A Queen’s Bold Step


Recently, Olori Wuraola Zaynab Otiti Ogunwusi, the Queen of Ife and wife of the Ooni, led a large throng of women on a march in Lagos to protest and raise awareness on domestic violence and sexual abuse against women. Mary Ekah, in this interview with the Olori, sought to know what motivated the march 

What exactly is the #1in3Africa campaign all about?

The #1in3Africa is a campaign against gender based violence; the victimisation of women in Africa. It is focused on changing the way the society treats this social malaise. According to the United Nations, globally, one woman out of every three women has experienced one form of domestic violence and sexual abuse at one time or the other in their lives. And 30 per cent of the women victimised end up losing their lives. In Africa, and especially in Nigeria, the situation is even worse. The family structure is such that women are regarded as subordinates to men. In some cases, wives are treated as mere slaves by the master husbands. Women are denied the right to respect and self-esteem. They are battered, raped and subjected to all forms of abuse for offences such as talking back in an argument, food not being ready on time and even visiting relatives without the husband’s permission. These things persist because the perpetrators know that they will get away with it. Society refuses to interfere, choosing to look away and treat it as “Family Matter”. But these women are dying in silence. They suffer emotional wounds that are soul deep, making them to lose self-confidence and unable to take their place among other people. So we are trying to awaken the society to the real harms that this is doing to our social fabric. We are trying to change the social reactions to this sickness. We are trying to make the women being abused to speak out and seek help, to make our society to treat it as a crime and to increase arrests and prosecutions of offenders.

Is the campaign a one off thing?

The campaign is a social movement towards a paradigm shift. And like every other movement, it is a big gradual process involving so many activities. We are going to have marches in Port Harcourt and Abuja soon, we are going to press for a bill to be passed, increasing protection for women against this malady, we are setting up help lines, to assist and support women in distress as a result of this issue, we are amplifying communications across all media, condemning the crime and increasing chances of arrests of perpetrators. There will also be several lectures, seminars and counseling systems. The overall target is a society that is rid of this malaise. So it is a gradual process, we are just starting.

Was there any particular experience you witnessed or had that spurred you to come up with this campaign?

The House of Oduduwa Foundation, founded by my husband, the Ooni of Ife, His Majesty, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, to improve the well-being of individuals and communities of Ile-Ife and to foster the unity of the Yoruba race as whole, focuses on support for rural people and women and children are in the forefront of our agenda. We have initiatives under the foundation for women empowerment. Part of our efforts at this initiative is the mediation of family conflicts and the creation of good family environment for women and children to exist and attain their fullest potentials. The greatest difficulty I discovered in helping women is to break the barriers of their self-limitations and make them come out and seek to advance themselves. These women are very intelligent but domestic battery and intimidations have so traumatised them that in their own eyes, they have been reduced to sub humans, undeserving of success. It is heart rending! So, I realised that the best empowerment that I can give these women is to remove this evil that is suppressing their spirit. That was why I decided to enlist the help and support of as many people as I know that are sympathetic to this cause and we are fighting to spread the awareness against this crime. When a woman is abused, even her children are emotionally battered. This thing is killing our society, making Africa to remain forever chained against the walls of backwardness.

There are several individuals; NGOS and other organisations which have been fighting for this same cause. Do you think they have not done enough?

Let us look at it this way, if we are living in a community and there is a flood, for instance. Just because some people are creating drainage ways to remove the water, it does not mean that you have to fold your hands and wait on them to do it all alone. All hands have to be on deck to save the community and until the flood water abates, there will be no relenting on the efforts. That is how I see this fight. I am so glad that a lot is being done. I am doing my bit; I pray that every other person in all their various capacities can join this effort, in their various ways and domains. All that can be done must be done to save our country from this evil. Until there is an end to domestic violence against women, enough has not been done!

How will #1in3Africa campaign be different from previous and existing efforts made by other individuals and organisations before now?

We have our own strategy. We are employing the massive power of social media synchronised across the followership of highly respected celebrities. We are unrelenting in our efforts, we are using the support of local chiefs and traditional rulers and we are using rural communication extensions, through seminars, workshops in communities and through radio broadcasts which is very effective in reaching rural communities. And also very important, we have very strong support from the Nigerian police. We are setting up help lines especially through social media, for women victims and witnesses to women abuse, to reach us and assist us with information. On the overall, the difference between us and other efforts is that we are here and we will remain here until we have results.

Do you foresee any challenge trying to achieve your goals through this campaign?

Beyond the reluctance of women coming out to seek help for fear of the stigma of losing their marriages, I don’t foresee any challenge. The human society resists change. So it will not be easy to establish a paradigm shift. It will be slow, it will be gradual, but with clarity of focus and zero tolerance to discouragement, I know I will achieve what I have set out to achieve.

Most times, women are the ones who encourage abuse, so first, how would they know when an abuse is emanating and what should they do in such instances to avoid it or discourage such?

I do not agree with you that in most cases women are the ones who encourage abuse against themselves. The reason why women are abused is because the perpetrators know that they will get away with it. I have been told that women are provocative with their tongues. If a man’s female boss rebukes him at the work place, he does not resort to beating her up. It is just a warp in our social system. Men assume the role of patriarchs and beating a wife is seen as a way of disciplining her, even when she is being battered to death. I will encourage women to control their tongues and do everything possible to maintain a stable home in which to raise children. But real abusers of women are the sick men who have psychopathic tendencies to be cruel and sexually coercive on women. These are the ones who hide behind the cloak of society’s indifference and perpetuate their crime. Also there are those who are involved in women trafficking and prostitution. None of these are encouraged by women.

But in this part of the world, people view things from the point of view that it’s a man’s world, so women don’t really see it as abuse when they are being ill-treated. So what strategies is your campaign putting in place to educate and sensitise women on this?

What you just highlighted is a situation that we arrived at as a result of centuries of living with this attitude of the men being the fathers and thus having the right to discipline women anyhow they deem fit. If our grand mothers and their fore’s have stood up against being treated like this, we would not be where we are today. So to treat this situation, we have a lot of lectures and seminars and trainings in place. We have a lot of radio communications and we are planning more, extending into television broadcasts. We are trying to institute a change in the thinking pattern of society.

Domestic violence is a sensitive area that most people don’t like dabbling into or like talking about. Some think it’s “unAfrican” while others shy away from talking about sex abuse, husband battering a wife and all that, so that even those who are bold enough to come out and report or share the nasty experiences they pass through are most often not given the needed support by family and even the authority concerned; consequently most people are discouraged from even sharing their experiences and as such the culprits always go unpunished. So what exactly is your campaign project doing to demystify this believe and misconception?

All that is fast changing; the authorities you mentioned are fast awakening to the new realities on ground. In Lagos State for instance, the government is not taking it easy with offenders in women battery and abuse. We protect the safety of women who come out to speak out about sexual abuse so that they are not stigmatised by society. We have family counseling systems where we encourage families to support their daughters who have gone through these ordeals. We let them know that nothing is more important than the lives of their daughters who are daily going through near death situations. We are achieving impact. You will be surprised at the number of bold testifiers that we are recording.

What is your advice to young ladies in particular and women generally undergoing abuse?

Try to see ways you can be respected and cared for by the man you choose to be with but if situation persists, and it’s a physical abuse, for your safety, leave that relationship immediately! Nothing good can come of it! You will be fine in due time. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. There are good men. Even if your father was abusive of your mother, there are still other good men out there. Do not let your daughters be caught in the vicious cycle! Give them a good future, take the courage and leave. And this is where economic empowerment also comes into play. If a woman is gainfully employed, it becomes easier for her to fend for herself. So learn a skill today. The first place to start fending for your-self and your children is in the area of financial independence.

You are a royal queen in Ife, Osun State, so why bring the campaign first to Lagos State?

We are driving a national campaign; we are looking for nation-wide impact. Lagos is the seat of almost all the media organisations in Nigeria. So our coming to Lagos is to maximise reach and impact. We intend to go to Port Harcourt and Abuja as well. These are the places from which it is possible to establish a renaissance because the media handles to drive awareness and social response are in those places.

How would you describe your experience during this campaign? What were people’s reactions, first as a royal queen marching on the street for a course like this and secondly, have you gotten the needed support for this?

The reaction is mixed. First of all, I have been highly encouraged by the good responses I got. I have had people in all kinds of places from the most revered positions to the most grassroots, congratulating me on such a bold step. I am blessed to have such encouragement. Then there are those who think it is out of place for a queen of my status to march on the street. That is the whole idea. I am trying to let people realise that the enormity of this evil eating into our society has gotten to the point where I have to come and march on the street to make people aware. I have seen what it is doing to rural women and I am shocked that people can just go about their lives as if nothing is wrong.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do?

My name is Olori Wuraola Zaynab Otiti Ogunwusi. I am married to the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi. I am a real and normal person married to a husband that is one in a million. Not just because he is royalty but because he is a character that is cast in gold. Before getting married I was a realtor with international practice and I also trained as an architect. Now, I am involved in the shaping of the future of a people and I am very much passionate about the state of the downtrodden. I am not a rebel, but I am also a non-conformist. I like to try where others have failed I believe that civilisations are built by those who fulfill purpose by standing in the gaps to achieve social balance.

How was growing up?

I had a great upbringing partly in Benin where I come from, and different parts of the country and other countries I have lived in, I am a child of the world hence my love for different cultures. I came from a home where love was not lacking, but then you also know that a lot is expected of you.

How did you meet your husband and has being a queen been a bed of roses for you?

Fate brought us together, some things are divine. It shows the deeper aspect to all our existence. There is a role we are all on earth to play. Being the wife of a king was never my plan and it happened because in the bigger picture of things your plans don’t really count, the will of God must prevail above everything else. Nothing in life is a bed of roses; that’s a fairy-tale imagination, but the bone of contention is that you are happy with your life and you are living a life that reflects values and you are contributing your quota to the shaping of history.

How is it like being a wife to a royal father and then running a course like this? Is he in support of your campaign?

My husband is 100 per cent in support of my campaign. He is a great supporter of women related social constructive efforts.  Beyond my husband, I have other royalties such as the Emir of Kano and more fully behind us.

How do you find time to manage your schedule as the Olori, a wife, mother and then manage the campaign and other things in the palace and business world?

Planning helps a lot. I am not ruled by a calendar but it helps a lot. Scheduling wisely and with prudence, you can surpass your limits. It only takes a lot of discipline to maintain your timelines. But when you do, God takes care of the rest.

What’s your vision for #1in3Africa campaign in few years to come?

In a few years to come, I hope to see #1in3 Africa assist at least a thousand women, rehabilitate them and give them succour from domestic abuse. I hope to see us assist in the prosecution of as many cases as possible; I also hope to see us catalyse a nationwide paradigm shift towards an end to this scourge. I hope to see many others join us in this effort. We are not trying to do it alone. We need all the support we can get.