My relationship with street girls –Jennifer Eliogu
7/3/2012 2:37:48 PM -
Popular actress and founder of IDEAS, a non-governmental organisation, Jennifer Eliogu, enjoys what she does for a living. She says acting is a good platform that opens doors and attracts favours to her but that she is careful with what she does and where she is seen. She tells Adaeze Amos in this interview how she started at the age of 16 to carve a niche for herself in show business.
How did you initiate the idea to found your organisation, IDEAS, and what does it stand for?
IDEAS is an acronym that stands for Initiative for Development, Empowerment and Absolute Stability. It is a non-governmental organisation. We do everything we can to help humanity. It is not about a particular ailment. We deal with the youths, women, children and try to help in any way that we can. Over the years, we had organised a couple of events for the youths where we bring them together and try to talk to ourselves, en-courage and empower ourselves with words and advices. We talk to one another; it's like an interactive session where you are able to pour out your mind, your heart. And then we are able to bring experts who advise and counsel.
Why only the youths, what of the society?
Because I have noticed that over time that the kind of empowerment that we need right now is not just physical, or financial. We need to empower with the right words so as to help them make the right decisions, to encourage them to look within themselves and find that inert ability. Every human being has a talent he or she was created with, so, if you can find that ability, that talent within you and be useful to yourself by extending your usefulness to the society. I believe you can empower an empty person. And when I say empty, it doesn't mean poverty. I'm not talking about poverty alleviation. It's not just poverty of the purse but poverty of the mind and that is the worst kind of poverty. But by the time we change the mind set, encourage us to look on the positive side, I think it is a starting point. If I'm use-ful to you, I'm useful to the society and crime would be reduced. You find out that you cannot pick a hungry person and say 'go and bomb that house' and he goes on to do it. It's poverty of the mind. It's not just poverty of the wallet. Hunger is not what makes people go into crime. It is the mind set. I am hungry so I will do whatever it takes to get out of poverty. But if you can't af-ford three square meals and you tell yourself there is something I can do to put food on my table, something positive, that is the mind set I'm talking about.
Have you considered women?
Talking about women, I have a couple of us there who go out to talk to girls in the streets. I mean commercial sex workers. For now you find that you have more corporate sex workers than you have commercial sex workers. That's the truth. A lot of young girls are being initiated into this thing and they call it runs. I spoke to a young girl at a time and she said to me 'be-cause I have crossed, because it is well with me' and I said to her you don't know where I started from, so you don't judge me.
Where did you start from?
I started when I was barely 16. I had a good background. I come from a comfortable family and I had a good upbringing. I might not be a perfect person because I make mistakes. I do some things maybe I'm not supposed to do sometimes because I'm human. We keep making mis-takes, you learn from your mis-takes. But then, if you find your-self in a position where you will be able to help the next person just by words of mouth, that is a lot. If you give me a hundred thousand naira and I don't know what to do with it, I will blow it away overnight. And I'll come back to you for another hundred thousand. If you don't give me, that's a problem. So, for the women, the funny thing is that they get this money and they use it to buy clothes, shoes and they go back to the street. Somebody said people go into prostitution be-cause they need to feed. But I ask, how many people are really feeding from prostitution? I don't think there are many of them. So, by the time every woman understands that this flesh, as the clock ticks, gets weaker. It's like a flower, we have a season, a time. There is something else you can do other than pros-titution. There is something else you can do other than stealing.
How many commercial sex workers have you been able to convince to leave the streets?
So far two, and when I convince you to leave the street, I try to get you something to do. I try to attach you to a fashion house if it is fashion designing you have a flair for. If it is hairdressing, we look for hairdressing salon to take you. Let me tell you, it is not easy to let them off the street because, number one, when you are talking to them they are looking at you like 'oh no be you actress, ehn because you have made money'? They don't know money didn't come overnight. So, I talk to them based on my life experiences, I talk to them based on what I have heard and seen.
What do you say about yourself that they can learn and change for the better?
I tell them the kind of family I come from. I know you may not be opportune to come from my kind of family but there are people who come from better families than mine. It is a choice, I decided by myself even when I knew that my father could pay my school fees, even when I knew that I needed to be loyal and everything and then get everything thaI wanted maybe on a platter of gold, I wanted to carve a niche for myself. I like music, I like acting and I saw myself do-ing what I love to do. There is nothing as good as doing what you have passion for. So, I keep telling them that as I am, I am nothing, I haven't got anything. Forget the glamour. Yes, we just dress up and do what we do but what have we got to show for it. It's just that acting gives you a platform to walk into certain places and get things done, and get favour at times. It opens doors if you use it well. It's a platform but you find that some of us also abuse the privilege of being an actor. A lot of youths walk up to me and say you are my role model. And I'm touched because I know I'm not a perfect being. There are certain things I know I shouldn't do and I do. That is why I'm a human being. But then, when you know that a lot of people are looking up to you, you make a conscious effort to give back; after all to whom much is given, much is also expected.
Does that mean you are living your life for your fans?
It is impossible to live my life for my fans. I live my life for myself because I know what is right and wrong. If I err in any way, even when I don't accept it, when I sit back, I reflect over it. I have a conscience and next time you don't want to do it again even if you don't come out to say okay it's wrong but you know it is not right and you don't do it again. And then you tell the next person I goofed, don't do it.
What were the things you did when you weren't known that you can't do now?
I think basically the only thing I can't do is that there are some certain places you can't be caught dead. I'm not an in-trovert but I'm not exactly an extrovert. You hardly find me at parties. But once in a while I unwind. I party once in a while. I'm not very good in taking alco-hol, I don't smoke but I have friends who do that. It doesn't influence me because I am me. I have my upbringing. Your style of life does not influence me. I do the things I think I'm comfortable with. I dress the way I feel comfortable in. I don't dress to please anyone.
Are you proud to be a woman?
I'm so proud to be a woman in a male-dominated society as Nigeria. In my next life time, I would like to come as a woman.
Why would you wish to come back as a woman?
It's a beautiful thing to be a woman. Don't you know what it is to be a woman? Come on, you are a woman, you should understand what I'm talking about. It's a graceful thing to be a woman, to be a mother, to be a wife, to be a girlfriend, to be a sister. God has given us a gift. I'm not saying men don't have that gift but you know He has bestowed on us that responsibility. We are mothers, forget if you don't have a child of your own yet. You are a mother. Every woman is a po-tential mother and you find that mother instinct in us all the time but if you have lost that along the line, well that's too bad. As a woman, God has given you the grace to protect. He has given you the grace to provide. You are not the head of the family but when a man provides and you cannot put it together it is your problem. At the given end, it is you that gives birth to the baby, it is you that takes care of the baby while he goes out to fend for the family and even when he cannot and God blesses you and gives you the financial strength, you do what you have to do and still be a woman. I love to be a woman, it's a beautiful thing.
Hasn't your marriage ever gone through one challenge or the other?
I can tell you that every marriage is going through something. I don't think there is a perfect marriage out there. Forget what we see in the tabloid - 'this and this, how I survived my marriage for 50 years and it has been blissful'. We are all actors but the difference is that we get paid for acting while the rest don't get paid for acting. I tell you, every mar-riage is going through something. And I pray God to give us the grace to endure. I would not say if it is life threatening, I'm not for that because in recent times we have seen that a lot of women have ended up dead because they want to hold on, because of social consciousness, 'what will people say if I leave'? Look, you are the one that wears the shoe so you know where it pinches, you know where it hurts. Remember I'm not for divorce. I believe in marriage, I believe in love, but if it is life-threatening, I can't say take a walk, but you have a decision to take. It's your decision. If you think you can go through that, believing God with prayers and all that, good luck to you. But when you know you can't take it anymore, it hurts so bad that you can't walk, then do the right thing.
What do you think about men who batter their wives?
They are cowards. If you are in such a marriage, you can walk away, it doesn't matter what it is. She cheats on you, it's wrong, I'm not for it but God is the fi-nal judge. Don't take the laws into your hands. What if you hit the wrong place, she falls and dies, how do you explain that you have loved her for 10 years? That was the first time you laid your hands on her, nobody would believe that. Walk away from it. You mustn't, only a coward hits his wife, girlfriend, sister, you don't do that. And then for women, you should know where you push him; know when you are stepping out of line. He has a temper, there is the tendency that anytime he is upset, he hits. Don't push him to that level where he starts fuming, walk away as well. I think we both have a lot of work to do - the men and the women. But ultimately we keep asking God to restore homes. A lot of homes are shaking, forget the pretences, forget the make-ups. People wear black-eye and then they put on black sunglass-es. It's sad and sometimes, it's our fault as women. We run our mouths so much. Sometimes we are arrogant because of the kind of jobs that we do. Some men get intimidated. If your wife earns bet-ter than you, appreciate her as long as she extends that kind of friendship, is submissive, respectful, appreciate her and you see God blessing you. There is a word of God in the Bible that says when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing and obtains favour from God. Until you find a wife and acknowledge that you have find a good thing that is only when God would favour you. But when you have a wife and then she is not enough for you, she is not good thing enough for you, you are still searching, you have a problem and you might search your whole life time without finding what you are looking for. I remember in the Bible that the only time God gave a man a wife was Adam and after that he said you find your wife yourself and that His job is to favour you. So find the right woman. Don't marry her because you think she is tall, she is pretty and she is a star. A lot of marriages are breaking because they were founded on a faulty founda-tion. When the foundation is rocky, when the foundation is not right, that building would crash. It doesn't matter how much gold you put while building it, at the slightest shake, it would crash and then it comes down. That is it, so it takes the grace of God.