On Friday, July 12, 2017, regal lover of white ensemble, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, will be 70. The grandmother who’s twice married has dominated the social scene for decades.
In the early days of Lagos State, she planted a business in the earth of the city patronised by the big wigs of that era. And in the city of London, she once had a shop in the Mayfair district.
The ageless custodian of culture and tradition whose royal pedigree is as old as Eko at the beginning, spoke to us about her enchanting life…
Congratulations, you will be 70 in a couple of weeks, how does it feel clocking 70?
I feel wonderful, not different. I am happy I was able to attain the age that I think is so far away, probably people are lucky to achieve. I am lucky to be there. And for the fact that I don’t feel much different in my well being, I am quite excited and actually grateful to God.
I used to think 70 is for very old people, but here. I am now, I don’t feel much different in my well being and the way I do things. The only explanation is the grace of God, I am grateful and I thank God. I see a lot of 70 year-old people around, I just thank God.
Is there anything you would like to do differently at this stage?
No, I had a wonderful life, I have enjoyed the way I lived my life. In truth and in sincerity and in front of Almighty God that created me, there is nothing I want to change in my life, there is nothing I want to do differently. I have done everything with the fear of God, and with consideration to anybody that I have done something that I know would impart negatively on another person, if I did, it is because I did it unknowingly, I can’t intentionally hurt anyone.
I have enjoyed tremendous peace of mind, because of my way of life, my concept and belief and my actions, I just want to continue like this.
Let us into your concept and belief?
I want to dwell more on one’s way of life. Unless you think of your neighbour, the repercussion of your action on other people or environment. We should have compassion on others, it must be infused in your way of life. Why should one person cart away millions of naira and hide it, they would steal enough for five generations to come. How would you who are in charge of our future do such a thing. Even if you have stolen, can’t you plough it into the society, that is when the money can have value.
Where are we going? Even in your field, life begins at the point of entry for a journalist.
The average journalist thinks life begins at the point of reportage, no. You have to be diligent, dig into the person’s background, know the history of that person. I lived my life beyond the fashion aspect. Most things you write about me is the fashion side, that is a tiny little bit of my life. You don’t know about my art.
My contribution to my country, I have been celebrating the traditional institution as Erelu for 43 years. Nobody writes about that. Nobody says I have influenced the culture. My whole embodiment contributes to the culture. It is not just for me but how you conduct your works and your business to be able to impact the society.
Some think some of us who are visible only go to parties, enjoy the jollof rice. What message are you passing to the next generation? May be all what you write is true, but how did I get there – by begging or waiting for somebody to do it for me?
What do you know about the businesses I do? I have never heard anybody say that I had a shop on Broad Street as far back as 1968, right in the heart of the executive players of the industry and commerce of this great country. It was from shop that I met players of the industry, they all came in to unwind after their meeting. That was how I got distributorships and representative of companies. That was how I was able to make my millions early. I didn’t steal, I didn’t inherit it, I worked for it. The opportunities came knocking, and I was prepared to take advantage of them.
It wasn’t just luck, I was ready to take advantage of them. For posterity and not giving negative image to those coming, it should be written so that they can know that being glamorous and beautiful is possible through hard work and perseverance. Nobody gives anybody anything free. And if somebody gives it once or twice, they would snap back one day and stop giving.
Lagos is 50 this year, can you share with us some of the experiences you have about Lagos?
I have been on the vanguard of the birth and creation of Lagos state. The irony of it is that a lot of us who actually worked for the creation of Lagos state are hardly getting any recognition for it. That is why I said, as a journalist, life does not begin at the point of entry, there is a difference between those who made impact in the development of Lagos State and those who came to enjoy the largesse and to benefit from the hard work. They should be recognized for the work they have done. Whether you are a beneficiary, a contributor, that has to do with the media, they are supposed to research and give a comprehensive report about it.
My late husband was close to late Gen. Adebayo. When the idea for creation of Lagos State came, everybody was against it. They believed Lagos should not be outside the west but because my late husband was close to Gen. Adebayo, he would run back to Oba Oyekan, he would advise them on the necessary action to take. He fought tooth and nail. My late husband was part of the struggle for the creation.
We were constantly on the watch for the progress of the state. As the Oba became advanced in age to work, the burden was on me. There was no conference, there was no meeting I didn’t attend. Once the Oba of Lagos could not go, I had to go to represent the eye of Lagos. Some governors also utilized us by forming committees.
I was part of the think tank committee that Gov. Tinubu set up for his tenure. We brought out the blue print that planned his two term tenure. I was also part of those who decided on the committee to form for the development of the state.
What spurred you into philanthropy?
I don’t know. I grew up seeing my parents, especially my grandmother being a great philanthropist. I remembered she was a very successful business person. My mom’s mom, she was a devout muslim. I grew up seeing her feed at least 50 women every Friday. They would pray and she would feed them. That happened every Friday.
For me, it was a natural progression. When I can afford to do anything for anybody, I ensure that I do it. It is something that gives me joy. That was the example I saw, being nice to other people, taking care of other people, feeding the poor, giving aims.
Would you say you have any regret at 70?
No, I don’t. The regrets are more for people who know me. As for me, I have done so much. Like I said, I enjoyed how I lived my life.
Who are the friends that you still have close contact with?
I have been describing my life to you, do I really have time to socialize and fraternize? I have lots of friends. My friends are people we may not even see in ten years but when we see and start talking, you will think we see each other every day. It is not the ones that we go to parties and wear aso ebi. That is the concept of friends people see around here.
I have loads of friends, from who I enjoy good will. My friends are not the ones that party every day, every week. I don’t have such friends. Party is a fraction of me, it is not my whole life. You people have made it a part of me.
What does your typical day looks like?
I wake up, get prepared and go to my office. I attend to people, in the midst of it, I find time for my exercise, my instructor comes three times a week.
What inspired the setting up of Atlantic Beach?
There is a niche for what I want to do. A private club for busy executives, a place where they can come to and meet like minds. A place where no one would chase them for contract. They can come here, cut their hair, have their gym, eat under the same umbrella. There is a business centre here as well. In the evening, instead of rushing back home, they can come here with their wives and have a nice meal together and then rock on the dance floor. That was the dream for busy business executives.
You have royal blood and you always comport yourselves in regally. How have you been able to do this over the years?
There is royalty and there are royalties. There is a proliferation of royalties in Nigeria today. There are people born into royalty, they have the carriage for it, while some are not just Balees and they make them Obas. What do you expect from such people. It is not in their characteristics, it is in built.
Take Lagos state, for instance. It used to be the Oba of Lagos, others were white cap chiefs. I was already Erelu before they became white cap chiefs. With time, they were upgraded. You cannot expect them to be kingly. It is also part of the training you receive from a royal family.
Do you have special routines you have to stick to at this stage, aide your exercise?
It is in the diet. Even the so called supplements can be found in natural food. It is better to take the natural food, if you can. You just need to have a proper nutrition and you don’t start it when you are 70 years, it should be part of your life. That is why some people would go on a drastic weight loss and still end up going back to their old ways.
Every day of your life, it must be in your consciousness that you have to watch what you eat. It must be clean, it must be right for you. All the things that are necessary for a healthy living should be part of your life style. Nobody is a super woman. There are times you would go beyond your boundary, take excess drink, take more than a piece of cake but it shouldn’t be a daily routine. During festivities one can indulge in such but you need to flush it out by drinking a lot of water.
You don’t have to do anything artificial if you live a good life. It is all about your way of life. You would always know when it is enough, your body would tell you. I don’t have anything special that I do, I am just conscious, I know when I am hydrated. I know when it is enough. A lot of us complain that we are busy. Just like it is important you go to work, it is also important you watch what you eat. It is just like a machine. If you don’t oil it, it would affect it, just know yourself and take care of yourself.
How do you relax and unwind?
I know how to relax and enjoy myself. I can buy a ticket and go to a nice destination. I dress nicely and go to the beach. Just have fun, spend time with my grandchildren. We go to picnic, we chill together, play games. I know how to enjoy myself with young people, it excites me.
I like to know them, they are so interesting. One of my grand daughters is very interesting. She is a good strategist and funny enough, you also learn from them. I am not one of the people who don’t believe in going on holiday. You go and rejuvenate, not only when you want to have fun. But just to sleep, eat, do things that does not give you stress in your brain.
You granted an interview sometimes back, where you said the best position for a woman is to be in a beautiful, happy marriage. One would think over the years that you would remarry?
I have enjoyed marriage. I had two wonderful marriages. For me to really find another one, the person must really be an angel from heaven. May be if I had found, I would have married. One was my brother, my friend. I didn’t even know I was married, he treated me so well. The second one I knew, I was old enough to know I was married, it was also a good supportive relationship.
Marriage is truly a wonderful institution. When you have a beautiful relationship, you may not get that luck all the time. You just have to protect the one you have because it is very fragile. Protect it not from yourself but from the external forces and influences.
In a beautiful relationship, everybody wants to be part of it. Out of jostling for recognition, some can be mischievous. You must be careful and discerning. I can’t tell you that I have had two marriage, I can’t tell you when I had a fight that could constitute a break. It is always a hear say that someone is involved.
My advice is that, whatever you do in a relationship like marriage, you have to be discerning, be focused in your relationship, nurture your relationship. You must never ever take anything for granted, that is the first rule. Never take your partner for granted, never take your love for granted.
You may think the relationship is so strong and then you take your partner for granted. There are always dubious people around.
I have a beautiful home, I know you people will say, I am talking about a beautiful home and I don’t have one. I have a beautiful home, you have to see my children and grandchildren. We are best of friends. They all made it mandatory that I must call them regularly, we all gist and all that.
You used to be very close to Nike Oshinowo, are you still that close?
We are still close. She now has two children. She now knows what motherhood is all about, she is busy, she wants the best for her children. She has to pay attention to them. We were together few weeks ago. I had to drag her out but then, she had to leave the place early. She doesn’t want to leave her children with her housemaid, most mothers leave their children throughout the week and at weekends, they are at parties. When will they have time for their children or even know what is happening to them?