By Donu Kogbara
Lawyer and multifaceted journalist Henrietta Abisola Titilola Fagbo has had a burden for our national societal values for a very long time. This burden was to find an outlet in a television and radio program, Profiles of Achievers, which began to air about ten years ago. Earlier in 2012, it all evolved into a documentary in print featuring more than twenty of the celebrated men and women who had been interviewed on radio and/or television..
In the forward written by Peter Osajele Enahoro, the latter wrote: Our sense of self-worth as a people was in such decline that our young looked abroad for role models, mimicking their sartorial and hirsute styles… it was my guess that there were more boutiques named after Diana, princess of Wales, than there was named for princess Amina, Zaria’s colourful warrior queen.
And in introducing the book to the reader the writer stresses: what we have today is in sharp contrast to those good old days . young people look around and they see a great measure of worldly success awarded to men and women lacking principles. Crooks are crowned with public honours and swindlers roll in questionable wealth. Vices are given euphemistic names to clothe their evil. In this interview she opens up to Morenike taire on this her Labour of Love.
I notice that the entire book is written in the first person narrative
I interviewed the people based originally on a radio and television program that I did called Portrait of Achievers. I asked questions and they answered so when it moved up to become a book I didn’t want to remove or add anything they had said
You wanted it to be from the horse’s mouth as it were
When you start rewriting, you would lose some things. You might be losing the essence of the interview
Which is what the people said themselves about themselves. I might move away from the original intention of the people
Is it not also important to have other people’s perspectives of the profiled people?
Very very important but this is the Portrait of Achievers. It’s their portrait. So many things are out there being said about them, who people think they are but for me I wanted them to tell their own story- their journey, the reasons for their decisions, the drawbacks, the fallouts, their regrets if any.
What were the criteria for being in this book? I bet there will be a lot of people who would think they ought to have been featured. Why are they not there?
A number of people were written when the program Portrait of Achievers was started over ten years ago. A number of people stepped it down. These are the people who dared to be interviewed by the unknown Henrietta Fagbo. A lot of people who stepped it down did not see this book coming. The truth of the matter is I didn’t see this book myself. The book evolved. I think a lot of people did not want the publicity of the radio and television programs so they stepped down the interviews. It was after many years of radio and television that it was requested that can we not have this thing documented? That’s how the book evolved
But why would some people, if they have achieved honestly, worry about the publicity?
They think the achievement should speak for them. I have come to realize that in some form of modesty they don’t want to talk about themselves. They think with a life of service they don’t need to add anything but I wanted to know the people behind the journey because iwas seeing them as ambassadors of us all and knowing that they went to schools that are still around then speaking to the people in the now schools that you too can be these people not just for the achievers but for the up and coming achiever as well
And what’s an achiever?
Now it’s a tall order walking the straight and narrow. I think a lot of people think that its old fashioned but there’s dignity in labour. I look at a lot of people that have worked hard in whatever field they’ve found themselves, toiling at it and they have come to their own. They may not have billions but they have become an authority in what it is they started at and this country has recognized some but for some people you will say I have heard his name since the 60s and 70s. why are they being recycled? They are proven and tested and they are standing taller than their natural height. Men and women.
Will this go on to be some kind of series?
Yes I hope so, although I’m not encouraged by the lack of support but I am hoping that it will turn around. We can’t have it all in the first edition
Most of the names in the book are well known names. Is this to say that there are not some people in their corners doing their thing and doing well?
Believe me there are lots of people sitting in their corner and doing exceedingly well. This country and any country should thrive on role models and we cannot have enough of them. I am saying that the people you see in that book by no means exhaust the numbers of role models we have. Our mothers, our fathers, they are not in this book. But the people we see out there we must know they did not come there by fiat, that they had a lot of falls and rises and falls and rises. They continue to be steadfast and that is what singles them out. We ourselves should learn that even when we’re down and out.
What’s the role of mentoring in nation building, for you?
I thank you for this question! Every time I go to interview not just the people in this book but everybody I have interviewed over ten years, I leave the place a better person. I am a piece of all these people. I walk into somebody’s living room, they open their doors and they talk to me about themselves. Maybe before I am a bit discouraged about something and I leave the place saying to myself , you have not begun, get back on the beat and just like you said, it is not over till it’s over. Unless people remind us, unless we remind ourselves we get discouraged by bashing here there and the other but it is in the bashing that the real us will emerge.
I am sure there is a fine gentleman somewhere waiting to be found…
Or a lady.
Or a lady !
When I think for instance of ECOWAS and I think it’s the brain child of a Nigerian and other people (professor Adebayo Adedeji). General Ovadje did something for women, and you are thinking professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate. Mr Alfred Irabor Okoigun, one of the youngest person featured in this book was born in 1955 . First set of the petroleum training institute (PTI), working hard in his industry of choice and making his mark.
What are we doing now, and where are we? There is need for continuity because these people are passing
Like we all are. But about women, I notice there is only a sprinkling of women featured.
That was out of modesty. Professor Grace Alele-Williams, Alhaja Lateefa Okunnu, Hajiya Lemu. I really let them no rest, that’s how they came in. they didn’t have a choice
It’s the same trend that we see in politics with women shying away for one reason or the other. Is it like a social or cultural thing?
I think a cultural thing. We stay backstage. Once you are a woman you nurture other people and you stay in the background. I think we should be more than that, allow ourselves to be appreciated, recognized. I am particularly pleased that I am speaking to you a woman. We should remind ourselves that we have a role to play.
Tell me more about this Hajiya Lemu (one of the featured women)
There are ten different people on the board that throw names up. Funny enough Hajiya Lemu is out in Minna. She according to the story met sheikh Lemu in England and she came to Nigeria and started educating. As an educator I was told she had made a lot of impact out there in the North so got in touch with her and she was very responsive, very open and very honest. She said to me she started being a Christian and ended up being an Hajiya today, and she is vigorously and actively charting the course of women
Did you have a good representation of people from all over the country?
All over the country. No limitation. Communication was a problem. What I also said to myself is, integrity does not have colour, creed and sex. If there is a particular tribe that was not sufficiently or not represented here, this is not the last, this is the first. Integrity is not the exclusive preserve of any tribe. Every part of this nation there are men and women of achievement and I know that, and they will be celebrated.
Finally, if I may ask, where would you like to see this book?
I would like this book to be in the hands of women/mothers because they do a lot in the decisions of children. I’d like to see it in the hands of Nigerians in the Diaspora, in secondary schools, national libraries and state libraries. It is not too early to start influencing our children but never too late to stop them from going the wrong way. In this book was a man who was rusticated from the university.
Who was that?
Dr. Ovadje. And he went back to the same university. He became an inventor and is recognized all over the world today. In this book was Dr. Chilobia who said at his final examination in secondary school he wore his senior sister’s blouse as a shirt. Such was the level of poverty and he came back to be the Managing Director of FBN Merchant Bankers.
Is that not in a past era? Can such things happen in Nigeria today?
I am sure there are a lot of stories waiting to be heard.