•Guiding is a way of life — Mrs Ansa Uko
•We are non-religious — Mrs Rhoda Olufunmilola Thomas
•I am a feminist — Dr Praise Adeolu Adeyemo
By Morenike Taire & Florence Amagiya
Mrs Ansa Uko was five years old when she joined the Brownie club in her school in Dejeni Memorial School, Calabar now Akwa Ibom state where she was taught how to respect parents and help out with the house chores.
Today, she is still an active Girl Guide and immediate past Deputy Chief Commissioner of the B Zone, which comprises South-Western Nigeria, Kwara, Delta and Edo states.
As the world-famous society celebrates a century of Guiding in Nigeria, Guides all over Nigeria are converged on Lagos, Nigeria for a weeklong program of activities to mark the landmark.
The Girl Guides was founded in England in 1910 by Robert- Baden Powell and his sister, Agnes Baden Powell. When Robert got married, his wife, Olave, also got involved. It was founded as a separate female organisation of the Boys Scouts movement which was founded in 1908; after the publication of the first instalment of Baden Powell’s book titled Scouting for Boys. Later the movement, the Girl Guides moved into Nigeria on September 16, 1919, and started in Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, formerly Wesleyan Girls’ College.
For Mrs Uko, guiding is a way of life. “Our motto: Three basic things- obedience to God and your country, help other people by giving service and to obey the Guides’ laws. So when a child is brought up in that way, we grow up to be what we want to be. You cannot push her to the wall to do what is wrong because of the discipline; it exposes us to service and not to be selfish and we are taught how to give service. Even the brownies, even at 5, we are taught to help mummy to wash her handkerchief and much more”.
She tells WO in the Guides’ imposing Ikoyi headquarters that guiding, for those who keep at it, is only stopped when age catches up. “volunteerism is from the heart. We continued; we went to school, we went to the Universities, but we are still guiding. We got married, we were still guiding. Up till today, you see some of us with grandchildren. The only problem we have now is that many people find it difficult to volunteer because they are not getting any reward from guiding. Transportation from one activity to another, everything we do is free. We believe giving this kind of services makes us what we are today as our leaders in Girl Guides are never corrupt. And we cannot give good services to people and request for something in return. There is a lot of training in Guiding, educationally, exposing the children to crowds to build confidence, skills acquisition, teaching them how to live out of doors via camping and the rest of them. And above all; the door is quite open now for them to travel abroad for various training by the Girl Guides”.
For those who fall away-and, they are in the majority- various other factors are responsible including marriage, further education and lack of interest.
It would appear that the personalities of some past Girl Guides leaders, tagged Chief Commissioners, have influenced the movement in Nigeria positively over the years. Amongst them are the likes of Lady Oyinkan Abayomi who rose to become the first Chief Commissioner in Nigeria and died still guiding, at 93, Lady Mbanefo who took over, Lady Deborah Jibowu, wife of Late Justice Jibowu who is 94 and still responds to guiding songs and Elder Mrs Nkoyo Udom. They are scattered everywhere.
Walking in their footsteps includes the present Chief Commissioner, Mrs Maria Goreti Sule and Mrs Rhoda Olufunmilola Thomas, who is Deputy Chief Commissioner South West.
Explaining the process by which the organization ensures uniform standards across its zones, Mrs Thomas said, “ We normally have camps and when we organise a camp for a division we bring back what we have been taught at a state level or national level to the divisional level. The national will train 3 and when they return to their different states, they go back to train the state level on whatever they have learnt at the national level. This is done at every level. Definitely, there cannot be any difference in what we are doing”.
So, how is it that the Girl Guides is still in existence and yet so many people are not aware, despite being in 27 states of Nigeria? Thomas puts it down to lack of publicity and the ‘Nigerian Factor’, which means young people no longer want to do anything for free.
“We paid a courtesy visit to the present Commissioner of Education in Ogun state. A brownie was not prepared as in she didn’t know that she would be asked a question but she answered correctly. I was impressed! Meanwhile, as we have always said. It is voluntarily, a passion”.
She said religion is not a barrier as they have both Christians and Muslims in the Girl Guides. “When we hold programmes; if a Christian gives the opening prayers, the Muslim would give the closing prayers. I always explain to people why we shake with the left hand; it is because our heart is located on the left-hand side. We shake on the left hand to show we love and render services genuinely without wanting anything back in return. And that the love we give is from our hearts; the agape kind of love. We show friendship; that A Guide is a Friend to All and a Sister to Every Other Guide. Guiding is in about 250 countries in the world. It is not a cult; it is open to any religion, so far you believe in God”.
Representing another generation of Girl Guides, 24-year-old Dr Praise Adeolu Adeyemo, National Youth Leader, Ogun State was privileged to attend a Primary School that had a Guider. “When l got to Secondary School there was no Guider in my School for 4-5 years, but l still had friends from primary school who were attending schools with Guiders so l kept tabs on them and went to camps with them and all that. My School eventually got a Guide because the Government had made it compulsory in every School. But the point l am trying to make is; when there was no presence in my School, I was still able to attend camps and made myself the only Guider in that School. I even finished Secondary School before l became a Ranger, then a young Guider. I would say that it still boils down to interest. Contrary to the opinion that we do not have young people in the Association; l would say that that may be true, but in the last 4-5 years, it has gotten better. We haven’t gotten there yet but the rate at which we are having people especially in the Higher Institutions, joining is worth talking about”.
For Nigeria to become a better country in her generation, she stressed that their mission is to enable young women and girls to develop their potentials, to make them know their value and to take action to change the world. “Between the mission and the vision; they are all centred in building the nation. At the moment, we have some global projects we are running and we also have some indigenous projects. We have stopped the violence; targeted at sexual abuse, rape and other stuff, and we are actually becoming a voice for women and young women also. Do not forget the saying ‘train up a girl child and build up a nation’. Just imagine a nation filled with girls that are confident, without low self- esteem, high body confidence, girls with capacity in different things. These are the type of girls that we need. Girls who would become older women to go into politics; women who would sit at round tables at different levels to discuss issues and fix these issues. At the long run; you would see that, directly and indirectly, the movement, the guiding movement in Nigeria is helping to raise a generation of young girls/ women who in the future would translate into active change agents. I believe that Nigeria is in a safe hands basically because we have Nigerian Girl Guides Association”.
Accepting that Guides are essentially feminists, she says that is not the bad word it is now being made to look like.
“When anybody confronts me, telling me that l am a Girl Guide hence a feminist; l would say if feminism means giving the girl child equal rights like that of her brother, then l am a feminist. If it means sending the girl child to a school like her brother then l am a feminist. Have you checked the dictionary meaning of the word feminism? The conventional and the only acceptable meaning of the word is equality of rights. What goes for the male goes for the female. It ends there. So if the boy can have an education you should not say the girl cannot go to School. And when we are talking about gender-based violence, we are talking about violence against a particular gender because of that gender. So when a stereotype believes that a girl should not go to School because she is a woman, she needs to stay at home and help her mum and she would eventually marry in the nearest future; hence there is no need to educate her. I say that that is bridging on her basic right to education because of her gender. So if l am called a feminist because l am advocating that a girl child should go to school because her brother is in School or you shouldn’t beat a woman or hit a girl and you think you have a right to hit them just because you think they are women or because they are lesser vessels; you are calling me feminist because I said Sade and Akin should compete for the job fairly and you choose who is the best without looking at their genders and you call me a feminist because l am advocating for all these then I want to be a feminist”.