SOCIETY met with Vivian Nwunaku Rose OKEKE, Ambassador of Nigeria and spoke with her about the situation of women in Nigeria and her priorities regarding her profession as an ambassador in Austria.
What is the percentage of female ambassadors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria?
At the present time, under president Muhammadu Buhari, there is a significant number of female ambassadors. Our constitution says that 30 percent in every appointment have to be given to women, our president even went beyond that quota.
You are married and have four children – do you think that it is harder for female ambassadors to combine their professional career and family life than it is for male ambassadors?
Well, it is very challenging, but having the support of your spouse and family makes it easier. In the diplomatic service, everybody is considered an officer, there is no gender. It is a matter of multi-tasking – being in the office and looking after the demands of the children. In the early years of my career my mother came with me to my diplomatic posting and when – like most times – I had to work very late, she was looking after the children. Now, I´m in the position to advise young officers – and I tell them: if you are advanced in your years and you have the possibility of getting married and having children, do it. Because the more advanced your career, the more demanding the job is. I won’t say, that it is harder for women to combine family life and career, because in my country, we say: What a man can do, a woman can do better.
Does Nigeria have a Diplomatic Academy of its own?
Yes, since 1979 we have a Diplomatic Academy for professional training for diplomats. Once, I have also been part of the directing staff of this Diplomatic Academy – being there for one year, I have been responsible for the smooth running of the academy. It is still based in Lagos, which was the former capital of Nigeria, with the prospect of moving to the new capital Abuja. We have a big campus in Lagos – it´s a residential program: all the student officers are living there and also retired ambassadors, who share their valuable experiences. We also have a collaboration program with other countries, whereby the most outstanding students are able to go to a Diplomatic Academy, like in the the UK or other countries.
Do you think, that there is a special solidarity between female ambassadors?
Yes, we try to create that solidarity. Especially, when you are a woman from a developing country the challenge to get into a higher position is difficult. You have to break through those barriers together, to give each other support. So we have a social network – a female ambassadors group, where we meet, we share experiences and give advice.
How is the situation of women in Nigeria? Does the government provide any projects regarding self-empowerment of women in Nigeria?
Because of the cultural factor, women face a difficult situation in Nigeria. They are often married off, before they can get their formal education. And like in every developing country, the chance for educating the boy first is very high. President Muhammadu Buhari has daughters of his own and wants to empower women in general. He is pushing for more education and there is a consciousness to empower and encourage women to stay in school and to get a profession. The wife of our president has founded a NGO empowering young girls, running a vocational school, giving them professional training in sewing, baking and hair dressing – just to have a skill that can give them an income. There are a lot of programs to encourage women and the advice from the governors for girls is to stay at school. With that political support, women are moving ahead.
May I ask you about the current problematic issue of human trafficking in women?
We have a national agency working against trafficking in women. This agency, called NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons) was founded 2003. Actually we have also an advocacy campaign running – because what happens is, that many of these young girls in the rural areas are deceived. They are told to get a good job or to go to school in Italy, but finally they find themselves in the hands of human traffickers. But there is a grassroots-empowerment now in Nigeria, clearing up those lies.
What are your plans for your time in Austria and what are your priorities?
My priority is to strengthen the economic relationship between Austria and Nigeria. We have a relationship that goes back to the times before our independence. One of the first things I did was – go to Vorarlberg and see the factory which produces many materials we use for our cultural outfits. What we can gain from the relationship with Austria? In this process I met with the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Christoph Leitl – we have proposed to have an investment forum: business men and women from Nigeria are meeting with business men and women from Austria. Besides fighting insecurity and fighting corruption, it is also a key issue on the agenda of president Muhammadu Buhari to diversify the economy. As my position here is also multilateral, my priority in that field lies on the peaceful uses of the nuclear technology – you can use it to grow the agricultural economy, you can use it in the health sector, for example for cancer therapy – we collaborate with the IAEA where the peaceful use of nuclear technology in Nigeria is concerned.
This October Russia and Nigeria signed agreements regarding the construction and operation of a Nuclear Power Plant and a Research Center housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor on the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The parties also signed up to a roadmap for cooperation in the field of peaceful usage of nuclear technologies – what can you tell us about these projects?
Yes, we just came back from Abu Dhabi. Professor Mallam Simon Pesko, Chairman, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission signed an agreement towards the establishment of a nuclear power plant in Nigeria. In 2014, the preliminary agreement was signed, now we are moving forward regarding the realization of this project. We have now more meetings to develop a roadmap, one of the next steps will be the constructing of the infrastructure. There is high demand for energy supply in Nigeria. The energy demand will be covered partly by nuclear power plants, partly by renewable energy like solar energy and partly by hydro power. We have a hydropower station in Mambillar and a lot of solar panels in the north of the country, we are addressing the whole energy sector.
Vivian Nwunaku Rose OKEKE Ms. Okeke is married and has four children. Since 2017 she is the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. During her career Ms. Okeke has served in various capacities, among them: Director of the America and Caribbean Affairs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria (since 2015); Director of the Joint Commission, Trade and Investment Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria (2014-2015); Minister (Economic) at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C., United States (2010-2014); Deputy Director of the First United Nations Division, in charge of the First Committee (2008-2010); Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joy Ogwu (2006-2008); Head of Chancery, Consulate-General of Nigeria in New York, United States (2002-2006); Special Assistant to the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia (1998-2001); First Secretary, Embassy of Nigeria in Brussels, Belgium (1993-1998).