The Voice Of The Niger Delta: Mrs Ibim Semenitari
In celebration of the International Women’s Day, we have dedicated our covers to women who have had a positive effect in Nigeria and the world at large. Mrs Ibim Semetinari is an award-winning investigative journalist, editor and publisher who has worked for over 20 years with the leading publications in Nigeria and America.She has also worked as a Journalism Trainer/Editor with the BBC World Service Trust. She was the first Nigerian female journalist to win the CNN African Journalist of the Year Award and came second in print journalism in the 1997 CNN African Journalist Award for her reports in the Nigerian print media. The vastly-experienced journalist is a two-time winner of the Nigerian Media Merit Award and a three-time winner of the Diamond Award for Media Excellence amongst several others, Her call to public service was under the administration of GovernorRotimiAmaechi as the Commissioner of Information and Communications in Rivers State and she also served in the Communications Directorate of the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation. She is now the MD and CEO of the Niger Delta Developmental Commission.
Describing her journey from investigative journalism to being the MD/ CEO of the NDDC, she says
“It has been an interesting ride, it’s had a lot of it interesting challenges”.
We asked what her motivation is to keep doing what she does:
“I always say that anyone who decides to be a journalist probably has two things that motivate them. The first is that you have a Messiah complex to save the world, the second one is that you probably have a death wish – It must be more than the adrenaline rush. Admittedly, there is a good feeling that comes with being able to accomplish something, like when you actually cause change, and when you are able to make society better. The same goes for when you are able to speak for the voiceless and actually see action taken, and when you are able to hold government, corporations and individuals accountable to the people. So I guess what motivates me is a desire to make a difference in my little corner of the earth. In all the things I ever wanted to do, they tend towards investigations of a sort, from archeology to criminology and finally ending up as an investigative journalist. At every point, it was a desire to answer questions being asked by society and find solutions for society.”
On her Twitter page, part of her biography says she is determined to get her nation back. GL asked how she intends to achieve this. Exhaling, she says:
“By doing what I do, which is being in public service. All of my professional life that is what I have done; insist that we are better than what we are.Being drafted into public service was about putting your mouth where your money was. I recall that my boss, the former Governor of Rivers State RotimiAmechi,said I should come to other end of the divide and see how easy it is. It is possible to get our country back, if all of us in our little corners do what we are supposed to do. I feel to a large extent all of us in public service are blessed to have President MuhammaduBuhari, who is clearly on a quest for a different country. You ask yourself what a man in his 70’s is looking for as President.If he was a man that was interested in self-enrichment then you can say he is caught in that mold but he is not.Having a leader in that mold, should motivate all of us in public service to do things differently, knowing that if we do it right, we have the support of our President. This is indeed a good time to get our country back; to get it right.”
Her position as the NDDC MD is a sensitive one.The stage play ‘Little Drops’ an initiative of the NDDC takes a more feminine approach on the issues being faced in the Niger Delta and it is more than the general public know. We were interested in knowing how she hopes to create the change that is needed.She says.
“The first thing to do is to regain the confidence of the peoples of the region.At some point the people in the region began to lose their confidencein government, and we have to revive it. It is important because if people lose their confidence in government, they stop caring and it is not okay for people not to care. In the play Little Drops, it is clear what happens when people stop caring; they start to believe they can find other means outside of the government to get it right. More critical is the need to drive the development in the region as envisaged by those who made sure that the NDDC Act of 2000 became law.What drove them was the need to develop all nooks and crannies of the Niger Delta. To be fair, warts, pimples and all, in some of those regions, the NDDC is the government they know and despite its flaws and problems the NDDC is a commission that touches lives where it truly matters.
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown”. One of the major challenges the MD faces is the way the commission is perceived.She sheds more light on the issue of perception saying:
“When you mention NDDC people believe there is plenty of money to be shared and that is one of the biggest challenges; getting people to have the right perception of what the commission is. We are not a honeypot; we are a commission that relies on benefactors like the Nigerian government and the oil and gas producing companies. It is like a mother that has 70 kids with a morsel of bread, who has to take care of her children, guest and extended family because she lives in the center of the market square.She would have to prioritize the needs she has to attend to on basis of urgency. Sometimes, one person will have to suffer, other times, resources may not be sufficient. It is a big challenge being able to identify what the priorities are as well as having sufficient resources to meet the need that exists in the region. Contrary to popular opinion, the NDDC has very lean resources because the Federal Government and the people who should contribute to the cause are not giving us all of what we should be getting. The reality is that we are owed up to 800 billion. The commission doesn’t have but the commission must do what it has to do, touching people’s lives – not just those in the 9 states but also to every Nigerian.”
She is the ultimate career lady and her recent position has put her as the voice of 9 resourceful states in Nigeria. She is indeed arole model to many women. Her stand with the International Women’s Day theme #PledgeForParity has only inspired and sparked the fire in more women. Her advice to ladies;
“I like the Nike ad, it says “Just Do It”. I think that is what women all over should do; just do what youhave to do. I like the Johnny Walker ad which says ‘Keep Walking’. Women all over just keep walking, you would get there, just do it.”
What distinguishes a woman like this in every field she has chosen? She attributes it to grace; unmerited favour. She likened it to being a dancer, who can’t see her back.
“I would leave that to you or the people to decide. Because, quite frankly, I am like a dancer; I don’t see my own back, so how would I know.”
There is no denying that the country is going through hardship; from the unstable power supply to fuel scarcity and the dependence on the dollar.Her take on the economy, as a financial journalist, is insightful and gives a sense of understanding –
“One of the things I can tell you about public spending and the state of the economy – it doesn’t start in a day. For the people talking about the rot President Buhari found in the country and saying he should fix it instead of complaining, that won’t happen in a day. If you check the World Bank Meeting thatrecently happened in Spring, the Nigerian delegationat that meeting requested a facility of about 2 billion dollars in the hope that they were going to win because our foreign reserves was insufficient to guarantee us a month of exports. Basically what was being said was that we didn’t have moneyto buy anything as a country – there was no money to pay salaries. We are in a deep hole and the truth is when a hole is deep, even as you make progress climbing out, people won’t see your head.There would be panic but you have to keep climbing. When you look at the proposed budget, you would find a government that plans on spending its way out of a recession and once the budget is passed and government starts spending, it would reflate the economy, you would see stronger activity and slow growth but at least we would move from minus to plus positions. Especially with a President that is cutting of waist and insisting on better behavior. Is he perfect? Absolutely No! Has everything wrong in the economy been righted? Definitely not. Is everybody in public service now a saint? Far from it. But are we making some progress? Yes”
Her hope for the country in light of the present situation engages everybody in the country.
“That I would be able to do my part and everybody do their part, so we can leave a country for generations to come they would be proud of. I think that Nigerians should begin to see tomorrow; they should be tired of being seen as second class and third rate, not as a country but as individuals. It is no excuse for us to be exceptional and brilliant people when we leavethe country and when we come back home we cannot get it together. We need to tell ourselves that we are not second class and third rate.We must refuse to be defined by stereotypes that are not progressive. We are positive and we are going to make a difference; everyone, leader and follower alike, because our country is all that we have got and we have got to be determined to make it work.”
Finally, her advice to the future generations in Nigeria who want to go in line with the vision of where we want to see the country.
“There is a saying, “Be the change you want to see’. I see a lot of young people who have picked up innumerable bad habits and perhaps worse. Their quest for money is unthinkable;insatiable. I see greed, and they want to run before they have walked. The truth isit is okay to spend all of those hours on social media andspend zero hours being productive and you can be productive on social media if you chose to be. I would like to see a bit more productivity around the things young people do. I think you would find designer craziness among younger people with no jobs than you would see in older people that earn a living. You begin to wonder what young people celebrate. Most of them celebrate glitz, glamour and cash more than they celebrate diligence and hard work, so I say ‘Be the change you want to see’. Learn virtues like trust, hard work, diligence, and satisfaction in little things.”
There is a lot we do not get to see behind the scene.We as a people need to be more and do more. We need to be socially responsible to achieve the country we want to see. MrsIbimSemenitari is only leading the way in her own little way, we should do same.