Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji is interviewed by Breaking Views with UNICEF and speaks up against early child marriage and shares her dream of a brighter and fairer Nigeria.
BVU: Genevieve Nnaji, Thanks for joining.
G. Nnaji: Thanks For having me.
BVU: If you said you have to make a point, as you usually do, about the situation of your country, more specifically, about the situation of children, what would that point be?
G. Nnaji: I come from a very large family and we all have been privileged to experience the joy of growing up as children and into adulthood, and that’s a right that it seems it’s been taken away from some of the children out there, especially those from the North.
The messed up part is, children only have a time in their lives when they can actually speak up for themselves, and you know, claim their rights and do what they want. And that’s when they hit the age of eighteen. Until then, their lives are usually controlled by parents, guardians, school teachers and anyone who’s older than you would tell you what to do.
That’s the joy that I must say, honestly, you are taken away from the lives of these children. They would never be adult, because before they even have the right to speak, they are plucked off and married off.
BVU: Nigeria has the highest rate of early marriage in the world. How can these girls be better protected?
G Nnaji : I think for starters, you know, Let girls grow up to become women and make a choice of what they want. Even if you are going to arrange their marriage, at least get them to the point where they know who they are as a human being, as a woman, discover for themselves, and they can be able to fight for themselves when they are being abused in their homes when it comes to that. It’s important that we do not set ourselves back a hundred years. You know, we have fought as women, as African women, to get to where we are and be liberated, and fight for equality, you know, in our society.
BVU: You come from a middle-class family in a country with increased inequality. How was the Nigeria you grew up in as a girl? As a girl, where you scared of such a big issue for children here such as child marriage?
G. Nnaji: I had my kid at a very young age. If this was something that stood, I would have been married off by now.
You know, I obviously would, probably, have grandchildren, (laughs), at this point. But that didn’t happen basically, because I was given that chance that’s why there’s a Genevieve today, that’s why I am sitting in this chair here. You know, I am forever grateful that this was not,– that this didn’t happen in my era. Knowing what life I have and how much I have been able to accomplish, it breaks my heart to know that you are probably ending the life or the possibility of someone who is going to probably find the cure for cancer right now because she’s married off.
BVU: How can you use your influence for the benefit of society?
G. Nnaji : There isn’t so much you can do as an individual, … I am not a politician unfortunately, I am an artist. What I do is to entertain. But I only have my body to tell a story and myself as a human being. At the end of the day, I am the brand, so I am going to use this brand to express myself in the most honest way I can. I want to believe that I stand as a woman and I stand as an example; as a strong woman for this young and upcoming women.
I think it’s important that children, especially women, who do not have a future or who do not hope for a future look and say that it is not all lost, Genevieve came from nothing, here she is, she’s something today. So I want my life to be a testimony to theirs. The only thing I can do is to continue to succeed as much as I can, continue to push the envelope and continue to say, ‘you know what? One person is enough.’
BVU: You see yourself as an example for other women in terms of having succeeded doing what you always dreamed of doing, being a mother, having married whom you wanted to marry and that most women in Nigeria don’t have that privilege. How do you get there? How can you make that happen for women in Nigeria?…..
G. Nnaji : I can only lend my voice and speak up like I’m doing right now, and saying this is what I think. And If you are a respecter of who I am as a person, you should understand that this affects each and every one of us as citizens of this country.
BVU: Girls empowerment, …women’s empowerment, is essential for the future of Africa. The government of Nigeria has shown some openness in the issue and created, for example, the national commission for women and a ministerial portfolio for women affairs. Is that far-reaching enough?
G. Nnaji : No, but it’s a starting point, it’s a starting point. It’s endless, you know,…we are part of the economy, the economy is growing, and that is going to continue to grow for a very long time. And I don’t think it’s okay to say that we have established this organization and that institution, and ‘blah blah blah’, and it should end there. It shouldn’t end there, it should be a starting point and it should continue as long as we can, but then we need to come together as a people and not wait for the government alone to do things.
BVU: Is the solution with individuals or with the government?
G. Nnaji : It’s with government! The solution is with the government. I think…I mean the people have to revamp their way of thinking and be a bit more positive and a bit more supportive especially toward those who are even doing something at all.
And for the government, unfortunately, we have more people who are more about themselves and less about the people. If we loved this country like we claim we do, we would do more for the country and less for ourselves. So the people in power need to start to love the country. I think they have taken enough money for themselves, quite honestly, and I think it’s time that they start to give back to those they have taken from.
BVU: You go out in the street, you see a lot of poverty. How does that affect you? Do you feel like an outcast in your own country?
G. Nnaji : It’s almost like…whatever problem that I have becomes trivial. For me that’s courage. I think that is strongest–those people who are in that condition and still smiling, they are the strongest. Because a lot of us probably with our wealth are still unhappy. We are not even as half as happy as they are, because they are content. But then contentment does not mean that they can’t have a better life and which is obviously why we are talking about this.
BVU : What kind of country do you hope your daughter would grow up in?
G. Nnaji : Well obviously, it has to be a place where independence in the true sense of the meaning reigns; where people are free to express without being shut down, without being called names; where people have a freedom of opinion. But it has to be a country where people are open and people are unafraid to speak up. It’s not that place yet. So I wish for Africa what America has.
BVU: Do you believe that the people in Nigeria, in Africa are working hard as well to have that integration, that union that is necessary to progress and to make it a better continent?
G. Nnaji : No, the people are the problem…we don’t know what we want as a people. We want this but we are not ready to do the work to get there. You want to be respected…you want to be an achiever but you are not ready to put in the work. And if someone puts in the work and gets there,– ‘oh no, they didn’t get there by hard work. They must have gotten it by this means’— because you were unable to achieve what they did. So it’s the mentality of us that kills us. So I don’t think, …even as we say that we are ready, our attitude does not show that at all.
BVU: Genevieve Nnaji, thank you very much
G. Nnaji : You are welcome! Thank you!
This transcript was brought to you courtesy of Unicef and the team @ammgospel Media. For more information, contact: Management@genevieveofficial.com