The story Queen Josephine Diete-Spiff can be described as grass to grace, she had it rough while growing up, but all through the different challenges she passed through, she never for once lose sight of God and her faith.
Even as a Queen, she still preach from one church to the other as she did not allow royalty take the place of her calling as an evangelist. Read the excerpt below.
Where were you born and what was growing up like for you?
I was born in the ancient city of Benin in Edo State, into a Christian home. My mother is a deaconess while my father was a reverend. They were teachers.
I was the third out of seven children and the first girl in fact. In those days, training children was not very easy, especially when you were not in the village where you could farm. We were all in the city, so my parents concentrated more on the boys. But I was passionate about education. Also, that era was when traveling to Italy was very famous in Benin especially among young ladies.
What era was that?
I was born in 1967 but I am talking about when I was in secondary school then. I attended Idia College in Benin and we used to call ourselves queens at the time. So, now that I am a queen, I don’t think it’s a coincidence because I have seen myself as one long before it happened.
So, that period was when it was very fashionable for every young girl in Benin to aspire to go to Italy. The temptation for me to follow that path was quite strong as well but I couldn’t just find myself doing such because of the passion for education. I just wanted to go to school and study to become something great. Margaret Thatcher of Britain was my role model then; I wanted to be like her and luckily for me, throughout my school days, I found myself in positions of leadership.
For example, I was the president of the Students Union Government in the University of Port Harcourt at a time but before then, I was Head Girl and Senior Prefect respectively in my secondary school. So, I was always leading people.
However, there came a time when I couldn’t continue my education because my parents were not able to pay my fees. But I was passionate about school and decided to start hunting for a job. So, I went out looking for a job and I got one, an infamous job, but it paid my school fees.
What type of job was that?
I got a job as a mason in a building site. I carried blocks and sand, it was tough but rewarding. The owner of the place came and paid my fees. He was excited. Initially, he sacked me but later called me back and made me the cashier at the place. I sometimes tell my children that I am not tall maybe because I had to carry sand with head pan.
I also acted on television at a point. I acted in different places just to raise money because I wanted to go to school. After I passed my Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, I was offered admission in the then Bendel State University, Ekpoma, to study Law because that was my passion. But because there was no money to pay the fees, I couldn’t go. I thereafter worked for one year, gathered some money and one day, I got a mysterious telephone call from a lady to come to Port Harcourt. The person said she used to watch my programmes and that I should come to the University of Port Harcourt to study Theatre Arts.
She also said that there was an auditioning coming up at UNIPORT and that she thought I would do well. That thought didn’t leave me; it kept on playing in my head. In order not to make a mistake of rushing to Port Harcourt for nothing, I wrote to the Dean of Faculty of Humanities at the institution, Dr. Foiser. I checked out the position in the JAMB brochure and wrote the dean and got a reply from the man. He said, ‘young girl, there’s opportunity here. If you come, you will take part in the audition. If you pass, you will make it’.
I was so excited that I immediately packed my bags and the little money I had on me then and headed for Port Harcourt. My parents told me that I was crazy when I informed them about it. When I got to UNIPORT, it was tough. I would sleep in class and fall off the chairs at night. I eventually went for the auditioning and surprisingly, my result was the only one announced that day. I was the best out of over 200 people that participated.
The late Ola Rotimi came up and said that the auditioning was good and that he had got himself a new captain and that person was me. I was surprised. That was how I started my journey at UNIPORT.
How old were you then?
I was 17 when I left my father’s house for UNIPORT. I did certificate in Theatre Arts before going on to do the degree proper. That was my first degree.
So, have you gone back for more studies after your first degree?
After my first degree, because I had always had a passion to study Law, I went back to school after giving birth to my last kid who is now 19 years old. I am a barrister at law now.
I also went back to study Business Administration after my husband gave me control of a school and microfinance bank. I was the MD of the bank and felt I needed to bridge the gap by getting more knowledge of business. I went to do my Masters in the United Kingdom and doctorate in the United States of America.
You once said you escaped being trafficked into sex slavery in Europe, how did that happen?
Like I mentioned earlier, the period was when it was fashionable for young ladies in Benin to travel to Europe especially Italy. I was still in secondary school then, so those in the business recruited girls and took them to a house and talk to them. Somebody told me that since I didn’t have money and was trying to continue my education, that it was an opportunity for me to raise money and do so. One of the ladies told us that we were going to be sales girls in a supermarket when we got to Italy. It was an exciting news, so, I followed the other girls for the meeting at a house. When we got there, we all sat down, waiting, and then they put pornography movie for us to watch.
I was shocked because I wasn’t brought up that way. My parents were devout Christians, so I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t watch it. I began to talk to my friends but they said I should wait, that somebody was coming to address us. The girls that took me there were my neighbours, they asked me to relax. I got up and told my friends that I wanted to ease myself. I asked for the restroom and was directed there. I thereafter went through the back door and disappeared. I never went back there. Later, my friends came to persuade me to consider going for the trip but I told them I wasn’t interested. I promised myself that I would only travel outside Nigeria after getting my first degree and that was what happened. That was how God rescued me from being trafficked into sex slavery.
So, any idea where some of those your friends who went to Italy are now?
Some of them are missing; some are into drugs now while some are nothing to write about. But there is one who managed to build a house for her family. Even at that, she is not where she should be today.
If not for the pornographic film that was shown at the house you visited with the other girls that day, don’t you think you would have considered going for the trip?
Yes, I would have thought about that. However, I would have been discouraged by the part where people are made to swear and take an oath.
Also, I would have been held back by the spirit of God because having been raised in a Christian home, the thought of the things of God are what fills my mind at every point in time.
What sort of deprivation and suffering did you have to deal with as a young girl?
I really encountered suffering. On several occasions, while at the university, I had been forced to go days without a meal. At a point, I had to take up all sorts of menial jobs including making ‘chin chin’ to sell to my course mates. I would also make coconut candies in order to raise money. The situation affected me to the point that my body system got used to hunger. That is why if I don’t eat now, I won’t feel it because my stomach is used to not eating. It was a really tough period for me.
It was out of the quest to survive that I decided to contest for the position of the Vice President of the Students Union Government at UNIPORT. I was told that I would get free accommodation if I held such a top position in the union.
Also, I had to work throughout each holiday. I worked in Lagos first as a clerk and later as a cashier in a bank. I tried to do something all the time and even sold fabrics from Aswani Market. I also used whatever I got from those jobs to take care of my younger siblings.
So, at what age did you finally marry?
I married at the age of 24 in 1994.
How did you meet your husband?
Being an SUG executive, I needed to invite dignitaries in Port Harcourt to one of our Students’ Weeks and my husband happened to be one of those on the list. He was President, Rivers State Chamber of Commerce at the time. I went there several times but was not able to meet him. There was one of his personal assistants who always made it difficult for me to meet him. But on a particular day, I heard he was in the office, so I decided to wait outside. I was waiting outside when he came out and I walked towards his car. He asked what he could do for me and I told him my mission. He was surprised to hear that I was the SUG president at the time. He looked at me and said I was going to be his wife. I just laughed it off, thinking how that could be possible. He said because he thought I was going to be his wife, he was going to attend our programme and he did.
After the programme, I forgot all about him and he did too. But a time came when I needed a job in Port Harcourt, so I had to go back to him for help. I needed the job to pay for my project and other things. I wasn’t used to begging; so I wanted to work to take care of my bills. It was at a time the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce was having a trade fair and he made me one of the stewardesses. I was able to pay for my project, buy a fridge from the money I got. He actually helped me to balance the money to pay for the fridge.
Even after going back to school, I continued to work with him on a part-time basis. I was doing more of sales for him. I would help him get jobs and get people to buy his equipment and boat. I was on a regular salary.
He soon found out that I was able to organize his outfit very well and then promoted me to be the Sales and Supply Manager of the company. Once, he had issues with his marine company and took me there to organize things. In fact, anywhere my husband had issues, he took me there because he realized I had the grace to solve problems. However, when it was time for me to undergo the National Youth Service in Minna, Niger State, I resigned from his company.
So, how did you reconnect with him?
He rejected my resignation but I didn’t mind him. I left. I later redeployed to Port Harcourt and my husband asked me to work in his office. I agreed and he made me a director.
Were you people already married then?
No, we didn’t even have anything because I refused to go into a relationship with him. He told me that when he met me, all his businesses started working fine. I actually thought he was keeping me because his businesses were moving fine. But one day, he asked me to marry him and gave me a ring. In fact, I gave him back the ring. However, later I had a change of heart and married him.
I agreed to marry him because he wanted me so passionately. I felt touched by this and changed my mind. I have no regret whatsoever for making that decision.
Did he consider your background before marrying you?
No, he didn’t. My husband was just passionate about me. I was working well, I was doing well and I guess I was pretty too, so my background had little control over things.
He soon came to see my parents and we eventually got married in 1994, on my birthday in fact.
Some people may think that you agreed to marry him because he was the first military governor of Rivers State, wasn’t that the case?
He wasn’t that wealthy at the time I met and married him. I married him because he was caring. He took care of me when I had no one; he was interested in me pursuing my dreams and still is. He gives me clout in his domain. You know this is Bayelsa State, women are not that recognised but he made me to be recognised in my place. He allowed me to function as a queen. Right from the beginning, I saw a man who not just loved and cared about me but gave me opportunities to pursue my dreams. It is not all men that can do this, so I am blessed to have him in my life.
Was he a monarch when he married you?
His case was in the court at the time. He was then Chief Alfred Diete-Spiff; he had a case in court which was being dragged forward and backward. I remember fasting for 40 days for the case and he won.
The day they went to court for the judgment, I cooked and prepared very well because I knew he was going to win. I told him that I had prayed over the matter and that nothing would happen. So, I cooked and when people came from the court, there was a lot to eat and drink. I was really excited that day.
Your routine must be very hectic as a queen, isn’t that the case?
My schedule is indeed very busy. I am very busy because I make myself busy. People come to me for help and I don’t have to help them but because of the type of person I am and the passion inside me, I go out there to help people and that’s what makes me busy.
I have a foundation for the underprivileged, physically challenged and widows. I have it across the Niger Delta, so I go there twice in a year to help them, give them clothings, give their children scholarship and also food items.
Then for my own community, it’s a joy to be a queen and I have been made to understand that the position is very important. In my school, I have about 25 children on scholarship because I believe education is key. I do a lot of things for them. I help them as much as I can because I believe that God gave me this opportunity to help others.
What determines how you dress?
Initially when I became queen, I thought that because I am the wife of a king, I have to tie two wrappers and wear head gear but later I realised that you are addressed the way you dress. So, I decided to look different. The first time I tried it, it wasn’t easy because people did not support me. Even my women did not support me; they felt I must tie wrappers like Ijaw women. But I said no, I was going to wear a gown. When I dressed the way I wanted and arrived a ceremony in the gown, they were so excited to see the way I looked with the crown on my head. I believe that if God has given you an opportunity to be in a position, you have to live it.
Even when I travel to Lagos and Abuja, I dress like a real queen, wearing my crown on my head and everybody salutes me. They want royal blessing. But if I am not dressed like that, nobody would come close to me. So, dressing in the right way goes a long way. In fact every occasion attend, even if you visit my house, I have a crown always including in my car.
As the wife of a king, are there certain traditional practices that you cannot indulge in because it contradicts with your faith as a Christian?
I am an evangelist and every Sunday I preach in one church or the other. I am still a Christian, I have been a Christian all my life and I intend to be one till I die.
I wouldn’t know what was there before I came but since I came, most people in the kingdom call God today because of me. In my domain, I have my foundation, Network of Prayers for the Women in Twon-Brass. All the women I have gone to, what I do is to pray for them. I let everybody know that I am a woman of God. If I meet you for the first time, I would introduce myself as one, so there is no controversy. I am an evangelist but a funky one at that.
Are you not sometimes threatened that as a king, your husband could take another wife after you?
I grew up in a home where the orientation was one man, one wife. My father was with my mother alone and I never believe in polygamy. Even though I am the only legal wife of my husband, he has children from other women long before he married me. He has related to me over the years and that is okay for me.
When I met my husband, he was alone, he wasn’t living with anybody. I didn’t meet him with anybody. When he wanted to marry me, my parents asked him this same question and he went ahead to marry me in court to let them know that he wasn’t married to anybody before me. You can’t marry in court if you have married someone before, so I knew that for him to take that step, I am the only woman in his life and this gladdens my heart.