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Monday, 13 August 2018

DAD ROBBED ME THE CHANCE TO STUDY LAW, HE FEARED A LAWYER WON'T MAKE A GOOD WIFE


- DAME VICTORIA EKHOMU 


Her capacious office on Lagos Island is replete with files of accomplished projects as well as others that are still in progress. Few women operate in the capacity that Dame Victoria Ekhomu works. As the African Regional Advisory Council Chairman of ASIS, an international body of security experts, she has within two weeks successfully hosted the ASIS International Conference and the national annual general meeting of her alma mater St. Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School. She also participated in hosting the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security And Civil Defence Corps in Lagos, in her capacity as the Managing Director of Trans-World Security Systems Limited.


The woman with many parts, shares with Paul Ukpabio the tales of her journey to the top, her love for travelling and the elements that guided her early marriage among other things. 

What do you remember of your early life?

I'm from a large family, first of six children. My mother was a school teacher while my dad at the initial period was in the university. I used to follow my mother to school when I was young. In those days one needed to put his or her arm across the head to the other side to touch the ear in order to merit being in school. But being that I used to follow my mother to school, I was able to start school at the age of 5 which was not the usual thing then. My mother also used to get lesson teachers to teach me at home, a way of grooming me. So at an early life, I saw the importance of education. My dad too used to teach me when he came home on holiday from the university, where he was studying accountancy. As the child of a teacher, there was high expectations from me in conduct and character. That also meant that I was restricted a lot, and limited to playing within our compound with particularly known and accepted people in our environment. My parents were strict and my mother tried not to spoil me, though she enjoyed dressing me up in lace with shoes that were expensive in the standard of that time. But then she ensured that I was well groomed in domestic chores. 
Who determined your eventual life career?
That is an interesting story because, my mom wanted me to attend St Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School but mistakenly filled another school. When we got there and found out that the standard was not what was expected, I had to stay in Benin and attend Holy Cross primary six class before gaining admission to St Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School which was what my mother wanted and which was a mission school with a principal who was a true disciplinarian. She believed in the total training of the individual, and we were groomed in spiritual matters, encouraged to take part in sports and schools debate. I was into it all partaking in 200 meter relay competitions, high jump and debates as well. The discipline and moral standards that we learnt then used to build my foundation to who I am today. I proceeded to Idia College for my A-level and that was another moral training ground for me before I gained admission to University of Lagos.
At the point of gaining admission to the university, I wanted to study Law, but my dad though believed in the education of the female child, but felt that if I studied law that would not be good for me as a wife when I get married. I wanted to be a lawyer. Unfortunately my dad was the one that filled my forms for the university. My dad filled English Education as a course for me. To him, to be a good wife meant I had to choose a teaching career. I did try to change the course of study in my second year to Mass Communication and Law, but my dad got wind of it, threatened me and made me decide to do what he said. In those days only few women went as far as the university. And there was the notion that before a female is through with the university, she is already 'spoiled.' So my dad felt I had to be a teacher to enable me get married and have a happy home.  
What did you do after?
Oh I went to teach afterwards, just like my father wanted. However, something happened that changed my life totally. I got a job while on the Youth Service programme in Kaduna. I was serving at the News Agency of Nigeria office in Kaduna. I was a sub editor. It was because of the way I excelled, I was offered a job to work with the organisation in Lagos afterwards. I got the job but had to go with my mom to a relation's graduation ceremony. So I asked for three days grace before I started work in Lagos. But as it happened, I didn't  go to Lagos to take up that appointment. Fate played a fast one on me.
What happened?
When I got to the event with my mom and the graduation was over, all her relations gathered around me. They asked me what I was going to do since I had graduated from school. My mom replied them that I already got a job in Lagos. But her relations objected. They said I cannot go to Lagos because it is where a woman stays that she is likely to marry from. That I should stay closer home in order to marry someone from my tribe. That became the crux of the matter. It didn't sound all that logical to me, but I was groomed to obey my parents and elders. It was also the value at that time that women should not go faraway from home. So they made me to stay back in Edo state where it was all about working in a ministry or going to teach. 

I went back to my old school St Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School where I met the Reverend Sister and I told her that I was back from the university waiting for a job. She was happy and quickly arranged that I work with her. That was my dad's dream for me to teach which wasn't my dream. However, it was around the time that I got to the school to commence work that my husband Dr Ekhomu also came from the United State, to visit his mom who was living opposite my uncle's house. That was where he saw me! Meanwhile, his sister and my cousin sneaked my photograph to go and show him. That was when he too recalled that he had seen me and started making enquiries. That was how we got to meet. So God's hands was in it because if I had rebelled and refused to listen to my mother's relations and gone to Lagos, there was no way that I would have met my husband. Right there in Edo state, God connected me to my husband. Afterwards we got married. He kept coming from the US to visit and our relationship grew. I was actually interested in going for my Masters which was to be in Lagos, but just when I was to go and do that, he came and we had to relocate to the US where I eventually did my Masters in Public Administration at the University of Pittsburgh. 
When did the children come along?
It was while I was doing my Masters. Laster on, i realised that I could do a dual course that is Public Administration and Law which had always been my dream. That was towards the end of my Masters degree programme. But I was unperturbed, because i still wanted to do it. Lo and behold, I shared this with my husband and he was totally against it. I had gone to the faculty to get all the necessary forms, but he was against it surprisingly. With that situation, i finished my Masters and concentrated on doing a Ph D. But guess what, I couldn't proceed with it because I got pregnant for my third child. It wasn't an easy pregnancy, so I couldn't proceed for a Ph D and till now, I have not been able to do that.  
At what point did you return to Nigeria?
While I was there in the US, my husband completed his Ph D in the same department where I was doing Public Administration. At that point, he opened a management consultancy firm. He had the idea of doing that over there and here in Nigeria at the same time. So he was going back and forth between the US and Nigeria. I was therefore in charge of the office in America while he shuttled. In the course of that, there was a project on security that we were involved in the US. I actually sold my first security system over the telephone which people thought was not possible. However, I got a white person to go over to that family, to install it. That was unique and almost not done because when buying security systems people always insist on knowing who they are buying from. Some of the big security companies in Pittsburgh had gone there to make a pitch but did not succeed. I was called from the yellow pages because our company was listed there. After that, there were more orders for our security products. After a while I decided to come back home to Nigeria to sell security systems because I have always been a patriot. I moved back to Nigeria and we expanded. While we were doing the management consulting, I used my old student's network here in Nigeria, to expand the security business. Initially it was Trans-world Consulting before we created the subsidiary Trans-world security.
Tell us about your life in the US and life in Nigeria
I had the options to be on the side of US and same option to be a Nigerian. But I am a true Nigerian. It was almost a battle for me to come back here. That is because my husband wanted me to stay back in the US and raise the children there, while he would be going back and forth Nigeria. I wanted to come back home. I was actually there for 9 years without a visit to Nigeria!

So when I came back to Nigeria, my husband thought I was on a visit but I knew otherwise. I had packed my critical stuff. By that time. I had 3 children. He was still going back and forth, managing the business over there and here. But after a while over there, he couldn't help but ask when I was returning to the US. That was when I told him that if it took me 9 years to stay over there before coming to Nigeria, then I am not rushing to return to the US. We had a little disagreement over it on the phone, but that didn't change my mind. I went to kaduna where I stayed with my parents then came to Lagos where my husband was living, though at that particular time, he was in the US. By the time he came to Nigeria, I had already enrolled my children into schools here. I had already integrated. I was running the office and the children were in school. So we just continued. We didn't have any other discussion about it, except for that initial phone disagreement. God has helped to move our business forward. As long as I can go to the US from time to time, that is okay for me. 

Does that mean he is more in the US now?

Not really, we go to the US from time to time. It was going for us in the US, we had an apartment building, the security business there was growing, but I wanted to be on this side, it's a different life on this side, where I get to see my siblings and parents.

Is any of your children interested in what you do?

Well, my first son was in the military in the US. He is a citizen. He left the military as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was about to become a Captain when he left the military because he wanted to concentrate and finish his Masters degree programme. He has a security background. I tried to get him a little bit into it but he is not here yet. So what we are looking at is for him to do whatever he wants to do now until he is ready then he can come and take this business to another level. My next child after him is a medical doctor. She is in a different field entirely. She is in the US, while the third child a lady, came to work here with us. In fact there was a time that I wasn't around, she acted as the managing director. She has a Masters degree in Marketing from Chicago  and was working in the US but asked that she should be transferred to the Nigerian office. When she was here, she did very well. The girl after her is presently working with us. She just had a baby and presently on leave from the office. We are going to let them decide when they want to come in here, the business is here for them. 

Ageing seems to have favoured you because you don't look like a grandma?

Yes, I am a grandma, a big grandma indeed. I have four grand children.

How do you keep such a healthy figure and how do you handle men's advances?

I try to do that, God has been helping. I do not carry my problems on my shoulders. I hand them over to God and move on. When people carry their problems on their shoulders, they age fast. I watch my weight, I don't eat too much, it is better to age gracefully so I am careful about what I eat. I do not eat too late in the evening. I guess my background has helped me in the sense that I went to a catholic school, where we were taught moral values. That was one of the best gifts that my parents gave me. You may say that I look good now, but I know that in those days, I looked really good. Now I am an old woman. But because of those moral value, I know that I have to be careful with my reputation, the family name which is still very important but which as a society, is missing right now. Like you know, Edo State now has a bad reputation for prostitution and girls running off abroad, but that wasn't the way we were brought up during my early days. We were brought up to care about the family name and who we become. From an early age, we are told that our reputation is important, getting married is important, and excelling in school was important to ease one out of poverty. So it has always been important for me to focus so that I can excel.  

Tell us about life as a grandma, how did you cope with the first grandchild and how do you cope with them all now?

Being a grandma is one of the best thing that can happen to any woman. It is a gift just as it was in my case. My first grand child was from my son. He wasn't married to the black American girl. He just called my husband and I one night and told us that so-so person is pregnant and is going to have a child, and that he wants us to take care of the child! We asked him, why are you having a child outside wedlock? We went through all that, and at the end of the day, we are the one taking care of the child. But there was a time when all the children went away and I had an emptiness. The little boy became the only one that was with me. And when you are with a little boy at home, you know there are some things that you just have to do, irrespective of your age. I have 3 children from my daughter. It is a sweet feeling. The name I gave the little boy is Osarene which means God's gift to me. I didn't ask for a child but God gave me a gift of a child, it is a beautiful thing.


You are the African Advisory Council Chairman for ASIS International which is a body for security experts, you are also a member of the Board of Trustee of ASIS Foundation the Managing Director of Trans-World Security Systems Ltd and a member of many social associations, how do you cope with all that?

(Laughs) Being the MD of Trans-World Security alone is a big job on its own. we also have the School of Management and Security where we do a lot of training. My dad said I should do education and I kept fighting him over it. But later in our school, I became one of the faculty members where I teach, so I am back to education all over again. A lot of the skill I leant in education then has come to play. So there is no education that is wasted. It always comes back. When I was munch younger, when I go in to teach those elderly men they look at me somehow. But after the lecture, I get a standing ovation. That was part of the skills and experience I got from education. We have just finished the ASIS Security Conference last week, and I am an old girl of St Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School, I am active in the alumni association activities, I have been the National President. We actually also just recently had our Convention, where we used the opportunity to re-build the school fence. It was commissioned by the Governor of Edo state who sent a Commissioner to represent him. The same Commissioner also represented the state SSG at the event. We also had the AGM and then a thanksgiving after which I handed over the mantle of leadership to someone else after a four year tenure. It has always been joggling for me, because some of these assignments are big work to be done. Being busy keeps me away from trouble. And I feel fulfilled when I accomplish tasks.

What does fashion and style mean to a top executive like you?

As a female top executive, I know that I must portray myself in a respectful and elegant way. At the office, I may have to go out to see just anybody and same for those who may come in to see me without notice. I still sell as an MD despite the fact that I have people in the field. And I know that before anyone buys from me, they have to accept me first. I happen to be in a man's world which is the security industry. God has really been helpful to have made me excel and get to the top even as a woman at the top in the security field in the African region, and still earn the respect of my peers, so I have to respect myself and give respect to others. So with all these, my fashion has to be conservative but remain elegant. I do not follow the trend so much, I stick to what makes me comfortable.

What fashion accessories do you not do without?

I wear jewellery even with simple clothing but nothing out of place.

How about music?

I love music, but has to be music that comes with meaning. I like music that I hear the words and the words makes meaning to me. It also has to be words that I can meditate on.

How about dance, do you dance?

Oh, I love dancing, I could be on the dance floor all night! I remember when I had my second child, I went with my husband to attend a graduation party and there was music. I was pregnant but dancing. I was happy and it showed. The next morning, I was cleaning the television screen in the US, because there was no cleaning person around and guess what happened, my water broke! So I had the baby seven weeks early. She is today the one that is a medical doctor. (Laughs) I still love to dance.

What future are you looking at for yourself?

I have always wanted to do a Ph D. Even last night I told my daughter that 'you became my Ph D (Laughs)' that is because my husband had no problem with me starting the PhD but that was the time that I got pregnant and it wasn't an easy pregnancy! Since then, I have tried to start but I have not been able to find the time to do it. So I am hoping that sooner or later, I will find time to do it. Again I will like to work on a succession plan. I am praying that by the grace of God, we get a child that will come in and be more available at the office so that I can travel around the world and see my grand children. I travel right now but I usually have to rush back to work. I love to travel but my husband doesn't love to travel too much. I wish he loves travel which could make it easier. Some of my daughters love to travel, so I pair up with any one of them to travel and have fun. We work so hard but we also do not have time to enjoy. It will be good to travel when I feel like and work when I feel like which right now I do not have the privilege to do.
























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