The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else.”
So writes one Nigeria’s most prolific sons, Chinua Achebe, in his somewhat defeatist essay, The Trouble with Nigeria. His sentiments are part of a chorus bemoaning the fact that for all of Nigeria’s wealth, be it in the form of highly educated professionals or resource endowment, there is not enough patriotism. We don’t have functioning roads but I have a jet. We don’t have national security but I can hire a private security outfit. And so the logic goes. It is this ‘every man for himself’ attitude that erodes nationhood. With a population of 175 million jostling for a toehold, it is not surprising that this notorious spirit beats strongly throughout Nigeria.
One young woman who embodies the contradictions of the green-and-white nation is 24-year-old Orode Ryan-Okpu. To some, her claim to fame is as the daughter of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the governor of the Delta State.
Ryan-Okpu’s new claim to fame, however, is explained by two business cards. She offers me two – a pink one first and then a purple one. The latter is for Raum Oil Services, where Ryan-Okpu is the managing director. Raum Oil Services is the only upstream oil business in Nigeria owned by a woman. So far it has collected an impressive list of clients, including Nigerian lender Zenith Bank, pan-African energy group Oando, and oil and gas company Conoil.
Ryan-Okpu will be the first to tell you that she was born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. She will also freely admit that she has used her networks to get to where she is today. But she is quick to point out that, “to whom much is given, much is expected”.
A young woman working in the male-dominated oil industry, Ryan-Okpu is regularly asked why she wastes her time on such a challenging venture when she could get more than enough money from her financially successful parents. Surely she should be able to live her life as a lady of leisure? Or, at worst, get a ‘nice’ job?
As she answers these questions, one word keeps making its way into the conversation – legacy. A popular preoccupation of many young people on the continent, it is perhaps best encapsulated by the phrase: “I’m on my hustle”. For Ryan-Okpu, however, it is not an obsession with hustlin’ to make money, but rather, hustlin’ to leave the world with something to remember her by.
The second business card is emblazoned with the words, ‘Pink Pearl Foundation’ (PPF). A pet cause for the Nigerian version of China’s famed silver-spooned princelings? If so, she certainly puts a lot of effort into it. Motivated by the loss of family members to cancer, as well as by her own brush with the illness, Ryan-Okpu founded PPF six years ago. A university student at the time, she decided something needed to be done to educate and empower Nigerian women in the fight against cancer.
The foundation carries out advocacy drives across Nigeria, increasing awareness about cancer symptoms and the importance of regular self-examination. PPF holds free breast and cervical cancer screenings at mobile clinics and has developed a series of educational talks aimed at women in rural areas.
In July, it opened the Rubies School of Women Empowerment, which offers cancer survivors short courses in business management, catering, tailoring and jewelry design. Ryan-Okpu has also just wrapped up a film called “Happy Funeral”, which raises awareness about cancer symptoms and the need for regular checkups.
PPF has reached out to nearly 4,000 women every year since 2007. The foundation believes that if you can save a woman, you can save a generation.
Inevitably, the question of why she chose not to follow in the footsteps of her political family crops up. When I probe her on her political ambitions Ryan-Okpu concedes that she is interested in pursuing the family tradition. Just give me time, she says, explaining that she wants to achieve much more before entering the political arena.
If Ryan-Okpu is an indication of the future of Achebe’s Nigeria, a new generation obsessed with what they leave behind, then the green-and-white nation may just be on the right track after all.