Nigerian Network of Women Exporters of Services (NNWES) join the rest of the world in celebrating the United Nations at 70. Barrister Nkiru Okpala, the network President in this interview opened up on the activities of NNWES and how they support women entrepreneurs.
NNWES is celebrating UN@70, what was the motivation for it?
First of all we had to go to the primary reason for which the United Nations was formed in 1945. There were some post 2nd World War issues, the world economies were going into depression, a lot of issues were rising in terms of security all over the world and powerful nations of the world had to come together and say since the League of Nations was not helping, probably we will form another one, maybe stronger.
This was the reason for which the UN was set up and from that day onwards so many nations have come to join the UN and I think it has about 193 or more nations in it and the primary goal is to make the world a global field and tell the whole people of the world that whether you are black, green or yellow you are a human being and for that fact you have equal rights and in that way whether you are from any part of the world, you have access to market and trade and you should be free to travel from your vicinity, area, country to any country of your choice provided you have good intentions and you are not there to bring about insurgency, insecurity and disrupt the lives of people in that environment.
Having said that, we now realise that without having such international unity, our nation Nigeria, may not be moving forward. We cannot remain inwards or remain bottled up in our area. We need to understand the world’s best practices and we have to imbibe them in whatever it is we are doing and this moment the UN is saying we are preaching peace and when we look inwards we see that we even need that speech much more than any other country.
Nigeria is a very large country and at the moment a lot of things are happening. Whoever is thinking about insurgency, that person does not want peace. It may be my brother, it maybe your sister we don’t even know where the thing is coming from. We are not even sure where the thing is coming from, but by the time we let the world understand that with peace we can move mountains, we can conduct businesses, we can go to school, we can do a lot of things and it makes the society a better place.
Why we are saying women being the foundation of the family and people who handle issues concerning the family have a very huge contribution to make towards achieving this peace, whether global peace, Nigerian peace, state peace
How does NNWES support women in business?
NNWES is an alliance of women in different services sectors in Nigeria but incidentally people in the productions, who manufacture tangible goods, have seen what we do and they say they want to belong. This is because within your house you cannot source the entire market the way you need and we are not just supporting locally but internationally.
First of all we let the women know that they have to have that thing that they are doing, and once they have what they are doing and have identified the goals and reasons for which they have formed that, we advise them to think about where they want to be in the nearest future maybe the next one month, five months, about a year time or the next five years, then you have strategic plan.
And then we let you know that you cannot do it alone but you have to be in a network, to understand where and how it is happening and have an idea of where you can sell the products, whether service or tangible products, you need to understand where it goes the prevailing quality your products or services have to meet. It has to be of standard for people to say yes it is good and am going to buy it.
So NNWES’ duty here is ensuring that as a woman in business, you must be focused the women have to understand that there are local and international markets. We access the international market and link you up to go about and have your business as easy as you can.
Nigeria is talking about diversification from non oil exports and we know that service constitutes a large area where our export lies so we are linking up people in the service as well as the trade and the international markets. And being on the consultative status of the UN and Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), we have those links that we need and most times we are engaged in all these trade shows and development, business development and so on.
It is not something we can do alone; it is something we have to go with Nigerian women so that if it addresses the need of one person, it trickles down to the other persons.
You have been in contact with lots of women in business, can you share some of their challenges?
Lots and lots of challenges, they have social, economic and even political challenges. On the social aspects, maybe some cultures will tell you there are limits to what a woman can do and the woman may be naturally endowed to achieve much more than the men. So, socially she has been reduced in terms of the extent she can go.
Again, this issue of confidence, the men feel like these women are there to compete with them. We are not competing with the men we are only complimenting what they are doing and when we compliment they do better and go higher. On the political aspect, most times policies and decisions are made by those leaders and when the women are not there to say how it affects them, government ends up making good policies which may not be achievable and measurable.
Some say the number of women in President Buhari’s administration is not enough to represent the women. What is your take on it?
No matter how small it has to bring in some positive impact, but the problem we always have in that angle is that when they say they are including such, there are people who do not have the issues of others at heart but they end up going to pick people who may not even understand the reason for which they were put in such positions, so it becomes like an in house attitude where eventually the goal, objectives are defeated. That is one of the major things. In as much as they say 25% representation of women, well that is ok but we are advocating for 50% representation of women. We are on equal basis with them, we are all human and 50 will not be a bad place for women.
Economically you know when you have a woman who is empowered in the family at least the children will be well taken care of, even the husband. The standard of living of the family will be higher at least commendable to an extent. And then you find out again that women are more innovative. Give a woman N1 to explore with and before you know it she is exploring and getting into a lot things. Men are not as innovative as the women in terms of coming up with ideas. When the woman earns money it is not just for herself even when the man will say it is for me and everybody.In most cases economically the direction of it becomes superb and affects people in the family, society and the entire situation where she finds herself in. Women need to be empowered to move the nation forward.
Where do you see Nigerian women in business in the next 5 to 10 years?
Women of Nigeria are becoming aggressive positively, they understand that they need to move in the business aspect and are refusing to be docile and no more depending on the men because they have seen that yes the man may have the means but he can have 1000 mistresses who may not value where the resources are coming from. Therefore, women are now taking the bull by the horn and moving on their own knowing that yes, they can achieve what they set out to become. And I believe with time when we have more representation of women in decision making positions, like the judiciary, House of Representatives, Senate and every where in business, it will help improve the quality of lives for women.
Women should not relent and come together because the ball lies in their court.