Shareefah Abiola Andu: Breaking New Grounds
Words By – Jemi Ekunkunbor
Like a moving train, Shareefah Abiola Andu seems unstoppable when it comes to taking on new business projects.
From pioneering the first Islamic shop, Arabel, in 2008, to publishing a daily devotional, Living in the light of Allah, to Zephyr, a lifestyle magazine, the product of the Lagos Business School is not resting on her oars.
Her latest adventure in business is venturing into the make-believe world of movie making. Her debut movie production, The Two Aishas premieres today in Lagos, beautifully ending the Ramadan fast. In this interview, the mother of three, who combines beauty, brawn and style, talks to Allure about her project, Islamic lifestyle and the just-ended Ramadan fast.
Ramadan officially ended a few days ago, how was the exercise?
Ramadan is always a blessing. It is that period every year that all Muslims eagerly anticipate and look forward to, because of the inherent many blessings. It is usually an intense period and this years was more intense for me because of my new project which is quite demanding, and the fact that, I still did not want to miss out on the spiritual activities. So, juggling both was grace. To the glory of God, it was a wonderful exercise and a very fulfilling one.
How was this years fast special for you?
This years fast was special in a number of ways. One, most people who witnessed Ramadan last year are no longer here with us, and some people who started this particular Ramadan with us could not complete it. Sadly, theyve gone; so, in a lot of ways, it is a period of immense gratitude for life and for additions. For me, this years Ramadan was very special because it afforded me the opportunity to pray more for the success of the project, which is a great privilege. You know, prayer is the bedrock of any project.
Nigeria has been most criticized as one of the most corrupt nations of the world yet very religious, what would you say the spiritual leaders (in your case the imams) are not doing right?
That is not a correct statement, that Nigeria is a most corrupt nation. There is corruption everywhere and even in those countries that people mostly think are infallible. In fact, some are even more corrupt than us, but you can say that, here, they are more brazen and crass. That said, we cannot put the blame of corruption totally on the footsteps of religious leaders, either Pastors or Imams, because they are also products of the society. If a society does not get its values right, no matter how religious people claim to be, the society will be corrupt, and that is what you see here. So, corruption is a systemic dysfunction and not religious based.
You are one entrepreneur who keeps looking for new pies to dig your hands in. How has the business journey been?
It has been a jolly good ride, with its curves and turns, and naturally in any business one undertakes, there are bound to be good times and bad times. The important thing though, is to always keep going, to keep innovating, to keep learning and to always looking out for opportunities. As an entrepreneur, you dont have inertia; every situation provides opportunities, you only have to be alert. When I see opportunities, I dont shy away from taking a leap. I dont fear failure, not that Im hoping to fail, but I dont allow the thoughts of fear to hold me back. I do my research, pray and give it my best shot.
You recently decided to veer into movie making, closing Ramadan with your debut film, The Two Aishas. Whats the inspiration behind it?
Like I said, I am always looking for opportunities, and to be successful as an entrepreneur, whatever venture you veer into, you must be able to provide a solution and fill the vacuum where there is a lack. One of such is my motivation for going into the production of faith-based films because of the dearth in that field. I look around and there are not many, even searches on the popular VOD platforms, such as Netflix or Amazon will come scanty. So, I see huge opportunities for growth and that is the motivation.
The film, The Two Aishas, the first by our company, Arabel Productions Ltd, a sister company to Arabel Exclusive Islamic Materials Ltd.; is curated to celebrate Eid-el-Fitr and provide further enjoyment for the holiday. It is rated Family; children can go and watch as well, so, no one is left out of the cinema experience. It is a film that you want to go as a family or group to watch.
Most of what you do is always tied to your faith; what is The Two Aishas about?
The Two Aishas is a film about two friends who grew up together and share the same faith, but somehow, in their adulthhood, an incident happened that threatened this friendship and shook their faith. So, in essence, the moral of the story is that no matter how strongly united we may think we are, issues of power and ambition can shake the solid foundations we may think we have. At such moments, the spiritual lessons of forgiveness, love, tolerance and empathy will be the only recourse we have to get back to the peaceful state we desire to be. It is a film full of suspense because you dont know what comes next.
As your first attempt at movie making, what would you consider the most challenging for you?
The challenges are not significantly different from what youd encounter in any sphere of business. You just have to understand human limitations and learn how to make the best of every situation. A major mantra of mine is never to expect so much from people or situations, in that case, you are never disappointed and you will be able to keep your sanity and enjoy every moment. So, the answer is, I have enjoyed this experience and gained more friends and family.
What did you enjoy the most?
It is unbelievable how talented our youths are. You have an idea that they are talented, right? But you dont really know until you get into their space. Their creativity is awesome and their vibrancy is infectious. So, for me, I enjoy learning new things and this, I got a lot of, from the amazing cast and crew that worked on this project. Watching the lead characters of Rahama Sadau, Maryam Booth, Akeem Ogara and Paul Utomi interpreting their roles so well, takes after takes and still in good spirit at the end of the day is amazing. Then, starting all over the following day, got a lot of respect from me. I guess thats their profession and what they do best. Then also, watching how dedicatedly the crew led by Iyke Okechukwu, the Director do their job was amazing. It was a good experience all through.
In choosing the cast for the movie, what did you look out for?
The choice was very deliberate because it is important to have actors who would interprete the roles and deliver perfectly. There was a strong desire on our part for inclusiveness and collaboration between the North and the South, and we were successful in bringing top Kannywood actors into the project. It was also important for us to discover new talents and give people who have talent but no opportunity to showcase their talent. So, the cast is a mixture of known and veteran actors and some new faces.
Is this a one-off thing or something you are going to sustain?
By the grace of God, it is something to sustain. Not a one-shot. You dont do a project on this scale and leave it as a one-time wonder. There are plans for continuity and we are in this for the long haul by the grace of God.
Now that you’ve achieved this feat, is there something in your arsenal youd want to release soon?
We are currently on the drawing board for the next big one and a Series to follow by the grace of God. There are so many stories to tell and we are really excited.
The Two Aishas premieres today. What do you look forward to and what should movie lovers expect?
The theme of todays premiere is Arabian, Glitz & Glamour so people should expect nothing but elegance at the event. From the film which goes to the Cinemas nationwide from tomorrow, movie lovers should expect glamour, suspense and a lot of lessons. The film is rated Family so it is a film for everyone so that children will not be left out of the experience.
When you are not working, how do you unwind?
I read or watch movies.
What beauty routine do you keep?
The very basic. As long as you wash your hand, your face and body as often as possible, you will naturally have a good skin. You can never go wrong with washing.
What wont you do in the name of fashion?
You will never catch me wearing revealing or tight clothing, or catch me with my hair uncovered.
If you were to subscribe to any cosmetic procedure for beautys sake, what would it be?
Probably none. I once did ombre eyebrow which was botched, yes, botched! I was left with two different shapes and on different levels – one up, one down, and from a reputable studio. (laughs). I got it removed of course, which was a long, and unnecessarily needed process. So, for me, no to cosmetic procedure, even if it is claimed to be non-invasive.