By Josephine Igbinovia
The Rotary Club of Lagos, a forefront Club in Nigeria, was chartered in 1951, a few months after the first Rotary club- Rotary Club of Kano, was launched in Nigeria. Until 2005 when The Hon (Mrs) Hairat Balogun, a Life-Bencher, a former Attorney-General of Lagos State, one of Nigeria’s foremost female lawyers and a thorough-bred who never fails to leave her footprints on the sand of time, was invited to join, this Club had been an all-male membership.
She made such an impressive impact there that she will be installed on Friday, September 7th, 2012, as the 52nd President, and first female President of that illustrious Rotary Club. Vista Woman had a chat with her at her office recently, on what she’s going to do during her tenure, 2012-2013, and also got her views on some other things. Excerpts:
How do you make out time for selfless service when you’re known to be a very busy professional?
I’m glad you used the exact expression- selfless service. We also say ‘service above self’ in Rotary. If you’re interested in something, you will find the time. It’s like human beings too. We all have large and extended families, but we find time for them all; greet them, remember their birthdays, attend their celebrations, etc. because we are interested. Rotary’s service is serving humanity and the less-privileged people, and the results are enough to make one happy to do more.
How come you got elected as President barely seven years after your induction?
The club has different avenues of service. There is the club administration, membership committee, and several others where one could serve. You don’t just go to meetings and sit down! You make sure you’re active, you fellowship, you assist voluntarily and you’re friendly. Depending on how well you perform, you might get elected to a post, and that’s how you rise. The first capacity where I acted was club administration. In recent times, I’ve served as Vice President and President-elect.
What other ways have you contributed to the growth of the club?
Actually, I always like to be actively involved in all our club projects. Also, apart from paying your annual subscription as a Rotarian, you also contribute to the Rotary Foundation. You can either contribute so much periodically or contribute a thousand dollars at once. Contributing a thousand dollars at once makes you a Paul Harris Fellow, and that money is used to carry-out projects in various countries.
All Rotary clubs, including our club, are able to access the funds at the Rotary Foundation. That is, we can apply for financial assistance from the foundation, to execute large projects. I’m a 3-times Paul Harris Fellow, and I’ve also made one of my grandchildren a Paul Harris Fellow as well.
It’s a tradition in Rotary for Presidents to line-up activities for their term-in-office. What are your plans?
Every year, Rotary International designs a theme which the various clubs try to work with. This year, the theme is ‘Peace through Service’, and we’re therefore carrying out projects that capture that. We’ll be working in the area of conflict resolution by targeting different areas like market places and families prone to conflict. We shall also engage in promoting maternal and child health.
On the day of my investiture, we will be having a well known lady professor, Professor Ibironke Akinsete, to speak on maternal and child health. We will thereafter work with the Lagos Island Maternity and also give them certain equipment to upgrade their structures. We will also go to the Massey Street Children’s Hospital, and then to Onikan Health Centre.
We also plan to provide water in schools and communities around us. Also, we will engage in basic education and literacy by going to schools. Last year, we provided libraries for some schools, and this year, we will concentrate on donating books. We’ve had a micro-credi
t scheme at Sandgrouse Market where we give out interest-free loans to men and women. We shall continue with this project, along with other continuous projects that we’ve always had, including our annual Children’s Xmas Party at Campus Square, Lagos.
Will you tackle this theme in relation to the present crisis in Nigeria?
That’s why we’re working with communities because it is communities that beget countries. When there is no peace in homes in communities, it will permeate upwards. If we replicate such all over the world, we will have world peace. We importantly have to start preaching peace from the grassroots; not from the top. If somebody is hungry, he or she cannot understand peace, so, we must take care of such things if we want lasting peace.
As a law veteran, do you agree that the 1999 Constitution needs to be amended to be more gender-friendly?
Already, the Constitution is against gender discrimination. It has stated that there shall be no discrimination on account of race, sex or birth. That’s why we can no longer condemn illegitimate children- it’s against the law and one can be sued for such. They have their full rights like children born within marriage.
The Constitution cannot do more than provide. It is now left for women to ensure that others follow what the law says! It’s not something one gets on a platter of gold. If you find that there is discrimination somewhere, you fight it to the letter by getting a good human rights lawyer! It may cost you some things, but you have to fight for your right! The Constitution cannot move because it is not a person, but like I said, it can only provide. It is now left for you as a person to enforce what has been provided.