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Jake of all Trades; Master of all

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September 28, 2017

 

I had this interview with Jake Okechukwu Effoduh in 2015 when I was working with an online magazine, one thing lead to another and it was not published. But I kept it, knowing that one day I was going to share this great interview with you all. Jake has been able to establish himself as a force to reckon with. He has continued to inspire countless people and his story shows how much difference the Nigerian youth can make in a society that yearns for change.

From 2006-2013, Effoduh co-hosted Flava, the most popular radio programme in Nigeria at the time, which was syndicated to 103 stations and reached over 25 million weekly listeners. The show aimed squarely at raising sexual and reproductive health awareness and preventing the spread of HIV. For it, Effoduh travelled extensively around Nigeria engaging with youth and challenging stigma. In 2013, Effoduh moved to host Talk Your Own: Make Naija Better, a weekly BBC Media Action radio programme covering governance issues, which is syndicated across 150 stations. The show features interviews and discussions, and invites audience participation to improve awareness on governance. Focusing on topics around education, electricity, water and roads, Talk Your Own explores ways people can participate in governance decisions that affect their lives, including through engagement with leaders and government institutions, public petitions and legal protest. Thus, a broadcasting career which begun as youth seeking to fund himself through school, has become a means for Effoduh to contribute to grass-roots empowerment across an entire region.

Meanwhile, Effoduh graduated from the University of Abuja with honours in 2010 and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 2012. He also graduated from the University of Oxford Masters in International Human Rights Law programme in 2016, and is now engaged in anti-corruption work as Legal Officer at a think-tank advising on the prosecution of corruption charges and criminal justice law reform in Nigeria. He is an Assistant Director and a Fellow of the Council on African Security and Development; and founder of the Lawyers League for Minorities in Nigeria, an NGO of human rights lawyers that provide pro bono legal services to Nigerians who suffer discrimination and abuse based on their minority status. His human rights legal work includes defending workers’ rights, promoting socioeconomic rights, advocating for those persecuted because of their sexual orientation, and promoting the legal protection of sex workers. In addition, Effoduh has worked to assist indigent people diagnosed with sickle cell anemia to access better healthcare. Particularly, he served as the Vice President of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation from 2010 to 2013 and worked in commencing the Know Your Genotype campaign in 2012 to support the foundation’s free genotype testing for Nigerians.

 

Effoduh’s many awards include: International Law Research Scholar, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Canada (2017); Distinguished Hubert Humphrey Leadership Award, U.S. Department of State (2016); Distinguished Dutch Visitors Award, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands (2016); African Broadcaster of the Year (2016);  Africa Youth Choice Award for Human Rights and Advocacy (2015); Ambassador, National Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (2015); Future Awards Prize for Best in Community Activism in Africa (2014); and Best Community Journalist, Nigeria Radio Awards (2012). In 2015, Ventureburn.com listed Effoduh as one of 50 Africans who would transform the continent.

 

Effoduh is currently the Harry W. Arthurs Fellow of the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Canada where he is pursuing graduate research.

 


 

Awwal:

Let me start by asking you this: Who in your interpretation is a Human Right Activist?

Jake:

Anyone who is actively doing something, anything, to promote or protect the human rights of others is a human rights activist.

Awwal:

Was there any event in your life that influenced you to become a Human Rights Activist?

Jake:

The bewildering levels of injustice and inequality in Nigeria and indeed many countries across the world are persuasive enough. I didn’t need to wait for a personal experience to become a human rights activist. We don’t have to look too far for examples. Is it not unfounded that we are an oil-dependent economy yet we allocate oil wells to private individuals? How can the principal natural resource that sustains the economy and endowed by nature to the citizens, and thus collectively owned, be put in the hands of a private few. How? Since the 1980s, the Nigerian governments have betrayed the public trust by systematically selling off or allocating to private individuals the various oil wells that constitute the primary source of the country’s national wealth. This is a human rights violation. It may have been disguised as part of a market-driven agenda of privatization of state-owned enterprises recommended by the country’s international creditors in the 1990s but truly it is robbing the citizens their economic and social rights. On all accounts it is a rotten policy for the country, and for millions of its long-suffering citizens who, on any given day, are deprived of the most basic of entitlements and amenities. This is just one example out of a thousand others.

Awwal:

What in your opinion is the most important Human Right?

Jake:

There is no “most important” human right per se. Every human right is important. Some people might argue that the right to life is the most important, after all if you don’t have life how can you enjoy other rights? Good point, but I disagree because you can have life and not be living, if you get what I mean. Therefore freedom and liberty is also as important. If you restrict a rat to a confined space, it will go on a hunger strike until it dies. Of what value is life if you don’t have food to survive; or cannot enjoy freedom? The same applies the right to a healthy environment because these fundamental entitlements are a prerequisite to living. So all human rights are important, that is why these rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Awwal:

Do you think Community activism and empowerment can take Africa away from the surge in bad leadership?

Jake:

When I think of great activists like Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe and Gani Fawehinmi, and I see the various communities they have empowered, I am convinced that the singular action of one person can turn the tide of history forever. So I usually wonder, what if we had three more of each of such people in Africa? What if we had ten? Do not underestimate the potential in empowering people because you’ll be amazed what one person can do with the right motivation. I actually believe that is how great leaders are made. In Africa, we cannot blame anyone for the kind leadership we see, because it is our duty to take responsibility for who we select as leaders but then again, the generation before us was motivated by an activism and an enthusiasm, which we cannot regenerate, because we confront tasks of a different kind from those which our fathers faced.

Awwal:

As a lawyer, tell me, do you think the Nigerian Judiciary system is favorable to people that have been abused?

Jake:

Hardly. Our judicial system is obsolescent and dysfunctional. I know research shows that there has been some improvement with our justice delivery and the reliance of the masses on the courts but many of our laws are anachronistic with huge gaps in procedure. How can there be the maintenance of law and order in a system where it has almost become impossible to reach closures in criminal cases. Look at our prisons, there is not a single prison in Nigeria that isn’t overcrowded. Not one! 70% of inmates are awaiting trial. Many of them have even exceeded the term of imprisonment for which they were accused. Is that not crazy? Lets take Awka prison in Anambra State for example; the building capacity is designed for about 200 inmates but they have more than 500 inmates inside. Only about 28 of them are convicts while 481 of them are awaiting trial. And when you look at the offences they are charged for, you’ll be amazed that they are minor offences like petty theft. You and I know the real people who deserve to be serving jail terms for their massive atrocities, but on the contrary they are chilling in their air conditioned houses and being celebrated on the media. So this system is like a huge cobweb with many defects. And this cobweb may hang small insects like spiders but it definitely cannot hang cows. Sacred cows.

Awwal:

So what can we do about this?

Jake:

We need reforms. This cannot be overemphasized. All three components of the system must be revamped: the judicial process, the corrections and the law enforcement. For example, I see no reason why our policemen should not undertake the kind of legal education and training we get from our law schools. If a man will enforce the law, shouldn’t he at least know in detail, the law he will be enforcing? We have to find a solution to the delay in the dispensation of criminal justice in this county; it is frustrating. We have to de-congest the prisons, if for nothing, for the sake of reducing tuberculosis at the very least. We have to do away with our outdated procedures. Punishments should not be restricted to fines and imprisonments only. Our procedural laws should be explicit on time frame for every performance of statutory duty in court. Finally, our system holds little or no protection to victims of violence and there is also a very limited access to justice for the poor. This is one of the reasons why I set up an NGO that provides pro-bono legal services to indigent persons.

Awwal:

Sometime in 2014 you broke the Internet with The 42 Rules of Engagement for Nigerian House Girls, what prompted that campaign?

Jake:

[Laughs] It wasn’t a campaign actually. They are just a list of rules I came up with; just for fun, and I shared them with some colleagues. They shared it with their friends and it spread like that. However, most of the rules, if not all of them, made reference to certain human rights and freedoms that everybody should be entitled to, whether or not they are domestic servants.

Awwal:

Can you share some with us?

Jake:

Sure. I made reference to some labour and employment issues in domestic service. Like in Rule 30 I said a domestic servant should be entitled to at least one month of leave in a year. In Rule 37 I said, “if you keep her working till late night, please compensate her by allowing her a few hours of morning sleep. Also, you cannot enter cab and ask her to trek.” And then in Rule 42 I talked about the need for house girls to receive their complete remuneration and promptly too. Rule 7 says “She is allowed to look for a better madam even under your employ. You cannot ban or frustrate her from seeking better employment”. Rule 10: Under no circumstance should you barb her hair without her consent.” Rule 12: “Don’t tell her to carry load that you yourself cannot carry.” [Laughs]. They aren’t rules per se, just my way of promoting the good treatment of domestic servants.

Awwal:

Any criticisms?

Jake:

Of course! Trust Nigerians [Laughs].  Some people didn’t like Rule 17 where I said “Let her eat whatever you’re eating. You cannot cook Christmas rice and chicken and you ask her to boil water for Eba for herself.” And surprisingly Rule 35: “Don’t go through her text messages and don’t pick her calls except she can pick yours and read yours too”. [Laughs]. Like I said, the main purport of the rules is basically to promote fair and humane treatment of domestic servants.

Awwal:

You won the 2014 Future Awards in Community Action, and you were also listed by ventureburn.com as one of the “50 young Africans who could totally transform the Continent” How does it feel like to be recognized for your selflessness and hard work?

Jake:

It feels great and I am indeed very grateful. When you are doing a thing that takes your time, resources and energy, and even puts your life at risk sometimes, such recognition is highly appreciated. It tells me that my work is valued. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve, and the ability to do the work that I do.

Awwal:

How do you balance being an Activist, Attorney, Actor, Abuja global shaper, a Broadcaster and the Vice-President of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation?

Jake:

There’s nothing to balance actually. I try to intersect my job with the things I have a passion for, and I live by the common principle of doing whatever your hand finds to do, and doing it well.

Awwal:

You recently headed a campaign called #FreeAndEqualNaija, Can you elaborate on what the campaign was about?

Jake:

It was for the International Human Rights Day, which we celebrate every 10th of December. For 2014, the United Nations tagged it “celebrating 20 years of changing lives through human rights.” Instead of organizing a celebration amidst our meager human rights achievements, I and a few other human rights defenders decided to do an educative media campaign. Our message was and still is, that all Nigerians are entitled to respect and dignified treatments, no matter who they are. From women and girls; internally displaced persons; persons living with (dis) abilities; LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex Persons); senior citizens; persons living with HIV and every marginalized and vulnerable section of our larger community must be accorded equal rights. We adapted the UN’s Free and Equal Campaign for LGBT Equality because LGBTI persons are one of the most marginalized persons in Nigeria and we wanted to throw more light on LGBT equality, something most human rights activists in Nigeria are scared of doing. So the campaign reached out to millions of Nigerians through radio interviews on 6 radio stations across the country; newspaper publications on national dailies; blog posts and twitter campaigns which reached about 300, 000 persons on twitter alone. The #FreeAndEqualNaija campaign highlighted many human rights violations but promoted the equality of all persons, hoping that one day soon we will all live in a Nigeria that protects all the fundamental human rights of its diverse citizenry equally.

Awwal:

You were invited by the Pope to draft a new social contract for the world, how did that go, also what do you think about the new Pope, most especially his unorthodox stance on certain contemporary ethical issues?

Jake:

I really love this Pope. He is a progressive non-conformer. My meeting at the Vatican was organized by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the Holy See and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. They called together 80 leaders from around the world, and we all met in Rome to explore ways of overcoming social and economic exclusion. The meeting was inspired by the teachings of Pope Francis contained in his book, “Evangelii Gaudium”. His Holiness posits that, “Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life”. With a billion and a half of the world’s population living in slums, the current social inequality has resulted into a global economic dysfunction. Economic and social inequalities are in my opinion the root causes of social evil. This is evidenced by Oxfam’s statistics revealing that more than half of the world’s population owns the same wealth as the richest 85 persons. So we examined the drivers of inequality and explored novelties from the private and public sectors, and civil society that can help build more inclusive, entrepreneurial economies that are based on the principles of love and respect for all people.  The outcome of the meeting was the creation of a new social contract for all human progress, which will provide essential resources for economic engagement; ensure well-functioning institutions, rights and responsibilities; and enable all global citizens to lead purposeful lives.

Awwal:

You anchored Flava, a youth lifestyle and sexual reproductive health magazine programme for almost 7 years and you travelled to all 36 states of Nigeria doing this programme. What did it mean to you?

Jake:

It has so far been the most valuable experience of my life and it is still one of the biggest projects I ever undertook. Not because of the recognition and popularity it brought me, but because of the magnitude of impact the programme generated.  As one of the outputs of the BBC Media Action in Nigeria, the highest level of media professionalism was invested into the programme and I am so grateful to have been a part of it. Flava inflamed my passion for human rights. And prior to Flava, I had no experience in radio broadcasting, so everything I have learned as a radio presenter started with Flava. But Flava wasn’t just a radio programme, it was a movement: A powerful movement that has shown us how one radio programme can realize the behavioral change of millions of people, especially in a country as diverse as Nigeria. From being aired on 25 stations in its first year, the programme was aired in 115 radio stations in its seventh year. Personally, I cannot compare the experience I gained presenting the programme to anything else because I have seen so much, I have learned so much and I have come to know so many amazing people around the country. For example, Matilda Ogunleye who I mostly presented the programme with is now like a best friend to me.

Awwal:

What would you say about the HIV/AIDS awareness level in this part of the world, to what extent did your programme help raise this awareness?

Jake:

Flava started in 2005 when the awareness on HIV was very minimal and at best highly misunderstood. The programme focused on sensitizing Nigerians on the modes of HIV transmission and the ways to prevent same but it also delved into issues relating to HIV care and treatment, as well as dealing with HIV discrimination and stigma. The programme pushed very hard against every misconception, prejudice or taboo – from discussing the proper ways of condom use in a market square, to featuring documentaries of several people living positively in spite of their HIV status, the programme used so many innovative ways to tackle issues relating to HIV.  According to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, the HIV prevalence in Nigeria is now on the decline but that doesn’t mean the awareness should reduce. In fact it should be amplified so that greater results can be achieved. Only until we achieve zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths, we should never rest on our laurels.

Awwal:

Before you go, tell me one Personal thing you’ve never been asked in an interview.

Jake:

[Laughs] I have never been asked what I will like to eat.

Awwal:

[Laughs] Okay sir we will sort that out after this. Thank you so much for your time Mr. Jake Okechukwu Effoduh. It has been a pleasure spending time with you.

Jake:

I am most obliged.

3 Comments

  1. Deyemi says:

    Brilliant and apt. Very enlightening as well.

  2. Marilyn says:

    This is such a great individual. He is such an inspiration.

  3. Peetaa says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I have immense respect for the work Jake does and how much impact he has made. I remember always listening to Flava years ago and I never thought someone my age was the anchor. I see him going places and I’m proud to know him. May he be a beacon of hope for my generation. Thank you Awwal for this beautiful read.

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