I am Betty Abah. I would define myself as a journalist and women and children’s rights activist. I am a graduate of the University of Calabar (BA) and the University of Lagos (MA) and previously practised as a journalist both in Nigeria and the USA (as a recipient of the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships in 2006). I am also a fellow of the Knight Journalism Press Fellowship, the Kaiser Family HIV/AIDS Fellowship, the Global Tobacco Leadership Program at the Hopkins School of Public Health (USA), and have other awards such as the Nigeria Media Merit Awards for Tourism Reporter of the Year, the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (‘Child-Friendly Reporter of the Year’) and the NYSC’s State’s Honours Award
(for community mobilization), and last year, Women of the World Unite (USA) among others. I have also published a couple of books, mostly poetry.
I started writing at age 10 in primary school and started organising at age 14 when I ran a children’s club in my home in Otukpo, Benue State of Nigeria. I also ran an all-girl club while in secondary school around age 17. In the university, I ran an all-women student journalists association. As a journalist I also took a special interest in women and children’s issues. My life has always revolved around children, girls and women and I love, live the experience!
Presently, I am Executive Director of the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE) which I founded in December 2013. We work with at-risk children and girls in urban slums and remote, impoverished areas of Nigeria. We run a number of developmental programs aimed at bettering the lives of these children so as to position them as assets and not as liabilities or threats to the society regardless of their social-economic backgrounds. One of our most vibrant and most successful programs in the two-and half year existence of CEE-HOPE is our Girls-Go-Greatness (Triple G) program which has seen scores and scores of girls— school-drop-outs, teenage mums, street girls and sexually abused young girls and young women from about a dozen communities across Nigeria rehabilitated through mentorship, psychosocial support, scholarships and skills acquisitions. It’s been challenging but most of all, exhilarating, just incredible how little resources and a great doze of commitment and enthusiasm by a small team can make such a vast difference in so many lives. We are excited and happier that our beneficiaries are happy about these transformations.
In recognition of CEE-HOPE’s work with at-risk children and girls, our organisation was recently recognised by Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopaedia. CEE-HOPE was selected for profiling on Wikipedia as part of the new Wiki Loves Women project which celebrates works and personalities working in women-related fields in four focal countries of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Cote D’ Ivoire. CEE-HOPE is one of the few Nigerian organisations chosen to be showcased on the project.
I am unapologetically outspoken about women and girls’ rights. In an era where abuse is commonplace, fueled by an enduring culture of impunity, relaxed legal and enforcement systems (amidst the litany of anti-abuse laws), poverty and misplaced aggressions, you can’t help but scream continuously for the voices of the oppressed to be heard and for justice to be done in so many cases so as to infuse some sense of sanity to our sometimes chaotic systems.
Also, for about a decade now, I have been involved in movements geared towards ensuring the human, environmental and gender rights of women impacted by the dehumanizing activities of the extractive industries, mostly fossil fuel (crude oil). The degradation of lives in many host communities across the Niger Delta, and even at the sub-regional and regional levels are not very well documented but the fact is that they are tear-jerking, their losses and the damages incalculable. From oil-polluted streams, farms, homes to health implications, to a patriarchal system that perpetually confirms the woman to the fringes of existence and decrees that she can’t even voice out her challenges and fears, the Niger Delta woman is up against so many odds. Some of my most memorable and most nightmarish times as an activist has been during field visits to communities in the Niger Delta and observing the impoverished and degraded status of families, especially those of women and children, and wondering how ironic it can be that people sit atop so much wealth that brings brightness to generations of ‘privileged people’ everywhere yet continue to live and die in environmental ruins and desperate poverty. It makes absolutely no sense.
WHAT FUELS ME?
– the audacity to speak truth into power. The audacity to speak the truth even if it is the uncomfortable truth. The audacity to speak the truth as you conceive it, as your conscience conceives it, even if you are the lone speaker. The audacity to remain a proud Nigerian, speaking life into comatose situations and resolute in the belief that we are the generation that will redefine history and change the course of our nation and our reputation for good. It is the audacity of stubborn HOPE.
*HOPE—the hope that the most ‘dangerous’, forsaken, forgotten and criminalized slums and impoverished neighbourhoods can produce the best of talents and assets to a society. I have seen so much of that happen since our work in these places. All they need to excel is a little care, a little refinement, a little more patience, a little re-direction and a little show of LOVE. Boom!
*LOVE—love for the people, the forgotten children, girls, women, love for the fatherland, love for justice. Love, love for humanity, and oh, love for God!
MY GREATEST INFLUENCE
my Father of Possibilities, unseen but felt every single second.
MY TOP THREE ROLE MODELS
women— My mother. My mentor. My late grandmother.
My mother: Madam Esther Onuh, because of her unassuming nature and quiet resilience and principles. Her faith is unshakeable, her integrity water-tight. From her, I learnt, quite early the virtues of honesty at all times. I grew up recognising that it’s never in her DNA to take what isn’t hers, and she expected nothing less from my six siblings and I whom she raised with an iron hand. My mother is as tranquil as the cool morning spring. And so noiseless in her generosity. I remember growing up and seeing my mother feeding so many families in and around our town – indigent women, widows and their children, students — by selling them her goods on credit back home in Otukpo, and then having to leave the house at dawn, almost daily, on ‘debt-recovery missions’. Many of those debts were never recovered. ‘Mama–No-Drama’. I love her so!
My mentor, the quintessential Professor Ebele Eko, my former university lecturer whose biography I have been privileged to have written, documenting her incredible accomplishments and generous, life-transforming deeds to the downtrodden and depressed of our society. A woman generous to a fault, she is one of the greatest influences on my life. Educationist, poetess, life coach, pastor and humanitarian. She’s ‘Mother
of Multitudes’ as my book on her is titled.
My grandmother, Madam Emowo Ugoh. Such an interesting, colourful and compelling character! Grandma is perhaps the only person I know whose memories evoke guffaws! She was an actor, activist, humourist and entrepreneur in a class of her own though she had no formal education. Imbued with so much ‘native wisdom’ and courage, she was outspoken and always shot straight from the hips and took no prisoners! Though Ma Emo’o was generous and garnered so many under her roof, both relatives and non-relatives alike, yet she wouldn’t blink about dragging you by the ears and
lashing at you—with her tongue of course—when she felt you were out of line! So articulate, so self-assured, Grandma never called anyone by their original names as she had her own ‘customised’ nickname for everyone! She had a knack for mimicking people and speaking her brand of ‘English Language’! I often wonder that, were she educated and lived in our time as a younger person, she would have been a very successful actor, activist and comedian, even a politician but as we say in an Idoma proverb, ‘Beans do not yield for the one who has oil’.
THE NEXT FIVE YEARS…
That would be to take our organisation to heights beyond our imagination, from our very humble beginning, positively affecting, inspiring hope in millions of indigent children, rehabilitating as many at-risk, abused girls across Nigeria as our paths would cross and grooming them into unstoppable, high-performing women! We are glad to have the support and guidance of our generous Board of Trustees and other supporters.
THE AFRICAN WOMAN’S CHALLENGE
I think patriarchy is a major issue. If that huddle can be tackled, I believe our women would be able to exercise their rights in terms of being heard, being empowered all round, being on the same pedestal and aspire like their men folks. I don’t see anything wrong with women being given a platform to aspire educationally, economically etc, have same access to resources and choose whom they want to be. God created men and women equal and if we are able to do away with cultures that stifle potentials and inhibit women’s progress, then Africa would be much greater because women would have been freed to contribute maximally to the growth of the continent. It’s a great deal tapping into the resourcefulness, insight and incredible, innate compassion of women.
We need to discard cultures, traditions and systems in our beloved continent that diminish and restrict women to mere to spectators. We are doers. We must be allowed to do!
I believe that the sensitisation we do have been successful in bringing so many women to a level of consciousness where they are now aware of their rights, ready to fly over the huddles and ready to realise their dreams.
HOW DO I UNWIND?
Read. Sleep. Or, hold winding discussions on Politics and other nagging issues.
I don’t like politicians yet politics always gets me overtly excited!
WHY THE AFRICAN WOMAN NEEDS
TO BE INSPIRED, CELEBRATED AND EMPOWERED [I.C.E.]
Because the African woman has gone through thick and thin and is still standing. She deserves a thumbs up, a tight hug and a prop made of steel! She is going places! She will! She must!
MY AFRICAN UNION DREAM
I think I would want to work closely in the monitoring and enforcement unit. It’s never enough to enact laws on women’s rights or any other for that matter. If they are mere pieces of legislation, spoken, published, sealed and only good for decorating bookshelves, then they are useless. The laws must be enforced, either those freeing women from the pangs of inhuman widowhood rites, banishing stunting child marriages or handing down life imprisonment to child predators, they are as good as never enacted if they are not implemented and enforced by member states.
FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE
To keep pushing for your rights, relevance and radiance! In our shore, and indeed, in most parts of the world, you have to push to grab it. It’s not a woman–friendly world, but then, we can’t be hostile in grabbing our rights. Get the best of education, trainings, read hard, explore! Remain focused, fearless, yet friendly. Let’s keep the charming smiles. The future is all smiles!