By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Elizabeth Efe Era is the executive director of LizGold Global International Limited and convener of Ethel Women Initiative.
She organizes a pageant, the Face of Niger-Delta Cultural Pageant (FONDCUP), in the Niger Delta region aimed at promoting the cultural heritage of the people.
Troubled by the many vices among the youths of today, she decided that it was time to look for a way to help curb some social problems like sexual violence, insecurity and rape, and effect a positive change in the Niger Delta region; she is empowering women using pageantry. Era told Daily Sun how she uses her platform to showcase the rich culture of the people and also build the capacity of women in a bid to address conflicts in their communities.
What inspired the Face of Niger Delta Cultural Pageant?
I have always been an advocate for peace, unity and togetherness, since my secondary school days. I grew up in the Niger Delta region and watched how poverty and hardship have driven our people into making some decisions that have caused the region a lot of damage. I yearn to change all that, preach peace, love, kindness and bring the people together, to enable our region prosper.
The most effective way to achieve this is to take us back to our roots, help us realize that our cultural heritage symbolizes oneness, togetherness and progress. This has always been one of my life’s philosophy and quote: “When you know who your father really is, you won’t want to disgrace him or bring shame to him wherever you find yourself.” The Face of Niger Delta Cultural Pageant is a logo that I intend to use as a medium to achieve all these, thus, the idea of pageantry. My intention is to use pageantry to address root causes of violence in the Niger Delta region.
There are nine states with peculiar cultural heritage, how do you intend to bridge the differences that can foster unity in the region?
Our cultural heritage within the Niger Delta region is peculiar, no doubt, but we have lots of similarities. However, don’t forget our diversity is what makes us unique as a people. I plan to help us understand the need and beauty in sharing our cultural and traditional heritage and believe with one another for our growth, peace and unity as a people. Like I said in my previous response, Face of Niger Delta Cultural Pageant will be a common logo, more like a bridge, to reach out to our people the region to actualize our common goal
I believe that the root causes of the violence in the region remain unaddressed, and many fear that militant groups will return to violence if more far-reaching change is not achieved, but if women are well-placed to act as agents of change and lead efforts to restore peace and security, things would turn around for the better.
Women are relegated to the back due to some cultural biases that deprive them of certain rights. How do intend to effect a change that would give them a voice in the region?
My goal of engagement is to empower the women of the Niger Delta region, create a better and peaceful place for us and not destroy their existing values. Our queen and whoever emerges the winner of the pageant will obey the laws of the land, except for those that are barbaric and dehumanizing. On a lighter note, civilization has made things better. We have women these days who are appointed into relevant positions and given important responsibilities in Nigerian society and I am sure that we will be working within the region without worrying about such obstacles.
How do you think it will impact on rural women who do not have access to modern technology?
We intend to go to the grassroots, find out what their most pressing needs are and empower them with it. Change is a gradual process, so I can’t categorically tell you, as if it is done by magic, that we will transform their lives and help them become tech gurus or civilized citizens overnight.
However, we will make provisions for them like providing them with educational materials, enabling environment and best ways to manage their businesses and lives in the rural communities.
Can you tell us about the journey so far with FONDCUP and how challenging it has been?
Face of Niger Delta Cultural Pageant (FONDCUP) was initially organised by Gold House, my predecessor got ill and died, just before he could get funding for the next season. It took me four years to figure out the best way to make the initiative bigger and better, especially to follow our dreams and goals.
It has not been easy trying to garner sponsors for this project, as it isn’t easy to convince sponsors that this is completely different from the regular pageantry they have been sponsoring. Traveling round the nine states in this COVID-19 pandemic period was so much stress, coupled with the challenges of dealing with government officials over this.
FONDCUP is a vehicle to promote cultural identity and unity. Do you have a unique name for the queen?
She is called Kindness Ambassador. This is so because more than anything else, she will be preaching kindness, generosity and love due to the coronavirus across the nine states of the Niger Delta region through her projects and enlightenment campaigns.
More often than not, people view pageantry as immoral and something that is reserved for never-do-wells. What are your thoughts on this and how do you want to erase that notion?
Pageantry over time in Nigeria has become an office of irrelevance because the organizers never had a defined goal, focus or objective. We intend to change all that by making sure everything and everyone involved in the show will be professional. The winner will also wear the crown with dignity and pride. She must be intelligent enough to run her office, without thinking that her body is the best asset she has to get what she wants. This is why Face of Niger Delta Cultural Pageant is strictly for beautiful and intelligent maidens.
The pageant is equally to empower the girl-child. How do you intend to promote girls’ education with pageantry?
When our queen emerges, part of her pet project will be going into rural areas to educate girl-child and come up with initiatives that will help the girl-child become more useful to herself and her immediate environment.
What advice do you have for women generally?
As a woman, despite all the challenges I experience in my field and the society, I am steadfast in my ideology. You too can do it. Be a mother when you are supposed to, a spouse, a friend and a sister. Do not for whatever reason, talk down on a fellow sister. Remember, we are generation generators. Whoever you are today, will definitely be the future we will see and embrace tomorrow.
In the next five years, what is your projection for this project?
This is a huge project and one that must thrive at that. FONDCUP is being reborn now, we would like to say, we are just starting again. We intend to be bigger and must have achieved a lot in the next five years occupying a large space for ourselves in the modeling, tourism, culture and entertainment sector in the country and beyond.
There is this notion that the Niger Delta region has an epidemic of sexual violence against women. What is FONDCUP doing to curb it in the region?
We must set up platforms that can accommodate the plight of vulnerable groups, swinging into action through concerted effort with government to reduce sexual base violence, like enacting laws that deal sexual offenders. Also, on our part FONDCUP will set up an office to that effect, to deal with victims and perpetrators in the act. The office of the crowned queen will see to it that victims are treated well emotionally and otherwise, while we work with the law enforcement agencies in the region to bring offenders to justice.
What is your take on the negative impacts of OVID-19 on roles women play?
Women account for 90 per cent of family food supply and the federal government should encourage and find a way to help the vulnerable group. Most men have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the onus lies on the women to cater for the families.
The federal government should come up with skills projects and train women in various skills to help them. The training should be combined with an immersion and mentoring programme in which rural women come to live with women in the cities and are mentored by them in social change. It then should have advocacy visits and community forums with key policymakers in order to provide opportunities for the women to practice and build confidence in their ability to successfully engage with policymakers.