First Ladies across Africa recently gathered in Abuja to examine their roles and mark the 10th anniversary of the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida, founder of the Better Life for Rural Women. Juliana Agbo, who attended the event reports
PROMINENT Nigerians, including wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osibanjo, Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua, Mrs. Fati Abubakar, Mrs. Victoria Gowon- all former first ladies and Senator Daisy Danjuma, recently gathered at the Transcorp Hilton Abuja, to discuss the roles of First Ladies and how they can contribute to the society, especially in transforming the lives of rural dwellers.
The gathering of first ladies in Abuja gave members of the audience an insight into their lives as First Ladies (FL) as well as acknowledged their roles in national development.
The conference with the theme: “Mothers of the nation: History revived 2020” was a day of remembrance of the endearing legacies of former first ladies. They came together not only to honour the memory of lost colleagues but to also provide an avenue to “immortalize” their memories and remember all the good deeds they did when they were alive.
The aim was to create awareness about the tremendous positive impact of African First Ladies (FL), especially the ones from Nigeria, on their nations/states. The strategy adopted brought together Nigeria’s First Lady, wife of the VP, former First Ladies (FL), scholars, policy makers, NGOs and members of the diplomatic corps.
The occasion was also an opportunity to remember one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant first ladies, the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida, wife of former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
She was popularly and most deservedly so, referred to as Nigeria’s most glamorous First Lady (from 1985 to 1993). She was a woman of immense charm, charisma, compassion and an epitome of African black beauty.
She was in love with the Nigerian women folk in a space filled naturally and where she would be remembered for her indelible marks in more ways than one can say.
The late Mrs. Babangida, a quintessential woman, dedicated her life to emancipating the women of Nigeria through her pet project, Better Life Programme (BLP).
Unknown to many, until the late Mrs. Babangida came into power with her husband in 1985, it was safe to say that the office of First Lady was non-existent. She popularised the office and made it glamorous.
It has been 10 years since she passed on and close to 30 years since her family left power but her BLPARW project is still on. This time, the legacy has been passed on to her daughter, Aisha Babangida who has been sustaining the pet project to ensure that its original goal is not eroded by her mother’s death.
The BLP was founded in September 1986 by Mrs. Babangida, after she conceived an idea based on the issues confronting women worldwide as stated in the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-85) Conference.
Under her leadership, BLP, as it was fondly called, in its original set up and through its various advocacy programmes, raised increased social awareness, acceptance and widespread knowledge of issues confronting Nigerian women. It also empowered these women socially, economically and politically, and has since achieved outstanding results.
BLP pioneered and promoted the launch of many cooperatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women development centres and social programmes; touching every state in the country.
It also advocated and promoted adult education, primary health care, agriculture, crafts and food processing. BLP has successfully empowered over 300,000 women in the cottage industries since inception.
In 2004, BLP was renamed Better Life Program for the African Rural Woman (BLPARW).
The project is currently headed by Hajiya Aisha Babangida as the Chairperson has been expanded with its vision and mission to cater for rural women not only in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole.
The programme’s change of leadership has done nothing to alter the positive atmosphere and work done by the late Mrs. Babangida and those who value the work done at the organisation.
The programme remains homage to the life and times of a great woman’s ideals when values such as progressive growth, poverty alleviation, peace and love guided people.
Aisha Babangida, the Convener of the conference, said the event was to honour the contributions of first ladies who were often underestimated and disregarded by society as mere accessories to their husbands.
According to her, “In reality, FLs uphold a sense of national dignity and project warmth across all levels of society. Culturally and politically, wives of Presidents must assume their role without a rule book! We will revisit key historical developments and see the growth of the nation through their eyes.”
She noted that the mothers of the nation were not merely accessories or luxuries on the arms of their husbands but are steadfast support systems that keep leaders grounded not just emotionally but mentally.
On what she intended to achieve by bringing together all First Ladies (FL), both past and present during the event organised to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of her mother, she said the event was aimed to revisit history so as to move forward and have them champion causes to support the development of Nigeria.
Asked whether she feels the nation has tapped from the wealth of experience of the First Ladies (FL) having being part of major decisions in the past in the country, she said: “I think we have not. But with this platform that will be an annual event. I think we will not only tap from their experience but will be mentored and guided by them. But what was important was seeing the beautiful mothers of the nation and listening to them.”
Mrs. Buhari said the late Mrs. Babangida impacted the nation positively, “It must be fulfilling for Aisha to honour and remember her mother in this beautiful manner,” Mrs. Buhari said.
“Initiating the National Women Commission as the first institutionalised machinery for women’s development in the country, which led to the concept of women in development becoming a permanent feature in development planning.
“All first ladies that came after her (late Mrs. Babangida) initiated programmes in order to add value to the work of their husbands,” Mrs. Buhari said.
On her Future Assured Programme, Mrs. Buhari said: “It focuses on the challenges of women as captured by the various development goals including health and well-being of women and children, empowerment of women and youths, equitable quality education for women and girls, as well as protection of women’s rights.”
Former First Ladies from 1960-1985 who attended the conference included, Mrs. Uche Azikwe, Mrs. Victoria Ironsi, Mrs. Victoria Gowon, Mrs. Ajoke Mohammed, 1985-2015. Others are Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua; Mrs. Fati Lami Abubakar and Mrs. Patience Jonathan.