Natasha Akpoti: I Learnt Community Building, Service to Humanity from My Father

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Many will always remember Natasha Hadiza Akpoti as the brave warrior that fought gallantly for the Kogi Central Senatorial seat in the February 23 election on the platform of the SDP. But there is more to this Amazon than politics.  Natasha, the second of four children, and the only daughter of a Nigerian father and a Ukrainian mother, is a social entrepreneur, working with marginalised communities. She has a special interest in managing resources to the advantage of marginalised rural people. This fighter has European blood flowing in her. Her mother, Ludmila Kravchenk, is a Ukranian from Rakitna in the region of Chernivtsi. Her father, Dr. Jimoh Abdul Akpoti, is from Obeiba- Ihima, Kogi State. Natasha, 39, mother of three, shares her adventures, including challenges she had to square up trying to establish herself, with Onyebuchi Ezigbo

All through my educational timeline, I tried getting in positions of authority

 I am a lawyer and I attained my LL.B from the University of Abuja after which I attended the Nigerian Law School. I have a post graduate diploma in Petroleum law and Policy. I also have an MBA in Oil and Gas management which I attained at the University of Dundee, Scotland. All through my educational timeline, I tried getting in positions of authority. I have also acquired a lot of certificates while I was in the oil and gas sector and when I transitioned into being a social entrepreneur which is where I am now trying to work with marginalised communities. Career wise; I worked with Brass LNG in Lagos even though our plant is in Baylesa. I was an in-house legal counsel then. I stepped out and set up my own company which I do consulting in the oil and gas sector and also in the construction industry.

Manage resources for the better advantage of rural communities

What matters the most to me is my impact investment programmes; how best do I manage resources for the better advantage of rural communities and the marginalised. Then I started advocating for the Ajaokuta Steel Company which is also part of my social entrepreneurship. I believe Nigeria’s major problem is poverty, unemployment. The country doesn’t generate revenue and we are dependent solely on imports and I looked around starting from home because Ajaokuta Steel is actually in my domain; how best can this singular project if operating fully will be able to help in driving Nigeria’s economy forward? I thought about advocating for it and like everything, you have to identify the problem first before you begin to talk about the solutions and it was when I started looking into the problem that I discovered the whole conspiracies.  In as much as we blame international influence as a people, we are solely to be blamed as well.

Growing up in Iyima

I spent my early years in my home town Iyima, Okene Local Government. You can drive from one community to the other within 10 – 20 minutes maximum. So I grew up all around there and my father was a philanthropist.  He was a medical doctor and I learnt community building, the attributes of humanity from him. He didn’t just speak, he actually worked. He had his hospital and everybody whether you had money or not you would go for treatment.  He never turned anybody down. At times, some patients couldn’t buy blood when needed and if he too was cash strapped at that time, he donates his own blood when needed. I remember that as a little girl because I was the only girl and very involved with his activities like his handbag. I would sit with him in the hospital, watched what he was doing and his interactions. I attended some community meetings with him even when he was nominated during the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Abiola’s era and there were some meetings and they were like ‘who are we going to send to the House of Representatives’ and everyone there was like ‘it is going to be doctor’ and that was my father and most of them were like ‘he doesn’t have the money, he is more of a goodwill kind of people’ and they said yes ‘we want you’ and his election was crowd funded at that time and he won with a landslide. So, what I am saying is that my formative years were spent learning and observing the actions of my father in community building, caring more about your neighbour than yourself, understanding that you can’t be a successful island surrounded by the waters of poverty.  So I learnt all that from him and that was how I shaped myself. As a little girl, I used to read a lot, my father brought home encyclopaedia and to a large extent the television we had back then was NTA which starts at 4pm and Children programme was usually for an hour with Seseme Street and other cartoons. So, after that, what was I going to do with my time? So I started reading and I read a lot. I think by the age of 15, I had finished the encyclopaedia. That was where I learnt the habit of reading, which is the reason why I research a lot at the moment.  People ask me ‘how are you able to get such information in a very short time?’ I tell them I read and I can stay reading for a whole day without getting hungry because I always longed for information, to know why a particular thing is like the way it is.

The best privilege I was born with is goodwill

Born with a silver spoon? No! Silver spoon means privileges and I think the best privilege I was born with would be goodwill but when it comes to finances, my father had a humble beginning, he never had a home of his own because each time he would say ‘this year I am going to build our own house’ and before you know it the year is over and I am like ’what happened, where is the house?’ He couldn’t because he had to take care of thousands of children he was putting in schools; to the farmers he was supplying seedlings and tools. Our home was like a haven of people who needed something and my father won’t send anybody away. At times, when things were really tight because we ate twice a day and I am like ‘I am really hungry’ and he will say ‘at least you have eaten twice and some people have eaten just once’. He was quite humble but I never really thought we were in need because he always put the balance in my mind that it isn’t the clothes you wear or the cars you drive or the house you live, that it is what is in your heart and most times when we are driving, he will tell me ‘you see that big beautiful house, there is nobody around it but our house is a humble place and people are always around’ that was what he always made me see and understand. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but I had the very best at the time; love, compassion, care and the lessons of life.

The things I desire in life

I desire happiness and love, not necessarily from man but love from people, which I think compensates a lot.

I have three children

Yes I have three children. My first is going to be 20 in April, next month. My second is going to be 13 also in April sharing the same birth date 16th of April then my last girl is nine. So I have three children and my daughter is just like me, very interested in anything that has to do with the community work and reading. She can tell you everything about Ajaokuta Steel. I started earlier when I was just over 19 years.

I am beginning to appreciate failure as a learning curve

Of recent I am beginning to appreciate failure as a learning curve. Failure and poverty are my biggest fear in life. In short, I think the greatest is poverty and it is also the greatest motivator because at times when I sit down and look at my friends who are from privileged homes and I just wonder ‘they must just be happy knowing that their fathers have these investments and no matter what, they have something coming in every month. I have friends whose fathers have hotels, filling stations, so at the end of the day, even if their father is dead, there is a way they structure the returns that every month this income is made available and I am like ‘how does it feel waking up and knowing that no matter what you can’t be hungry? But me, I always pushed to be better, to have more for myself, my family and the people that depend on me because right now I have over 600 children I have adopted in my community and for the past five years, I have been paying their school fees. 238 of these children are orphans; I cater for their clothing, feeding, healthcare. Once in a while, I get support from some supporting organisations but most of them I run myself. In Abuja, I have about 50 children I put in school. I picked them from streets, from among those cleaning car, windscreens, filling pot holes and I am like ‘what are you doing?’ and they speak and I can see that they are intelligent and I will move them to school. Yes; happiness, love and I run away from poverty which is now my motivator.  Failure, I have come from being afraid of it to knowing it is just a learning process. If you learn from the mistakes that led to that failure, then you are winning because it is a lesson learnt.

The most difficult thing you been confronted with

The most difficult thing is managing a relationship that both of you have gone away from because the mid set is very important. It is not that the person is bad but you have just grown apart, you guys have changed, your vision has changed and every time you are struggling with your dreams and the person’s dreams causes a lot of friction and frustration and I have come to realise that we were born as individuals and we have to be the best of ourselves before we can be the best for somebody else and if you can’t be the best of yourself, then there is no happiness and even love is affected and that is why I stayed single. What I have been able to achieve in my life of recent being single is much because there is no distractions; there is a 101 per cent focus. The most difficult thing not just for me but for everybody is managing a relationship with interest because it is very difficult, it affects everything, it affects your health, your productivity; it affects your output and everything.

Being single, the challenges and missing relationship

Of course I experience a lot of challenges being single. Almost every day I go out, men ask me out and I am like I am not interested and before I used to think with three children it would be difficult for me to find anyone but I have come to realise that when a women becomes more defined, knowing who you are, growing in your character and person, you even attract more people. When I tell them I have three children, the response at times is ‘I don’t mind if you have 10’ because they have started seeing me as an asset but I have put that aside. I have made it clear to them that I am not interested and my needs, because I grew up from that humble background, are simple. My dresses are not more than N4,000 in the market, I am not like the typical woman who would want to wear gold, diamonds and all that. If I get them, fine, but I don’t go out of my way. I have learnt how to manage myself. I don’t need a man to maintain me. I am productive in my own little way. I take care of my children’s school fees, this is my home that I have built; I am not paying rent. So, I have learnt to manage within my space. I am not under pressure to look for support from another man and like I have said, it is a lot of pressure.

Once in a while I get emotional. I am a human being and there are times when I feel ‘oh it will be good to have someone to talk to, to share fears, worries and dreams’ and then suddenly I just remember some episodes in my life. If you had met my children, you will know that they are a handful. My children always tell me sweet words. My daughter always writes me the sweetest love notes of why she loves me and I get balance from that. There is one thing I have come to realise and I now understand it more when I watched Mahatma Gandhi’s movie and how he evolved in building his people. He actually began to abstain from his wife. He became celibate and when she was asking him why, it was like the interest just died down and there is just this point you become less of yourself. When people ask how are you able to cope for years and I am like how? Because I didn’t even know when time went by and when you are in a space whereby you pray a lot, you realise you are in a difficult and dangerous terrain shared by Ajaokuta and you just want to keep yourself holy because at anytime you pray, you just need results. That is just how I feel and overtime, all those needs and stuffs didn’t come out. I was just preoccupied even in spirituality. When I first watched Mahatma Gandhi’s movie, I was saying what is wrong with this man but later on, it even got to a point where if a man asked me out, it irritates me. It was like there are so many people depending on me and saying I should get there for us and here you are destabilising me with what? Dinner or what? It is about focus. I just got so involved in who I am, my vision and my needs for myself and my people than to be distracted.

My happiest moment in life

I think one of the happiest moments was when I made that presentation on Ajaokuta at the National Assembly March 1st last year and I was given the chance to speak to the nation on the conspiracies about the Ajaokuta steel and the need for its revival. I was just invited and I was told that it was the first time an ordinary person was invited to speak and I was there for almost 50 minutes just speaking and when I spoke, I didn’t even have a speech because I was just notified a day before and I wasn’t afraid. I just walked down trusting it was going to be fine. That is one of my best moments because it was from that time that everything turned around for me because I was already speaking for about two and a half years and no one would listen to me and the government wasn’t responding but that moment was what transformed a lot for me and for the advocacy because it now yielded results. One billion dollars was approved by the National Assembly for Ajaokuta steel in December, it was that effort. That was my high point professionally; at least I knew I wasn’t just shouting for nothing, the risk was worth it. Of course my children, each time I had a baby those were high points for me.

I have come to appreciate failure as stepping point

The biggest mistake ever made in my life? Thinking about it! Two weeks ago I was asking myself that same question. I don’t think there is any big mistake. Like I have told you, I have come to appreciate failure as stepping points. So, every time I look at things; is it my broken marriage but it made me stronger. I built this house. Immediately I left, I moved into a rented apartment and told myself ‘after this two years rent, I will not be going to pay rent again; I am going to move into my own house.’ With that strong determination and in two years, I put this up and when I moved in I said ‘I am okay now I want to start giving back to my community and helping people who are suffering what I went through years ago’. So it is not about failure or mistake. I looked at it as learning points and I learnt some lessons and got off better.

I always sympathise with women who suffer domestic abuse

I always sympathise with women who witness domestic abuse and I just feel Nigeria should have more support, avenues and I think the society has a lot of roles to play because of the culture that once a woman gets married, you must stay there whether the husband is right or wrong, he is right and you are wrong and that kind of dampens a woman. I think the society should have more support in terms of counselling, the religious homes, everyone should support the woman who is in an abusive relationship so that she can come out of it and it is not that bad, it is this stigma of being a single parent and why don’t you just stay there in an abusive home. We should stop stigmatising single women so that anyone that isn’t happy in the home can come out and still contribute her quota in nation building and if anyone is in an abusive marriage, they should find the courage to speak up and of course be productive. Many women stay in abusive homes because they depend solely on the man. Until today, I would like to say I still maintain a good relationship with my Ex. He understands that we are not coming back again but we maintain a good relationship for the children, which helps in balance. Last weekend, they went to their father’s place and even during my elections he helped me a lot. He was very supportive.

I love my space. I don’t have a lot of friends

I am very adventurous; I love travelling a lot, I love reading and watching documentaries at my spare time, I love classical music, I love drama shows. I could say I am quite conservative and many people will see me and say I look like someone who loves the limelight but that isn’t true. If I can stay in my bedroom for two weeks with my books, my documentaries; I am fine. I enjoy my solitude a lot because it is in my solitude I am able to think and process solutions to problems. I love my space. I don’t have a lot of friends.

Growing up I used to run, I used to play badminton and tennis but every year it is always a resolution that I am going to register in a gym. 

There was a time I registered in two gyms at a time; I registered in Hilton; I ended up not going, I registered in one nearby, didn’t go and then I knew it was myself but now that I have my horse, I ride it once a while but that is not exercise it is just adventure. I love gardening, I love travelling to many countries. That is my weakness. If not because of the outcome of this election, by now I would have just taken off to a country in Africa or even some nice spots in Nigeria. I love discovering new places. I love tasting new food and of course not things like snake, monkey and so on. If I can get someone who said they used some certain kind of leaves to make soup, I will taste it. I love exploring new places and when I explore, I learn a lot about the people.

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