Lagos celebrity woman, Alhaja Taibat Elemosho Okesanjo needs little. She has been rocking Lagos social scene for over 33 years and still counting. Only those who are new on Lagos social scene don’t know who Montai is.
The pretty woman who runs a luxury shoe shop in Ikeja called “Montai” lost her mother-in-law few days ago and a grand burial was held in her honour. City People Assistant Society Editor, ABIOLA ORISILE had an exclusive interview with her where she spoke about her marriage, her business and how she got her name “Alhaja Tai” from K1.
How would you describe Mama, your mother-in-law?
Alhaja Kuburat, my mother-in-law was a rare gem. I used to call her my “Iyawo” (junior wife) and she calls me “Iyale” (senior wife). This is because my husband is her first child and they were very close. From age 22 that I started dating my husband, we used to call each other “Iyale and Iyawo”. She will only call me Tai when we wants to fight with me . And the first day she saw me, she took to me instanly. I just graduated when I met my husband. Then my husband was living abroad. He was living in Chicago then.
For how long did you date considering that he was not always in the country?
Well, we dated for years. We were together for 4-5 years before we decided to tie the knot. Yes, he was abroad but that was not an issue for us. The key of his house was always with me and we were always talking. My mother-in-law will call me, have you cleaned the house?. We will always go to parties together. Though we fight, but she likes me just like I love her too.
You know, when you have a mother-in-law who loves all her children, you must be married to her too. Mama lived a good life. She was not just my mother-in-law, she was my mum. She loves fashion just like me so we would wear our sunshades and dress to go to parties when she was also younger.
What are fond memories of her that you can never forget?
Like I said, Mama was a fashion pro, so we had lots of things in common. As a daughter in-law, you don’t have a choice but to love her. Mama also played a major role in my marriage. She will always sing my praises to anybody she comes across.
Daughter-in-laws pray not to have mother-in-laws but you seem to love yours, what role would you say she played in your marriage?
I want youth who are daughters-in-law to know that they will also be a mother. Praying for the death of your mother-in-law is not a good idea. If you have a son, you know that what it implies is that you will also be a mother-in-law and you won’t like it if your son’s wife prays for your death. I was always with my mother-in-law because she loves my husband.
I remember when I was much younger, and I and my husband would fight, I will start packing my load, Alhaja will come around and start carrying my load inside. She will beg me to stay with my husband. You know how it is with youthful exuberance. I can never forget one day, many years ago, I was packing my stuff in my box and my Alhaja will throw them back on the bed. We started weeping together and that was Mama for you. Mama was a mother, that was one of the many reasons why I adore her like my mum.
We pray for her soul. She lived a good life and died at 83 years after a brief illness.
How did you get the flair for business even as you graduated from UNILAG?
I was born in Lagos. My parents have been in Lagos since they were in their formative years. My mother-in-law was a top business woman while my parents were also business people. My parents are from Kwara State but they have spent over 50 years of their lives in Lagos. I grew into a business family. Though I worked briefly before I decided to go into business.
What has sustained your marriage?
A lot of patience. Don’t also forget that I married my husband when I was doing my youth service. I had nothing, so there is no shakara I can do. There is nothing my husband doesn’t know about me. I started going to parties in front of him. He knows everything about me.
You know when you marry somebody in your 20s, I grew up in his hands. We grew up together. He was 30 and I was 22 when we married. He was already a socialite then and he was doing well for himself. He is my friend so it makes things easy.
You are very popular as one of Lagos luxury shoe seller. Everybody knows Montai, how long have you been selling shoes?
I have been selling shoes in Lagos for 18 years. When I left the bank in the 80s, I set up a boutique at Apapa road. I was selling many things. We also had a sailor then. Then I started doing contracts. My husband was in Ikeja and our family house was in Ebute-Metta. So, because my husband was living in Ikeja, it was not easy going to Ebute Metta on a daily basis to do business. So in 1999, I opened Montai at Toyin Street, 18 years ago, just to be close to my home.
Montai has been a household name now within the rich who know what your brand of shoes are, how did you build the brand to an enviable height?
When I started, it was not because of money but my love for shoes that made me go into it. I remember when I was in UNILAG, everybody knew me in all the hostels. This is because whenever I cleaned my shoes outside my room, they were so much that I would line them up from one end of the corridor to the other. Even as a UNILAG babe, when I go abroad, I would buy lots of shoes. So that was why even when I was doing well in contract, I still wanted a place where I can sell what I like most which
So that was why even when I was doing well in contract, I still wanted a place where I can sell what I like most which is shoes and I wanted to sell top brands. When I started, first ladies came from all over the country to patronise us. They will sit down and look through all our shes. The place was not rowdy, and it was a very conducive environment. You know when the place is rowdy they will send their orderlies to purchase the shoes. But with me, they will come down themselves. This happens till date as our clients our A-List celebs, want to come around to enjoy the coolness of our shop.
So I wanted a top brand and I got it. Even in far away from Italy, Montai as becoming a reference point. I thank God for this since 1999 that I started, I opened my shop with top brands of shoes and we have not stopped.
You are known for limited edition Italian shoes
Yes, even in Italy, the top Italian designers ask Nigerians that do you know Montai, she is our client. They tell any shoe seller that I am their number one brand icon. I don’t mix shoes. They are all Italian. If anything happens to your shoe, we have customer service, it is from manufacturer. We return it back and they either repair or replace. This is becuase you are buying from an authorised dealer.
That has brought me to where I am today. I know some people who bought shoes from me when I started and they are still wearing it today. They keep making jest of me that they will not throw it away.
Who are your parents?
My father is Alhaji Suleiman Elemosho and my mum is Alhaja Elemosho. They are my priceless jewel. If you know me, you must know my parents. This is because of how passionate about my parents . They were there at the burial and I pray that they live long to reap the fruits of their labour.
How did you get your name “Alhaja Tai, Alhaja Tai that K1 used to praise you with?
Alhaja Tai started a long time ago when I was 19 or 20. I went to a party and I wasn’t a K1 fan then. Then he saw me and he stopped the music, he said whoever can guess who he is going to call now, he will give the person, 5,000 naira. You know the worth of 5k then talking about 30 years ago. I was also guessing who he was going to call.
Everybody was guessing as normal Lagos babes. After 10 minutes, he said we didn’t get it right and he started Alhaja Tai, Alhaja Tai. Imagine the attention that was focused on me, I almost ran under the table. So people were looking at me and were like who is this babe. And ever since then, that has been my ‘alias’ with musicians.
You are going to be 50 in December, but you look 30, what is the secret?
To the glory of God, I do everything in moderation. I am an easy going person despite being a socialites. I have been in town for over 30 years. When I was 17 years I had my birthday with a musician. When I was 19, Adeolusayo played at my birthday and many top shots were present at the party. The likes of Sir Shina Peters and others. So there is nothing anybody will do now that I have not done. I have lived a good life and I return the glory to God.
How do you intend to celebrate your 50th birthday?
I don’t know yet, but I will surely thank God for my life. I will also continue to pray. I am known to usually throw really big parties.
Who are your friends?
Like I told you, I have been around for years so I have made lots of friends. I have my friends from many areas of life.
Your love for jewelry?
That started many years ago. I love jewelery so much.