The Girl Who Grew Up To Be A Nigerian Chief

Joan Jeremiah never expected to serve as a Nigerian Chief – especially in a town where she didn’t grow up and where there had never been a female chief before. But in the fall of 2016, the unexpected became reality. Joan, a woman whose career has focused on improving the rights of women and girls in Nigeria, suddenly found herself as the chief of the Okon Clan, in Akwa Ibom State.

Her formal title became “Eka Esit Mbom,” which means “Mother with a Big Heart.”

Joan, or Chief Eka Esit Mbom, had already been working for Population Media Center (PMC) for more than 10 years when she became Chief. PMC, a US-based nonprofit that works to improve the rights of women and girls, produces TV and radio dramas that tell life-changing stories to local and regional audiences. PMC hires all local writers, producers, and actors to ensure the stories resonate with the multitudes of people tuning in.

“I saw an advert for application in the PMC-Nigeria Ibadan office in 2006 so I applied and fortunately I got the job and I have been living my dreams ever since,” Joan says. “In PMC, we act for change – meaning we are positive change agents concerning every area of the human life. My belief is once we have more people with positive behavior, we will have a better world to live in.

“I asked an elder in the village why they chose me [for Chief]… because I am not from Akwa Ibom State,” she says. “He told me in parable that you know who a good wife is by looking at her husband. He said that though I am not from their state, I had demonstrated so much love, care, and support for their people, that I have accepted them as my people. I welcome and respect them when they come visiting my house and have given their young ladies and women hope for a bright future in the way I interact with them.”

In effect, Joan has become a community role model – exactly the same thing PMC’s dramas are designed to do. Everyone knows that people can learn from real-life role-models like Joan, but PMC has proven time and again that people can also learn from fictional role-models. Audiences observe the behaviors of PMC’s fictional characters and see the different outcomes for different decisions a character may make.

Joan describes herself as “God-fearing, simple, and unassuming.” She says she loves hard work and vision-driven individuals. Her strength – which blends optimism, perseverance, and humility – has enabled her to work for good and role model what she believes in.

Joan was raised by her maternal grandparents and studied history and international studies at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma – Edo State where she graduated with honors. After graduation, she spent her service year as part of the Peer Educator Club. She met with youth and encouraged them to join the Peer Educator Clubs and learn about HIV/AIDS and other health issues in secondary school. Her life has been one of service ever since, and will continue to be so with her Chief title.

“It means more responsibilities now, more people are looking up to you. You have become a role model, mentor, and a counselor,” she says of the Chiefdom. “It was not something I longed for or asked for, but I would love to use the opportunities it brings me to create more awareness on maternal health care, youth and women development, and empowerment in our villages.”

Joan’s story shows that role-models are a powerful force for change. Population Media Center entertains huge audiences to help change deeply embedded norms, like sending girls to school, through the use of fictional role-models. What begins as a story in a local writer’s head ends up building momentum, as it is embraced by individuals across the community – eventually resulting in healthier women, girls, families, communities, and planet.

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