Erelu Abiola Dosunmu's Atlantic Beach Centre... Taking Stress Away From Busy Executives
Former beautician and high chief Erelu Abiola Dosunmu has created a pacesetting new centre that will help busy top executives relax and get rejuvenated. Her desire in creating the new centre is to help diplomats and busy executives manage the stress that is part of their work. And she has done it in grand style. The outfit, Atlantic Beach Centre, opened last Sunday in highbrow Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos to a select audience that will form the bulk of its membership. A matron of Nigeria's culture and tradition, Erelu thinks there is need to start looking inwards in the nation's development quest rather than always going outside as the elites do. Her centre, she says, is a testimony to the fact that what Nigerians go abroad to get or enjoy at great cost can be reproduced here with better result and cost benefit. She spoke to ANOTE AJELUOROU shortly before the formal opening ceremony of the centre. Excerpts:
What is the idea behind the Atlantic Beach Centre?
Foremost, I have friends, who due to the relocation of the capital city had to leave Lagos. But every time we met, I see this yearning for Lagos, and what Lagos stands for or the Lagos they knew. So I said, all right, why don't we try and create something so that whenever they come, they can still enjoy the Lagos of old - the hospitality, the beauty that we used to have in Lagos. It is almost extinct now because everyone is afraid to go out at night to do things they used to do.
But most importantly, I thought of a whole lot of successful people. They have Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), foundations, they give alms to the poor, constantly taking care of the less privileged, but who takes care of those who take care of the less privileged? In this jungle of business, excitement, hustle and bustle, there must be an outlet, where the top chief executives, the busy top executives can go and unwind. Not just unwind, but take care of their health, get advised and have fun too. Those are the people really behind setting up the centre, which I call a rejuvenating centre. It combines so many phases that will keep you young, alert and for you to perform to your optimal.
That sounds like a great idea, taking care of those who take care of the less privileged...
Yes; I think with this little contribution, society will be a lot healthier and our top executives will live longer and they will be able to do what they do best - taking care of the less privileged.
Nigerians travel abroad and spend so much to enjoy these facilities you have now established here. This is like looking inwards, isn't it?
Absolutely, I'm a crusader for culture and tradition. I'm a believer in our culture and tradition, which are just as good as anybody else's in the world. And, if we look around we should be proud of what we have because it is also our identity and they place us at par with other people. When I travel around I see all these. Every time you have a yearning for these places you have to go abroad. What is wrong with us having it here? It is possible. That what I'm trying to prove is that all those millions we spend to go and have relaxation in other places of the world, we can begin to build it here, And, let them come to us and spend some money for us, too.
And, it is one of the things one wants to achieve. That it is possible for us to provide the best for our people right here.
You are known for your cultural disposition. How much of Nigerian culture is being incorporated into this project?
Well, first of all, we are going to have a mlange of European therapy mixed with the herbs and treatment in Africa. I mean, think back, when a woman has a baby, everybody wants to pamper her. You have local herbs; you have things to purify her inside and to pamper her outside. We are going to go back to some of these things. And, it should not be just for new mothers. Men and women who have never had children can still be pampered.
We are going to undertake a research into some of our healing herbs and see how we can modernise them. With time we might be able to export and teach the world a thing or two about beauty therapy using local ointment and herbs.
Lagos is having a facelift, and you mentioned the Lagos of the past that was a haven. How will your centre contribute to current efforts at renewing the city?
Don't forget, one of my passion was also beautification, and we did a lot of beautification in Lagos. But unfortunately, the government was not ready. They could not see what we were trying to do; so it was not sustainable. But thank God the new governor understands the importance of beautification of the environment. And, it is wonderful.
The centre is going to give government all the support that it can give. Our slogan has always been to plant a tree a day. Give a tree as a birthday present rather than a toy given to a child. And, he will take care of that tree and nurture it until the adult life of that child. When you have a baby, plant a tree to mark that wonderful event. We are going to promote and project it and get our members (it is going to be a private membership centre) to plant trees. We will encourage our members to do this and we will compile a book and give to government, which hopefully, they will publish so others will emulate. But you can do a whole lot for tree planting and beautification of your environment to coincide with your day-to-day life and event. Even when someone dies, plant a tree so that the children will grow up to see, 'ah that was when we planted that tree when grandfather died, when grandmother died'.
Make it a point of reference in our lives, in our society, the planting of tree. Trees cleanse the environment; they beautify the environment; they keep desertification away. They are so beneficial, so why can't we do it? That is what the centre is going to champion. That will be our contribution to the present administration.
But why has it taken this long for Nigerians to realise that this kind of facility can be established here rather than pay so much to go for it abroad?
I don't know. But sometimes when something is staring at you in the face you may not see it quickly. You find that most of the things I have done in my life are things guided by pride in my country and by the motivation that if other people can do it, then I can do it, too. When I decided to change the colours of the Ase-Oke from the four primary colours and took it to London and open a shop to promote hand-woven fabric, everyone said I was crazy. The designers at the time said I was trying to bastardise Ase-Oke, that it is something that is reserved for special occasions, for marriages, why are you making it into skirts, coats, and dresses. And some of them were so incensed.
Look at that industry today. Nobody remembers me anymore. But it has become a zillion dollar industry. And it has changed from that weight I was projecting to paper weight. The way we are going, I'm sure we're going to see chiffon Ase-Oke. But just see the transformation from that. Now, this is just another level. I'm sure once I have done this and I feel satisfied and it's well established, I will probably just move to something else. Let other people build on it.
Way back in the Lagos of your youth, there used to be parks, where people go to relax and recreate. In what ways will your centre help in this direction?
Oh, yes! If you hadn't gone to Ikoyi Park you haven't had fun. If you hadn't been to Bar Beach (and you had to walk miles and miles to get to the waterfront), you haven't had fun. You had neighbourhood open spaces. You had concert halls, where we go and perform and parents come and watch us. We used to organise operas like they do at West End in London. And Lagos was clean. When I was growing up, my own Lagos was clean because there was no way you wake up and not sweep your compound. We had gutters running through our houses, and they were clean because we used to float paper boat in them from one street to the other.
Well, over time a lot of people came to cosmopolitan areas, not just Lagos, straight from the villages. They didn't imbibe the culture they found on the ground, and they were usually in the majority. This untrained behaviour tended to overtake the culture we had. Again, it's a question of orientation and government support to re-orienting our people.
Even in the so-called civilized countries that we all go to, they teach it. What do you think 'Finishing Schools' are for? Just to teach how to dress, how to walk; they teach you cleanliness, how to keep your homes, to keep your environment clean; to talk properly, how to make yourself presentable to other peopel so you don't look offensive in your appearance. When we were in primary school, we were taught to be clean. At assembly at 7am, you must stretch out your arms so the teacher will see that your fingernails are clean, the back of your ears to make sure you washed properly. They don't do that any more. Of course, you have to open your teeth to see if they are not rotten and green.
They don't do that any more, or else how can you throw the banana peels from your car, and you're supposed to be enlightened and educated.
But what happened to the parks?
I was part of a committee in the last administration set up to revive parks in Lagos State, and we identified quite a lot of areas. But after a time some of those areas identified have already been built on by now. We did a lot of work. Thank God for the present administration that is clearing some of these things.
With a centre like the one you have built here in the middle of town, one would have expected that a park would have surrounded it to give it a natural, healing ambience? Why is that absent?
I agree; in an ideal situation that is what I'd love. I'm hoping the next phase will be in such environment. But for now, we're talking about busy executives. So, we need to bring it to their doorsteps so they don't have to go far off. If somebody is in the office and he's having headache and he's having a stressful day, it shouldn't be difficult for him to find his way here, where he could be pampered with a massage, and relax in a Jacuzzi. If he wants to be in sauna or walk out that stress or anger, he could go to the gym.
He can cool down and either watch football on the big screen or play billiard or other games. We have a restaurant that has got a dance floor with music from the 1970s oldies. He can also have wine; there is piano music to calm the nerves. Or if something comes up and he wants to work at it at once, there is a boardroom and library for short let out for busy executives. It's a one-stop centre, where total wellbeing is catered for.
In any case, I have an island now, and we intend to do something with it even much better than this. So, we are here to give a new lease of life to our busy executives. That yearly medical check up will only be a routine not a necessity after we've taken you over as a member of Atlantic Beach Centre and help take care of the stress bills that you incur over there to make you stress free.