Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Feasting on Clark-Bekederemos literary voyage

By Anote Ajeluorou

WHEN Bookcraft, publishers and organisers of the unveiling of Prof. Femi Osofisan’s latest book, J.P. Clark: A Voyage, chose to have the presentation on the waterfront at the Lagos Boat Club, Ikoyi, it probably didn't realise it was a sort of metaphorical homecoming for the renowned poet and playwright.
  John Pepper Clark Bekederemo’s country home in Kiagbodo, Delta State, where he was born over 70 years ago, has a similar ambience. It also sits on a waterfront overlooking a river.
  Moreover, the event had been advertised as a ‘Book Party’, which it turned out to be in every sense of the word.
  Tables were festively set to reflect a party atmosphere. With the stretch of water and trees and boats as backdrop, the event became one huge carnival or picnic. Wines and assortment of drinks poured endlessly, typical of the Izon tradition with the famous ogogoro to kill the thirst of a horse.
INDEED, the party was anything but a book event. It also marked the 78th birthday of JP Clark. The all-female choral group did their bit of matronly dance in response to drumming and singing from the all-male band with local instruments. Even though it was late in the day, secondary school students also made the party; they sang a happy birthday song for Clark, who shook their hands in gratitude.
Even the compere, a retired gynaecologist, Dr. Bose Emmanuel, did his best to create atmosphere of fun and conviviality as he repeatedly reached deep into his bag of training to haul banters at the audience.
  And as speakers after speaker dredged up past scenes from the life of Clark, a man many have concluded had always been aloof, egoistic and possibly 'a terror', it became clear to all that Clark is just another human after all, although an accomplished person with his own peculiar quirks.
THE ambience was reminiscent of the iconic settings of most of Clark’s famous works ranging from poetry to plays. ‘Night Rain’ is one such poem that calls to mind the feel of a riverrine area. Song of a Goat, The Raft, The Return and Full Circle are Clark’s plays that evoke the waterfront ambience as the water plays a prominent role in the occupation of the Izon or Niger Delta people from where Clark heavily draws ample inspiration for his creations.
THE unveiling of Osofisan’s JP Clark: A Voyage was at once a reunion of a class of the 1960s of Nigeria’s cultural, artistic life, especially as lived in Ibadan long before Lagos took over as centre of artistic endeavours. The list is as impressive as it can be. From the author of ‘Pidgin Stew’ and culture technocrat, Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, the legendary fine artiste and designer, Demas Nwoko, literary scholars and critics, Profs. Dan Izevbaye, Abiola Irele, Olu Obafemi and Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof. (Mrs.) Ebun Clark (JP's wife) to publishers, Sam Amuka, Chief Bode Emmanuel and Bankole Olayebi, they all came to celebrate their own, a man they had known all through the years.
  Other guests included former executive governor of Delta State, Chief Felix Ibru; Chief Oscar Ibru; Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, Ambassador Akporode Clark; Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya; Sir Olujimi Jolaosh; Mrs. Koko Kalango; Toyin Akinosho; Sesan Dipeolu, Chief Duig Simound and Mrs. Elizabeth Obi-Obiba. They feted inimitable Clark, the man of elegant poetry.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The green minister’s life mission


SOLA Alamutu, the brain behind Children And The Environment (CATE), a non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation that has contributed to creating awareness on environmental degradation, is resolute that her dream of a better environment will be achieved one day.
  The co-author of CATE Saves The Ikopi Rainforest, which won the 2004 ANA Prize for Children’s Literature, believes that for her projects to have desired effects, children must be at the front.
  Could this be why she picked interest in children?
   “I don’t think adults are showing responsibility and maturity and that’s the truth. I have always felt more comfortable around children ever since I was a child myself and as an adult, I have always worked with them. I see children as sponges, able to absorb what they are taught and once they have an understanding of an issue or it makes sense to them, they put it into practice. So, with my interaction with them for many years, I believe I am able to explain environmental issues better than I would to an adult. I also get better responses from them than the adults,” she says with a frown.
  Alamutu, whose interest in the environment started from her childhood days, when her parents used to keep gardens in their compounds, says, “this makes me believe that children can be taught environmental issues.
  As a child, my mother was very particular about what we understood as environment, which is basically looking after your surroundings; and in school, Nature Studies was my favourite subject. I loved the assignments we were given. We were asked to bring tadpole and study it. We lived in Ikoyi, so, we had water running through the gutters and you could actually see tadpoles. Ikoyi, then, was very environmentally friendly; there were trees everywhere and some people had gardens in their houses. There was a garden in our house; we grew up cultivating it, living with nature and eating from it.
  So, I know and believe that if I teach children safe environment, they would grow to preserve and have value for the environment.”
   Could this have led to writing of CATE Saves the Ikopi Rainforest?
   “No, I never knew I was going to write a book. But I did know, I had a story to tell. I actually wanted to start publishing children’s writing. Children are always telling me stories and I felt they should write them for me to publish.”
   She adds, “because of my busy schedules, I spoke to Peju Dawodu, my younger sister’s friend, who had written something for children, to come up with a book on the environment. She liked the idea and set off to do it, but her only challenge was she knew very little about the environment, so, I started explaining it to her and as well got documentaries and magazines for her.”
  According to Alamutu, “one day, she got stuck, so, I wrote a few lines. She was impressed and I went back home and wrote a bit more — that was how we both ended up writing the book.”
THE environmental activist, has in the past six years staged the Green Festival as part of the yearly Lagos Book and Art Festival organised by the Committee For Relevant Art (CORA), in which she takes children from different schools across Lagos through a series of programmes such as mentoring, creative art, environment and health awareness, reading and others including the Green Spelling Bee Competition.
  Speaking on the recent edition in November last year, she explained, “Yes, the theme of the programme was I Vote To Read: The Book As The Voice Of The People. We explained the importance of voting in the political process and why the. Chilldren have to read. We basically went through what voting is, and majority of them came up with the meaning of voting as taking a decision, which meant we had actually taken a decision to read. And to assist the children to carry out that decision, we gave each child a book; one book a day for the three-day event — so, we actually gave out three books.”
   Why give books when Nigerian children are perceived not to be interested in reading?
  “N-o-o-o!” Alamutu screams. “I totally disagree with that. Children appear never to be interested in reading because they don’t get books to read; their parents don’t give them books to read! I have asked some parents to get books for their children and they would reply, they (children) would not read them while the books have not been bought less the children not reading them. Parents often say all their children want to do is watch TV and movies, but the fact remains that parents, themselves, do not read; if they do, the children would emulate them. You can’t be a reader, giving your children books and along the line, your children wouldn’t read… it’s not possible! For children would always emulate what they see their parents do, if you read and give your children books they will surely read,” she says. “Most of the children do not have access to funding or books.
  She reminds that at the Green Festival, we are not just encouraging them to read, but to also write. We want them to emulate Ibukun Oluwa Adisa, an 11 year-old Ibadan-based author, who also spoke to them during at the last LABAF. Ibukun wrote her first book at the age of eight. So, we are encouraging reading and writing, especially as it concerns the environment.”
 Alamutu, who runs a reading club in Surulere, says, “I find out their passion — soccer, fashion, comics and others — and look for books on such areas for them. The important thing is make them read. The advantage of this, is that after they have found out what interest them in the books, they would want to read other materials, too. I also make them read books different from their passion. It’s like ‘read by barter’; I give them books of their passion, they read books on other subjects for aunty (me) — with this you see them pick interest in reading.”

TO encourage children's reading habit, Alamutu, last year, organised the Green Spelling Bee Competition for students in both secondary and primary schools at the last LABAF. “The competition was centred on words that concern the environment --- that was why it was ‘Green’ and, it is different from other Spelling Bee Competitions,” she says.
  On the objective, the child mentor says, “the whole idea was to make children practise the spelling of English words. I am not too much into getting children work up about competition or contest, to me that does not tell if you can spell or not. They were supposed to listen to the words, the pronunciations and then spell; they were not words, they could have crammed and it’s very likely that contestants who were not able to spell some of the words would go home to learn them.”
    The outcome of the competition told Alamutu that some of the teachers needed to be taught how to pronounce English words. “I think there is something wrong with the teachers; if the children were properly taught to pronounce the words they would have performed better. There is a correlation between pronunciations and spelling, it is very important that those who look after our children know how to pronounce English words properly, and also, be able to spell them. The truth is, if some of these children should contest with those that claimed to be their teachers or parents, you will be surprised to see how embarrassed some of them would be. And I won’t be surprise if the children fare better."
   Alamutu advises parents to belt up and help themselves by reading. “In fact, I discovered that the adult population read less than the children. People say Nigerians don’t read, it’s wrong! The holders of such opinion should put it in this form, ‘Nigerian adults don’t read.’ The adults are not showing good examples to the children; they spend most of their time watching television programmes and films, making the children to emulate them. They should take to reading, show good examples, then you will see the children read; for we can’t complain when we are not leading them aright. It is surprising to discover that most teachers read only books recommended by the school; ask them questions on general books, they don’t know. They make excuses such as they do not have time, but they watch TV, go to parties and do other things they consider important. I urge parents to read, so that, the children can be encouraged.”
LAST December, Alamutu participated in the Christmas Charity Fair and as head of all Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO), she said there are over 300,000 charity organisations in the country. 
   Speaking on the organisations, Alamutu notes, “that we are 300,000 or a million does not mean everyone is genuine. There are people coming into charity organisations for the wrong reasons. However, some of us network in synergy to be more effective, without which some of the NGOs would not be able to make the right impact on their own.”
  She continues, “I have worked with Keeping It Clean Foundation to clean streets the inhabitants thought could never be cleaned in Ogudu, Mafoluku and other places; these are things that make life healther for the children. With Nigeria having millions of people as citizens, so are the problems and as you know, government cannot solve all; so we are urging more people to form NGOs and, also, for individual to support us to reach out, touch lives and give hope to those in hopeless situations.”
  Dedicated to the vision of educating Nigerian children on the beauty of having a green environment, the author-activist says she has turned down goood job offers to focus on her passion. “Some people say they would lobby for me to be a Minister; I said no, I already have my own ministry. I’m a ‘Green Minister’; I educate people on environmental health, especially children and young people, and I can see the results from the calls I receive from their parents.
   “I left a very well paying job in the hospitality industry for charity. Though, while I was still in salaried job, I set up the NGO, investing some of my time, especially during the holiday into it, and after leaving work I gave it my full time.
  “When I first started, my family did not support me because I was leaving my well paid job, where I was supervising and carrying out staff training for major hotels across the country to the unknown, but all that changed when my first book won the 2004 ANA Prize for Children’s Literature. With the prize, people began to believe I have a reason for charting the path I have chosen. I have since written two others and hope to continue and as well encourage others to write, so that our children can be educated.”

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Midnight Star rekindles old memory @ MTN gig

TO give its new product MTN Platinum Plus the maximum push in the country, MTN Nigeria, a telecommunication giant, brought in Midnight Star, a US-based Double Platinum selling R‘n’B group that dominated the music scene across the globe in 80s, as one of the two international acts to thrill guests.
  Tagged MTN Platinum Plus For High Value Customers, the launch held recently at Oceanview Gardens, Victoria Island, Lagos, saw the musical group performing before a large audience made up of top company executives and high networth individuals.
   After the performance, the group made up of vocalist, Belinda Lipscomb; guitarist, Melvin Gentry; bassist, Kenneth Gant; multi-instrumentalist, Bill Simmons; keyboard player, Bo Watson and Bobby Lovelace spoke on their career, reunion and experience in the country.
    Recalling how it all started, Gentry informed, “Midnight Star was formed in 1976, at Kentucky State University, USA. It started as a small group, but as you already know, grew to earn a strong reputation across the globe. However, in 1978, Solar Records chief, Dick Griffey, signed us on, and in early 80s we rolled out albums such as The Beginning, Standing Together and Victory, which instantly shot us into limelight in the US. But really, it was No Parking On The Dance Floor that actually brought us into world reckoning.”
   He continued, “in 1983, we came out with the dance-floor smashes like Freakazoid, No Parking On The Dance Floor, Wet My Whistle and the lovers’ ballad of the mid-80s, Slow Jam. We also topped the US musical chart in 1985, with Operator and Curious; a year later, precisely, 1986, we struck gold with Midas Touch, which happens to be the title of the album.”
   Beaming with smile, Gentry added, “Don’t Rock The Boat, which featured rapper Ecstasy of Whodini, again took us to the top of the chart in 1988, before Snake In The Grass, another great hit.”
WITH this reunion, Belinda, the only female member of the group has promised to rekindle the memories of the 80s with their hits. “We are bringing back all the things our fans know us for: high thrilling stage performance, music rendered from the depth of our souls as well as letting everybody’s light shine.”
   Having stayed together as a group for over three decades dishing out hit songs, members went their separate ways to pursue different careers, but recently they decided to come back as one to chart a new path in the entertainment industry.
  “After having such a wonderful time together, doing extensive international tours, some of us took time off to pursue personal projects. Deep down inside, everyone had the intentions of coming back together again. I was for sometime behind the scenes, doing production projects for Toni Braxton, Shanice Wilson and some others. Bo was co-writting songs with renowned songwriter/producer, Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, including hits on Toni Braxton and After Seven among other activities. Belinda was at the theatre doing wonderful stuffs, starring in several comedies and gospel musicals. Like I said, everyone took time off to execute some other projects with resounding success,” Gentry said.
  “But in 2000, we came together, and have been waxing strong ever since. However, I must point out that two of our founding members are no longer with us, but the lead singers of hits such as Operator, Midas Touch, Headlines, Slow Jam, Curious, Freakazoid, Don't Rock The Boat, No Parking On The Dance Floor and others are still with the group.”
  So, what’s the secret of the bonding?  “Communication is key. Though we had had our ups and downs, the important thing is we have kept the group alive, “ he enthused.
FROM your collection of songs, which is your favourite? “Favourite! That’s a tough one! It’s like asking ‘who’s your favourite child?’ You know you do have one, but you don’t wanna tell,” he said amidst laughs. But more seriously, he added, “ it has been an interesting journey. We’ve waxed 10 albums and there have been a lot of songs. Actually, I like a few more than others and if I must pick one, perhaps it would be within No Parking On The Dance Floor, Slow Jam, Wet My Whistle or Operator, you see what I mean!” he said.
   Assuring their fans of something new very soon, guitarist Gentry informed that their latest project would be different from what they are known for. “We are working on this really great new project, a totally new material, never done before. We may have a live track in it and it’s coming soon.”
   Keyboard player and vocalist, Bo Watson, said his voice has remained the same as a result of his lifestyle. “I have done nothing really to my voice. Of course, I try to live responsibly, which means I do not do the excess of anything. I also try to always get enough rest all the time. Above all, I have been lucky to be blessed with it.”
   On  their experience in Nigeria. “ Oh, it’s wonderful! Nigerians radiate happiness and warmth. Somehow, you cannot help but feel and get drawn into that warmth. Many people were very eager to meet us and chat with us right from touchdown at the airport till when we mounted the stage. The reception was overwhelming; you know as performers, we feed off the energy of our audience, just as fans feed off our energy on stage. Nigeria loves Midnight Star and we love Nigeria too. I’ll tell you, we had a very exciting time in the country,” Gentry enthused.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Calypso promotes coconut feast


THE scenic coastal town of Badagry was recently enlivened with tourists and visitors from across the country and globe, who came to witness the yearly Coconut Festival with its artistic and cultural performances.
  Tagged Akunkefest 2011, the feast, which serves as a platform for families and friends to unite and renew convivial bonds showcased arrays of theatrics, which included cultural performances, music, games, art and craft exhibitions and beauty contest.  
   Put together by Gunuvi Heritage Entertainment and Events in collaboration with Grand Oak’s Calypso Coconut Liquor, the gathering among other objectives aims to boost the tourism potentials of Badagry town.  
   According to Prince Doherto Mesi, President, Gunuvi Heritage, the yearly is organised to promote, preserve and enhance the tourism potential of the people and project Badagry as a preferred destination in Africa.
   “The motivation underlying the festival is traceable to the quest for Badagry to have a notable and unique festival that is synonymous to the ancient, history and culture of the people, ” he said.
    On the collaboration of Grand Oak with other outfits to organise the festival, Dorcas Dada, Brand Manager, Calypso, informed that Calypso Coconut Liquor is noted to be the tropical spirit liquor with the brand personality of fun and excitement.  “Given the symbiotic relationship between Calypso and coconut, as well as the fun and excitement that characterises the event, there is a good synergy between the brand and the event, which informed our decision to support the festival,” she said.
  Known for its many landmarks which include housing the first storey building in the country, built in 1845, where the late Bishop Ajayi Crowther translated the English Bible to Yoruba language; the first primary school; the first church in Nigeria and others, Badagry town has scored another first with the host of the coconut festival, said to be the first in the Africa. Also, the historic town is speculated in some quarters to be the largest producer of coconut in the West African sub-region.
   Apart from the different cultural and musical performances, organisers showcased the various economic uses coconut could be put to.
   Speaking on the seed, which is abundant in the coastal town, Prince Doherto Mesi, President, Gunuvi Heritage Entertainment, informed that coconut with its numerous uses also attracts tourists to Badagry.
   Commending on the event the De Wheno Aholu Toyi 1, Akran of Badagry, Oba Babatunde Akran, said,  “ the yearly festival fosters unity and boosts socio-cultural and tourism potential of Badagry and Lagos State in general.” 

When Sisters With Voice stormed Lagos

THEIR story reads like the legendary rags-to-riches tale: Three young girls from the ghetto walk their way to the top, in spite of themselves.
  By the time they were entering their 20s, they were on everybody’s lips. They garnered enormous attention with their debut. In fact, they received nominations for Grammy, American Music and The Source awards in 1993. And got the nod at Children's Choice and BET’s Best of Video Soul awards.
  The ladies went on to wow American audiences in their national tour with Bobby Brown. They were ‘poster girls’ for Cross Colours, and appeared on The Tonight Show, Arsenio Hall, New York Undercover, hosted Showtime At The Apollo, and were chronicled in several notable publications such as People, Us, Ebony, Essence, USA Today and Vibe.
  Welcome to the world of Bronx, New York-bred Cheryl (Coco) Clemons, who currently resides in Virginia Beach; Leanne (Lelee) Lyons, who now lives in Atlanta and Tamara (Taj) Johnson-George, a resident of Nashville— Sisters With Voice (SWV).
  Bond by a passion and united by a dream to do well, fate led them to producer, Donald ‘Dee’ Bowden, who took them into the studio to record demos, and to Maureen Singleton, who landed them a contract with RCA Records.
  As they say, the rest is history; long history for the ladies, who made their first visit to Africa recently, when they performed during the MTN Platinum Plus launch held at Oceanview Gardens on Adetokunbo Ademola, Victoria Island.
  Though they came out of the hip-hop generation, they were influenced by gospel and classic rhythm and blues.
  Sisters With Voices? You wonder.
  “It was the creation of our manager then, Singleton. We had been considering many unsuitable names and then she said our blend was so close and that we sounded like sisters. So, she came up with Sisters With Voices,” Taj remarks.
  So you are not real sisters?
  “We are not biological sisters,” they laugh. They stopped short of asking questions. Their eyes rolled good-naturedly. With very appealing personality, they could catch anybody. “We are sisters in Christ. And we grew up together.”
  Another moment to ponder. Soul sisters stepping into the continent almost 40 years after birth and two decades on the scene as headline acts?
  With loads of down-to-earth appeal and youthful vocal licks, Lelee breathes, “erhhh!... let’s just say God says this is the right time for us to be in Africa, and the beautiful country of Nigeria.”
  And the experience?
   There is silence for a few seconds, then they retort modestly,  “Oh, wonderful!”
  Coco giggles, “the people are really warm, and the audience out there are superb. We are really very happy to be here. And we were particularly touched to discover we have such a huge fan base here in Nigeria.”
  Lelee says excitedly, “we took time out to be at The Experience. Wow! It was a great experience. You know, back in America, we used to think we love God. But right there in the hall, we saw different kind of worship. Your people can really worship God. Oh, my God, it was awesome!”
  The ladies begin, one after-the other, to unlock the doors to their hearts. “And then, your drivers! Wow… I mean, the cars drive pretty close and you think they are really going to bump into each other. It was an experience too,” Taj squeals.
  You think the Sisters will be in Nigeria again?
  No need to entertain such fears. Taj confesses, almost conspiratorially, as if whispering her answer. “Oh, definitely. It will be our pleasure to be back here again soon.”
WITH sassy struts and a state-of-the-street blend of soul-rooted melodies, coasting above an assortment of streetwise beats, the group hit headlines in 1992.
  Their singles such as I'm So Into You, Right Here, Weak and Anything, all top 10 smashes, and created ambience for the debut album, It's About Time, which hit multi-platinum status.
  Following the success of their first album, SWV appeared on the soundtrack for the 1994 film, Above the Rim.
  In 1995, SWV recorded their album, New Beginning, which was released in 1996. Also, in 1995, the group appeared on the Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album, recording the track, All Night Long.
  1997 saw the release of their third album, Release Some Tension, as well as A Special Christmas four months later in 1997, the group's last studio album.
  Perhaps, everything worked too well for them. They got very big and made too much money for their age. With the youngest, Lelee, just 24, their newfound ‘ego’ sunk SWV project shortly after the release of A Special Christmas. They parted ways to pursue various solo projects. In 2005, SWV reunited and announced plans to record a new album the following year.
WHY do groups fail?
  There is silence. Lelee breaks the ice with a two-word sentence. “Tough one.” She looks at the others, as if waiting for cue, and then adds, “some groups don’t have longevity. Why is that? I honestly don’t know. I just know that SWV is around and doing great after so many years. Having been around for so long, I just know we must be doing some things right. But I tell you something, we always try to be open and transparent.”
  Coco says, her voice smooth as silk, “we took time off to raise families and pursued individual projects. We came back together, and today, we are still talking of SWV.”
  What could have brought them back when many groups have found it difficult to do and what has kept SWV together?
   “Hmmm!” Coco breathes heavily. Suddenly, she wears a big smile on her face. “Let’s just say we belong together. Just with any other groups, there have been challenges. But we’ve weathered them together.”
  And the new album promised six years ago?
  Taj says, “Oh, we are working on an album at the moment. It will be out soon.”
  The group did pull through a successful coup when on December 15, via iTunes, came out with a single from their yet untitled album to be released in early 2012. Titled, Co-Sign, it is a track that makes it sound like these ladies have never left. Lelee, Coko and Taj croon over their mutual love for their men, they’d co-sign for their men’s affection.

EVEN without an album in the last 15 years, the group has had regular gigs. In fact, in 2007, they performed dates with After 7, Bobby Brown, New Edition and Blackstreet.
  On June 24, 2008, SWV made a special appearance at the BET Awards of 2008, performing, Weak, with Alicia Keys. They also sang the chorus to TLC's Waterfalls.
  SWV appeared on The Mo'Nique Show on February 2, 2010, performing Patti LaBelle's If Only You Knew. Lelee and Coko provided the lead vocals.
  On June 10, last year, SWV was featured on the official remix of Chris Brown's remake of their Right Here/Human Nature song, She Ain't You.
  On the current music scene, Lelee says, “no doubt, it has been vibrant. But there are a whole lot of songs that cannot last through the years. That is not to say they are not good to listen to. There is just a question of longevity and ability to remain relevant long after now.”
  Are they going to be influenced by the type of music that is enjoying wide acceptance currently?
  Coco is emphatic. “Hell no! SWV has its unique sound. Our fans love us. Why would we want to sound like somebody else?  Our fans are waiting for us and it’s SWV they are going to get.”
 You wonder whether they are hoping to catch the young generation?
  Coco gives a direct challenging stare before the group echo: “They’ll catch up with us.”
AND their private lives?
  Born June 13, 1970, Coco, the oldest of the trio, is married, and has two sons. She says, “I released one R&B album entitled, Hot Coko. I have also released two gospel projects, the Grammy nominated Grateful and The Winner in Me, which debuted at number four on the gospel billboard charts. I am also advocate for our youth, especially young boys.”
  The group’s second album is the bomb for her, as she says, “we had a chance to write our own songs. We had a chance to express ourselves a little more.” Her favourite song is Always on my mind.

BORN April 29, 1971, Taj is also married and has two sons. “I was blessed to star in my own reality show, Married to a Baller, with my husband. I’m also an author of two books called Player Hate Her, How to Avoid The Beat Down and Live In a Drama Free World.”
 Taj has appeared in the TV One reality series, I Married a Baller — Coko and Lelee appeared in a couple of the show's episodes, a confirmation of Coco’s statement that that they belong together.
  The show documented her life with husband Eddie George, former NFL player and present Nashville entrepreneur.
   Taj was also contestant on Survivor: Tocantins, in which she came in fourth place. She was blindsided by her former alliance of James "J.T." Thomas, Jr. and Stephen Fishbach. She became the sixth Jury Member.
   She participated in a 2009 national tour of the Vagina Monologues with an all-black cast, most of whom are also former reality show contestants.
  She says her favourite song is I’m so into you.
FOR Lelee, born July 17, 1973, she has two children, a girl and a boy. “I started my own production company and I am currently working with several artistes. I am also into motivational speaking, and I’m an advocate for teen pregnancy prevention. I speak all over the world.”
  Her favourite?
  Lelee goes for the first. “We had fun. We were clowning. We were rapping. We were doing all sorts.” And song? “I’m so into you.”

 WHAT are they taking back home?
  Taj confesses, “the love. It’s unbelievable. It was wonderful, right from the airport. We will cherish the memory.”                                              

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The many benevolent worlds of Ini  … the daughter of a watch repairer

THE aphorism ‘what a man can do, a woman can do better’ best captures the story of Ini-Abasi Laura Onuk, the Lead Consultant/CEO of ThistlePraxis Consulting Limited (TPC), a firm engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and management consultancy with commitment to helping organisations cope with the evolving demands of CSR and other management concerns.  
    Like a typical chief executive, she, the afternoon we met, was seated on a leather sofa colourful and tastefully furnished office, busy examining letters and other documents that needed her endorsement for further actions.
   A 2008 Draper Hills Fellow on Democracy and Development, Stanford University California and alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Education Programme, Laura, as she is called by friends, while at Stanford, led a research team that assessed the Silicon Valley’s CSR projects with visits to Google, Hewlett Packard, Facebook and the San Francisco Bay municipality.  
  Prior to setting up ThistlePraxis Consulting Limited, she served as the Executive Secretary of Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ), a not-for-profit organisation established in 2001 as a platform for increasing the success rate of female entrepreneurs as well as growing the proportion of women in senior management positions in corporate organisations.
  She had earlier served as the Executive Director, Defence for Children International — Nigeria Section — an international independent, non-governmental organisation upon her return to Nigeria and currently sits on its Board as a Trustee.
  The proudly Ibibio native and daughter of a watch repairer had conducted training modules on ‘Children and Armed Conflicts’ in West Africa, a collaboration with the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Ghana, which has become a major reference material on similar issues across the continent.
ASKED why she is so keen about corporate social responsibility particularly in Nigeria and Africa, the Think Tank member of the African Business Women Network under the aegis of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, says, "around the world, there are CSR Global, CSR Europe and CSR International, where major and emerging trends in CSR are discussed. The world has moved from corporate social responsibility (CSR) to Corporate Social Sustainability (CSS) and green revolution. But in Nigeria, we don’t understand the issue of climate change and this is affecting us as a country. I believe organisations can achieve sustainable growth when they integrate their corporate values with well-rounded policies that consist of good governance, business ethics, human capital management and community engagement.”
   Could this be the reason her organisation (ThistlePraxis) convened the Africa Roundtable Corporate Social Responsibility forum tagged AR-CSR 2011?
  She says,"we must not wait for the government to provide everything for us; we are also government and we must learn to provide some basic needs of the society. There is this local mantra that states, 'If the right hand washes the left, both hands will be made clean'.”
  According to her, "if as business organisations, we join forces with the government, our society will be made better rather than complain about bad roads, poor electricity supply, poor healthcare facilities, dilapidated and unequipped schools and among other issues."
   She adds, "as individuals, we should begin to ask ourselves what is our CSR to Nigeria? Yes, we were known to be patriotic but we lost our patriotism, which was our pride, when we began looking unto government to do everything."

“As individuals, we should begin to ask ourselves what is our CSR to Nigeria? Yes, we were known to be patriotic but we lost our patriotism, which was our pride, when we began looking unto government to do everything.”

THE Africa CEO Roundtable & Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility (AR-CSR) with the theme, ‘The Business Case for CSR and its Impact on African Economies’ was a forum that brought international experts from within the continent and beyond for experience sharing as well as methodological discussions.
   It is a foremost industry flagship event that attracted the crème of Africa’s leading figures and decision makers who spark-off conversations and discussions about corporate social responsibility practices in Africa.
  The conference held at the Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, and was an opportunity for companies doing business in Nigeria to understand what CSR and CSS are and begin to practice it.
  The keynote address was delivered by Mary Robinson (First Female President of Ireland & former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), while Prof. N. Craig Smith (INSEAD Chaired and Professor of Business Ethics and Corporate Responsibility) lead the speakers and experts across the globe. And Laura was at on the driving seat of the forum says:   "Business entities and organisations in Nigeria and Africa must and should incorporate CSR and CSS into their business strategy and create a budget for it at the start of every business year."
...A champion for the woman
A STRONG voice for women and youth empowerment, she laments the situation in the country, where women, who make up 60 per cent of the population, are disenfranchised.   
  Another drive for her is what she explains thus:  "when God created man, he created him well but he looked at him and said I could do better. I need a partner in the business of creation, someone who will help bring to reality the vision of making more humans. So, he created the woman so uniquely with passion and even in the physical structure.
   "While he made the man hard, the woman he created tender, soft and fragile. With the woman God simply expressed himself and the other side of his being. That is why I often say, in God, there are two parts: in man, we see him as the head, provider, carer and hunter, and in the woman we see him as a passionate being, loving, tender and soft. The woman is God’s partner in business of creation there is no argument about it."
   For Laura, "Africa women are economically strong. There are strong evidence and indices that most successful businesses today, especially within the African continent are managed by women. Men are good managers but women are better."
   She continues, "one thing that would make me fight public is when I see a man battering a woman. I hate with passion men who beat their wives; it shows lack of respect for God and values but I would not condone any woman nagging her husband. As a woman you must show respect, love, affection and care to your husband."
   And she believes, it is extremely important for everyman to support his wife's vision, dream and ambition. "A woman, who has the support of her partner is easy to recognise because she is all out and ready to conquer the world. Once a man realises that the woman’s success is not in competition with his, life becomes easier for both of them."
  For the CSR expert, women need to know that getting to the helm of their careers is determined by the level of their aspirations. "I’m ambitious and would work and walk my way to the top but not necessarily stabbing my friends at the back or stepping on their toes.

Challenges of women in the workplace
DESPITE the equal intake of both genders at the entry level of most organisations, very few women make it to the top. "The glass ceiling is a reality; organisations may not actively discriminate against women, but they do not adequately understand or address the challenges that women face at work. The result is the loss of a critical highly skilled portion of the workforce," she says.
  "We also have to deal with a patriarchal society that still sees women more as wives and mothers and small time business owners than as a strong economic and governance force."
  Over time and in the past, "I have met with several CEOs and other policy makers to hear directly what they thought to be the critical issues for women in management and business. One key need women have is to be able to work flexi-hours; another is day-care facilities within organisations and the third is additional opportunities for training."
  And areas they need training most?
    "I’ll say in leadership and corporate governance. For small businesses, finance management, and entrepreneurial skills. Most women-owned businesses are unable to access funds for bigger business opportunities as they grow because the women who started them did not understand the importance of putting proper structures in place from the word go."
   She says,"women also need to increase in professionalism. If you are at home, be at home and try not to bring work home. If you are at work ensure that you give your best at it and do away with being overly emotional in the workplace. Men respect intelligent women who know how to be professional and not sentimental."
Breaking the ‘glass ceiling’
ACCORDING to Laura, for a lady to breakthrough, "you must be focused and be self developmental; professional restraint of emotions in the workplace; resilience, learn to dare and take risks, be willing to consider riskier and unconventional positions."
  Very few women would be seen as being able to work on an oil rig or to become the head of a shipping council. "We also need more women in construction, real estate and other related industries. I’m of the opinion that more women should take up risky ventures or going into the male dominated business environment. I’m glad that more women are now owners of fishing trawlers. Look at Deiziani Allison-Madueke, she is the first female Minister of Petroleum in Nigeria; she is a plus for the women."
   Gender mainstreaming, though loudly talked about, "is still not going to happen if we women don’t get up and make it happen. We have to work twice as hard to get what we want and where we want to go. So, as women, we must clearly define our desires and values, and chart a clear path."
   Onuk continues, "if as a woman, you are asked to count the stars on your crown that tell the story of each woman you have helped to come up the ladder, how many stars do you have? Madeline Albright said, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.’ Strong words to consider!"
One thing that would make me fight public is when I see a man battering a woman. I hate with passion men who beat their wives; it shows lack of respect for God and values but I would not condone any woman nagging her husband. As a woman you must show respect, love, affection and care to your husband.”

Managing career and the family
THIS is an ever-present question. "We have used it as one of our roundtable discussion topics. We have also addressed this issue of maintaining balance under themes like “Sustaining Success”, “The A-Z of Self Development” and “Empowered or Overpowered”. Personally, I think you can never really balance things 50/50, but women are good at juggling. We can and do juggle responsibilities of work and the home. We must give the best we can wherever we are at any given point in time.
  “I must say I’m favoured because my family is not here but I do travel to see them and we spent most of the time on phone. So, they are not with me but they are with me.
   "It is because of my passion for Nigeria, Africa that I decided to come home to settle and make my own contribution towards making my country great and better. There is no place like home, though things work perfectly in the Western world and I get what I want at the right time. I can’t be a second class citizen."
    Nigeria, Laura says has given her privileges, which no country will offer her or "I may not be able to enjoy as a result of my status. They strive to make their country what it is, so, we must also strive to build our own con country — Nigeria. That is why I say, we must begin to think of what our CSR for Nigeria is individually and as organisations and not constantly waiting for the government to do everything."

WHAT would she change in Nigeria if given opportunity?
   "The mind set of Nigerians that government has to do everything for us. I will champion the cause where Nigerians will really take part in the governance of this country. A good example is the last general election held in April. For the first time in our elections, we all knew we had a stake in what happens in this country and did it our own way. Though there may be one or two malaise, overall you could see that we were determined," she says.
    "Another major cause I would champion would be the further inclusion of Nigerians in the day-to-day governance and politics of the country; enabling Nigerians to see that they have a say in who becomes the president, governor, senator, house of Rep and Assembly members, chairman of local government and councilor. Except we speak we can never get our way."
    She explains, "the paradigm shift in our system — politics, economy, social and otherwise — is a crucial turn for us. Some of the countries that are doing well economically today experienced similar things. Take China for instance, when they turned 50, there was a turn in their economy and other aspects of their lives. Look at Ghana; they can comfortably say they are competing with us in terms of being the giant of Africa. This is because when they turned 50 so many things (their economy inclusive) turned around.
   "Nigeria is 51, and with the way the elections were conducted, people, especially the women and youths are becoming more aware of the happenings in the system. Women are no longer shy or timid to talk about politics in their homes and in the public. I’m one person that admires the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan; while people are busy checking her grammar, she was busy pushing her husband’s agenda. It is not about the English you speak, the company or class you keep, rather it should about your nation.
   "We are happy travelling to other countries for holiday but we can’t do same in our country. I often ask my friends how many times they have taken time to travel round Nigeria for their 'wannabe' and see God’s given gifts that he had blessed us with. There is Obudu Cattle Ranch, Ikogosi Warm Spring, Idanre Hill, Nike Resort and other attractive places. We need to come to the realisation that it is not about the countries we travel to. I have travelled around, particularly Africa and I discovered there is no country like Nigeria. We are unique, diverse, intelligent and aggressive, and believe in ourselves but we are not maximising what we have to better our lives."
   For Laura Onuk, government should bring into governance credible women that know what they are doing, women that will push the agenda of this country to the next level; it is not just filling the numbers.
Are you politically inclined?
    "I think everyone is or should be politically inclined. I don’t know if what you mean is whether I’m seeking a political office; I wouldn’t say so but if given the opportunity to serve my country I would gladly do to the best of my ability."

On her book, The Eagle’s Dance
EAGLES differ from many other birds of prey, mainly by their larger size, powerful build, and heavier head and beak.
  "Writing a book has always been on my mind but starting it was a dilemma. I used my personal experiences in the book; it is not to flaunt my experiences but to show that if you are determined you will make it."
    Laura continues, "while Eagles are known for their strength, size, swiftness, powers of flight and keenness of vision; chickens are, however, known for being cowardly, timid and scared. Eagles turn images into reality. They do not need to prove any point rather points prove them. To test baby eagle, the mother eagle will take it from the height it was born to floor and allow it test its strength and sight. They don’t allow their backgrounds to determine their future heights. Eagles do not just exist; their life is full of glory especially it blossoms."
GROWING up was, "for want of a better word, painful and almost intolerable but I always knew that this wasn’t the life I wanted. I knew I had to take charge of my future because only eagles take charge of their future. My father is a watch repairer and not a horologist."
   Like the Bible puts it 'some obtained what was promised, others did not receive their promise'. “Those who obtained paid a heavy price to receive the prize. I can tell you that I have paid heavy prices to gain my freedom.
  “Eagles struggle and persevere through all odds. I can’t remember how many times we were sent back from school because of non-payment of school fees. I cannot recount how many times we cried ourselves to sleep as children, out of hunger. We were thrown out of our apartments several times because of non-payment of rents. I remember once, I was about 15 years old, when we were thrown out of our apartment and we didn’t have anywhere to go to, so my father had to go live in his small shop in Alaba market in Lagos, while my mother, my siblings and I (six of us) had to go stay with my mother’s elder sister at the Central Bank Staff quarters in Alakija, Lagos. We stayed with that family for seven months, until it became very obvious that we had to leave.
   "One day, my father decided we all move into the small shop in the market where he was staying. And one night, fire engulfed a part of the market and we woke up to the sounds of people screaming and running and trying to save as much property as they could muster. We carried our possessions on our heads, trying to run far away from the fire as fast and far as we could. It was a sight to behold.
   "Whenever I remember that day in my mind’s eye and instead of bringing tears to my eyes, it serves as a bolster for me when my human strength fails me. I use it as an encouragement to say to others that where you are right now does not determine your final destination."

Re-stereotyping the mind set about my people
I’M from Akwa Ibom State, and a very proud Ibibio woman. Anywhere I’m, I fly the flag of my state and of my people very high; reasons being that, more often than not, people have stereotype about Efik and Ibibio people. The general notion about us that is that as women, we are only good in bed and not better than being house helps or house-keepers (both male and female). Even in the movies, we are stereotype with such roles as Ekaette, Uduak, Okon or Imabong -- being the house boy or house girl.
   "I’m one person that has flown the flag of my state, though a lot of my people are domestic assistants, that doesn’t mean we all are into such menial jobs. There are some Efik and Ibibios who are at the peak of their career and they are doing well for themselves and I’m one of such persons. I don’t talk about schools I attended and I normally don’t like to say much about what I have achieved academically."