Yemi Fawaz is no stranger to the fashion and modelling world. Her major contribution to the development of the industry still speaks volume till date. As a pioneer in the industry, she pushed the modelling industry to enviable height amidst challenges before bidding farewell to Nigeria. She is back in Nigeria to initiate Banner of Love, a non-governmental organization set to provide medicare and eradicate poverty among the underprivileged.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with her on why she came visiting…
It’s been a while you left Nigeria, can you tell us what brought you back home?
I came back home to share my experience with my people back here, especially when it has to do with health issues, children, women and what concerns homeless people. Everything that is a challenge here in Nigeria, issues that can be looked into by the government and the people living a better life without sickness. I want to contribute my quota to those aspect.
Will you say you miss Nigeria?
I miss Nigeria very much. I miss my culture, the discipline among our people. I am not talking about discipline on the road but the way we respect each other as Nigerians, the way our parents, neighbours, everybody show concern for each other. But I have to travel to get more wisdom and bring it back here to teach my people.
Will you say you have any regret leaving Nigeria back then?
I don’t have any regret leaving. Before I left, it took me a while to make up my mind. I had to think and pray about it. The major reason I left was because I knew I lived a very honest life, you don’t want to go out of your faith to do things you shouldn’t do for money. So, I decided to leave. The wisdom that I gained there is better than any money I left behind.
You have also found a new faith, can you tell us about it?
The faith that I found is not new. I have been in the Lord since 1991, to God be the glory. The Lord Jesus found me, I didn’t find Him. Since 1991, my life has never been the same. That is why I am the way I am. It was a great experience. That was why I have my confidence in Christ, especially when I was diagnosed for an enlarged heart. I trusted the Lord to heal me and He healed me.
Tell us what Banner of Love is all about?
The inspiration to set up Banner of Love came when I was diagnosed with a large heart. I didn’t know anything about NGO. I was told my heart was damaged and there was nothing they could do.
I turned my face to the wall and I talked to the Lord. If the Lord healed me, I would go out there to help other people. I started doing my research through the illness, through doctors, nurses, hospitals and people who had been diagnosed with the same thing. Later, I decided I should put up an NGO to help people in Nigeria. One emotional thing about it is that, same people have passed on who were diagnosed of the same disease, I left them here in Nigeria and found out later they had passed on.
We need to do something about it. When I think of what children go through when they are sick, especially if it is a curable disease. The memory of growing up in Ebute Meta, Lagos, how we saw children with shiny big belly but other part of their body would be lean. Most times, children that shouldn’t die will die. I also found out that a lot of my colleagues in the show business died of congestive heart failure, it is sad. It is sad that after 56 years, Nigeria has no hospital to cater for these curable diseases.
It is sad that people could have stroke and cannot be treated. The moment a patient has a symptom of stroke in America, there is medication they give such a person to revive him immediately before it leads to massive stroke but over here, there is nothing for anybody.
Treatable diseases that can be eliminated, finding out if the child has a problem with the heart when the woman is pregnant, all the gadgets needed for these are not available in Nigeria. No enlightenment about health issues. With what I saw today, 10 years from now, if Nigerians go around with a bottle of soft drink, half of the population will be diabetic, there is no enlightenment. People making soft drinks are making billions from it, so they would allow people to be enlightened. America ensures such does not happen. When you are producing anything, they put the content there, the grammes of sugar and so on. Salt and sugar kill people fast. Even doctors don’t talk about it because they want to make money. A day will come that God will heal His people. Christians will continue to pray about it.
When I was a child, they were calling me an Abiku because I was fainting and coming back to life, they didn’t know I had been having heart failure from when I was two. If you ask 50 percent educated Nigerians what causes stroke, they don’t know. That is why Banner of Love was established to create awareness about curable diseases, how to prevent them and how to stop them from progressing if someone has any of them.
In what ways will Banner of Love come in? Are you coming for seminars, medical outreach?
We will create awareness about our existence. We have affiliate with many doctors both in Nigeria and in the US. We will involve people with great ideas about what we do.
If there are serious issues where children need to be flown abroad for treatment, we will support such a child to get treatment in hospitals where there are free treatments.
We will be coming home regularly. We will have our office here in Nigeria so that we can reach out to the sick through the doctors. We will bring in medication for people. We will reach out to the homeless as well. We will discuss with the government to assist them. We want to provide free food for people. A place where people can walk in and get free food, at least once a week. It might seem little but it’s not.
How do you intend achieving all these?
I can’t tell you how. It will be as if I have given out all my ideas. When it starts, you will see it.
In achieving these, does it mean you are coming back home permanently?
I will not move in permanently. It will be an on and off thing. The only way I will stay back here is if I decide to accept an office. If I am given an office and I think it is the right way, but it must be the right thing. It must benefit me and the people. Maybe then, I will stay back in Nigeria.
How is your daughter doing?
We bless the name of the Lord. She is doing well. Oluwatobi will be 30 on May 20. She is great, she is happy. She is always screaming she wants to come back to Nigeria. I told her, she’s a woman of her own.
We can come. She dreams about her childhood here. She tells people over there that Nigeria is a great nation.
What will you say has changed in Nigeria of then and now?
I wouldn’t say much in that area. I will say I am impressed with what I have seen. The police have been upgraded. They have new vehicles. To my greatest surprise, police are no more aggressive as they used to be. At the airport, Customs are not as aggressive as they used to be. I pray we will continue to give each other respect.
Lagos has really changed. Fashola really did well but we still need to put structures in place and also do better planning. I pray the younger generation can do better.
Have you stopped modelling?
I have not stopped modelling. Once you are into fashion, you cannot stop fashion. People still call me, some African papers still call me to do front page for them. I coordinate fashion shows, do write ups. It is still part of modelling. My company, Yemi Fawax Group of Companies is intact.
Looking at the modelling industry, what is your opinion about it now, where did we miss it and what can be done?
I was very surprised that the modelling industry has died down in Nigeria. When there is no love, where there is no support, when jealousy is more than achievement, things cannot work. I fought for years in this country. I fought so much with the advertising companies to the extent that I became their enemy. The advertising companies blacklisted my company for years. I suffered in silence. My models walked away from me because they were not getting jobs.
All these happened because I was always telling them the way they were handling children was not good. A job that deserved at that time N15,000, you will give them N10,000. Upon that, they would still sleep with the models. It is the fault of the models. Everybody wants to be seen. But where are they today. God fought on my behalf. He knew I was fighting the battle for the sake of the up and coming ones.
I believe a Nigerian model should be earning N10 million now. Nollywood has taken over. If I was still here, I would be the one managing them. Some Nollywood actresses and actors deserve millions from their adverts but some people will go through the back door and collect peanuts. This is what destroys the industry. They refused to listen to me. I used to tell them that show business is for a short time. I guess I was the highest paid model back then. I was earning N10,000 to appear at any function. N10,000 at that time would buy you a Mercedes Benz. Those girls are old now. They misued themselves. Most of them talk to me on Facebook. If they were around me when I was still in Nigeria, things wouldn’t be how they are now.
We went to the attorney general, he told us to state our request which we did but they couldn’t act on it because of change in government. There is no continuity in Nigeria. Once there is a change in government, they forget all projects and initiate new ones. This is the problem we have. Designers go abroad, they know what applies there but they will come back to Nigeria and tell models that they are doing them a favour. Throughout my stay in Nigeria, I was not a bottom power, even before I became a Christian, I wasn’t a bottom power.
Your signature hair has been there for quite a while now, a lot of people believe it is a wig?
I was surprised to find out a few days ago that many Nigerians don’t believe it is my hair. I am really surprised. It is my natural hair and I have worn it for years.