‘It Is time for African women to stop hunting alone’

Africa. Photo credit: Google

Women ought to know who they are – that they belong to the tribe of lionesses. Lionesses hunt to nurture and preserve the tribe. But they don’t hunt alone. They hunt with their sisters. African women have been hunting alone and it is time to stop.” That was the position of Mrs. Dayo Benjamin-Laniyi, a motivational speaker, enterprise communicator (as she prefers to be called) and women advocate, as she prepares to face the world in a summit that is aimed at celebrating the contributions of women to humanity. In an interview with Bridget Chiedu Onochie, she blames women’s relegated position on lack of unity of purpose.

How was the entrepreneurial zeal in you formed?
IN the last 17 years, I have been in the voice business. My husband has always seen me as a Chief Executive Officer brand that should not only be seen but also heard. That influenced our investment in sound equipment and subsequent entry into events planning and management. Since then, the business has grown from sound to lighting. The beauty of it is that it now serves as a grooming ground for the youths. As they learn the art and form their businesses, they remain the integral part of the family and that gives me inner joy.

Tell us about the African Woman Entrepreneurial Summit coming up in Nairobi, Kenya
The summit was conceived out of the desire to celebrate women, particularly African women. I had attended an entrepreneurial conference organised by one of Nigeria’s business icons. But seated in that hall, I noticed that speakers after speaker, they were citing only males in the league of those successful in commerce and industry; no woman was being celebrated on that global platform of entrepreneurial distinction.

Not even such icon as Opera Winfrey or Folorunso Alakija was celebrated. I felt we women have left something slipped from us. I felt we need a woman in this place.

Yet, something told me it must not be those women I know. “It could be you Dayo. You are a voice but that voice is not resonating because you have not engaged your platform.

Before leaving the conference venue, two Kenyan ladies who had watched me conduct the conference as the Enterprise Communicator approached me to assist in addressing their youths. So, I left the conference deep in thought that it was the time I do something different with my talent. I needed to go beyond the conventional Master of Ceremony. Shortly after the conference, I was privileged to organize a programme called Apostles in the Market Place.

All the young people that listened to me came back, requesting for mentorship. So, I concluded I was going to organize a summit. I planned to start off in Nigeria but the two Kenyan ladies appealed that I began with them. They said Nigerians have much but they (Kenyans) needed someone to motivate them into action.

So far, arrangement is almost completed for the African Women Entrepreneurial Summit coming up in the week leading to the Valentine’s Day. Sensitization towards the event will kick off on February 4 and will culminate on Valentine’s Day when the major event takes place at the American University, Nairobi. The February 14 date was deliberately chosen to change the entire narratives of Valentine, which has brought so much distraction to the youths. Tu Face Idibia would be on ground to perform his popular Track – You Are My African Queen.

What Central Message are you going to Nairobi, Kenya with?
The central message of the summit, which is coming under the Daughters of Africa Project, is that of a lioness. Women ought to know who they are – that they belong to the tribe of lionesses. That is the reason we are exceptionally strong. There is no woman like an African woman.

There is a phenomenon in the transactional courage of the African woman, which is profiled in the spirit of the lioness. The pride of lions comprised the lion, who is king, the lioness, the queen and cubs. If you look at the family, the lion king doesn’t hunt; it is the lioness that does. In Africa, it is the women who hunt to preserve their generations.

Mothers fetch water for the family. It is the women who go to market, do the transaction and the good ones bring back the proceeds to their husbands. It is the women who train sons to be king. The roar of the lion we all celebrate had its root in the belly of the lioness. When the lioness is pregnant, she doesn’t hunt, the sister does. But they don’t hunt alone. They hunt with their sisters. We women have been hunting alone and it is time to stop that.

What is the follow up to the Kenyan summit?
We will continue in Nigeria to walk and work with those men that celebrate women of Africa and their entrepreneurial excellence. The essence of working and walking with the menis shaped by my understanding that true women liberation is never complete when it stands with women alone. An African woman as an enigma should work with three men – her father from whom she gets wisdom, knowledge, prayers and blessing, then her brother and spouse for security. The African woman should not work alone; there is need for unity. She should network with her community of men and women.

What is your view about Nigerian women’s participation in politics?
Hope of women’s full involvement in politics appeared totally crashed in Nigeria of today. From the National Assembly down to the state level where it is more abysmal, the federal cabinet, women should come together to form a team. Yet, I don’t want us to see it as a women’s business alone. I am not a politician, but I have been privileged to be exposed to a lot of political activities, especially in working with the immediate past first lady.

All of that experience had exposed me to so much. Madam Patience Jonathan believed she doesn’t have to like a woman to give her a place in politics. Her reason was that if you give a woman an opportunity, she takes care of many families. As we prepare for political activities towards 2019, we must begin to change the narratives and allow women create an impact within our social-cultural frameworks. We need to run as women embracing ourselves as the lioness embraces her sisters so that she is preserved, the cub is preserved and the next generation is preserved.

What role did your background play in shaping your personality?
First, I was born a girl child and first in the family. My parents came from different continents- a naval officer Nigerian father and my mother, a nurse from West Indies. Both met in England and later returned to Nigeria. They got separated when I was only seven years while my siblings were four and two years old respectively. Yet, we were not allowed to go with my mother.

Consequently, we were raised by our paternal grandmother. The experience was so devastating that I lost courage and confidence. I lost my joy. The absence of my mother in our lives as we grew up was a void no one could fill. Life was never the same again. A lot of my people felt they needed to shout at us to make us African children. There was a time I felt like committing suicide. But all those challenges were building me and making me the woman I am today. I felt at that time that I needed to assert myself. I became a rebel and a fighter to live. I started looking for people to like me outside since I was not celebrated at home. I studied English at the University of Ibadan.

Since then, I have struggled not to be seen as fearful or depressed. The fear and depression did not stop when I was 20 or when I got married. I had lived with them until recently when I came to a position of courage. What people saw in me, as courage in the past, was a total supernatural experience of working with God because I had lacked it.

Your advice to other women
The first right you have as a woman, irrespective of what life presents to you is the right to be happy. To be that, you have to be intentional, no matter what happens. No matter how your story may be, there is a blessing in it. You can turn your story into a celebration of life.

Whatever is left over of your life, live it to the fullest. As a married woman, you need to save and from there, make contributions to family upkeep. You are the one in charge of disbursing your money but accountability, savings and transparency are key to a successful marriage. If your spouse gets angry with you, that will not kill you, it will rather teach you how to negotiate better next time. As a woman, you don’t need to be a Christian or Muslim to know about human rights.

As younger women prepare for wedding, they should prepare for marriage as well. Today, many people are prepared for wedding but not for marriage. They don’t plan how to work in agreement over money for the marriage, and this is one of the major causes of divorce and separation we have in our society today.

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