Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is the Founder and Executive Director of Spaces for Change – a non-profit that leverages on digital technology to crowdsource policy research data, facilitate public dialogues and mobilize the participation of the often- unheard segments of the population; women, youth and local communities.

Victoria was a 2016 Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow and her research and advocacy experience spans Africa, Europe and the Americas. She holds a Master’s Degree from Harvard Law School and has a post-graduate diploma in Social and Economic Rights from the Graduate Institute of International Development in Geneva, Switzerland.

Read our interview with her below:

Fearless, bold and outspoken are some of the words that the mention of your name elicits in the development circle; how does this make you feel?

It’s always very interesting to find out how you are perceived out there.  Fearless, bold and outspoken: Those are very kind words. If these words have been used to describe me, then that probably suggests that I may have done things that demonstrate those abilities. To keep doing the work that portray those attributes is something that I must then take seriously.

Going by your work in Spaces for Change Nigeria and other national and international assignments, you appear to focus majorly on women; so do you consider yourself a feminist?

Spaces for Change has carried out numerous interventions around energy policy and urban governance reforms, including the defending the civil society space. All of these interventions proceed upon the premise that gender equity is a central component of sustainable development. Accordingly, we have concentrated on many gender issues in Nigeria from gender-based violence, to abductions and conflict, to environmental justice and social security. We are now also working on the structural barriers in society that prevent the full participation of women in social and economic activities that could enable fairer and more sustainable development. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence make it clear that women experience many kinds of disadvantages and discrimination in energy, health, education, housing and employment. Through our advocacy built on research evidence, we are working to influence change around these issues using the paradigm of human rights and human dignity.

The word, feminism, has been so grossly misinterpreted and misunderstood that it now evokes fear in the minds of many.  It does not mean hatred for men. It does not mean role reversal for men and women especially in the home. Feminism simply advocates for the recognition and protection of women’s and girls’ rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. That is: equal pay and rewards systems for equal work; equal social and economic opportunities for both the male and the female child; equal rights to aspire to any position and excel in any given endeavor without the inhibitions of culture, religion and tradition. And lot more.  Consistent with this goal of achieving equality of the sexes, I regard myself as a feminist.

Your organization has done a whole lot of research on the Petroleum Industry Bill, what are your thoughts about the bill?

Oil is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. As such, Nigeria needs a coherent legal framework to guide the operations of the oil and gas industry and ensure both revenue and investment certainty. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) represents a bold step forward toward infusing that coherence and certainty into industry operations. Nigerians should fully support this process.

However, having a new legal regime for the industry and rearranging institutional structures are not enough. Most Nigerians are desirous to have a PIB that will truly introduce reforms that will plug the gaps that have stirred tensions and stalled progress for decades. Gaps like the retention of untargeted subsidies on certain fuels, bolstering contract transparency, improving regulatory capacities, environmental protection and remediation, assuaging the agitations of host communities, redressing the lopsided power relations between companies and communities, strengthening women’s participation in energy decision-making, future savings, effective management of oil revenues for infrastructural development and so forth. The good news is that the process towards achieving all of these has started, and all hands must be on deck to ensure that these goals are realized.

You expressed dissatisfaction at the manner dwellers of Otodo Gbame in Lagos were evicted; how best do you think the challenge of slum settlements can be addressed?

The destruction of Otodo-Gbame by state agents is a sad commentary on mega-city development in Nigeria. It is a sad reminder of what happened in Maroko in July 14, 1990, when brutal evictions ordered by state authorities displaced over 300,000 people at the peak of the rainy season. The way and manner Otodo-Gbame community was cleared and their residents forcefully removed—without the provision of adequate compensation or resettlement for extremely poor families—provides deep insights into the minds of city planners. The message is clear: the poor are unwanted and expendable. We do not want them. We have no plans for them! As was the case in Maroko, market-driven luxury apartments and other high-end housing developments will soon spring up on the cleared land to pave way for the affluent members of the society to take over the area.

Forced removal (and mass displacement) of urban poor families is not a solution to the proliferation of slums or informal settlements.  There will never be a time when a family displaced from Otodo-Gbame will relocate to the highbrow neighborhoods in Ikoyi or Victoria Garden City. What the displaced families will simply do is to relocate to another informal neighborhood and try to start afresh. In other words, the forced removal of urban poor residents merely relocates the problem of informal occupation from one point to another, aggravating the situation. This strategy is ineffective. What about providing services and basic amenities, including upgrading the infrastructure within the existing informal localities to make the area more functional and livable?

A major shift away from the market-driven infrastructure development programs toward integrating informal settlements into the wider city redevelopment plans does not only have the potential to reduce poverty but also lessens the socio-economic gaps between communities and disparities in access to education, health and employment opportunities. It has become imperative to build the planning and technical capacity of officials to administer urban reforms in ways that bring about effective public service systems and long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability of the cities.

Going by your opinion pieces in Nigerian dailies, it is obvious you are passionate about governance and national development. Do you have plans to run for office especially in light of the recently passed Not Too Young To Run Bill?

Public service is noble. It’s something I have always thought would happen at the right time and opportunity.

Which of the SDGs is your favourite?

I actually have two favorites: SD Goal 5 on gender equality and SD Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy.

How do we reach you for questions or comments?

I can be reached on [email protected]

Elias Gbadamosi
Elias is a GRI trained sustainability professional keen on communicating sustainability and advising organizations and governments on how to achieve their overarching goals in a responsible manner. He is selectively quiet, and loves good tea.