‘To raise a nation, it starts from family’
Adetoun Bola Lanre-Adeniyi is certified Paediatric nutritionist, activist, social worker, public commentator and analyst. She holds international certifications from the US Abbott Nutrition Health Institute (ANHI) and has also earned tons of certifications from India, United Kingdom and Australia in the complex terrains of Paediatric Nutrition, Breastfeeding and Lactation, Maternal and Child Nutrition.
A Neonatal Nutrition consultation, the renowned businesswoman, who focuses on the field of healthy living and wellness, boosts of 15 years of experience in the business of catering for maternal – child wellbeing. She’s the Chief Executive Officer of Babyology Health & Nutrition Centre (formerly known as Grubsbaby Foods), and also the President of Feed A Child Initiative.
Asides from being a successful businesswoman, she’s the host of television programme Parenting with Adetoun. The TV programme focuses on infant nutrition, mothers’ wellbeing during and after pregnancy and contemporary knowledge of monitoring infant’s metabolic progression.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her zeal for impacting in child wellbeing as well as her activism life.
You wear many caps, tells us about your journey and how you fit into them effortlessly?
Everything about me is all about children; I believe that to raise a nation, it starts from the family. They are the basics to kick starting a nation and so, I have always respected babies, especially with their peculiarity of not talking or explicitly expressing themselves and they only have to go with what we want for them. It has always been an onset respect for me for children and that has grown into so many angles of me.
I realised that right from a very young age and coming from a wealthy home, I have always loved to play with younger children of our drivers and other causal staff; I want to see the way they eat, why their food is different from ours or clothes. As I grew older and started having children, I knew I have to watch over someone. I had my son in the UK and when we came back to Nigeria, it was a different ball game; no one cared about what you are doing right for your child or the right food; everybody do what he/she wants without putting checks and balances in place. So, I realised that if I have to toe this line, there have to be a lot of certifications and authority coming into this.
When I went through the government laws, I realised that nothing speaks for the children, even to the road safety commission – people put children in front of vehicles and nobody is asking questions. The penalties are not strict and no one teaches safety – this is for people who are literate and I became bothered about the illiterates. So, I started a community outreach. For three years, I was all out; I worked in over 246 communities in Nigeria as a charity worker. Sometimes, we are there for months feeding people to break the chain of poverty. So, after surveying all these, I came up with an NGO, Feed, Educate, Enlighten the Child community Initiative, where we educate these women that they are poor does not mean their children will remain poor if raised differently.
Going forward, I decided to start my business, Grubs and Stuff, in Magodo because running an NGO takes a lot of money and I don’t want to be beggar. At that period, I realised that a lot of wealthy people are even worse than the poor; it’s either under knowledge or over knowledge is a problem. You see an average woman who tells you she buys a gas cooker of one million naira, ignite a gas to cook for her baby in high temperature, not understanding how the body will break down the nutrients, but you see an average woman from the rural area, blowing the firewood gently and the food retain its nutrients; non-toxic. The NGO is not just to feed people only, but enlighten people. That gave birth to a platform, Parenting with Adetoun. My core principle value is eradication child poverty and so, I decided to put feeding of children as priority. That gave birth to a new name, Babyology; I have been business for 15 years.
At what point did you delve into activism, what prompted this move?
All of these activism started when I realised we are dealing with animals as humans. I had an accident in the US where a vehicle crushed my leg and I was pregnant with my last son; I gave birth to him early. For once, I didn’t feel like my leg was crushed or my baby came too early; I was properly take care of, lawyers were offering me services. Now, you come to Nigeria, you have a problem, you have nowhere to go and you hear the truth. When I go around and see all these things, I get mad.
Everyone around me knows that you can cheat me, but you can’t cheat the next person standing beside me. In the course of my fieldwork, I became more sensitive. I have raised the children of the rich and the poor and so it gets to a level where you are not doing things with pride but confidence because I have seen where negligence kills children and I have nightmares. These people need someone to stand up for them and that is why when I see anything from government that looks like intimidation, I can’t tolerate it.
What do you consider a major challenge in child nutrient in Nigeria?
Nutrition is an antecedent of prenatal diet; I, however, look forward to a time when the ministry of health can be different from the ministry of nutrient. A doctor tells you to give your child what you eat, why don’t they give babies tablets, why do they have their syringe? Babies and adults eat for different reasons – babies eat to grow, adult eat for sustenance. So, for me, I want to see a system that recognises priority in nutrition and medicine.
Go to the general hospitals; you see thousands of babies on admission due to sepsis (low immune system), which is largely due to poor diet. I am looking at a time when the government while will put in its quota into nutrition. You see people go to the hospital to visit children with noodles; you see first ladies having NGOs taking care of children, they don’t even understand what child nutrition is. There are multinational companies in Nigeria and there is none that has a product that is calcium sourced for babies. In the whole of Nigeria, we have to import calcium sources for babies. We should look into eradicating child mortality rate.
Look at WAEC results of years ago and now, you find graduates who can’t write a simple letter; nothing can be put in that brain without proper diet. So, I am aggressive because I am looking for an opportunity to state the facts clear. I singlehandedly consulted for a past governor who had his kids at old age and so, I told his wife, who had imported a 20 feet container load of food for their babies, which they rejected, and I had to structure a proper diet plan for them. She should have an idea of what proper dieting in babies is about, yet they refuse to do the right thing. I went to NAFDAC office to seek approval to bring in formula for children who are malnourished, (we want to run babyology like a pharmacy) because food is drugs, and the director said, ‘Madam please let them go and be breastfeeding, although I understand you, my baby suffered from allergy and I used to get a formula from the UK that helped.’ Then, I said, ‘Oga, you are a victim, and we don’t have a formula that works for children who are lactose intolerant and these children just die off because people label them something else.’ We are in this mess in this country together because even our leaders are victims, but they tighten their hearts because of greed.
How did you get involved in the EndSARS protests that shook our nation?
When they started the protest, I think it was Naira Marley that intoxicated the fire in me. I have been to SARS office and seen how these guys behave like armed robbers; they don’t respect you, they assault. Having experienced these people, if anyone is coming out to wage a war against them, I am ready.
I was in my office that day and I saw a message about converging in Lekki at 9am. By 8am, I was there and by 9:30am, I was the only Nigerian waiting and after posting on Instagram on where everyone else it, there was a postponement. However, what ignited me was seeing our young people who started gathering in the coming days, singing the National anthem at the venue. I told myself I have to be there the next day. I bothered about where to keep my daughter and I said, ‘it can be you tomorrow, so let’s go.’ When I got here, I knew that this was the right place for me to be. I wasn’t the only one who wanted freedom for her people, we were thousands who found a common ground, same spirit, energy, desire, cry, passion, focus, target and it was an avenue for us to show love for our dear country and till now, there is no looking back.
A lot of people were concerned about your decision to take your baby to a protest ground, what’s your take?
Nobody knows my daughter better than me. My daughter is a blessing to me; I had 14 miscarriages before I had her. Nobody loves my daughter more than I do, for me to take her to a war front, it means a lot to me and I wasn’t bothered about what anyone was saying. For me, the street is their home; this is the street where they will still come to talk, play and it has to be safe and sane. You cannot raise you child indoors alone, that’s why we take our children to private schools, fly them abroad all because of safety. Why don’t we end insecurity for once?
As an activist, what changes do you expect to see going forward?
When the power of restructuring the police is from the Federal Government, can’t they decentralise for the states to have theirs so that it can be properly monitored? I think the solution is to privatise; everything in this country has basically been privatised. Let them sell the police to those who can better manage it. We say EndSARS and they are still coming out with guns, by the time you stop them from making money from the yahoo boys and harassing people, they also become criminals. That’s why you see those boys who are destroying properties, I don’t blame them; there is hunger in the land and these are the people that have been put in a corner. It is only during campaigns that they are used.
Lagos state has a vast amount of land that can be used for agriculture and make these people work. The local council too is not even functioning; an arm that should be the closest to the people. If not for social media, how would we have connected with the government? Can anyone work into the governor’s office to see him, who will attend to you? So, accumulated anger, frustration, agony, pain will not allow people like us keep quiet until we begin to see change.
What do you consider challenges women face and how can they be at their best?
First, you need to identify yourself; are you a mother, lady or girl? If you are a woman, you might not be able to take the steps that I take. If you are a mother, you will take more than the bold steps that I do because motherhood is all about sacrifice. There is no joy in it when you start; it is always sleepless nights, pain, challenges, insecurity, stress, fears, patience, tolerance, and boldness. So, why will I be strong at home and I cannot be strong out there? You are holding a home, you cannot hold a community, a nation, you are not there yet; you still don’t know who you are.
A lot of mothers in this part of the world are subdued because of financial incapability; they cannot pay school fees, they are scared to talk so the man won’t drive them out and you hear them say, ‘let me keep quiet so he can pay my children’s fees; when they graduate, I can leave.’ They are in relationship for pain; the fear of what he will say keeps them shut. People in this country worship men, but they do not respect them. I am one who respects my husband and every man out there, but I am fearless. Fear will only limit your strength and does not bring out greatness in you and that is why I always tell people, if you cannot work, be the strength that pushes your husband to work so that when he has money, both of you can sit and make life plans with it.
You wonder why a handsome man will be with an ugly wife? That’s because she is a power bank; she is patient, tolerant and an asset. If you refuse to train your children at the time you should, then you will be crying. So, its best to take the pain at the time they are young, so when you are 60, you are flying around the world to visit your children and relaxing.