Dr. Aisha Audu-Emeje, is wife of former governor of Kogi state, Abubakar Audu. She is also the President/Founder of A3 Foundation; a support organisation for the less privileged. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she speaks on her NGO’s impact on young entrepreneurs, and how she lobbied for beneficial policies for the black communities in the White House and Capitol Hill, USA, among others.
You are one of the few wives of governors who has continued with project even after leaving office. What have you been doing?
It has been a long time I left office and I pride that I have just another feather on my hat.
Frankly, before Kogi state Government House I have been quite active, I was fully into business and also philanthropy and highly motivated to impact on the lives of others.
Did the fact that your role as first lady is not captured in the constitution affect your activities?
As first ladies or state governors’ wives, though our roles are not defined by the constitution, as a mother of the people, there are great expectations from the women and youths. Our position serves as avenue for them to have access to our husbands, so I assisted when necessary.
So, naturally it is about what you wish to do to impact the people. First ladies usually work on issues like breast-feeding, cancer, HIV/AIDs and aiding people to improve their living condition as well as gainfully engage the youths.
When it comes to politics, the greatest involvement I know is being a support to your spouse and carrying his desire and dream to the next level, not necessarily creating yours.
What are you doing to raise the status of women in the society especially as it concerns participating in governance and decision making?
I am a representative of one of the ECOSOC for the UN, a representing Ambassador for African Business Round Table and another NGO, WOLMI.
We are involved in what the UN and other international organisations have always done, apart from celebrating girl-child day and poverty eradication day.
We are to reach out and follow up meetings that NGO’s are mandated and empowered to do to be effective and promote these noble causes of the UN in various countries especially as it concerns girl-child education and poverty eradication issues.
So, with such drive for girl-child education and girl-child being able to live a sustainable life, adding value to society, the A3 Foundation, which I am the founder/president, has engaged and empowered the black communities, that is the African descent living in the US.
We have been able to touch lives because we reached out to each other in areas of advocacy, sharing knowledge of what to do in those areas and get better quality out of life from our governments as the US citizens and European, global bodies do for their own citizens.
A3 Foundation has been involved in drives like immigration issues too; Immigrants always face humiliation, inequality, racism among others and we have worked deeply to tackle that.
I can also pride myself of being a lobbyist in the White House and Capital hills, lobbying for the African decent to the point that I worked on the first African (decent) Policy Forum that took place in the White House in 2013-2014.
I succeeded in putting that in place so every year we celebrate the African decent in the White House like Jamaicans, Mexicans and other countries.
Again, we were able to see that the African policy breakfast which is a regular programme out on the Capital hill are directed to talks about what affects us, the AGOA renewal, Power Africa and other business ventures that favours Africans were enacted both home and abroad and value was derived from these because it is only from these bills and policies people can go into business or Jobs easily.
Our people in The Diaspora can make better use of their remittance home and pick interest in coming back home to do business or offer their services.
ICT is a fast moving trend where the world has become a global village and there are over 86 million Nigerians online daily, so the A3 Foundation quickly looked into the nitch and figured out how to empower these youths on the internet to always use their time and devices well and for profitable ventures not only chats and Facebook affairs.
The Foundation then partnered with Rockerfeller Foundation of the USA on ICT development for 1000 youths then we partnered with Cisco which is a major cooperation that is into the world of internet provision and networking so we were able to put our youths through a 6-8 weeks training program in various tertiary institutions.
These youths from the ages of 18-35 and this naturally put them through hardware, software basics, ICT essentials including online marketing and to be their own boss.
We also help to get them into Jobs or support them to start their new business too as a mandate in the partnership created.
How have you ensured that uneducated artisans benefit from this project?
On the ICT level, we ensured that we are dealing with a particular set of people who have high potentials but are disadvantaged because they are smart kids but have not been able to go to school beyond primary school in some cases, or better still secondary school.
So, they have not gone to any higher institution and they don’t seem to have that in mind so those are the set of people we target. We are taking them out of the streets and making them become useful to themselves and grow up as technicians and so on.
You are so passionate about training youths, what is the inspiration?
I was one of those that got lucky in life after being born into my family; my father was a Naval WO2 officer and my mother a house wife and petty trader.
I lost my father very early in life though he rose to the level of Director of sports under Atom Kpera in Benue state after leaving the Navy.
So, I know the struggle and I know what happened when we lost our dad. When children get to age 13-15 they begin to go into vices because parents don’t have enough to cater for their needs and common excuses come in at that point.
I excelled in life and was a top business guru and my contacts got me above board through hard work and it was not easy as luck only steps in when you have prepared yourself for opportunities well ahead and by God’s grace too.
So, having become the mother of a state like Kogi, I know the realities on ground and couldn’t close my eyes against it. All these give me the fuel to propel in my passion to make myself an accessible mentor for youth development to fulfil my passion.
Women empowerment in Nigeria is centred on petty businesses. Do you think Nigerian women can effectively compete with their counterparts in other parts of the world?
In every country there are different levels of women in business, and in Nigeria we have successful business women, who have done very well and empowerment covers them as well through Small and Medium Scheme entrepreneurship support programs of both the banks and government agencies set for the purpose of enhancing growth, wealth and Job creation.
Now you might think once the idea of empowerment for women is canvassed is only towards petty trading or peasant farming or menial services. No, that is not really true. It’s just that when we talk about empowerment as NGO’s we go to the needy in the society.
Yes, a lot of government initiatives have been in place for youths and women to tap into funding and capacity building opportunities that would help them start new business ideas and also to help improve the business of those already doing one form of trading or producing sometime at that level.
A lot of women are also into power transmission and generation and that is the highest height of it, so also many successful women in other professions.
What is your advice for women especially in this current economic situation?
I would urge them to take advantage of all the available business opportunities and initiatives being funded by the government, because you cannot do it on your own.
They should attend seminars, speak with your bankers, and join associations that give information in your area of business because knowledge is key.
And these are not only for start-up businesses but also for those already in businesses and needing expansion or failed or dwindling in resources.