A certified practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Timeline Therapy, she is passionate about impacting lives. Boasting a diverse career trajectory, in 2013 she set up the Winihin Jemide Series (WJS), an advocacy initiative created to propel increased participation of women in government, politics and other industries in Africa. Winihin’s advocacy journey began as a little girl in Port Harcourt who often accompanied her activist mother to various meetings, where she headed organisations that sought to bring more women to power and for women’s voices to be heard. Having featured in “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens last year”, she made her debut on the big screens in Bolanle Austen- Peters’ “The Bling Lagosians” released in June this year where she received critical acclaim for her breakthrough role of Oge Briggs.
Her latest projects are ASK and Letters To My Younger Self, where volunteers read out self-written letters to an age-appropriate audience. She also powers This Is Our Story, a female-only platform where authentic life stories help inspire action and initiate action. She is also the author of Imagine A Garden and the founder of the Garden and Flower Club of Nigeria where she has hosted five themed flower shows with one outing at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in the U.K. In this interview, she speaks about her multi-dimensional career, the Winihin Jemide Series, her journey into activism and her upcoming event in October.
Your career has spanned so many areas, from logistics and training to horticulture and entertainment amidst other things, was this deliberate?
No, it wasn’t deliberate, in fact, I had to adopt the phrase multi-portfolio entrepreneur as a way of self-describing when I noticed that my CV was full of unrelated things. I have had such a colourful and fulfilling work life. I am one of the few who has been able to overtime, find expression for the talents and interests that I have as well as the things that truly bring me joy although I must say, many ventures have been purely for economic gain. I haven’t been afraid to start again from ground zero or to reinvent myself. Most people find one path and stick to it.
For a long time, I kept looking for that path and trying to deny all my clear and present capacities. You see for those of us who have varied paths, it can be tough to explain exactly what you do for a living in one tidy word and I kept wanting to submit to a conventional label. Multi-functionalities can sometimes come across as unserious but embracing it for me has been truly freeing and retrospectively it’s been a rich and full experience. I currently give oversight to four companies and have upstarted several ventures in the past. For those that have failed, it’s been tough to bury but for those that have worked, I am thankful.
Tell us what the Winihin Jemide Series does and its importance to women and youths?
At the Winihin Jemide Series, on the one hand, we are first, advocates for more women and youth in governance and elected office and on the other hand, we are the initiators of the garden and flower show in Nigeria, which has held events since 2013. Although unrelated, both areas are particular passions of mine and, over the last six years, I have poured time and energy into creating an enabling environment for floriculture as a viable income earner for Nigeria and job creation vehicle for Nigerians and create awareness about the dearth of female and young persons’ representation in governance and politics.
How did your passion for advocacy start, was there any defining moment for you?
Of the many positions my mother held, there were two that answer this question. These two positions opened my eyes to gender bias. She was the chairperson of the Better Life for Rural Women, Rivers State chapter under the late Maryam Babangida as well as the state president for the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS). I went with her to many meetings and events and so from a young age, I understood how marginalised women are.
The defining moment for me would have to be a national event for the NCWS where a manifesto was signed asking the Nigerian government to create a Women Affairs Ministry. I sat somewhere in the crowd as a teenager and watched woman after woman passionately decries their plight. These women were strong, hardworking, intelligent, articulate, cut from a particular mold, the likes of Professor Awe, Hilda Adefarasin, Imoukhuede and so on. I was sold.
Would you say this present political clime has been fair to women?
The clear response to this is a global one. Economies, where the gaps between genders are slimmer, have better GDPs. This is what our research shows. While we can look at the lack of representation of women and young persons from a region-by-region basis, in my opinion, a global response that brings world leaders onboard by committing them to a way-forward plan will naturally filter downwards and this may be less painstaking. At The Winihin Jemide Series, we are in the process of launching The More Campaign: More Women More Youth. The More Campaign initiative aims to inspire individuals to actively participate in political processes. The campaign will be deliberate in engaging, educating and encouraging women and youth to Be More, Do More and to let their voices Be Heard More.
How can we get more women to participate in politics and advocacy?
There is much to be done, the easiest answer is if the topic ignites a spark in you, then lend your voice. At The Winihin Jemide Series, we have chosen our path, which is to speak to policy and laws that will directly influence an increase in female and youth participation. This is the reason we have consistently published research, fact sheets, position papers, and policy briefs as well as held events and accepted numerous speaking engagements. Little by little, we are making a sound that carries a consistent message.
You recently appeared in one of 2019’s biggest movies, The Bling Lagosians, how was this experience like for you?
Actually, The Bling Lagosians is the highest-grossing movie of 2019 and in the top 10 of the highest-grossing Nollywood movies of all time. Amazing for a first time directorial debut by Bolanle Austen-Peters, but to answer your question, it was an amazing, stressful, joyous and educational ride. I met some really great generous people and started a new career.
What advice would you give a young woman that wants to get into the entertainment industry?
Hone your craft. Be prepared when you come on set, do not argue with the direction you are given, it’s a job, so show up and do the work.
You authored a coffee book and have hosted several flower shows, what was the inspiration behind this?
I grew up in the midst of plants and flowers; my mother is still is an avid gardener and was a two- time president of the Port-Harcourt Horticultural Society. My dad loved flowers as well and would patiently stop the car to allow us to go into the bush and pick cuttings of a new plant to try and grow at home.
In 1993, following an Interior Design Course, I started a Landscape Design, Floral Art and Event Management Company called Pretty Things. I ran it for 15 years until moving caused me to fold this up. I missed working with plants so much that I started the flower show. The first year we had 900 visitors over a two-day period and by the third year, we had over 3000.
Each year, it becomes a gathering point for nature lovers to exchange tips, learn and network. Families come out together, grandmothers sharing their love of nature with their grandchildren. This year in October, we will have a Partner Event during the Lagos Design Week hosted by the Interior Design Association of Nigeria (IDAN) and the theme is redefining the narrative. It’s a must-see. My coffee table books showcase a total of 27 gardens across Nigeria. Our plants are rich and beautiful. What we lack in colour we make up for in a vast variation of texture and vibrancy. I wanted a way to tell people that having a bit of nature around you is medicine for the soul.
You generally have your hands in many pies, how are you able to make everything work?
A very patient husband, an overactive imagination, proper planning and God’s undeniable grace.
Tell us some of the things you do particularly targeted at women to encourage and support their growth?
I power a platform called This Is Our Story, where women come together and share authentic life stories, which help to inspire thinking and initiate action. There is power in stories. As you listen, you realise that you are not alone, you learn and you connect. I also take on speaking engagements and try to do my bit to support women whether it’s a chance meeting or a deliberate mentoring relationship.
As someone passionate about young people, what opportunities have you exposed younger women to?
We have a roll-over sponsorship for postgraduate students whose research aligns with our interest areas. I have been deliberate in ensuring that 70 per cent of this has gone to women. At all of our events, we also have youth delegates and have sponsored young people to other topical summits and events. At least 50 percent of slots have gone to women
If you get the opportunity to influence change for Nigerian women and youth, what would you tackle first?
Policies for STEM education for the girl child and nationwide training on “how to run for elective office” tailored for persons from grassroots upwards.
What does your typical day look like?
My days start out quite early in the mornings. It can be really truly busy but an early start usually means I can wind down early as well so that works. I usually take one day off during the week to just do nothing or just simply play.
What are the things you enjoy doing to help you de-stress and relax?
Visiting gardens, watching re-runs of The Beverly Hillbillies or something equally mindless. Listening to hymns, hanging out with my family, doing word searches and praying.
What would you say your personal style consists of?
For a long time, I was very self-conscious. It is widely assumed that skinny people do not have body issues but I always felt too thin.
Even after having children I did not think I looked healthy enough. I made my peace after I turned 35. I wrote myself a letter identifying what was important to me and, by process of elimination, I kept the first 10. Looks did not make it into the top 10, so I let it go. My style now flows from how I feel inside and a confidence that has come with age.
What would you say are the guiding philosophies that have helped you on this journey of life?
My true philosophy is captured in one word, Ohana, No one gets left behind. If on this journey, I have learned to love God, to be helpful and respectful to all men and to find the peace that passes all understanding, I will consider myself successful.
What last words do you want to leave with women and youths that have been inspired by you?
Do not beat yourself up for the lists unfinished yesterday. You will finish every list that is necessary before your day is done.