Starting in the clubs’ junior cadre of LEO, Lion Lynda Odu-Okpeseyi has come a long way on the leadership trail of Lions Club. She is an exceptional individual with a go-getter mentality, with a rush of achievements to show for it. From chartering the Abuja Metropolitan Lions Club to becoming the first Constitutional Area Speaker for New Voices for English Speaking West Africa, her climb up the ladder was steady, and it was by dint of hard work, visionary leadership and her result-oriented nature. Today, it is not surprising that she is the District Governor for District 404A2.
In this interview with Elizabeth Osayande , Odu-Okpeseyi recounts her rise through the years and a hint on the big projects ahead of her in this Lion’s year, even as she resolved to sustain her rich vein of performance in leadership.
What does it mean to be a Lions District Governor?
When you are a district governor, it means you are the head servant and the head honcho of the district. You take charge of the district on whatever needs to be done, projects to be carried out and the administration of District affairs in all ramifications. It simply means that the buck stops on your table.
However, you do not do all these things alone. You have your DG – Team, your core cabinet and there’s an army of people that you appoint to help you in the discharge of your duties like region chairpersons, zone chairpersons and a host of others and of course, the elected club presidents and committee chairpersons who help you sail the ship to an expected end. Because you are in charge, it means that you take responsibility for successes and failures of the district.
Give us a clearer picture of your constituency as a District Governor? How large is your District?
My District spans across 17 states; all the states in South-South, South-East and part of the North, including Kogi, FCT, Kaduna, Taraba and Benue states. They are divided into regions and zones for easy administration.
Being a District Governor for one state is a bit much, but for 17 states, that could be overwhelming.
How prepared are you for this role?
I been prepared right from the time I was elected as the first female LEO District President for Nigeria. The LEO Club is the youth wing of the Lions club and LEO means Leadership, Experience Opportunities.
However, I didn’t know my new position would come soon. I decided to contest as Second vice District Governor and against all odds, I won. I have continued preparing and equipping myself since then.
Lions Club has a structure; if you are going to become a District Governor, you will start learning as a member of the DG-Team as second vice and then you will go through trainings including at the District Governor’s School just before you assume the position.
The Association prefers you have a six months preparation period where you’ll be taught what to do and how you can become a successful District Governor. If you listen attentively and put all you have been taught into practice, you will make an excellent, near-perfect District Governor.
How strong is Lions Club’s presence and outreach in the northern states?
In Abuja, that is the Federal Capital Territory; our presence is strong, very strong.Just recently a club in Abuja built a resource center for the school of the blind. That same club also built a Pediatric Cancer center in Abuja. We have Lions Clubs that have renovated health centers. We have done so much in Abuja and Benue. The other Northern states are still work in progress.
What projects are you going to actively work on and where will your focus be concentrated?
LLions Clubs has five major focus areas: Diabetes, Pediatric Cancer, Protecting the Environment, Relieving Hunger and Sight Preservation. For now, we are focused on advocacy and massive screening of Diabetes.
I plan on building a Diabetes Centre in Ogoja, Cross River State’ an ultra-modern facility where screening, treatment and advocacy can effectively be carried out.
I am happy to inform you that as we speak, the Lions Clubs International Foundation(LCIF), under the ages of the International office of Lions Clubs, are contributing a huge sum of money to enable us carry out this screening in all the 17 states and also to build the Centre.
What is the duration of your tenure as DG?
One Lions year that starts July 1st and ends June 30th. All the lofty ideas a District Governor has, must be completed within that one year. However, for continuity, your First Vice-District Governor is at liberty to key into your project and conclude it if you were not able to do so. Leadership in Lions Club is a continuum.
Apart from the Diabetes center, what other projects are you planning to implement?
While continuing with the Diabetes project, we shall maintain our monthly designated activities.
The month of October is dedicated for sight; we intend to have free eye screening exercises and distribution of reading glasses and thereafter those who have been identified as needing cataract surgeries will have their surgeries done absolutely free.
We will also give prescription glasses to children. When children do not perform very well in school sometimes it is because they cannot even see the board. We want to focus on children because when you screen the eye at a tender age, corrective measures could be taken before the child becomes an adult. We are also working on sponsoring cornea transplants.
But the challenge in sponsoring cornea transplants in Nigeria and Africa as a whole are the myths about reincarnation. Hence we always get corneas from India and Kenya. This helps us aid only a few people who are cornea-blind see again. We have done it before and we can still do it again.
While the month of November is for Diabetes, in December and January, we are focusing on relieving hunger. We encourage each club in our district to, at least, feed a minimum of 500 people and touch 50 families; either by giving them cooked food or raw food.
There is also the Pediatric cancer awareness. Most people believe that their children will not have cancer, and when they see it manifesting in children, they think it is witchcraft.
We are trying to create awareness so that when you see some of those signs of cancer, you just go to the hospital instead of running from pillar to post. As for those who have already been diagnosed and are undergoing treatment, we will work out a plan to help them.
We already have a Cancer Center, a playground where the children are receiving treatment. They have Televisions to watch cartoons, games, and things that will make them happy while they take their treatment. For as many, as we can, we will pay for their treatment, even if it is just for a few months.
Last but not the least, is Protecting the Environment. There is so much to do with the environment. If you cut down one tree, you have to plant three more trees; so tree planting will be greatly encouraged.
We also have an ongoing campaign against indiscriminate dumping of refuse. We intend to create awareness in secondary schools so that pupils will learn early not to litter the environment.
We plan on giving them good waste bins and train children to become Ambassadors for a clean environment. They will talk to their fellow students about the environment, on how they can dispose of refuse properly.
We will organize essay competitions for all the schools in our district on a theme about the environment and the top five students will be given scholarships even if it is just for a session.
Still, on the environment, we will focus also on parks and gardens, by providing trash cans and doing anything we can do to improve the ecosystem.
How do you intend to get funds for these projects?
We usually organize fund raisings to encourage well-meaning individuals to donate. Our members also contribute and often times people living with diabetes or their family members, also key into the project by donating handsomely.
We also have corporate partners who donate to our causes. I am using this opportunity to appeal to well-meaning Nigerians to please come and join the Lions club, let’s build this Diabetes Centre to help humanity.
The location is very strategic because in addition to Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, it will serve Benue, Enugu and Ebonyi states. Ogoja is strategically located. The center will serve over seven local government areas from the central to the northern parts of Cross River State and the other mentioned states.
With our current economic situation, how do you intend to make companies or individuals part with their money?
We will simply keep appealing to them. Everything now is mostly virtually, but we try to talk with them through letters and presentations. These companies have their corporate social responsibility to fulfill and when they believe or see a good project, they will donate and Lions Clubs International is a very credible platform to fulfill their CSR.
They may not donate as much as they donated ten years ago when they had so many funds at their disposal but whatever little contribution they make, when we add it all up, it will go a long way to help us achieve the goal we have set.
How long have you been a Lion?
I have been a Lion for 22 years. I started as a Leo. I spent 10 years as a Leo and I proceeded to join the Lions Club. I charted Abuja Metropolitan Lions Club when I was posted to Abuja to serve the National Youth Service.
I fellowshipped with the Wuse Abuja Lions Club and I was motivated to form my club since I found that the few clubs there didn’t have young people whom I could flow with. So I sent out invites on Social media and that gave birth to the club and I became the Charter President.
What are some of your achievements?
With a sense of modesty, I want to say that as a Leo District President, I performed very well and had International recognition for that. We donated 20 wheelchairs to physically challenged children; we gave scholarships for three sessions to children in Special Education, particularly those that are deaf and dumb.
We also sponsored cataract surgeries. There were so many things we did that year. After that, when I moved to become a Lion, I joined the Calabar Doyen lions club, the sponsoring Lions club of my Leo club.
Like I earlier stated, when I went for my National youth service in Abuja, I chartered the Abuja Metropolitan Lions Club which is one of the best clubs in District 404A2 and Nigeria at large.
That is the club I said built a resource center for the school of the blind. That is the club that has carried out three cornea transplants. The same clubs that screened the eyes of the pupils of FCT School of the Blind and carried out 30 cataract surgeries of children whose parents thought were blind.
These children have since returned to normal school. Abuja Metropolitan has also built a Pediatric Cancer center in Abuja. I was the pioneer District Cabinet secretary for District 404-A2.
What we have today as a District wasn’t this grand. Some past Governors and Lions have worked really hard to grow the once sub-district and make it a full District. I am happy to say that I was one of them.
I have worked with practically every District Governor since I became a lion. After being a District Secretary, I became a District Chief of Protocol, then the District Global Leadership Team (GLT) Coordinator which has to do with training and grooming of all the club presidents and officers, so the training of the districts for these 17 states was in my hands and I think I did a great job.
After being the GLT Coordinator, I progressed to become the District Global Service Team (GST) Coordinator. This means that all the projects for the year were planned by me and I gave directions to the clubs.
Then I became the first Constitutional Area Speaker for New Voices for English Speaking West African Countries. New Voices was an initiative of our First female International President to tackle gender parity in the association.
That position is exclusively reserved for those who are past District Governors or past International Directors but just as a Lion, not even a Vice District Governor, I was chosen by the International President to handle it and I excelled at it.
I think they saw something in me and after being nominated to become the New Voices Constitutional Area Speaker, I became emboldened and was encouraged by Lions to aspire.
And so I started to dream again. The dream I thought I had forgotten was rekindled and I said, Why Not? Let me give it a try, I did and the rest as they say, is history. Today, I am District Governor.
What do you do for a living?
I am a civil servant, but primarily, Just a teacher. I belong to the Lions Faculty where we groom Lions, people who want to become presidents, people who are presidents who want to become teachers too to teach other people, we mentor them. That’s what I do. I love to teach, I enjoy teaching.
How do you intend to seek government’s participation in the activities of the club?
Absolutely! We need each others; the government and the club. We cannot do the work all by ourselves. We need government participation and government needs us as an extended hand to reach those it cannot reach.
We compliment government’s efforts. So there has to be a partnership. We need government’s support to pull through because when government is in support of a particular project, it works well.
What are the opportunities one gets to enjoy as a Lion?
There is this innermost joy you get when you touch a life or just make someone smile. You could find someone who is hungry and is likely going to die of hunger and you give them something to sustain them. It is like you are their last hope and the person simply says, “Thank you and God bless you.” It’s Priceless!
There is this project that is very dear to my heart, the visitation to the leprosy colony. Women have a lot of clothes, bags in our rooms and then we have these neighbors who do not have anything to wear. Let’s bring these clothes, wash and iron them then go and share them at the colony.
Lions Club allows you to show love, to affect somebody’s life positively. You don’t need any reward, the reward you will get from God, you can’t quantify. We also offer training. They are very life changing topics starting from mentoring to the art of time management which you will find useful in planning your life.
There are many types of training you can get from Lions club, including Project Management things you can apply to your work and daily life. Every Lion who has been through our training can manage even a World Bank Project.
So it is good to be a Lion. Plus you make new friends who become family and you have an opportunity to travel the world when you qualify.
How do you feel about your election as District Governor of the seemingly largest district in Lions Club, in terms of states covered?
I am so excited! I have this burning desire to put in my best and see that my district becomes the best in Nigeria. Nigeria has four districts and I want my district to be the best in Nigeria and even the best in Africa on my watch.
My predecessors have worked very hard; I now need to build on the past. I intend to take it to the next level, that’s my dream for my district.
I am the third female of the 10 governors we have in my District. The first two governors for District 404A2 were females and we didn’t have any other female till now. I want to work very hard and perform well.
My theme is “Excellence through Service.” I want to achieve excellence in service delivery and excellence in all that I do so that more women will be given the opportunity to serve as District Governors in future because of my performance.
Give us a rundown of the activities for the Lion year?
On August 28, I will be presented to the public as the District Governor and it is going to take place at Rainbow Events, Abuja. It starts on Thursday, August 26 and the next day, 27, we will have an all-day training and a banquet for club presidents.
Saturday, August 28, we will have our first Cabinet meeting and public presentation of the District Governor will be that same evening. It will be a very grand affair, a public presentation is important.
That is the day when the governor will be presented along with all the things they need to carry out the project. It is also a fund raising ceremonyIn November, we will be having our second cabinet meeting in Enugu where all the Lions will gather and assess what we have done in the first half of the year, appraising where we have performed well and noting where we need to put more effort.
On February 9, 2022, we will have our District Convention tagged ‘Canaan 2021’ in Calabar. The third cabinet meeting is held alongside the district convention.
In April, we will have our fourth cabinet meeting and Awards night in Port Harcourt. On that day, we will be appreciating all the Lions, club presidents, committee chairpersons, region and zone chairpersons who have performed very well during the Lions year. Awards and recognitions will be given to them.
Any words of encouragement to Nigerians?
I want to encourage Nigerians that though Covid-19 has devastated businesses and the economy, and a lot of people have lost their jobs, we shouldn’t lose faith; trust in God.
Whatever is happening now is a phase, it will pass and things will become better. We will laugh again. It is also important for us to keep in mind that humanity must be served, no matter how bad things are for us, there are still people who need our help and service to humanity must continue.