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Saturday, 8 December 2018

I LOVE THE ART OF MAKING MONEY AND SPENDING IT

- Chief Mrs. Zhikrah Afolake Akanbi, CEO of Libragold Group


Chief (Mrs) Afolake Akanbi, is the CEO of Libragold Group, a leading Travel and tourism Company. An ex-banker with over two decades in active business, she has been able to carve a niche for herself in her industry especially the Muslim Pilgrimage operations, Flight charter and Cargo operations. Happily married to Senator Adesoji Akanbi, and blessed with three young men, it’s the month of her birthday, which she celebrates yearly with prayers and light refreshments with the less privileged and visits to homes. She spoke with Paul Ukpabio.

How do you feel having just crossed the golden age?

It’s a great feeling to be in your 50s and not feeling the age.

Do you feel fulfilled? Has life been good to you, and what else would you want from life?

Oh yes, I felt fulfilled right from age 40. I have had this feeling of fulfillment because I have been able to achieve my set goals at every point in my life. Hence, from the age of 40, I set a 5 years goal for myself, and to the glory of God, all has been fulfilled as planned and directed. I have trained myself to enjoy inner peace irrespective of the situation or whatever, and that to me is the best gift of life.

Let’s look back, while growing up, did you envisage that one day you would be a successful business woman and married to a politician who is entrenched with the Masses?

Actually, my growing up exposed me to business: I grew up spending my holidays in my dad’s office and helping out with the business of the day. Both my Mum and Dad were in same business, more like a family business, so it was natural that we got involved, which I personally did. I love the art of making money and spending money too. I started business as a young girl in secondary school and the interest grew as I grew older. Each time we traveled abroad on holidays, I would always borrow money from my Dad to purchase gift items to sell back in school. Though, I always pay daddy back with a premium. I think that was a training I valued so much. Nothing goes for free.


I am used to living in the midst of crowd having grown up in a large family. I was also trained to give back to society. My mum engaged us in lots of humanitarian works, so getting married to my husband who went into politics at a relatively young age and growing with him in politics and philanthropy, just came to me naturally.

As a child, what were your dreams? Who did you hope to be like in the future?

As a young girl, my dream was to be a successful business woman, a good home maker and housewife who would devote her time to her family. That was what I wished for and that’s what I got as I grew older. In future, I hope to retire having an orphanage taking care of less privilege toddlers, or probably a grooming or finishing institution.

Who influenced you most, your dad or your mom?

I would say both of them influenced me in peculiar ways to be who I am today. 

What steered you into business? Your specialty in the travels and tourism industry, is the Muslim pilgrimage, a terrain that people used to think is reserved for men?

Like I mentioned earlier, I love the art of making and spending money, so Business came to me naturally as a venture. I have a number of businesses, but my main line of business is travels and tourism and that’s Libragold Travels and Tours Ltd. This is a Company I started in 1996 and still in operation. Contrary to people’s opinion that anything Islamic is exclusive to men, the Muslim pilgrimage vis Umràh and Hajj, is a hospitality business, and women are excellent in hospitality. I am one of the women tour operators who pioneered the industry and I thank God that we are still in operation and waxing stronger. Quite a number of women have joined the industry and I embrace all with open arms.

I have pioneered a number of additional services for the Muslim pilgrimage and in fact, I am currently working on an exhibition to promote tourism in Saudi Arabia. However, the spiritual aspect of the process, is handled by learned scholars who are majorly men, and in fact, that’s changing now, because we now have women scholars who are grounded in the rudiments of the Umràh and Hajj rites, and who can lead our women in performing their spiritual rites.


Did you work before you started your business?

Oh yes, I was a banker. I worked with the defunct Devcom merchant Bank and Trans International Bank, both in Lagos, before I left to start my own business in January, 1997. As at that time I had 2 children and because my husband was into business and politics, and engaged much in inter-state travels, I thought I needed to devote time for my children. So I sought my husband’s consent to start a business that will provide me the flexibility to be available for my children. So here I am almost 22 years after.

At what point in your life did marriage come up or did you meet him at school? Was it love at first sight?

I grew up in a family of 5 girls. My mum never seized to ring it into our ears that the value of a girl is to have quality education, get a good job, get married in good time and start raising her own family. Of course we made fun of my mum back then, but unknown to us, it’s a belief that stuck in our hearts and all the 5 of us, our marriages came naturally at the right time and ripe age.

What decided it for you that he is the man?

He is intelligent and full of wisdom, but I think it’s more of his resilience. My husband was so persistent; it got to a point that I had to take the matter to God and He guided me right (Laughs).

Did you envisage that one day he would become a politician?

He was already into politics before we got married. Funnily, barely a year into our relationship, he informed me of his intention to go into politics and I took to my heels. For like 2 to 3 weeks, I avoided him. Then my Mum asked after him one day, and I said he wants to venture into politics and I don’t want that, so I am opting out of the relationship. She sat me down and counselled me that I should not allow that to destroy a beautiful relationship, rather I should support, guide and pray along with him.


I wept because; I was too scared of the future with a Politician. As a young guy, he was upwardly mobile, his investment and portfolio Management Company was doing well and had great prospects, he had other businesses too, of which I was already an adviser and partner to, and from nowhere, I thought he wanted to rock the smooth sailing boat by going into politics. Even though, we were not yet married, we had a beautiful relationship and everybody was looking forward to it ending up in a happy union. He was just 29 years old. With my mum and my friends’ intervention, I thought otherwise to give the relationship a shot. So I joined him to prepare for his election into House of Representatives in 1991, which he won: Thereby making him the youngest Honorable member in the House of Representatives in the 3rd Republic. We got married in April of1993.

How do you cope with his teeming crowd of politicians?

I mentioned earlier, that I grew up living in the midst of a large family. My parents are business people with affluence, so they attract people to our house. So in our home, we always had various kinds of visitors, always entertaining people. Hence, coping with the crowd and his people has never been a problem at all. Political rallies, campaigns and so on, have become part of me.


How is Life as a senator’s wife, he works in Abuja and you run a business in Lagos, how do you keep the family going?

Don’t forget that all my children are all grown men now. Two are working and the last is in his final year in university, so I have all the time to myself. My business has branches in Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin, Osogbo and Abuja. Libragold office in Abuja has been in operation since 2007, long before my husband got to the Senate. So his position now sees me in Abuja more often than before. When I am in Lagos, I go to my Lagos office, when I am in Ibadan, I go to my Ibadan office and when I am in Abuja, I go to my Abuja office. Technology has made life really easy now for good time managers, when my attention is required at home I stay back at home and work while attending to other issues. So my life revolves around my family.

How about your social life? Are you members of any club, or any chieftaincy title?

I enjoy partying in the company of my husband. Though now, he hardly has the time or rather, he attends more political and business functions than he attend parties. I am an active member of Nigeria-British Chamber of Commerce, Nigeria-American Chamber of Commerce, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Women in Management, Business and public office.

What do you do at your spare moment in form of hobby?

Writing! I have passion for writing. I have been writing Divine Wisdom for Happiness for over a decade. It’s inspirational and educative. I also, love cooking.

You mean as a top executive, you still find time to cook?

Yes. I love to cook. At home, I am in the kitchen most part of the day. I enjoy cooking, but I eat very little.

Do you recall any memorable family holiday?

We have had several.

Life as a grandmother, are you looking forward to it?

Yes, I pray. 

Your advice to youths and married women

My advice to our youths is to set achievable goals at all times, stay focus, work hard and never compromise your principles. It takes a lot of energy and will to stay upright in our society, but trust me at the end of the day, it pays off. Giving back to the society is an act that must be taken more seriously by our youths. You don’t have to be rich before you give back, little acts of charity goes a long.

My father inlaw, gave me this advice just before I got married, he said, ‘my daughter, marriage is full of challenges, so any friend or acquaintance who is not contributing to your progress and your marriage, please do away with such a person’. This has helped me greatly in sustaining my marriage and home. So, to married women, I always give the same advice and also add, make your life revolve around your family. Whether you are pursuing a career or in business, your ultimate is to nurture a close knit family that you can refer to as your own.

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