‘Empowering women translates to greater wellbeing for the household’
Dame Victoria Ekhomu is the Managing Director of Trans-World Security Systems Limited, a Lagos-based asset protection company. She is also the Executive Vice- President of School of Management And Security, the foremost training institution in Nigeria. She is also ASIS International African Advisory Council Chairperson, thereby presiding over Africa and has just been appointed member ASIS Foundation Board of Trustees. Prior to that, she was the immediate past Senior Regional Vice President for West, Central and Northern Africa for ASIS International. ASIS International is the world’s largest professional security body. She is also the first Nigerian woman to be appointed to the Awards Committee of ASIS International worldwide and in 2005 she was conferred with the Diamond Award for Professional Excellence. She is the founder of Good Samaritan Foundation – a non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of accident victims. Mrs. Ekhomu is also member of the Editorial Board of The Security Watch Africa Magazine. In this interview, she shares with GERALDINE AKUTU her journey into the security world and other issues.
Can you share your growing up experience?
Growing up was quite interesting. My father and mother were two contradictory characters who nurtured us well. While mum was easy going, my father was a disciplinarian. It helped to balance things. My mother was a school teacher while my father retired from Central Bank as a deputy director. I am the first of six children and I bonded well with my siblings. My parents ensured we all went to school and to the glory of God we all have bachelor’s degrees.
You seem to be doing something different from what you studied. What motivated you to go into the security business?
My husband had his company Trans-World Consultants in the United States. He needed a stabilizing factor. So, I was there assisting him. I didn’t really leave education because we have the School of Management and Security, where I happen to be a facilitator. Then, in the U.S, it was Trans-World Consultants but we decided to have a subsidiary in Nigeria, which gave birth to Trans-World Security Systems Limited. My husband was shuttling America and Nigeria offering consultancy services for clients while I was there managing the business and ensuring that things were in order. While he was in Nigeria, I was helping him to execute projects. Before he came back, I had put Trans-World Security Systems Limited in Yellow Pages. A white woman saw the company on Yellow Pages and called me. I sold an alarm system to her over the telephone, she was satisfied with the package and asked us to come and install it. In fact, we got more people asking for it and started recording more sales. When we came back to Nigeria, I made business cards, started sharing it and networking with people. From there, my old school networks came in and we started getting jobs to cover a lot of places in Nigeria. While we were in the U.S, we were doing well but decided to settle down in Nigeria and grow the business. Also our children were still very young then. That was how I found myself in the security business.
How did you meet your husband?
Well, I met him in Benin. I had a job at News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) where I did my National Youth Service but they wanted to retain me because they were impressed with my work there as a sub-editor. There was a public interview but they decided to hire me. I took sometime off to go and come back, but I never did because of the intervention of my relations. They said I had to stay in Benin because they believe that if I stay in Lagos, I will marry from that area. They believed that the probability of marrying a man from my side is higher if I stayed in Benin. So, I obeyed and stayed as they had instructed. I stayed with my uncle whose house was opposite my husband-to-be mother’s house. He had come from the United States to see his mother. He had seen me before in their house because my uncle’s daughter and my husband’s senior sister are friends. One day, the phone rang and I was told I had a call, I picked and it was Ona who asked me to come and see him. I got angry and hung up on him. I wondered what gave him the gut to talk to me like that. I was told it was mama’s son who came from the U.S but I didn’t care. Later, we were driving and my cousin showed me the person who was in front of his mother’s house. Some days later, he came to the compound and asked for me. He was doing his PH.D and told me he was doing his thesis, which had to do with youth corps and asked me to fill the form for him. I filled it and we started talking and became friends because he was coming back and forth. We’ve been happily married for 37 years and blessed with five wonderful children and four lovely grandchildren.
What do you think is the cause of divorce in Nigeria?
It is intolerance that causes it. No marriages are the same. In marriage, there is always a difficult season. Good and bad times will come but you have to weather the storm together. There should be commitment between the two parties and when there is no commitment, divorce sets in. Love conquers all. Even when there is love and you face difficult times, you can keep going. Sometimes bad friends and parents interfere and destroy the marriage. Couples should accept each other’s differences, knowing they come from different backgrounds. The secret to a successful marriage is love, commitment and children, which help to cement it. Also couples should avoid communication breakdown. When you have issues, talk it over and try to look for ways to resolve any conflict. Communicating with your partner bring you closer and makes the relationship stronger.
You talk so much about women empowerment. Why the focus on women?
I believe that women are very important in the society and have roles to play. When you educate a woman, you positively impact the society. It is the woman that spends more time with children than the man because she ensures that the children are well nurtured and given the right education. The man might have money to cater for the family but that is not enough. So, the woman nurtures the child and gives him or her the necessary upbringing when the man is not around. Empowering women translates to greater wellbeing for the household. When women have greater control over resources in the family, they are more likely to allocate more resources to food, children’s healthcare and education. I do encourage women I mentor to focus on their education because when they are empowered, they become useful to themselves and role models in the society. When I was young, I followed my mother to school and learnt things from her. She got lesson teachers for me to ensure I was on the right track. If you have a woman that is empowered, she transmits what she has to the children and to other children.
The security industry is male dominated. How do you cope as a woman?
It is an interesting mix because working with men and women is very different. My volunteer work, being a member of ASIS International, a professional body that focuses on education and networking with other professionals from different African countries has helped. Through education, they have international, local, regional conferences and meetings. The different positions I’ve held made me know how to deal with men. I have held different positions where I proved my mettle. When the position for chapter chairman came up, they objected to it, saying that a woman cannot hold that position but I wasn’t disturbed but continued to contribute my quota to the growth of the organization. I didn’t struggle for the position but it was given to me because they saw what I was doing and were impressed. I climbed up the ladder, holding other positions till I became the ASIS International African Advisory Council Chairman. So, holding these various positions had made me interact well and network with men in security industry, not only in Nigeria, but different part of the world and they accepted me.
What are the challenges facing private security in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, private security is not given its true recognition. The government does not include us in their solutions. Instead, they call the government security agencies to hold meetings and come up with solutions that are not effective but they forget that there are lots of assets in private security, which they don’t utilize. That is why they come up with solutions that don’t solve the problem. Even, sometimes, they engage the services of people outside the country who know nothing about the environment. If the government works hand-in-hand with private security, it will go a long way in proffering solutions to security issues in the country. The police have to be reformed, trained, motivated to do their work and bad eggs sent out. The military is being overstressed because we find them doing the work of the police. Look at what happened in Ekiti gubernatorial election with 30,000 policemen. That is over-policing while they are supposed to be in other places protecting lives. We need to strengthen security in the country to improve the economy, attract investment and reduce capital flight. Until we take security seriously in this country, we will not get it right.
What is the secret to your good looks?
It’s in the genes. I took after my father. I try to exercise sometimes. I do take few walks from time to time. I try as much as I can to take things easy and to be happy. I cast my burden unto God and He has helped me because I know I cannot do it on my own. I also indulge in fruits and vegetables and eat light food. I avoid sleeping immediately after eating and careful with what I apply on my skin.
What valuable lessons have you learnt about life?
Life has taught me the importance of prayer, to do good, integrity, and honesty. Life has also taught me to care about family name and give without expecting anything in return. When you give, more will be given unto you. When you are in any position, leave a legacy. Don’t try to bring people down.
Advice to women who want to go into security business
Security is not for the faint-hearted and it’s a male dominated field. So, as a woman, you have to be diplomatic and carry yourself well in the midst of men. You must respect yourself. Be knowledgeable and up-to-date. You must work harder than the men because when you go out to compete with men during presentations, you must be convincing for you to be taken seriously. Also arm yourself with the right skills. I’m a facilitator in the School of Management And Security. I didn’t just sit down but equipped myself with the necessary skills. I did my Certified Protection Certification, a designation from the Professional Certification Board of ASIS, USA, the highest professional certification worldwide. I’ve been to places where I had to make presentations, they expect to see a man but saw a woman. At the end of the day, I was chosen. I try to prove my worth