IIDN Feature: Betty Abah on her journey of tackling equity shortfalls in Lagos slums / by Chiamaka Mogo

By: Melody 'Melly' Akinduro

Betty Abah

Betty Abah

Betty Abah’s interests in social change, equality and equity in Nigeria have directed her to challenge human rights violations and have guided her campaigns for social justice in the nation. Betty is the founder of the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE Nigeria) - one of her biggest platforms where she directs her activism in empowering and fighting for the rights of vulnerable children in Nigeria. I am so privileged to feature one of my role models — an influencer and social activist doing astounding works in Nigeria, on behalf of the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria. Be inspired:

Tell us a little about yourself

I am Betty Iganya Abah. I am a writer and activist. I was born in Otukpo in Benue State, North Central Nigeria around the mid-1970’s. My parents hail from Orokam, a Benue ‘border community’ sandwiched between Benue and Enugu States. My favourite quote is ‘With God, nothing is impossible.’ My guiding principle in life is — do good, it not only enriches humanity but it comes back to you in several folds. 

Please tell us about the social issues that you have been tackling

I have always been involved in working with and for the voiceless minority in the society, mostly women and children. In the last couple of years, with CEE-HOPE, I have been involved with children and young persons in urban slums, excluded and impoverished rural areas and generally, on children rights issues. Makoko which is reputedly the largest slum settlement in West Africa (with about 100, 000 inhabitants) is the site of our biggest programs with children, especially at-risk girls. We are involved in various initiatives aimed at the empowerment of vulnerable girls and children in general. We are also a child’s rights organization. Our work currently impacts children in six states across Nigeria. 

You founded the organization, CEE-HOPE, which aims at empowering, vulnerable and marginalized children in Nigeria. What programs does CEE-HOPE offer to implement her vision?

At CEE-HOPE, our signature program is the Girls-Go-for-Greatness (‘Triple G’) program which works on the rehabilitation of pregnant and teenage mothers, sexually abused and indigent girls. Our intervention, among other things, involves educational scholarship and girl leadership trainings. We also run the Hope Ambassadors’ Club which involves engaging, empowering and engaging children and young people in general in impoverished communities on a number of issues and initiatives. One of the things we are also bringing in to the Hope Ambassadors’ club is our environmental awareness campaigns since most of them live in coastal communities. It is our belief that the society is more progressive, safer and better if the critical mass of youngsters in underserved and impoverished areas are empowered and become assets to the society rather than a liability or threat as they are prone to most times, due to the prevalent neglects, those areas breed ‘children of anger’ as we have seen in the instances of Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants. Our projects entail sensitizing them to know their rights and also bringing government closer to them.

What have been some of the most effective and successful interventions of CEE-HOPE?

I think our work with children in Lagos slum communities have been the most profound for me, and that reality has fired us to extend it to other places both within and outside Lagos. Also, our work in fighting for the housing and human rights of children impacted or threatened with forced eviction in Lagos, be it in Makoko, Badia East or Otodo-Gbame. The latter is the hugest so far, involving the forcing out of more than 32, 000 people from a fishing settlement (despite a court injunction) because they happen to live on a beautiful island that got the attention of some powerful persons in government or close to the seat of power. Many of our beneficiaries were affected in the violent, unprecedented onslaught on the urban poor at Otodo Gbame. We embarked on a frenzied campaign, global media also weighed in. An NGO worked with the community and sued the Lagos State government, and in June last year, they won the government in their own court. We hope the government will do the needful and settle them, but for us, it’s quite exciting because the judgment also gave relief to hundreds of thousands of people in other similarly targeted settlements across the state. The shabby way the urban poor, including innocent children are treated in Lagos and elsewhere in the so-called quest for urbanization is simply unconscionable. The poor also have rights to the city and there are more humane and inclusive ways of running ‘a mega city’ than the brutal and sledgehammer approach that currently obtains here.

What advice would you give to others who want to start their own organization that addresses controversial social issues in Nigeria?

To keep their messages simple and straightforward and never be afraid to speak truth to power or shy away from looking the powerful in the eyes. But much more important, to do it with passion and sincerity. Integrity takes you farther than your talents. When you know your stand and stay consistently by it, eventually you will prevail.

Can you tell us a fun fact about you?

Wow, I am a plantain person! I believe I am one of the reasons why God created the plantain, LOL. I eat fried, boiled, roasted and chipped plantains, all sorts. I actually use raw ones for ‘fruit salad’. I stop by the roadsides to buy roasted plantains or plantain chips. The sight and taste of fried plantain complete with omelet with lots of red pepper lifts my moods any day! 

How can people connect with you?

Website: www.cee-hope.org ; Email: info@cee-hope.org , ceehopeng@gmail.com; Twitter: @ceehopenigeria ; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CeeHopeNG/; Phone: +234-703-203-8897

Betty Abah (seated third on front row) with volunteers from Makoko and CEE-HOPE staff after an event in 2016 (Caption provided by Betty Abah)

Betty Abah (seated third on front row) with volunteers from Makoko and CEE-HOPE staff after an event in 2016 (Caption provided by Betty Abah)