BY EBELE ORAKPO
Eeefy Ify Ikeh is the Chief Executive Officer of Style is Innate, an outfit that is into hand-crafted jewelries made with exotic stones and exotic skin bags from Nigeria.
A multi-talented lady, Eeefy is a successful model, actress, author, motivational speaker, presenter and a designer, all rolled into one. In this chat with Vanguard, she speaks on her love for Nigeria, saying that unless Nigerians learn to love Nigeria and work to make her great, Nigeria will continue to move round in circles. Excerpts:
What brought about your outfit, Style is Innate?
Actually, Style is Innate – the designs, jewelleries and exotic skin bags, was inspired by my youth movement, called Patriotic Movement. The organisation is set out to promote peace, unity, patriotism and to raise change vanguards among Nigerian youths.
There is crisis in the country like in other parts of the world, not just in Nigeria but we have to fix our own. You can’t have fire burning in your house and you are trying to quench the fire in another person’s house, you quench yours first so the need to heal and build the nation was what inspired my creativity.
How can the youths help build Nigeria when they have been neglected for so long?
Yes, it is true that Nigerian youths are repressed and they are complaining a lot because of their struggles, but instead of waiting for someone to help you out of that struggle, you have to try to help yourself and pull yourself out of the hole. What if somebody doesn’t come by, what are you going to do?
The government you are expecting to do their work well, unfortunately, has disappointed you, but what about the responsibility you owe yourself? Government owes you the responsibility to provide the foundation upon which you can structure your life, your parents owe you the responsibility to ground you, to instill certain discipline and morals in you, but you, as an individual, owe yourself the responsibility to develop yourself.
You have a purpose that you must fulfill and with or without anyone, you must try to fulfill your purpose in life. Part of it is looking within, discovering your talents and developing them to the appreciation of people; that is how you can translate it into money.
Leading by example:
Now, I had to lead by example; I could not go out there and deliver messages that I don’t know the source or that I don’t really understand; you can’t give what you don’t have.
So I had to first research the nation to know and to understand Nigeria and her resources so I can disseminate the right information to the youths I was trying to inspire. In the process, I discovered the exotic leathers – ostrich, snake, crocodile, cow hides etc. I used them to design bags and shoes.
Nigeria is blessed:
We are always importing these things. When I came to Nigeria and saw these things, I was actually very angry because I thought I was spending thousands of dollars in the US on bags made out of exotic materials, meanwhile, I have it at my backyard in Nigeria wasting away because people don’t know the value and where they do, the finishing is not good.
We do everything in such lackadaisical manner and I am like ‘for crying out loud, we could also learn to create quality bags from our own materials and export.’ Why do we have to import everything? How can you build your nation when you are importing almost everything and depleting the nation’s foreign reserve?
So I started creating the bags and then I saw the stones! Oh my God! We have precious stones like topaz, garnet, moonstone, agate, tourmaline, emerald, corals, pearls, turquoise, amber, glass bead, camel bone, cow horn, rubies, just name it. I discovered all these in Nigeria.
What is wrong with us? I mean, these things cost so much money in the western world because I spend a lot of money buying them. Here, we have the stones but we don’t have the machines.
That is what I say to government and the private sector, why can’t we build this industry? How can you become successful as a nation unless you can build industries to provide employment for the people? We have the human and natural resources that we can cultivate and nurture to fruition to build industries, so why can’t we do it?
Change of attitude:
I told myself that we can do it but I have to start from myself. The change starts from you, from within and then it is projected into the society. I had to change my own attitude, how I see Nigeria, what I want for Nigeria and how I can contribute. My thinking had to change so I became patriotic – nation before self – and that is why I am doing this.
I am saying to the Nigerian youth, listen, if employment is not there, you can create it, look, I did it. I started with N15,000. A lot of people say, oh, but I don’t have a sponsor. Almost everybody has a Blackberry phone in Nigeria, the money you spent to buy Blackberry how about you buy the little phone that goes for N3,500, make a sacrifice because let me tell you something, growth is about sacrifice.
You sacrifice your careless and extravagant lifestyle, your luxury, greed, friendships and all kinds of stuff, for growth. So if you normally spend N100,000 on your hair, stop. I always say to the girls that want to wear Brazilian hair… ‘darling, I don’t have any problem with you wearing Brazilian hair, but the problem I have is this:You don’t even have a future because you don’t have a career, no goals, you don’t even dream and you are not working towards anything that would sustain your future but you are wearing a N100,000 hair, you don’t impress me.’
The N100,000 you spent to buy the hair can be channeled to something else that would propel your success. It takes focus, discipline and consistency. In the face of trial, you must be persistent, that is part of growth. That is how you can appreciate the success when you achieve it.
So I like to lead by example because that’s what leadership is about. It’s about nurturing, creating, building, harnessing. What I do is that I discover these materials and create something from them.
I started with N15,000, bought stones and made one necklace, people appreciated it and I made another and another. Every little money I have, I invested in the business. I sacrificed a lot. I have seven empoyees. In the US, I would go to a store and spend $4,000 to $5,000 to buy one bag but here, I am not shopping, I am investing money in making the bag.
Why should I always buy? Why can’t I produce and sell? Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chanel, Armani, Versace, all of these designers are human beings that conceived a great idea and worked to implement it. They are not different from me. If they can do it, Eeefy can do it. All I have to do is make sacrifices, change my attitude, cut down on all the crazy lifestyle, focus and I will get it done.
Go through the struggles and challenges and grow; that is what life is all about. One day, I will succeed because when people see you being consistent, they will begin to appreciate it and help and then you grow. If they can produce these designs and people go to Italy to buy them, one day, people can come to Nigeria to buy because it’s all about healing and building our home, it’s all about loving and protecting Nigeria and that’s the responsibility of every Nigerian child. That is why I am doing what I am doing. Anything I discover in Nigeria and I can conceive a lucrative idea around it, I pick it up; I am that aggressive.
I pick it up because it is not about the party anymore, it’s not about the yanga, no, because all of that is lacking in substance. It’s about what I can produce, about being significant to society and not a nuisance, it’s about helping the youth and society. I am very excited about Nigeria because with the things I see in Nigeria, I get angry when they say Nigeria is poor. Nigeria is not poor, what Nigeria has is people with poverty of ideas.
Nigeria is a wealthy nation that needs people to start to think and implement. Nigeria is not poor but Nigerians need to start to identify and harness the talents that we have. We have so many talented youths but nobody is paying any attention to them and they themselves are not paying attention to their talents. I did not know I could write, but I have written four inspirational books. I never studied journalism or psychology but when you read my books, you would think I studied those two at least.
It’s all about looking within. We think that wealth is external but it is internal. You have to look within, discover it and develop it so that people can appreciate it. If you do not bring it out, people will not see it to appreciate it. You need to cultivate the courage to conceive ideas and pursue goals. You need courage to say: ‘yes, I can do it. Let me be calm and tranquil in my spirit and think of what I can do. Let me start to dream. You have to learn to dream. Great success is achieved through dreams and the dreams must be implemented.
You can’t just stop at dreaming, you must implement and when you face challenges, it’s okay, you have to keep pushing, that’s why we talk about being persistent; you have to persevere. It would only build the character in you. It will help you with sustenance, you have to have gone through the valley to appreciate it when you are on the highest mountain because if they hand everything over to you, you will have no appreciation for it because you did not even know how it came about; you did not work, shed tears or sweat for it, so how will you begin to appreciate it?
The struggles are okay, we just need to learn to change our attitude. The kids here have very bad attitude. They are very argumentative, they are very eager to defend everything; very defensive spirit and I say to them: ‘darling, don’t try to defend it, you are talking to Eeefy. I used to spend $3,000 to make a wig so you are talking to the wrong person.’
I used to spend huge sums of money on clothes, shoes, bags etc. But now, you won’t catch me going to buy all that. I am creating so that others can buy.
I realise that my beauty is lacking in substance, that’s just for instant gratification; it’s not going to sustain my future, it’s not going to retain the positive attention that I want. I need to develop myself internally; I need to create things that people can appreciate, then it will make the beauty more appealing to people. And that is why I want the Nigerian youths and especially the women, to understand that they play a major role in nation-building.
But the youths feel that government has failed them…
We talk about government creating an enabling environment, but who is the government? We are the government we are so eager to condemn. We produce the government. Today’s citizen is tomorrow’s leader. Yesterday, the president didn’t have shoes, today, he is the president. Today, I am just Eeefy, if it’s God’s will that tomorrow I become some minister or governor or even president, what would I say? Oh, now I am governor, I will act differently? No, the principle that I used in my life as an ordinary citizen, is the same that I will employ when I become a leader.
That is why I preach patriotism. If you fall in love with Nigeria, you will take care of her. If you drink and throw the bottle in a trash can and not on the street, when you become a governor, that same principle will be employed on a higher level. So, that is why I say to Nigerians as you are eager to condemn government, remember that the change you desire will start with you so that tomorrow if you become a governor, you will do something better, you will act as a leader is supposed to act.
Work of a leader:
That means you will create, nurture, build, harness talents, build industries etc. Those are the things you need to do as a leader not just sit down and amass wealth.
So our problem in Nigeria is not for government alone to solve, it is for all Nigerians. It doesn’t matter where you live, I live in America but I came here to do this because I am a Nigerian.
Even though I am a naturalized citizen of America, I am who I am because there is a Nigeria so I am first a Nigerian, and as a Nigerian citizen, a youth and a woman, it is my responsibility to heal and build the nation and every Nigerian has to feel the same responsibility because it takes a collective effort to resolve a national challenge.
The president and governors can’t do it alone, yes we employed them to work but in order for us to heal their mistakes, we have to heal ourselves first so that we can produce better leaders tomorrow.
First we had to deal with militancy,now it is Boko Haram. What are we fighting about? The kidnapping, shooting and all the bombings would not induce good governance and effective leadership in case Boko Haram is a plot to make Nigeria ungovernable for the president.
Another question: Is Boko Haram a plot to impose Islam on Nigeria? Are they trying to cause armageddon in our country? I want to know because I don’t think the perpetrators will succeed.
Nigerians need to understand that Boko Haram is a menace that we must collectively condemn otherwise we will deter the growth of this nation because our women and our children are dying. Women play a major role in nation-building so manipulating, abusing, kidnappping, raping, exploiting and marrying them off at will, is destructive to the growth of the nation. A broken woman is a broken nation. I want to know what kind of country, leaders or children we are going to produce through a broken woman. If the mothers of the future of this nation are broken, the nation is broken.
Nigerians must understand that. Patriotic Movement commends government for the efforts so far but we plead with government, relevant organisations and international bodies to come together to fix this war. It is war and Nigerians please don’t get it twisted. It is not a problem for government alone; it is our collective problem so we must come together to fight this war. There is power in synergy. It takes a colletive effort to resolve a national challenge.
We are celebrating 100 years of amalgamation but we have not even learnt to co-exist. How can we operate from injustice, lack of human rights, and treat each other with so much hate and unpatriotism and expect good governance and effective leadership?
Every state in Nigeria is rich but we need to discover the wealth. Every state in Nigeria can heal herself from within but we need think-tanks, visionaries, nation-builders, people that can plan and implement, harness talents, people with innovative ideas, youthful exuberance, people that appreciate and understand humanity, that believe in justice and human right in government.