An incident struck me when I was in primary school, I was waiting close to the gate of my school for my dad to pick me when I saw a young girl whose face was familiar in my neighborhood. She walked pass hawking some goods and I tried to wave but could see sadness written all over on her face. At about age 7, this was properly the beginning of critical inquiry for me, Why wasn’t she in school? Recalling similar incidents too, I further asked, why do I see so much unfairness? Was there anything that can be done about such? Who is responsible for making changes? Is it the government as I saw in newspaper? Community leaders? Who?
Reflecting on the probable response to these questions, I found a bit in my upbringing, my father was an ex-policeman, who encouraged self-organisation when the community we lived in was experiencing high security challenges such as robbery, looting and the likes. The men and women came to our house for meetings and discussed probable solutions such as doing household shifts for night watch, acquiring safety ammunitions, security training among other things. This got me thinking about community-based solution and leadership, if they had waited for the government to provide patrol cars for police officers and relied on them to provide security, we would have incurred so many damages and loss of lives. I am talking about (1995-1999) those times where seldom families in Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria had reliable home phones to call any police and police officers had seldom vans to timely respond to violent situations.
My mum is also very influential to the values I hold dear; she is strong, diligent and multifaceted. She always makes our house welcoming for such community meetings, any other home functions and at the same time, she excels as a businessperson, caring mother and attentive wife. She makes me see leadership in a beautiful light that it is not gender limiting and that anyone who is passionate about giving their best can step with faith into leading the way in their own little world. In fact, my parents brought me and my outstanding brother (who is now a medical doctor) with the same amount of love and our differences were uniquely celebrated.
At a juncture in my life, I began seeking God concerning purpose, and the question what do you live for? Was at the core of my heart. I became very aware of a purposeful lifestyle and found my vision statement in Isaiah 61:1-3. This has been a driving force even in the face of counteracting situations and opposition. This can be referred to as spirited leadership, when one has a deep conviction in the existence of a higher authority and as a constant source of inner strength, direction and courage irrespective of the storms. I ended up with a deep sense that I cannot change my entire world but by God’s grace, I will contribute my quota.
I had the opportunity of organising personal community development services during my National Youth Service year. It provided me opportunities to carry out projects. After I was done with my youth service in Bayelsa state, the normal inclination was to return to my home state (Lagos). However, I was passionate about the Niger Delta people and saddled with inner responsibility to unravel ways for forward thinking. I watched both local and global news that discussed the violence, vandalism and the instability experienced in the region. However, after a year of living in the region: I was able to see beyond the impartial image painted by the media. I visited communities that possessed 3-5 oil wells with little or no electricity, unsustainable educational programs, dilapidated health facilities or no access to health care amongst other challenges. As at 2014, data illustrated that 85% of the total government revenue of Nigeria was generated from the region and yet there was very little development in most of its communities. I began to wonder, if there was another expected output from such unfair treatments? I strongly do not support pipeline vandalism, militant operations, kidnap of foreign expertise or any other form of violence. However, the root causes of the aforementioned vices are as a result of the environmental, social and economic challenges that the Niger Delta communities face on a daily basis.
These spurred me to stay back in Bayelsa after youth service and I worked with a Non-Governmental Organisation. As a field worker in the region, I realised that the challenges of the Niger-Delta are systemic and most approach to issues were in isolation to interconnecting causal factors. Therefore, I ventured into applying for a Master’s degree in Environment and Community at Antioch University Seattle where I gathered integrative skills for sustainable change.
After 3 years of gathering academic and professional skills, I returned home to get married to my fiancé in Nigeria. Fortunately, I got pregnant the very month we got wedded. However, a mass was discovered in my lower abdomen so my pregnancy became a high risk one. I was admitted in a well-known private hospital that ended up infecting me with sepsis through a drip administration… I moved to a government-owned hospital which was supposedly equipped with a wide-range of medical practitioners but lacked basic infrastructures and wasn’t pregnancy friendly. For instance, pregnant women who tend towards food cravings and aversions were forced to eat poorly prepared hospital meals and not allowed to receive home-made food amongst other terrible practices. Sadly, I lost my 4 months old baby and went through several near-death experiences. I owe my being alive to God and I am blessed with an amazing husband, mother, father and brother. The experience awoke my awareness around foetal and maternal mortality. Hence, the EriOluwa project (See link for details)
Banner Unto Nations Foundation (BUNF) is my way of responding to the various challenges that affects me, other Nigerians and West Africa as a region. It’s a platform to collaborate with national and global like-minds to drive sustainable change. I am responsible, we are responsible!!! Everyone from individuals, to communities, organisation and the government has a role to play. For sustainable change to occur, it must cut across all levels. BUNF hopes to contribute its quarter in increasing the quality of life for the most vulnerable in the society while ensuring that nature’s economy is not taken for granted.