Greying Gracefully

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By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
 “Please take some time to bubble and shuffle…after all the hustle and bustle. Everybody wanna celebrate…” – Alex O
The lyrics of the above song by the then reigning musician, Alex O, was a super hit that dominated the airwaves in the 90’s.  As a teen then, I never missed an opportunity to rap, mime and dance to the accompanying “kpokirikpo” dance steps that Alex O introduced into the Nigerian music genre. At no time did I pay any serious attention to the song’s central message: “hustle and bustle”! Now in my early thirties, it has fully dawned on me what it means to hustle.
2012 is my year of hustle! A year I practically ‘grew up’; a year that was full of life’s swings, trials, opportunities, sacrifices, learning and re-learning.  I experienced firsthand what it means to struggle and overcome, and to revel in the joy and excitement that comes with the fruits of excellence and hardwork.
Back in the days, especially between 2007 and 2009, I imagined that I worked too hard. Many people often described me as a hardworking young woman. And I believed them. Frequent back-to-back international travels criss-crossing different countries and continents – Europe, South America, North America and across Africa – on international research missions, speaking engagements, advocacy assignments, training courses, post-graduate study, international conferences and routine local trips in and around the country all seemed like so much hard work. Looking back now, that was pleasure! It was pleasurable because everything seemed to have been worked out in advance – I was only a round peg in a round hole, and nothing more.
Now, I know the real meaning of toil, hard work and hustle! Heading  an organization – Spaces for Change (S4C) – from start-up to stable ground in a difficult, incentiveless clime like Nigeria; hiring and managing staff, paying rent, salaries including unending utility bills), setting institutional targets, making hard management decisions, meeting deadlines and many more – are enough to make a young woman’s hair grey at the speed of a missile. Rather than get wearied by zero bank balances and early beginning challenges that accompany start-ups, I learned to wear a cheerful smile always even when crying myself to sleep at night was routine. Despite regular sleepless nights and months of unparalleled hard work without earning an income, I realized that steady focus and raw passion were all that I needed to succeed. 
2012 wasn’t only about difficulties. Gaining an admission to the prestigious Harvard Law School in March 2012 is unforgettable. Winning the SWSX social media award is treasured. S4C’s membership of the International Network on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) is cherished.  S4C’s exciting online presence and strong following on the social media within a short period was unexpected. Of specific significance, Spaces for Change’s-convened web-conferences reinvented and took citizen engagement on public policy issues to a different level in Nigeria.
This year, I discovered the power of mentoring, the beauty of friendship, the importance of building relationships and the inspiring capabilities of sincere public support. Constantly weighed down by unceasing challenges, Pamela Braide, (S4C’s Board member) never fails to come to my rescue. With her supportive frame and effortless capacity to make one see the shining light within, Pamela’s mentoring prowess is second to none. So many friends – most of whom I have never met – trusted and supported my cause, reposing absolute confidence in my capacity to lead a struggle for change that transcends ethnic, religious, political, social and tribal lines. On a regular basis, ever-flowing words of encouragement received from thousands of people –  especially Madunagu Emeka, Tunde Akogun, Kelechi Deca, Kuti Sofumade, Phillips Akpoviri, Olusola Osineye, Usman Bala Mohammed, Mohammed Bello, Shuaibu Mohammed, Jasper Azuatalam, Celestine Akpobari, Chinedu Chiefsan Akwuobi, Okpareke Martin; Kemi Adeloye, Remi Adeoye, Temitope Adeyinka, Chetaala Ilo, Clarence Briand, Chidozie Oguanyia, Chyke Nwokedi, Egghead Odewale, Okechukwu Nwanguma, Nsikan George-Emeana, Godwin Morka, Segun Edward, Craig Esewhode and so many others  – provide me with a daily spring of inspiration and help replenish burnt energy.
Learning tactfully and submissively relearning from others is another talent I gained in 2012. I learned to listen more, a skill I once loathed. Except Chinedu Ekekee whose writing style wows and propels me to clench my fists in anger, it is sheer coincidence that all the people I devotedly read their works, follow and learn from, are women. Ukamaka Evelyn Olisakwe and Lilian Chioma Nwosu are among my favorites. The simplicity of their writing and the imageries they evoke in me are indescribable.  Addictively too, I read Pamela Braide, Zainab Usman, Zainab Sandah, Chika Unigwe and Funke Egbemode!
I’m eternally thankful to S4C’s Board members, dominated by young people whose academic backgrounds and professional skills reflect the whole breadth of the organization’s mandate, stakeholders and service offerings. The constantly differing perspectives and intense debates among Board members allow the group to think more creatively, and create a market of ideas to be brought to bear on any given problem. At the same time, such intellectual diversity provides institutional direction while injecting radical and structured perspectives to enrich programmatic quality. The friendship among us has fully blossomed into mutual support for each other to achieve personal goals. With an initial push from Samuel Diminas to go for nothing less than an Ivy League school for my post-grad, and the dutiful encouragement from many friends and well-wishers (including Clement Nwankwo, Dayo Olaide, Remi Adeoye and Chibuzo Ofoma ), the dream to go to Harvard flowered into reality.
I have been blessed by the most wonderful physical and virtual friends. The birthday greetings started pouring in quite early – a week before my birthday! Hundreds of messages, countless Facebook postings, myriad BBM pings and numerous callers….I appreciate them all, and will reply to every one of them. That is, at least, my own way of showing how grateful I am.
Even as I grey gracefully, I am still very eager to witness many more Birthdays…and it will be great to celebrate with these same wonderful people who help me learn everyday that life is all about serving humanity. Any other thing is just secondary.
What more can I say: I LOVE YOU ALL!

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Tala ILO

God bless you lots my dearest lady Victoria!!! Wishing you all the best in all your endeavours. You are a precious gem with a motivating presence, an inspiring leader with a heart of gold, a thrilling beauty with lustrous skin and a truly wonderful woman..You are very much appreciated indeed! Shalom.

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