By Ebele Orakpo
Ms. Eeefy Ike is the Chief Executive Officer of Style is Innate, an outfit that is into hand-crafted jewellery, an actress, activist, motivational speaker, image consultant, author and the Communications Director of Gedisco Energy Solutions. In this chat in Abuja recently with Vanguard, she talks about her project with ex-militants in the Presidential Amnesty programme. She shares her experience, saying that if we don’t change our mindset, we should forget any form of progress. Excerpts:
The program: Our company, Gedisco Energy Solutions got the contract to train ex-militants in agriculture, fish-farming, poultry etc. under the Presidential Amnesty Program. I took up the training because it has to do with youths. As an activist, I fight for women and youth causes and so when they told me it was presidential amnesty thing, I knew they needed my help.
It is one thing to train people to acquire skills and another thing to actually get them to want to really learn, get empowered, develop and sustain the funds you’ve given to them. You give a lot of people money to do one business or the other and they don’t do the business and even if they do, they give up at the slightest challenge. This is because they did not make that conscious decision to really build themselves in order to live a purposeful life.
Feeling entitled: “A lot of the youths today feel entitled; they feel like everyone owes them something. They are not interested in making efforts to acquire or develop any skills they may have, and that is a big problem in Nigeria. It is important that we address the mindset of Nigerians. Our mindset is poor and if we don’t address that, even the restructuring everyone is screaming about is not going to go a long way. We are not going to achieve the type of progress we can achieve if we do not change our mindset.
Attitudinal change is the most effective change; it is not just restructuring but changing the attitudes of the people. Nigeria is only a geographical location, we, the citizens, make the location significant.
I took up the job to address the mindset of the participants. I dealt with their emotional and mental state, helping them to balance their emotions so they can be able to use the training, empowerment and funds wisely and sustain it no matter the challenges.
Angry youth: During the orientation, the people I met were very angry, complacent, laissez-faire attitude, just feeling entitled, like the whole world owes them everything. They felt cheated and worst of all, defeated. Once you feel defeated in your life, you are finished. They came with the attitude of defeat, hopelessness; clinging onto government to give them hope. Government can’t give you hope with that state of mind because government also needs hope, they need to change their own attitude as well.
I saw all that but I was not discouraged. People were scared for me; they felt I was going to deal with ex-militants who may kidnap me. I never thought of all those negative things because they are human beings and in everyone lies good and evil, it depends on which energy you nurture and that energy becomes the dominant frequency in you.
I believe that once the good person in them is nurtured, that would dominate in their energy so I went for that. I didn’t care if they would see me as a ‘common’ woman as they do in this environment. I just saw the light in the darkness and I believed I could illuminate their lives so I went in with that attitude and succeeded.
Changed youths: At the beginning, everything was negative but by graduation time, I was in tears. The things they said to me were heart-lifting and it made me happy, comfortable and proud that I was part of such program to change lives, lift up souls, and provoke people to rise from their slumber. That was what I did – I provoked them. I yelled at them, screamed at them; I felt they needed to be mature in spirit, they needed a conscious evolution which was what I took them through.
I didn’t speak to them as though most of them were older than me, I spoke to them like a mother with her children. I looked them in the eyes and asked them questions. I held the mirror to their faces like ‘who do you think you are and what did you achieve from what you have done? If you are still agitating and fighting, it means you have not achieved anything after all the killing, kidnapping and raping. It means the strategy was wrong.’ They got the message.
Effective method: The most important thing is getting a feedback after you have given, and the feedback I got was beautiful. I wish that government can actually take that feature of the program more seriously because it is a feature I brought into the program. It is one thing to say ‘oh, I brought in psychologists and psychiatrists for re-evaluation.’ Re-evaluation doesn’t do much unless you actually relate to them; speak to their soul. I spoke to their soul. I didn’t do those psychological and psychiatric evaluations; that is what government does, I did not do that because I was dealing with human beings that are broken; people that are flawed by life.
I went straight to their souls by using personal problems. I told them how I rose; how my siblings got education when my parents had no money to send them to school; one carried cement to pay his way through the university and became a huge success; one lectured his classmates because he had to pay his way through school.
I used my life and family as examples so they would know I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. I didn’t come from perfection or wealth, I came from struggles, homelessness, poverty and pain but I fought the fight. I said to them, if my brothers had to fight like that to succeed, and I fought to become everything I am today even after being set on fire, I could become this person today, then they have no excuse.
If you want to really achieve success, challenges will not deter your progress, you will keep pushing. You will acquire the forward-moving concept, you persevere. I told them to stop looking at government and start looking at themselves. It is true that government is responsible for their welfare but government is a little entity created by the people to structure society. It is true government has not done enough, it is not something we have to sugar-coat or conceal or put a veil over, no, we all know the harsh truth.
But who are these government officials we are talking about? They are human beings like us; they were just citizens yesterday; today’s citizen is tomorrow’s leader so it is the same attitude they are condemning in government officials that they also have so if you give them authority, they will do the same thing and may be even worse. So it is not just about government doing all the evil things, we the citizens also are not upholding our civic responsibilities.
We don’t want to be accountable for anything so as individuals, we have to first look at ourselves, when we change our attitude, we will be able to change our environment because you can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t demand something you can’t give. So I said to them, first look into yourselves; while we are screaming at government and blaming parents for not laying foundation for us upon which we can structure our lives, let us look within ourselves and try to uphold our responsibility to ourselves which is actually the biggest responsibility.
You have responsibility of government, responsibility of parents and you do have the bigger part of the responsibility – to develop yourself. Look within you. God instilled greatness in each one of us but it is left for us to look within and discover those innate talents and develop them to the appreciation of the world. You can do so many things but you wouldn’t know unless you make that conscious decision.
Some of them would say: “Aunty Eeefy, what if you don’t have money and you want to do business?” I said to them: ‘There are things I want to do but I don’t have the money so I write the books. I don’t need money to write books. I first have to learn to write. Okay, I need money to publish the book; I humble myself and take up a menial job to raise money. The most important thing is that you did it with humility and you kept your pride, dignity and integrity. You did not leech on people, you did not demean yourself by begging.
Spirit of dependency: We are a begging society: we have promoted this spirit of dependency and that is causing the stagnancy in Nigeria. I told them I’d prefer to do a menial job and save money than to beg and lose my respect, pride and soul. I started a jewellery business with N15,000 and in three years, made over 1,000 pieces of jewellery while my fellow girls will spend N150,000 on hair without a job, home, or car, yet they focus so much on material stuff. It is not the amount of money but the vision, discipline, perseverance, humility and consistency. Don’t worry about what people think of you or defer to other people’s opinion.
Some of them in the beginning did not want to come to class but they expected the weekly stipends. Some were more comfortable getting that little handout; they didn’t want to work hard to even earn more money. That is the spirit of complacency, being comfortable with little, mediocrity; you see it in every aspect of our culture.
Poverty of mind: Poverty of the mind makes us believe that fish farming and agriculture are only for the poor and uneducated. That’s ridiculous! The West has long understood that farming/agriculture drives the progress of the nation and we still have not understood that. You feel cheated that the oil belongs to you, but even if they give you all the money, with this kind of mindset, you will still be poor because the poverty starts from the mind.
Some trainees said that after training, the government does not empower them; I don’t like that part. Government should ensure they complete the program. We are dealing with broken souls, people who are flawed, if you make promises and fail to deliver, no matter the quality of work we do, they are going to revert to their destructive state and it will get worse.