Aziza Atta is a Uk trained Finance lawyer turned entrepreneur. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, the Chief Executive Officer of Ozoza Lifestyle speaks on life as an International lawyer and her experience living and working in different parts of the world.
I was born in the early seventies into a diplomatic family. Due to the fact that my father worked for the Nigerian Foreign service, a great deal of my childhood was spent living in different countries around the world. As a child in a family of eight children, I enjoyed it immensely, as it meant that every few years or so there would be a new adventure. We spent most of our time outdoors and immersed ourselves in whichever culture we were in. My parents encouraged this, as well as self-expression. They also engaged with us a great deal.
Choice of career
I had and still have a great love for theatre and film and was very much involved in theatre throughout my primary, secondary and post-graduate school years. My second great passion is and was Linguistics. When it came to deciding on what to study at the university, a career in Theatre or Linguistics did not seem to be a feasible option. I did not know anyone in my social circle who had made a career out of the two vocations. So, I could not imagine it at the time, I remember consulting my father on it and he was very much about choosing what you want to do, but added that when in doubt, do something that gives you good skills and allows you to come back to what you are passionate about. This led me to choose a career in Law. True to my father’s word, I have been able to return to my passion for the Arts over the years. During a sabbatical from Law, I was able to study Film-making in New York. In recent years, I have also particularly enjoyed script-writing for BBC Media Action in Abuja on the Nebor,” my radio series which is broadcast nationwide and seeks to raise awareness with regards to measures to reduce infant mortality.
The price I paid to get to where I am today
My take on this matter is that every experience in life can be enriching if viewed from the perspective of being a continuous student on a journey and allowing such experiences to add to one’s current undertakings. I think that an exposure to many different cultures during my childhood led me to appreciate people regardless of their race, religion or colour. It also let me appreciate culture and the positive hue it can bring to life in general. It gave me a desire to celebrate my own culture and the various cultures in Africa. Training as a lawyer and working for many years at International Law firms such as Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer and Norton Rose Fulbright sharpened my analytical skills and attitude towards problem-solving. Working on various developmental grassroots projects in various places such as Guatemala, the Niger Delta and Kano made me understand how much can be achieved with minimal resources as long as one has focus, discipline, determination and cooperative co-workers. Some of the best projects that I worked on were executed on a shoe-string.
Most defining moment of my career so far
I have worked in many places and learnt a great deal from all of my experiences. I would say that the most satisfying experience that I have had in my career so far was when I worked for an NGO in Guatemala. I was the educational coordinator of the National Educational Program, “Eduquemos a la Nina“ (Let’s Educate the Girls). It was a United Nations literacy programme rolled out by the Guatemalan government in 1994 to address the issue of illiteracy of Mayan Indian girls. My role was to implement the programme in the Rio Dulce area for the Q’eqchi community and fundraise for the program. We had very few resources, kept overheads to a minimum and a great team. We were able to achieve all our objectives and more. The program is still running today. It was work that never felt like work because it was so enjoyable, stimulating and satisfying. This had a lot do with the positive attitude of the people that I was surrounded by and the fact that we were empowered to run our programmes efficiently.
On whether I was discriminated against because of my gender or race when working abroad
Gender discrimination is a reality that affect many women’s lives unjustly and needs to be very seriously addressed. When it comes to gender discrimination, race or religious discrimination. I am sure that there have been situations in which either one of or all three types of discrimination existed. My upbringing was one in which we were not assigned specific gender roles or given limitations based on race. Everyone was expected to try their best at whatever they decided to do. Gender, race or religious discrimination were not highlighted as such. What was emphasised was how to approach obstacles that come your way. I did not realise it at the time, but when I look back I see that my mother very much empowered us by passing on this mindset. However, I do recognise that I was very fortunate in this respect and recognise that gender discrimination is the harsh reality of many women’s lives and we all need to work together to eliminate this problem in society.
Combining the home front with my career
This has been and can be very challenging at times. Some people are better at balancing this than others. For me, it’s still a work in progress. Having a supportive family goes a long way. I have been in work situations in which the working hours were predominantly determined by the needs of the company. This situation is very challenging for most women and I think that more workplaces need to find creative ways to get the best out of their employees as well as enable them to have time for their families. Naturally, things become more manageable when one is in charge of one’s working hours. I think that there needs to be a shift in corporate thinking. More focus on productivity and the quality of the work, rather than the hours or the location that the employee is working from.
On the allegation that women bosses are difficult to work with
I do not think it is possible to categorise things in a black and white manner. I have worked for some very talented women and some very talented men. Each with their own characteristics and skills that I have been able to learn from. At the end of the day, the priority of every boss is delivery, it is just manifested in different ways. Once the nature of the person one works with is understood and accepted, it makes the goals easier to achieve.
What motivated me to go into entrepreneurship
Going into entrepreneurship was not a conscious decision. It evolved organically. It was one step at a time. An idea that grew and resulted in Ozoza Lifestyle.
Unique selling point
Our focus is on quality and beauty. Things that are well-made and pleasing to the eye. We combine the traditional with the contemporary, whilst empowering artisans.
Coping with competition
Competition is healthy. It encourages one to be the best one can be. Where possible one can also collaborate with one’s competitor. It stimulates innovation. Everyone has something unique to bring to the table.
On what Nigerians can do to survive recession
Effective from 18 May 2017, the Federal Government has issued an executive order for all ministries to grant preference to selected Made in Nigeria goods. The government’s current mantra is that “we must produce everything we eat and we must make everything we use.” We need to forge partnerships with relevant parties when it comes to sourcing raw materials and technical expertise. We need to start small and collaborate strategically in industry specific hubs. For instance, in the manufacturing industry, this could involve people coming together to invest in machinery and operating it on a timeshare basis.
Advice to young women
I would encourage young women to do their research before they embark on a venture. Whatever career you choose to pursue, have a deep understanding of the field. Be disciplined, focused and committed. Be very professional in your attitude towards work and don’t be distracted by issues like race, gender, colour and religion. Focus on people’s behaviour and skills. Try as much as possible to integrate what you are naturally gifted at into your work.