By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
In the euphoria of International Women’s Day 2014, Ms.Patricia Agbakwu-Ajegu, an amazon in the frontline of women development and former president of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, FADAN, avers in this interview that a major encumbrance to the growth of Nigerian women in general is ‘themselves’.
A professional Accountant who has cut her teeth in management consultancy and fashion designing since 1983, Patricia is presently the Managing Director of Xklusive Patsie, a brand notable for sophisticated jewelries and fabrics, and Topag Services Limited, which is her management consultancy outfit. An entrepreneur par excellence who actually requires no introduction amongst the crème de la crème of the Nigerian society, Patricia also discloses her plan to attend the Global Women Summit 2014 in France with 20 Nigerian female entrepreneurs who she says she simply craves to expose internationally to ease their business growth. Excerpts:
What’s your assessment of Nigerian women, particularly as we’ve just celebrated the International Women’s Day?
I’m sorry to say that the average Nigerian woman is so much afraid of losing the grounds she has gained. This is unlike the men, who, when they climb up, leave the ladder for other men to climb same ladder to come and meet them there. The average Nigerian woman climbs the ladder and uses her left foot to push the ladder down. It’s unfortunate. You know why? She lacks confidence in herself. Only a few women leaders ever think that once they are up there, no matter how they open doors for others, no other woman will come bring them down. That is the reason why a Nigerian woman today will have so much and will still have friends dying of lack.
Women have continually relied on government for their general advancement without remarkable results. How do you think they can take the bull by the horn?
The only way women can stand up for themselves is by understanding that holding political positions is not solely for their flourishing or that of their immediate family members. Women see their political standing as avenues for lifting their husbands, children and in-laws! They forget that another neutral woman has to be brought up to also in turn bring up other women.
That’s the reason why men never lose their stand! When they get into a place, they bring in other men and that way, establish their stand! Look at all the Nigerian women who have been in political appointments. How many have returned to government? They can’t come back because they were selfish while there.
Brother-in-law will be Special Adviser, sister will be Personal Assistant, etcetera, and when they leave, they will leave with their entire family, go back to square one and never get a chance back to government! To date, the only woman that has emancipated other women is Stella Obasanjo. It is on record that a lot of classmates of Stella’s in Saint Theresa’s got into government through her. She emancipated the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria to the extent that it became known globally. She emancipated women who were not necessarily members of her family.
So, are you saying one way women can advance is by standing up for themselves?
Yes. Not by waiting on government or society. In my own little way, I am working hard to develop women entrepreneurs like myself, by exposing them to business and partnership opportunities. I’ve been doing this for years. I understand what it means to be deprived because I became a widow at the age of 23 and actually went through a lot.
I’ve taken women to Washington, Addis-Ababa, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Miami, Chicago, England, Bangkok, and more. Now, I am getting ready to take 20 women to France for the Global Women Summit 2014 in June. My greatest happiness is seeing these women grow in their businesses. One of the women I took to Miami for instance has become a big entrepreneur with her tentacles reaching out positively to other women.
She went to Miami with jewelries! It is from the profits she made from that trip that she expanded her business and trained her children. That is my happiness. Now, women come to my office to learn the art of coral beads and other beads free of charge. I am a fulfilled woman and need not crave desperately for money. Personally, I see money as a means to an end; not an end, that’s why I must use my money and influence to better the lives of people around me.
Of what essence is this trip to France precisely?
These 20 women are going there to learn how to become real entrepreneurs and to network with world-class, responsible women. I can tell you what was in such trips for me. When I went to Chicago for a women conference, I met a lady who, till date, I supply African fabrics. In South Africa too, I am able to supply my products to society men and women through another lady I met during a business conference there.
Now, we are very close friends and I was the one who designed her daughter’s wedding dress and the outfit she also wore to the wedding. I was able to sell my products to wives of ministers and more each time I went there and that’s part of what you get from networking. In Kenya, I enjoy same privilege. Most of the women who go with me are graduates and entrepreneurs of good standing, who probably need opportunities for expansion. Mind you, there is no room for women who want to use this platform to disappear in Europe.