BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
Chief(Mrs)Sade Thomas-Fahm was one of those Nigerians led by patriotism to return from England in 1960 when the nation officially broke free from the shackles of colonization. Like her contemporaries, Thomas-Fahm who is notable for kick-starting the Nigerian fashion industry and for being the first to own a boutique in the country, was very convinced self-rule was the beginning of a better Nigeria. Fifty-five years into nationhood, she says, in this interview, that Nigeria has not made a success of her independence.
I personally came back 7th of July,1960, and we had our independence on the 1st of October. Going back memory lane, I could say, those of us that came back before and just after the independence portrayed one mind- to develop Nigeria. We came back with the hope of bringing out what we had learned, to develop where there was need for development and to make Nigeria better.
Wole Soyinka, Francisca Emmanuel and some other very prominent people were among my contemporaries that returned home. Money-making was the least on our mind. We began pioneering and also taking up mentorship roles to get people to think of development. We thought we were making progress, but most of the people in leadership, at that time, seemed ignorant of development. They were only thinking of themselves and that was how they began amassing wealth without thinking of development like returnees did.
Personally, my plan when I came back with fashion in 1960 was to provide jobs for people and tackle unemployment because I lived with it before I left. I didn’t do fashion just for fancy or glamour.
What would you say of early post-independence Nigeria?
Things were not too difficult. We had electricity because I remember I did not have to buy any generator to run my business which relied heavily on electricity. We were handed independence in a much favourable state; things weren’t this bad in the 60s. I remember that one could drive round Ikoyi in the evening because the whole area was so serene. We could go out for fresh air at any time.
Are you saying every dream you nursed concerning self-rule ended up a mirage?
Yes of course. From the 70s to 90s, it was a mirage. But I would say the situation is getting better now.
What was abnormal about that period?
People developed so much greed between the 70s and 90s. Suddenly, some started having billions and trillions in their bank accounts and the more people had, the more they want. That brought us to where we are now. In my opinion, our situation is pathetic. I mean, in the 60s, we could drive at night without being afraid. But now, even in the day time, we are all afraid. We’ve not made a success of independence. I cannot say we have done well at all when we can’t sleep with two eyes closed or walk down the streets freely.
So you mean the nationalists who brought us independence had good intentions and are not responsible for our situation?
You cannot blame them. They were not so self-centred like those people we later had. What I may blame some of them on is for not thinking of curbing certain things within their own family. Even though people are shying away from blaming women, some of our women actually instigated these things by demanding too much of their husbands and wanting to be like the Europeans(but in a laughable way) and catering to grandeur outlook. Many began using diamonds when they didn’t even know the worth. Younger ones saw this on television and emulated these women. Suddenly, things went out of hands and value for everything has since been on a decline. Now, instead of helping the situation, how young ones have taken things out of proportion and become too extravagant. Now, you see them wear layers of expensive jewellery even to the office, copying the West in a ridiculous way. Ideally, such are meant for ceremonies.
But don’t you think our problems have more to do with over-population?
Even if it is so, we would have been able to cater for that after all said and done. After all, you don’t need special degrees to know that people have to eat and live in houses. Our population has never been on a decline but on steady increase. But how come our leaders’ way of thinking has not progressed towards making available good housing, promoting agriculture and more to match the rising population? Yet, you see people in power displaying so much wealth without realising that people who continue to suffer and see them behave so are bound to wake up one day and say: “What the hell?”
All hands are not equal even abroad but people are modest about things. Even Bill Gates, don’t you see the way he appears? He is never flamboyant.
Despite being too grandiose like you earlier accused them of, you’ll agree that a lot of women, both at the grassroots and federal levels, have contributed immensely to national development in the last 55 years…
That is not to be disputed. I admire good and modest women like Arunma Oteh, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and a few others.
I would implore President Muhammadu Buhari to choose wisely as he forms his cabinet. He should put good, strong women in strategic places.
Amid worsening crash in oil price globally, what are your recommendations on advancing our economy?
My first advice is for us to look into harnessing our cultural heritage through fashion because fashion is a dependable economy for western countries as we speak. There is a lot to be seen to in the fashion industry here before we can meet up with our counterparts all over the world. Sadly, we don’t produce anything here. We have to depend on importation for even needles.
Also, government should help textile factories get back on their feet. These factories were sources of livelihood for many young people in the early days. To do that, they have to find a way of stopping this importation that is flooding Nigeria.
Otherwise, how do we want to solve unemployment if we cannot help an industry that created employment for many in the past to come back to life?
I tried a lot to make everyone realise that you get more people from the streets into the factory when people learn to patronize locally made fabrics. From all over Nigeria, there are special hand-woven fabrics which our parents were using. They are also very durable.
In 1960 for instance when I came back to Nigeria, I had over 40 people from different parts of the country working in my garment factory.
Back in those days, we had the NTL that was producing Nigerian prints, we had the Aba Textile which was doing very well with Hollandis which they now call Vlisco. But our people are so brainwashed that they would prefer imported fabrics. That was how most of the textile companies folded up. Today, we have many jobless young men and even women, on the road, robbing and even killing for no reason.
What do you think of Mr President’s choice of women from his appointments so far?
I think he has chosen well. Most of the ladies he has chosen, so far, are not flash in the pan kind of women but those to be heard.
I will however advise again that he puts more modest, strong and good women in important offices where the whole nation can impacted. Look at what late Dora Akunyili did for Nigeria with her fight against counterfeit drugs.
We still have such women who are still strong enough to be content with themselves and I know Buhari knows what he is doing. When he first ruled us, everybody became orderly and even the streets were very clean. So, I want to believe he is still the same person.
Above all, what must be done to help Nigeria is to put the right people in the right positions because history is replete with people misusing offices at the detriment of the Nigerian masses.