Queen Okoya, An Amazon Blazing Trails

It was 7:30 in the morning of Friday the 25th May, 2018. Our Crew at SENS Newswire was ushered into her resplendent office at the heart of Abeokuta. Adorning the wall were portraits of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, The Executive Governor Ibikunle Amosun, and a full length picture she took with her husband. Several members of staff were putting finishing touches to arrangements for the day’s event. Despite her busy schedule, Queen (Hon.) Temitope Grace Okoya was kind enough to open her doors and heart, addressed our questions on issues which have defined her life, and talked about her passion for empowerment.

In the course of the interview, it was easy to appreciate why she has been described as the humanitarian per excellence, philanthropist, human rights activist, politician and business woman many Nigerians will not forget in a lifetime. Excerpts:

SENS: Congratulations on your birthday. We learnt you are keeping it on low key. How do you feel?

Queen: (laughs) I’m sure I didn’t tell you my birthday anniversary is today, but you’re quite right. As per how I feel, well, I’m sure I’m doing just fine. I’m grateful to God for the privilege of every new day, and I appreciate all the kindness and blessings I’ve been bestowed.

SENS: How will you mark today?

Queen: You already have the answer. You must have noticed our preparations. We’ll be leaving for Itele in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government of Ogun State as soon as we conclude this interview session. My NGO, Ebunlobinrin Foundation has scheduled the official commissioning of our ultramodern medical center for Thursday 28th June 2018, but we will begin the soft opening and recruitment process today. We also need to finalize arrangements for the eminent personalities we expect would grace the occasion. 

SENS: Tell us about yourself

Queen: I don’t like ostentatious displays and I don’t always attend parties. On my birthday anniversaries and other special occasions, I find it more comfortable creating something significant that would provide benefits to the needy.

SENS: You mentioned your NGO a few moments ago. What is it about?

Queen: Ebunlobinrin Foundation Incorporated is perhaps, the biggest grassroot development non-governmental organisation with physical presence and wide active membership across all the South Western States of Nigeria. We established it five years ago and we have been quite active in the area of social welfare support, micro credit support, women and youth empowerment, healthcare improvement, community development and cultural renewal.

We currently have over 50,000 members who have been clustered around specific issues, organised as groups in all our State Chapters. We recently concluded our Youth Empowerment Initiative where people were given over 10 million naira to support their businesses. Asa Wa project concluded in March this year produced a new Princess Asa, Ifeoluwa Adeola Adepoju from Olabisi Onabanjo University, as the custodian and lead advocate Princess of Yoruba Cultural Heritage. In 2016 and 2017, we gave scholarships to a total number of 500 indigents. Presently, we are commissioning Ebunlobinrin Medical Health Center in Itele, and the one at Coker/Adewolu will be commissioned before the end of the year. These facilities will serve women and children at highly subsidized fees.

Our objective has always included healthcare services, empowerment through training and financial support, social welfare and protection against domestic violence. I am happy to affirm our resounding success on these issues. I can continue to recount our achievements but I think our most reliable witnesses have always been the people. There is hardly any sector where our impact is not being felt in all the places we are working. We haven’t done enough. We cannot address all the problems in the society, but we will continue to take one more step per time towards enhancing lives, families and communities.

SENS: You must have been supported by a huge staff and lots of money. How did you manage to accumulate so many resources?

Queen: Contrary to your view, much of our success can be attributed to how we organised ourselves at the Foundation, the quality of leadership we are benefiting from, and the overwhelming support the good people and governments of various States have given us. So far, our projects have been driven by internally mobilized resources rather than donor funding. This has been possible because our people are passionate and have adequate experience in what they do, and they have a nurturing environment and platform where they can actualize their goals. That is one of the reasons behind the creation of State Chapters rather than concentration of power in one central authority. Our approach to sustainability has always been clearly anchored on adequate participation and involvement of relevant stakeholders, and this is clearly contributing to achievements being recorded. We have grown to point where exploration of additional sources of funding would make sense, but we will not forget our roots and practical approach that has brought us this far.

SENS: You said you’re commissioning two medical centers this year. How do you intend to sustain it?

Queen: It is true we are opening two ultramodern primary healthcare medical centers in 2018, one of which will happen today. The bigger picture is that we are planning to establish six (6) medical centers per State in all the States in South Western Nigeria by 2020. This is one of our objectives from the start, and also serves as our contributions towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals on healthcare, women and children. All our Health Centers will be distinguished for high quality of services at low service charges. They will cater for people who live around the facilities but are unable to afford exorbitant fees being charged by private hospitals. The concept design includes fully equipped Maternity Section, Optical Clinic, Dental Clinic and a Pharmacy. The Centers will be managed by Ebunlobinrin Foundation Committee on Health and Medical Outreach (Ebun CHMO) under the Chairperson of Dr. Mrs. Temitayo Oderinde-Clement. She is the Secretary of our General Executive Board.

SENS: You seem to care a lot about less privileged people but you are definitely not poor. Is there any particular reason why you care so much?

QUEEN: Growing up was tough but it got to a point I promised God I would set up a Foundation providing help for the poor and vulnerable people if he would grant me success in life. God answered my prayers, and now, I am merely fulfilling my pledge. That is the summary of all the experiences that have defined my life. I need to add that none of this would have been possible without the support of my husband and my team. I love what I do, but a lot of people have given me the opportunity to do those things. They care about people as much as I do, and we share the same values.