Some Men found me too confident to woo–Sola Salako-Ajulo

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Sola Salako-Ajulo is a human rights activist and the president/founder of Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria. She tells Ademola Olonilua about her life, work and family
You once stated that your platform, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria, started because you dislike being cheated. Have you always been like that?
I think I got that trait from my mother because she was more like an activist. She was the kind of person that would stand up and defend people who had no voice. I have always had that trait as a kid. I would stand up and speak up for people. When I was young, I was tagged, ITK which means I Too Know, because I always had an opinion. If you were taking advantage of somebody, I always pointed it out that it was not fair. The concept of fairness is something that I grew up with; it did not just start as an adult. I guess that over time, I was able to grow it into something that could be socially constructive and not just beneficial to the few people I meet.

Didn’t you get into trouble for defending others while growing up as a kid?
Nobody dared beat me but I was ridiculed a lot. People feel very insecure around people that are very opinionated, so I was not the most popular girl in class but I had my own friends which was a good thing. I cannot say that I was bullied but people just did not want to hang out with me because I was the girl who knew everything.

Have you been able to keep in touch with your old friends?

I never really lost touch with them; Facebook has helped me reconnect with some of the others. I rarely make new friends. Most of my friends are people that I have known for about ten or twenty years. Once I get to know a person, I don’t lose friends no matter what happens between us. I may change the way I relate to you but I don’t burn bridges.

But you have risen to the top of your career and not all your friends are on the same level with you…

I guess that I am lucky because I don’t have envious friends; they know that they are stuck with me. I think it also has to do with the way one handles oneself in whatever position being occupied. I don’t understand how a position should affect the way I am. I have not changed, my likes are still the same thing. Even my son calls me a cheapskate because I still buy the cheapest thing I can find. The position I occupy is just a platform to make something happen which would positively affect the lives of people around me. It does not define who I am. My friends who knew me when I was nothing are still my friends and that is what has helped me. When most people get to a certain position, they start seeing themselves as that position and it makes it difficult for people who knew them when they did not have the position to relate with them.

What are your likes and dislikes?

I don’t have the patience for mediocrity and it has always been like that with me. If you are excellent at your duty, I may not like you as a person but I would admire that trait. I am a very loyal person. I am quick to forgive people because I have realised that I also make mistakes. Not everybody likes me but some people still stick with me, so the best I can do is to give the same chance to other people. I don’t like mediocrity so if you want to do something for me, do it with passion. I get upset with some of my friends who are not as passionate as I am but over the years, they have understood that it is who I am; the same way I have understood that everybody cannot be like me.
I like a good bargain and I hate to pay more than the value of a product. I like to know that a bag costs about N10 but I paid half the price and that is why my son calls me a cheapskate; I am glad to be a cheapskate because it saves me more money. I found out that people place emphasis on certain things that do not really matter and in the process, they put themselves under unnecessary burden. I remember a dress I had for about ten years and anytime I wanted to wear it, my sister would exclaim that I have had the dress for too long and people do not wear such any longer. I don’t care what people wear but the dress still belongs to me and it is still functional. As far as it still looks good on me, I would use it. If it is still functional, I don’t see a reason to dispose of it. I have some clothes in my wardrobe that I got over ten years ago. Because I have learnt to develop my own style, anytime I wear those items, I get a lot of compliments.

When it is time to relax what do you do to calm your nerves?

I really do not go out, I hang out with friends. My relaxation is dependent on the company around me. I could feel very relaxed with two friends in somebody’s bedroom and we would talk for a long while. I hang out with friends and that is my form of relaxation and when I am alone, I play with my gadgets. I read a lot as well. I used to be a voracious reader. The online platforms also give me a lot of opportunity to read. I am always researching. I am always asking Google questions because I am a very inquisitive person and that is how I relax. I go out to see some movies and I also love spending time with my husband.

Are you aware that some people believe you are a very tough person to deal with?

Yes, some people think so.

How does that make you feel?

The people who are close to me know that I am the easiest person to deal with. I try to be very fair and I am not as selfish as most people so I tend to look out for people more. If you work with me, the first thing that comes to my mind is how to impact you with what I know so that you can also be a better person than I am. Most people that have worked with me think that I am hard because I don’t have much patience but once you get the rhythm you learn a lot from me because I would challenge you. The good thing about me is that as harsh as people think I am, I make room for people’s mistakes and I hardly ever sack people. You have to put yourself in a position to be sacked before it happens. In fact, most times they sack themselves. I have people who have worked with me for years and they have offended me but I let it go simply because I have found out that in life, everybody is learning. I am not a hard boss but I am a tough person to deal with if you are not committed to excellence. The good thing about me is that if you upset me, I would tell you immediately.

Some people have the mindset that you are a snub…

I have also heard that several times but I am not a snub and I don’t even know how to be one. Most times, I don’t recognise people so they misunderstand that aspect of me and think I snubbed them. I am not very good with faces and recognising people and a lot of people think I snub them. Also since they know me, they assume that I know them as well so when someone comes and introduces themselves to me about three times and I still don’t recollect the person’s face after a while at a different event, they think I snub them and sometimes it could be embarrassing. What I now do is that I inform them that I am sure we have met before but they should please remind me because I am very bad at remembering faces. Whenever I also meet people for the first time, I warn them that if we meet again they should endeavour to remind me because I am bad at recollecting faces. I am a very free person and when you get to know me, you would understand that I don’t know how to be snobbish.
How come you don’t feel shy to refer to yourself as an Ojuelegba girl?
There are some facts about your life that you cannot deny that they happened. I am a proof that irrespective of your background, you can make something out of your life. It shows that life is not only for people with a silver spoon. When I was growing up in Ojuelegba, it was a hip place, it is not what it looks like now. I don’t know why people are ashamed of having humble beginnings. That is who you are. You did not choose to be a part of the family, there must be a purpose for being born there. I would not be who I am if I grew up in some other place. Also, nowadays the hood is not hip; there is a global hit song dedicated to Ojuelegba. They now know it all over the world.
You got married at 50, weren’t you under any pressure by parents, family or the society?
But I find that the greatest challenge in life is going into an eternal plan without discovering who you really are and that is the challenge of getting people into getting married early in life. Most of the people who are being pushed to get married early are yet to discover themselves, they do not even know what they want in life, and they don’t know their vision, strengths or weaknesses. For me, I had always been an opinionated child, so I knew what I wanted so when my parents were putting pressure on me, all I told them was that I had heard them. I had always been very independent, so I made my own way. In life, if you know where you are going through, the path would be opened for you somehow.  I knew that I did not just want to marry for marriage sake, I wanted to discover myself and understand my purpose on earth; God could not have put me in this world with this high amount of intelligence only for me to just exist; what the Bible calls ‘begat and die’. I was not even available for them to mount pressure on me because I was too busy. An aunt could see me and talk about marriage but the next time she would see me again was probably after a year. Usually, you feel the pressure if you are not engaged in something. I would not say that I am the average Nigerian girl.

But did you not have suitors?

Men were too afraid to toast me.

Only a few Nigerian men are confident and it is not their fault. The way they are brought up, a lot of pressure is put on them because they are men. We live in a patriarchal society where the men are worshipped and they start feeling like a demi-god, so they don’t have enough patience for women who are different. They feel that since we don’t think and act like them, we ought to occupy a particular role. They don’t have enough confidence in themselves to think that they can marry an articulate, intelligent, opinionated and bold woman. Their sense of worth is derived from their ego and for them to live with a woman, she must be their subordinate. A woman can have more than the man but if he appreciates the lady as a human being and appreciates her person, he should be able to balance their life. A lot of men found me intimidating.
What made your husband different from the other suitors?
We still talk about it and he told me that he was attracted to me because of my intelligence which is what scares most men. He is probably more intelligent than I am; when we start arguing, I hardly win the case.
Why did you have a secret wedding?
I got married at 50, what is there to be loud about? Half of my life is gone, so what is there to be loud and noisy about? I don’t place emphasis on marriage like the average Nigerian person does. All the drama of marriage is not my main priority; instead I am thinking of how we can build a home together. The process of doing the marriage was just a ceremony. I have had weddings for my nephews and nieces and they were lavish but they are young and about to start their lives, so you can understand the euphoria. I have passed that euphoria, so what is the essence? I had some friends present at my wedding and that is what matters.
We learnt you are also a lover of old school music; so, what kind of parties do you attend?

The music of the 80s actually encapsulates the period in my life when I had no bother in the world and all I wanted to do was to enjoy my life. I was in the university but it was all about going to parties and enjoying myself, so it was fun. Also, the music played back then was not offensive, unlike the ones they play now. The music of the 80s was fun and lovely and even the few offensive ones were not as explicit as the songs they sing nowadays. You could relate with some of the music and those were the happiest times of my life. Anytime I listen to those songs, they bring back memories.


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