MEET CHIEF (MRS) NIKE DAVIES-OKUNDAYE, THE NIGERIAN WOMAN WITH NO FORMAL EDUCATION WHO LECTURES AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
In the days of old, it was an abomination for a Nigerian child especially one from an educated family, to breathe in or out the air of “I don’t want to go to school”, you would either be disowned or flogged back to your senses.
Today, one of many people changing the initial orientation that one’s success is affiliated to educational achievements is Nike Okundaye. Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, Kogi State, Nigeria. She was brought up amidst the traditional weaving and dying practice in her native village of Ogidi in Western Nigeria. Chief Nike's artistic skills were nurtured at a young age by her parents and great grandmother who were musicians and craftspeople. She spent the early part of her life in Oshogbo, which is recognised as one of the major centres for art and culture in Nigeria. During her stay in Oshogbo, indigo dying and Adire production dominated her informal training. Chief Nike is the founder and director of four art centres, which offers free training to young artists in visual, musical and the performing arts. She is the owner of the largest art gallery in West Africa compromising over 7,000 artworks. The centres also serve as a rich source of knowledge for traditional arts and culture to scholars and institutions.
The 64-year-old batik and textile designer lectures at Harvard University and other top universities in America and Europe. Born in her native village of Ogidi, Ijumu local government area, Kogi state, little Nike had big dreams about what type of future she wanted for herself. But her dreams were truncated when she lost her mother at age six. Shortly after the family tragedy, young Nike was taken away to live with her grandmother, who at that time was the leader of cloth weavers in the community.
“I come from a family of craftsmen. My parents were crafts people from Ogidi in Ijumu local government area, Kogi state. My life as an artist is something that I was born with. I started weaving at the age of six.
“I started with weaving different things, including adire, a traditional Yoruba hand-painted cloth design. As a matter of fact, I can say everything that had to do with textile. They taught me how to weave, using a little calabash. Gradually, I graduated to using bigger materials,” she said.
Although Nike was just six years old, she already had a vivid picture of the kind of future she was dreaming about. “My grandmother was the head of all the weavers in our community. So, even as a little child, I already had a dream that I would own a big studio when I grew up. People came from different areas to buy the cloth from her. So, at that time, I already sensed that I might not have the opportunity to go to school.”
In 2000, the Italian government invited Nike to train young Nigerian sex workers on how to use their hands to engage in creative ventures; and in 2006, she was awarded one of the highest national awards of merit by the Italian government in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian sex workers in Italy.
Two former presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton and George Bush liaised with her based on worldwide acclaim. She had the opportunity to decorate George Bush’s room in Abuja during his visit to the country. Some works of Nike can be found amongst the collection of prominent politicians around the world, including the White House.
According to her, these two incidents, were some of the best things to have happened to her.
“When President Bill Clinton of the US visited Nigeria, he asked to meet the woman behind Nike Gallery, and I was taken to Abuja to meet him. It was the same thing with President George Bush. I was invited to meet him in Abuja during his visit to Nigeria. I was the one that decorated the room where the president stayed during the visit. What honour can be greater than this? I feel accomplished.”
Nike is known all over the world for promoting her designs through exhibitions and workshops in Nigeria, USA, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Nike has taught in several prestigious universities in the USA and Canada.
“I have lectured and held workshops in several noble institutions across the world. Some of the universities include Harvard, Columbus, Edmonton, Ohio and in Los Angeles, among others. My first experience with teaching was in 1974. At that time, I taught people with doctoral degrees.”
In 1983, she established the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Oshogbo, Osun state, where trainings are offered free of charge to Nigerians in various forms of arts. The centre was opened with 20 young girls who were picked from the streets and offered free food, free materials and a new life in arts. Over 3,000 young Nigerians have been trained there.
“The type of education I had at the time was the education that is passed from parents to their children, not the education you get in a classroom. It was the practical type of education,” she said.
The center also admits undergraduate students from many universities in Nigeria for their industrial training programmes in textile design. Now it also admits students from Europe, Canada and the USA.
Food For Thought
There are various sectors and industries for a reason. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has to be
an engineer or have a formal education to be successful not every engineer has as much money as Mrs
Nike in context above. The creative industry has come a long way and has been able to over the years
establish strong ground and add to national revenue. So, no! It’s not okay for you to have ideas and kill it
under the umbrella of formal education.
If you fall into this category and need help with your ideas, a unique platform called the Be. School has
been launched in Nigeria which aims to provide solution young African, with innovative mindset, with
futuristic information and mentorship to transform your idea from that raw stage into what you dream
of. All you need do is visit www.tink-africa.com or reach out to TINK Africa via the available social media