a widow because there are other women whose husbands are alive, yet we are in the same shoe of paying bills single-handedly.
There has just been a financial turnaround in favour of women recently, unlike yesteryears. What do you think about it?
I believe that most men these days have just become lazy and are more interested in going out with rich women. They do not want to work; not that those women are perfect but I also believe it has to do with upbringing. Personally, some of the men were also not properly brought up by their parents, as a lot of them are spoilt. Even if you are super rich, it is not everything that a child wants that he/she gets. One must be careful. I do not know if we parents are the ones failing our children, but I know I have not failed my children even though they are all grown up now. Friends tell me that my boys are so well behaved, well cultured and mannered, it makes me happy but it is all the grace of God. I tried my best but there are other women who did the same, one or two of their children refused to accept the teaching. I am not a prayer warrior, but there is no day I do not thank and praise God in everything and it has worked for me.
How was growing up?
I equally lost my father at a young age, when I was 15; my mother was a house wife who was not working, but did so well and raised six of us her children. So, seeing my mother who had gone through the same challenge strengthened me and she was there for me to talk to. Though my father left something behind, but in my case, I needed to start afresh, all over. So, growing up was good as we attended the best schools.
I attended St. Saviour’s Primary School and went to Holy Child College, Obalende, Lagos, for my secondary school. Late Pastor Bimbo Odukoya was a year my junior in secondary school. I come from a close-knit family. We are all very close and happy in my family.
What advice did your mother give you as a girl growing into a woman?
She said to us: “Always thank God and never take what does not belong to you. Do not cheat anyone, always be forthright; no matter how hard the situation is, say the truth.” That was the foundation of growing up. Again, always be contented vouch for yourself and not another person. You may not know what other people are doing or what they have done in the past; be positive and careful.
Looking back today, is there anything you would love to change?
I cannot think of anything I want to change in life because I am just okay so far. Everybody wants more money; I am just comfortable and okay with myself and what God has given me in life. I would not change my children for anything. Maybe I would change not to be angry or shout.
You just hit the 6th floor in age without wrinkles. How do you feel?
I do not feel any different, I am still my same old self; for me age is just a number. I don’t have hard feelings against people. If I am offended, I will shout and speak my mind and put it behind me. I do not hold grudges against you; I will tell you the way it is and move on.
What about your daily beauty routine, surgeries that make one look very chick?
I attribute all the compliments to the glory of God. I use my Longrich product to support widows. I bring them into the business and teach them what to do. Unfortunately, some widows think they should not work, instead to collect and keep. That is not my ideology; I love to work and extend to the orphanages too. For me, this is my time of giving back; God has been awesome.