Ebunlobinrin Foundation has appointed Mrs. Oluwakemi Folasade Sonibare-Abiona as President following a selection process which was concluded in June 2018.
She was unanimously adopted after a keenly contested election process, to replace Queen (Hon.) Temitope Grace Okoya, Founding President of the Foundation. Her appointment became effective at the handing-over session of the Executive Council meeting which was held yesterday 7th July 2018. She will lead the Foundation as President till 2022.
Mrs. Sonibare was born and raised in Lagos Nigeria. She is a graduate of Accountancy, and pioneer member of the Executive Council. She was appointed Chairperson of the Foundation’s Lagos Chapter in 2016.
SENS Newswire led by our Senior Editor Samuel Odebowale had an exclusive joint interview session with Okoya and Sonibare shortly after the Executive Council meeting in Abeokuta yesterday, excerpts…
SENS: Queen Okoya, did you find it difficult or emotional stepping down as President of the Foundation?
QUEEN OKOYA: (smiling) I’m a woman, we’re all about passion and emotion; but it wasn’t a difficult decision for me. Four years tenure has been provided by our Constitution. I became the President in 2014 upon the completion of our incorporation process, in addition to my role at pre-incorporation phase. The President is responsible for the day-to-day running of the Organisation across Nigeria, and anywhere we have footprints, as the Chief Executive Officer. When you have a good team and you believe in inclusiveness, succession planning will always be an integral part of your growth strategy.
SENS: So you chose not to seek a renewal of your appointment as President?
QUEEN OKOYA: Exactly! I’m a builder, an advocate of gender empowerment. Having founded and led the Organisation to this point, and having been blessed with the caliber of membership and management we possess, I could not find any justification for seeking a renewal of my appointment. We have been quite successful in building 500,000 members strong non-political grassroot development Organisation for women and young people with active presence in all the six South Western Nigerian States. We are currently intensifying efforts with regards to economic empowerment, healthcare and cultural rebirth. It is important that my political involvement outside the Foundation does not cast a shadow on the good works of hundreds of people who have shown remarkable courage, intelligence and capacity to make positive impacts wherever opportunities abound. Change is a good thing for us; it is the only way we can guarantee the rights and freedom of our members presently, and a good way to promote professionalism and sustainability.
SENS: So what is your next line of action?
QUEEN OKOYA: I am still a member of the Board of Trustees and Governing Council, so the only thing that has changed is that I am no longer responsible for the day-to-day running of the Foundation. That job now belongs to our new President, Mrs. Sonibare. It also means I can now focus on political activities without the burden of distraction as events unfold.
SENS: Madam Sonibare, we understand your appointment as Chairperson of Lagos Chapter was only confirmed in December 2017 when the Chapter’s EXCO was inaugurated. Did you ever imagine you could become the President so soon?
SONIBARE: (Laughing) I was hoping your question wouldn’t be so direct, but you are very well on point. Just like every other member of the National Executive Council, I had the privilege of being prepared for this role. However, it was impossible for me to speculate on how the Council could decide on who becomes the President. So, having complied with requirements that made me eligible for consideration along with other nominees, it was impossible for me to imagine how the decisions would be made.
SENS: Tell us about the nomination process
SONIBARE: Five other members were nominated, so the successful candidate had to be elected. All the nominees were quite formidable and distinguished members who have made their marks as leaders of the Foundation. I haven’t found enough words to express appreciation for their pledge of support.
SENS: When Queen Okoya resolved not to seek an extension of tenure as President, how did you feel?
SONIBARE: I think nobody could have predicted our Founding President wouldn’t remain in Office. Given her exemplary leadership and achievements, renewing her appointment would have been a mere formality. I am not a politician but I do not see why anyone would have a problem with her political activities. I think she is just being humble, selfless, accountable and providing opportunities for others to excel.
SENS: What should we expect from Ebunlobinrin Foundation under your Presidency?
SONIBARE: Ebunlobinrin has always worked as a team, and we have a clear idea regarding what we want to achieve. We will sustain our popular empowerment programmes and innovate on others. For instance, we initiated Grassroots Women Empowerment Scheme (GWES) in 2012 to provide loans and credit facilities for women. The programme was expanded to men in 2014 when we had 24,000 beneficiaries. These loans do not attract any interest and collateral requirements, unlike any other microfinance programme you have in Nigeria today. Presently, we have recorded 50,000 beneficiaries and it is still growing. Obviously, we need to build on our numbers and enhance delivery so more people outside the scope of our direct beneficiaries can also derive greater impact, given its extensive relevance to women businesses and families everywhere. Our healthcare, skills acquisition, cultural rebirth and gender violence programmes also deserve greater attention, given the relevance of social investments and services to poverty alleviation across communities. We have a lot of works on our hands but we also have capable professional resources who can deliver. My job is to provide leadership that would enable our people to deliver everywhere we operate. We will continue to invest in initiatives that could deliver utmost benefits for the masses, especially the less privileged women and girls.
SENS: Queen Okoya, on the subject of programmes, can you briefly highlight some of your early achievements as Founding President?
QUEEN OKOYA: I think the best way to assess achievements is by asking the people and beneficiaries. However, I remember when I got elected to the Legislative House at Ifo Local Government of Ogun State. Many of our people at the grassroot kept approaching me for assistance. Eventually, I learnt to be more organised with these interventions by depositing a substantial sum of money in at Solid Rock Microfinance Bank. People were able to access micro credit and support from this endowment without a charge and interests. The success of that approach and my earlier resolve to establish an Organisation helping people was what led to the establishment of Ebunlobinrin Foundation. We were then able to scale up the initiative to all Local Governments in Ogun State. We have expanded to Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti States as the primary grassroot development organisation; delivering several interventions targeting poverty alleviation and women empowerment. Our impact is being felt by over 500,000 beneficiaries, and millions of people. Our newly appointed President has just mentioned some of our other interventions. Our programmes are helping governments, changing lives, and providing opportunities beyond what most people could possibly contemplate.
SENS: Madam President on a last note, what message do you have for the people?
SONIBARE: Ebunlobinrin Foundation has always focused on steady awareness and empowerment for women towards socio-economic improvements. We have always provided support for underprivileged and misinformed women, mostly found in the rural and semi-urban communities at large. Our interventions include skill acquisition and capacity development projects. As at 2017 in Lagos alone, 3,000 women and youths have been trained, certified by professional training organization, and assisted to establish startups and small scale businesses. Help is available, and we are asking people to avail themselves of some of the opportunities we are providing. We are intensifying efforts on financial literacy and inclusiveness, and we are creating information networks to make access to information easier for women. We are also intensifying efforts on girl child empowerment across all schools, and creating a network of mentors and counselors to assist with their emotional and social challenges.