The Intimate Story Of Princess ABIOLA DOSUNMU @ 70
What She Told City People
She has a larger than life image on the Lagos Social Scene. Since 1974, when she became the Erelu of Lagos, her image had loomed large on the horizon and she had lived a high profile lifestyle which had put her in public life for the past 4 decades. The big news is that Princess Abiola Dosunmu will be 70 in a few months time and she is not slowing down. It will shock many to hear that Erelu Abiola Dosumu will be 70 soon because it does not show on her. She still looks refreshing young, with a glowing natural ebony complexion that is the envy of a lot of other women.
She has also managed to retain her stylish side which had seen her in the late 70s and early 80s, opening high profile shops, on Marina in Lagos and New Bond Street in London. where she sold Aso Oke of various designs. She has also been known as the lady in white because she has stuck to wearing only white for over 25 years.
How has Erelu Abiola Dosunmu been able to sustain her lifestyle? How has she been able to continue to stay relevant in the scheme of things she was asked not too long ago when City People visited her lovely Lagos home. She lives in the Penthouse of her 7 floor highrise in Victoria Island, Lagos, she built years back. Her house has an elevator that takes the visitor right up to her floor.
The building, houses her office, lounge, gallery of artworks and paintings and has a garden of flowers and shrubs on the 7th floor, from where you can see the Ariel view of Victoria Island, as her house towers above several buildings around.
In that sprawling Penthouse, Erelu has created her own world and when she feels like, she can shut herself out of the hustle and bustle of Lagos and not come out of her house for weeks on end. She has created her own world there.
How has Erelu been able to sustain her larger than life image over the last 40 years, she was asked. How has she been able to survive all the odds that have consumed many of her contemporaries?
“I don’t know,” She explains. “I have never given this sorts of thing a thought, at all because whatever I do is just like a normal day to day living. Nothing extra-ordinary. I do what I have to do, but I guess what I have to do, I do, and I do it on time. I do it with total commitment and concentration. I am constantly seeking for excellence in whatever I do. I can’t see what in extra ordinary in the kind of life I live.
How has the been able to dominate the social scene, fashion, culture and so many areas for decades? “I think it has to do with upbringing predominantly. Of course if your upbringing made a strong lasting impression on you, then it becomes you mantra. It becomes your doctrine of life”.
“Maybe if you now try to do things properly in an equitable manner, and in the right way. Perhaps what it means is that if proves that at the end of the day what is good will always triumph over what is wrong”.
“Because if you have had a positive, proper upbringing that has made a very strong impression on you, maybe that is what has made your life sustainable and continuous and then the onlooker will now perhaps think you are doing something extra ordinary to be there. I think it is just doing what is right and being true to the proper doctrine that you have been brought up in” How has she been able to dominate the social and fashion scene for the past 3 decades and you are still up and standing? (Smiles) “You are right one has been lucky to have been part of the move to have a better environment. We started the beautification of Lagos during late Gov. Otedola’s time. For me trying to add value to my environment has always been foremost on my heart, maybe because of the way I grew up. I grew up seeing my grandmother, seeing her adding value to people’s life, giving alms, feeding people just being helpful”.
All I understand is that this is what she was doing and for me that should be the way of life. I guess when you are kind to people, unknowingly you are also building a treasure, stock somewhere, that one day or the other, will always come in useful. It makes your life sustainable. What keeps me going is my share desire to help and support people, to achieve, to excel, in a positive way. I am not saying its easy. I have gone through a lot in Life. But because of the king of upbringing that I have, for me, an unfortunate situation is not the end of the world. It is just one of the experiences you have to go through and you strive your best to get out off it, trusting in your God and the support and the Grace of God, and your own share determination not to go under. If I have lost on one end, I should not kill myself and lose on the other end”.
All I do is to count my losses and more on, and hope for a better opportunity and a better day. I think generally human beings should be positive about life. Life should not be a dooms day story, that once you, have a hurdle to scale that is it. No. We should not look at it from the point of view of its either you sink or you go and retaliate. How do you live life like that? How do you then have a sustainable life? Life is live and let leave. That is one of my doctrines. I am not going to push you off your seat. You have a right to sit on it just as much as I do. And frankly, you cannot continue to peep over the shoulders of other people, see what they are doing and think you can use it to achieve.
That is not possible, because you don’t have the whole story. The challenge for all of us is how do we make Nigeria great if we don’t build up industries, provide food for the people land amenities, people need. How?
“This is not the Lagos I grew up in. When I was growing up in Lagos, you could go to the market, to buy let us say okro and the seller is not there. But she leaves behind the actual amount of the okro. She will put it there. This portion is for N5 or N10 or N200. This is for N500. This is for N500”.
“And you will take what you want to buy and leave the exact money on the table right there without anybody watching over you. And by the time she gets back she will find her money. Nobody will take her money. I am a living witness to this happening. If your car breaks down on the road, within seconds you will see about 5 to 6 people come to your aid. It is not a myth, it is reality. Go and ask people of my age in Lagos. I mean people who lived in Lagos, not those who came from anywhere. Those who grew up with us. That was my Lagos.”
So what went wrong? How did we get into this mess? “What went wrong is that some people came into Lagos is not bother to imbibe the culture they found in Lagos. And since they were in the majority, all that beautiful culture just fizzled out, which is a pity. But I believe we can go back to being like that. Downs somewhere in our sub-consciousness that value for good is still there. We just need to bring it out. I can tell you it didn’t leave me. And I think it has helped me to be what I am. What it means is that you just have to train your children well. You have to impact on them positively in such a way that no matter how difficult it becomes or the different influences they have in life, that inbuilt goodness will always come to the fore to rescue them. We have to start bringing up children with values, conscience, fear of God”.
Not many people know that Princess Abiola Dosunmu grew up in Kano before she later came back to Lagos, the land of her birth.
She was asked what growing up was for her. “Growing for me was beautiful”, she explained. “Growing up for me was predominantly in Lagos. My father used to work for Bank of West Africa which is now First Bank in those days they get transfer to different places. So from when I was a baby to when I was about 7 years old, we lived in Kano”.
“It was such a beautiful upbringing. Living in Kano was such a beautiful experience. It was such a very close knit family I had so much fun. From when I was about 2 years old, I lived with my grandmother. How did that happen?”
“My grandmother came to our house one day and I just followed her home. I lived with her in Kano. She is my mothers mother. She was in Kano too at the time we were there and she was in business.
She used to bring to Lagos all the food from the North. I was the only child that lived with a strong imposing women like that. She liked me and gave me whatever I wanted to eat. I could do whatever I wanted to do. All I had to say what I want and that is it. I was the apple of her eye.
“My father whenever he was coming back from work, when I am with my grandmother, before he going home he will pass through my grandmas place and bring me a delicacy called Ovaltine Biscuit and of course I will be the envy of all the other children”.
“I have beautiful re-collection of my childhood. At weekends we would go to the French Club in Kano to swim. There was the old city and there was the new place the elites lived where those who worked for the banks lived”.
“We had a lot of exposure to the children of the expatriates. My upbringing at that point was more like not living in Nigeria and living in the environment of foreigners”.
“All these changed when I left for Lagos. We had this culture in the family by the time you are 5 or 6 my father will send you to school in Lagos. When I came to Lagos, I was not with my parents any more. I was also not with my grandmother anymore where I had this protective live. I lived with my Uncle. When I first came back there was the culture shock, because I had to go and live with my Uncle living in Isale-Eko. I stayed with him for 6 months. I was not the lone star anymore because of the communal nature of the set-up.
You had other children and everybody got treated the same way. Most of the time I was crying and they will ignore me and say oh well, when she is hungry, she will eat.
We had a communal tap where people went to fetch water. When I complained to my father he ran the tap into the house and that made everybody to come to our house. How house became a kind of Mecca. In a way to that was fun. My Uncle I lived with was working with ECN which later became NEPA. We had constant light. The fact that out house had a lot of facilities conferred some privileges on us. People will come and give you gifts. And we had people in the neighbourdhood who were ready to defend us wherever you had problems with other people”.
“After 6 months I went to stay with my Aunt at Idioluwo Domestic Centre. She was the Principal of the Centre. It was a day centre where ladies come to be trained to be ladies. They do a lot of domestic science and we had a few of them who came from different parts of the country and they chose to stay with us.”
“I have had hard moments and difficult moment but when the positive sides are more you tend to remember that. That was the period I was becoming an adolescent. So I had to learn to trust other women who are not your biological mothers. That in a way helped me to open up to be able to interact with other people and to relate with people other than my immediate nuclear family”.
“That experience helped me to be outgoing and to be very very independent. I grew up in the midst of strong woman who shaped my life. I grew up with one, my grandmother and then my Aunt in all those formative years. I grew up around very strong successful woman so for me growing up was like there is nothing a woman cannot do”.
“A woman can also be on her own without a man standing there, thought they had good relationship with their husbands but because of work their husbands were frequently away and you were able to see the woman in charge. That was my upbringing. That was my upbringing so from my very early years I had strong woman around me. My mum to was very strong. She was a nurse. She was a teacher. She had 3 daughters growing up at that time”.
“She used to make beautiful clothes for us. My mother was very artistic and hardworking and quite imaginative. So you can see how I was surrounded by successful woman and that I think also emboldened me when my first husband died within 3 years of marriage. I was not afraid to be on my own. I didn’t fall into pieces. I just wanted to pick up and go.
Fortunately my father was in First Bank and the MD at that point in time when he first came to Nigeria, he was under the tutelage of my father. By the time he became MD he was friends to myself and my late husband, he was a strong member of the family.
So of course when I decided that I wanted to go into business, he was very quick to give me money and loan from the bank to get going. That was much later.
“When I was growing up, there was no question of what you wanted to be at that time. You had to choose from the traditional profession. In my cases I wanted to be a Lawyer. I like to talk. I just loved that profession. But at college it became difficult because I was also very good in Science, Maths, Physics and Chemistry.
But I still wanted my Law. I wanted Law but my teachers wanted me in Science, Physics, Chemistry and Maths were my best subject. I attended St. Theresa’s College in Ibadan. I opted for my Law and I got admission into UNILAG to study Law. Then the war came and my fiancee father came and prostrated for my father that they should let us get married that the man may die in the war and that nothing will stop my schooling or my dream of becoming a Lawyer.
Of course I got married and then continued. After my higher school, I had to wait a whole year before I got into University. So I went to work in the Ministry of Justice under Dr. Elias.
I later ended up becoming a business”.