I earned my master’s degree in 2002. But as far as the Internet and Web 2.0 were concerned, I remained illiterate until 2009, when I took out a loan for a laptop and got my office connected. For years I had a vision to empower the women in my community, but I did not know how to go about it.
The first thing I did on my new computer was to go to Google to search for women’s organizations around the world. I found the Association of Women in Development (AWID), which led me to World Pulse’s Voices of Our Future Program. During this program, I learned about journalism, as well as how to access email, how to attach documents, and how to blog and chat online.
It is unaffordable for an average civil servant in Nigeria to own her own personal modem, which discourages many people—especially women—from accessing the Internet. Last month I was giving a training workshop to a group of teachers. There were 50 participants: 37 women and 13 men. When I asked how many of them had some knowledge of computers or the Internet, no matter how small, no one in the class came forward. Do not be surprised that these computer novices were all university graduates.
In Nigeria there are many obstacles to Internet access. Electricity is inconsistent. Whenever the lights go off, Internet in the office automatically goes off. To write my first stories as a citizen journalist, I had to go to a public cybercafé with a standby generator.
Public cybercafés have their own serious problems. There are very few of them, and they are always congested and taken over by the “yahoo boys” (boys who engage in Internet scams and sometimes target women for violence). Whenever I went to the café, my husband had to follow me as my bodyguard and stay with me to protect me from being attacked.
In another survey of 250 Nigerian women I carried out recently, less than 15% had some knowledge of the Internet, and only about 5% actually had access to the Internet. This has inspired my vision to create a “women only” cybercafé in every state in Nigeria. My dream is to provide a safe place for women to access the Internet without fear of attack or being molested. Cybercafés could become Internet training grounds for women to raise their voices on issues that concern them and mount pressure on governments when their rights are being trampled on.
I have only been online for two years, but it has already led to many opportunities. I applied for and won a training at the Empowerment Institute in New York. I traveled out of my country and flew on a plane for the first time. I made connections that led me to become program manager for the Empowerment Institute’s Imagine program in Nigeria. I am now a reporter, photo journalist, and climate journalist. Several of my articles have been published by the Global Press Institute. I registered my Women Inspiration Development Center, where we have helped several domestic violence survivors and are currently handling a case of child rape. We have organized workshops for 150 women on “creating your life the way you want it.” This is just the beginning. Since accessing the Internet, the vision I have been carrying around for years is finally becoming a reality.