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A Father’s Place… ‘I want to help Zuriel start on her journey’

After greeting Mr Oduwole and asking how he was, he replied: “I am good Anita, thanks for asking. Tired, only because I am trying to keep...

Mr Ademola Oduwole is a Global Business Strategist and an International Trade Advisor at the Corporate Executive and CEO levels. ANITA KOUASSIGAN invited him to be interviewed by The Guardian on March 29 at the Investing In Women Awards/Guardian Angels launch in Lagos. She found his position to be somewhat unusual and wanted to dig deeper into what drives him and how he views his role as a father today. In this day and age, it may be an antiquated way of thinking that our “elders are always right”, and perhaps it’s time to consider that it is actually the youth that can drive real progress? Has that age-old African principle of “do what your parents tell you to do” stood the test of time or it is time for a change, and parents should also listen to their children, and in the case of Mr Oduwole, perhaps be (literally) driven by them so that they can fulfill their dreams, and in the case of some very special children – their “calling”? The devoted dad of the young girl campaigning for girls’ education in Africa and Asia responds to these questions.

After greeting Mr Oduwole and asking how he was, he replied: “I am good Anita, thanks for asking. Tired, only because I am trying to keep up with my 16-year-old daughter, who drags me across the globe periodically. I guess she has something I no longer have –youth!!!”

I then expressed my appreciation for his presence at the March event with the honour of having Zuriel as one of two surprise items of our agenda, and it was then he explained his actual mission in Nigeria during that period: “First, I was glad to attend, because we were in the country for a whole different set of events for Zuriel, as she had TV interviews and speaking engagements. But when we were told by her schedulers that we had a Black Tie Gala as well, it became a whole project in itself, because we didn’t come to the country anticipating to attend such. Actually, we had just come in from Johannesburg, South Africa a few days earlier, where Zuriel was honoured by the Nelson Mandela Foundation with a private tour of Nelson Mandela’s archives, his private office, and his exhibitions, because she had created a short film about his legacy, and the foundation hosted her. So, whatever nice clothing we had on us, we had worn it already in South Africa to about four events we had, including appearing on CGTN News.”

He continued: “Needless to say, we had 30 hours to find a dress befitting for Zuriel to attend a Black Tie fundraiser gala, and something simple enough for me to just tag along because from the description of the event, and being told that a Princess from Luxembourg was attending, we expected it to be truly out there.

A company called Little Weavers came to our rescue, and, yes, it was an elegant event indeed-simply impeccably staged, and colourfully regal indeed. I enjoyed being there, and observing as well. I seem to do that in the events I attend with Zuriel.”

Mr. Oduwole is, indeed, an unusual dad as he globe-trots with his wave-making talented daughter as her chaperone/manager on all her foreign trips. Always well-received wherever he travels with his child prodigy, I asked him whether he had the same experience in Nigeria as in the US or Europe, or did he feel that he was viewed as taking on an unusual role as a father – and husband for that matter?

He responded: “Before I answer your second question, I travel with her most of the time as her chaperon. I don’t see myself as her manager at all, but her dad, and as I like to say to people when they ask if we are related-I am her head of security. You see, if you are a man, the moment you have a daughter, your title changes from just dad, to head of security. The simple reason is that girls give and birth to life, as boys can’t. And so, you do all you can to ensure their spiritual, material, physical, and emotional wellbeing, at all costs, because they would birth and deliver a nation, based on their state of wellbeing.”

He also responded to the second question: “Of course, I am always proud of seeing her at events around the country, continent, or across the globe. Who wouldn’t be? There is no more a special perception of level of pride if in Nigeria, compared to other places. Though, I must say the difference between how people treat us in Nigeria is they exude a sense of pride whenever Zuriel visits, but in Europe and in the US, it’s a sense of bewilderment, because they are always in awe that a girl as young as she is, does the things she does. That would be a clear difference.”

And then he gushes about his daughter, explaining why he had to support her all the way. “I don’t think people know exactly how Zuriel got to where she is, and what it took for her”, he said. “I have never seen or met anyone who truly excels at something that is theirs, and against all odds, that came easy. Be it the William sisters, or Tiger Woods, it was with incredible commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. No different for Zuriel. It is hard work, and even though good things sometimes take time, it’s always hard work. Personally, there are only two things that I know, where one starts at the top, and in both cases, you end up at the bottom. Guess what they are- grave digging, and well digging!!!”

On further probing, he sheds more light on what his decision meant for his overall family dynamic, how long he’s been married, his number of children, among others.

Zuriel with Princess Tessy Antony of Luxembourg

“I think by decision, you probably mean quitting my job six years ago because of Zuriel. Are you kidding, it was perhaps the stupidest and craziest thing I ever did in my adult life, and that’s how I know I was not thinking straight. But then again, silly as the decision was, it was the only thing I knew to do at the time, to help her start on her journey.”

He goes on further to tell his story: “We have four children, and when Zuriel said at age 10 she wanted to do a project about girls’ education, all we did was pointed her in the right direction, to see if she would flourish, or to gauge how serious she was. She wanted to get more girls across Africa into school, and reduce the cycle of poverty, but especially early marriage and abuse. That was not an exciting topic to look at, and most people were not interested in hearing about that, but it’s where she wanted to head.”

He continued: “The thing about her project is that there was almost zero need to fight for girls education in the US where we live. So, all the needs for girls’ education were in Africa, and Asia. So, she chose to start in Africa first, even though she speaks Mandarin (Chinese) fluently.

“When my wife now of 18 years and I saw that she was very serious, and working diligently towards it, we realised there was no way on this beautiful earth God created, that we would let a stranger travel with her around the world for her projects. And then-remember, me as head of security, it wouldn’t make sense to watch my wife and a young girl travel across the continent, in different towns, in various hotel rooms, and with all the crazy things that’s going on around.”

Oduwole then explained why he was able to give up his bourgeoning international career of 30 years in order to support his daughter’s endeavours.

“It was a painfully, critically serious decision. My last project was in Fiji, in the Pacific Islands. Do you know how beautiful the Pacific Islands are? The food, the people, the colourful trees and incredibly beautiful people, inside and out. I was helping that country improve their tourism development, as they needed to find new sources of Tourism arrivals into the country, with falling sugar prices, which was the mainstay of their economy. I had made 12 visits there in the space of four years, and loved my work there very much.

“So, after a lengthy discussion with my wife because we had seen the seriousness of Zuriel and the potentials she showed, I told her I would take two to three months off work to travel with Zuriel, to see how things go. That was six years ago!!! Meaning, I haven’t worked for money in six years – not because I don’t want to, but because there was this young lady, who needed my help, and as beautiful as Fiji was, I had to go with her needs. And yes, you guessed right, the entire family had to adjust seriously, and depend on my wife’s income from her work.”

Oduwole recalled how the family had to move to a smaller house, he had to sell his car and depend on his cash reserves to set Zuriel off her course.

“I seriously believed that if we did not, that was the true meaning of ‘child abuse’ – not to sacrifice all you have, for your children. Yes, things were rough and tough, but we were content.”

However, despite his daughter’s fame, that he has allowed her to follow her chosen path, Oduwole does not buy into the general description that his daughter is the “most powerful girl in the world.”

“And who told you she’s the world’s most powerful girl?” he queried.

“The girl is just 16. She has chores at home, she gets grounded at times, she doesn’t get everything she asks us for, and she has to save to get things she really needs. That doesn’t sound to me like the world’s most powerful girl. But I understand what you are saying, that she is making a little difference, along the way. For that, my wife and I are very, very grateful, and thankful,” he concluded.