Christiana Kehinde Akinrinmade worked in the banking industry for about 18 years where she traversed various banks including UBA, Societe Generale, Broad Bank and a Microfinance Bank. She began as an intern after her studies at the Kwara Polytechnic and rose to a Managerial position after furthering her education and ended with her MBA. After her banking career, she established a property company before she lost her sight. Akinrinmade overcame her challenge and attended a school for the blind in Lagos where she was rehabilitated. Today she is an instructor at the Lagos State skills acquisition centre, Mushin, Lagos. In this interview with DAYO EMMANUEL, Akinrinmade narrated how she scaled her various hurdles to becoming an entrepreneur who has empowered several Nigerians. Excerpts:
Can you relay your journey into the banking industry?
My name is Christiana Kehinde Akinrinmade, like the name Kehinde sounds, I have a twin sister. We were both born and bred in Lagos. We started our primary and secondary education in Lagos. After our secondary school, we gained admission into the Polytechnic in Kwara State. I studied Accounting and my twin sister studied Banking and Finance. We are identical. So after we finished a year in the polytechnic, we got a vocational job in Lagos at the UBA Head Office on Breafruit street. That was where we started our banking career. We spent three months and during holidays we used to go there, work, get money and we had that banking interest and idea. So when we finished in school, for our industrial training, we got another job at the Societe Generale Bank. I worked at the accounting department Head Office while my twin sister worked at the banking hall. After then we got another permanent job at Broad Bank and that was where we started our full career per see. All the journeys so far, we were both employed together at UBA, both of us, Societe Generale, both of us also at Broad Bank. I was at the Ikeja head office while my twin sister was at Okearin, that was how we started our career. I went for my HND at the Lagos State Polytechnic, when I finished, I did my post graduate course at the University of Calabar, Lagos Annex and I had my MBA also at University of Calabar Lagos annex. That was my educational journey. That was how I started my banking journey. After spending 11 years because of the recapitalisation, I left there as an officer. I was at home for some years after which I got another job at Omega bank where I was Operation Manager for some years. Later I moved down to the Head Office as an inspector. After four or five years there was recapitalization again and I left there. I joined a Microfinance Bank as Marketing Manager and I left there as the Assistant General Manager. I left again due to the capitalisation.
Can you share your experience that led to your being visually impaired?
All through I was using glasses; I was never diagnosed as having glaucoma. I was driving; I had my own business, an estate company. I had my office. I later discovered that after some time I used to bump into different cars and I love driving. So I would just hear someone say ‘madam, are you not seeing?’ ‘Go and hire a driver!’ I used to feel embarrassed. Every day, if not other cars, it would be okada riders or commercial drivers. I called my optician, he didn’t help the situation. He kept on increasing the capacity of my lenses, after few weeks it dropped. I didn’t tell him again and I went to the General Hospital. I drove there and I was tested and I was told I had lost my left eye. I never knew all along I was driving with my right eye only but I discovered in my frequent accidents, I thought it was my left I have been having issue with but I never knew I had lost my left eye. I was advised to stop driving. I wept, I was given some drugs, later I was told I should go for surgical operation so that my right eye can be corrected. I said no problem, I was given an appointment. When I went for the appointment I discovered the doctors were on strike and I asked what would happen to me. They said I should keep using my eye drop and was told to return after the strike. When the doctors resumed, I was tested, I was told I have lost my right eye. What should I do? I was advised to keep using my eye drop. That was how the journey to visual impairment started.
What were the striking lessons you learnt from your years in the bank?
Well the striking lesson was that I have to be discipline with finance. Then I was exposed to so many things, accountability of my financial resources. As a banker I never lacked anything, I was exposed to a lot of customers, corporate bodies, organisations, influence of my customers. As a big woman then I loved dressing, I loved cars, every two years I would change my car. I thought that was the end. I never knew there would be any challenge in future. I was just living my life as a big woman.
Were there days of crisis at the bank, may be account not balancing, may be people implicating you in fraud, what Yorubas call akoba adaba etc.?
Akoba adaba, Olorun ma je ka ri, but it happened. I was more or less locked up in a police station when I paid some money to a customer which was not approved from the Head Office and it was regarded as a fraud. I signed a particular paper, a particular teller which I was not supposed to sign. I never knew my colleagues planed it, it was fraudulent and I signed. I never knew the customer, I was newly posted there and I was told a customer wanted to withdraw N500,000. I never knew they had changed the picture of the customer that had the money. They just brought a customer to me and I checked, looked at his face and his passport, they were similar and I signed. I never knew it was a fraudulent act. That was 2005/2006. Then the customer that had the money came, I said but someone came here to sign and the issue was reported at the Head Office. They said I perpetrated a fraud but after proper investigation, they said I was innocent, it was due to my carelessness but I paid half of the amount. It was then I was moved down to the Inspection Department. Banking work is not easy, it takes the grace of God. After my 18 years in the banking experience, I was never in trouble. It was only God that saw me through.
With your banking experience and coming out, how did you become an entrepreneur?
With my experience as a banker I never knew I would become an entrepreneur, until I moved to the other world. During the time I became visually impaired around 2010/2011, I was at home, I wept, I sold properties looking for where to recover my eyes. I went to traditional healers, churches, mosques, I was just traveling from one country to the other within West African countries. I went to the Republic of Benin, Togo, looking for eyes. Did rituals thinking I could recover my eyes. I wanted to travel to India for surgery and I then discovered I had nothing left in my account, so I stopped. That was how I was at home for few years. Later I heard about a school for the blind, I never knew there was a school like that where someone can be rehabilitated. I was thinking that was the end of my career, I kept on crying that I can no longer do anything tangible, I can no longer go out, feed myself, until I rely on somebody. Then I heard about the school. None of my friends told me about it, they asked what do I want to go and do there, but my twin sister advised me and said you just go. I went there and investigated. When I got there with my qualification, I was admitted. I passed the interview and was told I had to stay there in the hostel. I remember when I was in secondary school. Now an old mama, well I had to take it. When I got there something touched me. I met people younger than I, boys and girls. I met people that were my age group and I met people that are even older than I. They are happy, always laughing. I never knew I too would laugh, but when I got there I was made the leader. Whenever they had visitor, they would say I should come and talk to them and appreciate them, so whenever we are having our chapel, people would sing and be very happy. If you want to see people that are very happy, go to the School for the Blind, go to any of these disability centres, you’ll meet beautiful girls. I never felt like going home, we are always joyful and happy. I was always happy throughout that period. I just don’t know how. So whenever someone wants to come and start crying, I would say don’t cry here, it is an abomination for anybody to come to this school and cry. I encourage people with similar challenges and I now discovered I was imparting into their lives. That was how the training as entrepreneur began. You know as entrepreneurs we look at opportunities where others are not seeing opportunities. We look at money where others are not seeing money. An entrepreneur will take any little opportunity. I was doing that until 2018 when I went to Lagos Business School, Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC), in Lekki. That was where I was trained as a social entrepreneur.
How long did the training last?
It took me six months. That was possible because of my background. I have been doing a lot of online trainings as an entrepreneur and I have been reading books online as well. These assisted me and that is why I call myself a public speaker and facilitators in entrepreneurship.
It seems the visually impaired people are more favoured among the people living with disabilities…don’t you think so?
Well, I never thought about it. But among all the clusters of people living with disabilities, not that I want to be arrogant or proud, visually impaired people are very intelligent, you know at times some people try to test my intelligence. Something I discovered, even my son discovered it that while calculating, I discovered that I am more calculative than when I was sighted. I think faster and calculate faster, when you are talking, I know where you are heading to. Even when I was a banker and sighted, I could use my eyes but now I use all my sense organs and in terms of learning things, visually impaired people learn faster. Among the clusters we learn faster. Put a blind person, a deaf person and others together, when you are teaching them, a blind person learns faster. I don’t know how but I think it is God’s work, not me. I think God knows about that, I even know we are more beautiful.
How do you advise parents of children with visual impairment?
Parents should not look at it as an abomination; that is people’s perspective. The Yoruba people would say the eye is the king of other body parts, who says that? All the parts are kings in their own rights. Yorubas would say anybody that can’t see has no light, it’s not true, there is light in our path and God knows more about us. So my advice is that when you have a child, not only visually impaired but with other disabilities, God knows about them, let them be trained. Let them go to school and be educated. There are lots of education that I have invested in, I have added value to myself than even when I was sighted, so a lot of things need to do with education, apart from you going into vocational training. I have various entrepreneurial training on IT and what have you. I train them on vocation, IT, entrepreneurship, I let them know they have to be independent. If you have such a child, don’t keep them to be idle, train them and let them work. My first son is a graduate of engineering, my second son is in the University of Ibadan. I trained them and I am working with the Lagos State government.
How do you gelt along with your family, your children etc?
I give glory to God almighty, I have two children, I take care of them with the help of God and other family members. I don’t have problem with my children and other family members. They have been supportive and they understand me and I do as well. All that is needed is empathy and not pity.
How do you appreciate Lagos State government in taking care of people living with disabilities?
I appreciate them a lot. They are doing well, they are trying their best. I was given an award by the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment for my impact in entrepreneurship in Lagos State and at the same time I was given a Doctorate award in Entrepreneurship and Humanity from a University in the United States about two weeks ago. I appreciate Lagos State government, they are doing their best, but they can do more. We have LASODA, they are trying their best but we still want more from them.
How did you get your job as an instructor in Lagos State Skills Acquisition Centre?
I got this job through my gift and through the former Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Mrs. Lola Akande. I was at a particular program, how I got to know about the program was God. When I was told about the program, the person who told me said I should not attend because it is strictly by invitation and I was not invited. She warned me. I said no problem. The following day by 6:30am before the program began, I was there and lo and behold I went there with all my products; kampala, footwear, everything. When the security man at the entrance saw me, he asked for my invitation card but I didn’t tell him I didn’t have. I just brought out one of the footwears, they were looking at me. I was pretending I wanted to bring out the invitation, the third one I brought out a kampala. Then they asked, madam you said you are visually impaired, I said yes, they asked who made all these things? I said I made them, they said go in. That was my invitation. They assisted me to go in, when the organisers of the event saw my products, they embraced me and immediately gave me a stand for exhibition. I was so happy saying I will sell here today. When the Commissioner for Women Affairs came, me that I was not invited, the woman just came directly to my table bought a lot of things from me, so when they were having their program, I spoke there. I was happy I went back home with empty bags. They now asked me if I can produce 12 footwears within two weeks. I knew I can’t produce more than three or four, I then sat down. On my way, they gave me the money for the 12 pairs. Then on my way, something dropped in my mind, I made the target within two weeks. I called some of my colleagues, can you make three footwears within two weeks? I called about four or five of them, they even made about 20 pairs. I discovered I didn’t even make any. At the end of the day, I paid them and they were so happy. I never knew I have impacted into their lives by paying them for work done. They used the money to pay their children school fees and at exactly two weeks, I took the footwears there for delivery. I felt so happy being in their midst than being in the midst of the sighted. I feel happier because we understand ourselves, I can just call them ‘blind people’ jokingly and they too will say afoju mummy, we talk to ourselves, crack jokes. So that was how I started while I was in the school for the blind I always looked at myself that I would become somebody important in the future. That was where I learnt how to use my hands. You know we have five sense organs, ability to see, to touch, ability to hear, to taste and since I have lost one, other senses became more effective, I have that sensitivity. I can hear perfectly, I can touch, I can smell and at the same time I can taste, those four sense organs are working very well, they cover for my not seeing and so out of five, I have four so I pass. We use that one to make ourselves happy. At the school for the blind, we did sports too, that was where I discovered I can run, I do match past, we do a lot of things that can make us happy. That was where I learnt to be creative, to do footwears, kampala, adire, how to use my hands to weave and to be creative. By the time I finished from the blind school. I spent a year, in 2015, 2016 I started moving up and down I was selling liquid soap, Dettol, I learnt them from there until later I joined a society called Nigerian Association of Small Scale Corporative. I got a link to meet someone at the Bank of Industry. So that was how my journey into entrepreneurship started. Later they gave me an appointment. When the appointment date came, I was there, I was interviewed. The Commissioner asked for my background and asked if I have school certificate, I told her I am educated, I was asked to come back. By the time I went back, that was how I was asked to take up the job as an Instructor in the Lagos State Skills Acquisition Centre. Now I can say I am an entrepreneur, an Instructor in the school, I’m a public speaker and advocate for people living with disabilities and I am a senatorial coordinator for the Nigerian association of the blind under Lagos State.
Tell us about your organisation…
I have an enterprise called Divine Chris Ken enterprise and a non-governmental organisation which is called Hope Builder for Physically Challenged Foundation. Majorly it is for people with disabilities; to raise awareness that there is ability in disability and to reduce poverty within and outside our environment through bringing up people with disabilities, exposing them to trainings and opportunities. We work on how we can expose them to technical skills, technical trainings, how they can use their hands to design. Most of them are talented, they need someone to nurture them and train them to bring out their talents, how they can go to school, get exposed to social amenities and to know their rights in the society. These are the goals of our organisation.
Let’s talk about your upcoming program
A program is coming soon, we always have a calendar, SME days which is coming up on June 27, because it’s a big program, I have to shift ours from the 27th to June 29th which is strictly for SME day for disabilities where we exhibit our talents, our products. We have funds, we move around, the way we interact. People that will anchor the program will be people with disabilities, most of our program will be handled by people with disabilities that day. I want philanthropists, corporate organisations government parastatals and agencies, companies like Cadbury, Coca Cola, etc. to support us. We want them to come and look at our products and see how we can improve our products to international standard, we want to export our products, we want them to come and support us so that we can improve and we too can be able to contribute to the economy and increase Nigeria’s GDP. I do export my products, likewise some of us. We want to be able to bring out other people with disabilities so that they can be technically empowered.
Interview conducted by Dayo Emmanuel