As the chairman, Child Survival and Development Organisation of Nigeria, a not-for-profit organisation taxed with promoting the well-being of Nigerian women,children and in particular cancer patients, Onari Duke, is an authority in social entrepreneurship.
Passionate about providing succour to the less privileged, the former first lady of Cross River State has been committed to the vision for 14 years and still counting. Her compassionate conduct and wealth of experience is evident as she speaks about her interests.
“At CSDON, we currently operate at two core levels, which are providing medical care and medical aid. The latter comprises a cancer awareness support programme under the Run-for-a-Cure initiative. Our foundation has also been providing free cervical screening and cryotherapy treatment for countless cancer patients in Lagos and Calabar. The Child and Maternal Healthcare initiative of our charity is primarily driven by the Calabar Women and Children Hospital located in Cross-River State.”
The Ahmadu Bello University, Law graduate, is not resting on her oars. She says the decision to fight soaring neonatal death rates in Nigeria was as a result of a personal experience.
“After I had my last child in the United States of America, we paid $4500 as medical expenses. She was taken into intensive care because she had complications.When she was discharged we were charged almost $8000.
“When I met with the doctor, he said he didn’t need my permission and that of my husband to save our daughter’s life. Her pediatrician also informed me that I would have lost her if she was delivered in Nigeria. There and then, I decided to set up a fully equipped children’s hospital in Nigeria to cater primarily to infants.”
Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the certified mediation/dispute resolution consultant, is also the managing partner of Duke &Bobmanuel, a law firm.
Exuding an unmistakable aura of confidence, the Executive Chairman of Allied Merchants & Brokers Limited and Non-Executive director of the United Bank of Africa Plc,says her career path in life, as a youth was largely influenced by an interesting event.
She recalls, “I initially intended to study Graphic Arts but as I was about to submit my application, I realised that the university’s requirements for Law was more. So, I felt I would be settling for a less-challenging course if I studied Graphic Arts. I am glad I studied Law even though I have stopped going to court because I find it difficult to do the same thing for a long time.”
Currently splitting her time between CSDON and EMPRETEC Nigeria Foundation, Development Private Sector Support Initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – Duke, no doubt, has a lot of things on her plate.
Although a tough call, she says the home front hasn’t suffered in this regard. She notes, “When my kids were younger, you would think I was a soccer mum if you saw me at their school, because I was always there. I remember my husband saying that I would have withdrawal symptoms once my kids left the school. I had made up my mind from the outset that no nanny would assist my kids with their homework. I don’t have a social life and my life revolves around work, family and church.”
Today, all the years of sacrifice and hard work have paid off. She says, “I have two daughters who are lawyers, the first works in a consulting firm while the other one is practicing in the United States Of America. Hopefully after a few years of practicing abroad, she will come home and join the team.”
Quite interested in mentoring women for future leadership roles, she says, “I don’t think women are less than men, I don’t also think that we should be pitied. I don’t want to fill a vacant position because they are looking for a woman to fill that position. I want to fill a position that is vacant because I am competent to hold that office.’’
When the chips are down, she trusts in God while acknowledging Him as her anchor. “Funding is a major challenge because the workload is huge and there is a lot of demand on the organisation, so I also fund it. It is my dream to see a drastic reduction in the number of children dying from cancer,” she adds.
On life as a former First Lady, she says, “It is nothing different from what I have been doing before my husband got into office. I have just continued with what I was doing before my husband was elected. The only thing I miss may just be the fact that while I was in office, I had access to specialists I needed to work with on any project. But, these days, I have to source the expertise myself.”
Asking the charming mother of three daughters to speak about her husband can be likened to evoking memories of an outstanding event in her life.
She recalls,“We were both students in the faculty of Law at ABU but he was a year ahead of me. I met him the same day I arrived campus to register. He was campaigning for student union elections when he spotted me. After he was done campaigning, he came back to me and we chatted.We were friends for a long time before we decided to get married.”
On the success of the union, she says, “If you love God and love the fact that He loves marriage, it puts your union in a cruise state.When you approach marriage from that perspective, you will begin to appreciate your partner and overlook his errors because we are all humans after all.”
A hands-on mum, she says, “I constantly tell my daughters that anytime anyone upsets them, it maybe as a result of their background and not because they really meant to hurt them in the first place.
“ Motive is important, but as soon as you realise that a person has made a mistake just forgive him or her and let it go. People hold a lot of animosity in marriage and life because they won’t let go of the hurt or pain they have experienced. If you are in pain, let it go and continue the relationship.”
With her eyes clearly set on the future, Duke says, “I am ready to retire in two years. I have worked so hard and I really want to retreat. I will only hold board meetings with my team and this is because I don’t see my organisation as belonging to me alone.I consider myself as an individual who is simply providing a platform for people to work on. Hopefully, all the rough edges will be smoothened over the years.”
When she is not busy in the boardroom, calling the shots, Duke who is blessed with height and good looks, lets her hair down. She says, “I unwind by socialising where I work or in church. I also love travelling with my family for vacations. I am not a movie addict.
“My husband loves music and I am his manager. I don’t do much with music but all my children can play different instruments. I have been tempted to do music but I have never given it the necessary attention. I love the keyboard and my father was a first class organist.
Quite stylish, she concludes, “I dress to be comfortable and to be able to multitask. I love to dress in a smart but casual manner and that way, I can go from my office to church, to school to play with children or attend church. I love to feel confortable and yet not too casual.”