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A day with first female Okugbe II of Udu Kingdom

Suo Chapelle is the first female in over 100 years from the Urhobo tribe to receive her father’s chieftaincy title as the Okugbe II of…

Suo Chapelle is the first female in over 100 years from the Urhobo tribe to receive her father’s chieftaincy title as the Okugbe II of Udu Kingdom in Delta State. In this Interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Suo, who is a sports journalist, narrates her experience and plans. 

How did you feel after being informed of receiving the title?

I was numb. My dad had just passed away and we were planning his burial, I still had a full-fledged career to attend to. To be very honest, I didn’t feel any emotion until the coronation day. 

 At any moment, did you experience doubt or fear?

Of course; I experienced a moment of self-doubt. I’m a young lady in my 30s and wasn’t ready for the weight of responsibility the title would come with. When some persons began telling me what it would cost to prosecute the process, my lack of capacity, because I wasn’t old enough and may not be able to handle the responsibility as my father did, I panicked.  The only thing that kept me going was the support I got from my family and the chiefs in the community. I had persons sending me motivational quotes from great women leaders and that sort of eased the tension. 

What was required of you before the title was bestowed on you?

To be honest, it wasn’t like any of those usual rites you hear of. They had to be sure that I had love for the community, I was tied to the community, invested in its affairs and that I had a home in the community. What concerned the king, council of elders and chiefs was what I had been able to do with the little I had which would show that I’m capable of handling more and to do it in a way that makes the community and kingdom shine. Every other thing was secondary. 

Was there any hassle when your dad decided to hand over the title to you?

It wasn’t handed over to me; it is an inherited title that was passed down. In 100 years, it was the first time in the kingdom of Urhobo land where a late father’s title would be transferred to a daughter, especially when there are capable sons in the family. Most of the hassle came from external forces.

However, the king, queen, chiefs and my family were bent on me receiving the title and that made the process easy. Many still live with the misogynist mindset that women cannot and should not be in power-driven positions “meant for men”. Nonetheless, our king and culture have always been open minded

What are the responsibilities tied to the title?

Okugbe of Udu Kingdom means unifier or peacemaker of the kingdom. They are roles my father played in times of crises. My dad received his title when he played peacemaker with corporations present in the community such as Delta Steel Company and Julius Berger. My responsibilities may not be as massive as that of my dad. However, I still play a role as an ambassador of peace and community leader for the Udu Kingdom and Urhobo people at large. With the title, you are opportune to sit when and where decisions that affect the community are taken.

How do you intend to navigate through the power structures which only favour men?

As a woman who has made a career in a field that is predominantly dominated by men, what you should always look out for is a support system of free thinkers. When you have free and progressive thinkers around you, it always helps to navigate whatever role you have. Same way I’ve navigated being a sports journalist and attained a reasonable amount of success at global and local levels, that’s how I aim to navigate this role as well. It’s not new for Nigerian women to thrive in the face of adversity, as far as you have a support system of free thinkers, you’re good to go.

Is there any issue you have observed so far in the community and will like to address?

One of the reasons I took up the title is to extend my father’s legacy and in my own little way be a peacemaker and conduit by which progress comes to the community. In Udu Kingdom, especially in places like Aladja community, there’s been a stall in commerce. 

The South South, especially those who hail from Urhobo, are big in athletics and other sports. As a sports journalist, the progress we’ve managed to drive across multiple communities in Nigeria and Africa is what I intend to pursue. Partnering with corporations, brands and government to drive sustainable progress through sports, especially because it is the most predominant skill among the male youths of Udu Kingdom. 

As the Okugbe II, I also plan to partner with organisations that will bring skills acquisition to the people. We will host media and communication outreaches to train the people on the use and impact of social media and the power of telling their stories.

How do you plan to push for systematic change around ideas that may not be popular with your people?

The good thing about my community is that we are always open to progress. I have no fear and doubt that the kingdom will embrace whatever change is coming. For every descent, there’s a wind of progress that comes. The hope is to find similar minds and drive that progress by way of education, skills acquisition and sports. 

Do you think it will be easy to balance the responsibilities that come with the title with your career and personal life?

It’s the nature of the African woman to carry her child as she attends to her other responsibilities. I intend to learn from others who have been in such position and link them heavily into the structure we will be creating in the kingdom. For 10 years, I’ve been able to balance my career with my motherly duties. This will only be an addition for me, and with certain structures in place, nothing is impossible.

As a woman leader, do you intend to create reforms that protect the girl child?

They say a picture speaks a thousand words; it can motivate and inspire one to do better than they are. After my tweet went viral, I received a lot of messages from young girls and women who were inspired by my coronation. I have fathers who reached out to me, saying that through my actions, their girl child would be motivated to set higher goals. My reform for the girl child is going to focus on the power of imagery, the power of being present and counted. We need to put more women into the visual space because seeing is believing. We need more women present in spaces such as sports, commerce and education. Women who will drive policies at the local level that put the girl child and her health as priority, the importance of education and expression of skills. We have women who are good carpenters, engineers and sports women. Even though there’s a stigmatisation that comes with wanting to be different, through proper visual representation we can show the girl child that she can emerge successful in whatever field she finds herself in.

What do you think is the most important barrier to women leadership in Nigeria?

Personally, I feel the primary barrier with women leadership in Nigeria is the idea of perfection; we believe that we have to be somewhat perfect before we deem ourselves as worthy enough to sit on the table with top leaders. With men, they don’t have such issues. They don’t see any limitation, they don’t discourage themselves, they just go for it. As women, we have to be confident in our skillset and the change, we aim to bring with that you’d feel bolder to sit at any table despite the gender.