Iyalode Alaba Lawson… From wanting to be an actress to presiding over NACCIMA

Iyalode Alaba Lawson,NACCIMA President,

The Otun of Oko, Asiwaju Iyalode of Egbaland, Otun Iyalode of the Egba Christians, Iyalode of Egbaland and the Iyalode of Yorubaland are some of the titles of one of the greatest women to come out of Yoruba land, Iyalode Alaba Oluwaseun Lawson.

Born on the 18th of January, 1951 in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State to the late Pa Emmanuel Abiona Jiboku and the late Mrs. Ruth Olabisi Aina Jiboku (nee Aderupoko-Coker), she started her primary education at St James’ African Primary school, Idi-Ape, Abeokuta from 1957 to 1962 before proceeding to Abeokuta Girls’ Grammar School, Onikolobo, Abeokuta also known as Anglican Girls Grammar School between 1963 and 1967.

According to the astute businesswoman, her late father who was popularly known as Jiboku ta’na ta’na was a technician with the old Electric Company of Nigeria for almost 50 years while her mother was a trader initially trading in clothes before moving on to sell ogi (pap) in Ago Oko, Abeokuta. “My childhood was great.

My parents were very strict and tolerated no nonsense from any of us. I usually got into trouble each time I took my mother’s clothes and wore them for a photo shoot.

I would have poured perfumes on the clothes and my mother would get to know. She would then report me to my father, who would use cable to beat me.

My father worked with the ECN and he did about two years with the National Electric Power Authority before he retired, so he had cables to beat anyone of us that misbehaved.

My father was a strict disciplinarian and he firmly believed in the bible verse of ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’, and I can tell you the rod was not spared if we committed any infraction.”

After leaving school, Iyalode went on to teach at a primary school in Ibara and subsequently got married to the late Chief Kehinde Olufunmilayo Lawson.

“Around this same period, I went to England where I studied early childhood education at St. Nicholas Montessori Training College at Prince’s Gate, SW7, England.

When I came back, I established my own school and called it Lawson’s Childcare Nursery and Primary school.

I started with just three children and by God’s grace, it continued growing until it became Lawson Group of Schools, consisting of the nursery, Primary, Daycare, Crèche, Kindergarten, College and A levels College.

Along the line, we had the opportunity to establish the Lawson Continuing Education Centre, where we train dropouts and people that couldn’t pass WAEC at one sitting. Before opening my school, I thought of being an actress as I was a member of my secondary’s school drama and cultural group, but I had a divine call to mould the lives of young ones and that is what I set out to do and the rest is history.”

She would go on to establish a trading/distributing firm known as Capricorn Stores Ltd, between 1968 and 1996 where she had distributing outlets with Nigerian Breweries Ltd, Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd, Guiness Nigeria Ltd and West African Portland Cement Ltd. 

She became the President of the Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce in 1995 and later became the President of Ogun Council of Chambers of Commerce in year 2000 and headed it till 2002. In 2009, she established a Microfinance Bank known as Abestone Microfinance Bank to boost local, small and medium scale entrepreneurs (SMES).

On May 25, 2017, Alaba Lawson became the first woman to ever be elected President of National Association Of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines And Agriculture (NACCIMA) following the expiration of the tenure of Dr. Benny Edem, a position she says affords her no privileges or exceptions of any sort.

“I receive no privileges of any sort and one must work for what you believe in whether you’re a man or woman. You must have passion for what you are doing and sitting on this seat doesn’t mean I have any privileges of any sort. I am able to do what I do now because I have passion for what I am doing including entrepreneurship.”

On if she has achieved her goals and aspirations she set for herself when assuming the position, Lawson said she has been able to achieve a lot by the grace of God.

“So far, I am confident that I have been able to achieve what the grace of Jehovah has been able to give unto me. I have done it with his grace and done the best I can do. Other people can give testimonies of what I have done, there is no need to blow my own trumpet, let others tell you what I have done.

However, one thing I have achieved which I am very proud of is the NACCIMA Youth Entrepreneurs, which I inaugurated immediately I came on board as president.

I renovated and upgraded our offices here, controlled the flood that used to disturb us before. I have also united the Organised Private Sector (OPS) and brought us all together to ensure we speak with one voice.

Also, I have put in more effort into the women group because we all know that when you train a woman, you train a nation.

Some of our women have just come back from several trainings in China and America; we helped our women with networking not only in Nigeria and Africa but also in countries all over the world.

I have recently been invited to speak at the United Nations (UN) and we were given six slots, this is really huge and shows that the good work we are doing is being recognised all over the world.

We will be going to the UN to speak on the OPS and ensure we are not left behind in Africa. These are just a few of the things we have done so far that are very dear to my heart.”

Speaking on challenges she has faced managing a major association, which she presently does she insisted that the government remains a policy maker, while they are stakeholders.

“Government is supposed to promote enabling environment for what we are supposed to do. When there are proper infrastructures in place like good roads, electricity, water, a working train system that will move goods from one place to the other instead of using trailers like we presently do that destroy our roads and so on, things will work.

These are things government should look into and focus on, but as stakeholders, we need to work together and develop a working private-public partnership. We need to present what we need and they must put things in place for us.

This is the only way to move the economy forward. As the umbrella organisation for all cities, states, regional, bi-lateral and multilateral chambers of commerce, including business/professional associations and corporate bodies, the association champions the cause of businesses through its advocacy activities thereby influencing public policies that promote the free enterprise and the growth of business.

NACCIMA’s membership is drawn from all 36 states of the federation including Abuja and can be found even down to the grassroots.

These are the reasons why NACCIMA is called the “Voice of Nigerian Business”; because these activities are in accordance with contemporary global ideas of the Chamber of Commerce Movement in relatively free enterprise economies.”

“The government is listening as we presently have a consultative meeting with them, even at presidential levels of which the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has been able to participate actively.

We have done about nine series so far; all the government agencies and private sector are represented adequately. We rub minds and discuss what is lacking in each region.

During the last meeting I went for, I still brought up the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, which is the busiest in the country, that it needs urgent attention. It is being looked into but we need to monitor them because it is taking too long.

The pressure on the road is too much, no matter where you are coming from in the country to Lagos, in so far as it is by road, you must take that road. It must be finished as soon as possible to reduce the number of deaths on the road, which is now almost a daily occurrence.

Also, the perpetual gridlock that is almost becoming a trademark on that axis would become a thing of the past. Everybody looks to Nigeria as the leader in Africa and we must continue to be said leaders in all areas.”

On promoting made in Nigeria goods, she said, “NACCIMA’s membership is made up of entrepreneurs who are industrialists, manufacturers, farmers, educationists, merchants and the likes.

So, the association will continue to champion the ‘made in Nigeria campaign’. We are in partnership with development organisations and partner with several strategic stakeholders to ensure local goods are encouraged competitively.

At the moment, we are working with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on the National Quality Infrastructure Programme (NQIP), to promote quality standards in line with best international practices and this will promote success in our export activities, help the value chain development especially in the agriculture sector and to ensure the competitiveness of goods and services made in Nigeria.”

On her enterprising spirit and values, Iyalode said the women in her life have had very strong impact in every way as her maternal grandmother, Madam Alice Kehinde Coker first sparked the love for entrepreneurship in her, “She was an entrepreneur par excellence. Very hardworking and enterprising, from when I was very young, I will follow her about during my holidays to Apapa where she lived. Whenever I was on holidays, I would insist on coming to stay with her in Lagos.

She was also very religious, as very early in the mornings, she would take us to the beach to pray. When we were going home, she would give us crabs to play with and we would be making lines on the beach with them.

After the prayers, she would go back to her place of business of petty trading. She used to trade with white men from the ships and we loved following her.

My mother was also a strong influence, very intelligent; she was the most hardworking person I have ever seen in my life till date.

I thank God that the training and values she gave to us her children is what we built on that made us as successful as we are today.

While the women in my life have made very positive influence in my life, I will not forget my father who worked with the ECN.

He had a phone he used to move about with and immediately that phone rang, he would wear his helmet and take off.

Most times, we would have slept before he came back late at night because he would ensure all electricity faults were cleared and wires were up before he came back home. I grew up in a strong Christian home with hardworking parents and grandparents.

So, you can see that it is not possible that I am not hardworking myself, where will I say I learnt laziness from?”

On how she combines running her school at Abeokuta and being the president of NACCIMA, she declared that while she thanks God for the strength and wisdom, the schools practically run themselves.

“I divided them into groups, the primary section, the junior and senior schools and the college and my children run them as directors. I have two of my children as the heads of administration, Akinola Lawson and academics, Babalola Lawson, respectively.

The nursery and primary sections have their head teachers while the secondary schools have their principals and everyone does their job diligently.

Once a month, we come together but if they need me urgently, they know how to get me. With my children there, I have no problem; in fact, they are the true owners of the business.”

Iyalode says there is no controversy surrounding her title, as people are wont to squabble over anything and everything. “There is no controversy as far as I am concerned.

People would always talk but only you know the truth. People would sit down and concoct all kinds of stories to tarnish you, it is nothing new.

I was installed the Iyalode of Egbaland on the 7th of August, 1999 by the late Oba Folorunsho Oyebade Lipede 1, the Alake and paramount ruler of Egbaland then.

Anybody can say what they believe but one thing I am sure about is that there has been no reason to contest my title with anyone neither was I given the title secretly or ever been stripped of it.

Even when the government of the day was trying to be funny, I left them quietly because I am not a politician.

As a community leader, before you can attain the title of Iyalode, you must be a very proactive person because Iyalode means the prime minister of the women.

His Imperial Majesty, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi on the 23rd of August 2008, crowned me the first Iyalode of Yoruba land.

In Egba land, I am the fourth with my predecessors as Iyalode Efunroye Tinubu, the first Iyalode of Egba land; the second Iyalode was Madam Jojo Lola, the third was my mother and mentor, Iyalode Esther Bisoye Tejuosho, the matriarch of the Tejuosho family and then myself as the fourth Iyalode till date.

Iyalode of Egba land does not disturb Iyalode of Yoruba land because the latter encompasses all Yoruba land including Yorubas in Cotonu, Cote d’Ivoire and all the areas that were part of the old Oyo Empire.

I say it clearly today, I am the first Iyalode of Yoruba Land and the fourth Iyalode of Egba land and there is no controversy because t’oba kan o ba ku, Oba min o le je.

There can be no vacancy until by the special grace of Jehovah, in my old age, I go to join my fore mothers and fathers, nobody can take this position from me.”

On if successive governments have helped or stifled the association, she urged more public-private partnerships, as this was the only way to truly develop and drive businesses and the economy. Praising bodies like the Bank of Industry (BOI) who she says gives loans to women, buy them machines and train them, she said these are positive steps in the right direction.

Going on to speak on the state of the nation, Lawson says the country is ready for a female president. “Women are better managers in positions of authority. I would like everyone to know for free, if a female president is elected, she would run this country efficiently.

All she needs is to be given a chance and putting the right peg in the right hole, a woman would do much better than what we presently have.

There are areas of authority a woman will tread without looking back.” On if she would consider running for presidency, Iyalode said if she is given the chance, ‘I would do a much better job.”

On what she has done to improve commerce and industry for SMEs and major manufacturers, Lawson said she has put them into clusters as being in recognizable groups ensure they receive needed help from the government.

“We made sure they form cooperatives and are running them well so that as a group and cooperative, they are able to enjoy all the necessary benefits such as accessing loans as a group and working out modes of repayment and so on.

SMSEs are the bedrock of any economy and when they are in a good position, they improve the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.”

On the largely, underutilized and mostly illegal mining activities in the industry, the NACCIMA president said they are looking into it and urged the government to change their policies and ensure the policies are positively-oriented to keep the industry afloat.

“Mining can take the position of the oil we are all depending on. If they put in place good policies, sanitise and regularise the sector, mining would be another huge source of income but it must be streamlined and guarded jealously.

NACCIMA is made up of several chambers across the grassroots and we have been reiterating the importance of agriculture as well because a nation that can feed itself is a real nation and we have been actively keying into agriculture and making sure our members are in on it especially on improvised seedlings, better machinery, training and capacity building.”

On the body’s place in a poor, underperforming economy suffering negative growth which the country is presently afflicted with, Iyalode said the only thing left to do is to continue to work together and making sure we collectively improve the economy.

“Any economy based on only crude oil such as ours is in trouble and we can all clearly see that. We have neglected agriculture and other areas.

In the past, we used to have and export cocoa, cotton, groundnut and so on. But we abandoned all that, running after oil and have now gone borrowing, using borrowed money to import all kinds of rubbish into the country.

We are just waking up now and I say it again, we must all go back to agriculture, till the ground not just to feed ourselves but to earn money just as we did in the past before we became lazy and started depending solely on oil.”

On the body’s relationship with other trade bodies in Africa and around the world, Lawson says NACCIMA signs MoUs with them, exchange trade missions and network. “Within ourselves, we hold retreats and let them know what it entails and make them know the advantages of keying into certain areas and sectors.”

On how she finds time to run the association, Iyalode says all her traveling is for the association as her tenure is for two years only and she intends to leave her footprints on the sands of time and ensure that when people talk of her tenure, they would be able to point to substantial achievements and “I wouldn’t need to be telling lies or claiming imaginary achievements. Two years I believe, should be enough for me to set my standard and I want to ensure that I use this time judiciously.”

Lawson says she relaxes by gardening and listening to Christian music. “I also enjoy visiting the aged, listening to words of wisdom from them. I don’t want to fail and that is why I not only demand excellence from myself but from everyone around me,” she said.

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