‘We Want to Use Art to Empower the Girl-child’

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The CEO of Platinum Entertainment Nigeria Limited and author of the book, ‘Madame Efunroye Tinubu: Heroine in the Midst of Heroes’, Olayinka Fatima Edu, in this exclusive interview with Ehime Alex, gives insight on how she intends to use the story of Madame Efunroye Tinubu through photo exhibition to empower the girl-child, among others

What is the photo exhibition project all about?
Humanity Awards and Exhibition, is about celebrating exceptional women from all walks of life, and also empowering the girl-child through our scholarship initiative. Last year, I published a book titled, ’Madame Efunroye Tinubu: Heroine in the Midst of Heroes’. After that publication, we came up with an initiative called MET for the girl-child. The MET is an acronym of ‘Madame Efunroye Tinubu’ for every girl-child. So, what we did last year was that, we distributed free copies of the book to some schools; we met with some students and briefed them about Madame Efunroye Tinubu: her story, her exploits and what they could learn from it. And, we gave them the book for free to read. This year, what we are doing is MET for the girl-child, the scholarship initiative.

It is an exhibition whereby we are using the girl-child to illustrate the story of Madame Efunroye Tinubu. The story is quite an interesting one. During the course of my research, I found out that she was one person in so many things. She was an aristocrat, warrior, queen, to name just a few. All those attributes of hers, are what we are now using the girl-child to portray. We want them to reenact the attributes of Madame Efunroye Tinubu through photo exhibition. We have all those attributes listed. So, what we are using the girls to do, is to reenact those attributes. Each girl is to represent Madame Efunroye Tinubu in each character with costume, markup, and we take their photos, frame them and put them up for exhibition. And of course, each of them has to understand what they are representing her for.

They must have read the book; and we must have told them about her story for them to really understand what they are doing. So, we put up the pictures for sale at the Exhibition Ground for Humanity event which is coming up December 17, 2017 at Oriental Hotel, Lagos. December 17, is a very significant day for us because it will mark the 130 years remembrance of Madame Efunroye Tinubu. As I have said, we put up the pictures for sale, and the monies realised from that will be used to open an account for each girl-child that has a picture. In addition to that, we will do a mini-photo of those photo frames and place them at Madame Tinubu Square at the Island for tourism purposes. For every time the picture is in demand, the girl-child gets money into her account.

Why did you embark on such project?
Humanity is an award to celebrate and honour exceptional women, like I said, from all walks of life; from Nollywood, governance, politics- women doing great things. We came up with Humanity Awards for International Women Day actually. As we all know, International Women Day is being celebrated March 8 all over the world which we started observing here in Nigeria of recent. But basically, what I found out that we do most times in this part of the world is, we do summit, we do walk against this and against that. There are women who had taken bold steps to affect societies positively that need to be honoured and celebrated; and also, their stories need to be used to encourage and empower the girl-child. That is the part we are looking at to celebrate them and not just talking or organising a summit or conference and complaining about our problems. So we decided let’s celebrate and honour those who are doing well and use their stories to encourage the young girl. On the Madame Efunroye Tinubu initiative, it is an historical figure of the 19th Century, a very important woman whose

story has inspired some of us that studied history and others who have done research in that line. Regrettably, history is no longer being taught in our schools of recent. Every time the discussion is on gender equality, women empowerment and the likes; when we compare now and what it was in the past centuries where women had lesser opportunities, we will be shocked at what great things those women had done to affect their societies. Is like saying, they have everything at their beck and call. With lots of opportunities these days, women are complaining. Complaining about how to take their place in the society and not being given the opportunities. We don’t think that you need anybody’s permission to get the opportunity to where you belong in the society. So, we are just using the stories of those exceptional women to say, you can get to where you wanted and make impact with little or no opportunities.

There are so many exceptional women in the past whose lives have impacted on the societies. Tell us, how did you arrive at your selection of Madame Efunroye Tinubu?
We have a project, which is Belle of African Nations. The Belle of African Nations is to use pageant to tell the stories of African heroines. Our first edition of that project was Madame Efunroye Tinubu. Actually, the Belle of African Nations is a pan-African project. And because we are Nigerians, we decided to start from home. Starting from home means starting with Madame Efunroye Tinubu, from Lagos where we belong and operate. Like the saying goes, charity begins at home.

How will this be of benefit to Africa and the world at large?
As a nation, we have been talking about economic diversification and how to empower the girl-child every now and then. So, this is like using arts to empower the girl-child where people less focus on. When we talk of empowerment, people think straight on setting people up for a business and giving them money to do this or that. But, what we are doing basically is, one, we are making them see potentials in themselves. Yes, some of these girls that we are going to use to do this exhibition, their dreams might be to become engineers, doctors. But, if we show them this way, that through your history, arts, culture, you could actually become something or earn something rewarding. Two, in the history of tourism like I said, we will be donating mini-photos to Madame Tinubu Square for as long as it could be there. And, I am sure that every girl-child that will be represented there, that have her photo there will be happy, the parents too will be happy. I’m also sure that, the girls will be eager to tell their friends and love ones about it and for them to go and see it. That for us is promoting tourism which I feel in the long-run people are going to appreciate what we are doing. I believe that is how people can benefit: tourism, arts, culture, history, and at the same time educating them about historical events.

What makes the project prime at this time?
Like I said earlier, it is going to be 130 years tribute for Madame Efunroye Tinubu, and we are trying to make MET a brand. She was an important figure in the 19th Century, and we are trying to make a brand out of that. That is part of our history and historical event. So, we have those women too who had done great things and their lives have impacted positively on the societies. It’s a starting point! It’s not going to be a one-off thing!

How sustainable is the project?
Well, like I said, it is not a one-off thing. We give the scholarship to these girls, we put their pictures for sale, we will also have the documentary of Madame Efunroye Tinubu premiere on that day; and we intend to take it international. Aside from auctioning the pictures on the day of the event, the pictures are also there on sale. We will put them on gallery in partnership with other galleries for people who might be interested, also on online for people to buy. Every time the picture is in demand, the girl gets money into her account. We will do that for a period of three years, we have a target to raise certain amount for a particular girl-child for that period. Then, after three years, we will give other girls the opportunity. So, it is sustainable. It is not an annual thing.

What is the condition for qualification for the scholarship initiative?
Our focus is on secondary schools, and it is for girls who are between the ages of 12 to 17. And the opportunity is open for students both in private and public schools across Nigeria. But we have a fixed account that we will be giving out yearly.

So, how much is that?
The maximum is N300,000 for every girl-child yearly through the sale of their photo. And we will do that for a period of three years.

What challenges are you currently facing on this project?
Basically, the challenge we are facing is paucity of funds. I mean sponsorship. When an idea is new, selling it poses a little difficult. People are somehow skeptical in buying into a new idea in this part of the world. However, when you have such an idea that you are very passionate about, especially one that has the potential of impacting the society, you don’t give up easily. Lately, the much talk about our arts and culture, tourism and how we can make money out of it are steps to be taken.

I believe this is a step in the right direction we have taken at Platinum Entertainment to do things by using it as an empowerment for the girl-child, and by extension contributing to the growth of tourism in the country. So, we are doing our bits, what we can. Although, we are yet to start receiving the support we envisage financially and in other areas. It is costing us a lot: cost of photography, selecting the girls, framing of the pictures, the venue of the event and other things. What we have done so far is from personal purse with supports from few friends, families who share in the dream. It has not been easy anyway, but I believe we will get there. It is always and sometimes a struggle to start something new.

Are you looking for sponsorship or partnership?
Yes, off course. We have been on that, and we are doing just that. We are hopeful and awaiting responses.

Are you are optimistic they will buy into the idea?
Yes, we are very positive. Nigeria is just a country that you must have your money to push your idea through. It is when that is done that people can now begin to see the value and listen to you the more. But for us, we are very determined.

How many sponsors are you looking at altogether?
We are hopeful for at least to have seven sponsors. But, if we get more than that, it is all well and good.

Tell us about the launch coming up on 17th of December?
That is Humanity; we will be giving awards and celebrating exceptional women from all walks of life, like I said earlier.We have people voting already. We have different categories of awards. We have some new categories that we coined out of our own. We have the Girl-child Award too, that is, the Golden Girl. We have the Humanity Soldier Award, for that woman who has been selfless in service to humanity. We have awards for corporate, Nollywood, music, and so on.

We have the Exceptional Woman Award, that one is none category.We have the Exceptional African Woman, which is for an African woman who has affected other peoples’ lives positively and had taken bold steps at encouraging other young ladies with her story. There is also going to be photo exhibition. The photo exhibition is a new one; I’m sure people will enjoy it. Also, we will have the girls stand by their photos, auction their photos themselves, have them come up with their own tagline on their photo, on each photo. That will be like a nugget for everyone to take home. It promises to be an amazing show. We will also have exhibition book stands for people who want to market their books to do so.

How long did it take you to birth this idea?
Wow! I have been at it for long. Like I said, I published the book on Madame Efunroye Tinubu last year. It took me close to two year to publish the book because the reason for the book itself was as a result of another project that brought about the book. So, this is another project that is bringing about the MET for the girl-child, but altogether, three years or so.

Can you expatiate more on the pan-African project?
Humanity is a pan-African project somehow because it has a bit of pan-Africanism in it. But the Belle of African Nations, which is now Kiburi La Afrika, is a pure pan-African project. It is a pageant where we are redefining the contemporary pageantry by using pageant to tell the story of African heroines. So, for every edition, we have different heroine to talk about while making our selection from across Africa countries.

Do you think you have a grip of patronage on this Kiburi La Afrika project?
Off course, we do! The first edition we did about Madame Efunroye Tinubu, we already had 14 countries signed up for it. But, like I said the problem of starting a project like this is sponsorship, people buying into your fresh idea.

How do you see your project in five years?
Oh! A big thing, a real deal, something, that will be in the lips of everybody. I am so passionate about the photo exhibition thing. I like it, it is unique. Everyone will share the idea of who has come or who we have approach for supports and all that. People like the idea of the scholarship, the MET for the girl-child initiative, and the exhibition. They like it that we are not just making money for the girls but using and making them models, making them see potentials in the things they can do while also appreciating our efforts. So that is the beauty of it. I’m sure by the time their contracts expire in three years’ time, most of them will be keen to come back. But then, we have to give opportunities to others. I see the project as being big, accepted and getting supports all over the world. I’m yet to hear of any auctioning event here, so by the time we auction our photos and put them up for online auction, people can buy from all over the world. They could see the girls they are supporting and all that. In a way, that may help to reduce the rate of child marriage and all of that. And also help to empower the girls at their tender age.