Determined to help women realise their God-given potentials and live a purpose-driven life, Onyebuchi Madiebo-Solomon, the founder of Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things (OWDET) is touching lives through her non-governmental organisation. With degrees in Law, and International Business and Marketing from Lagos and London respectively, this trained marriage counsellor is also the CEO of BC Madiebo & Company Limited. She sat down with GuardianWoman to talk about what led her into starting a non-profit fighting female mortality in Nigeria, gender equality and how marriages can last in today’s world amongst other issues.
Give us an insight into your background; what led you to start OWDET?
I studied law at the University of Lagos before going on to read international business and marketing at the American Intercontinental University, London. I am the CEO of BC Madiebo & Company Limited, an insurance brokerage firm which I inherited from my father and I run that alongside Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things (OWDET). OWDET, which I started when I was looking for clarity in my own life is basically an organisation dedicated to teaching women to live a life of purpose and one of the things OWDET is focused on doing is building free maternity clinic at grassroots level because Nigeria has the second highest mortality rate in the world. Everyday, babies and mothers die for very trivial reasons like malaria, fake drugs and bad drinking water. We are starting our first clinic, we already have the land to build, which was donated to us and we would soon start the building for the first free maternity clinic.
Why free maternity clinics, what was the inspiration?
It was the Holy Spirit that spoke to me. Initially, when the Holy Spirit spoke about starting something for women, I was going to prisons, doing a prison ministry but the Spirit told me, “this is not what I called you to do. I need you to reach out to women because women do not understand that they have a purpose. I am not calling you to preach or be an evangelist, I am calling you to get women together and help them understand that each of them, whether Christian or Muslim has a purpose.” After this revelation, I started OWDET. We meet four times yearly and talk about living a life of purpose. We also have a book club to encourage women to read as well, we read one book a month and talk about it extensively just to encourage one another.
What type of women do you look out for, who is an OWDET woman?
Every single woman. It doesn’t matter your colour, state, race, tribe or financial standing. Picture a mansion that houses a family with several daughters, amongst them a senator, hairdresser, doctor, teacher and a truant but at the end of every three months, they all come together into this house. As soon as they walk through the doors, the senator sister and the truant are on the same level, calling each other by name and relating freely because they are sisters. I tell all the women, we may not know each other but the moment you walk into our doors, we are all sisters.
Tell us about your growing up years?
I am the last of six children and I think this made me a little stubborn. I grew up as a “single child” because all my siblings were abroad when I arrived and there’s a bit of age difference so I was at home alone with my parents and sort of got away with most things my older siblings would never have dreamt of. Still, my mom was very strict and all I remember is whenever she says “don’t do that,” I would still go ahead and do it and so I was always getting a beating for being mischievous but that didn’t deter me. When I felt I was old enough, I travelled to London on my own and started fending for myself. My parents told me they were going to cut me off if I didn’t come back, but I didn’t mind and insisted on standing on my own feet. I was working on any job that came my way to keep body and soul together. I wasn’t discriminating and was quite hardworking. One time, my friend and I started a car cleaning company; we didn’t have a car to carry our hoover, water and all so we put everything in a bag and drag it to where we need to be. My dad didn’t spoil us and then, the only sure way to get money out of him is to tell him you wanted to buy a book or for your education.
Looking at the country today, would you say Nigerian women have achieved gender equality?
I don’t think we are quite there yet because women are still discriminated against till date in every area in Nigeria. It is a case of what a man can do here, a woman can probably not, but women need to realise that you can do whatever it is you set your mind to do. When I started building, I didn’t know anything about it, all I know was that I wanted to make money from it. So my sister encouraged me because she is good at painting; she would buy paint and paint the inside and outside of our house on her own. Initially I couldn’t read drawings, I would send them to my sister, she would read and teach me and explain; by the time we were finished, I could tell you everything involved in the building. If I can learn it, and I am not the most intelligent woman in the world, if I can then everybody else is capable.
What would you say is the major challenge women of this generation face?
Everybody wants to be somebody without having to do anything. Women today want to drive a Range Rover, go to Dubai, use expensive gadgets and things but they are not ready to put in the work. We want to live a life we can’t afford. You need to put in the work, you need to get rid of certain mindsets, you too can make money and live large, you can do anything you set your mind on doing.
If you were to mentor a woman, what would you tell her?
The first thing I would teach that woman is that she has the ability to be any person or thing she aspires to. Also, you are not better than the next person. My mom used to say you’re not better than the staff that works for you, you are just privileged. Your maid might be smarter than you but you are more privileged. The next step is to learn to believe and not look down on yourself. People look at themselves and say they are poor because their parents are poor. Tell yourself a different story, believe in yourself and start doing the work necessary to break that cycle.
Would you say women have conquered the fear of getting into male-dominated fields?
I personally believe that anything a man can do, a woman can do it better, it is not a cliché. That’s the way I see it. We have not overcome it but I think we are getting there. Women are beginning to understand that they need to make money and are doing what it takes to make it. We are still far from our goal but I think we are getting there. I think to myself, I can do what men normally do and even better than they are doing, this is how I thrive. The average Nigerian woman is a strong woman, God-fearing and takes prides in herself. People look at pride as a bad thing but you have to be proud of yourself for people to take you seriously, believe in you and respect you. African women are so strong; we go through a lot but still get up and keep going.
You have a funny story with regards to how you met your partner…?
(Laughing) Yes, I met my husband through a police officer that I met at the police station when I went to report a case there. My maid stole from me and I went there to report and was attended to by a female officer who is married to my now husband’s uncle. She introduced us and the rest as they say is history. Turns out that incidence was a blessing in disguise. Though it wasn’t love at first sight, spending time with him, doing things together, he grew on me. It also helped that he was very nice and kind and this attracted me to him eventually.
As a marriage counsellor, how can couples safeguard their marriage?
Marriage is not a bad thing. I am a very troublesome person and my husband is the complete opposite of me and I think that’s why we get on well because I’m hot-tempered and he’s not. However, marriage is not easy, it’s a union of two very different people born and raised differently and when you bring them together, there are bound to be problems. However, you need to learn to meet yourselves halfway but you must marry the right person to achieve this. A lot of people these days just get married for flimsy reasons and when they enter, they see things they can’t live it and start looking for escape routes. Before I got married, I dated some men I didn’t really like and people were saying, “marry him, later things would change,” and that’s where the problem starts from. You cannot change anything, what you see before marriage will amplify times 10 after marriage. Ask yourself if you can live with it, it’s very important. Whenever my blood is hot and I am boiling, my husband usually calms me down. There was a man I dated with a temper like mine and people told me to marry him because he is rich, but can you imagine what a union like that would have looked like? Two of us angry with nobody to calm the other down, it wouldn’t have worked. These are some of the things you have to keep in mind; it’s not rocket science.
What are the challenges you have faced and how are you overcoming?
So far, I am funding everything myself because in Nigeria, people find it difficult to give money as they believe you’re going to squander it and I don’t blame them because some crooks have given everyone a bad name. When I started, I didn’t even look for funds, whenever I have money, I simply put it in and do what I can. At the last programme we held, people told me they want to donate because they’ve come a couple of times and noticed I wasn’t asking for anything from them. This was how we got land given to us free of charge. I think until people see you’ll spend their money wisely; they won’t donate to your cause. I tell the people that work with us, if you are not going to live your life purposely, you cannot work with us. If you concentrate on the purpose for which you were created, and you’re focusing on it, you won’t spend your time doing things that you shouldn’t be doing. You need to focus on your purpose. Your purpose alone is huge, if you start honing it on time it’s a lifetime journey, you won’t have time for anything else. That is the way God created us.
Would you say women have been treated fairly in terms of political appointments?
Truth be told, I feel the president has not been fair despite all the promises and assurances given before 2015 and in this term. I don’t think it’s out of spite but what he knows and understands but he can do better.
Would you say women are doing enough to support other women?
No and I think it’s because some women can be unnecessarily selfish. I think they see men exhibiting this behaviour and they want to do the same thing. Almost like a case of if you can’t beat them, join them. I keep telling women around me to do the right thing and they are not listening because they are afraid of “losing our or not fitting in.”
What last words do you want to leave for women?
I just want to tell them to believe in themselves. If you want to dream, dream big and live a life of purpose. Whatever you can dream, you can achieve it.