By Christy Anyanwu
Nigeria’s first female chairperson of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mrs Roli Bode George, is a woman of many parts. She is a politician, entrepreneur, administrator and mentor, among other things.
She recently launched the RBG Concept, a conglomerate of Nigerian businesses, including SMEs and young start-ups, leveraging on social and interpersonal networks and comparative advantage to get ahead and succeed in the business world.
In this encounter with Saturday Sun, Roli Bode George talked about her experience in politics, women in the polity, her pioneering roles in the NDLEA, funding and running business in Nigeria and life as the wife of political titan. Chief Olabode George.
What is RBG Concept about?
We are trying to get young people together to celebrate African style. We have different young entrepreneurs just starting business together. It’s like a network, a consortium of young entrepreneurs. Everything we do is made in Nigeria. We have hats, undies, ready-to-wear T-shirts, jewellery, and other items. All are ready-to-wear. I tell people that you don’t have to have a shop to make money. You can leverage people through networking, on social media. Everybody is a leveller in social media. The main aim is to make young people thrive in their respective businesses. We have a lounge. We have a studio. We have a printing press, and we have a bakery. We already have a lot of businesses in this consortium and we just decided to consolidate the fashion line.
As a politician, is this concept akin to your saying goodbye to politics?
I am still in politics. I do all my politics in Ikeja Local Government. Politics is not a business for livelihood. That’s the problem with most politicians. If politics becomes a business for you, then you cannot be credible. You cannot stand on principles; you cannot speak truth to power. But if you have a job and you are doing well, then you don’t sell your conscience. So, politics is there but business is different. My father and my husband didn’t send me to school to stay put in politics without working. If you look around, you would see a lot of young people. Most of them have clothes on display. We have over 20 different brands today. Every time I have a talk with these young people, they tell me they don’t have a shop and I tell them the importance of networking. You do not need a shop to succeed as an entrepreneur.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
To be true to yourself. To try and help others and help people to thrive as you are growing up because you might need them sometimes.
You had a flourishing shop at TBS years back. What next after that?
After TBS, I had another shop in Ikeja. I later moved to this apartment. We do all types of printing. We a have bakery. I have things that my children also do. I support their businesses as well. I have a daughter who makes jewellery like Cartier; her brand will be coming in next week. She makes her jewellery from the scratch. All her jewellery pieces are named after Nigerian socialites. Ayaaba. You can’t miss her jewellery because she has a mask on it like a design.
What was your reason for going into politics, considering that your husband is a politician?
No, he met me in politics. I was with Funsho Williams of blessed memory. I have always been a politician. That’s for me. You cannot leave politics for riff-raff. People who are educated should go into politics and change the status quo for a greater country. People who are ruffians, illiterates in politics, will make a mess of the polity. We need to have good people that are educated, that have integrity and that have conscience and empathy towards the people; that is what we should look for. But if we leave politics for people who haven’t got certificates to enter politics, what will become of the nation? I keep encouraging people; we are not looking for thugs in politics. We need young people to come in. We are looking for young people to take over this nation. The cadres of people running the affairs of this country are so old. We are tired of old politicians. When they leave the stage, it is all over because they have not groomed the younger generation. I’m clocking 60 soon. So, how many years do I have? I want a situation where the children coming behind me and their friends are well adapted and we give them the basic foundation, integrity, not just to go there to go and grab for yourself. Politics is not a money-making venture. It is something you offer yourself for leadership and you improve the lot of the people. We need a government that would make good policies about electricity, finance and so on. As a young person, it is difficult to access loans. We have young Nigerians who are enterprising but there’s no electricity, the tariff is too high to do business. How would they break even and enter the international market? Now we are in a tyrannical environment. The environment is so harsh with multiple taxation. We need to make the system conducive and make it an enabling environment.
What is your take about women in Nigerian politics, especially female representation in the 2023 elections?
Politics is an expensive thing. In Nigeria, it is politics of money. You really have to be strong-willed. You have to wield a lot of political influence or have money. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. What parties need to do, like PDP, they do waivers for the cost of the ticket for women. You only have to pay a token or for expression of interest. Other things are free. Secondly, women are our own worst enemies. We have to learn to network. Women have to learn to go together. They can be in the same business and you can leverage on where you have competitive advantage. In the process of outsourcing things to other people as women, we can come together. All of us would push. You see men, they go out to drink on Friday nights. Women also need to find a way to meet and sign their own future. Where do the women go, where do they meet? I have been in politics for 16 years. I was executive director, Pilgrims; executive director, FHA. I was in the Presidency, with the National Population Commission, and I became the DG and Chairman of NDLEA. You need to stick with your own. What I think has got me to where I am today is integrity. I speak the truth to power because, if you don’t speak the truth, at the end of the day, they give you little crumbs from the table and you would fall. I have represented Nigeria at the United Nations in Vienna, and in New York; I was the first person that did an event for the United Nations in Nigeria.
As female boss of NDLEA, how did you cope?
The good thing is that I was trained by the Americans. They took me into the bush for six weeks. They trained me in firearms. They also trained me in combat. I’m the highest female tactical officer in the whole of Nigeria. There’s no higher officer in the whole NDLEA. I am the highest female tactical officer in Nigeria as I speak. The truth of the mater is that, if you are going to do a job well, you need to go and train. Americans are really good. They gave me proper training. There was no special treatment. In fact, if they are taking you to the bush, you carry your gun yourself. They did a good job. They helped me. They gave me all the guidelines. I was trained in arms, I was also trained in surveillance, as a tactical commander. The Nigerian system is good but our institutions are not strong enough. If it’s the training, I’m a straight shooter. I can take anyone down from anywhere because I was trained. That’s the good thing about NDLEA; they trained everybody that wanted to be trained. It was easy because I was trained. People around me were very helpful.
You look beautiful and gorgeous. What is the secret?
Jesus. I think God has just favoured me in that aspect. I don’t do any special thing.
Fashion-wise, what is your kind of style?
I like to be glam. Looking glam makes you powerful as a woman. Dressing well is power. Knowledge is power. Having God in your life is power. So, style is a combination of a lot of things.
Where would you say is your favourite holiday destination?
I would say Egypt. I had my honeymoon in Egypt and it was really fun. It was really romantic and I’m kind of attached to Egypt and Paris. If I’m stressed, I go to Paris. I think it’s a lovely city. Between Egypt and Paris, I’m not sure which one is my favourite.
What advice do you have for women and upcoming females that want to attain successful careers?
First of all, if you want to be anything in life, you must have God, because you need friction. You need integrity of purpose and you cannot afford to give up. If you fall, you must rise again, and there’s no straight road.
The problem is that a lot of young people, when they fall, they just get despondent. But the truth of the matter is that, if you fall, you rise again, and you must learn a lesson. You cannot go through the same path and not learn any lesson. If you do it this way and it doesn’t work, do it differently next time and be consistent. Everything that I have been in life is by consistency. Show me a man that is diligent in all his ways, he would stand before kings and princes and not mere men.