Chief (Mrs) Alaba Lawson (MFR) was recently appointed the 19th and first female president of Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), a position hitherto, held by men since the chamber’s inception many years ago .
Known by all and sundry as Iyalode of Egbaland and Yorubaland respectively, the businesswoman exuded confidence and leadership traits during her maiden interaction with journalists and members of her cabinet recently. During the chat, the school proprietress spoke on the state-of-the-nation and how to improve on the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and ensure that leakages via corruption, inefficiency, insecurity and poor policy implementation are plugged.Chief Lawson spoke with Effects at NACCIMA headquarters in Lagos.
Can you reflect on the journey so far with NACCIMA?
For your information, my City Chamber is Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce and I was co-opted from the City Chamber to the national exco because they saw me as a vibrant member of the Chambers of Commerce. I joined Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce in 1982 through the help and advice of my late brother- in-law, Late Chief Adeyemi Olusola Lawson. He was one of the forefathers in the chamber’s movement. They include Chief S.L Edu, late Chief Henry Fajemirokun, late Chief Adeyemi Lawson, late Chief Akin George among several others . There were many of them and we still have some of them who are still alive including Engr. Rufai Mohammed who is NACCIMA Patron and Alhaji Umar Shehu Ndanuza. These are people of integrity in the chambers activities. I was copted into the exco office and seeing ny activities in trade missions, my regular attendance of meetings, I was elevated gradually until I became the national president on May 25th 20017.
Can you share with us, your vision?
I have said it clearly in my acceptance speech when I took over that I would carry the youths along during my tenure. Even though currently, NACCIMA youth forum has not been inaugurated, we’re going to launch them. But in the three major regions of Nigeria, that is, West, East and North, their representatives and our exco will go back to the regions to mobilize the young entrepreneurs and we’ll work out how they will be trained. Also, there will be an advocacy on them with a view to partnering with many foreign embassies. They have their ways of thinking and this thinking is what we really need for them to move on and become employers of labour instead of looking for white collar jobs which are no longer there.
That was my aim of starting the NACCIMA youth forum and they are doing extremely well. They are partnering with SMEDAN, NEPC, and Finland Embassy. Another area is the women group of which I’m the chairperson. The women group was formed in 2005 and since then, we have been doing very well. We are even on the West Coast of ECOWAS. We have been to Liberia to see Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We paid her business and courtesy visits to see what we can do. We have so many of our women training in Liberia. When I invited Sen. Remi Tinubu to come along with us, she responded, with her team. During that visit, she promised to build schools for the grassroots people in Liberia and she did. The school was commissioned on the 18th January 2009 by Madam Sirleaf. She built a junior school and secondary school for them at the grassroots level. I want to make an impact on the women group. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation. If you help a woman, you have already helped a nation because of the multiple areas we connect both in our homes and extended families in Africa.
Not only that, I like to see the SMEs grow as SMEs are the bedrock of any nation’s economy. They help the GDP to grow and looking into SMEs, how they will be able to make their products well accepted through enhanced product and packaging. These are all the areas I want people to look into. I know that with God all things are possible. Other areas that will come in, I know we shall excel.
Judging by your dexterity, people like you should have gone into politics?
I will never be in politics. My black is black and my white, white and my red, red. I cannot go into politics even though people mistakenly take any community leader to be a politician. No: I’m not a politician. I don’t even carry the membership card of any political party. As a community leader, when a government comes in, you must lead your people to know who they are, what they want and what my people want. Give us our rights and we’re ready to do our bit to make sure that government works. I’m a community leader, I’m not a politician and I won’t be a politician.
But you have so many followers?
My people are there for me. They will ask me Mama, where do you want us to vote? That is the power of a community leader if you work diligently.
How did Alaba Lawson Group of Schools come about?
It all started while I was in England. I was in Queens Park just to have my quiet time in 1973. These young children came in and I was struck by the way they were interacting. After the experience, I was never the same person again. That experience was telling me I had to go into children. I tried to cut short the thought but it became persistent.
I said if that is what the lord really wanted me to do, then no problem. Actually, I wanted to be an actress. Even in school, during our time you can act Julius Ceaser, Macbeth, and Shakespeare and if you didn’t see my face… I can mimick anybody and you would think it was that person talking. I really wanted to be on stage. But the school is of the Lord’s doing and I’ve never regretted it. I went into St. Nicholas Montessori education and special education and I bagged a first class with distinction. When I started my school in 1977 there were only three kids. I used to put them on my back and the year coincided with the carving out of Ogun State from the Old Western State although the state was created a year earlier, but I just fitted into it. With my day care, people were looking for where to drop their children, people that moved in from Ibadan wanted a place where they could leave their children on weekends. Many of them were not used to staying in Abeokuta. They were commuting to and from Ibadan. I would have the children and at weekend, the parents would come for their children.
In all this, what has life taught you?
Life has taught me that you should look up to your faith and God. God’s time is the best. Don’t run after anything. When Jehovah says yes, nobody can say No. Life has taught me to be patient. All of us have inner voices; it’s when you don’t listen to the inner voice that you make mistakes.
Being the Iyalode of Egbaland and Yoruba Land, what does that mean to you?
It’s just a normal way of life that the lord has bestowed on me to carry on and look after women. Iyalode means the Prime Minister of Women; the ladder of the women, the Queen of the women. So, the title puts me at an advantage being the number one among women in Egbaland and Yorubaland in the Diaspora and at home.
As Iyalode of Egbaland and yoruba land, one would think you won’t be as polished as you are…
I move with every sphere of life right from the grassroots to the top. You are talking to me now as National President of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry, Mines and Agriculture, the first woman president. You can see how far I have struggled until Jehovah put me on that throne of exalt. If you see me amidst my market women and we are talking, you would hardly recognize nor imagine I understand one word of English. I can fit into any environment I find myself. The endowment the Lord has given me is such a way that I don’t understand it and I cannot explain it to anybody. People are saying I’m full of energy. I came in from UK very early on Monday morning. I went to the Summit of Nigeria in Diaspora, and I represented NACCIMA. Coming back that on Monday, we had this Exco meeting; my first exco meeting. What I did was to come straight from the airport to the office to see what was happening here. You can see to the glory of Jehovah God, the meeting went smoothly.
I admire the delivery of your press release, it was quite nice?
I attended Abeokuta Girls Grammar School. In that school, they trained us on how to be a lady. You must read with punctuations. I was trained by an American Principal, Mrs. Maryann Hughes. When she wanted to pass, she would say, Girls, stand up right, your chest out. You are wobbling, but your chest out. She taught us how to be a lady and I’m so proud of that school.
What’s your favourite music?
My favorite music is Ebenezer Obey’s music. I also listen to a lot of gospel music because it keeps your spirit going. Ebenezer Obey music is very philosophical. Even when I was a youth I used to love it. His lyrics are what you listen to and know that you have to be at peace with yourself and at peace with your God.
How do you relax?
When its weekend and I don’t have anywhere to go, I sleep a lot. I take time to sleep and refresh myself. Sometimes, I cook and do gardening. I love gardening. The only past time I couldn’t do much now is visiting the elderly. I love visiting the elderly and we will talk about the past. It pains me because many elderly people will call me, ‘Iyalode. I’m still waiting for you,’ but Iyalode is very busy now. For instance, I came back from the UK, the previous day, I have not been able to reach home because I wanted the best out of the meeting I attended today.
I dress to please myself and it depends on the function I’m going to. I don’t dress to please people. As a teacher, I dress like a teacher. Even if I want to go out with women, we have our Aso-Ebi and we are all together.