Interviewed by Funke Olaode
What was your ambition while growing up as a child? Which one was achieved and which was shattered? I think everything has been achieved literarily because I started my career in the federal civil service with the Ministry of Social Development, Youths and Sports. I later joined an international organization and I had to work with refugees from Southern Africa. Later on, I joined the South African Relief Fund under the Presidency as executive secretary. I ended my career as a deputy director in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) when I reached the mandatory 60 years retirement age. For me, I never wanted to be a medical doctor, engineer or lawyer. I just wanted to contribute to humanity through social services and community development. And that is why I studied Sociology at the University of Lagos. Along the line, I did advanced administrative courses. I just finished a master’s degree in governance from the University of Leeds, England. The PhD was an Honourary Causas from Evangel Christian University Monroe, Louisiana, USA in 2004.
How did you break the jinx of educational barrier as a womanin your era ? The discrimination is still there. But I think it has to do with the person. The fundamental thing is that I had an education and because of that, I refused to be put down. I lost my father when I was very young and was brought up by my mother and her senior sister who were very committed to making sure that I get an education. So, I had to struggle all the way to the top.
What challenges did you face ? The challenges were enormous. It is incredible that in the 21st century the mind set of men is to look at the woman as somebody who can notcomplement productivity. They still believe that women should take the back stage. To get to the top as a woman, you have to work 10 times harder, to prove that you are capable and competent.
You mean if there were to be another world, you would still like to come back as a woman? Definitely. There is so much to do as a woman. We hold the ace and there is no doubt about that in life. The men just want to show bravado, they want to show they are on the top. But basically, the woman has the key. Women are intelligent, focused; they have immediate solutions to problems at home and anywhere.
If you had to rate your satisfaction so far in life, what would you score yourself? It is not about scoring. It is about looking back and to feel content that I did it. If you want to measure in terms of worldly things, fine. I have a beautiful apartment, beautiful cars and by the grace of God, I am comfortable. But in terms of the lives that I have touched in the last 30 years, it is fulfilling. I started a bank 20 years ago. When I look at over 20,000 women that have been empowered over the years, it gives me satisfaction. I endowed a foundation 10 years ago, Morgan Smart Development Foundation in memory of my father. .
So, if your 20 year old self could see you now, what would she think? Oh woman you did it. You know 40 years ago, I was just leaving the university and the world was my stage. I wanted to do everything. With modesty I know at 60 I have done a lot of things. So my 20 year old self will say ‘you have done well’.
When was your most uncomfortable professional moment? It was not rosy all the way because being in the civil service was very challenging for me. I joined the civil service in 1976, left and went back in 1983. All in all, I spent about 32 years. In the period, there were times I was in positions where I was being dehumanised, being traumatized and so on. I was always looking at it that may be because I was a woman and from a minority tribe, everything was not working for me especially when I was at the National Health Insurance Scheme in 1980. I remember I wanted to opt out but my friends counselled me. And today, I have no regrets.
What have been your greatest achievements? Touching lives. By the grace of God I have mentored a lot of children who are doing fine in different professions.
What lesson has this life taught you? You have to be steadfast in what you do. You must learn to see opportunities that come your way. You must learn to be conscious of your environment at all times and know how to balance things. For instance, what are the likely challenges, opportunities and dangers? This worked for me and that is why I have been able to get on top of things in the face of challenges.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? One of the interesting situations I found myself is that I never got married. It is one thing I think I missed. I said may be if I got married it would have been different. It wasn’t deliberate but I thank God for my two beautiful kids that are doing fine. Like I said, it is only one area but I am not giving up yet on marriage as anything can happen even at 60.