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‘Men are comfortable to be bossed by capable women’

By Onyedika Agbedo, Debo Oladimeji
14 January 2023   |   4:50 am
Rotarian Omotunde Lawson is an educationist par excellence. She was employed into Lagos State Teaching Service in 1982 as a Biology teacher and became a school principal in 1993 at the age of 37. She was promoted to the post of Director of Education in 2008. Lawson also served as the Chairman of Combined All…

Club Admin Chair, Rotarian Habeebat Abiodun Popoola (left); District Governor, Rotarian Omotunde Lawson (fourth left; President, Rotary Club of Dolphin Estate, Rotarian Oyebola Adeyanju and others at the tree planting project.

Rotarian Omotunde Lawson is an educationist par excellence. She was employed into Lagos State Teaching Service in 1982 as a Biology teacher and became a school principal in 1993 at the age of 37. She was promoted to the post of Director of Education in 2008.
Lawson also served as the Chairman of Combined All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS) in Southwest, which comprises Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oshun and Oyo states and served from 2016 to 2017. She served on the board of the Governing Council of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED) now Adeniran Ogunsanya University of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos from 2014-2017.
Widely acknowledged and applauded for her hard work and impeccable character, she was elected the President of ANCOPSS, Lagos State chapter in 2014 and served until 2017.
She is a recipient of several professional awards, including the Productivity Merit Award (2007); the highest public service award in Lagos State known as Grand Order of Teaching Excellence by Oba of Iganmu and Council of Chiefs (1998); Best Principal Award by Ministry of Education, District 5 (2009); Most Dynamic State ANCOPSS President’s Award by the Ministry of Education (2015) and Integrity-Based Leadership Award by the Ministry of Education, District 5 (2016).
A Fellow of the Institute for Corporate Administration (FCAI), Lawson is Proprietor and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Christhill Schools, Amuwo Odofin, Lagos.
She was inducted into Rotary Club of Lagos West in 2007 and after serving the club in many capacities, she became the first female to emerge as the District Governor of Rotary International, District 9110 in 42 years of its existence last year. In this interview, she shares her story with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO and DEBO OLADIMEJI, submitting that men are comfortable when being led by a woman who delivers results. Excerpts:

Congratulations on your emergence as the first female District Governor of Rotary Club International, District 9110 in 42 years of its existence. What does it mean to you?

First of all, when you talk about a woman being the first to be in this position, what crosses my mind is: sshould this have been an exception in the first instance? Why shouldn’t a woman have been there? What makes a woman less qualified to be there? For me, I see it as just one qualified person not even a female; someone that is qualified to be a district governor and she is there. So, let us keep gender aside. Gender will be secondary because what a man is capable of doing or what a man should do a woman too is qualified to do.
Be that as it may, let me say that it is a rare privilege if you are talking about the first woman to be in the position because probably sometime a woman would be there. That’s where I’m going to come in, being the first now is what appears to be significant.
But I think it’s the summary of my journey as a Rotarian; the journey of over 15 years, the journey of commitment to service as ordinary Rotarian. I didn’t even envisage that this could happen; I never dreamt of it. I have never been ambitious to say I would even be. I was doing my own Rotary the way I think it should be done with all my might.
Naturally, anything I would want to be involved in, I can tell you that once I accept it, I will do it as diligently as I can. And Rotary is not the first place where I would find myself occupying a leadership position of this nature. I was president of a professional body, ANCOPSS, Lagos State chapter, between 2014 and 2017. I was the chairman of the same body in the South West zone comprising six states with 3,500 principals as members. In Lagos chapter, I applied a sense of responsibility and diligence that ensured that the chapter became the most vibrant in the 36 states of the federation. So, if I could do that for a professional body, I thought I should do even more in my volunteer job as a Rotarian. So, I put all I have into being a Rotarian.
I joined the Rotary Club of Lagos West in 2007 and became president in 2012-2013 after serving as chairman of a few committees. As president, I won the ‘Best Club President Award’ in this district. In a district of 900 clubs, you know what it means? I was doing what I know how best to do – serving humanity with a sense of responsibility.

Are you saying there was no gender consideration in your emergence because we are in an era of feminism?

When I finished my tenure as the club president, I was invited to serve at the district level. I served as committee chairman for four consecutive years. When I was done being committee chairman, I became Assistant Governor, a position you hold for three years. In the third year, 2019-2020, I picked the nomination form to serve as District Governor. By that time, I was aware that they were looking for a female who could hold the position. At a time I got an idea that they were saying that there was no woman who has the capacity and credentials to be a District Governor. To be honest with you, that was what challenged me to pick that nomination form. And of course the rest is story.
We faced interview. I prepared for the interview as if I was going for Cambridge examinations. I did not want to go and fail. A team of five district governors conducts such interview and you would have submitted your profile before the day of the interview. They would have studied your profile. Who are you? What you have done? Where are you? So, it wasn’t something that I just strolled in and they said because she is woman let’s give it to her. It was real interview and you have to answer the questions. I want to tell you that I am happy and grateful to God that I answered all the questions well.
As I said, I studied as if I was going for an examination. If I didn’t make it, they would not pass me because I am a woman. If somebody else had done better than me, of course the person would have made it. Men went for the interview; three women were part of the interview. Eight of us picked nomination forms and were interviewed. The result was given by a team of respected past district governors.

From your profile, it is clear that you don’t feel intimidated in the midst of men…

(Cuts in) I have never! I built my self-confidence right from when I was in primary school. I had male friends. My parents knew that. My friends used to wonder why I didn’t have a female friend. I loved discussing with intelligent people, intelligent boys, when we were in school. Many of them were the children of my parents’ friends. So, I operated in the midst of men for so long. I cannot remember how many times I was called to speak impromptu when I was in primary school. They just called me and I spoke. It happens even now. When I get there, I know what I want to say. May be that’s the way God created me. But I must be frank with you; I have never been intimidated by anybody. I make bold to say that.

You have held top leadership positions in the past. How have you been able to cope with men who feel uncomfortable having a woman as their head?

It depends on what they see that you can deliver. When they know that you know what you are doing, they will want to associate with you. It is only mediocre people that a woman or a man would want to intimidate. When you are not a mediocre and they know there is something you have to offer, and they are seeing the results, why should they feel that this woman should not be the head?
I have faced such a situation before and even as we speak. I’m the first woman to be district governor now. There are many past district governors, all males some of who are my elders. We have held meetings that I presided over. And we are working harmoniously because I brought to the table what I have to do and I know what I want to do and I’m doing what I should do. So, I have never been intimidated where they are. And they respect me as governor because that is the norm in Rotary and I respect them too. So, it’s reciprocal.

It is on record that you became a principal at 37 years. What attributes helped you to attain that height?

There is a system of appraisal in Lagos State Civil Service. Regularly, we had people from monitoring and investigation from the Inspectorate who came to the school to see what we were doing. They checked your records, which were there for them to see. Who is doing what? They checked how diligent you were at your work. You didn’t have to lobby for it. There was no day anybody came to supervise or inspect our school that I was found wanting. Everything I needed to do was on point. There is no other thing that can lift you up other than diligence. It is not about going to lobby; I have never lobbied for anything in my life. Never!
When my professional body was looking for someone to lead them, they came and said they have zoned it to that place. I thought about it before I accepted because I knew it would be tasking. So, it depends on what they see in you, what you are able to do and your impact.
A lot of things happen in the school system such as exam malpractices and collecting bribes from parents but you can never find me engaging in such. As the principal of a school, I could have made money through levies that students pay but I never spent a dime that is not mine. I judiciously used money collected such that even up till now, the legacy is there.
I thank God for the parents that I have. My parents brought me up very well. They harped on discipline and integrity. Remember the child of whom you are was the statement of my father. I have never deviated from it. At 37 when it was time to be the vice principal, I got the letter.

What advice will you have for upcoming ladies pursuing their careers in different fields given what you have seen and achieved so far?

Number one is that if I didn’t give anything to anybody to get to where I am other than being diligent and responsible, that is what any woman should do. You don’t have to get yourself into so many things because you want to get to a position. It will fail you, particularly if you are not competent to do that thing. You will be operating beyond your level of competence and you are going to fail; you are going to crash. So, any woman who wants to be anywhere should stand tall. Take your time, when it is your turn, you will get it.
Let me say something again – leave everything in the hands of God. It is only what God’s hands are in that is successful. As I told you, I didn’t pray to be here. When I picked the nomination form, I told my club members, ‘look, as I am going for this interview nobody should put any pressure on me because I don’t want to be governor by all means’. And I told God that if there is something He thought I could do differently let me be successful. But if there is nothing I have to offer in that position may I not be successful. That was my prayer before I left for the interview. So when they called to say that I emerged, I told God, ‘You have a plan for me. There is something I’m going to do at that place so You have sent me and I will go’. So, let us put God first and seek His guidance.

You have a very busy schedule. How are you able to combine your official duties with the demands of managing your home?

My husband knew from day one that all he can do for me is to support anything I want to do. He knows that I will not deviate. That thing, I will do it; I will pursue it. All along he knows the kind of woman I am and that the only thing he can do for me is to support my dreams. And I can never see any man in this world again that can ever do what this man has done for me. He will be the one to provide when I need some finance or whatever. Everything I have needed in my life to support any role I have played my husband was 100 per cent per cent there.
As a teacher, everybody in the system knows my husband. As a Rotarian, there is nowhere I have ever been that they don’t know him. They know he is always there side by side with me. And as I told you, he knows that all that this woman needs is support. So, when the issue of governor came up, he said, ‘hey! I know I don enter another wahala be this o. But don’t worry if that is what you want to do. I will be there again.’ Guess what? He has been there 100 per cent. In fact, he was inducted a Rotarian on my first day as governor. Meanwhile, they have been asking him to join all these years. But when I became governor, he decided to join because he needed to support me. He provides without thinking twice to make sure everything is successful. So, on the home front I have a perfect husband and supportive children, who are 100 per cent supportive of what I am doing.

Are you satisfied with the current place of women in the state of affairs in the country?

They are doing better already. Do you know what I discovered? In the course of my current assignment as district governor, I have had course to go to different places, parastatals, organisations and companies. Everywhere I went women were at the top. It is so amazing. I don’t know how it happened. I started wondering what has changed just within the last two years. For them to be there, I’m sure they were able to get there on merit, because these are credible people. It shows that women have been doing well all along but they were not given the opportunity. But now opportunity has provided itself and you can see that women are really able and capable of holding leadership roles in any organisation.

What are your programmes for the year and how do you want to go about it?

How many do I want to mention. There are so many programmes. I have done more than 30 programmes already. I have multiplicity of programmes and I will get all of them done. It is God; it’s not me. I don’t sleep, may be I should tell you that.

What is your star project or area of focus?

There are seven areas of focus. The district does not do projects. I can only have a goal and tell the clubs to do projects around that goal while I support them from the district.
So, there are dreams that I had. I said this district would have a radio station. I don’t think there is any district in Africa that has it. The very first day, I launched District 9110 Global Rotary Radio transmitting life. You can download the app. That is the first one.
Secondly, I said that in Rotary Foundation, this district must be the lead district in the fight against polio. Now we are the first district in Nigeria to have what is called Polio Plus Society and we have raised a lot of money, acknowledged already internationally.
Also, there is a school we want to adopt, School for the Hearing Impaired. We have adopted the entire school and we have started intervention for them. Those kids could be removed from that school to regular schools by different interventions. We have a partner that we are working with and their hearing aids are going to land very soon.
We are also going to empower 250 girls. They have started training and we are going to empower them with start up tools. They can also have access to loan from the district.
Rotary has Peace Universities in the world, seven universities in the world. So, we also decided to have something similar. We have Rotary Peace Schools, which was also launched in July. So we have District 9110 Rotary Peace Schools.
I am an educator; e-learning facility has been provided in the schools. As I said, the clubs will put down some money and I will add to it. I will be the one to support. You are asking me where is the source of the money? I had my installation as district governor. I invited friends, acquaintances, my colleagues at work, even Rotarians and we made money. How are we going to spend the money? The money is to support clubs in their projects.

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