Nike Ijeoma, Director, Change Mangers Int’l Network
BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
Mrs Nike Ijeoma is the Executive Director of Change Managers International Network, an organisation that has since 1989 pursued vigorously the education of girls in Nigeria, particularly in the north. In this interview, she debunks claims that girls involved in suicide bombing in recent times are doing so in allegiance to Boko Haram’s religious extremism.
How far have you gone with making your objectives reality since 1989?
We’ve continued to be a strong voice. We actually go to rural areas to ensure girls are sent to school. We’ve seen quite a lot in the course of our work. For example, we’ve been to primary schools in Lagos State where students have neither tables no chairs but sit on tyres. What we do is source funds to develop these schools. We also train teachers to ensure they are developed enough to adequately develop children. We have a president in person of Mrs Felicia Onibon.
We also work in the area of gender development but focus strongly on education because we believe it is a primary agent of development for women, girls and the society at large.
Is the ongoing kidnap of school girls not a setback to your work?
It’s so sad. I mean, it’s a very big contrast for us. You know, we go to stay-at-home Muslim women and encourage them to let their children go to school. You can imagine such a mother being told that the child she managed to allow to go to school got kidnapped in school.
It’s so sad and helpless because the situation is not one we can stop by ourselves. We can only generate awareness and get government to be more proactive.
What do you think of women and girls who now go about with explosives?
That’s appalling because I tell you, these girls do not know what is happening. They (Boko Haram) just load them with bombs and ask them to move.
Is that what you think or know?
That’s what I know. We’ve done a lot of interviews and research in the north through our workers over there. These girls are unaware of what they have on them but they have been kidnapped and therefore do not have a say. They cannot say no. Of course, no one wants to die!
But security agents have allegedly arrested women who recruit these suicide bombers, meaning these girls voluntarily choose to die as suicide bombers…
We have women who have been kidnapped for long and have been married to members of Boko Haram. So, some of these women, when told to go lure girls, cannot refuse because they know these men are high-handed.
You said earlier that you also promote gender development; what are you doing concerning women and the upcoming general elections?
Over the years, we’ve been round the country, training women so they will know how to lobby and present themselves in ways that men will give them the needed opportunity. Now, we’re focusing on enhancing female participation with an international group, the 100 Women Lobby Group, which is working worldwide to promote women in governance.
The group was first launched in Nigeria when Mrs Josephine Anenih was Minister for Women Affairs. It however went into oblivion after she left office. We’ve re-launched it with the current Minister for Women Affairs two months ago and I am the South-West Coordinator in Nigeria. We have people in every state. We are among accredited observer groups by INEC for the coming elections. We have young volunteers willing to monitor the elections.