By Kehinde Olaosebikan
The position of the First Lady was first made significant by Victoria, the beautiful wife of General Yakubu Gowon during the tenure of her husband as the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Mrs. Victoria Gowon did not just make the office significant and compelling; she used the position to elevate the status of her profession, nursing, profoundly. That Nigerian nurses are respected and paid well in the public service today is through the exertion of Mrs. Gowon as the First Lady of Nigeria from 1969 to 1975.
Greater power was later added to the position between 1985 and 1993 when the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida, the graceful wife of former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida entered the scene. She gave power and real meaning to the office. The Better Life for Rural Dwellers programme established by Mrs. Maryam Babangida remains legendary and yet to be surpassed by any other First Lady, 24 years after her exit from office.
With uncommon panache, Maryam Babangida used the position to the admiration of all. It was during her tenure that the title of First Lady caught fancy and spread to states and local governments.
From then on, Nigerian Presidents’ wives and State Governors’ wives continue to regard themselves as First Ladies, initiating one pet- project or the other. As Mrs Victoria Gowon and the late Mrs Maryam Babangida gave importance to the office at the national level, wives of states governors too had to a large extent proved their mettle in the running of the office.
In 1999 when we started this democracy, the smart and stylish wife of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Stella depicted a clear understanding of power and would have used the position of First Lady to institutionalize her pet project and possibly dabble deeper into politics but her untimely death cut short her dreams. Mrs Turai Yar’ Adua, the good-looking, woman from Katsina State chose to fight cancer with her First Lady’s position and she has a gigantic building on the Umar Musa Yaradua Expressway, (Airport Road) Abuja, the National Centre for Cancer Therapy to her credit.
Mrs Patience Jonathan ran the office too in her own way and the current First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari is more popular in building a reputation of integrity and frankness. She is dispassionate, bold and rational in judgment and decision making; maybe, a future leader of the country.
At the state level, there is really no empirical statistics to measure the performances of all those that had held the office but going by reports and facts available , Mrs. Onari Duke of Cross River State, Chief Mrs. Derin Osoba of Ogun State, Mrs. Remi Tinubu, of Lagos, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola of Lagos State and Mrs Toyin Saraki of Kwara State printed their names in gold as the First Ladies of their various states during their tenures.
In Nigeria today, the current First Lady of Oyo State, Mrs Florence Ajimobi is opening a new vista, giving a fresh perspective to the office with her new innovations and programmes, all consolidating the three- Point Agenda of Restoration, Transformation and Repositioning being executed by her husband, Governor, Abiola Ajimobi.
Starting with the Ajumose Food Basket, a programme that gives food items to a number of people across the 33 local government areas of the state on a monthly basis; Access to Basic medical Care (ABC Foundation) which was recently adjudged the Most Outstanding NGO in the South West by the House of Representatives; ICT Corner for Women in Public Service and Educate a Rural Child Project that provides educational materials for indigent students, amongst others, Mrs Ajimobi is concretely connecting with the Oyo State people in all facets of life and in all the nooks and crannies, making life, easier and more meaningful.
When she came up with the idea of bringing all the wives of public office holders in Oyo State together under the aegis of Oyo State Officials’ Wives Association (OYSOWA) many had thought that the congregation was for the usual stuff, partying and other frivolities. But Mrs. Ajimobi toed the lines of intellectualism by introducing a yearly conference of women of note to discuss and further the course of development of not just the women in Oyo State or Nigeria but in Africa and across the Globe.
For three years running, the programme has become a huge success. She has, in an unprecedented manner successfully mobilised fellow First Ladies all over Nigeria and beyond our shores to chart new courses for progress and development.
This year’s edition that came to a close on Friday, was attended by well over 1000 delegates including world-acclaimed women leaders like the former Zimbabwean Vice President, Dr. Joyce Mujuru, former First Lady of Liberia, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, four state governors, 21First Ladies. The conference has become a toast of all, eliciting commendations.
For her to have successfully turned a supposedly ordinary congregation or association in Ibadan to an intellectual hub, recognised across the continent, it is established that Mrs. Ajimobi has truly changed the face of Oyo Woman from that of petty trader to that of a beauty and a thinker.
I must quickly add here that Oyo State has been particularly blessed with exceptional First Ladies since the beginning of our nascent democracy. From the motherly and benign Alhaja Sarat Adeola Adesina, wife of the late Great Lam who came in with her well packaged Health is Wealth Program, it has been positive all through. The Health is Wealth Program of Alhaja Adesina exists till date in the Office of the First Lady.
The elegant black beauty, Alhaja Mutiat Ladoja also initiated Idera De Foundation with headquarters in Ido for the disabled and under-privileged while the gorgeous wife of Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, Oluwakemi, came up with Community Link Advancement Program (CLAP) for the upliftment of the less privileged urban and rural women. They all served their purposes well.
However, with the passionate execution of her projects, it is certain that Mrs. Ajimobis’s projects have not only come to stay, they have individually become a challenge to future First Ladies.
– Olaosebikan, chief consultant, Midas Communications Limited.