Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with Her Excellency Patience Ama Zuofa Diri, a lawyer and wife of Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State on her Good Values and Parenting project, which is gaining some good traction
Your Husband , Governor Douye Diri, Popularly called the Miracle Governor was at the Redeemed Christian Church of God Redemption Camp to thank God for His victory at the Supreme Court and he said He was fasting and praying during waiting period. Did you join him? What was your role?
I am a Christian who believes all power belongs to God. And my husband is a serious prayer warrior. I was equally fasting. I was always givng praise to God despite the odds knowing that it will end in praise. Though I break my fast sometimes around 12noon. But I was completely in the place of prayer.
How did you help him during the campaign?
I was actively involved in the campaign. I mobilized the women and youths from all over the state to support my husband. From my savings, I printed T- Shirts, caps, etc. On Election Day I was a foot soldier, coordinating logistics and making sure that everything. Just making sure that your candidate’s agent are well taken care of in terms of food and other refreshments can cause your failure if you neglect it. It is a very crucial role on Election Day, so that the agents can concentrate on their very important task and not be distracted.
How are you ensuring that the 35% leverage for women in governance is implemented?
My Husband has respect for women and he is confident that women will deliver effectively so you can be assured that 35% implementation is not an issue. However, it is important to clear the air that the person elected to govern is my husband and not me , so I can only advise as a wife but the truth is that my husband has great regard for women and will do everything within his means to support them. I am a lawyer by training. There are a couple of things that I can by way of advocacy. To start with, I will check with the member representing my state constituency in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. I think the proper thing maybe to work with the legislators to initiate a Bill that will go through the whole legislative process and then become a proper law. That way, it becomes a state policy that will be continued beyond my husband’s tenure.
Kindly tell us about your growing up days and background?
I grew up in Port Harcourt. I schooled in Port Harcourt. I attended a nursery school because my parents wanted the basics not this days where you have children with cut and join education. I attended Springfield nursery school, Borokiri. I furthered to U.P Model Primary School Borokiri, I then furthered to governments girls secondary school, I moved down to Rivers state basic studies instead of just sitting at home waiting for jamb. I also did my diploma in between my results came out and I continued with Rivers State University of Science and Technology Now Rivers State University to study law and furthered to the Nigerian Law School Kano and here I am, doing my LLM review, I did my NYSC in Kogi state.
Did you practice as a lawyer?
Yes I did, Even as a corpper when they were chances of going home and not doing anything because we were posted to a local government. I found a law chamber in Kogi state, though not a pleasant environment, because I wanted to practice, I went. I approached the chambers and appealed to be part of their legal team whenever they go to court and other outside legal practice, I walked with Ekemi Chamber that is Chief F.D Lot though I had the opportunity to work with a private company but I really wanted to practice so I choose to work with Chief F.D Lot, who is the former Attorney General of Rivers State and one of Bayelsa state’s oldest lawyers. After that, I felt a need to broaden my knowledge on legal practice. I want into the civil service because in civil service, there are various departments that can also assist you in your legal practice. I joined the ministry of justice as a State Counsel and I rose through the rank. At the moment, I’m an Assistant Director in the Department of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice, Bayelsa state.
Do you see yourself as an activist, as lawyers are geared towards activism?
People say that they see that bit of me but the truth is, I was brought up to speak up, I was brought up to be truthful, I was brought up to see injustice and fight against it. When I do that sometimes people misinterpret it to mean activism, no it’s not. It’s just my upbringing to always do what is right, see what is right, protect what is right and if possible fight for what is right.
How are you using the instrument of the law as a lawyer to fight for the downtrodden?
I am a member of the international Bar Association, that holds conferences yearly and at such conferences, I speak about certain issues and when I attend, I make sure I speak about my country, share ideas. I am also a member of the Nigeria Bar Associations, so when the need arises to speak, I contribute. Also I am a member of the female lawyers we call it (FIDA). I lend my voice to good causes at every point.
I have partnered with a lot of NGOs in respect of these.
What inspired your good PARENTING project?
I grew up to see my parents caring for people who were not their biological children, nursing them, providing for them. I grew up also exhibiting such tendency. My greatest passion in life is to raise the downtrodden from his disadvantaged position. I’ve done that at every opportunity I find myself. I have adopted children that are not from my own community, they are not related to me by blood, I took them in, some from their homes and I saw some on the street and I will be like, ‘why are you lying down on the street? Why are you out by this time of the night?’ I have one that I have trained up, he now owns a tailoring shop. I have another from Southern Ijaw, because the environment where I lived, they were more of neighbours to me. I also have one I put through school from when I picked him up till he finished secondary school and he is rounding up his studies at the Niger Delta University (NDU). I have another that is in NDU right now in his Third Year. I have another in a private school and others who live with me. I have many others that are not living with me but on a monthly bases, I pay their fees, I try to support them to become better persons in society and that is my passion so whenever I am called upon, I do that all the time.
What is your vision for your adopted children and the world you are changing?
I grew up in Port Harcourt and I was brought up by my parents who were enlightened and educated. When I decided to come to Bayelsa, a lot of people close to me thought something was wrong with me, and I remember saying to a few, that if we don’t come to build our state ,who will? Because I come from a family that is one of the founding families of this state, my paternal family are the Zuofas. I know their contributions to make Bayelsa what it is today and if I have the opportunity to come build my state, why shouldn’t I? when people say Bayelsa is not developed, the people are local, why don’t you stay in Port Harcourt, how will you survive and all that. For me, the word was if we don’t do it, who will? By divine providence because I’ve always said I am not a politician even when I grew up in an environment of politics, I criticize objectively when I see things done in governance, by divine providence, I got married to a politician so my passion is to see Bayelsa as a state that can compete with others internationally. I’m not talking about competing with Abuja, competing with Lagos, because apart from the capitals, let’s be honest with ourselves, when you go to the suburbs of the cities within Nigeria, you will notice that they are not as developed as their capital city. I’ve traveled beyond Nigeria. I want to see what I see outside Nigeria in my state, Bayelsa. I want to see our youths compete favourably with youths in other clime, not just Nigeria but in the global space and when we want to measure progress we shouldn’t be using our immediate environment as an instrument for measurement we should be thinking beyond. I want to see the Bayelsa that our founding fathers fought for, I want to see jobs, I want to see good roads, I want to see electricity, I want to see drinking water in our communities not just in Yenagoa. I want to see good schools; I want to see good teachers. Yes, people say the reward of teachers are in heaven, I agree. People say their salaries is small also I want to see good teachers who will impact positively on the youths because when you have sound education, you have a better society too. I am working towards achieving all of these.
The Governor says he wants to build powerful institutions and not powerful people, that appears to be in line with your vision
The truth is that we build these institutions through people because if he says building institution that means he is talking more of human development. The people make the society and when I build people, I have built a society. I have built institutions, because if I’m able to mentor a child into a responsible adult who is gainfully employed, I have built an institution.
How will you rate the success of your Good Values and Parenting project?
Growing up, we all lived a communal life, even in affluence we communicated with the middle class. We saw our parents going out handing us over to our neighbours with no fear because your parents expect that before you leave the house, you’ll be fed. Sometimes they will even give you snacks to survive or keep you busy while they’re gone maybe to the market, church or to a meeting. They will tell you go to Timi’s house and stay there after, of course, pre-informing them. There were certain values that we were brought up with and even when our parents were not there, we had this fear that they will know when we do evil. We were conscious of a lot of things around us, because we had good values instilled in us. When you are fighting, let me take that as an example. Even when you think that you are beating the person, you now begin to think of the beating that you will get at home for even daring to fight. You can’t take somebody’s thing that is not yours to your house. I remember my mum coming back from school, she will ask you to open your bag, check your books, your notebooks, count it both your pencils, pen and erasers and if you are coming home with more than one, she will ask you who has the next one. Sometimes you get a beating for that, sometimes you are cautioned, when you go to school first thing in the morning as you get to school return that pen. How many parents are doing that today? Yes, I agree that society has evolved or is growing and now people can afford to buy phones for their children. The things we carried about were the things our parents could afford. But we see children today carrying things that their parents cannot afford even for themselves and parents are saying nothing. You’re not asking questions, you are not asking your child where did this came from? Growing up, you can’t bring what is not yours to the house, you can’t insult an elder, the elderly one will first beat you before you go home, then go to the house and report and they will give you another round of beating for insulting an elder, you can’t see an elder standing in a bus and you are sitting down. We were taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, we were taught to greet your elders otherwise you get a knock on your head. Our neighbours were our check when our parents were not at home. Those values or those lifestyles are no more in our society.
In what ways are imparting these good parenting values?
Every child who comes close to me including my children will tell you that am a disciplinarian. Maybe I am but what I know is that I go out of my way to instill the same values that I was brought up with in every child I meet whether mine or not. I don’t care if your parents are angry about it but I will do my bit and turn my face and I am gone. I write a lot on social media platform because right now that is where every child and youth are. I write about good parenting, I speak about it whenever I find the forum to do so even among my colleagues, my friends and anywhere the need arises for me to speak about good parenting. When I see children, even in the company of their parents, showing certain attitudes, I speak up about it. I don’t care how you react though not spanking your child but I correct your child because I believe that if you see my child going wrong, you should do the same. I always correct kids on their dressing and how they talk to elders.