Ikanna Okim is a phenomenal young woman who believes that she is equipped with everything needed for a new Africa.Ikanna is the movement leader of the No-FGM campaign against female genital mutilation in communities in Akwa Ibom state where the practice is rampant. A student leader, she is currently the President of the LAWSAN Bar Association, University of Uyo Chapter.
Ikanna Okim is also the Teennation Country Lead for Nigeria and Head of Legals. Ikanna is a prolific writer and has authored five books which have reached over 1,400 young people in Nigeria.
As a result of her commitment to correcting social ills, she was conferred the honour of a Fellow of the African Young Leadership Fellowship in 2018 and in 2020 made it to the nominee list of Community servants in Akwa Ibom State.
Ikanna, the academic aficionado, has also acquired certifications from different institutions around the world including University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, Negotiation studies certificates from University of California, Irvine Extension; and Yale University.
She is a child of God and a preacher of the gospel of Jesus. Her life principles are integrity, responsibility and transparency.
She shares her RUBY GIRL story with the team .
1. Let’s meet you. Who is Ikanna?
Ikanna is a young woman eternally saved by Jesus Christ. I believe that because of Christ’s permanent residence in me, I have all it takes to change the world, Africa in particular.
I am a final year Law undergraduate. I work closely with teenagers, women and girls to ensure teen inclusion in global and national development as well as create a voice for women and girls in Africa.
2. What inspired your writing at such an early age?
My dad! My dad is an ace writer and veteran journalist. I grew up reading his works (although by force, initially). Some privileges were attached to reading what daddy says you should read. So we read a lot and were inspired to write too. My younger brother is even a better writer than me. So, we all write. Good writers should also be good readers. Reading influenced my writing.
Then I began to look around me, my society and I found ills. I started infusing a voice against those ills into my writing. I’m someone who doesn’t see wrong and let it pass. So I began to speak through my writing all at a very young age. I wrote my first story book at 10 and I was encouraged to keep writing then I published when I was 19.
3. Your recently published a book (Black Syrma) what is the inspiration behind it and what does it entail?
Black Syrma is my voice against Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Black Syrma is a story of Kepuaolisa, a young African girl, tied in the complicated ropes of obnoxious African practices. I am an Africanist but I do not accept all practices just because I am an Africanist. As a matter of fact, I believe that we should do all we can to make the African tribe enjoyable so that we can have more people appreciate their heritage. Moving for the abrogation of ill practices is not the same as denying your heritage.
So, as African as I am, I consider ill customs unacceptable. Actually, there has been tremendous progress regarding eradicating Child marriage and female genital mutilation. They are now crimes where I come from but implementation is poor. Law enforcement agents will not go into the bedrooms of people to check whether girls have been mutilated or not. So I decided to take the approach of a mentality shift by publishing a book on that and leading a campaign in the local languages people understand.
“I began to look around me, my society and I found ills. I started infusing a voice against those ills into my writing”.
4. You led a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaign, what was the response gotten from the outreach?
That campaign! We flooded the streets and a major market in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, my Local Government Area. A lot of people said we were wasting our time because Uyo is a civilised town and nobody practices such culture but that’s a big lie! While we campaigned, people sent us out of their shops. They almost drenched us in water for preaching against what they have been practising. A woman told us that girls who are not mutilated end up becoming prostitutes. In Uyo town! I sent out message on social media for people to stop thinking FGM was not in Uyo town. It was and still is!
However, we had some positive reponses. Many people told us that they never knew that FGM had long term effects so they promised never to mutilate their children again. The high point for us was when a girl who was supposed to be mutilated the next day was saved from it because we spoke to her mother and she changed her mind about it.
Girls and women have a right to their sexual and reproductive health. Removing the clitoris or any form of mutilation deadens her organ, leads to complications and may ultimately lead to death. No woman deserves that.
5. As the LAWSAN President of UNIUYO, what has been your achievement so far in office?
Being a female President itself is one of my achievements because by that, I broke a jinx of women in my faculty always contesting for Vice-Presidential seats and reserving the 001 positions to the males.
Asides that, I have spent the majority of my tenure out of school because of the pandemic. Nevertheless, I have achieved all my manifestoes save for two of them which I will do by God’s grace when school resumes.
I carried out an internal restructuring by creating departments which never existed in LAWSAN Bar to make students feel closer to the government and carry out activities which they have interests in.
We also had a street campaign against Child Labour in Uyo before the lockdown. This campaign was informed by children selling purewater and drinks to us during school hours. It didn’t sit well with us when there are free/ low budget schools in Akwa Ibom state. So we carried out that campaign as our voice against it. We spoke to the guardians of these kids and they promised us to adjust.
During the lockdown, we have had 3 major virtual events including our Law and Social Change event which lasted all through the month of July, for 31 good days.
We also acquired slots for some of our members who have interest in Alternative Dispute Resolution to take a course on Commercial Mediation free of charge with Mediation Academy.
The pandemic lockdown didn’t deter us. We have done so much that I can’t tell all. Thank God.
“Being a female President itself is on of my achievements because by that, I broke a jinx of women in my faculty”
6. What has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the most and what did you learn from it?
My school! I should have bagged an LLB two months ago but it was halted. That’s painful but I was able to make good use of the lockdown by taking professional courses, doing virtual internships and making sure my life is moving forward and indeed it has been my busiest year. I do not have a wasted year.
I have learnt that there are so many things one has no control over but those things one can control, one must control them well.
I can’t make the government reopen schools but I can control what I do with my time this period. At least that is within my power.
7. Aside being an author, student and leader, how do you unwind and what else do you do?
(Laughs) My friends think I am a boring person. Well, that’s their business. I watch movies for fun. My favourite genres are comedy, crime & investigation, Christian and legal procedural movies.
I also like to go out with my friends. I know a lot of people but I have a very small circle. Hanging out with them helps me unwind. Some bars of chocolate have to be present though. I love chocolate.
8. What is your highest and lowest point as a student, author and leader and how did you overcome them?
I hate feeling overwhelmed. I could get so overwhelmed that I won’t be able to do anything. I just stare at the ceiling for hours, leaving overflowing heaps of items on my to-do list.
When it gets like that, I apportion time to each activity or work I have to do. That way, I have some control over my time and it eases off anxiety. Time management is key for me.
9. What would you like to change about yourself?
I am a limited edition. There is nobody in the world like me. I appreciate all my strengths and weakness as part of the package called Ikanna. However, I subject myself to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. He is in charge of my life. Whatever He doesn’t consider cool enough, He brings it to my notice and we work together to get better.
10. What are the challenges young writers and author face in Nigeria? Which improvement do suggest?
Money! Money is a serious challenge. Young writers, please don’t wait for funding before you manifest your gifts. Don’t wait for a competition with prize money attached. Don’t also wait for platforms! Create your platform. I private-published my first book when I was 19. I had already gathered an audience on Facebook. My cover design was sponsored by a fan. My editing was done for free by a professional editor who had seen my work and believed in me. I didn’t spend a dime.
Create your platform.
11. If you were the Chief Justice of Nigeria for a day, what would you do and change?
(Laughs) Rome was not built in a day so will the justice system in Nigeria not be built in a day. It’s a whole long process but we can take one step at a time. Our justice system requires a near revamp.
If I were to be given that position for a day however, I will communicate my vision to the stakeholders in that system. From there, work can begin.
12. Mention 3 women who inspire you and why?
Mmanti Umoh, An erudite management consultant, the woman with the highest Intelligence Quotient I know. Molested at an early age, Mmanti drove her way to becoming one of the most influential women in Africa. Her story and her life inspire me to never allow circumstances of life dictate what I become.
Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi Co. A friend of mine told me to look up one of her videos one day and I was wowed. That was the beginning of my admiration for her. She inspires me big time. She is a role model for real.
Dr. Utibe Alex- Okoro, my elder sister and a medic. This woman is an embodiment of the word ‘complete’. A complete woman. She inspires me daily to live my best life and supports me heavily. What’s more? I love her so much!
13. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
This pandemic has halted many things but nevertheless I hope to be pursuing a PhD in Law, living out purpose and enjoying the grace of God.
14. If you were given the opportunity to address a group of girls five years younger than you, what will be your advice to them?
Hey girls, be intentional! Stop wasting time sleeping, chatting away or allowing boys exploit you. Girl, you’re more! There’s a lot in you than you can see right now. God is just at your door. Open the door for Him and let Him handle you.