By Vera Wisdom-Bassey
Mrs. Kate Onyechere, Senior Special Adviser to Abia State Governor, is the founder of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Nigerian Women for Truth. In her capacity, she also coordinates South-West zonal arm of another NGO, Women for Change Initiative, founded by Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan.
Apart from empowering women nationwide, her NGO also gives scholarships to children.
In this interview with Daily Sun recently, Onyechere revealed how she promised herself that the fate she suffered by not attempting the university education would not befall her children and, today, she counts her blessings.
Congratulations, you have just added a year to your age. How do you feel?
We have every reason to be happy, and give God the glory.
What would you say are the lessons life has taught you?
Life is filled with ups and downs. Naturally, it comes with the good side and the low side but it has not been easy. Life is filled with challenges of trying to struggle, making sure that one survives, and also carry the less privileged and students along. There are many challenges that you grapples with as you grow that you can’t even remember but, by and large, it is worth being thankful for.
As a Special Adviser to Abia State government, there were a lot of complaints of the moving of the Umuahia market to another location, the people did not take it well. What is your view?
We met as a committee and we touched most of the things they claimed were not right. What we saw on ground was not what we expected, but I know that His Excellency, the governor, is working on them now despite the breakdown, which affected his health as a result of coronavirus pandemic. Everybody is fighting for the survival of their citizens. The governor has set up committees to improve on most of the projects.
How do you think that Aba City could be transformed to become a beautiful city, knowing that there a lot of talented people there?
One of the things we discussed was that we would to bring in foreigners to help transform the place. The way Aba stands now, there are good plans and we hope that, from now to the next three years, it will become a small London. It would be more than most places we visit like Dubia because, soon, the transformation will start.
How was your growing up like?
My father was a civil servant. He worked with the defunct P & T, while my mother was a trader. Ours was an average family where my mother was a supporting ligament to my father. Being a civil servant, my dad taught us the culture of spending wisely. And we built on core family values and true friendship. I must say that those values and principles have helped me in life as well as in my relationship with friends.
Unfortunately, I was not opportune to go to the university. Instead, I was making children and training them, I have six children and 13 grandchildren.
I knew what I lost by not furthering my education beyond the secondary school level; so, I would not like my children to suffer the same fate.
For this singular reason, I have dedicated my life and earnings to sending them to the best schools I can afford. It is my desire and prayer that they will all be given equal opportunity up to the university. I am grateful to God that my dream is gradually being achieved. To the glory of God, my last daughter has just finished from law school and she has been called to bar.
You are the coordinator of the South-West arm of the NGO, Women for Change Initiative. Give us an insight into its activities.
Women for Change Initiative was founded in 2016. And, so far, we have given scholarship on merit to some local governments in Abia State and other states. I was born in Abia State but got married to a man from Imo State. Before picking candidates from Abia State, we get the list of those qualified, but firstly we inform the traditional ruler, who helps us get the quality of people we want, and also seek his permission to give out these scholarships. We pick our prospective candidates for scholarship from each community in any of the states.
We have 34 people on scholarship, while we make provision for widows by giving them soft loans to go into business. Some of them pay back while others default on payback but still we continue to carry them along. The soft loan is N50,000 for each person.
Is there any disciplinary action for defaulters?
It depends on what they say. Some may give reasons that they sought for medical assistance with part of money and with that the beneficiary loses the opportunity to get another loan. When we found out that these were becoming recurrent instances, we decided to set up a committee to look into the matter and it was evident that some of the women could not repay the loan.
So, instead of continuing to give them loan that they could not pay back, we started giving them palliatives such as rice, beans and other foodstuff. However, we still give out money on rare instances. At times, we group them and give them N10,000 each, it all depends on the cash we have at hand at that time and the number of people we have that are in need.
How do you rate women’s participation in this regime with regard to being carried along, politically?
This administration is not just carrying women along, so there is nothing to talk about. They are not doing well, not to talk of carrying women along. It was only the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, that carried women along during her husband’s tenure, and the women knew that they could speak up and assert authority in the political sphere. That time, women were recognized and given their dues but not anymore with this administration.
As a politician, do you see the possibility of a woman becoming the President of this nation?
I think it is possible and will be achieved, someday. How soon that will be, I do not know, but I think its achievable. You can see the clamour for a change coming in the 2023 elections so much so that even the northerners want someone from the East to become the President of this nation because it is really our turn to produce a President. So, nothing is impossible, so far as it is politics.
What is your advice to women?
Generally, women should know that God has given them the gift of family and the capacity to take care of them. It is their duty to build and nurture their home with love and care. They should work hard to become the virtuous women that God has created them to be.
If their spouse dies and they want to remarry, there is nothing wrong in re-marrying. If the man you want to marry is not up to your late husband’s standard, maybe your husband left some good money for you and one reckless man wants to come and be your husband, don’t take that, try and use whatever your husband left for you to train your children and stand by them. Train your children and make sure you stand for them.
Every woman should ensure she is meaningfully engaged. They should make sure their children don’t become a disappointment to them and to the world.
After all, the old adage of “teach a child the way to go and when he grows, he will not depart from it” has never failed.
So, it is important for every woman to hold onto good moral upbringing for children because our children are our future. If you gamble with them, you are indirectly gambling with their future.
My area of commitment is women empowerment, especially in the South-West, where I coordinate the (NGO’s) affairs, but, presently, I am the woman leader for Ogun State Ohanaeze Ndigbo. I had equally coordinated that of Ndigbo in Lagos State.