Jumoke Bamigboye, the District Governor of Rotary Club, District 9125, comprising 23 states and the Federal Capital Territory, is the first woman District Governor of the club. In this interview with YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, she talks about her experience, why women need to build capacity, support from spouses and her activities as a District Governor during the pandemic among other issues.
As the first woman to become District Governor of Rotary Club, how has it been?
It is just as it had been when men were the DG, it is not a gender thing; it is more of hard work, commitment and diligence over the years. As it happened that I became the first and like Kamali Harris of the United States said, I don’t intend to be the last, so that means I have to do what the men were doing and surpass them in a way that I will give opportunity to other women to come into the office
Why has it taken so long for a woman to occupy this exalted office?
It is just as it is taking endless years for a woman to become a governor or president in Nigeria. And I always don’t think that it is the men that are stopping women from coming up. I think we women are used to the fact that we have always been playing the second fiddle and this starts from the traditional teachings because when you are born as a woman, you are told that you are to be seen and not heard. So you battle with what will society think, how will the ambition affect you, will you get married because if you are too open, men will run away based on the belief that women with great ambition cannot be in a man’s house. We have all those traditional norms holding us back, and I feel that it is time for us to begin to teach the girl-child to open up and explore the opportunities available to them. I am telling you that wherever you have a woman as the head, the difference is always there. And even this pandemic, go and look at countries where women are the heads, you see that the rate at which the disease spread is not as high as others because we have this motherly instinct, we take time to do things, it is not the haste that men use. We need to begin to get our ways right as women and begin to see that God has planted this leadership ability in us. That is why the woman is the one keeping the home even when the man is the head, the woman is the one managing things, some men will just drop money, how you manage it adequately for the stipulated time is not their business. So women have this skill in us, we need to begin to bring this out. For me, I didn’t look at it like any man was holding me back, I just knew that I needed to put myself out and work on being able to handle this office, capacity is very important, that’s why even when I came in as a nominee, some people were asking: ‘how will cope? what about her family and children? what about work. But if it is a man, nobody will think about such things. I had to create that capacity for myself; to manage the home front, manage my work and my family. When you create that capacity, you will be able to fit in, there is nothing a man will do that you won’t be able to do, I encourage our women out there whether in politics, economy, socials or wherever you find yourself, create capacity for yourself, create that enabling environment because nobody will give you, follow your passion, work hard and excel.
As the first woman in Rotary District 9125, how have you been coping with creating a balance with your home?
My husband has been supportive, very supportive, in fact, he has been over-supportive because most times even when I want to relax or slow down, he says no, you are supposed to do this, follow this process, place a call to that person, he is the one drawing the timetable and following me and where he thinks that his presence will make things easier for me, he steps in and he will be in the forefront. So he’s been extra supportive. I wish all women are lucky to have a supportive spouse like that because the world will be so beautiful and the sky will be their beginning.
What is your advice for men whose wives are leaders in their field?
Respect your wives, respect their principles and follow up to see that they are successful because when your wife is successful, all the things that come with success actually come to you because she bears your name. Respect your wives.
How has coming into office at the beginning of a pandemic affected your activities since no one saw this coming? How have you been able to fill perceived vacuums?
You are right, when we came in, we did not envisage that there was going to be this global pandemic. But as it happens, every year, Rotary comes up with a theme and this Rotary year, the theme is Rotary opens opportunities. So when the pandemic came, we knew it is a time that the world really needs the Rotary club the most and we cannot go and rest, giving the excuse that there is a pandemic so we can’t do things we should do; this is when we need to reach out. One of the COVID-19 instructions for prevention is to keep on washing our hands with running water. I ask a question, where there is no running water, what do you use to wash your hands? And so it means that this time, we need to go to those communities that are desperately in need of water even for their daily economic activities before you even begin to think of washing hands, so we came up with what we call water is life; water covers everything, so we go to the most vulnerable communities that need water to give them water. The next one is that people should sanitise their hands where there is no water, most of these our communities don’t even have the resources to provide three square meals and you are telling them to buy sanitisers, people that cannot pay school fees and all that, so we came up with the fact that we needed to do palliatives, give them sanitisers, face masks and the necessary things just to make sure that everybody is in tune with the COVID-19 precautions because as it is COVID-19 has come to stay, it is not leaving anytime soon. If America with all their technical know-how is still daily battling with COVID-19, then it is obvious that it is not ready to leave soon. Until the vaccine is provided, we are not safe, we are not sure that even when the vaccine comes out, it will get to Africa and Nigeria quickly. So the best thing is for us to learn the act of protecting ourselves and obey all the rules guiding the prevention like covering of nose, social distancing and other hygiene process because it is not just about COVID-19, if we don’t practise safe hygiene. Other things will come up. That’s why rotary is doing its best in the area of disease prevention and treatment to not only look at COVID-19 but to look at all the other diseases associated with unhygienic environment and we are so concerned about sanitation; we have an area of focus for it, water sanitation and hygiene. So we are doing what we can to make sure that we reach out, we stand in between the government and the governed to fill vacuums, that’s what we do.
How true is the belief that Rotary is for the rich?
Rotary is for the rich in heart not for the rich in resources. There is a difference, you might have the resources but you don’t have the mind of giving and you might not have so much but you are willing to help others; remember the biblical story about widow’s mite. That is all it is about. Most Rotarians are not people you consider to be wealthy or rich, they are also struggling, but out of the little they have, they feel they can still reach out to people in the community. It’s actually people who have the heart of giving, are ready to sacrifice, to see that their next door neigbour has something on the table to eat, those who may not have polio but believe that we should eradicate polio virus, people that have no issues but want every child to go to school. So it’s not about the rich, it’s about people of action, those that are ready to create impact.
What can government learn from rotary so they won’t be doing projects without impact?
What government can learn from Rotary is the four-way test, the four-way test covers all what we do; whatever you want to say, is it the truth? If it is the truth, is it fair to all concerned? If it is fair, will it yield goodwill and better friendships? And finally, will it be beneficial to all concerned. Now on the first one, is it the truth? Most of the things government do, some of the contractors are not even truthful about it, they will just go to a governor and say this community needs school, just because they want to make money, if we stop extorting and thinking about ourselves first, the government will begin to look at what communities need, then they will be able to do projects that will not be useless and abandoned. I went to a community, that community doesn’t have any basic infrastructure, they have no water or health post, not to talk of Primary Healthcare Centre, then you see one gigantic building that the government built, a school about democratic norms, government is building a big hall for a democratic institute in a community lagging behind in the basic infrastructure, who is going there to learn? Why not use that money to provide their basic needs; a health post, potable water and basic education for the children, it is when they are in school, they will grow and have interest in democratic studies. Most of the project of government is based on if I do this project, how much is coming back, it is not usually about what people need, so if they start with NEEDS assessment and give the communities what they need, most of government projects will survive, it won’t be abandoned.
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