‘Learn To Serve And Smile; It’s All Part Of Humility’
Mrs. Oluyemisi Alatise, the first African woman to be elected as the Vice-president of International Inner Wheel, one of the largest women service organisations in the world with over 130, 000 members, spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on her life and how she moved through the ladder to her current status.
THE first African woman to be elected as Vice-President of International Inner Wheel, Mrs. Oluyemisi Alatise says life has taught her not to be lazy and to be kind; to give and not look back.
“Do what you can do to be kind and make people happy and forget about it; not expecting to be rewarded by who you have rendered the service, because it is a seed and you are going to reap it,” she philosophises .
She feels humble to be the first African in the 93-year history of International Inner Wheel to have risen to the prestigious position of the vice-president.
“I am grateful to God. I don’t see the victory as my own victory. I see the victory for Africa, Nigeria, Lagos before it now gets to me.” She recalled that her husband, the late Alhaji Sikiru Olatunji Alatise was a member of Rotary Club of Lagos.
“The constitution of Inner Wheel then was that you are automatically a member once your husband is a Rotarian. One day, I went with my husband for Ladies’ Night in Rotary Club of Lagos, and I was invited to join Inner Wheel.
That was in 1978. Since then, I have not looked back.” She explained that Inner Wheel Club of Lagos was formed in 1967, as the first club in Africa.
“I met people such as Lady Ademola, Lady Bank Anthony, Mrs. Alakija and Mrs. Osidero there. Women in top positions in Lagos were members of Inner Wheel Club of Lagos. For about 10 years, I was the youngest person in their midst.
I learnt the ropes from them. I learnt to serve and smile. It is all part of humility.” Alatise was born in Lagos on Christmas day in 1951. She attended St. John’s School, Aroloya, Lagos for her primary school.
She had her secondary school education at National College of Commerce, Bariga, Lagos and did a Diploma in Law at Lagos State University (LASU).
Her father, Adesanya Oyenuga, was a businessman from Agbowa Ikosi, Lagos State, and her mother, Felicia Abosede, a petty trader from Ode-Lemo, Ogun State.
Her father was a wholesale beer dealer, a distributor for Nigerian Breweries and Guinness. He was a big time businessman in Ita Akani, the centre of Lagos business in those days.
“My father had three wives. I am no three in the line of the children of my father. I have seven siblings behind me. “My siblings are all married and doing well in their endeavours. My father was a disciplinarian. He did not spare the rod for his children. He was around 58 years old when he had me.
So, I was one of his favourites and I was brought up in a very strict industrious atmosphere.” She recalled that her father did not allow friends to visit her at home. “He did not permit all that.
He believed that we would be polluted. His children do all the house chores. Even though we had children of relatives living with us, he allowed only his children to wash his clothes.”
Alatise and her female siblings always cooked for their father.
“We do cooking for him even though he had three wives. At a certain age, it is your turn to cook for daddy. We always look forward to cook for him.” She recalled that her father had two males and eight female children.
He believed that it is only lucky men that are blessed with female children because they are the ones that will take good care of their parents at old age. As brilliant as she is, unfortunately, her father could not afford to send her to the university immediately after her secondary school.
“So, I started working. I started working as a shorthand typist at TA Braithwaite, Nigeria Limited,” she recalls. She later got married to her husband. She saw her father’s quality in her late husband. “He was a responsible man.” She had all her six children within eight years. “When the last one entered secondary school, I went to LASU to do Diploma in Law. I was 40 then.
After that, I was appointed as a Lay Magistrate in Lagos State Judiciary and I was there for five years. “I was trained by disciplinarian parents. That is the way I brought up my children.
I don’t regret bringing them up that way.” She remarked that Inner Wheel is in about 103 countries with about 4,000 clubs. “The objective of Inner Wheel first is to promote true friendship, to encourage the ideal of personal service, and to foster international understanding.
“To encourage true friendship, globalisation has made it even a lot better because you have friends all over the world. The ones you have met, the ones you have not met. The ones you first met on Facebook or Twitter.
Then you now met eventually during our once-in-three years conference.” She explained that doors are open for members of Inner Wheel in different ways to serve humanity, not for contract or for business. Inner wheel, she said, is not a business network organisation. It is a friendship organisation and it is for service.
“What we are looking for in Inner Wheel is service to the less privileged because we are mothers, we have the sixth instinct to know where to render our services; services that will touch the heart.” She added that Inner Wheel takes care of widows and orphans.
They organise computer training for indigent students. “Globalisation has helped tremendously because when you render a service to the people of your community and another Inner Wheel club member in another part of the world sees what you are doing, she can send money to help you to execute your project.
“There are a lot of benefits in globalisation. But we should not allow technology to becloud us completely and to forget about our culture,” she avers.
In 1988, Alatise became the president of her club, Inner Wheel Club of Lagos. She set up a home for lost and found children, and children whose parents are serving jail terms. “We called it Children’s Transit Centre at Idi-Araba.
It is Lagos State government that is now running it.” She said it is one of the biggest projects of Inner Wheel in Nigeria and all international presidents of the club that visit Nigeria make it their first place of call. “What I did was in collaboration with United Nations Wives Association, Dutch Wives Association, American Wives Association and Royal Dutch Embassy.
They contributed to the project.” She moved from serving as the President of her club to the district level. She belonged to Inner Wheel District 911, Nigeria which has about 60 clubs under it.
She became the District Chairman in 1995/96. “When I was the District Chairman, I started the biggest project of any district in Nigeria, maybe even in Africa. I set up a vocational centre at Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, which was built upon by my successors.” After leaving the district, she moved to the national level.
She became the National President of Inner Wheel in 2008-2009. “That year, I was able to bring the International Inner Wheel President, Sussane Neilsen to Nigeria.
She visited all the clubs around Nigeria. She went to the East. She commissioned the vocational centre that I started at Amuwo-Odofin.” After completing her tenure as the district president, Alatise moved her service to the international level.
That was after she was selected as board director for 2010-2011session. “I was given a lot of things to do. One of them was that I anchored the symposium at the Istanbul 15 Convention. I was made to talk about micro credit. I was given the task to look for a project that Inner Wheel can call its own. “I introduced cervical cancer immunisation for young children.
So, International Inner Wheel is still working on it and hopefully, when we get enough funds, we are going to roll out a programme about vaccination of young girls against cervical cancer.”
She served on the board for one year as usual. After that, a lot of her international friends of the club said she should contest for the position of international president.
“I contested the first year and I lost, because I had a stronger candidate from Belgium, Mrs. Charlotte de Vos. She is now the elected president (to take over the baton from the incumbent President, Abha Gupta in July) while I am now the elected vice-president for 2015/2016 session.
She is passionate about what Africa can do to help itself. She noted that Africans should not fold their hands and expect Europeans to come and solve their problems for them. She wants to use her good offices to re-invigorate the campaign to put a stop to female genital mutilation in Africa. “We have been campaigning against female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation is a very horrible practice that we must put an end to ourselves.” Her children, four girls and two boys, are all doing well in their different professions.
She loves watching television to unwind, adding: “Going for Inner Wheel’s meeting is like relaxation for me because you meet friends and you crack jokes a lot.” As for her agenda for the incoming government, she said: “The new government’s priority should be to make life easier for Nigerians.
Every home is a mini local government now. The cost of comfortable life is very expensive in Nigeria. “These are things that are taken for granted in the Western world. The average man in the Western world does not think of electricity, water and security. Let the government provide the amenities that are causing a high cost of living for the poor man.”