By Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele
The good, the bad and the ugly events of last year have come and gone, so were the issues that defined the year and held us together, including those legacies and milestones achieved by Nigeria’s First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
The year began on a very sound note with several peace initiatives spear-headed by the First Lady and also ended with the nickname given to the First Lady as “Mama Peace,” during a momentous occasion within the year. And the name has stuck as she demonstrated and still demonstrates her zeal and positive sensitivity for promoting peace in Nigeria and Africa.
The office of the First Lady was as usual, a beehive of activities, a very busy one with the First Lady doing everything possible within her reach to redefine the office by adding value to humanity, especially women and children. She has remained a stabilizing factor and a rallying point for both the needy and defenseless and at some point; she sacrificed all she had so much for the common good.
The First Lady started the year on a very philanthropic note by distributing of relief materials to war torn countries like Mali, as the President of African First Ladies Peace Mission, in her efforts and in fulfillment of her resolve to contribute to the mission’s vision to cushion the effect of the wind of violence spreading across Africa. The African First Ladies Peace Mission took this peace initiative and advocacy to Mali where several insurgent groups have been fighting the Malian government. The epic ceremony as witnessed by the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Sia Bai Koroma, who was in the entourage of Dame Patience Jonathan. Receiving the items, the First Lady of Mali, Madame Mintou Doucoure Traore, expressed sincere appreciation and gratitude to the First Lady and people of Nigeria for the Mission’s magnanimous gesture and exemplary support for her people, especially women and children in their time of need.
It was another landmark occasion when the A. Aruera Foundation, a pet project of the First Lady’s Non-Governmental Organization, NGO, graduated some unskilled persons on a six-month training programme on various skills acquisition early in the year. They all recounted their experiences and said that it enabled them learn new trades, different from their previous engagements of hawking and petty trading. The programme, on February 16, 2013, graduated the ninth and 10th batches of apprentices who learnt various skills that will make them better employed and good citizens of the country.
On the occasion of Mothers’ Thanksgiving Day, the First Lady tasked mothers at home to be vigilant and urged them to be more observant and alert on the activities of their children at home or in company of peer groups, driving home that it is lack of correction that causes waywardness when the children become adults and begin to join gangs. She added: “Train them so that when they grow up, they will not depart from what you have taught them; they will become great leaders saddled with the responsibilities of the future in transforming our society.”
Nevertheless, when a U.K based affiliated NGO paid a courtesy visit to the First Lady, she used the occasion to make a passionate call to NGOs across Nigeria and Africa to provide selfless services and be more humanitarian in their approach to issues that relate to humanity and that NGOs in the country should partner and assist government in providing selfless interventions for the benefit of the people.
It was during the courtesy call made by the UK based NGO, Soroptimist International, that the First Lady re-emphasized her call to NGOs to continue to provide selfless services that impact on humanity, while the President of the NGO, Mrs. Funlola Ademuyewo, also said that women travelled great distances to access cancer screening and explained that it was the circumstance that prompted their NGO to go into fund raising to purchase mammogram machines to enable women have easy access to breast cancer screening. This got the endorsement of the First Lady.
It was another feather and encomium for the Nigerian women as the United Nations’ women spokesperson and Executive Director, Ms Michelle Batchelet undertook an official visit to Nigeria on January 10, 2013, which provided the First Lady an opportunity to update the United Nations’ under secretary on her activities on women and children’s health, including empowerment, checking discrimination against women, among others.
Mrs. Jonathan used the occasion to inform the UN woman, that for the first time, Nigeria had attained 33 per cent women representation in executive decision making process and 50 per cent in the judiciary. That then, we had 13 women occupying positions in the Federal Executive Council, coupled with the fact that these women oversaw the nation’s most strategic portfolios and that more women were being given opportunities to effectively play in the nation’s political turf.
Ms Batchelet praised the efforts of the First Lady in gender mainstreaming, saying that for the country to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2020, it needs equal economic participation of its men and women. She said she had been monitoring developments in Nigeria, adding that she was hopeful and optimistic that the gender-related bills pending before the national and state assemblies aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of the girl child, and women would be passed.
The President of AFLPM has traversed the nooks and crannies of the African continent preaching and advocating peace in war torn countries, including the presentation of relief materials to countries where they were needed most like Burundi, Mali and others and she also called for the renewed protection of African children against all forms of hazards from physical to technological. She subsequently made a clarion call on the reduction of teenage pregnancies in Africa when she visited Sierra Leone, where the formal declaration was made.
Consequently, as a reward for her excellence, a youth centre, an ultra modern support centre at Nyanya was named after the First Lady by the FCT Administration; the honour which was not announced prior to the commissioning of the project took many admirers including dignitaries, guests and the recipient herself by surprise. It was made known by the FCT Minister, Sen. Bala Mohammed while making his speech. Climaxing the week, with the “All for green” Abuja project, which also flagged off the beautification around the metropolis by the First Lady, whose Women for Change and Development Initiative employed about 700 women within the year as part of her empowerment programme which involved sweeping of the various streets of Abuja, landscaping, tree planting and the beautification of the Airport road, a project which also was expected to include other states of the federation, after it must have passed due diligence and approval here in Abuja successfully.
The 700 women would form the initial workforce for Abuja environmental improvement exercise which was done in conjunction with Kashton Concepts Ltd. According to the First Lady, the exercise was a good approach towards attaining a sustainable environment which is in line with the Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals – the principal subject of the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012.
As the President of the African First Ladies Peace Mission, the 12th Summit of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, was another major achievement and milestone for Dame Jonathan, to address the African continent peace promotion as an instrument of sustainable development in Africa. She opined that peace had become a unifying factor for the world and as a central theme for the development of any nation.
Dame Patience observed that violent conflicts in Africa have caused destruction of lives and have badly affected the economies of the states, aside from causing increased refugee influx and internally displaced persons. She, however, emphasized that Africa records more than five million refugees, with over 75 per cent of them being women and children, many of whom being used as child soldiers, militants and terrorists.
It was, however, a year of so many laurels, as the First Lady bagged the Global Woman Leader Award in Paris, France, due to her unrelenting humanitarian pursuit in giving selfless services to children and women across Africa. The Award which was presented to her by the African Youths and Women Network (AYWC) at the First Green Women Congress, responding after receiving the Award, Dame Jonathan said the award will spur her to greater resolve in promoting the welfare of women, children and the less privileged in Africa. In her very words, “Let me say that the work for peace, particularly in Africa is for me, a passionate engagement for which there is no going back. I shall remain devoted to the promotion of peace as a lifestyle for all.” It was yet another day of glory as the First Lady was equally honoured and decorated as “Grand Ambassador of Peace” by the Catholic Women’s Organization (WUCWO) during its 8th African Regional Assembly in Abuja. The prestigious award was presented to the African torch bearer, by Chief (Mrs.) Felicia Onyeabo, President of the National Council of Catholic Women’s Organization, supported by the World President of the Catholic Women’s body, Madam Maria Ruggieri and other officials present.
The Belize First Lady paid a courtesy visit to the President of African First Ladies Peace Mission, Dame Jonathan, on the August 14, 2013. At the meeting, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, lauded the First Lady for her humanitarian and advocacy role in Africa and beyond and thanked the First Lady for her numerous campaign against cyber threats and on-line protection for the children across the globe. “I am honoured to be in Nigeria; it is my first time in Africa and I am humbled to have come to Nigeria,” Mrs. Barrow. “It is not just another visit for me but a meaningful and special one,” she said.
The First Lady from America, opined that her visit to the Nigerian First Lady, who shares the same passion, ideology, and interest with her, would enable her take back hope to the children, widows and the women in her country. She said lessons from Nigeria in the areas of women empowerment will reinforce her commitment, advocacy and zeal to work toward more women participation in the government of Belize.
The Nigerian Women Mega Rally had come and gone but the memory of the epoch making mother of all rallies would remain indelible not only on the minds of Nigerians, but Africans whose take away from the auspicious occasion was the call for the integration of women into mainstream body-politic of Africa. The rally had in attendance the Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo,and was hosted by the NCWS, President Chief (Mrs.) Nkechi Mba, in conjunction with the office of the First Lady. It was another occasion for stock-taking and assessment of all previous administrations from inception and creation of Nigeria till date. It was another day to drum support to the cause of women and also re-appraise the efforts of the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan on the appointment of women into governance. It was also a score-card and a pass mark for the administration for having 35 per cent women participation in governance and appointive positions.
The women also used the occasion to honour those Nigerians and the President who had really impacted positively on the lives of women in general. It was a momentous occasion laced with glitz, glamour and razzmatazz of “who’s who” in the country of Nigerian women with about 35,000-capacity crowd at venue – the Eagle Square. The First Lady delivered a powerful motivational speech that held the crowd spell-bound and mobilized Nigerian women for the greater good of the country and drove home that henceforth, the blue-print and manifestoes of party’s for election will be studied critically before Nigerian women can vote for any government into power. She said subsequent elections will witness different parties coming on board to inform the women of the plans they have for them in black and white.
Keying into her husband’s unparalleled commitment to the well-being, empowerment of women, Dame Jonathan, said she will see to it that women are empowered for the common good and put in place necessary legal framework for the constitutional participation for women in governance. The rally which was not only timely brought to the fore that no meaningful development can take place without the integration of women into the body-politic of our nation.
The world stood still, for a notable woman of substance, Dame Jonathan when she was inaugurated on the World Stage as ITU Child online Protection Champion in Switzerland, for her relentless efforts in the pursuit of the protection and empowerment of children in Nigeria and across Africa. While appreciating the honour she likened the fact the Internet has kept people connected and sustained relationships because it offers a platform for people to stay close, no matter the distance. She added that this noble task given to her by the world body as (ITU) COP was particularly important “because majority of our children and youths are among top users of the cyber space technology globally and that the future of man depends largely and substantially on the quality of children and youths.
However, uncontrollable access to the worldwide web (Internet), she said, “comes with great risks which pose severe dangers to the well-being and safety of our children and youths. Pledging her resolve to join hands with ITU, through its implementation arm, the International Multi-lateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats (IMPACT), she called for the security of children from the dangers of cyber space crimes around the world. This ushered in the initiative of the First Lady, The 1st National Youth Online Protection Summit on September 3, 2013, which brought youths from across the country to brainstorm and chart a course about the safety of cyberspace including the ITU Costa Rica Youth Summit, whose agenda invited youths from around the world to speak with one voice on the changing need for cyber protection at all times and which heralded the “2013 World Cyber Security Conference” in Abuja on September 17, 2013, with the theme, ‘Cyber Security – A latent threat to National Security and Economic development.’ and the issues raised by these various platforms on cyber security and Internet protection were very paramount to the development of the society at large. .
The cyber security summit was declared open and chaired by the former Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Ehud Barak, who in his key-note presentation, stated that the rise in cyber crime in the world included complexities, sophistication and interdependence, including advancement in technology, availability of knowledge on Internet and the advancement of communication technology and suggested the need for immense globally coordinated approach to fight cyber crime.
First Lady of Nigeria called for concerted efforts to be coordinated globally and a continental advocacy to ensure that every country has strong cyber security laws to protect children and future. She said policy makers must take a critical look at the problem of cyber security and work to safeguard our people while balancing basic freedoms and human rights. While noting that Nigeria has been given the hosting right to establish an ITU regional cyber security centre with the signing of an MoU in July at ITU headquarters, Geneva, that same year.
The year 2013 was also a year that witnessed the passing away of “charitable Charity,” the First Lady’s foster mother, who passed to the great beyond as a woman remembered for her philanthropic gesture towards the needy and less privileged.
Madam Fyneface Charity Oba, as she was fondly called, hails from Umuekuule Afugiri, in Umuahia North, LGA of Abia State. She grew up in Okrika and later married a Bayelsan. Although the First Lady wished her mother will remain forever, she took the passage with philosophical calmness and conceded to the inevitability of death for every human being. Late Madam Charity Oba was a very humble woman who particularly had a robust relationship with the First Lady and will be greatly missed at this point in time in the life of the First Family. She played a very great and strategic role in the lives of the First Family and will be greatly missed also for her untiring motherly advice to the First Lady.
The year ended with the conception of the 1st National Fasting and Prayer Programme for Nigerian Women, which saw the likes of prominent female Christians preachers and Muslim women coming together under one umbrella and roof to seek God’s face in the intervention in all ramifications of our national life, including the security challenges and the political situation in the country. It was a well thought out idea and sold-out attendance that was beamed live to every home with a message of peace and unity, and it was another platform that cemented the name given to the First Lady by Nigerians as “Mama Peace” to high heavens as it was endorsed and supported by well meaning Nigerians of various backgrounds, ideology and religions at this point in history.
The year 2013 was indeed a year of note for reconstruction of the various facets in governance while the First Lady had stood shoulder taller with her head high and now nick named “Mama Peace,” while basking in the euphoria of a change agent.
Mr. Aigbegbele is Media Adviser to Nigeria’s First Lady