As she wondered and wandered in her thoughts, there seemed to be a true manifestation of the counsel of the American essayist, George Santayana, that: A man’s feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world. Growing up in the ancient city of Benin was a relishing reminiscence, accompanied with a flood thoughts that have over the years shaped the perception and personality of Ms S.I. Ohumu.
The Benin city’s signature red-and-yellow buses, crossing moats to get to school, spending the holidays, especially during the Igue festival in ancestral family homes with wood deckings and courtyards called Otegodo, are nostalgic memories one would always long for.
Describing her childhood, Ms Ohumu disclosed her nostalgia about how Sundays were spent in baptismal classes at Saint Augustine Catholic Church; while some other days were spent with family friends whose expertise blossomed in selling of herbs, cowries, leopard skin and the likes at the historic Oliha market – replete with materials used for traditional religious worship.
While the exploration of the Benin moats served as the nucleus of her love of nature; the days spent with childhood friends in the famous Igun street were catalysts to her early interactions with art. No wonder, “Everything links back to Benin… Benin is both home and family” she revealed.
Growing under the tutelage of a caring mother, Ohumu journeyed through the world on the pages of novels which filled her mother’s shelf. Through these intellectual adventures, she was informally educated about many things – plants, traditional medicine, and religion. Thanks also to her wonderful great grandmothers and other market women.
Formally, Ohumu had her primary education at Auntie Maria where she won an episode of the popular ‘Work It Out’ quiz show. Afterwards, she had her secondary education at University Preparatory Secondary School where she was a member of the Guild of Science; and a sterling participant at the NTA science fair where her group project – a bio-fueled power generator – won first place. At 19 she had graduated from the prestigious University of Benin. However, she strongly believes the saying of the Italian Renaissance polymath, Leornado da Vinci, that –: “Learning never exhausts the mind;” hence, she has been feeding her towering intellectual curiosities with learning through online courses.
Unlike some Nigerians who would believe that working should begin at a specific age, Ohumu’s exceptional brilliance and her wowing potentials earned her first job at 13, as a radio and TV presenter for UPSS and CAMP World. She was on a 30-minute programme that was broadcast across several states; and thereafter, served as editor on her school’s magazine; The Ivory. Also, she worked as a radio presenter, writer, and producer, for three years with Silverbird Communication’s Rhythm FM, Benin, while she was an undergraduate in the university.
Rather than waiting for non-extant juicy jobs in oil corporations – a typical desire of an average Nigerian graduate, Ohumu upon graduation interned with the British Council’s art team; and worked on projects like the Lagos Theatre Festival, and YourAdHere.
Having written for several art, music, and technology organisations, with some writings published at the Venice Biennale, she accepted a position in 2018 with the Edo State Government’s Senior Special Adviser on Social Enterprise and Special Duties.
While in this capacity, she exuded so much ingenuity and accentuated her capabilities; managing such projects as The Edo Business Conclave, Local Employment and Content Framework, and most notably, The Edo Food and Agric Fair, whose aim was to tackle food insecurity by providing local farmers and Agro supply chain members a ready market for their products, and residents of Edo State, discounted, fresh and healthy food produce.
Meanwhile, this role also exposed her to the gradual extinction of the once tranquil, beautiful society where nature enjoyed humane dealings from man. During fact-finding visits to communities devastated by flooding, she became acquainted with “first-hand experience of how serious the effects of our changing climate are.” Therefore, her past experience as a child in Benin in comparison with the pathetic revelations seen during the fact-finding visits further stimulated her advocacy for climate change.
Aside working in various roles, Ohumu took on an exciting, truly rewarding role on the production team of what would become the BBC’s Sex for Grades documentary in 2019. The excellent documentary exposed how randy academics requested young ladies, many of whom could be age of their daughters, to be laid in exchange for (high) grades or even admission into universities. Thenceforth, universities in West Africa have upped their vigilance on this illicit act in the academia.
As a passionate climate change advocate, Ohumu has been concerned about how the comely sights and sounds of the ecosystem she experienced as a child had disappeared. Sadly, this has been gradually replaced with heaps of plastic waste and other rubbish; whose effects are devastating to human survival.
Furthermore, as an avid reader, voraciously going through pages of texts online and offline has continuously fueled her resolve and created a sense of hurt about what was happening. The effects of deforestation to humans; the real meaning of changing climate and how the human community is in dire need of redirection to the path of conscience; all goad her impetus for climate change advocacy. “Losing my moat awakened all of that,” she added.
Having grasped the effects of these phenomena on human existence, Ohumu has not just sat back and blamed everyone but herself. Rather, she has become an agent of change in this realm; alongside her passionate involvement in youth development and gender equity. “A definition of my life’s purpose in one sentence would be: Youth engagement through art for climate action, mental wellness, and gender equity,” she divulged.
She is the founder of Ubini – a social enterprise with a focus on climate action, mental wellness, and gender equity. Under the Ubini umbrella are #ClimateActionMinute and #SpaceBenin. While #ClimateActionMinute uses web series of one-minute long videos to explain climate change and related topics in fun, simple English, with roots in the Nigerian context; #SpaceBenin is a community of young, creative Nigerians, promoting freedom of expression, collaboration and community, and providing mental health first aid.
#SpaceBenin operates through community events, art, and other creative activities, collaborating with the International Association of Psychiatric Nurses, and many more. #ClimateActionMinute has so far published eight episodes as at the time of writing this story; while the #SpaceBenin has over 300 community members and has held six editions.
Hard work pays and living a life of contribution rather than acquisition comes with its rewards. Through her continuous commitment to the causes she believes in, Ohumu has got some recognitions and awards for what she is doing. Through her work at Ubini, she serves as a regional representative at the National Youth Climate Innovation Hub, organised by the Federal Ministry of Environment, UNDP, and HOMEF. She has been featured on the nationally syndicated Today on STV, Rhythm FM, as well as WMCIG; and had her writing on climate action published by popular youth publication, Zikoko. She was also named a Shaper of the New Decade, in the Advocacy category of YNaija’s New Establishment List.
There are many things for young people to learn from Ohumu’s path to greatness; and this echoes in her revelation that “engagement with these aforementioned phenomena are surest pathway to attaining a thriving, inclusive, sustainable and healthy Nigeria.” Importantly, young Nigerians make the majority of her growing population. If we are to successfully mitigate and adapt to the changing climate, they must be engaged.
Therefore, there seems to be no better time than now to join hands with her in her mission to drive that engagement through creative storytelling and community mobilisation and organisation. No doubt that collective resolve in this regard will lead to actualisation of John Wooden’s allusion that: The people who turn out best are those who make best of the way things turn out.