MKO WAS VERY ROMANTIC â€“ BISI ABIOLA
The story of her love life with the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, a man who had a charming and engaging personality, runs like a line in the Celine Dion song, which featured as the sound track of the movie, Titanic, 'My heart will go on'
Painfully as the song suggests, Dr Bisi Abiola has carried on with life, doggedly building a business. But make no mistake about this, her heart is still sore, 12 years after MKO died in his quest to actualize the mandate handed to him by Nigerians on June 12, 1993, in the fairest and freest election ever held in the country.
Her pretty face, which caught MKO's attention, is still smooth and almost wrinkle-free, with no evidence of her 50-plus years, a clear pointer that she takes to heart the keep fit advice her company, Indulge Group, dishes out to customers.
The delectable lady was born in Ibadan, where she was raised with her siblings and had her secondary school education.
After her post primary education in Ibadan, she proceeded to Scotland for her advanced levels GCE and subsequently got a degree in Political Science from Aberdeen University. Then she moved to Oxford University for a Master's degree in Literature. A doctorate degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics beautifully put the icing on the cake of her academic endeavour. Somehow her combination of intelligence and beauty caused her path to cross with that of MKO, who easily was one Nigeria's most compassionate business builders, the true president the country never had.
In this interview, she speaks about her life with MKO, her business and why she is not eager to remarry. Excerpts…
I am passionate about healthy living
I came back to this country in 1991 and worked with UAC and later Unilever, altogether for about 13 years in the marketing division. I handled so many roles before I left to establish Indulge Nigeria. I am passionate about healthy living, and that is basically what I do. I am a consultant on international relations, which I do part time. I love to exercise.
I love feeling good rather than looking good because when you feel good, you look good. And then, I'm a very, very natural person. I don't like weavons; I don't weave my hair, and I don't wear attachments. I don't wear extension nails. I don't put on foundation on my face. I love to be free. I watch what I eat. I do exercises. I don't like parties too much. But I go to weddings if I'm invited. Otherwise, I love my free time and I love to be on my own most times. I love relaxation. I'm not a perfume person. But I have a perfume brand called Indulge. If I don't wear Indulge, rather I wear Riddle perfume. I think I am basically a very simple person.
What's Wellness Concept all about ?
Wellness Concept is actually designed to make Nigerians know that it is very, very important to live a healthy lifestyle. And we talk about healthy living, which is about how to keep the body, mind and soul healthy. We talk about the body, about how to eat healthily and how to exercise. And when we're talking about the mind, we're talking about doing away with stress, doing things that would keep you comfortable inside. We talk about the need to have a sense of forgiveness, have self-esteem, confidence. We also talk about self-determination. Sometimes, you may look good, have no symptoms or anything but you may still not be healthy. So, we're trying to draw peoples' attention to what they need to do so they can be healthy.
For how long were you married to Chief M.K.O Abiola before his demise?
For some reason which I think should be obvious, I prefer to keep my pain private. I rarely talk about it publicly. I don't mention it.
Please pardon my curiosity…
I wouldn't say how many years. I think it was in October 1991. It wasn't a long time at all.
People say that rich men are not so particular about romance. So how romantic was MKO?
Absolutely very romantic to the core! Really, very, very romantic, you'd be shocked. In fact, he was very romantic.
Are you not thinking of remarrying?
People have asked me that question several times. Maybe it's not really meant to be. Maybe it's still going to happen, I don't know. But for now it hasn't happened and I'm not dwelling on it too much because… em I just don't dwell on it anyway. And maybe because I really don't go out much and I don't really give people the chance.
Don't you miss companionship?
It's not to say I don't miss companionship. I miss talking with somebody, someone to take the headache off my head, not financially really. But genuine interest, genuine care, compassion for me, I miss that a lot. People want to take advantage of you. It is not that I am scared of marriage, and because of that pulled myself away. I guess I'm still looking for the genuineness in a man. Somebody who will truly take care of me, but not financially, and I must stress that. Maybe, I haven't gotten it yet.
And let me tell you this, unless God chooses for you, then its difficult. But if God says it will happen, it will happen. I'm waiting. But if God says no, then it's not going to happen. I'm not going to loose any sleep over it because I believe God will take care of me, anyway. And He's already doing so and he's going to continue doing it.
How has it been, weathering the storm without the late Pillar of Sports in Africa?
It has taken hard work, doggedness, passion, focus and confidence in God.
And why do you think men love natural women?
First and foremost, men would prefer seeing their women in the most natural state – no wig, no false nails or false eyelashes, thick pancake, at least to prevent 'shock' of seeing your woman without the add-ons. More so, it is not romantic for a man running his fingers through attachment sewn to the scalp (the fingers getting stuck now and again), or trying to kiss her eyelashes and they fall off. Women should be well groomed, paying attention to the neck, hands, hair, nails (short manicured nails), fresh skin that breathes without thick foundation. That should be the goal of every woman.
Why is it difficult for women to take care of themselves?
You know we're always at the end of the stick, we do so much. We're jugglers of many roles. And at the end of the day, we don't take care of ourselves. We take care of the children; we take care of the husband and the extended family. But we never really have time to sit back and take care of ourselves and enjoy ourselves. Basically, what I'm saying here is that women should know that it is very important to take care of themselves healthwise, physically, mentally and otherwise.
What this means is that the woman must know her body; she needs to do necessary health checks, and be aware of symptoms. When you're tired, don't ignore the warning your body is giving you - take a rest and care for yourself. You need to eat well, reduce your weight if you're overweight. It means doing all necessary medical tests when you're over 30 years. You need to be in tune with your body because it's only when you're healthy as a woman would you have the energy to take care of the family.
When we started the wellness campaign, we felt that we had to do things in a logical manner. Instead of opening gyms, we felt that we had to first tell people why they should to go to gyms. We started this thing in 2002 when people were not really into exercising. We began by disseminating information, telling people why they should exercise - the reasons and benefits, explaining the effect of not exercising on a person's health.
We began publishing a magazine and also came out with books. Over the years people have become more informed, and that's why you now find gyms springing up and a large number of people now regularly go to gyms. People now know they have to exercise, jog and swim. This is the in-thing now. We still have the publication segment.
Having created awareness, however, we felt it was time to move on to another category within our broad health and fitness programme, so we set up a gym. We also went into production of appropriate exercise clothing and sportswear such as T-shirts, jerseys, jogging pants, shoes and swimsuits. We even introduced perfumes that would actually make you smell better after exercising.
Then we moved to the next level by deciding to give people something that they can actually eat on the go. We discovered that Nigerians like sweet tongues. So we said, why don't we give them something healthy and sweet that can till be part of their healthy die? So, we came up with healthy fruitcake. The fruitcake is actually sugar free. It has lots of fruits in it and that's what makes it sweet. It has natural sweetness with honey. We have two variants. We have the carrot and the coconut. The healthy snack is the only product we have in the food category right now, which people can eat on the go. You can have it in place of breakfast because it's like a cereal, but without milk. It's very healthy.
We do wellness seminars and try to tell people how to live a healthy lifestyle. We've arranged a lot of fun walks and runs. And of course the wellness awards whereby we reward people, institutions and organizations that have been very consistent in promoting wellness in Africa. Basically, that's what we do now.
Are you afraid of aging like most people?
I don't know why people are scared of getting old. In fact, it is when you've taken care of the children, they've all married and you've done your bit for them that's when you can actually enjoy yourself. So, don't feel like, ah, I look like this; you worry about grey hair and wrinkles, no. It shouldn't be. The most important thing is health and energy. And of course, you have to maintain your weight. Menopause is no big deal at all.
It's when you get to 50 that you should actually start to live life and to enjoy it. To me, life begins at 50, it's not 40 anymore. So, you shouldn't be scared. Age gracefully, enjoy your life, be at peace with God, help whoever you want to help, feel good and travel round the world, enjoy yourself. You shouldn't be afraid of getting old. Yes, you've had your days as a youth, leave it to the youths.
Even now, when people are over 30, they say ah, I'm getting old. It shouldn't be. The most important thing is being yourself, be natural and you'll look breathtaking. Wearing too much attachment even makes you look old. I believe most men would prefer that women don't wear all these heavy artificial stuff.
Are you also involved in the development and empowerment of women? And if so, how do you go about it?
In my world view, empowering women is not about giving them money. It is about telling them how they can perform better. If you have a business or you're a widow (because I'm a widow) you don't have to live on handouts. You can start set up a business or any other income-generating activity.
So in essence, we try to empower them mentally, physically and financially too. Basically, we teach them to how to fish. I enlighten them on what they are doing and give them confidence. I provide emotional support through advice and lift them up when they're down. For female children particularly, we sponsored female soccer some years ago.