Profile of a Seamstress, Vendor and Leader: Ms. Frances Bamidele Onokpe.

By Irene Doda
March 2, 2023
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This article was written by Mrs. Omolola Sholaja, from FIWON, Nigeria

Ms. Bamidele Frances Onokpe, was born September 18, 1962 at Ikire, Southwest, Nigeria. 

After basic education, she trained as a certified Caterer at Dof Catering Institute in 1984 where she obtained her certification in Food Hygiene & Handling of food. She also went for skill acquisition training in Dress Making between 1985-1987 and immediately became part of a growing Tailors’ Union movement. 

The late 1980s and 1990s were very turbulent times in Nigeria as the whole country was in the grip of military dictatorship. While working as a seamstress and trader in sewing materials and accessories, Ms. Frances played active roles in the broad pro- democracy movement that developed to resist military rule. She was a very active member of the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) and in 2009, was mandated by her union to represent informal sector in a newly constituted Nigeria Labour Congress Women Wing. She was privileged to meet Pat horn, the Streetnet International Coordinator at an event organized by SNI and the NLC around the time.

Frances with the comrades from West and Central Africa, in Dakar, Senegal during the 2022 regional meeting

In 2015, Ms. Frances Onokpe experienced first hand what it meant to lose a livelihood as her shop and political operational base was demolished by the government. The period also coincided with a lot of marital turbulence as her husband left the country and the responsibility of raising and educating 6 young children fell solely on her. According to her she survived this period by throwing her whole being into social/community work. Around this time she worked as a volunteer care giver with a local NGO, UPLIFT Foundation with focus on orphans and vulnerable children while also playing very active roles in the Federation of Informal Workers’Organizations of Nigeria, FIWON where she had emerged as a Treasurer in 2010.   

Ms. Frances later became a certified garment maker with National Board of Technical Education Board NABTEB certification and the National programs Coordinator of the Tailors’Union and also served as instructor with Wessy Tailoring and Vocational Institute, Abeokuta, Ogun state Nigeria as the Head Instructor in Garment Construction.  She was part of into all of these while working actively as a union leader, raising young children, and seeing them through College education. According to her, ‘I survived this most difficult period of my life by throwing myself into social and union activism. My activism gave me strength to survive. It also helped me to train my children as I also experienced a lot of support from the organizations I became part of. I was able to travel far and wide within the country and also internationally, which has also broadened my appreciation of workers and women issues as the same everywhere’        

Frances with Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet President and Evelyn Benjami-Sampson, organiser for West and Central Africa


‘My involvement in FIWON afforded me the opportunity of leadership training. I have been part of several capacity building workshops which has enhanced my capabilities for advocacy and representation and so on. I have been privileged to boldly present issues affecting informal workers at different levels of government. I was also part of the WIEGO Online Labor Academy  (OLA). That’s a training that has deepened my understanding of social protection and the critical need for social insurance programs in the informal sector. My poem on the travails of street vendors, composed after the training was published by the MOJA Journal of Adult Education. I’m so proud of that!’ 

Ms. Frances has also represented SNI in the Global Deal Conference & Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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