Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin speaks about the female struggle and why women need to move beyond scampering for crumbs!

Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin speaks about the female struggle and why women need to move beyond scampering for crumbs!

Our Woman of Substance is Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin a personality with over 25years experience in human rights work in Nigeria. This is a woman who has traversed courageously where men fear to tread, a tireless fighter whose frail bearing, bellies inner strength and resilience. WOS Editor is Chief Ify Onyegbule in this edition celebrates this International Woman of Courage, as she speaks about the struggle and why women need to move beyond scampering for crumbs!

WOS: The International Women of Courage Award is still fresh, what exactly earned you that recognition?

Dr Joe: I want to say I’m grateful for this award that was instituted in 2007 by Ms. Condoleezza Rice and it was meant to honor women who have distinguished themselves in their fields of endeavor, showing courage even at the risk of their own lives. I was nominated amongst 62 other women from around the world, out of which 9 of us emerged and 4 were physically present at the ceremony in the US. Over the years, I have been involved in the struggle and I have kept faith knowing that even if I lose my life there would have been a purpose for that.

WOS: What were the similarities between you and the other awardees?

Dr Joe: I simply would say it’s the struggle, They had their own issues to contend with in their various countries and have been able to call attention to the agitation of their people, thereby calling governments to question. Malalai Bahaduri from Afghanistan, Samira Ibrahim from Egypt, Julieta Castelanos from Honduras and Elena Milashina from Russia amongst the others are women who have won hearts by the leadership, courage and resourceful nature that they have exhibited and I’m delighted to be the 1st Nigerian woman to be so honored by the US Government.

WOS: You have been in this struggle for a while, what exactly would you say is responsible for bad governance in Nigeria?

Dr Joe: As I speak, Nigeria lies critically ill in the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital with all the symptoms of a failing nation. Corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of this country, its no longer carted away in millions but in trillions. Most of these corrupt lots are given a slap on the wrist and the small thieves are being given jungle justice. Our values have been eroded, ordinarily, people who should have been given leprous treatment are the ones we honor and the ones society celebrates.

Nigeria at age 53 is still in diapers and it’s so sad that when you see the list of those who are being celebrated, you will mistake it for an EFCC list, I tell you it’s a sad story and we must rise up and demand change!

WOS: How can that change come when the hue and cry come in different sounds and shades?

Dr Joe: I will take the occupy Nigeria as case study here and I will tell you the agitations were in Sync we all talked and asked for the same thing, we were all not pleased what President Goodluck Jonathan gave as New Year gift and we all came out to protest. This however didn’t go as we all planned. While we were getting things fired up, the President who is supposed to be a civilian president rolled out the tanks with personnel who were ready to kill our people who made themselves available for a nonviolent struggle.

We were terribly disappointed when organized labour called off the strike and that demoralized people but I must tell you that there were gains that we still made and I’m using this opportunity to warn that any attempt by the FG to increase pump price will be resisted with the last drop of blood that we have.

WOS: You run “Women Arise”…how has this body impacted women on the issue of governance?

 Dr Joe: Everywhere around the world, women generally speak the same language “SILENCE” so Women Arise is there to work with women to encourage them to stand up against misrule and abuse in a male dominated society. We have continuously organized to fight for their rights and take their destinies in their own hands rather than agonizing, being apologetic and suffering from low self-esteem. We also empower these women so that they can make a living and lead a good life.

Everywhere around the world, women generally speak the same language “SILENCE” so Women Arise is there to work with women to encourage them to stand up against misrule and abuse in a male dominated society.

WOS: Now that you mentioned empowerment, is it only by learning to bake, cook, sew and take lessons in soap making?

Dr Joe: The heartbeat of empowerment is mentoring, no one mentored me directly but I have young people I’m mentoring today. When I appeared for my Award in the US, I noticed the 1st Lady Michelle Obama came with well-dressed and groomed young women from the white house and I was made to understand that those were young women she was mentoring and they all stood up to be introduced, it meant a lot to them and I just wish we could take mentoring up here in Nigeria as a responsibility.

Mentoring should not only be about hair dressing, baking and cooking or sharing bags of rice where a stampede will lead to deaths, how do you beat your chest and say you have empowered someone that way? We must set the records straight and do the right thing.

WOS: When you galvanize women towards change what is the priority for you? Election on Merit or Selection for Compensation?

Dr Joe: I have always said it should always be on merit, that’s why it’s sickening for me when I hear positions reserved for women. Deputy this and Deputy that, why must they be used as spare tyres? Women need to realize that they must be very assertive, they should look away from tokenism if they truly know their worth!

WOS: How do we view 2015 from your lens? Change in sight or business as usual?

Dr Joe: Hmmmm…2015, Nigeria is like a volcano that will erupt. Look at what is happening in the North, East and Southwest. I believe we need to realize now that we must look the way of politics of issues not persons. People must stop belly aching and register to vote because the message this government needs to hear is that it’s no longer business as usual.

WOS: Do you see APC as a perfect marriage that would bear the desired fruits?

Dr Joe: A lot has gone wrong and I think Nigerians cannot be taken for granted again. Most importantly, the people will have to look out for a manifesto that is credible; it’s about choosing who will lead them because your vote is your power!

Keeping Lagos clean is our priority -Mrs Abimbola Jijoho Ogun, Acting MD of LAWMA

Keeping Lagos clean is our priority -Mrs Abimbola Jijoho Ogun, Acting MD of LAWMA

Waste management in Lagos remains a challenge just as it is anywhere in the world. For a state that boasts of a population of 20million people, with businesses springing up in every nook and cranny, the burden of shouldering this responsibility is one that the Lagos State Waste Management Authority deals with on a daily basis.

LAWMA Acting MD, Mrs Abimbola Jijoho Ogun who has been the champion for Healthcare Waste Management in the state says the attitude of the average Lagosian is major problem in waste management. She had a chat with Woman of Substance Nigeria at her office in Lagos.

WOS: Let’s start off with sanitation issues vis-à-vis what it used to be?

Jijoho-Ogun: This issue has been in existence as far back as when this state was created and on daily basis, we have people flocking in here thereby increasing the population which will also tell on the generation of waste. As at today we have over 20million people in Lagos and that means we have something huge to collect in terms of waste on regular basis. The journey has not been very smooth, it’s been challenging but that is why LAWMA has been in the forefront of keeping Lagos clean, it’s a very tough job but we are doing our best.

WOS: Isn’t it a huge responsibility for LAWMA to handle all alone?

Jijoho-Ogun: I will tell you that the PSP operators have really assisted in keeping the city clean because we have over 360 of these PSP operators around Lagos and they do these jobs everyday with defined route plans. Government is also available with back up services to see that we do more in keeping this environment clean.

Government has also provided regular support for funding, there is provision for infrastructure especially the landfill sites and also the final resting place for the waste which we call the dumpsite.

There are 5 of them in Lagos that are upgraded on a monthly basis and to run waste management as a project on its own is quite expensive. In all the landfill sites, we use at least 10 bulldozers and each of these costs so much and to maintain the equipment or run the overhead at those sites is huge compared to what citizens pay for the job we do.

So the government sees waste collection as a social service and that’s why we are able to capture areas that are not even motorable, areas with low income earners and we have been able to do so much with support from the Ministry of Environment which is our parent body. So far we have been able to reach where we are because the government is playing its part.

WOS: What approach to waste collection would you say has worked for LAWMA?

Jijoho-Ogun: Our management has a passion and loving heart for the people we have here. The workforce is an added advantage, our workers have confidence in management.

We have come as far back as 177 as an organization I mean, that is after Festac 77 but the new improved LAWMA came into force in 2005 when the new MD came into office and since then we have introduced great measures to see that the job is done right at all times.

WOS: On average, how much waste is generated in Lagos?

Jijoho-Ogun: On a daily basis at least 10-12 metric tons because from a survey that was carried out, we discovered that every human being generate about 0.5kg of waste per day so if we have about 20 million people then it gives you an idea of what we generate in waste daily and as a result of this we have to find a way to manage it so that they don’t all end up at the landfill site that’s when we talk about sorting, we have also gone to the level of trying to covert so we have moved away from that stage of heaps of waste on the streets of Lagos.

It’s important that we all realize that waste must be properly collected, properly bagged and properly disposed. The use of cart pushers is something that must be discouraged because they cause more harm than good by dumping your waste anywhere and everywhere they find space.

WOS: How compelling are the sanitation laws in the state?

Jijoho-Ogun: You know we have so many laws, there was one that was established as far back as 1986, which compelled every household to have receptacles, bins with lids so that each household in Lagos will have its own container for waste but on 25% of Lagosians have receptacles.

Enforcement is a major issue for us in Lagos but we really need to be careful so that we don’t end up blocking people from entering their homes what we are employing is dialogue and we are hoping that dialogue does the magic for us.

WOS: Let’s talk Enlightenment, how has LAWMA fared in this area?

Jijoho-Ogun: We have about 18 radio and TV programmes that run every week in a number of local languages and in English to let people know what is expected of them and also enlighten them about what LAWMA is doing. We have the children advocacy group in LAWMA that go around to get themselves acquainted with what is also expected of them so I would say that LAWMA is doing so much in the area of enlightenment.

On a daily basis at least 10-12 metric tons because from a survey that was carried out, we discovered that every human being generate about 0.5kg of waste per day so if we have about 20 million people then it gives you an idea of what we generate in waste daily ~ Mrs Abimbola Jijoho Ogun

WOS: How would you describe the attitude of some motorists in Lagos?

Jijoho-Ogun: Picture this scenario, someone obviously looking very educated driving a lovely car, finishes eating something inside the car, winds down and throws the wrapper or plastic bottle or sachet of water out of the car and you wonder what’s going on.

The notion they have is, oh government is paying someone to keep the streets clean so if I don’t throw stuff out how would they get rubbish to sweep off the streets. Attitude like this won’t take us anywhere as a people, what you throw out of your car can cause someone else harm so we really need to change our attitude in terms of so many things.

WOS: Let’s talk About the Waste to Food event, why the focus on children?

Jijoho-Ogun: Remember we all started out as children, a lot of things kept us busy those days and we thought about ways to engage the minds of children while they are on holidays away from the kind of work they do while in school so LAWMA came up with that programme to create an avenue for children to come together during the holidays and learn something new while at play.

It’s an annual programme during the long vacation where we help children imbibe the culture of waste management, you were there and you saw the drama the children came up with all of which pointed to the essence of keeping the environment clean and the benefits that are derivable from waste. It was a good time with the children and we are hoping next year’s edition brings more children together.

WOS: Thank you for your time

Jijoho-Ogun: My pleasure