- Regrets rising unemployment, determined to make them entrepreneurs
- Bags NAOSNP Lifetime Achievement Award In Humanitarian Support
Her Royal Highness Queen Mother Chief Temitope Ajayi FIIM, Chairman/CEO Silicon Valley Nigerian Economic Development (SV-NED) Inc., commitment to continue empowering and motivating the youth whom she described as bastion of strength and hope for the Nigerian economy.
The wide-travelled Monarch, whose father late Pa Hector Labinjo is from Ita Garawu, Lagos Island and Igbo mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Labinjo from Orlu in Imo State, prides herself as a total Nigerian who is not blinded by the narrow confines of tribe or race, religion or gender in her commitment to the welfare of humanity – both at home and in the Diaspora.
Mama Diaspora, as she is fondly called, was recently honoured at the National Association of Online Security News Publishers (NAOSNP) Dinner and Awards 2020, held at the NERDC Conference Centre, Alausa-Ikeja, Lagos, where she bagged the NAOSNP Lifetime Achievement in Humanitarian Support and Security Award.
The US-based Nigerian business consultant who is an Accountant, a Social Entrepreneur and an ardent community activist, was the former President of All Nigerian American Congress (ANAC). Her efforts and continued advocacy on the Nigerian Diaspora issues earned her in the moniker Mama Diaspora, an iconic inspiration of hope and love.
Perhaps it was in appreciation of her social entrepreneurship and community activism that Google ranked her as the “third most powerful person” in the country. The queen mother, an advocate of women/youth empowerment, has, in the past one month, empowered over 300 Nigerian youths, including women, to be self-dependent with interest-free loans.
In an exclusive interview with Publisher, Theresa Moses, in her Lekki home, Ma Temitope Ajayi speaks on housing scheme, how the banditry and insurgency ravaging the nation can come to an end, among others national issues.
From 1991–1993, Chief Ajayi was appointed Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Her Excellency Alhaja Sinatu Aderoju Ojikutu . She played an active role in the Better Life for Rural Women project sponsored by the then First Lady of Nigeria, Maryam Babangida. Well-known for promoting women empowerment and poverty eradication in Africa through Agri-business, Ms. Ajayi represented the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) at the 2014 National Conference organised by President Goodluck Jonathan.
She has recently empowered over 300 youths and still counting many of who participated in the 12-day October nationwide protests tagged #EndSARS (#EndSARS is a decentralised social movement, and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuses), including women, with interest-free loans and other materials.
Speaking on motivation behind the ongoing empowerment programme for the youths in Lagos, she said: “As an American, there’s something we do that I think Nigerians should emulate. It’s called an ecosystem. From primary school, you start practicing it. If you want to get credit from your teacher, you help old people in the neighborhood. Help them to mop their floor, clean their compound, help them to do groceries, and they will sign something on you. It is community service; at a higher level it’s called CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
In America, they trained us that as an Americans, it’s a duty to help somebody. Even the tithe we pay to churches, we get it back as tax credit. At the end of the year, we tell the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) that we’ve paid a certain percentage to a church and the church uses the money to help the community. I’m used to that life of ecosystem. God bless America. We are trained to give. During Christmas like now, no child born of a woman will go without getting a present. Even if parents can’t afford it, the community will donate. What I’m doing in Nigeria right now is what we do in America. It’s no big deal. I’ve been doing it, everybody knows, but the one that really touched my heart was that #EndSARS period. Even my last born was there. Initially, I didn’t let him. But when he sat me down and schooled me, I felt their pain. It’s suicidal to have a brigade of unemployed children. What do these children need? This is no show-off. I’m empowering. What I’m doing is no big deal at all.
After #EndSARS – carried out by intelligent youths, some living in Lekki – as a mother, I was touched. I discovered that what those kids needed was love and attention. It’s only a woman that can caution them. Women are powerful. Even as the president or governor, if their mothers say enough or look at them with a bad eye, they would sit down. I asked these youths what their problem was and for the first time, I was close to these kids. On my birthday they even came here to sing ‘happy birthday’ for me. That was on 18th October. I have to give credit to God. God said ‘go and empower them’. Empower? How?
He said go and give them money to start their business. My children said ‘Mama, are you bored or something? You know all these American kids. I said it’s God that told me to give them money. You see, I’m an American, 100 dollars is nothing to me. Not even enough for groceries’ shopping for me. I realised that 50 dollars can change the life of a Nigerian. I started it within one month and my children were looking at me like, ‘what is mama doing?’ I told them, ‘God has blessed us. How much is 50 dollars? Let’s give it out to empower these young people.’ Then my children ( Ms. Denise Williams, President/CEO, Silicon Valley Nigeria Economic Development SV-NED Inc. and Forbes Business Council Members, Dr. Lilian Ajayi-Ore, President/Founder Global Connections for Women Foundations GC4W and Forbes Non Profit Council Member). Some of our sponsors are Mr. Abiodun Barry Baruwa, President/CEO Masterplan Finance & Asset Management LTD, Dr. Diana Gray Campbell, President 100 Heart Children Initiative Africa, Mrs. Anuoluwapo Koleola, President Compassionate Mommies Group, Ms. Lovetta Tugbeh a Liberian American that genuinely loves Nigerians, Mr. Christopher I. Egbujor, Mr. Sunday Akinmusere, a Nigerian Footballer in Russia. Just to mentioned a few and so many other Nigerian Angel Investors in the Diaspora. They all co-sponsored and supported me with the little they have. My brothers and my children gave me enough support. They did it because they don’t want their Mama to be ashamed. You see what they call love? Then so many of our people in Diaspora donated as well in this SV-Ned Ecosystems Angel Investors Mentorship Entrepreneurship Interest Business Loan for the Nigerian women and the Nigerian Young Adults Projects.
As a Community Activist who has always been talking about women and youth empowerment, taking a look at Nigeria today, when asked if women are occupying their rightful place and her thought about women empowerment she said:
“You know, Nigeria is not ready yet. We don’t know the meaning. Sorry to say, Nigeria is one nation that doesn’t know the potential of the power of a woman. Any nation that knows the relevance of a woman will prosper. Women are the faces behind the masks. Women are the policies behind the policy-makers. There’s no man that doesn’t respect his wife. When we are talking of the home front, you know that the force behind you is your wife. Any child that succeeds is the mother. Why don’t they allow women? It’s unfortunate. Why do they call here motherland? Maternal is very powerful in the life of a child, in the life of a man and in the success of a nation.
“Take a look at China. China became China because they don’t even regard gender or race or religion. I love China. Their own is just entrepreneurship. But here, there’s no power for any factory to roll. When will the people working retire? I don’t see people retiring. And we keep on giving birth to children every day. Where’s the recycling? I thank God because people thought these children wouldn’t return my money. But God used me to teach them entrepreneurship. That is what is happening right now with the interest-free loans I am giving to them.”
No dough Mama Diaspora respects our youths; that’s why she agrees with the #NotTooYoungToRule motion, but insists that not all of them can get a job rather let them be entrepreneurs.
“Let’s respect our youths. I’m a child and an angel of God. Let’s say the truth. Gowon, at what age did he become president? Didn’t he rule Nigeria? President Buhari. What age did he become military head of state? Didn’t he rule Nigeria? Why are we then looking down on the youths of today? My children are my bosses. If they say I should sit, I sit because they are the ones feeding me now. My children help me seal deals. They made me honorary chairman in my company. They are now the CEOs. Two of my children are members of Forbes’s council. Outside, the whole world appreciates Nigeria’s intellectual property. I’m begging the government: let’s step aside for our children. The minister could be 100 years of age; allow the Minister of State to be 36 years old. Oh, they are smart. We call them the millennial. They code and programme. Yet, not all of them can get a job. So let’s make them entrepreneurs.”
In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan appointed her to the national conference and she represented the Nigerian Council for Women Societies.
I was curious to know why none of the resolutions of that Confab has been implemented. Was it just a waste of resources, or a jamboree of a sort? Did she make any moves to pressure the government to implement those resolutions and nothing was done?
But mama with all humility went on her knees to answer the question. “You see, I’m on my knees answering this question. With all humility, I admire this government and respect it and support it. But they need to take a deep breath. Out of the whole constitutions amendments resolutions, I think history will never forget me as one of the living legend with the Diaspora Commission and the voting rights of Nigerians in Diaspora currently on the floor of the National Assembly. Those were two of my inputs at the Confab. The word Nigerians in the Diaspora will never forget me. Even if you Google Mama Diaspora, I am all over; I’ve been Mama Diaspora since 2002. Those are the only two resolutions that have been implemented so far. Let’s give the government that credit.
Another resolution was commission for the physically challenged. Another was that of women inclusion, at least they have been appointing some women. I don’t know whether the women are not enough, but I want these appointed women to be very outspoken. Let history remember them for the few hours they’ll be in those positions. Let them make history for themselves. The crown is on their head, makes history and remains virtue. They tried, they helped women. We shouldn’t blame the government. It’s the women who will personally say that they want their names to be written in gold. I want us to stop blaming this government. We asked for 35 per cent of affirmative action. And to be fair to the government, they have given us. Now we have to make a name for ourselves.
Let’s keep smiling and move together. My late father said something: When a woman is smiling at you, your pocket is weeping. Let’s keep smiling on those men and they keep on giving us more affirmative (laughs). On a lighter note, when asked if she would want to increase the women affirmative to 50 per cent, she smiled and said: “You kidding me? In Nigeria? This is Africa, don’t forget. It can happen in America, but this is Africa. So let’s just manage what they’ve given us (laughs).”
It could be recalled that through her efforts, the Nigerian federal government on behalf of Nigerians living in the Diaspora in such areas as granting voting rights and approving housing scheme project for the Diasporas, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria under the Diaspora Housing Loan Scheme approved N15 million for every diasporas through her Silicon Valley Cooperative Society.
“I encouraged Nigerians in Diaspora to take a second mortgage on their homes to get the bulk money to acquire houses here in Lagos. They still couldn’t get that forty to fifty million. Then I remembered that seven years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan gave me this position to build one million houses for the Diasporas. Bingo! With the Federal Mortgage Bank, if not for the #EndSARS protests, many Diasporas would have moved into their Lagos homes by now. There’s something good about this government. They approved N15 million for every diasporas through my Silicon Valley Cooperative Society. Do you know how much revenue that will bring? And all of a sudden, I became a developer, is it a joke, this is favour then I took a deep breath. As long as I am still living, I will continue to do my part. That’s why I didn’t look back, putting hands into my pocket. To me, this Covid-19 pandemic was a blessing to everyone that has surrounded me. I was able to get the Diasporas N15 million from this government. Let’s give them credit.”
Chief Ajayi is well-known for promoting women empowerment and poverty eradication in Africa through Agri-business. Through the Arkansas-Nigeria Investment Forum and other bilateral economic forums in the US, Chief Ajayi’s tenacity and genuineness have been very instrumental in convincing and attracting a lot of key investors in the agri- business from the USA to Nigeria. She is the Founder/CEO of the Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP), which engages in the agricultural empowerment of farmers, women and young adults in Nigeria in order to increase food sufficiency and sustainable employment for women and youths in the agricultural sector. NAAEP has been a grassroots organisation that trains and empowers farmers in mechanized farming systems, while facilitating business loans, accessibility to farm implements, and the harvesting and marketing of their end product both locally and internationally. In 2010, Chief Ajayi called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to reduce the interest rates on loans to farmers in order to boost the agricultural sector and to alleviate poverty in the country.
“I wish the government could listen to me. I remember when they gave me the key to the IOWA caucus. I used my money to bring investors. We have land and human capital. That was in 2006. They didn’t listen to me. ‘Please, she’s a dreamer’, they said. I used my money to buy 100 hectares of land and started agriculture on my own, but nobody gave me support. When Google called me the third most powerful person in the country, it wasn’t an overstatement. Somebody was doing the documentation; others were looking down on me, saying ‘is that not Jesus, the son of a carpenter?’
“Today’s agriculture in Nigeria? I call it room and parlour. They are not serious yet. This year, I brought Nano-technology in rice production which we suspended because of Coronavirus. I brought my partners. I said the intellectual property I’m going to use is graduates. We are going to reach them and teach them to be rice farmers. But there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. We should do less of politics and more of passion. Even my son, the spoiled brat, last born, I saw him opening a restaurant now. They buy a plate of food from him in front of my compound here in Lekki. You see, heaven helps those who help themselves. We have to be entrepreneurs.”
Chief Temitope Ajayi is the recipient of several high-profile international honours and awards: For her service to African communities in the US, she was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award issued by President George W. Bush, which is a national prize under the patronage of the President of the United States, recognising voluntary engagement and an Ambassador of Goodwill for the State of Arkansas and Maryland, USA.
On what Joe Biden’s victory means for us in Nigeria, she is quick to say yes, very well.
“Nigerians don’t know their Diaspora potential in America. Our president-elect, Joe Biden, is a slow and steady man. And you see Kamala Harris who I happen to know personally? I know her personally from San Francisco. We are from the same state. And she’s a woman. And she’s really articulate. Those are the kind of women I need in life. When they give us this appointment, we strike the iron when it’s hot. Use that appointment to change the nation because women appointments are very rare. We smile; we kneel down, but let’s see what God has in stock for the whole world, not just Nigeria. Nigerians in America are all success stories. I wish they could be bringing them one by one. A Nigerian is in his cabinet – DNA Nigeria. Nigeria didn’t discover him, but America did. Do you know how many Nigerians made it to the congress, to the local and state senates? A lot of Nigerians. Egypt became Egypt; it’s because of those in Diaspora. India became India also because of those of them in Diaspora. I believe God will change Nigeria with the help of our brothers and sisters in Diaspora.”
With the recent kidnapping, rape, etc., going on in the country, Mama Diaspora strongly believes something isn’t right. “As a mother, when you see your child destroying things in the house, they’re bitter about something. They are just knuckle heads. We have to find out what they are bitter about. Maybe women should be the one to send to them. We gave birth to them (Boko Haram and bandits). Let’s sit them down because if all the mothers went on our knees and started praying, the Almighty God will do something. We women, we’ll sit down and pray. Mothers pray a lot. And prayer changes things.”
It’s no news that the insurgents are not hiding their wishes. They have made it known that they don’t want western education for Nigerian children. They also want to islamise the country through implementation of Sharia.
“You know, if wishes were horses, many would ride. It’s their wish, but it’s dialogue we require. Love can melt a stone. Love can break a mountain. You see, women are very powerful. Let them send women to talk to them. They wish, right? ‘Okay, Mr. Leader come. We will have Islamic schools and we will have the other schools. Sikenna (an Hausa word meaning simple). So it’s left for the parents to tell their children ‘go to Islamic school or go to Oyinbo School.’ Has the government thought about that? And in every nation, everybody has a right to choose a religion. There are lots of churches all over the place. If they want mosques all over the place too, let them go ahead. You will tell them in a very nice way. They call it gentleman’s agreement. They say ‘he that’s down fears no fall.’ I keep on saying it – let’s use women, not those that paint their face. National women that will tell you they don’t even know books but know what is called the street sense. Artificial intelligence, that’s what I mean, homemade not cosmetic.”
Speaking about her thoughts on the Igbo presidency since people are clamouring, saying it is the turn of the South-east to produce the next president on the country, the Orlu-kindred activist whose Igbo name is Ifesinachi, said:
“Nigeria and politics! If they don’t talk North and South, they will talk Christians and Muslims. Please, I’m from Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, we talk Dollars, money talks, not politics. May the Almighty God choose a leader that will make Nigeria better.”
After horrific experience during the oppressive military regime in Nigeria by Gen. Sani Abacha, Chief Ajayi migrated to the United States of America in 1996 and, since then devoted her life to doing business that would serve her Nigerian community both in the US and Nigeria. After a brief self-imposed exile in the US, she returned to Nigeria to revolutionise agriculture with the intention of helping in the eradication of poverty in the country. Asked if she’s seeing traits of that period in the administration of President Muhammdu Buhari? After a deep breath and a few seconds of silence, Mama said:
“Number one, for me, they say, no matter how dark any tunnel may be, there’s always going to be light at the end. No matter how dark the cloud may be, there will always be a silver lining. I am one of the people that fought for this democracy. I went on exile, being a June 12 survivor with my brother, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We all ran away. The American government adopted me and my children. That’s why in the history of all the Nigerians in the US, I’m the only human being that has six keys to six states in the US. I am an honorary citizen. Impeccable! When you talk of proven integrity, when you have that in America, you will succeed.
“George Bush gave me a presidential award. Is that a joke? DNA Nigeria. Politics in Nigeria almost made me lose everything I’ve ever owned, but look at the way God blessed me in America. They (American) were my parents when I needed one. God bless America. We should all sit down and smell the coffee. There is surely light at the end of the tunnel. We complain a lot. We see God every time, but we still complain. No matter what we think we are doing right now, let’s give God the glory, there’s nothing wrong with Nigeria. The problem with us is that we are paying attention to the wrong things. Let’s focus more on commerce, surround ourselves with positive people and positive thoughts. That’s the highway to success of any nation.”
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