Sitting in her well-lit and comfy office, an hour chat with Kemi Tony-Akinwunmi, turned out an eye-opener as she leads us through a world full of post marital issues, parental negligence and teenage pressure.
The Lagos-born who attended her primary and secondary education in Lagos before heading to the Lagos State University where she studied English Language, said she had always desired to lend a shoulder to people, see them come out of their relationship agonies and live a fulfilling and happy life.
As a family life practitioner, counsellor and educationist, Kemi’s desire to reach out to people through counselling, emotional and psychological therapy, was born out of her background of verbal abuse from relatives and friends.
“I grew up with a lot of verbal abuse from relatives and friends and I remember each time I tried to express myself as a child, no one was listening and no one cared about my feelings. So as a young girl, I wanted to be the shoulder of support to many because I didn’t experience it and I know how it feels to go through a lot but not allowed to express it.
“As a young child, I discovered it was a vacuum and I was determined to fill it. I picked interest in talking to people. So, my love for counselling started at a very early age because I wanted to be someone people could run to. Someone people could trust to cry with and confide in while we both address the issue psychologically, even though I was ignorant of the study of psychology or counselling.”
On her journey to the counselling world, the Lead Counsellor at the Pasture Counselling Centre, Kemi, said she couldn’t opt for counselling as a career against her father’s wish, who had penned down political science for her because he was a politician.
Though, she said the University of Lagos had twice offered her admission to study psychology but she turned it down due to the ignorance of what it entails and how it would lead her through her counselling desire.
“After hoping for dad’s political science career and mum’s banking and finance choice to no avail for 3 years, I had to opt for English Language. But back in school, friends would refer other friends to me saying Kemi would listen to you and proffer help in this situation. And finally, I had to study psychology as a second degree 3 years ago and I also went back for counselling study professionally. This is what I love to do and do effortlessly.
“My counselling life started about 13 years ago with a programme we started tagged ‘Just Talking Relationships’ where we talked to teens; but professionally, I would say I started counselling 7 years ago.”
“My husband is my number one fan. He discovered my counselling gift before anyone else. His support and commitment towards my success in the field is enormous.” She said smiling when asked the role he plays in her career.
Though, they got married 9 years ago, Mr Akinwunmi, a Chartered Accountant, supported her to commission the ‘Just Taking Relationship’ in 2004 and has been a financial pillar to the growth of her career and had supported in various teenage outreaches. “He also doubles up as my critic. He tells me when I go wrong and helps me find my path again.”
Even though her counselling services cover many areas, Kemi focuses more on family life; pre-marital and post-marital counselling, and she has recorded countless homes which were at the verge of break-up but through her consultation such homes are back and strong together.
“We have had people walked in to report marital abuses and some even think we are government agencies or social units, and in some cases, we have had to refer them to the right authorities. There’s a lot going on in homes and until we go back to the basic, the future looks terrifying.”
As she adjusts on her seat and squeezes both palms together, she firmly points out that marital abuse does not exclude men. “I have seen men walk in here to report physical abuse from their wives. They couldn’t express this to anyone because the society places more emphasis on female marital abuse and no one would believe them.”
But despite the efforts of counselling firms, one would wonder if marital cases are on the increase or decline in the country. “They are on the increase and people are beginning to see the need for counselling.” She said affirmatively. “These days, people want to talk to someone who feels them, someone who understands the reality on ground and would not be bias based on religion.” She added.
She confirmed that most of the pre-marital counselling systems in churches are archaic and does not conform to the reality on ground. “We have had pastors tell women to stay in abusive marriages, saying it pays to die in it and make heaven other than divorce or separate as they would end in hell fire.” This is why Pasture Counselling Centre also collaborates with mosques and churches for counselling supports.
She gave an example of a young man who was under societal pressure to get married. He travelled down from Canada under parental pressure, joined a church and married an innocent sister. On the night of their wedding, he confirmed to her that “this might be the only time they will have sex, until another 5 years, because he’s gay!” Kemi said. “The lady couldn’t go to church to address the issue.”
“People don’t want to marry human beings these days; they want to marry a perfect being.” That was her answer when asked what singles should remember when making a marital choice. “Some want to marry culture, some want to marry religion and some want to marry societal expectations. And I always tell people that there’s no perfect being anywhere. Sometimes God gives you a raw material to create or mould something from.”
Pasture Counselling Centre though attends more to family life; the firm has handled teenage counselling, and has recorded lack of proper parenting as a major cause of teenage issues. The firm places more emphasis on preventive than curative. In a city where most parents spend more time out of home to fend for their families, Kemi believes that spending time with children is about quality, not quantity.
She defined the teenage years as the transition into adulthood and teenagers at this stage are moved by their emotions, not logic. At this point, parents must prioritise their children.
“Parents think they have to spend 5 hours with their children. That’s why they keep giving time excuses when it comes to their family life. But the same parents have time for weekend parties. And I have always told people that there’s no time for anything in life, except what we create time for. Let everybody go back to being friends with their children and ensure strong and frequent personal communication in the home.
“Using myself as an example, I could remember my parents sat me down several times and gave me cautions. But nowadays, if you ask teenagers when last their parents sat them down for close conversation, you will be shocked at their responses. Parents of today have failed in nurturing and have left their children at the mercies of social media information.”
As lead counsellor of Pasture Counselling Centre, Kemi has clients in other states of the country and renders her services using various social media platforms while some walk into the Lagos office when it’s convenient.
In the next 5 years, she sees Pasture Counselling Centre training more counsellors, building more homes, collaborating with corporate organisations that are passionate about homes and the future of families and “I look forward to an international partnership.” she added as she ends the chat with a warm smile as she moves to the door to welcome a client.