Interviews

Arisekola Alao’s son, Umar Arisekola-Alao is the Oyo State Commissioner for Youth and Sports. In February this year, the young and vibrant commissioner spoke about his dad to Punch and how sweet growing up with him was. It’s an eye opener and the man who was loved by many adored his 45 children. Continue below…

 

How was growing up like?   

I was born in 1982 and I attended Methodist Primary School in Ibadan. I began secondary education at Government College, Ibadan, and completed it at Bodija International School, Ibadan. In 1997, I moved to the United Kingdom and enrolled at Irwin College, where I studied biomedical science. I obtained a second degree in accounting at St. George’s University, Grenada, West Indies.

I have lived life in different ways that allow me to relate with so many people in different situations. Being fortunate to have the kind of upbringing I had, I relate well with the rich and the poor based on my character. My experience when I was young in Nigeria was different from when I got to England because there I grew up to adulthood.

 How many siblings do you have and how do you relate with them?

It will take much time if I have to name them. There are 45 children in our house with different mothers but we do not regard any of the mothers as a step-mother. To the children, all the mothers are the same. We spent time with them regularly when we were young.

At home, the elder children take care of the younger ones so I learnt a lot from my siblings. When I returned home to invest in an oil and gas business, it was my brothers who helped me out. We have a good relationship in the family despite the large number. We have had misunderstandings in the past but they only made us stronger.

 How often do you see your father?

It is difficult to pin down my father because of his busy nature. Before I was born, he had been living the way he is now, so one cannot change him. He receives a lot of visitors each day as a religious leader and businessman. He helps so many people and they keep coming to him. So, it’s difficult to get his full attention.

 How did you come to terms with the situation?

It’s not about me alone but the family. It took us a while to understand why he lives like that and his mindset. But in all, I have always had a beautiful relationship with him. He is a fantastic mentor who finds joy in putting his children on the right path. He allows everyone to reason freely with his guidance but education is one thing he takes pride in. He gave us the best he could in Nigeria and abroad.

 What have you learnt from him?

My upbringing gives me the opportunity to understand a lot about humanity. I got to know that beyond all the certificates, service to humanity is the greatest way to achieve joy. We are all human beings and no matter what we do, the kind of names we coin for ourselves point to who we are.  I lived with a philosopher and a man of wisdom and the opportunity to watch him closely reflected on the way I perceive life today. My exposure in the course of studying abroad also helped my understanding. Part of his lesson to us is that when good things come our way, we should learn to thank God and share with others. When something unpleasant happens also, we should learn to run to God and find happiness in such a situation.

 Did your father influence the courses his children chose to study?

My father allows all his children to choose the path they want but he will advise on what one chooses because he has wide knowledge about life. Politics is one area he does not wish that any of his children should go into. He understands it very well having been around for a long time.

But things are changing now because someone like me has chosen to participate in politics. When I was in the Caribbean, I was involved in many charity works and poverty alleviation schemes. It built my passion to help others and move closer to people at the grass roots. My father understands that I have some skills in that area but he did not tell me to join any particular political party. It happened so quickly and my career in politics took off soon after my return to Nigeria. He realises also that I have an interest in being part of the people uplifting our generation and he respects me for that. I later met him and he gave his blessings to my desire.

 Considering the number of children in the family and the busy schedule of your father, how much time does he spend with his children?

Like I said, his life has been this way before we were born. The door to the house is always open to the public. We still see little of him but we get anything we want from him and not just money. He does not give preference to his children. We are treated like anyone who comes to the house for help.

 Did he ever beat you or any of his children?

When I was young, I entered his living room while he was in the other room and the phone rang. I picked it up and answered it. The person told me a name which I knew well so I called my dad and gave the phone to him. But the man told him he was someone else so he moved close to me and asked me again who was on the line, I repeated the wrong name the man told me. He was angry and he slapped me hard. It was the man’s fault but it also showed how intolerant my father is of mistakes.

 Were there events that brought the family together?

At night, after he had attended to all his visitors and shut the gate, we would all come together and eat from one pot. It was usually a large gathering and even our friends, who came on a visit, would join in the feast. Then during the month of Ramadan, he would sit with his children at a table to break each fast. The wives were not allowed to be part of the gathering.

 Aren’t there parts of his life that he shields from you?        

He has no secret. He shares his life experience with us whenever he has the opportunity to do so. We enter his room regularly, even with my friends. He has lived in the eyes of the public for so long so he can hardly hide anything about his belief, wives, children, business and other aspects of his life.

My dad has no time to take his children for shopping or to fun places especially in Nigeria. In those days when he wanted to go on holidays, he would buy flight tickets for everyone. We stayed in London most of the time so he could have time to visit great places with us. He spent quality time with us outside Nigeria but at home, we did not enjoy such opportunities.

 When was the first time he took you on such trips?

I can’t remember the year but I remember that there were more than 40 people who travelled with him to London, including my cousins. It was during the opening of our house in London. It was a memorable period for the children. We have travelled together each year since then.

 What surprises you about him?

I could not believe that my father could cook very well until one day in London when he was alone with my younger siblings. We just arrived in London a few days earlier so we were going out when he opted out. Some children also stayed back but by the time we returned later in the day, he had prepared pounded yam and some nice vegetable soup. His wives doubted him, thinking he bought it but he told them that his mother taught him everything in life, so cooking food was not something he could not do. He said as a Yoruba man, he knew how to take care of himself regardless of the situation he found himself. But in Nigeria, like I said, he has restrictions because of the little time he has to himself.

 Which food does he like most?

He is an Ibadan man, so like many of his kinsmen, he likes amala and bean soup (gbegiri) with ewedu. He can eat it in the morning, afternoon and night except when we force him to eat something else.

 How does he relate with his staff?

To him, they are like his children and friends of his children. We are of Muslim background and my father is an influential figure among Muslims in Yoruba land. He is the Aare Musulumi of Yoruba Land. But we have many Christians on the staff list. He has sponsored all the Muslims to Mecca and the Christians to Jerusalem. He does it every year.  His only cook for 40 years is a Christian named Simeon. He is the only one that cooks for him.

 How does he keep fit?

Let me tell you a story. He was walking in the garden one day when a young lady came in through the gate that was close to him. She greeted him and told him that she came to see Arisekola-Alao, my father. My father told her to go in and have her seat but she did not know that she had already seen the person she was looking for. About 30 minutes later, my father went to see her after changing his clothes. She was surprised to know that she was actually talking to my father 30 minutes earlier.

Many people expect to meet a big man with huge belly and flowing rob when they hear his name but they are often disappointed that the man they seek is one with lean figure and simple dress sense.

He does not jog or go to the gym but he is not idle. All he does is talk,  to people, solve problems daily and take a rest at a fixed time. He sits at 7am and goes in after 10pm. The routine suits his body and that is why he has maintained the figure. He does not see himself the way people see him.

 What does he do before going to bed at 10pm?

He does not sleep at 10pm but after 12am. When he retires to his room, he  prepares traditional herbs to drink after dinner. He is knowledgeable about traditional herbs. Then he reads the Holy Quran, prays and attends to mails, and a few other things before going to bed. One thing about him is that his mind is active always.

 Who among his children is he mentoring to take over from him?

I am not sure he has such a plan because he allows everyone to reason independently. He encourages us to be the best we can be.

 Who is his barber?

He shaves by himself. I learned that from him too, so I have no barber.

 What other traits have you imbibed from him?

From him, I have learnt that life is what you make of it. No matter who you are, be humble always. We are not flamboyant, we live modestly and we tolerate the next person. Accommodating people is a quality my father preaches always.

 Is there a burden you carry as the son of a billionaire?

We were raised like other children so unless I tell you who I am, my dressing, car or the way I live will not betray me. I carry no burden as a billionaire’s son. You don’t hear or read about us in the media and we try to maintain the good name of the family. This interview would not have taken place if I had not become a commissioner in the state. In fact, I thought of calling it off but I respect my words to people. I am fortunate to be what I am but I do not abuse the grace.

 Does your father keep relics of his past?

He does not have a space to keep that in his house. His first car was given out to someone and some other properties have been given out to people. When Datsun was in vogue, he was a dealer and I remember that he told us that he gave out many cars to people who did not have money to buy.

 Is the family bringing back Lister Oil?

It is a family business and I have other siblings who are in the oil and gas business. A decision can only be made when we all sit down and discuss it.

 

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