Karimot Olabisi Odebode is a lawyer, a poet, and an activist. She is the founder of the Black Girl’s Dream Initiative (BGDI) and the author of the poetry collection ‘A woman has many names’. In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about her love for Ibadan, her poetry de ella, her activism work, her interest in politics, among others.
You are a lawyer, writer and activist. How did it all begin?
I would say that my love for law, writing and activism stemmed from my love for humanity. I wanted to do something that will create a lasting change in society, and those three found me. Law is the status quo for justice. If you are aggrieved, the court of law is the hope of the common man. Writing has been a revolutionary act of changing history. With your pen, you can engage in plethora of issues, while proffering solutions to them. Activism, on its own, is revolutionary too. It is speaking up for yourself and for other people. All these allow me to make an impact on the society.
You grew up in Ibadan. Was there any personal or general experience, while living in the city, that inspired you to become an activist?
And it is. I grew up in the ancient and beautiful city of Ibadan. Ibadan’s history itself encourages good governance. It is a city that breeds and is still breeding many men and women who have rewritten the history of this nation. Ibadan has churned lots of talent in all sectors.
Ibadan is not just called the city of firsts for nothing. Living in this city and being aware of what makes up this city is enough experience to encourage me to be steadfast in my fight for justice.
As a poet, how long have you been writing and performing poetry? And what do you think is the role of the poet in Nigeria’s socio-cultural life?
I have been writing since I was a child. But I will say I started writing poetry about 11 years ago, and I started off writing Yoruba poetry.
I started performing around 2013. I think my first public performance that I can clearly remember was my secondary school valedictory service at Queen’s School, Ibadan. I had performed a Yoruba poetry that got everyone enthralled.
On getting into Obafemi Awolowo University, I continued writing. I belonged to several literary and poetry clubs, one of which was PoeticHood ─ a poetry club where we met every Sundays to discuss poetry and watch ourselves perform poems on different themes.
Poetry is the art of revealing truth with words. So, the role of poets in Nigeria’s socio-cultural life can never be underestimated. Poets have used their arts to talk about issues in society. Poets have used and are still using their words to effect changes in the society.
You recently published and launched a poetry collection ‘A woman has many names’. When did you start writing the poems and what is the inspiration behind them?
I published my debut poetry collection, ‘A woman has many names’, on March 8, 2022, which coincided with the International Women’s Day. The book contains 107 poems that speak on womanhood, nationhood, love, self-worth, etc.
I started writing some of the poems since I was in my second or third year at the university. There were some poems I wrote this year too. The poems are inspired by personal experiences, interactions with people, and a view of society. My works are mostly inspired by thematic issues in society. I tend to use my poetry as a form of activism.
When you say ‘A woman has many names’, what do you mean? Can you explain it with a real-life story of any woman you know?
‘A woman has many names’ is the story of every woman and every human being. It is telling women that they have a plethora of names, that they can be whatever and whoever they choose to call themselves. It is also telling them that they are ‘Ubuntu’ ─ they are because other women were, that they can choose to call themselves by the name of women that have made an impact in their life and in society. ‘A woman has many names’ is the reality and the story of all women and human beings.
What three lessons do you want people to learn from the poems?
I want them to realize their worth ─ that nothing is impossible to achieve, so far they believe in themselves.
I want them to learn the language of kindness, that they need to be kind to themselves and other people.
I also want them to learn to be angry and not sit in disrespect. This is because anger is the first step to change.
You are the founder of the Black Girl’s Dream Initiative. Tell us about it and why you founded it.
I founded the Black Girl’s Dream Initiative (BGDI) which is a not-for-profit organization that works to promote education and gender equality. We use art, advocacy, research, technology, and sports as mediums to achieve our goals.
We are the organizer of the ‘Ibadan Schools Debate Training and Competition’, where we train secondary school students in the art of debate, research and public speaking.
I founded BGDI because of my love for education and also to provide a platform for teens, most especially the girl-child, to thrive.
Many women believe that what a man can do, they can do it better. What is your take on this? And do you believe that greater participation of women in politics and leadership roles can make Nigeria better than it is now?
And it is. I believe what a man can do, a woman can also do it. And she might do it better.
I also believe that the greater participation of women in politics and leadership is one way to develop our nation. Women are builders and leaders. They often times lead with empathy and also get the work done. We need empathetic leaders who will remember during decision making that their actions and inactions will affect generations to come. I am here for leading women, and that is one of the things I do as an advocate.
Have you thought of going into politics? If you were Nigeria’s president, how would you ensure the voices and the rights of women are respectively heard and respected?
Yes, I have thought of going into politics. Politics is how we get the work done. We can talk from morning till night but if the work is not done, we cannot see changes. I will one day run for political office.
If I were Nigeria’s president, I will ensure that policies that are in place to protect the rights of women are well implemented, while also putting in place new ones. I will also encourage equal representation of both genders in governance.
What three things do you love about Ibadan? And what three things about the city would you love the people/government to improve on?
The three things I love about Ibadan are: one, the history; two, the beauty of the city; and three, the people.
The three things I will love the people/government to improve on are: one, I will love to see more infrastructural projects that will place the city on the global map; two, young people going after their dreams; and three, government supporting young people in their endeavours.
Apart from writing and BGDI, what other jobs/engagements demand your time and energy? And how do you manage the stress from these engagements?
I consulted on other projects for some organisations, while also mentoring young girls. I am also a public speaker, event host, and moderator.
I try to give myself breaks by taking time out and relaxing. By doing that, I am refreshing my brain, body, and mind.
You launched your poetry collection on the International Women’s Day (IWD). Bearing the theme of this year’s IWD: ‘Gender equality today for sustainable tomorrow’, what do you have to say to Nigerian women?
Dear Nigerian woman, you can be whatever and whoever you want to be. Do not settle for less. Soar and show the world what you are made of.