Ibim Semenitari is a household name that needs no introduction. She is beautiful, humble, brilliant, brave, and intelligent. Ibim is an Ijaw woman from Rivers State.
She is an award-winning investigative journalist, editor and publisher who has worked for 32 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 other noble honours
She was interviewed by CityPeople Port Harcourt Business Development BUNMI DUROJAIYE after her mother, Dr Dame Christie Toby turned 80 recently in Port Harcourt. She spoke about her life after NDDC, Politics, and Covid-19.
Can you tell us about your life after NDDC?
Well, I have returned to my private life as a business person running my businesses- managing a group of schools as a family-owned business, and of course, doing my communication thing, So I have had some online interviews, I have been enjoying myself doing conversations with IB. I am on the board of a few companies here and there. Also, I enjoy farming, I am a farmer.
I am farming, I am running the schools and I am still doing some strategic communications now.
Can you talk about the schools and the farming separately so that we can enjoy you more?
Yes, I have a group of schools. It’s a family business actually started by my mother. The school turned 20 last year, and of course, management has shifted and my mum is now 80 and cannot be there, so the management has shifted.
It’s a group of six schools: a nursery and primary school in Woji, the ABEC Nursery and Primary School. We have another Nursery School at Iriebe. We have a boarding Secondary School. We have a day Secondary School. We have an A-Level and Advanced School where we offer foundation classes..
Yes, we have Partners in the UK, Canada and Dubai where you can finish that school and go straight into the University. We have an Inclusive School, where regular and non-regular children school together, whether they are exceptionally gifted children, whether they are physically impaired, hearing impaired, mobility challenges, we have them in that school and they are doing very well.
This is what we have as part of our business arm, we have JAMB CPT Centre, after school programme for JAMB and WAEC preparations.
And then, I have a farm, AMGAG Farms. On that farm, we have livestock, we have poultry, we have fish, pigs and then, we also have vegetables, corn, and other things.
We are trying to expand our farming sector a little bit more. We are trusting God that we will soon go into other elements of farming which post-production. We don’t just want to produce, we want to do a lot more manufacturing and we have an eye on export for our farm produce.
And come 2023, what if anybody says come, will you go back to politics?.
Eh, eh… (Laughs) Well, every man is a political being. We may be in politics and at different levels of politics. Everybody must not necessarily be in the frontline. But, are we going to continue to get involved? Yes, we must be involved in deciding our future and our destiny as people. I think it has reached the point where every Nigerian must actually get involved because we cannot leave our destiny in the hands of those who don’t care about us.
Everybody must campaign, everybody must not contest for office. Everybody must be able to decide who rules us because our country cannot be left in the hands of people where we don’t have a say.
So, am I going to remain in politics? Yes, I am here, my future cannot be decided by just a few. I will be there to take decision for my life, for my future and for my generation. That is different from if am I going to contest an election. That is not happening in the nearest future, but I am not going to rule it out. Tomorrow if I decide, I will contest, but right now, I am more interested in running my businesses
Again, running these businesses and making sure that they are on a sure footing is very important to me. I don’t believe that you should be doing politics if you don’t have a source of livelihood. For me, politics is not a career, it is not what will feed me. Politics is not what should feed anybody. We should be able to feed ourselves from other endeavours and then we can go ahead and contribute to politics.
So, my businesses are critical to me, they are key to me and that is what my focus is on. I want to grow them, I want to make sure they are standing and doing very, very well and then, we can be involved in politics to the extent that we want to have a say about how our lives are governed, because if I run these businesses and the wrong persons get in there and put in policies that will ruin my businesses, I am affected. So, every Nigerian, every Nigerian must get involved in politics in 2023.
Are you still in the APC because the party is no longer doing well in the state? Are you a PDP member or are you still in the APC?
I am a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, there is no doubt about that. I have revalidated my membership. That is my political affiliation. As of today, that is what it is and, if I choose to change my mind I will let everybody know and definitely I am not a card-carrying member of the PDP and I am not planning to join the PDP. As at today, I do not believe the PDP provides the alternative that we need, so I am in the APC. If tomorrow I see another party that offers more for the country, and I am so inclined I may join it but as of today, I am a member of the APC.
Talking about your party at the federal level, are you people doing well?
I am one person who believes that government is not infallible. I don’t think that government is all and in all. Government doesn’t know everything, government is human beings and human beings will make mistakes and that is why we are human beings.
But, I think the APC can do better absolutely. The APC is doing the best it can do? No, I don’t think so. Even the President has acknowledged that. Are there challenges? Yes, enormous challenges across the country. The security challenges, all of us see it. It will be wrong for anyone to say there are no challenges. I am sure that those in authority are cracking their brains and trying to figure out how to resolve them. There are challenges, In Kaduna, children were abducted, it grieves my heart, I am crying.
In Rivers State policemen were being killed, it is depressing. This is not about parties. I think we have a problem and we must come together as Nigerians to solve the problems. I believe we would get out of the challenges.
And the issue of COVID-19, some people are not taking it seriously, what’s your take on that?
It’s so unfortunate, because people have seen others die from it. Every Nigerian today must have known one human being that died from it. I will like to beg everybody. We must continue to follow all the norms and protocols provided for protection. Everybody should run and take the vaccine. I have taken my own as soon as I had the opportunity.
As school administrators, we are among the non-medical front liners. If you take the vaccine, you have about 81 per cent chance, even with Aztraceneca. Even for the few who don’t have that chance of not contacting, if you contract, it won’t be too serious.
So, you have a chance of staying alive, why do you want to gamble with the chances of staying alive? It is better to run and go and take the vaccine. Nigeria has about 0.1 or 0.3 per cent of our population being vaccinated, I watched that on the CNN. All of us should try and if you want the immunity, you must go and be vaccinated, that is the solution.
On the security situation in the country, what is your advice and what do you think governments, local, state and federal can do to safeguard the peoples’ lives?
Honestly, the security situation is very troubling and it goes back to the issue of community policing. When you find a strange character in your neighbourhood you know, so we need to begin to make policing to the grassroots, it is the only way. It is getting everybody at the grassroots, at the local level involved. You recruit policemen from the neighbourhood, so policemen live among the people as they do in other countries.
So, in Woji, the policemen managing Woji live in Woji, work in Woji and will go to market in Woji. Intelligence is key to policing. So, ahead of time, they know the local intelligence. They know the hotspots and the bad spots, so policing with no intelligence makes no sense. We need to begin to rethink our policing model. That is the way to start fro. Is it going to eliminate everything, no. it will reduce it.
Finally, what is your take on the sentiments in some quarters that Nigeria should divide?
Unfortunately, for many reasons I am not a proponent of a divided Nigeria. I don’t know if we sit down and think about what wars do to countries whether we really think it is the best for us, I really don’t think it is.
However, I believe in the federal republic of Nigeria which means that federating units should be in charge of their destinies. We need to practice true federalism as it ought to be, that is what the US has. Nigerians need to talk to themselves, we are not talking to each other, and we are talking at each other. Politicians are screaming at each other and calling for wars.
Nnamdi Kanu is not here, the boys who are being killed on the street, none is his child or brother. His family live in the UK, getting free medicals, free this and free that. And like all of us who have green passports, if war happens, we can’t cross to Burkina Faso, we can’t cross to Ghana. Ghana will close border, Togo and Cameroon will close border. Some of them who are beating drums of war have many passports, their countries will receive them. All I have the green passport.
Now, my very last question. You are a politician and from Rivers State and despite everything you didn’t leave this town?
You know the interesting thing is that I had lived all my life outside Port Harcourt. I left Port Harcourt at age 15, I only retuned when I was well over 40 to work because of political appointment. And, of course, there was a family business that needed to be run and I said to myself, rather someone said to me, why don’t you take all of these schools. If these schools were in Abuja they will do so well, if it’s in Lagos you will make so much money. And I said to myself, don’t Rivers people deserve it. I am proudly a Rivers woman, proudly Nigerian and proudly an Ijaw daughter. This is my root. I am proud of my root.
I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t owe anyone. As God has helps us we have done public service with our hearts and with our mind. I trust God to defend me, this is my State