Felicia Martins, a woman with a heart for the mentally challenged

Felicia Martins, a woman with a heart for the mentally challenged

According to the World Health Organization Mental disorders are among the risk factors for communicable and non-communicable diseases. A WHO document said that factors such as poverty, social isolation, loss of independence, loneliness and losses of different kinds can affect mental health and indeed general health. For developing countries like Nigeria where the WHO estimates that about 20 percent of Nigerians suffer mental illnesses, poverty, hopelessness and insecurity is on the rise, causing so much stress, anxiety and high level depression. Woman of Substance in its 1st edition this New Year speaks with Mrs. Felicia Martins who runs a home for the mentally challenged. She opens up on the struggles of caring for people with mental disabilities, family interference and funding.

 

WOS: The plight of disadvantage children is a major issue, a fact which compound that for those with mental disabilities, what will you say is reason for the neglect?

 

FM: The society and our economy are two factors that have not helped at all including our traditional believe that they are cursed are part of the reason why we don’t pay much attention to disabled persons let alone those with mental disabilities.

 

WOS: Sosaid is a project so dear to your heart, what is the story?

 

FM: Well the journey so far have not been easy, the Organization was born in the year 2000, through the inspiration of God, when I was still studying law at the Lagos state university, I differed my course, failed most of my exams but all is to the glory of God as I have triumphed. I was formerly a manager at KAFAM Services Limited and a 300 level law student at the Lagos State University (LASU) when the inspiration to care for the mentally challenged and destitute on the streets of Lagos came.

It was a real struggle for me at the beginning as my husband wouldn’t hear anything of it. He just couldn’t understand how I would abandon my well-paid job to run a shelter for the homeless and mentally challenged people on the streets. It was a tug of war and this passion that was burning inside of me and it drove a dagger into my marriage.

 

WOS: As a mother of 5, what did it feel like going round the streets looking for people with mental disabilities?

 

FM: It was not easy, with the Nigerian mentality (that insanity is spiritual and cannot be cured) people despise you, look at you as if they are your immediate relations or family members, at the initial time we had to chatter cabs to take the rehabilitee to the center, some cabs will refuse even with your money, it is not easy but I feel joy seeing the rehabilitees coming back to their senses, it is a fulfillment and it was a delight when my husband agreed to take me back after realizing that I had an unwavering passion to help the destitute.

 

WOS: Did people ever look at you as having mental issues because you were drawn to such people?

 

FM: Yes at the initial time, my friends thought I was insane, family members deserted me because they felt I was involving myself in something strange. They found it difficult to understand I had abandoned a beautiful career for such a voluntary job and I was asked most times why I was doing the job of the government.

 

WOS: Why would your husband chase you out of the house because of your passion?

 

FM: It was not just my husband who had difficulty in understating my desire to care for the insane; my friends were cross with me as well. My husband believed I was bringing disgrace to his family and friends and my children just couldn’t understand what was going on in my head or why I chose to deal passionately with insane people but all that is history today.

 

WOS: Was it so bad that your son had to hit in the face?

 

FM: Yes because wherever he went his friends tell him your mother is associating with mad people, which was like a stigma to him. I tell you, it was difficult in those early days for anyone to understand when I started. They were angry and felt I had missed it in life, because I left a well-paid job to support destitute. So people may justify his actions at that time but the passion has kept standing.

 

WOS: What did it take for them to see thing from your perspective?

 

FM: Oh I believe it is God, when they saw that God is involved everything and how they are healed, they were compelled to run with the vision. If you look at how I started, I started at the Beach Land Estate and I recall time when I would cook food and give to these less privileged ones. I would try so hard to win their friendship and sometimes I will spend the night on the streets with them. Amazingly the women who clubbed at Beach Land Estate at that time saw what I was doing and had pity on my so they would provide for me and my new friends financially. I must say that when God sends you on an errand, he opens doors for you.

 

WOS: What was going through your mind sleeping out in the cold for 8 months and was there reconciliation after wards?

 

FM: It was a very bitter experience, but God has his way of doing things, all through I was optimistic that all would be well. We have since reconciled and the proximity is so strong with mutual understanding to the extent that they help me with ideas in running the Organization

 

WOS: Where there times you felt the urge to drop the passion and turn around?

 

FM: To be candid I felt so, at the initial stage because the challenges that I face was so intense and unbearable, I had to cry most times or even now when there is no money to feed or buy drugs for the rehabilitees or when the children are being stigmatized or chased out of school for lack of funds.

 

WOS: How possible is it for you to relate with the insane?

 

FM: It is possible because it is a vision imbedded in me by God and as such he gives me directive on what to do, in the aspect of relating with them which have always yield positive response hence they become fully rehabilitated.

 

WOS: What is the nature of illness for some of the women in the home?

 

FM: I would say for these women who come from all walks of life not all of them have mental issues, but due to one frustration or the other, they give in to such mental tendencies. Some of them are from broken homes, some are maltreated by their husbands or mothers-in-law, and some are teenagers who have been molested by either a relative or their masters, they fall into depression that now affects them in a way.

Sosaid is an organization just like other organizations for example the red cross, girls guide, boys scout, Usaid and so on, it has already been structured in such a way that the organization is different from the C.E.O as a person

Some of them came in here with their babies, while others came in with pregnancy. We do all that we can to see that they receive the care they deserve. If you must know, the children attend good schools and engage in social activities to help erase the stigma of isolation from other members of the society

 

WOS: How have you managed to run the Home this Home vis a vis support from individuals or corporate bodies?

 

FM: Well we have kept the dream alive through well-meaning Nigerians, who come on daily basis to support the Home with whatever they have, either in kind or cash and this has helped us to keep up with the demands of running the home

 

WOS: How did it feel winning the 2 million naira grand prize in the 4th edition of supermom?

 

FM: I was so glad to hear that So-Said Charity Home won, but I was more impressed by the number of people calling to congratulate me, which means that the public are really interested in the work, and the cash involved will help in running the activities of the Home.

 

WOS: What do you think will happen when you pass on, have you thought about a succession plan?

 

FM: Sosaid is an organization just like other organizations for example the red cross, girls guide, boys scout, Usaid and so on, it has already been structured in such a way that the organization is different from the C.E.O as a person, because it has its board of trustees, board members, state coordinators, patron/patroness, administrators and managers in every state where it exists, so it has grown above one a man business, if I pass on, it will continue the way it is functioning in other branches without me and I give God the glory for that, it’s all about having a vision and having people who agree with a vision because they understand it.

 

WOS: Thank you for your time

 

FM: Thanks.

Mrs Arinola Kola-Daisi sheds light on Retail banking in Skye Bank

Mrs Arinola Kola-Daisi sheds light on Retail banking in Skye Bank

The policies introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria to increase financial stability over the past few years prompted significant changes in Nigeria’s banking sector. The industry had undergone a period of transformation as banks embarked on consolidation initiatives that involved recapitalization, mergers and acquisitions, policy reforms and other changes that saw Banks work towards strengthening their businesses. Banks in their nature devised very aggressive strategies in raising cash and improving on their businesses and the focus for some simply pointed at retail banking.
Skyebank Plc.’s GM Retail Banking Group, Mrs Arinola Kola-Daisi in this edition speaks about this sector that is often described as the ‘high-street face’ of banking.

 

WOS: Banks have refocused on retail banking to attract more customers and make more profit, is this the surest way to go?

 

AKD: The Retail Business is very important for all Banks because essentially what is in retail banking is provision of banking services to individuals and small businesses and any commercial bank must be interested in retail banking because that is really what you are set up for, you are there to meet the financial needs of the banking public and that cuts across a wide spectrum.

 

WOS: What threshold exactly qualifies an account as retail and how has the philosophy of “Expanding your world” distinguished Skyebank?

 

AKD: All individual accounts are classified as retail account whether individual current or individual savings they are all retail accounts but we have the SBG that is Small and Medium Scale Business Group and these are businesses doing about 350million Naira in turnover in a year and what we do is to extract these sorts of businesses to try and see what they need because for them to make that sort of turnover they have specific needs so I would say in “Expanding your World” which is our philosophy we are able to look at these different categories of businesses and provide them with tailor-made services by striking a balance between what they want and what they need.

 

WOS: How much of profit in percentage does retail banking contribute to skyebank?

 

AKD: In terms of profitability percentage-wise I may not want to go into details but suffice it to say that it is a significant proportion of our profitability because the strength of retail business is in numbers, when you look at different businesses in the bank, you may have some businesses in which the profitability is on few very large transactions but of course you need the numerical strength of people in different locations across the country all adding up to give you the profitability that you want.

If you look at yourself as an individual, almost everybody runs a bank account, a lot has been said about financial inclusion even now it’s not only the literate and educated that have bank accounts, even those in rural areas are being moved to have bank accounts and when all these come together from a million places you are bound to get the sort of profitability that you desire.

 

WOS: Let’s talk about Cash Reserve on Public Sector Funds

 

AKD: This issue is important for all the banks because essentially it reduces the amount that you have for lending. At Skyebank we operate well in strength in many areas, the Investment Banking area, the Retail Banking space and in the public sector because we maintain a strong relationship at federal and state levels in most states and this has an impact on us but the drive for retail has become even more important for us as it is for other banks and this drive is something that we have pursued in the last 5years. It was in 2008 that the retail banking business was extracted from the main business and given a specific focus because we decided that it shouldn’t be mixed with commercial banking and merchant banking so we took it out, gave it its own officers and group head so that we can keep that focus and it’s been like that for 5 years. It’s important to build a very strong base because that truly defines the strength in numbers.

The Retail Business is very important for all Banks because essentially what is in retail banking is provision of banking services to individuals and small businesses and any commercial bank must be interested in retail banking because that is really what you are set up for, you are there to meet the financial needs of the banking public and that cuts across a wide spectrum

WOS: Apart from these, what other avenues do banks have to raise cash and what are the risks attached to these?

 

AKD: Everyone knows that in Nigeria, the government is the biggest spender we all know that no bank will move away from banking the government but of course we have to begin to look at retail banking which is where you have large number of customers so instead of getting 500 million from one location you may need to look out for one thousand people from different locations to mobilize that volume of cash so retail business is important on an individual level. Another is the Small and Medium Scale businesses which is also very important, when you look at the number of Nigerians in the paid employment sector it is not a huge proportion, a hug number of people are self-employed and we are encouraging people to be entrepreneurial instead of waiting endlessly for jobs that may never materialize.

The SMEs are the engine growth of any economy and there are huge risks because businesses like these are owned majorly by one person, it’s either a man and wife or man and kids and decisions are taken by just one person majorly and there really is nothing wrong with that because conglomerates around the world that are making huge profits today started out like this, what is important is that structures must be put in place, relevant personnel must run the business and people must have financial discipline to separate themselves from the business financially so that when money comes in for the business it should not diverted for family use.

It’s a high risk business but if its managed well it can and will definitely grow just like the ones I have seen in the course of my career.

 

WOS: What strategies are in place to guard against losses like these?

 

AKD: Let me say that for individual businesses one thing that has risen in the past for individuals is the availability of consumer finance, where you can buy a car or household appliances once you have a regular job and your salary account resides with us and we give you a flexible payment plan. The idea is that we have made those things possible but we have restricted them to those who earn a salary as long as they are confirmed staff of their organizations.

For SMEs we say run your account for 3-6 months let’s see how it is run then we can give you a lease to buy equipment for your business and we spread it over a reasonable period. Let me state that we prefer to buy assets because of what I said about financial discipline so as financial institutions, once the basic controls are in place you find out that people want to grow their businesses. Another thing that has helped the risk in financing SMEs is the Credit Bureau because any loan above 1 million Naira is registered so Banks can do a check on you to be sure you are not owing one bank and seeking another loan from another bank.

 

WOS: Away from Retail Banking now, I have noticed that Skyebank is not inclined to Gender-based products, any reason for that?

 

AKD: Skyebank is one that wants to be relevant to customers in whatever phase of life they are in, there are products for Kids, Youths and those just starting out in life, there are customer products and investment products, we don’t really have any gender-based products and my reason for this is quite simple because if you are running a business it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman the challenges are the same and personally I’m not a believer in Gender-based products because the things that you encounter as a business person in Nigeria are not gender specific.

For Children we have our Rainbow Savings account and we try to make it an account that’s interesting for children and the rewards have been largely things that are of interest to children. Skyebank also has a Youth account – the Campus plus Card for undergraduates of tertiary institutions, it’s a web-enabled card which enables them do online transactions.

 

WOS: How strong is Skyebank’s CSR drive to its host communities?

 

AKD: We do a lot of health and Education, we recently donated a Mammogram machine to an NGO called COPE they are into Breast Cancer Awareness and their activity in that area is huge. I am very proud that Skyebank did that and we also did something at the Accident and Emergency unit in LUTH. In Education we are proud to say that we were involved in a project with the Obafemi Awolowo University and an International Organization where we donated an ICT center.

Obafemi Awolowo University is an institution that has advanced technology and the campus is ICT compliant, it’s one of a kind with a 400 hundred-seater facility with personal computers where you can deliver a virtual lecture. We are proud of that because technology is the way of the future, there are a lot of bright minds and we need to develop these minds to make way for more centers of excellence for different things.

 

WOS: Thank you for your time

 

AKD: My pleasure

LOTS Charity Foundation is about hope for the hopeless, Tolulope Sangosanya

LOTS Charity Foundation is about hope for the hopeless, Tolulope Sangosanya

Hundreds of millions of children are suffering from severe exploitation and discrimination and have become virtually invisible to the world. Children who lack the basic amenities of life are more vulnerable to exploitation because they have less information on how to protect themselves. WOS Nigeria Editor in Chief Ify Onyegbule in this special edition chats with the Founder, LOTS Charity Foundation, Tolulope Sangosanya, a young Nigerian redefining perspectives and mindsets of what obtains in the slums!

WOS – Take us through the journey of lots and why you chose to work in Ajegunle with the kids at the Dust Bin Estate

TOLU – LOTS (Love on the Streets) Charity Foundation is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, 2009. After winning the category for the ‘Best use of Advocacy’ at the 2010 future awards Nigeria, we got lots of media attention and now we are getting known for our work at dustbin estate nationally. Before dustbin estate, LOTS Charity Foundation under the unregistered name ‘Project LOTS’ was already working in other environments, feeding street kids and clothing them.

We have fed over 5,000 street children and other vulnerable children between 2006-2011, we had given educational support to over a hundred kids, relocated a family from the refuse dump site, had one health outreach that reached over 200 kids not counting the clothing drive exercises. I chose Ajegunle not because I did a visibility study; i got there because my spirit led me there. It doesn’t make logical sense but that is what happened. I feel i was wired to work in that environment and that is where i have been working for the last couple of years.

WOS -Brings us to values, what would you say has stunned you the most in the course of your work regarding the women and children?

TOLU – Less than normal Value for human lives is a general problem that i have seen in Nigeria and i discovered that poverty and illiteracy makes it worse. So if we have arguably 70% living below 1 dollar per day and we are still a 3rd world country with high level of illiteracy, DUSTBIN ESTATE is a slum so you can imagine what happens there. I must give it to the women though, even with the little they have, they do the best they can for their children.

WOS -how daunting have the challenges been having to try in your own way to make life easier?

TOLU – Making life better in the community has been with mixed feelings and i have learnt a lot. The best way to help someone solve their problem is by helping them solve it themselves via needs assessment and community map. The challenges are opportunities in disguise. Lack of adequate funding makes you think of ways to generating money on your own. Inadequate workers and volunteers makes you multi task, relating to the disagreeing members of the community makes one develop negotiating skills plus communication skill married with diplomacy.

WOS -you started years ago, if you look at the journey from where you set off, how far have you come and are you there yet?

TOLU – I cry when i think of the journey. This ‘thing’ was supposed to be like my hobby. My way of saying’ Tolu is alive’. I didn’t see this coming. A decade ago i would have thought i will be in the entertainment industry but nothing gives more joy and fulfillment than what i do now. If i have just 24 more hours to live, i wouldn’t change my work for a second. I found my path out of pain and I am proud that God turned it all around for His name to be glorified. I get to the office and see some things and i still can’t believe what we have been able to do since 2005.

WOS -Does government understand there is an estate with such a designation?

TOLU – The Government? Who are those? The official office ones or the REAL Government; the people? Right now i cannot control the office holders, but i can influence the real Government starting with me. I cannot tell the official government anything or call-pain by complaining about what i think they haven’t done when i haven’t done anything first. so my work is still with the real Government and when we have had mile stone achievement, we will get the attention of the official Government.

Do they know about the existence of slums? or that there is poverty? Well, we will have to ask them. I love Governor Fashola and i feel he needs more like minded people to really get his work to the grassroots level.

Making life better in the community has been with mixed feelings and i have learnt a lot. The best way to help someone solve their problem is by helping them solve it themselves via needs assessment and community map. The challenges are opportunities in disguise. Lack of adequate funding makes you think of ways to generating money on your own.

Inadequate workers and volunteers makes you multi task, relating to the disagreeing members of the community makes one develop negotiating skills plus communication skill married with diplomacy. ~ Tolulope Sangosanya

WOS -Take us through the state of mind of the children there? Are they in school are they eager to learn and leave there?

TOLU – We have 150 registered children that attends the LOTS resource center on a daily basis and over 80 on the waiting list yet there are thousands others we only work on a one off basis via health outreaches, food or cloth drive. I can speak for those i deal with daily, they will change the world for good just WATCH OUT for them. They are still doing dress rehearsal in leadership training, They have seen the worst and they will now work for the best. They are better than they were 5 years ago and so am i.

We are learning and unlearning somethings. Develop a child friendly space and see how children will be energized to learn. Their attitudes keep increasing as we show them the possibilities that education opens up for them.

WOS -Medical attention is something they so would need there, how do they manage?

TOLU – Inadequate Medical facilities is a general Nigerian problem, we have one close nice modern structured general hospital with inadequate partially skilled medical practitioners. There is no time i go there that i don’t ‘fight’. It is unbelievably how ignorant those we put our lives in their hands are. Doctors who don’t know about preventing mother-to -child HIV transmission, hospital where there are no counselors to give succor, emergency wards that do shabby first aid dressing on fire victims and the list goes on.

There is no such thing as free medical care that i can tell you as fact so some of my people then turn to spiritualist and ‘in-house’ midwives and chemist for care. We do ideally 2-3 free medical outreaches in the community on an annual basis with the help of other NGOs like Junior Achievement Nigeria but that is nothing compared to the needs of the people, so most times we leave our lives in the hands of fate and God. This year alone i have lost 4 parents to death that i think could have been prevented and it hurts to see the future leaders being partial orphans.

WOS -What is the dream for LOTS regarding these children and their community?

TOLU – My dream personally is to turn DUSTBIN ESTATE to TREASURE ESTATE housing project befitting of human being with basic facilities available for families starting with the 100 families we cater to now.

WOS -If you were not doing this, what would you be doing?

TOLU – If i wasn’t doing this, i will be in entertainment industry.

WOS -What on the average inspires Tolulope Sangosanya and how would she manage with the job when she gets married?

TOLU – Doing what i am doing now when i marry is one challenge i am ready for. I am smiling knowing that it will be a beautiful ride to raising beautiful family married to 150 homes. My unborn children have 150 and counting siblings. Now that is interesting. I think about it daily and i smile. My husband opened his eyes before he proposed right? So it is not like i changed after marriage.

I am sure he would have counted his cost before proposing and i am hoping he is going to read this. [Laughing] What motivates me is DEATH!!! One day i am going to die and that thought makes me live life INTENTIONALLY. Giving is LIVING for me. So every opportunity i get i give, that’s how i get joy.

Yeye Oge of Lagos, Chief Mrs Opral Benson talks about Fashion, Women and Politics

Yeye Oge of Lagos, Chief Mrs Opral Benson talks about Fashion, Women and Politics

Ify Onyegbule, Editor in Chief Woman of Substance Nigeria, chats with Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson Fashion and Beauty has become a huge industry in Nigeria, before now, these terrains were looked upon as a soft landing for school dropouts and “never-do-wells” but the story is different today with efforts from people like our Woman of Substance this month.

Nigeria’s fashion Icon, Septuagenarian and honorary Consular General of Nigeria to Liberia Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson, spoke to Ify Onyegbule, Editor in Chief Woman of Substance Nigeria about her work, beauty institute and how marriage changed the course of her life!

WOS: OF INTEREST TO ME IS YOUR ROLE HERE AT THE CONSULATE OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA

OPRAL: The Consulate was set up to bring closer together the Nigerian and Liberian business communities, Liberia has got many business opportunities and we would like to have people from this country to take advantage of these opportunities.

Our mission is simply to bring these two countries closely together. Liberia like any other country has lots of opportunities in mining, oil business, agriculture and some are interested in cultural activities and all of these we can get to partner and this is why we are having an open door for Nigerians to ask questions and see how they can relate to us in these circumstances.

WOS : LETS COME BACK TO NIGERIA, HOW DID YOUR ROMANCE WITH HER START?

OPRAL: The romance started by marriage. I got married to a Nigerian over 50 years ago, a gentleman and I met in Liberia in 1961 at the conference of English Speaking countries in Africa and we were introduced to each other and the relationship started in 1961 we got married in 1962 and the rest is history.

WOS : OF THE CAREER PATHS AND BUSINESSES YOU HAVE TRAVERSED, WHICH ONE EXACTLY DESCRIBES YOU?

OPRAL: I have worked with various NGOs, I have worked with some companies in Nigeria but most of my ventures have been in the NGO area and the one that clearly describe me is the beauty school. I used to be a staff of the University of Lagos, I worked there for 10years I worked with various individuals who are now very important personalities throughout Nigeria and outside the country so I know Nigeria very well so I decided to leave the academic field as we call it and come into the beauty field because I’m interested in Fashion, in how you look and feel about yourself and that’s how I started the Opral Benson Beauty Training institute and this is our 28th year of existence and we have graduated many students who are now self-employed in so many parts of the country.

WOS: WHAT WAS THE VISION OF THE TRAINING INSTITUTE?

OPRAL: The vision was and is to empower young people and make them self-reliant and understand that they have chosen a profession which they like and which they chose themselves. Look around you and you will notice that the beauty institute has grown very fast in the last few years; it is now a much respected industry. We have done manufacturing, we have done servicing and we have done teaching, this explains why I always say we have been in this industry for a long time.

WOS: YOUR BEAUTY SCHOOL STANDS OUT, WHAT EFFORTS WENT INTO IT?

OPRAL: The challenge really was convincing individuals that the beauty industry was not and is still now for drop outs but for people who are interested in a profession and that when you are through with your course or training, you can be self-employed and earn a very honest living.

It really was not easy getting people to understand that it is a profession that could stand on its own and the practitioners can stand at par with other professionals in other fields.

WOS: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE AFRICAN WOMAN?

OPRAL: She is industrious, articulate, kind, loving and able to understand her environment being able to appreciate others. She is a strong woman and once she makes up her mind that she is going to do something, she does it very well.

WOS: DO THESE QUALITIES DESCRIBE YOUR FRIEND AND PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA?

OPRAL: President Ellen Joohnson Sirleaf is a very strong woman going by the job she does in her capacity as President and she has made African women very proud.

WOS: WHAT HAS CHANGED IN LAGOS IN THE LAST 50YRS?

OPRAL: Obviously I can speak about that for someone who has been here for 5oyears, individuals have changed, the environment has changed, and Lagos has many more qualified people because of the various institutions on the ground. At this point in time we have a very good governor and he is making Lagos a very beautiful city and I believe his interest in the youths have opened up opportunities for them to get trained, Lagos has its challenges like every other states but I will tell you that the positives far outweighs the negatives.

The African woman is industrious, articulate, kind, loving and able to understand her environment being able to appreciate others. She is a strong woman and once she makes up her mind that she is going to do something, she does it very well. ~ Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson

WOS: HAVE WOMEN MOVED WITH THE PACE THAT YOU HAVE DESCRIBED?

OPRAL: I strongly believe women have moved and I want to boldly say that women have got themselves to the top echelon in terms of productivity, they no longer sit back and wait to be told what to do, the challenges are still there but they have moved tremendously in the positive line.

WOS: MENTORING IS A BIG ISSUE NOW, HOW DO WE SAVE THE YOUTHS?

OPRAL: If we look at the choices most young people make today, some are right and some are wrong and that is how it has been from time, the way to get back on track Is to support people like us who have been able to start some sort of progrmme for young people to help them discover themselves and place value on their dreams and passions and in mentoring them we have to let them understand that you can live the good life if you do what you have to do in terms of acquiring the appropriate skills or education to take you where you are going and most importantly they need to know that hard work truly pays.

WOS: WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?

OPRAL: Simply that I left my footprints in the sands of time for instance with my beauty school I have people walk up to me wherever I go that either a friend, daughter or family member has passed through the institute and I feel joy when I hear that.

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