Ekama Emilia Akpan, 71, leader in manufacturing sector and investor in education sector, in this interview with Ignatius Chukwu in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, disclosed why she also went into education investment.
How do you want to be identified?
My name is Mrs. Ekama Emilia Akpan. Ekama means mother. If you call me Emilia, I know you knew me before the war, but anybody who knew me after the war will call me Ekama.
You are the founder and CEO of Showers Group, why didn’t you mention it?
Yes, I was into manufacturing before we went into education sector. We did so because we found that without education, Nigeria will not go far in manufacturing that we crave so much. So, my emphasis is to train the youth to change Nigeria. You cannot go into manufacturing without trained minds. People think of me as an educationist but I also have a manufacturing unit. The only thing that can put food on the table is manufacturing or production. That is why I am always interested in what happens in the field of manufacturing. Commerce is good but it is not the hope of Nigeria. It is about shops and trading but it does not employ many. It is manufacturing that will do it if the government can support and the host communities will protect the businesses by showing understanding.
You have played deep at state and national levels in MAN; you have been chapter chairman, regional leader, national vice president of MAN (for South-South and East), what steps do you want states in the South-South/East to take to promote manufacturing?
Without vision, there can be no hope. Many are into politics not for the people but for selves. You ought to be a servant-leader. The people ought to be your focus. God has asked us to multiply but there are many layers of multiplication out there. You can multiply at grassroots or at the national level. So, create small scale manufacturing system, promote grassroots economy, manufacturing, and others. Think of creating hubs for different manufacturing activities. MAN has always advocated for establishment of industrial parks in each state to incubate manufacturing. There would be water, light, roads, security, and unified taxes there. I started from the grassroots to national level. I have discovered that those who have empowered their people are those who can have a voice at the national table. That is why I encourage Rivers’ people. I am a Rivers woman even if my name is Mrs Akpan. Rivers State should look at Ogun and Lagos states and do something. These two states focus on residents instead of indigene status. Some states have produced non-indigenes as lawmakers. If we begin to do this, we will promote merit instead of mediocrity. We will create men that are capable. We will build from capacity to capability because if you create capacity, you capacitate it. You will not get the best if you don’t look beyond your state.
It is a fallacy to say outsiders will not work well for your state. It is the enemy that is dividing us. It starts by dividing the family and create divorce. It has done so to the Western world. The family structure has broken down there. Wives no longer give respect to their husbands and vice versa. In our localities, even when a husband, his wife unite and work together, if anything happens to the husband, relatives will rush in to scatter everything in the name of tradition. There are some bad traditions we must jettison. We no longer respect the elders. Let’s build the family and escalate it to the national level; lets respect each ethnic group. Our appeal is for Rivers State to see anybody investing in the state as a person of value. So, anybody investing in the state’s economy should be acknowledged and encouraged.
The highest form of contribution is in education, developing the minds of the leaders of tomorrow. These are those that will industrialise the state. Look at all those leading in the organised private sector (OPS), they are all educated. Thus, those contributing in education and industry should be supported. The new form of education is the one that promotes entrepreneurship, ICT, and crafts. Canada and Japan are calling for them. Japa is for those who have crafts. We make sure that those who leave our school (Showers International Schools) are grounded in crafts and good education. Merit must rule.
I say this on good authority, Rivers State has some of the most brilliant people, but they lack mentorship. People who have money do not want to support those who do not have but have brains. Discrimination is killing initiatives in Rivers State. If you spread your generosity, in the day of your weakness those you helped may help you. Rivers State as a matter of policy must create a welcoming attitude as we see in Ogin State, all for the economy.
In Ghana, I saw open door policy. Many are coming back from the US. Ghana gives them grants and they are thriving there. Ghana is doing well now. Ghana is to sell power to Nigeria. Sad. That is what happens when you are consistent in policies and actions. Mentoring the youth is not a waste of resources. We can export youths like China.
So, using force on companies is not the answer. We must make efforts to put potential seeds in our youths to take Rivers State back to their glorious past. They must look at their neighbours and encourage them to invest. That way, we have a voice at the global level.
At 71, what are some of your dreams you accomplished and are there some you didn’t accomplish?
I am 71, and from the beginning, I was smore concerned about giving. We are still giving, but there have been backlashes. It can be discouraging. But some acts of help or generosity we did in the past have turned out to be encouraging.
The Bible told us to plant in different soils, they will develop in different ways. One boy we helped in the past called me at a point I was depressed and spoke encouragingly to me. Some parents tell me they want their houses neat and calm, I say, anyone who keeps a clean house may end up having a clinic (very clean but no life). Mine is to populate my house with people and bring them up. Many of them are doing well, now pace setters.
I remember the daughter of a prominent woman in Rivers State. The lady is wonderful now. Even when she was our student, you could see she was from a good home. She got scholarship to read Law, but look at her now, doing authentic Art. We are all reaping. Some read Law or Medicine but are now into fashion. Our products have confidence in themselves and can do many things with their hands. We build entrepreneurial spirits in them. I tell them, don’t tell me what your mummy wants you to study. Do not depend on your parents because anything can happen. Yes, I have my regrets but more of positives. We are still working to actualise our dreams.
What about family; are you a happy woman?
I nag my husband every time but I will not exchange him for anything. He thoroughly understands me. I may be a pain in his ass and vice versa, but he is all I have got. He is intelligent, focused, and calculative whereas I am the action person. He stabilises me. That is a good balance. I may nag him but when he wants to travel, I will say, don’t travel. This is because I want him by my side. Like now, he travelled and I said, don’t travel, but one must see that his presence at the burial he went to would help them. I easily worry about his welfare when he is not with me.
So, a woman must understand that her husband is her crown, her completeness. No matter how high you are and how much you have achieved as a woman, if you turn in bed at night and don’t find him, you have an empty bed; and an empty bed is an empty bed. I nag him but it’s a good nag. If anything wants to happen to him, I rush to help. My kids know this and they make jokes of us.
The children try to support me. They have tried to japa me but I resisted. I want to populate this big house. They too are imbibing same nature. They appreciate what we represent and what we have done in their lives. My last son said, look, you do not know the respect they give me as your child. My kids have learnt about sowing and reaping.
When they hear your parents name and bring you closer, that’s an asset. Sometimes, there is no food but I am contented with the life I have. If I have another opportunity, I will do it again. If your name does not make your children proud, then you failed.
What advice do you have for mothers about the journey ahead?
When you start married life you won’t know how far you will go, until you look back. There is no going wrong. It’s about the determination to say, this marriage I entered into, no going back. The man you started with may deviate or develop some character you didn’t bargain for, but be ready to adjust and finish the race. If you decide to quit and go to another marriage, you may rather double your headache.
So, before you enter, inquire from the Lord. I did. I heard the voice clearly, this is your husband, when I saw him but I was like. He looked soft and gentle in his glasses, a young engineer. I later found that yes, he may look soft but he is hard in inner principles. Many enter into marriage and say he is handsome, what if he gets an accident, will you then quit?
Some may marry a handicapped person, and God still blesses them there. God may have deposited gifts inside him or her. Handicapped persons are deliberately made so to test you. What about those who have handicaps in character, you marry and find he is a liar. It’s up to you to choose how to live well with your husband no matter their handicaps.
Never touch my girls (female students). I will react badly. To me, you are exploiting their weakness. You do not oppress the girl sexually. I ask my students, where was the woman before God brought her out? It’s in the Bible. Some smart ones tell me, she was in the man. Good, the woman was inside the man all the time until God brought her out. The man must thus protect her. So, the children are made early to realise these values and what the boy owes the girl. The beauty is inside the man. To girls, we teach them never take another person’s husband so you do not suffer same fate.
Any other remarks?
No, just to say my worry is the future of Nigeria. Let the older citizens take responsibility. Let them open up, talk to the young generation. Let us not allow them to fail first. Talk now, and allow God to do the rest.