Mrs. Juliet Nneka Nwaeme is a multi-talented woman, a social media influencer, politician, teacher and a philanthropist with a heart of gold. Her teaching career, social media crusading, political life and philanthropy has touched many lives, mostly, the vulnerable and less privileged children.
Julesville Omalicha, as she is fondly called, operates her NGO, Adaobi Caring Hands Foundation, with personal fund, in her bid to cater for the less privilege in the society.
Similar desires to fight for the rights of common people on the political front drove her into politics where she vied for councillorship post in Ward I Ajeromi-Ifelodun state constituency in Lagos state under the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
In this interview with Ada Nwanagum, the kind-hearted, gentle but assertive lady, bares her minds on what life has thrown at her, her aspirations and her efforts to make the society a better place. Excerpts:
Could you say a little about yourself?
My name is Nweme Juliet. I am a native of Azia town in Ihiala local government area of Anambra state, but got married to Okija man in the same Ihiala council area. I live and work in Lagos as a classroom teacher; and have been teaching for the past 18 years in a public primary school, Ebenezer Nursery and Primary School, Ajegunle, Lagos state.
I did part of my primary education at Army Children School, Kakuri in Kaduna state (from primary 1 to 4) then, later completed my primary education at my hometown; Community Primary School, Azia.
I later proceeded to St. Anthony Secondary School, Azia, where I did my Junior Secondary School examination. Later, I went back to the northern part of Nigeria to live with my elder brother and there, I wrote my Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) at Datyem Memorial College, Zamko-Langtang, Plateau state.
I am a married woman with two lovely girls, although, nature had not been fair to me on the part of child bearing, because, I actually gave birth to five (5) kids, but only two survived. However, I thank God for everything.
My two daughters are into education courses, which they fell in love with (not forced) in their various universities; and I intend to be a proprietress in the nearest future and with them, it will be a family thing and it’s because we are very passionate about impacting in people.
I am a humanist and very passionate about women empowerment and girl-child education. I believe that the best legacy one can leave for humanity is to mould lives and re-orientate them so that they will have positive mindset towards life and their outlook generally.
How would you describe your growing up?
Growing up in my family was wonderful. My Dad was a polygamist with three wives and my mum was the second wife. I am the overall last born of the family of 15 children. My family is a large one, but growing up was fun because, I grew up in the mist of people that love family structure. In fact, our watch word is love, no discrimination; even till our adulthood.
Ours was basically an average family, and we all attended schools. Dad was a farmer; my step-mums were traders and my mum was a farmer and a trader too. So, everybody was just about doing their own business. The women had their own investments and farms; it was a typical polygamous family; not like what have now where hatred is everywhere. There could be rivalry then, but we, the children, didn’t know of any; and there was no physical fighting among the co-wives. Sometimes, if dad wanted to make trouble with any of the wives, the rest would join forces against him.
They wore the same uniform, attended the same meetings, organisations and church. So, there was so much love and we all lived in peace and love. So, I grew up with so much love that I had so much love in giving; and that informed my decision to become a teacher.
Amongst your parents, siblings and relatives, who impacted more in your life during your formative age?
I am the last born of the house; my movement had always been baby-sitting my siblings’ kids. I visited them anytime any of them gave birth in any part of the country. I lived in Kaduna was with my maternal uncle. Then, I went to Plateau state to live with my elder brother, late Mr. Michael Nwamaradi, where I had part of my secondary school education.
I would say that he had influenced my life the most, because, he understood me so much and I lived with him during my teenage years. It was at that point that the woman in me was basically shaped. He (elder brother) had been there for me, guiding my every steps; sometimes, we did disagree and he would scold me; but he would, again, call me to pet and cuddle me and then, explain the reason for scolding me. He gave me the spirit and drive to act on issues that seems impossible. He made me believe that nothing is impossible to achieve, if one sets one’s mind to achieve it. Based on that, I have never seen any situation that will throw me off balance or weigh me down because, I will always find a way in the midst of the challenge.
Could you recall incidents during your childhood formation that influenced your life today?
The childhood experience that shaped the person I am today is my eating habit. You know, once a baby gets to six or eight months old, they are introduced to solid foods, but because I am the last born of the family, I rejected a lot of solid foods, especially anything swallow. I was doing tea, plantain and stuffs like that. I was selective when it comes to foods. Those days, every child is the child of the community and they always pet me by buying stuffs they knew I loved to eat and bringing them to my mother to keep for me. Sometimes, mum would go to buy and they would give her extra. There was a corner in the house where my foods were stocked, because, sometimes, my mum would be preparing one kind of food and I would be desiring another. They saw it as a burden on my mum, having a child, who would not eat what others were eating. I was close to nine years when my mother begged me to choose a soup I wanted and she would kill a chicken for me if I should eat swallow. That was how I started eating swallow and there was a celebration to it because, many people gathered to watch me swallow fufu for the first time.
So, when I started growing up, the pictures kept re-enacting. Who am I for people to be bringing me things that I loved to eat? I told myself, if people had done this much for me, I would go out of my way to make sure that no child that comes my way would go hungry. I may not be able to feed all the children in the world, but if I can touch a soul/life then, I will be glad. So, that childhood incident really shaped and made the woman in me today.
Any fizzled childhood dreams or fantasies, could you share them with us?
One dream, or, could I say fantasy, that fizzled out was my intention of having eight children. (Laughs). This is because my mum had nine children and lost five through still births and infant mortality. So, we remained four. Though, I was born much later after my elder ones, when I went out to other people’s houses and saw, say, 8, 7, or 9 children, I asked my mum what happened that we were just four and she told me how she lost her five kids and then, I would pet her to cry no more that I would give her eight children when I get married.
Apart from that, every other thing that I had dreamt of being or had aspired to be came in place, one after the other. I think I am living my dream; I aspired to become a lawyer, now, I am a final year student in law. Even though I intended to have eight biological children, in a way now, I have more than eight children. It does not matter how they come; as a classroom teacher, in a period of 18 years, I have made so many children that are not biologically mine; but are mine, because, when a child comes to school for the first time and I hold his hand to write for the first time, and after some time, like four to five years, he can read and write and I spend hours with them every day, invariably, they are my children.
My greatest achievement is being a mum, a mother and that is the greatest job I have had. Somebody that other children can look at and wish I was their mother. What other achievement can I possibly have as a civil servant? I live a modest live. I can afford the good things my life needed, you know. It’s not basically about monetary achievement, but if we are able to achieve a balance in whatever you are doing, that’s an achievement. There are certain point you get in life and you start looking at self-actualisation and not material things. I discovered who I am early and now, I am living my dream. So, I think self-discovery and self-actualisation are the greatest achievement anybody can make in life. Funny enough, living and surviving in Nigeria is a very big achievement. If you lived in Nigeria, you didn’t commit crime, you have a legitimate business, send your kids to school and you are still surviving, my dear, it is a great achievement.
How did you make breakthrough in your career and what event made it happen?
Maybe, when I make my first billion then, I will call it a breakthrough, but for now, I am only surviving.
How do you handle issues related to sexual harassment and female intimation in your career?
In my career? Well, I am lucky to find myself in the primary school where the kids are still small, their hearts so tender and filled with love. So, the risk of sexual harassment is very minimal. Again, men are running away from teaching jobs mostly in the primary school, so, most teachers are females and sometimes, there might be a gateman, who is usually an old man, who might not know what is really going on in the main school block. But while I was in secondary school, during my teaching practice days and because of the ages of the people involved, you will see a student wooing/toasting a female teacher like and cases of male teachers harassing the female students. You can’t rule that out in the secondary school; but in the primary school where I belong, it’s not announced, and I have never seen any, except for kids, who have such experiences from family friends and relatives.
Imagine a lady being intimidated or harassed sexually over an issue, what would be your stand or word for her?
When a lady is sexually harassed, the best thing to do is to move away from the assailant. I have been advising and will always advice that it’s not as if you don’t have right to dress the way you want; but it’s better not to put yourself in harm’s way. Men are generally moved by what they see. There’s a certain way you will dress and a man, who is perverted will not notice you; but when you go on skimpy dresses and you are “baring it all” and stuffs like that, there is more possibility of being harassed.
I am not saying that women shouldn’t dress the way they want, because, I am a feminist and I am an advocate of choice. Whatever you want to do, as long as it’s not posing harm on anybody and it is legal, you are free to do it. But you should also consider you own safety first. It’s very important that we, the womenfolk, take our security very serious, because, times are perilous and some people are so perverted. Harassment, intimidation and issue of rape is more peculiar to men against women, because, women also harass men. But because a man will not come out and start announcing the harassment, it will seem as if its only men that harass the women.
Young boys get assaulted by elderly women too. We have instances where some aunties introduce their friend’s children to sex for the first time. Most young boys had been assaulted by the members of their families or their mum’s closest friends, but because of the stigma attached to sexual harassment and rape, people tend to pull back into their shells and keep it to themselves.
I have started teaching my pupils right from this stage of their lives that “see your breast and your penis or vagina (bum-bum), they are your private part and nobody, not even your dad, reserve the right to touch and play with it, except when your mum is bathing you. If anybody touches or plays with it, just tell your mother of your teacher.”
I do this whenever I am on duty, giving them pep-talk or moral instruction and I try to make them understand that even if their mother or elder ones don’t believe them, their teachers will always believe them. Every form of assault by any person(s) should be reported to someone; whether in an office, in the church, school etc. There should be a reportage of the act but whether people believe them or not, they should tell somebody, and by doing so, the issue of intimidation or sexual harassment will be eliminated to a large extend in our society.
Who amongst the Igbo career women could you call your idol or influencer?
Every day, every time, my all-time career woman is the former Director General (DG) of NAFDAC, Late Professor Dora Akunyili, may God bless her soul. She was very courageous, very kind and hard-working. From my own prospective, I think she is also a humanist for championing the fight for fake drugs in the country. Her purpose driven policies and advocacies that clamped down on those illicit drugs manufacturers saved lots of lives. I love Professor Ngozi Okonji-Iwala. She is a career driven woman and she is very purposeful. I also love Onyeka Onwenu, she is so charismatic and elegant that even at old age, she’s still looking very beautiful.
One career woman so personal and close to me is my mum. She is my number one career woman even before the above mentioned women. She may not have attended any school, but I saw the entrepreneurship spirit in her. My mum built a house for her son (my elder brother) before my half-brothers, and even before my brother finished his apprenticeship. The spirit of hard-work and entrepreneurship was impacted in me by my mum and that alone made her my number one career woman.
How do you wish to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as that woman, who lived her life touching other people’s lives. I want to be remembered as an advocate of equity, justice and fairness and, of course, I want to be remembered as that teacher, who taught me how to read and write in my formative years. I want some girls and boys to look back and say, “If not for teacher Juliet and her encouragement, I won’t have been who, what or where I am today.” And I also want those people that my foundation has touched to say that if not for this foundation, I wouldn’t have been off the street.
Do tell us about your foundation
I just decided to float a non-governmental organization and named it after my first child/daughter, Adaobi, who was late at the age of four. The name of the foundation is Adaobi Caring Hand Foundation. It’s less than a year now, and focuses on the less privileged. The fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goal is where I am pitched, which is quality education. But that does not mean I cannot venture into others. I have done a project this rainy season tagged, “One Sandal Per Child Project,” and right now, I am planning another project tagged, “Back To School Project,” where school children will be given school bags and books to start the next session. I am still looking to partner with bigger NGOs, private bodies, states and federal governments, so that we can achieve greater things starting in my area, Ajegunle, where you will see poverty in different shapes and colours. I know that sooner or later, I will quit classroom, but I won’t want to be very far away from classroom or school walls.
Could you drop a message of advice for the younger generation of women.
First and foremost, they should have a focus, know where you are going to and what you want to do; and, by doing so, it will be easy for you to tailor your energy and resources towards achieving that your goal(s). But when you want to do every business you see, where some other persons are doing and progressing already, you will just scatter your plans. Just be focused, be determined and then, follow your vision. Even if you have many dreams or visions, just make it a point of duty to achieve them one at a time. When you are done with one, then, you move to the next. If you want to be jack of all trades and still be a master of all, have a to-do list in order of priority.
It’s also good for women to balance their career, to strike a balance between their career and their home. I don’t like a situation where because a woman would want to be a career woman, then, she would neglect her family. Such neglect is the reason why we have a lot of juvenile delinquency in our society. What will you gain when you pursue money and career and loss your kids to crime, cultism etc. You will cry at the end and the society will also suffer.