I don’t remember what the medium was when I first heard about Taofick Okoya and his Queens of Africa dolls, but I will say that I never ever forgot about him or those dolls after that initial introduction. I was impressed, floored, awed! Here was a middle-aged Nigerian man, very successful in business and from a very prestigious and well-known family, who decided that there was more to his legacy than amassing wealth – this man decided to do his part to change a society, to change generations, to change the world!
When I started to do more research to prepare me for the questionnaire I would send him for this interview, I was very pleased to find out that the genesis of his inspiration was something I care deeply about: his role as a dad. While looking to buy a doll for his daughter, Taofick noticed that there were no dolls that looked like her and none that empowered her. Frustrated by this and his observation of her seeming preference for white beauty over her own black gorgeousness, Taofick set things in motion, and the Queens of Africa were born!
You’ll learn that the Queens of Africa is about more than just dolls: it is a multi-doll, multi-platform girl-empowerment movement. He’s just beginning! Meet Taofick Okoya, CEO of FICO Solutions Ltd., proud husband and father, Queens of Africa founder, change maker, world changer.
On Queens of Africa
You are an entrepreneur and the CEO of Fico Solutions, a trading and manufacturing company; yet, you’ve become a doll maker! Why did you create the “Queens of Africa” and what inspired your foray into the doll business?
My foray is not only into doll making, but a social change and cultural awareness. This came about from shopping for a gift and realizing the need/vacuum in this area; rather than talk about it, I decided to do something about it. I say, “social change and cultural awareness”, because the project goes beyond the dolls as our goal and aim is to harness these 2 areas in Nigerian/African children through play. The dolls were introduced in 2004.
As a middle-aged man in Nigeria going into the doll-making business (a sector more often associated with women), what kind of feedback did you get? Were you ever confronted with feedback that you were doing something fundamentally “unmanly”?
No, I haven’t and good enough so…. Creating change has nothing to do with gender; it is the message and the impact that counts. Besides, I make them, not play with them. (Lol!)
Why did you choose to call your dolls the “Queens of Africa”?
I see all Africans as Kings and Queens, as we are all descendants of royalty; we seem to forget that due to the fact that we were considered slaves by the western world at some point in history. We want the children to see themselves in that light, so that they can appreciate their culture and country more, which should increase their self-confidence.
How many different dolls do you produce and where are they manufactured? What is each doll’s story?
There are 2 brands – Queens of Africa and Naija Princess. Each brand has 3 different dolls [thus far]. Under the Queens of Africa, we have:
Under the Naija Princess, we have:
I understand that each outfit for each doll is hand-made, and that each doll is hand-dressed and hand-accessorized. That’s an amazing attention to detail, and a great employment initiative. Kudos! Why did you choose this more painstaking process?
I have always believed and still believe in “value for money” which drives me as a client; and I believe our customers deserve the same. We struggle to keep the price at the minimum, because we believe dolls should cease to be classified as toys for the upper class.
In several interviews, you’ve noted that you met with a great deal of resistance from retailers in Nigeria, who were convinced that the dolls wouldn’t sell because they weren’t white, blonde, and blue-eyed. Have there been any changes to this resistance in the years since your launch?
Thank God for His mercy! Yes, to a great extent there has been a change, but we are not there yet! The road is still rather long. We have to be in as many homes for the aim and impact of the project to be accomplished.
Your foray into the doll business was most inspired by the need to create something for your daughter, especially after noting her fascination with white beauty. Have you noticed any increase in her love for her skin and in her self-esteem since the introduction of “Queens of Africa”?
Sadly, not as much as I would like. The western influences around us overwhelm our project completely. We are looking into ways that we can still reach the children and increase their self worth/appreciation. New age technology is the next tool the Queens of Africa project is exploring.
Queens of Africa is about more than just the production of dolls: it is a girl empowerment project. That’s amazing! Can you expound on the ways in which you’re expanding this project (through your books, comics, music, animation series, etc.)?
Our range of dolls don’t talk – at least not yet. Since they serve as an object of affection to the children, we believe that this will make the children interested in all that involves the Q of A characters.
We merged our characters in stories of great women in history to tell of their bravery and accomplishments. We have 7 series at the moment with additional 5 in the pipeline. The first 7 are explained below
1) Queen Amina of Zaria: Queens of Africa Book 1
In this story Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah learn how sixteen-year old Queen Amina protected her land from jealous neighbors by building walls around it and riding around them on her horse, Demon – shooting the enemy with her bow and arrow. You can still see evidence of Amina’s walls today if you look very carefully in the sand.
2) Queen Makeda: Queens of Africa Book 2
It’s the Annual Show at Dreamland International and this year it’s about the Queen of Sheba herself, Queen Makeda of Ethiopia. The student who finds out most about her will be given the starring role so Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah are keen to do their research. They find out lots of interesting and romantic aspects of her life with King Solomon but you will have to read the story to find out who wins the part in the show.
3) Queen Moremi: Queens of Africa Book 3
Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah learn the story of Queen Moremi of Ile-Ife who outwitted the Igbo tribe by hatching a very clever plan. She allowed herself to be captured so she could learn their secrets and use this knowledge to defeat them in battle. Read the story to find out if her plan worked and what secret she learnt.
4) Queen Ester: Queens of Africa Book 4
Mrs. Hope, Principal of Dreamland International School tasks the girls to find out the meaning of their names. Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah enjoy learning what their name means and Mrs. Hope tells them about her own name, Ester, who was an ancient Queen of Persia. King Ahasuerus chose her as his wife because of her beauty but it was her clever wit that he loved her for at the end of the story.
5) Queen Idia: Queens of Africa Book 5
Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah learn the story of a Queen Mother in Nigeria who brought peace to her lands and peoples using herbal remedies. From that time, the mother of the first born son of the King was always known as the Queen Mother and was given her own house and servants.
6) Madam Tinubu: Queens of Africa Book 6
It’s Enterprise Week at Dreamland International School and Mrs Hope has asked the children to make things to sell to raise money to buy books for the school library. Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah are inspired by the statue in Lagos of Madam Tinubu, who was a successful businesswoman and became the first Queen of Abeokuta. Read the story to find out what they make and whether they were successful.
7) Learn Confidence: Queens of Africa Book 7
ISBN 9781908218582 A speaker from England is visiting Dreamland International School today and she is teaching the children about confidence. Wuraola, Nneka and Azeezah discover where they need confidence and how to achieve it. They have to think about where and when they are confident in other areas of their life. They learn about Anchoring and the Circle of Excellence. You get the chance to learn it too.
You’re doing something so wonderful with your books: you’re sharing the lives of Nigerian female leaders from various times in history. It’s amazing! What feedback are you receiving about the impact this is specifically having on young Nigerian girls?
Sadly, we were unable to get a publisher; hence, we are not published in Nigeria for now. However, the whole series is available on Amazon, Kindle, etc. We have enjoyed patronage as far as Barbados!
What difference do you ultimately hope the “Queens of Africa” program will make in the world?
Simply make it a better place for all
How many children do you have?
2: a girl and a boy
How has launching the “Queens of Africa” changed your perspective on fatherhood, if at all?
It made me more aware of the power the environment has on children and their self-worth, which could have an impact on their future.
What do you love most about being a father?
The unconditional love and sense of responsibility over my kids.
As a father to a girl, what role do you hope to see other fathers play in the lives of their daughters?
Role model, someone that the children trust 100% in every situation or circumstance
I enjoy fatherhood most when ….. interacting with my kids!
Find Taofick Okoya on Twitter: @taofick| Queens of Africa: @QueensofAfrica| Feel free to send them tweets if reading this made an impact. You may also visit their website and Tumblr page, and like them on Facebook.
Are you (or do you know) a proud African husband/father with a unique perspective who would love to share his story? I’d LOVE to hear from you! Shoot me an e-mail at chioma[dot]onyewuchi[at]hotmail[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.