Interview: Living is pretty tough for women in the Niger delta – Dame Ehinlaiye

Dame Florence Iviero Ada Ehinlaiye (KSM) also known as the Oniemo of Uzere Kingdom was born 7th May, 1948 in Warri Delta State.

She hails  from Emevor, Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State. On 1st  February, 2001, she  became a widow and was left to take care of her five children alone.

In September 1985, she founded the Twin Fountain Nursery and Primary School, Warri. In 1992, she started the Twin Fountain College, Warri. In 2006, she initiated and founded the Society of Female School Owners of Nigeria (SOFSON).

She is also the Pioneer Chairman, Association of Private School Owners of Nigeria (APSON). Dame Ehinlaiye had her PGDE in Education at the University of Benin in 1981 after bagging her BA (Hons) in English at the prestigious University of Ibadan in 1974.

She is  an Associate of the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP). In 2005 she authored the book, ” THE GIRL CHILD” and in 2018 she authored another book, “OF GRAND VISIONS AND GOD’S GRACE” which will be presented to the public 21st July, 2018 in the oil city of Warri to mark her 70th Birthday.

In this interview, she talks about her journey in life so far, particularly  growing up as a Girl  in a male dominated world. Excerpts:–

 Who  Is Dame Florence Ehinlaiye?

Florence Ehinlaiye is a girl of the Orife Family in Emevor, Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State, born 70 years ago to  Mr and Mrs Samuel Moniruwve Orife. My father is from Emevor and my mother is from Uzere. So I can confidently say I belong to the two local governments in Isoko land. I can decide to claim the Uzere axis or claim the Emevor axis. However right now I claim more of Emevor which is in  Isoko North Local Government Area. I  am very comfortable coming from this area of lovely people who God has so richly blessed but have been deprived of what God placed in their land.

So they are still as wretched as they were in the pre-independence  Nigeria.The women are still under the feet of the world, many of the girls are not where they ought to be. But God blessed me with a father who was a pioneer Grade One Teacher and was bent on training any child he came across, whether boy or girl. So that is the natural privilege I had when I was growing up as a girl from an enlightened, educated parentage that gave me a head way in life. My father considered every child, including  the girl child as a child who ought to be given the best education. There is this general saying that when you train up a child, especially the girl child, you train a nation. It even goes beyond that because the United Nations has made it a focal point in the world affairs.

 

I used to tell people that when a man listens to his wife, he will get to his destination. And if such a wife is endowed with the basic education and has a job and becomes a professional, she will impact positively on her children and other children around her. I have five daughters and four sons. But gave birth to three daughters and two sons. Am extremely proud of my daughters,  many adopted from an early age. My second daughter has contributed to at least three books, including Foodies of the world.

Therefore, my education as a girl child has made me manifest as a woman, a mother and a grandmother which also impacted on my children very easily. They know what to do because they have their own aspirations in life. So that is what education does to the girl child as a woman, a mother at the global stage.

At 70, am a pioneer in different ways, I must be able to encourage women to come out and author things at various stages. I am a sticker to  Mother’s guide education for the girl child and the boy child because we are not actually discriminating. We are only saying that for centuries the girl has always been in a disadvantage position. It is  high time we brought her up to where she ought to be.

In the African setting, any woman who wants to rear her head, there must be people who want to bring her down. But when a woman excels, all the problems we have is well taken care of. When parents, especially the mothers, guides her children very well, you will not see all this so called yahoo boys you are seeing today because when you are working in an oil company, you will not dream of becoming a scammer. When I started the Twin Fountain School, I used to wake up 4:30 am and I leave home 6 : 00 am everyday. Then all our children were made to write daily dairies.

At 70, the Lord has been so gracious to me because I have come a long way. I have a lot of classmates like the first female Ambassador, Her Excellency, Mrs Elizabeth Ogbon-Day who was my classmate for six years. Her father was my father’s colleague. Today she is no more. But it is not by my power that I am sitting here talking to today but by His grace.

The  book am going to present is, “Of Grand Visions and God’s Grace” is  on the plight of the Niger Delta Women  In the Niger Delta region, there are so many brilliant women. In my Higher School Certificate, I made a record in History, scoring 1 each in both papers. This is a standing record  in the then Bendel State which gave me a Scholarship to the University of Ibadan. At St Ann’s School Ibadan, I left an indelible result there. In my A’level  history I had one record and I do not think anybody has broken my record. And because of that even though I wanted to read English, the University of Ibadan gave me History instead because my mark was up there. I had an opportunity to make a change because I had minimum requirements of A, B in all my subjects.

At that time child marriage was encouraged in the Niger Delta region. So that in itself was a handicap because you are coming from a poor parent who did not have the wherewithal. They felt the only people who could be sent to school properly were the boys.

 

 

Let me refer you to something that happened in the past. In 2007, I wanted to go to the Senate but because I did not have a political God father or mother, it did not see the light of the day. I watched the discussions going on in the Senate and the English they speak is so disheartening,  the only lady that Niger Deltan has been able to propel to become a minister is now  be demoralised today. She is not the worst. It is because she comes from where she comes from. Everything I have earned  in my life I have earned it from the sweat of my brow, thanks to my father who gave me a solid education.

With education, when people are shutting doors against you, you can force your own door open. And that was what I had to do in 1985. I worked for the Federal Government for eleven years as a teacher. I thought at Nana College, Federal Government College, did my Youth Service at Hussey College and at the end of the day I wanted my childhood dream to come to life, and that was how Twin Fountain School was born in 1985 and was officially inaugurated in 1986. Today Twin Fountain School is a house hold name and we are celebrating our 33rd year in operation. Not many businesses last this long and I have a legacy because Twin Fountain Students are spread all over the world. On my 70th birthday I am receiving calls from my students who are all over the world. That is a legacy you cannot toy with.

From the Niger Delta I have a friend who worked for a multinational oil company, Dr. Joyce Ogwezi.  She was in charged of community works and at the height of the crisis, with the help of Shell, she called a few women in the Niger Delta together who were trained to be peace builders. Actually I was the focal person in the Niger Delta for the WOMEN IN PEACE BUILDING which was also Dr Joyce Ogwezi’s suggestions at that time because she had worked with me in 1979. She knows a bit about me and as we  interact she got to know the type of person I am, even in my family. But today there is no one speaking for our women. I am not seeing Governor Ifeanyi Okowa government, for instance, recommending any woman for appointment at the National level.

I campaigned vigorously for him but in the last three years, I have not been to Asaba. The Delta State Government in 2004 honored me at the Unity Hall, Asaba. Why? I was alone fighter for many years, against examination malpractice for which my school was ran aground. But I don’t bloody care. I must do the right thing because I am a child of God. I see myself not as a pauper and also not so affluent. What can a teacher offer? I have offered my life in the area of knowledge impartation. That is my goal in life and I can assure you that many people have been impacted positively. But I came from a Niger Delta where nobody celebrates anybody. Our  leaders in  the Niger Delta are not doing enough to up lift our women. It is Rivers State alone that I can say is trying now. They have a woman in the Supreme Court, Mary Odili and their Deputy Governor who is a medical doctor, one of the few rare ones we have.

What of Delta State? Delta State does not even explore the people they have. They are waiting for people to come and bow down before them. I will prostrate to nobody other than my God. I have inbuilt knowledge, I have acquired knowledge, I have imparted knowledge and if my society does not recognize that, it is just too bad. My children are doing well in the international world.

 

I am an educator, a teacher, I may not have a doctorate degree but I consider myself as an intellectual and I can hold myself against many  women that I see in Abuja. Those women are in Abuja because their people have promised them. But I am here and Governor Okowa does not even know me. I worked with his father when I was the founding chairman of the Association of Private School Owners of Nigeria from 1992 to 2000. I also founded the Society of Female School Owners of Nigeria.  I fought vigorously against examination malpractices  and my school was virtually ran aground. But I am not bothered because when you are fighting a just course something must give way for it to succeed. Some men are desperate to get money. This is the root cause of this exam malpractice you see today because people want to drive Prado Jeeps here and there to show off. Sometimes I do not even have a car and it does not matter because, I know where I am going.

I initiated this body, the Association of Female School Owners of Nigeria. We got it fully registered but do you know that some of the men even dragged me to a High Court in Benin. They said I want to split the association. But I said no because there is an International body of Association of Female Lawyers, there is the association of female doctors, female Engineers, female architects and in all the professions. We are doing this because all the men have tried to suppress women in all the professions across board. So somebody must be bold enough to take the initiative that the women are here. And the women can only be there if the girl child is trained to that level of intellectualism.

As an educationist, are you satisfied with the standard of education in Nigeria?

How can I be?  I am telling you that parents are saying whether  their children have knowledge or not, WAEC should score them A1 in all the papers through exam malpractice and cheating, paying money to invigilators and  teachers to  write exams for their children. And that is not education. Education means should be  ready at all times. What I am saying now, I am not reading it from a book. Every child must be knowledgeable in various disciplines. That is what education is meant to achieve. Many of our children are naturally gifted.

Tell us how you feel at 70

As you can see,  I am a vibrant young girl (laughs). I bless God for my life. The story of my 70 years in mother earth is what this book, “Of Grand Visions And  God’s Grace” is telling people. This book represents what my 70 years on earth represents. I may not be able to complete the next 70 years, but at whatever point the Creator who has the key calls me, hence forth, from this celebration, I want to primarily dedicate the rest of my life to impacting the girl child in education and inculcating the reading culture on the children. Right now there is no reading culture any more because the children do not read. If you don’t read you can never be knowledgeable.

Watching visuals every Tuesday evening and Sunday morning, I watch Channels Book Club. I follow doggedly on some of the content of what is being published regularly. Children must read because a reader is a leader. If you read you must be knowledgeable. This hand book I wrote on the girl child in 2005 was to enforce and encourage the girls to read. So I want to devote the rest of my life in developing the girl child and developing a reading culture, renovating and creating more school libraries and reading centers where children can go and read. Maybe if I have the funds and van, I might have mobile library because we need to stimulate the children in the villages. If I could be able to drive to a school once in week with loads of books, I am sure I will be able to impact the world. But I cannot do this alone and this is why I want to publicly present this book so that people can support me to achieve this aim. A child who reads can lead tomorrow because he will be knowledgeable.

Why do you have so much passion for the girl child?

First and foremost, I was a privileged girl at a time when many people were not allowed to go to school. Many girls after finishing secondary school were married off.   I am very passionate about the cause of the Girl Child. The men are there too, but how many men sit down to do home work with their children. It goes beyond providing the basic necessities of life. Let me challenge you, how many books have you given to your daughter to read? How many men are doing that. Maybe we have them in the West because these people are three generations ahead of us in education. They are enlightened and they place their women in positions of authority, which the Niger Delta people do not do. When I am talking to some people, they will say, this one is so bold.

Has life been fair to you? Do you have any regrets so far?

In responding to this question like I said earlier ( she started singing)

“All glory must be to our God. For all He is worthy of our praise

No man on earth should give glory to himself

But the glory must be to our God”.

That is the story. I give all the praise and glory to God. As a young girl I used to be confused as to who I should marry because the suitors were much. I used to ask myself, who should I marry now. When you look at it from that angle, God has so blessed me with not only what I have but with a sense of contentment. If you are not contented with what you have a lot of regrets. I left all the Isoko and Urhobo men to go and marry a man from Edo North. My marriage produced five children. I had my challenges but no regrets. If I had to live my life all over again I will do it the same way because it is God that actually pilots and orders your footsteps. You are not knowledgeable enough because you do not know God’s intention for life. So I give him all the praises.

What is this book that you are going to present to the public on  the day of  your birthday celebration all about?

The book is actually a chronology of my life from birth up to age 70. My parents got married in 1946. I had an elder brother who passed away when my father was teaching at Edo College in 1947. I was born in 1948. The book contains my memoir generally.

What does the memory of February 1st 2001 brings to you?

 

The memory of February 1st 2001  was a shocker because my husband travelled to Lagos and we had our first grandchild three days earlier. I lost my husband. He died suddenly and the mantle of leadership was now on my shoulders. When it happened like that I was thrown off balanced. But because I have a profession to occupy me I was able to see our children through tertiary education single-handedly. I have been able to keep the running well.

All my children have gotten married and I have grand children. When you give a woman the relevant education, whether the man is there or not she will he able to pilot the family to destination. I was able to train my twins abroad, not that I am an advocate for schooling abroad. They earned their degrees, worked there for fifteen years and I asked them to come back home because I developed a business they can run after I have left this world. This is a legacy I am bequeathing on my children. I cannot leave it for somebody I do not know.

I am talking about widowhood now. Nigerians should go beyond giving widows grinding machines. Stop giving widows grinding machines. If you give the girl child education and employment, she will be able to develop her capacity. She does not have to be a pepper grinder because pepper grinding alone cannot train your children. That is the situation. Widows should be well catered for.

Advice for parents and government

Parents must ensure that they train their children. Government has made it easy, policy wise, by instituting the National Policy on Education, that says the child must have twelve years of solid education. Every parent must ensure that the child goes through secondary school because by the time your daughter finishes secondary school she will be 16 or 17 years old. Biologically her body must have developed, matured enough to be able to carry another human. But what we are seeing in the North, children are involved in child marriages.

The body of a 12 to 14 years old girl cannot medically carry a baby. And child birth will be difficult in the natural way. But when the girl has attained the age of 18 her body is ready to carry another child. Why do we make voting age to be 18 and marriage age 12?  We must try and streamline what we do so that there is consistency. At 18, a girl might have acquired some health knowledge on how to cater for a baby. That will be able to reduce unnecessary arbotions and she will be able to take care of a home. Any child that goes through my home should be able to cook a meal. So the intending husbands, fathers and grandfathers should know that the minimum age of a girl to get  married should be 18 when the girl should be able to take care of herself and not depend on her mother In-law.

The public should be ready for the girl child campaign globally. And I have to start from my village and one of my primary village is Warri because I was born and raised up in Warri. My father was one of the pioneer teachers in Government College before it was taken to Ughelli. From here, I will get people who can help me go to all these local government areas in the state to tell people on  the need to train the girl child, exposing them to benefits of education and minimising early marriages.

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