Mrs Victoria Irabor & DEPOWA: Uplifting the Wives of Fallen Heroes’ by Extending a Helping Hand

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Barrister (Mrs.) Victoria Irabor, President, of the Defence, and Police Officers’ Wives Association (DEPOWA), a vast and well-read professional in the fields of law, conflict, security, and development as well as corporate management and finance law have decided to use her in-depth knowledge and experience to take on the challenge of changing the narrative of the lives of widows in Nigeria, with special focus to the wives of fallen heroes in Nigeria. In her role as the DEPOWA president, she has not only led by example but has gone further to make sure that the military widows of the nation benefit and succeed.

She believes in fulfilling the African dream by harnessing the power of the skilled woman and has gone over and beyond to see to the social inclusion of these women via relevant skill acquisition.

The wives of our fallen heroes are heroes in themselves and we must recognize them. They must be equipped to rejoin society.

Irabor has come in with a fresh pair of eyes for innovation and expansion with projects that goes beyond helping the widows of fallen heroes of Nigeria to helping the heroes themselves.

Women have always played an essential role in the development and growth of any society and Barrister (Mrs.) Victoria Irabor through the office of the president of DEPOWA has made it her mission to make sure that Nigerian widows lead better lives through skill acquisition projects, social inclusion, and the establishment of PTSD Rehabilitation centres for their husbands.

She has shown tenacity, resilience, compassion, and a strong drive for excellence in the course of her service to Nigeria. A team of editors caught up with her recently where she talked about her passion and motivation for helping widows.

We would be thrilled to know a little more about the woman behind such great works. I am Mrs. Victoria Irabor, fondly called Vicky by my friends and family. I am married to Major General Lucky Eluonye Onyenuchea Irabor. We believe in the grace of God and Jesus Christ, our Saviour. I am who I am today because God has made me so.

My marriage is blessed with two beautiful children, a son, and a daughter. My parents were civil servants. My father was a teacher and principal of schools and my mother was a nurse, so they were exposed to education.

This afforded me the opportunity to start school. I was exposed to a good education because my parents were educated. Today I am a lawyer and married to a military officer. I would relate who I am to date to the experiences I had as a child. With benefit of hindsight, I recall that as a child, my mother would look at me and she would praise me. She would say, “you see you’re so tall. I can imagine you reading law. “When you stand in court to speak, your presence will intimidate the judge”. With this nudge from her, fell in love with the profession after I researched.

Later I came back to my mom and told her that I wanted to be a lawyer but I wanted to work with the police so that I’ll be able to fight crime and investigate crime. At the end of the day, I could not join the police but I married a military officer. So I think that my dream did come true, only in a different way.

I graduated from the University of Benin where I obtained an LLB. I also proceeded to the Nigeria law school where I obtained my BL and was called to the Nigerian bar. After that I acquired three masters, first from the legal state university, where I obtained a masters in corporate management and finance law, then a Master’s of Law from Lawton University Bangladesh, and finally a Masters’s in conflict, security, and development from the Nigerian defense academia. I actually did my master in conflict, security, and development to support my husband in his job as a military officer.

You have a vision for DEPOWA as it were. Where did you meet it and where do you intend to leave?

When I met DEPOWA it was a very comfortable place to start off work.

The past DEPOWA Presidents have done wonderfully well. DEPOWA as an association is the coordinating body for the army officers’ wives’ association, Naval officers’ wives’ association, air force officers’ wives’ association and the police officer’s wives’ association.

As the president my position allows me to relate with women across the services. My vision for the association is broken down into parts.

We have our traditional objective which is coming together as women and relating with one another. Sharing the same challenges with someone is usually reassuring. Another one of our traditional goals is to not leave the widow isolated. I have a goal to go beyond just support, I want to give skills to those that do not have them and then also sharpen their skills by organizing pieces of training. I intend to go beyond the traditional objectives and goals.

I have found a project that I think would launch DEPOWA to greater heights and that is looking beyond ourselves, not just what we can offer to the officer’s wives but to see what we can do for our husbands, because our husbands today have a huge problem that is plaguing them and that is the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.

For the past decade, Nigeria has gone through conflict and when the men come back home, they return with so many issues. At the end of the day, the women and children in their lives are the first to receive the impact of these negative outcomes. Women watch their husbands go to the conflict zone and change.

Some of these women have complained that their husbands cry at night, they scream in their dreams and some become very violent and take it out on their wives and children.

As a soldier or officer, you cannot go to the war zone, return and go straight back to your family. But in Nigeria, we do not have a system where these men are evaluated and if the problem of PTSD becomes existent in their lives, they don’t have a chance to be rehabilitated. We need that type of centre and that is why I am proposing that DEPOWA works towards establishing a rehab PTSD evaluation and rehabilitation center for the armed forces. That is my big project and goal. I believe one of the effective ways to help women is to give them a peaceful and safe home, to do this we must make sure that their husbands are sane and without any form of post-war trauma.

In some of the works you have partnered with migration and refugee organizations, how did that assist and benefit your goals?

Yes, I partnered with them but right now we’re trying to reach out to the downtrodden in society. The widows, the sick in the hospital, especially victims of conflict we are paying specific attention to the northwest zone because of the grave levels of insurgency. This is the Zero Hunger Project. Hunger is not just about food.

Anything that makes you deprived is hunger and if we say zero, the kind of hunger we are talking about is ending hunger for food, shelter, love, and health. We want to reduce any problem that is plaguing society.

We are prepared to meet these needs no matter how little thus the name of the program; Zero hunger. I am sure when people see that they expect food but we go beyond that, they will appreciate it. Last month we were at 44 hospitals where we donated 13 motorized wheelchairs and some assistance for the patients.

Looking at DEPOWA and the skill acquisition programs that you organize, a lot of people have come to question how you organize and departmentalize it. How do you decide which skills gap you want to breach?

For DEPOWA our skills acquisition and target audience are different from other skills acquisition done by other organizations in the sense that we focus primarily on widows, orphans, and the less privileged in our military community. As I mentioned earlier, Nigeria has gone through a lot of insecurity and insurgency in the last decade, hence more men of the force have been deployed to protect our country. This would mean that the number of widows in the military community has increased. We have so many of them in the barracks and there’s no way DEPOWA can turn a blind eye to what is the current reality.

That’s the reason why we have taken this very seriously. It is not enough to just pay their debt, and the debt benefits of their husbands as saved out of the barracks.

Where do we go from there? So, we ask these women if they have any skills and quite a number of them do not. We then concentrate on exposing these women to skills that can improve their standards of living by giving them a stream of income. These skills could range from catering, tailoring, ICT, bead making, and so on. And we don’t just stop at the training when they graduate, we set them up with start-up capital. We buy the tools and equipment’s they would need to start and pay their rent for one year.

Then we monitor them for some time. When they are established, we can let them stand on their own. This scheme nurtures these women from beginner levels up until they are grounded in their craft and can sustain a cashflow system independently.

To keep track we have a database of the women whose husbands are deceased under our scheme. Every time a soldier dies in the war zone, we update our data. We follow up on the women to know the ones that would require our support. What we are doing is limited to the military community and we do it with passion not just because we want to go into skills acquisition, but because our community needs this. We are centered on remembering the wives of our heroes, the men who put their lives on the line for our great country.

COVID-19 disrupted a lot of livelihoods, disrupting businesses and many people lost jobs just like most organizations. DEPOWA also has some kind of intervention relief for this set of people. Could you tell us more about what DEPOWA is doing regarding this?

Yeah. From time to time, we gather the widows in the military community, and we give them relief materials. It is something we do on a regular basis, and we’re still prepared to do this in the coming years. We also incorporate an inclusive approach when planning our programs for these widows. For example, we had a general meeting two months ago and we found opportunity to gather the widows again, we do this to stay in touch and make these women have a sense of belonging.

Every day as we eat, as we dress up and put on makeup, we must recognize that we have these women amongst us for the sake of love for the nation, their husbands died. We must never forget them. They are part and parcel of DEPOWA and will always be remembered. If we don’t remember them or reach out to them who will? society does not know them. We cannot abandon them!

Losing a loved one is difficult but losing a loved one who fought to protect the nation is difficult yet prestigious and that is why we must regard these women.

For a big organization like DEPOWA one of the major challenges a leader can face is finding a work-life balance. A lot of people look up to you and most of them are also professionals. How are you able to maintain that delicate balance between work, family, as well as also ensure that you stay on top of your project and programs at DEPOWA.

To start with I would like you to know that I still have my professional career outside DEPOWA. I have the choice to take a leave of absence to focus on DEPOWA but I deliberately decided to continue and when my MD called me and asked if I was sure I said, why not! The reason is I intend to teach women not by saying it, but by example. As a woman, you must be gainfully employed not just to provide civil service but you must be actively engaged in a business or career that earns you a living. You can’t be married to an officer and be idle.

In fact, in the current age and time we live in, idleness is not an option. Women from advanced countries work 2- 3 jobs, I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be able to hold down my various responsibilities provided I manage my time and resources effectively. If you are not working in an office, you should work from home or have your business and that is the only way you can earn your respect and be useful to society.

We must decide to be useful to our husbands, children, and ourselves. Our husbands need a lot of support from us. The idle brain is the devil’s workshop. We don’t want women to be a liability. We want them to be useful, useful to their families and society. How am I able to manage? I have always worked long before I married my husband so it comes naturally to me. I have worked long enough both as a single woman and as a married woman.

Over the years I’ve learned how to juggle and combine both family and work life to coexist. It became natural to play this role as the DEPOWA president and work in my office. My office is in Kaduna but they’ve allowed me to work from home. So sometimes I’m here with my laptop. And if I don’t have time to work in the daytime, at night I sit up to work here when they need me. My close team members all work elsewhere and I encourage it. No woman around me is idle. To thrive in the Nigeria of today you must bring something to the table. I don’t want a DEPOWA where we are gathering to clap hands. You need to be versatile. You need to be current.

You need to know the issues in your community, our community, and the military community. If you don’t know what the issues are, you would not be able to deliver anything. Every woman has got a brain, so every woman here is thinking and that is what I want to see in DEPOWA.

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