By Simeon EBEGBULEM,Benin City
Mrs. Eki Igbinedion is the President of the Idia Renaissance, a non governmental organization (NGO) in Edo state.
The NGO which also has a youth resource centre was established in 1999 as her pet project when she was the first lady of the state, shortly after her husband, Chief Lucky Igbinedion was sworn in as Governor of the state.
The objective of establishing the centre was to fight human trafficking and prostitution which was the prevailing trade among girls from Edo state then. Some of these girls were repatriated back home from Italy where they engaged into prostitution, through her effort.
Even after she left office in 2007, she still kept the centreÂ alive. The Idia Renaissance was ten years old last weekend and Saturday Vanguard cornered the former first lady for this interview after she granted ten orphans scholarship just as she also donated ten wheel- chairs and food items to physically challenged persons.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole was at the occasion and he commended Mrs Igbinedion for keeping faith with the centre where over four thousand youths have been trained, even after she left office. She told Saturday Vanguard how life has been after being a first lady for eight years.
Can you tell us how life has been out of office?
Well, it has been very interesting, very relaxing and its time to put things together. We have settled down and we are enjoying our retirement from government. ButÂ our business is going on and the home front is very good. We thank God.
From what we witnessed from the occasion at the Idia Renaissance center, it shows that you still continued your pet project after office. How has it been ten years after you established this centre?
Well Idia Renaissance for the past ten years has been operational. We had young girls and boys there from the very beginning and we still have people there today. We have graduated over three thousand people in that centre.
Today, you saw one of the young people who graduated, who became Miss Universe representing Nigeria .So, a lot of young people who haveÂ been repatriated from abroad, these young people we brought to that centre and they have been trained. And all these young people who passed through that center are all productive today.
And that is the most important thing to me. When I started in 1999, I made it clear to people that what was paramount is the sincerity of purpose. When you set out to do something and you are sincere about it, you want to set an objective that you know you can achieve.
And the objective we set for the centre was to ensure that when we bring these children together, we encourage them to fulfill their dream. We support them to ensure that they are empowered on basic skills and ensure that they are properly guided.
We bring people in to come and recruit these young ones and give them employment. So the support system goes beyond the training. And we oversee what they do when they leave the centre. Many a time, they come back to employ people who are going through what they have gone through. So, the system supports itself and that is what has kept it going.
So in ten years, we have achieved a lot. Today, when I looked at the young girls who passed through the centre volunteering to comeÂ back, to come and share what they have experienced in life, it gives me satisfaction and fulfillment.
And in another ten years, I want to see more of these people. I want to see that human trafficking, child trafficking is completely eradicated from our society. We have fought a good fight. We have created awareness; we have provided the opportunity and the enabling environment for these young people to excel.
We want to see a situation where they will establish other organizations where they can also assist people so that every body will be singing the same song in ensuring that this menace is completely eradicated.
We recall that you received a lot of bashing from some homes in Benin land, accusing you of repatriating their daughters from abroad. How do you feel today looking at what you passed through to ensure the eradication of human trafficking and prostitution in the state?
I was shocked at the blackmail and the bashing that I received from people. Even some went to the extent of saying that they had gone to put curses in different shrines against me.
Even people used it against us during the political campaign for my husbandâ€™s second term. But that did not deter me, because I was focused on the need to address such an urgent issue and there was nothing any body could do about it. It was a personal conviction that it was some thing that needed to be done and it just has to be done.
And looking back I am glad I stood my ground, I am glad I had the driveÂ which I had then to keep on pushing and of course ,the encouragement which I received from people who saw the good in the programme and supported it. When I look back, I think I am happy that ten years later we are still talking about it.
Even more people are benefitting from the programme now than before. The youth resource centreÂ particularly has grown. More departments have been established.
The children have come out now better refined. So, I feel a sense of fulfillment.
What is the secret or the magic to the success of these centres?
First and foremost, the secret is God. When you trust the Lord in doing any thing he will back you. It is very difficult to carry the responsibility of people particularly when you feel that a segment of the society do not really appreciate it. Some people are very skeptic about certain things.
And the encouragement is not there. I think that is why the programmes of some former first ladies failed after they left office. It is very easy to be frustratedÂ when you are doing something and people are not giving you that encouragement and someÂ people get very suspicious about you.
Even I found it very funny when I read in some papers that Idia Renaissance is completely finished, that most of the NGOs that I started have collapsed. I do not feel that way.
The main reason why I did not feel that way was because it is was a personal conviction. I felt that the young people are from my state, they have been so dehumanized and I see a society that faces extinction of the young people should that sort of attitude continue.
So for me, it was a personal thing. And secondly, I think it goes to show a great level of sincerity and commitment.
When I am doing anything, I get passionate with it particularly when it has to do with moral values, because I see that today, our society is gradually losing that and it is some thing that we need to do very quickly for the benefit of our children who are also part of the society that we all live in.
Also the Bible tells me that if you continue to do good, good will come to you and a lot of spiritual benefits comes from helping people. I feel that it is my responsibility to do what I am doing.
Since we left office, I have not been deterred. And most importantly, while my husband was in office as Governor, I tried and I succeeded in laying a foundation that we today build on. We were able to lay that foundation because I felt that posterity will judge the work we are doing.
And in laying that foundation, the NGO was structured in a way that I do not have to be there for it to run. Most of the children who graduated today, I do not know them. If you remember from what one of them said, she said I have never met you but I live my lifeÂ every day by looking at you as a mentor and your commitment to the centre.
And that touched me. That is all I need. I want people who will look at me as a role model and they want to strive to be the best they can be. Since the foundation has been laid, I do not necessarily need to be there. All I ensure is that salaries of the staff are paid every month. I ensure that the basic requirement of the centre to run are given to them and that is all.
What is your advice to First Ladies of today?
The most important thing is that first , if you are the wife of any office holder or any prominent person in this country, you must be very prayerful. You must stand on the solid rock and that is Jesus.
If you are not, I do not know how you will succeed because that was the bedrock of all we achieved in eight years in office. It was a beautiful eight years. It was wonderful and it was difficult.
But in all ,it was a learning experience. It is the greatest university that you can attend. When you get your formal education, that is different .I think this one is live education because you are responsible for so many people.
And when you are a leader, as you take responsibility of what happens to people, you carry the burden of every one. I never had any regrets. I have difficulties, I have challenges but never any regret. Because I think inÂ life, it is good you have challenges because it helps you to grow. As a matter of fact I thoroughly enjoyed my time.
You advised Oshiomhole during the graduation ceremony to be wary of some people who follow him about, you said you wish that those who are supporting him will truly support him to the end, what message are you trying to pass from your experience?
It was a very clear message and the clear message is that when you are in office, you are Governor to everybody.
You are Governor to the good, the bad and the ugly and it is your responsibility to be there for them whether you like it or not. So, I was only appealing to those people to try to beÂ good. This is very difficult if not impossible. But an appeal may change one or two persons.
I was telling them to truly support this man because we have confidence in him that he will move the state forward. With the genuine and sincere support of people around him , the job will be made easier for him. When you see some thing that is not right, for heaven sake do not tell him that it is right.
People are usedÂ to singing praises even when it is not necessary. Tell a leader the truth, he might not like it immediately but a sensible leader will go back and sleep on it and do what is right. So I am appealing to them to let us join hands and support the man there so that we can have a better state and a better nation.