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!