WIFE of Ayo Ojuroye , CEO,Bet9ja, Olasimbo, is passionate about helping less-privileged children. Though shy and unassuming, the UK-based mother of three in this interview spoke about her foundation and her life as the wife of the betting boss, tips to successful marriage and more. Excerpts:
By Christy Anyanwu
What motivated your interest in less-privileged children and how’s the journey so far?
I’m the second of four children of my parents. I was very close to my mum.
I would say we were a middle class family in those days. My father was an engineer and my mum was a nurse. We attended good schools but we were zealous about caring. We always wanted to lend a helping hand to the other person and with my parents’ love for us and the way God has blessed me as well , I just think it’s time to give back. My mum didn’t live very long but her short life was purposeful. She died shortly before her 50th birthday. She really did all she could to help people.
My mother was a matron. I lived half of my life in Nigeria, studied Chemistry at the University of Lagos and worked in an oil company in Port Harcourt for 3 years before I relocated abroad.
My mum had a heart just to care for people. For a child to die of malaria or preventable causes doesn’t go down well with me. I have seen a child who can’t go to school given the opportunity.
That is very important. In this country, some children are not able to eat during the yuletide and we present them with hampers and on May 27th, being Children’s Day, we also put smiles on these children’s faces. At the foundation, we can’t feed the world but we just try to do as much as we can. We have some children whose education we are sponsoring and we plan to have a health clinic and also empower their mothers by helping them to their feet so that they can support their families.
For most of my career, I was money making, now , I find charitable causes more purposeful. I started from supporting family and friends and every situation is unique but what I always say at the end is that all the glory goes back to God. I feel blessed to be able to be a blessing and I don’t take anyone’s circumstance for granted.
How has your husband supported you in doing this?
He’s a very down-to-earth guy. He’s very supportive and he’s always been very hard working from day one. There are lots of things we have shared together including our office . When you have a supportive husband, someone who encourages you, even the little you do, goes a very long way. If not for him, this foundation would not thrive. I just thank God for him
How did you meet him?
I think I was on my way to a friend’s house for a party in the UK. Funny enough, we went to the same nursery school and I didn’t know him. I was walking down the road with another friend and he drove past with his friends and then he just smiled. I wondered why he smiled at me.
A few days after, he saw me again in church at Kensington Temple and hugged me and said in Yoruba language, Opa arugbo e, owa le kunle e and I said to myself what a wonderful guy, he doesn’t even know how to chase ladies. He went on from there, but I played a little hard to catch. I have had a lovely marriage since.
As the boss of Bet9ja, when people are winning, how does he feel?
Even when he is excited, you won’t see him jumping all over the place. You just see this nice smile come over his face. When they are winning or when they are losing he stays calm but when they are winning, his smile is different.
When he told you he was going into betting business, how did you feel?
I didn’t feel any how,because he’s been a man of purpose and he’s always been successful in whatever he does.
When he was doing IT, he was in the top echelon of it and when he went on to do properties as well as building estates, he made a success of it. He’s very good at whatever he does. When he told me about this betting business, I asked him betting ke? But he said his dad was into pools betting and things like that. Later, Bet9ja was birthed.
When are your happy moments?
Everyday is happy for me. I’m always very grateful. I thank God for the life I have, I thank God for the life I’m living. I thank God for my husband and my children. There are ups and downs but when you consider the positive side, I am happy, truly happy.
As an Ijebu woman, are you a socialite?
I won’t say I’m a socialite. I like people. I like to go out to events or parties and things like that but moderately. It’s been fun nursing Bet9ja and watching it grow from where it used to be. You might see me do some odd things and you might see me again extremely quiet, it depends on the atmosphere.
You’ve been able to cope with your career and marriage well. What’s your advice for spinsters?
First and foremost, I would advise young people generally to be patient and plan well. When you plan on a solid foundation, it’s very easy. You might go through the waves and the storms but you’ll still arrive at your destination.
I tell people, even if you want to get married, make sure the foundation is right because when you build on a foundation that is solid , even when you go through stormy times you will always know that “I married this guy for this purpose”. You won’t let the little setbacks becloud the bigger picture. I would advise people who are trying to get married to be patient and have a reference point. Go for somebody who you really love, somebody you know is caring.
With his busy schedule at Bet9ja, is he still romantic?
Yes, my husband is very romantic, but you know, we all behave differently. He’s very caring. He’s always been concerned. There was a typical day we were in church and I was choking, but he quickly jumped up and went to somebody he never spoke to and asked “can I have that water, my wife is choking.” I thought to myself, would I do that? It’s that little stuff that makes the bigger picture.
That’s one instance. He’s always there for me, for the kids and sometimes when I offend someone, he would even apologize on my behalf just to make peace. He’s very straightforward, honest and hardworking.
What has life taught you?
We have to be always good. One major thing I have learnt on my journey is that you meet different kinds of people but you must never change who you are. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t try to be what you are not.
What’s unique about Spark Light Foundation?
Spark Light Foundation is actually for the less-privileged. It’s for the masses, it’s not only driven by me, it’s also driven by like-minded friends. I have always had a heart for children, the needy. I have always wanted to put smiles on their faces and it’s not easy to know how to conceptualize all of these.
I hosted an event in Nigeria in 2006 tagged smiling faces for children in need but we want to take Spark Light Foundation far and beyond all of that.
We want to monitor a child from the beginning to adulthood, we want to empower them and provide them preventative healthcare.
I have trained for three years, because I have always been an IT person. I left that to do a healthcare course just to understand the concept because being able to travel around, I can see exactly where the limitation is, it’s heavily between the small and the rich. Our aim is to give the normal child the basics of life, which can empower them because I believe our children are our future.