Oluwakemi Areola: Climbing Higher
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Oluwakemi Anne-Melody Areola is a woman of many parts; an Engineer, Public Relations Expert, a Tactical Social Development, Specialist and Business Support Advisor. Added to the mix, she also runs a modeling agency at the side and holds sway as CEO/ PR Consultant of Vivacity Public Relations.
The product of London Metropolitan University, UK and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), is the Special Assistant on ICT and Corporate Relations to the Minister of Youth and Sports Development. The widely-traveled Oluwakemi who turned 41 in February, marked the new age with her autobiography – 40 Going on 80.
In this interview, the well-driven author, talks about her work, life in government, her aspirations and more.
You hold many portfolios, how do you combine them all ?
It isn’t easy to combine them all; there are some days when it feels like my head is about to explode. What makes it easier for me is the fact that I don’t have family here in Nigeria. So, I have a lot of free time on my hands. I also have a to-do list that I work with so it’s easier for me to tick off tasks that I have completed. I also have an amazing group of people that work with me.
From which of these engagements do you derive greater fulfilment?
I love assisting people, so putting a smile on someone’s face is just it for me. Whenever I work on a project, I look to always put a smile on someone’s face. My underwear shop (Vivacious) as much as it is a business I try to have as much fun as I can when marketing. It is one thing I do that I can say I let my hair down, because in all the other projects I have to be a lot more serious. I enjoy helping young people change their lives on the Glocalize events. Watching them take nuggets from my story and after the events, when they come to me for advice, it just gives me all the fulfillment I need. One of the things I also do is, pay school fees for students, I get a lot of calls from their parents praying for me and thanking me, this just gives me the greatest joy.
What can you highlight as your biggest achievements as Special Adviser on New Media to the former Minister of Communications?
It was the setting up of social media for good governance, it happened once a year for a period of two years. What we did was to bring together social media handlers from every single MDAs in Nigeria including the state MDA’s, and taught them how to use social media effectively in governance. On the first day of each event, we sensitized the top level i.e. Governors, Ministers. On the second day, we brought in trainers to train the handlers on the best way to use social media in governance.
What is the most tricky part of being a special adviser to a Nigerian politician?
It is the fact that everybody thinks you are making a huge sum of money and they keep requesting. People also assume that I am always available and when you are not available, you come across as being rude and that too is not true. How many phone calls can I take in one day or how many whatsapp messages can I answer in one day? So, the money and time is really hard, but it is a labour of love and the reward comes from heaven.
How do you ensure that your research and recommendations do not end up as mere paper works?
Luckily for me, I work with a proactive minister, so most of the things that we work on, there is always a memo that goes to him both; hard and soft copy. And every memo has recommendations and next steps which he acts on, and advises the internal ministry accordingly.
Where things are not moving as fast as it should be moving, I will normally ensure that there is a reminder memo, that contains the same next steps that were proffered in the beginning, I will then proffer new or additional next steps; because, situations might probably have evolved like a change in national circumstances; anything might have altered the initial memo. But I have been lucky to have a very proactive minister. Every time you say or give something to him as long as he’s okay with it, it is going to fly.
How do you successfully brand a public officer who grossly under-performs?
I like the word under performs. I don’t think anybody is completely useless. Do a SWOT analysis of who you are working with, to understand them a lot better. Try to block all the leakages and any area of weakness, find how you can assist them in getting somebody that is strong in that aspect. So, it is good when you have somebody who even when he is under performing, he is still ready to listen.
But if you are faced with someone that is under performing and not ready to listen, focus on amplifying the good works. That way, the general public is still positioned to gain something from him. When he goes, they will still have one thing that can stand as a legacy for him.
You’ve just clocked 41; what has life taught you these past 41 years?
The biggest lesson life has taught me is to put God first over everything. I would be dead today without God. God is my source and every other person is a vessel He uses. If anything happens to those vessels, your source can never cease to exist. It doesn’t mean you need to be fanatical about it, it just means he needs to reside in your heart, and to be involved in everything you do.
You may make mistakes, you may take the wrong turn, but you will always get back on the right path because God is your source. Never make anybody your alpha and omega. Nobody is more significant or important than God and with God comes humility.
Briefly, tell us about your recently released auto-biography?
My book, 40 Going on 80 is a book I actually wrote this year, to reflect on what I have been through, what I am going through, and what I am going to go through. It was time to tell a little bit of my story and some of the things that shaped me.
I was born with a silver spoon and privileged for which I bless God. But my boss always says that we can only create opportunities and it is left for you to tap into them. I have seen an opportunity and I want to utilise it to the best of my ability, so that the universe can conspire to give me back as much as I deserve. So, I needed to tell people a little bit about my journey and my struggles.
Holding two portfolios with the erstwhile Minister of Communications and now, the Minister of Youths and Sports, didn’t happen because I am from Oyo or because a family member introduced me to the minister. It happened because I volunteered for an event, I was because of hard work
My book is more about telling my story, telling people that it is not luck, it is not beauty, it is not nepotism, it is none of these things that got me to where I am today. I just hope that my story inspires someone not to give up; because it is not about light being at the end of the tunnel, there is light inside that tunnel, you just need to find it. My book is about trying to help people find the light while they are inside the tunnel.
If you were to start all over again, what would you be doing differently?
I really wished I went to school more, I am still trying to get my Ph.D now. I would have loved to have five degrees; one in Psychology, one in Engineering, one in Mathematics, one in English Language and one in International Relations. I am someone that loves learning but now, I think I am a bit too tired, and too old to learn. I am going to finish that Ph.D by his grace but I wished I studied a lot more and got more accolades or certificates to my name when I was younger and be at a top position in the World Bank at the age of 23. That would have been fantastic.
I am not so sure about marriage; I would have preferred to be married when I was younger. I am too aware of myself now to settle for mediocre so to speak. When you are younger, you can so easily be blinded by love and even these faults you don’t see them.
When you are not working, what takes your time?
I love cooking, I love reading, I really love going to a spa for a massage, and being pampered. But the truth is that, I am literally always working because I do have other things that I do, my underwear store in Abuja, my Public Relations company and a lot of other things that I am involved in, that I volunteered for, even though sometimes, it doesn’t feel like work but it is work.
Who inspires you locally or internationally?
I have a few ladies that inspire me; Dr. Jumoke Oduwole. I admire her carriage, her poise, her charisma and for her knowledge. Michelle Obama inspires me because I like the way she is able to be a fine lady, well educated, and an amazing mother and wife. We don’t see her issues come up to the surface as much as we see of many other women in the limelight. She is always wearing a smile.
I also like the former Minister of Communications, Omobola Johnson. She is well spoken with good carriage
Can you describe your personal style?
l like to stand out but blend in. I’m not really a fan of exposing parts of my body even though I do wear a lot of mini skirts. I won’t expose the top region and I won’t be provocative or overly different. That, for me, is blending in. I also like the boss lady style. Sometimes, I prefer maculine clothes so I’m an eclectic mix of styles. I don’t like to drive a female car. I prefer masculine cars. But whatever it is, let it ooze class and let it be of quality. I love clothes and fashion. So my style is as fashionable as possible.
What is your most cherished fashion accessory? I don’t think I have any, but maybe a wrist watch and bracelet I got on my birthday last year from people I cherish. I don’t think I could ever throw away those accessories because I cherish the people who gave them to me.