Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Kwara State First Lady, Olufolaka Ajike Abdulrazaq has been in the diplomatic service for almost 28 years. She holds a Masters in International Law and Diplomacy degree and has worked in South Africa, France, and the United Kingdom.
As she reveals in this interview, both the Kwara State government and her own office have shown strong commitment to the welfare of women, youths, and people living with disabilities as well as empowering more women in skills dominated by men.
What is your pet project all about?
I started the Ajike Peoples Support Centre, mainly because I have done lots of progammes to give back to society but not in a systematic manner. So it was important to start the Ajike People Support Centre as a way of doing things in a more organized way and reach out, give back to women, children and the youths. I am the mother of grown up boys so I never exclude men from what I do. They and their friends have been instrumental in achieving lots of things, so our focus is on women, men and youths and our primary focus is on people that are marginalised.
Studies show that low status women are vulnerable to gender-based violence. What is your take on this?
Towards the end of last year, we had 16 days of activism and advocacy on gender-based violence that ran from November 25 December 10, 2019. A lot of us did things to show that we were no longer happy with the level of gender-based violence in Nigeria and that is important to take a stand against it. There are so many incidents that you hear about in the media. In Kwara, a little girl that was just three and a half years old was brought to me. She was allegedly assaulted by a 60-year-old man. When the doctors gave me a report of her injuries, it was really sad and it made me more driven towards taking a stand against gender-based violence. It took the intervention of my office and the Ministry of Women Affairs in Kwara State to make the perpetrator face the full wrath of the law.
The young girl was put under the care of the Ministry. There is a lot of stigma attached to this, so we tend to keep their names from the media so that people will not get to identify the victims. We encourage people to speak out and seek an end to the stigmatisation of people; Victims should not be stigmatised because it will make them keep silent and this is not good for their psyche.
Just recently, you took care of 1000 indigent women. How often do you intend to do this?
Yes, we have done this in different stages with different non-governmental organisations and women groups. That is why I have lots of respect for women in Kwara State. They stood up with me to achieve this because you know the old style of when you empower people, they would take the items away and sell them off because they don’t know how to use them. We had to stop that and train them in skills acquisition programmes such as tie-and-dye, face screen, make-up, batik production, shoe making and purses. The women we trained are now train other people and make a living from it. All this creates an avenue to change the status quo. And it helps to remove them from the poverty cycle. So many groups have partnered with me like the Educated Women in Politics, Ajike Peoples Support Group, Folake Forum, and many others. They come to me and I help them to pilot the programme. We are going to sustain this because the more people you empower the better. It means going to all the 16 local government areas and not just one or two; so we are going to reach as many people as we can to make them all economically viable.
The girl-child has been deprived of quality education. How do you intend to use your office to turn things around in the state?
We have commenced a sensitive programme and we are ensuring that proper information is disseminated, to make people see that it is important that the girl-child is educated because there is a popular saying that when you educate the girl-child you educate a nation. So, it is important not to leave the girl-child behind because things are becoming more technological; you have to be smart positively to achieve your goal in life and it is quite amazing that men are quite receptive to the message. Yes, men are quite receptive to the message that girls should stay in school. So you are aware of the rehabilitation of schools and it is encouraging people to stay in school because when the environment is more conducive the likelihood for them to stay in school.
We are also taking some messages to the school and on Human Rights Day. We go into these schools and talk to them. We did a drug eradication programme and ensured that school children, youth corps members and university students participated. And because they are participating, there is enthusiasm and I believe we will be able to do more in the future.
As an advocate for gender-based issues, what are you doing to change the narrative regarding women in the state?
We will continue to have awareness discussions. Also, the women group when they pay me a courtesy visit, we talk and we seek strategic means to avert any form of violence among women. We encourage them to learn how to speak out and become bold and don’t think of the stigma and seek help and counsel. We also collaborate with other NGOs to achieve this.
What are you doing to change the lives of people living with disabilities in the state?
I was recently in a programme that focused on them and they were really happy. We have incorporated them into anything we do in the state. The women groups also reach out to the disabled people. Disability is not all about those that can’t walk or talk or any form of disability. They are an active part of our project here and they work in partnership with the women groups. And the best way to help them is to empower them with what will make them more viable in life. Sometimes in London, we look for groups that can assist with the purchase of wheelchairs, walking stick and visual aids. We will continue to work on them to ensure they have the aid to be optimally engaged.
Who are your role models?
It is a difficult question to answer because there are several women I look up to like my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law and other women in my family that have shown such strength. Also, there are several women that you can point to that have excelled in several fields of endeavours, so I have all of them as my role models.
What is your advice to women in northern Nigeria?
My message is that they should look at women around them who are trailblazing and say to themselves, that they can do what they are doing and it is important to be confident and reach for the stars and not to be obscured by anyone. If you look around, you will observe that men work with women who have excelled and showcase themselves; so it is important that women be the best they can be. It is also important to have fun in life and try to have a balanced existence. Not too much work because much work is not good and too much play is not good either. So aim for the stars and work hard.