Hajia Fatima Okunuga… Thriving In Untested Waters
HAJIA Fatima Kehinde Okunuga is, no doubt, a woman who treads and thrives where very few women dare to tread.
As a telecommunications entrepreneur, she has excelled in a male dominated sector of the economy. Tall, beautiful and graceful, her presence is easily noticed in any gathering.
Her respectful and humble but focused dispositions have however endeared her to a wide range of people with whom she comes in contact regularly.
An interesting, noble personality who is passionate about the well-being of the masses, Okunuga hails from Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. She attended the prestigious Federal School of Arts and Science, Victoria Island, Lagos and later, the Television College, Jos.
She has been honoured by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) as the CEO of one of the best emerging businesses in Nigeria.
An insight into her professional calling revealed a life of determination, focus and prudence. She represents some reputable international telecommunications outfits and is the sole representatives of the Ascom Group of Denmark, France and Switzerland, handling the sales of their products in Nigeria.
Her foray into telecommunication world after attending quite a number of professional courses in telecommunications equipment marketing within the West African sub-region landed her in a field which she found challenging but fulfilling as she had to operate with and compete among highly skilled and advanced telecommunication engineering companies’ representatives in Nigeria.
“Being able to lift my company, Kalila Nigeria Limited, from just a general contracts company to a very formidable telecommunication supports company in Nigeria was very gratifying for me as a woman more so as I had to operate in a male dominated enterprise such as telecommunications engineering”.
In fact, Kalila Nigeria Limited played a pivotal role in the deployment of public payphones and operating platforms in Nigeria. After the privatization of the telecommunication sector by the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime for instance, Kalila, in collaboration with Ascom Monetel of France and Gemplus got the license from the Nigerian Communication Company (NCC) to manufacture SIM cards and phones in Nigeria in 2001.
“But then we were faced with a situation whereby foreign investors and our European partners were not willing to invest their money in a new democracy in Nigeria”.
That and other uncompromising business practices were, in her words, what necessitated President Obasanjo’s regime between 1999 and 2003 to look towards the Asian countries such as China then for investors.
“Despite the former President’s laudable efforts at the time and till date, Nigeria still remains the major teleommunication service consumer nation with no industry to support the multibillion dollar growth of this market.
The industrialization of some areas of the telecommunication sector will be dream come true for me even if it is the gradual local assembling of mobile phones and accessories. Imagine the job opportunities for millions of young graduates brimming with ideas and innovations in Information Technology”.
Hajia Okunuga also stated that her real estate portfolio has provided residential quarters for the diplomatic community in the last 15 years. “So, you see, my professional life has been busy with virtually no time for trivialities”.
Some years ago, she was a regular feature in the telecommunications pages of The Guardian and Punch newspapers which portrayed her as a pioneer in a male-dominated industry but suddenly went off the radar.
This she explained: “That was between 1995 and 2003; some twenty something years ago. How time flies! You know, I also had a stint with the Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA).
I was about 20 years old when I left my first job at the NTA. I was employed at barely 18 years of age at the programmes department headed by late Bode Alalade and Ms. Grace Egbagbe. But two years later, at 20, I found myself in the job market while my mates were still in the university. A friend advised me to register a company through which I could get contracts from government.
I did and God blessed my enterprise. With all modesty, I built my first house; a block of four flats when I was 22 with a street in my name.
By 25, I got married but 10 years later was divorced because I couldn’t have a child in the marriage.
So in the next phase of my life, when I got pregnant again and eventually became a mother, I had to sacrifice my businesses to nurture my new family. That was why I was off the radar for some years but now, I am back”
A rather bold and energetic personality, passionate about the welfare of people, she saw politics as one way of alleviating some challenges of the downtrodden and so decided to have a shot at it.
Politics, according to her, is all about service to the people. “I believe that’s the only way to give back to my community, the platform through which I can make my people savour dividends of democracy – the women, the old and our youths. It has been my long held desire to be a voice for the voiceless. I contested the primaries for the Federal House of Representatives for Ijebu Central Federal constituency and the only female among other nine aspirants for that matter.”
Expressing confidence in the incoming administration under the watch of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, she believes the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a government will usher in a new dawn for Nigeria and Nigerians. “We need a man of courage and experience to counter the multi-faceted challenges confronting the nation at present. Buhari is a man with great vision for Nigeria.
His administration is going to be a democratic government with a difference – a government of service to the people. I can assure you that corruption is going to be at its lowest ebb if not totally eliminated during his administration and public officers will be held accountable for their actions. It is not going to be business as usual”.
On the changes she would like to see effected in the polity, she urged the incoming representatives at both the State and national levels to ensure adherence to and implementation of their parties’ manifestos to the letters and, in line with Nigeria’s constitution, create new laws and do away with those that do not unite us as a people.
Okunuga also made a strong case of the immunity clause, which she said is tantamount to aiding corruption. “The immunity clause in our country’s constitution should be discarded if we are to rid Nigeria of corruption.
Immunity clause means you cannot hold your elected representatives accountable for their actions until after four years. That clause in itself, to me, is corrupt”, she submitted.
Her youth days were however memorable, exciting and adventurous growing up in a protected and disciplined home in a military environment in Victoria Island and Ikoyi in the early 70s and 80s in Lagos. “We were taught the dignity in labour and contentment.
The Nigerian Naval Dockyard Officers’ quarter, which was our home shared the same fence with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) headquarters in Victoria Island and still does.
As a young child, I used to be very inquisitive about the activities going on at the premises of the NTA next door to our residence, most especially during the then famous Bar-Beach show hosted by the late Art Alade which was aired way back in the 1970s.
I would climb the giant fruit trees at the Naval dockyard to catch a glimpse of these great personalities and music stars we saw on television hoping to be like them some day.
Lost in the daydream, my parents would be looking for me and often I would be found hiding on top of the trees moving from one branch to another higher one and, with his cane handy, Daddy would bellow: ‘Kehinde, get down, girls don’t climb trees!’ Such were the childhood escapades then.
Hajia Okunuga attended St. David’s Primary School, Lafiaji, Lagos, passing out with distinction. She was the first girl to attain this academic excellence. Her secondary education was at the prestigious Federal Government Girls’ College, Calabar, Cross River State.
“My high school experience and education at this great school prepared me very early in life to set a very high goal for myself and determination to be successful in whatever enterprise I am involved in irrespective of my gender.
As a teenager in a boarding school, I came into reality the diversities in economic status of our parents.
I knew it was either I had a prepared platform through which my next academic journey and success in life was guaranteed or be prepared to conquer the challenges life may throw in my path during this journey.
I therefore valued every opportunity that came my way. I was blessed with two sets of great parents: my biological parents – Prince Okunuga Olusi and Hajia Muniratu Okunuga and the Late Navy Commodore KB Yusuf and his wife, who is my elder sister, Chief Mrs.
Olukayode Yusuf, the Yeye Jagunmolu of Ijagboland in Kwara state, who nurtured me from the age of three years to adulthood.
I am the last of my mother’s six children and the 15th of my father’s 17. My late father was married to four wives who all lived under the same roof. In actual fact, I did not know which of my father’s wives my biological mother was until I was about 10 years old. Every wife was ‘Maami’ (mother).
On life, she holds a strong conviction that God blesses everyone with enormous providence. “Partying or ‘owambe’ is not my type of fun. I believe in moderation but then our people have a way of saying enjoy life now when you can.”
One of her put offs in human beings is lying. “I dislike people who tell lies and I find it very difficult to forgive such people because they are satanic in nature and destroyers”.
Life, to her, should be about love and kindness to your fellow human beings. “God has been merciful and kind to me. I have been very fortunate to meet people who have supported my aspirations in life. I have handled every challenge as a learning process for more wisdom.
In life, not all that sparkle is gold but I have learnt to make dull gold sparkle. My faith in God has contributed to my philosophy of life and self-confidence.
“We all have a hidden power beneath that daily self-image we project. We may not know of this power until we are challenged and how you overcome this challenge defines your inner strength. Seeing yourself only as gold that circumstances may have blunted and covered in clay and pebbles of the society is defeatist but being able to make the gold in you sparkle and shine again further defines you.”
Okunuga’s hobbies include photography, history and the Arts.