Mrs. Kemi Olofinkua is the President of the Prime Women Builders Foundation of Nigeria, PWOBFON. She is actualizing her dream of making women financially independent. No fewer than 2,000 participants attend PWOBFON’s annual empowerment programme where beneficiaries are trained in different skills.
Today, through the foundation, many women are proud business owners; others are giving back to the foundation and the society as facilitators and resource persons to other beneficiaries.
Olofinkua, in this interview with INNOCENT OKONKWO, speaks on the challenges confronting Nigerian women; causes of infidelity in marriages; youths and crimes in the society, among other issues.
TNE: How did you come about women empowerment?
We were planning an event that required contribution of money from members, we got to a stage where the majority of the women were complaining about lack of money and as the women leader of my church, I felt bad about the plight of these women.
So, the inspiration came that the women needed to be empowered to be financially independent. That was in 2007. We brought in different professionals in different fields to come and teach the women and impact on their lives positively, so that they might add to what they were doing and those that were not doing anything could start off something on their own.
They were taught different skills in bead making; confectionaries; liquid soap making and catering services, among others. So that even with little amount of money, they can start something profitable for themselves. How to make different kinds of soups was also taught during one of the sessions for those of them that wanted to start canteen or cafeteria businesses.
As we progressed, we discovered that not all of the beneficiaries were so keen in the various skill acquisitions, so we introduced the corporate session of the empowerment by going to various companies and organizations to invite them to teach the participants about businesses and the opportunities therein and about products distribution and services.
PWOBFON gives people free vocational training annually, motivates and guides them on how to do something profitable for themselves irrespective of tribe or religion.
Companies like Nestle; Mouka Foam; Nobel Carpets and Rugs have participated in the annual empowerment programme where they taught the participants how to become their products distributors. At a point, we decided to expand the empowerment programme in order to give more Nigerians the opportunity to benefit and we took the event to Ikeja Local Government Secretariat in 2010.
The same year, the organization got registered with the local government as the National Women Builders but it was later registered with the CAC as the Prime Women Builders Foundation of Nigeria.
As of this year, we have taken the empowerment to different local government areas in the state such as Ikorodu, Epe, Badagri, FESTAC Town, Ikotun and Surulere. We are going to reach out to other states of the federation with the programme from next year.
Initially, we were focusing only on women but we later found out that men and the youths were interested in what we were doing, so we decided to introduce some vocations that are more suitable for men such as computer hardware training, photography and other vocations for men. We have been receiving positive feedbacks from the beneficiaries of empowerment programme.
TNE: You have been in this empowerment for ten years, how has the journey been and what have been the challenges?
Gradually, we are getting closer to where we are going to. In the recent past, it was the Non-Governmental Organization,NGO, that was bearing the burden of the annual empowerment, but we thank God that we now have some organizations that are identifying with us. Some companies are also indicating their intentions to support us in order to achieve our goals.
But the challenge has always been finance. It has been tough but we thank God who has given us the grace to continue. But if we had got a vocational centre, definitely, we would have been able to affect more people in the society than the number that we have affected so far.
We are a non-governmental organization, the executives are putting money together to run the organization, cater for the facilitators, equipments and materials and other logistics needed for the empowerment of the beneficiaries. Whatsoever the participants need for the training are provided freely by the organization.
We have more than 2000 participants that attend the training programme annually that is the reason we solicit for the support of well-meaning individuals and philanthropists in the society because we cannot cater for everyone. N20, 000 or less can make the difference in the life of somebody. We don’t give them money but at least, we are giving them something to start with.
We are sensitizing people to see through our vision that there is somebody out there that needs their widow’s mite, which can turn somebody’s life around. Because of the financial challenge, last year we spoke to some financial institutions and we were able to bring in a Commercial bank and also a Micro Finance bank, so that they could assist the participants on how to get fund after their trainings.
The commercial bank, Heritage Bank came to the empowerment event with their BVN machine and assisted them with the BVN listings. One of the objectives of the organization is to give valuable information to those that are interested and willing to heed.
We try to understand the problems of the beneficiaries and then try to see what we can do. We may not give them money but we do give them the training and then ask them other areas they may need our help to start up their business.
We have brought NAFDAC officials to talk to the participants on how to get their productions registered with the agency. It is our aim to get those that are up the ladder to listen to the people that are below the ladder, so there will be a meeting point and an opportunity for networking.
We are also targeting those in the corporate world like bankers to come and take the advantage of the programme because one day, they are going to leave their present jobs. There is need for Nigerians to have Plan B, especially in the present situation that Plan A is already failing.
TNE: Do you teach the women anything about managing their homes especially now that economic situation is not very friendly?
In fact, whenever they gather, we talk to them about their homes because we believe that when you build a woman, you are building a nation, because the woman is the wife of the President; the woman is the sister of the President, and the mother of the President is also a woman. Women are so valuable to the society that they cannot be ignored.
When women are trained on how to run and manage their homes and they stick to what they are taught, we will be building a strong society and then we will have a strong nation that is full of integrity, free from violence, fraud and other negative tendencies.
If women are sidelined in nation building, our country will have more serious problems. We teach them how to respect their partners and how to take care of the children. We talk about our homes and why we must know how to cook because a hungry man is an angry man.
For instance, Unilever last year came and taught the women various things they can use vegetables to do for the nourishment of their homes. Nestle has been coming to the empowerment programme to give the participants tips on nutrition in the home. We talk about nutrition and health as well.
The officials of Lagos State Ministry of Health have come and educated the women on healthy living in family, family planning and other health-related issues. Although the empowerment day is a day’s event, most times, we start at 7 a.m to enable us cover as many areas as possible. We organize it once in a year because of the financial involvement, otherwise, it should be held twice or thrice in a year. We make it a full day’s event and the participants know that the empowerment day is for the whole day.
TNE: In your interactions with the women, what have you identified as the challenges facing the Nigerian women?
The challenges that Nigerian women face today are many. Lack of money is one of them. Most women were not prepared for the challenges they are facing in terms of the harsh economic environment, so many men are out of jobs, and some are not getting enough so they come home frustrated. The woman tries to pick up a job to make ends to meet, a responsibility that she is not prepared to embark upon; she may have relaxed believing that her husband would be taking care of everything in the home.
Some women are not strong enough to face the challenges around them especially getting money to support their homes or be supported; as a result, infidelity will set in. They do what they are not supposed to do and the home is affected. God has given the women tremendous strength. Women are so active these days because it is as if the trend is changing about who is bringing in the money.
However, no woman should see herself as the head of the home at any point in time. The moment the woman sees herself as the head of the home, problem will start in that home. An ideal home is that in which the man is the head irrespective of who is bringing in the money.
TNE: Are you attributing the cases of infidelity in marriages to the harsh economic situation?
Well, one of the major causes of infidelity is ignorance. Couples should know the contract they are about to enter before they say, ‘I do.’ When you go into the contract in a situation where you cannot read or write and nobody is interpreting the contract terms for you, it is either that such a person is regretting tomorrow or she is misbehaving.
Infidelity occurs in most homes because of ignorance, the woman does not know that if she goes out to defile herself, she is bringing curses to her home; her intention may be to enjoy for herself and settle some bills but she never knows that it is bringing more problems to the home. The same thing is applicable to the men who indulge in it. Marriage is for the adults not necessarily by age but by maturity.
The economy is one of the causes of rising cases of extramarital affairs, but that should not be enough for one to go the way of infidelity. People should keep on trying since it is when one works that he can earn some money. Some big companies started with little money but now they have grown into big organizations.
Money can frustrate someone’s life. If one doesn’t have money, such a person may even die early, so money is important in everybody’s life. Lack of it is one of the causes of extramarital affairs. When a mother cannot provide for her children and they are soaking garri and at a stage, they don’t even have the garri to soak, the woman will be tempted to seek comfort outside the home.
Another thing that promotes extramarital affairs is lack of attention, the man is not giving the woman the needed attention, and the woman is not giving the man the attention he desires. A couple should make out time for relaxation. They should not get so occupied that they won’t have time for each other. People are now so busy to even remember to greet their partners in the morning, before the man wakes up, the wife is gone and vice versa. And by the time he is coming back, the partner has slept off.
Couples should not get so occupied that they should not remember where they started from. There should be a time husband and wife should go back to where they started their marital journey from. They should take out time for relaxation and renewal of their love. The more they stay together, the more their bond will get tighter.
Unfortunately, it is work and work and no time for relaxation, no vacation, no break; there are many ways to relax, take out time, shut down your business for a few days and stay with your partner, play together and laugh together, as they do so, they are blending again.
TNE: Do we blame the family or the society for the current upsurge in crime among the youths?
If we want to start the blame, we are going to start from the family unit. Family matters a lot; it is the family that goes on to become a society and then a nation. We should start from the family. The parents should teach the children the way they should go.
The religion I belong to says that if you teach a child the way he should go when that child grows up, he will not depart from it. We should teach our children how to be responsible members of the society; we should train them to be loyal to us, and to the society. We must teach them on how to give back to the society.
The blame should start from the home then to the society. What is the society feeding the children and youths with? Do we see billboards around that promote positive values; are there write-ups that encourage them to be good citizens of the country? If they keep on seeing captions on how a good child should behave, they can learn from that. The society should vend good things and feed the youths with positive thoughts.
Governments should be encouraging good conducts among the citizens too. The government should create the avenue to raise people’s hands for positive behaviour, reward patriotism and encourage well-behaved people in the society.