A brief conversation with Mandy Brown Ojugbana: … we are masterful, spiritual, and all powerful beings…

A brief conversation with Mandy Brown Ojugbana: … we are masterful, spiritual, and all powerful beings…

From the Editor’s Desk: In 1986, around the time Nigeria was reinventing hip-hop and reggae to suit ourselves, the way we have always done, Mandy Brown Ojugbana burst on to the music scene with a remix of Taxi Driver (Taxi Driver – Mandy Brown Ojugbana) – an highlife song originally done by Bobby Benson in the late sixties and turned it into an instant hit that had people of all ages and convictions moving their bodies to its rhythm.

taxi driverBefore the Blackky’s and the Ese Agese’s and Mandators was Mz Ojugbana, a sixteen year old who was rubbing shoulders with the greats like Mike Okri and Majek Fashek.

Ms Ojugbana’s music was a welcome departure from American music which had taken over the airwaves in those days and your party was considered incomplete without a track or two from her first album, Breakthrough.

In 1988, at the age of 18, Ms Ojugbana released her second album and almost in the same breath disappeared from the Nigerian music scene.

In an undated interview with Funmi Iyanda on New Dawn, one of the biggest talk shows in the history of Nigerian television, Mandy Brown Ojugbana talked about her need to spread her wings and find herself (New Dawn Interview with Mandy).

And that was exactly what she did.

She attended London Academy of Film and TV, worked with Channel 4 TV in the UK and then returned to Nigeria and worked on Radio and Television for some time.

She presently lives in the United Kingdom and is constantly reinventing herself and changing things around her.

9jafeminista: How did you cope with the patriarchal structure of the Music Industry while you were the queen of pop?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: There was no perceived structure of that nature, I was completely focused on the work at hand which was touring and creating.

9jafeminista:  Why did you drop off the radar andwhat have you been up to?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: I started in the music business quite early and was signed up to a record company called Otto Records at 15 or 16. I was working with them when Faze 2 records brought me in to work on another record. .I had been working constantly and needed time to discover myself and explore other avenues. This led me into the world of media . I went on to work in TV and Radio which I thoroughly enjoyed.

9jafeminista:  Were you friends with Tina Onwudiwe?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: Tina Onwudiwe was more of a big sister mentor figure . I looked up to her and admired her work both in music and fashion. She also used to design outfits for my shows .

9jafeminista:  How did it feel like being a superstar?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: I don’t think I ever once felt like a superstar, I was living in the moment and doing the work .I have always loved to be in a creative process be it song writing , creating new dance routines . Researching and creating programming for radio and TV.

9jafeminista:  Are there any changes in the way women were treated in the past and now? Any better any worse?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: Women have always had to fight harder and be smarter for their voices to be heard. I think men are beginning to get the message . We are a powerful force that cannot be quieted.

9jafeminista:  In which ways do you feel all powerful as a Nigerian woman?

Mandy Brown Ojugbana: Nigeria has made me who I am today , being raised in a “can do” mindysociety has given me the tenacity, drive, and confidence to believe in myself and the power I wield as a woman . Even though it appears we live in a male driven society when we look through African history there have always been strong black women, Amina queen of Zaria in the 15 th century , Makeda Queen of Sheba 960BC and Candace Empress of Ethiopia . These were strong warrior queens, military tacticians. We need to remind ourselves as women never to sell ourselves short, we are masterful spiritual and all powerful beings responsible for bringing life into the world. I remind myself as I wake to walk in the light of powerful women both past and present ,in them and there successes lies my strength . Lies our strength . We as women need to band together as a sisterhood stemming our petty quarrels the world is for the taking and we are the takers!

 

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Vweta Chadwick on Women, Poverty and Empowering the Girl

Vweta Chadwick on Women, Poverty and Empowering the Girl

9jafeminista: Project Asha was started in 2008 at Ajegunle and has so far empowered over 300 teenagers through skills acquisition and other means it’s now 2015, how would you describe this journey?

Vweta: The Empowering Women of the Future (EWOF) project,  one of ASHA’s initiative  started in Ajegunle in September 2012. Since then, we have worked directly with over 500 teenage girls, young women and senior citizens (women) through rehabilitation services, skills acquisition, community outreaches and public dialogues and focus group discussions.
However, ASHA was birthed in 2004.

9jafeminista: So how has the journey been?

Vweta: It has been inspiring, challenging, innovative and very rewarding. I have been blessed with the stories of girls and women, who have endured some of the most inhumane acts. I have witnessed how these victims became survivors, and, how, from a place of familiar pain, now reach out to support other potential victims. This has impressed on me, I think, the need to transform my pain, no matter what it is, into a positive experience.
And I’ll cite an example with the EWOF project. In 2012 when I first stepped in Ajegunle, I underestimated some of the challenges confronting the girls and women in the community. In my mind, once ASHA is able to get sponsors for the girls education, and educate them on their SRHR, the work is done. However, this was not the case. Issues such as poverty, kept playing up. A mother who is barely able to feed often sacrificed the education of her daughter on the altar of street hawking. The promise of an education and job, we soon discovered, becomes fantastic when poverty and hunger is biting.
Another challenge was some male aversion towards the girls and women in the EWOF program. With information and knowledge comes power and control, over our bodies and choices. This disturbed the power dynamics in many relationships and even marriages. And, in the most cases, it was unwelcome.
And back to poverty, it is one thing to know your rights, but often, you need financial independence to assert that right. A woman for example, who is in an abusive relationship with a partner she is dependent on financially often has to endure such abuse because she has no agency to assert her rights. If she decides to leave, where would she go? If she’s had kids, how would she feed them and meet hers and their needs? Poverty poses a huge barrier, not only to girls education, also to girls and women’s rights.
And these challenges brings me to my experience of being innovative.
To address the problem of poverty, ASHA Sheros Academy was birthed in 2013.
This is a vocational and skills acquisition academy for girls and women in the Ajegunle community. Many beneficiaries of this academy have received small start off grants from ASHA and some of our partners towards starting their own businesses.
I believe this was innovative because, by empowering women economically we helped them create an enabling environment for their daughters to attend school. To put it simply, the mothers no longer needed their daughters to hawk goods. She could return to the classroom.
Seeing these leaps and bounds in girls education and women’s agency is truly rewarding and it is definitely worth every bit of energy and time.

9jafeminista: What prompted your move to start this project? Did you ever live in Ajegunle?

Vweta: Early in 2012, I was volunteering for the Lagos Empowerment and Resource Network (LEARN)  at a school in Alapere, Ketu, as a sexuality education facilitator.

I noticed that the number of boys in class was significantly more than the number of girls. I’m talking about a ratio of 5 boys to one girl. And this was the case in the senior and junior classes I facilitated.

Naturally, I was curious, so I asked the class why? Many of the reasons cited were – teenage pregnancy, many of their classmates have had to drop out of school because of the accompanying discrimination and often expulsion that comes with being pregnant while in school. Many others also had to assist their families economically, this they did by hawking or engaging in petty trade, which didn’t allow them to attend classes.

So I asked, where are these girls from? Teachers and students said the majority of them reside in Ajegunle. Later the same year, I visited the community for the first time, and EWOF was born.

9jafeminista: In a new bulletin released by AfriDevInfo between 54 to 85% of women are denied education in the NE and NW of Nigeria,  http://www.afri-dev.info/sdgs-education-gender-conflictextremism-development-nigeria-female-male-education-scorecards-day-of-girl-child-2015/,  even in the more ‘progressive’  parts of Nigeria SE/SW/SS the percentages are still high.
We know that there’s very little NGO’s like yours can do to improve the lot of female children in the country especially with the governments apathetic attitude towards developing women,  in spite of the fact that they make up almost half of the country.
Are there ways that ASHA is engaging the government? Any advocacy directed at the ministry of education and women’s affairs?

Vweta: We believe in both bottom-to-top and top-to-bottom approaches, ASHA recognizes the effort government has expanded towards access to education for every girl and boy by way of free basic education, however, like I pointed out earlier, girls need to be enabled to access such opportunities, And, we are doing our bit by empowering girls and their mothers with vocational skills and maximization of near-at-hand economic opportunities.
We have repeatedly called on government at both the state and federal level to remove barriers that impedes girls access to education such as discrimination against teenage mothers, tackling the issues of insecurity especially in North-Eastern Nigeria so that girls seeking education are not victims of reprisals as has been seen with the lingering case of the Chibok girls.
Furthermore, we have consistently called for an all inclusive educational establishments where girls with disabilities can have unimpeded access to basic and qualitative education. Equally, ASHA is a member of Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSECAFA) and is actively seeking partnership with like-minded organisations to promote girl’s access to qualitative education.

9jafeminista: You have a program coming up on the 1st of November,  can you talk a little about it?

Vweta: Project ASHA is keen to demonstrate the uniqueness of its NGO Model which makes it stand apart by generating funding creatively instead of going fundraising cap in hand. Whilst we welcome direct philanthropic donations, our main source of income is a social enterprise revenue generation model. This is expressed in Article 8 Part 4 of our constitution.
The first Empowering Laughter is scheduled for 2pm, November 1st, at the Oriental Hotel. Lekki.
This event is headlined by Ali Baba, and will be anchored by Princess Comedian and Mc Bambino. Other confirmed acts include Timi Dakolo, Buchi, OzzyBosco, Oke Bakasi, Koffi, Toby Grey, Ronnie, TJ Hays, Mr Johnbull, Gordons and MC Abey. Attendees will be required to pre-purchase a ticket to attend the event to cover the costs incurred and further ASHA’s work with vulnerable and marginalized women and girls in Nigeria.
Nigerians who do exceptional work to inspire hope and transform lives will also be recognized and awarded that day.
Empowering Laughter represents a win-

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win outcome, whereby the public pay a fair fee for our services which they enjoy, while also helping to promote the rights of the at risk people we work with.

Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi on Handshake deals, Her love for books and Parresia

Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi on Handshake deals, Her love for books and Parresia

9jafeminista: You started Parresia about five years ago as a working girl, with some years as an editor with Farafina and absolutely no experience as a business woman. How would you describe this journey?

AOO: The groundwork, the thinking, the conceiving and all the molecules that would make up the structure of Parrésia Publishers Ltd, began in 2011. So that’s four years ago not five. Yes, I worked as an Editor for Farafina Magazine before then and Yes, I absolutely had no experience as a business woman. The only thing that made sense was the fact I loved books and I wanted to see more of them published. And this only happened after Femi, my brother, asked “why would you want to start a Literary Agency, when you can go the whole nine yards and publish books?” So I said Okay in that clueless way I normally do and Parresia after the name was chosen, was birthed with the help of Richard Ali who came on as co-owner.

The journey happened and that’s why I almost gave up at one point when I discovered publishing isn’t just about loving books or getting them published but making money out of it, which ensures your operational side stays lubricated.

9jafeminista: Oh wait! So you mean the rumours making the rounds in literary circles that Richard Ali owns Parrésia is true?

AOO: They aren’t rumours Richard Ali co-owns Parrésia Publishers. When Parrésia started, it was a company between friends. I was the financier and he would be the operations person. It was a handshake based on mutual respect Yes. A lot has also happened to create several impressions. But you don’t see me for instance going up in people’s faces laying claims or saying the company revolves around me. No, you won’t. What’s important is I love books, I print Books. I see it as a business which must survive. The titles, the ownership structure, are Secondary. I’ve never been in a forum where I had to emphasise my role or my importance, if I was, I wouldn’t be caught doing it anyway. Parrésia is about the passion for Books and not the fight for ownership nor the extreme importance of its titles. And this is something I learnt and I came to adopt from Farafina. The structure was flat. The titles of the individuals did not matter. Getting the work did. That is what was important.

9jafeminista: Do you think this handshake kind of agreement can bring about bad blood?

AOO: Yes! But we [Richard Ali and I] understand that this is based on the fact that Parrésia was a fledgling publishing house when it started but in such a short while it has become one of the big publishing houses to be reckoned with. [But this largely] depends on the Individual. If in the beginning, I chose to use the title Managing Editor because I felt more comfortable with it, and out of necessity (because things have evolved) I now use CEO and Managing Editor despite the fact that I think it’s totally cumbersome. So certain things had to happen to ensure bad blood was not allowed to spill physically.

9jafeminista: Any plans to make an improvement in both service delivery and structure?

Life constantly evolves and so will Parrésia. We have things we keep working on. Ideas we keep having and mistakes we keep making in the process to be better. Parrésia is still a long way off from being a Company that can stand in line with let’s say Farafina or Cassava Republic. There’s still so much to do, but we’ll get there. And what’s important is we have the Passion to make it succeed.

9jafeminista: One of the common things the new publishing houses in Nigeria (those that evolved in the 2000’s Farafina, Cassava Republic to name but two) is their love for Nigerian literature and determination to spread our literature across the globe.But as we know this doesn’t mean that these you guys have bottomless pockets or unending sources of funding, how have you managed to keep Parrésia above the waters of incompetence, the governments apparent disinterest in Nigeria’s struggling publishing industry and all the other risks associated with this industry?

I’d like to say it isn’t just Nigerian Literature Parrésia is interested in, African Literature too. But yes, what is closest to the mission is to see the best of Nigerian Literature published first. In our first year or second, Toni Kan predicted that if we were not careful we might end up shutting down. He was right. So right, I had my first major desire to throw my arms up and walk away. But then things have a way of working out. I have a very supportive family and they came to the rescue. Especially my husband. From this experience, I learnt to be more careful.

Then there’s the Origami Imprint which is for self-publishers. This imprint manages to keep our account from being red even if there’s nothing in it at the end of the day.

9jafeminista: One of the falsehoods usually peddled by ‘anti feminists’ is that women are jealous of one another’s successes, would you say you’ve found this true of yourself?

AOO: Hell no! Although I think Women should have a more united, indivisible front. My friend and sister Ayodele Olofintuade recently officially announced her publishing company. To be jealous of her or any other progressive woman would be a show of daftness.

9jafeminista: And finally, how would you describe your transition from a working girl to a business owner?

AOO: From Fawning to Naïve and then a Total Wreck to Facing My Demons, Fighting and most importantly staying Focused!