Your Excellencies, First Lady of Nigeria Dame Patience Jonathan
First Ladies of the States
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The fact that Nigeria is a nation that needs transformation is not a debatable one and that is why President Goodluck Jonathan had the wisdom to draw up a Transformation Agenda. Obviously, some major changes need to take place.
In 2012, The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated that Nigeria has an estimated population of 160 million, and the number living on less than $1 per day or absolute poverty has increased since 2004 despite economic growth in the country.
Poverty is a huge challenge and one that requires our serious attention!
The issue of poverty and measures of eradication to ensure transformation has and always will be top priority with government policies. In Nigeria, the various tiers of government have introduced different poverty alleviation programmes, but despite these efforts, poverty in Nigeria still remains significant. Poverty has a lot of detrimental effects and constitutes a threat to sustainable human developments. Empowering the poor is one of the key strategies to the transformation of Nigeria, as these people will move the barriers that have kept them in the poverty trap. If we do not assist the poor and meet their basic needs, they cannot contribute to the process of National Development of the country.
Transformation in Nigeria through grass root initiatives will help to free these citizens from burdens through stimulating appropriate activities in all the states and local government areas in order to raise productivity and economic power of individuals especially as the country is endowed with human, agricultural, commercial, mineral and entrepreneurial resources.
One of the best ways to assist is through our Non-Government Organizations commonly known as NGOs.
As at 2009, according to the Corporate Affairs Commission, there were a total of 46,000 registered NGO’s in Nigeria – a vision towards reaching the grassroots of our great nation – though generally has little to show for it.
Therefore, the general consensus is that the average Nigerian needs assistance. Anyone in a position of privilege has some level of responsibility towards assisting them. There is no doubt that any Government we elect has due responsibility to transform our great Nation by providing for all Nigerians young and old. The question therefore is, who will support the government in this quest.
In order for us to reach out to the underprivileged and vulnerable members of our society, grass root initiatives need to be explored in great depth. In Nigeria, history and past behavior has proven that establishing NGOs became a fashionable or in thing to do, but majorly for all the wrong reasons unfortunately. The focus seemed to be more on the founder rather than the vision and mission of the NGO in question. It is imperative that the importance of these NGO’s not be lost as they are avenues to assist with transforming any great nation.
As a country, by and large, we have seen some major milestones in our nation’s growth. Just take a look at our 36 individual states; growth can be measured economically by the achievements in our various sectors ranging from education, health, social, infrastructure, telecommunications and power to name a few, and with these has come the increase in the number of initiatives and NGOs per state.
One cannot begin to count the percentage of the general public who feel the problems of the country lie solely on the shoulders of the Government let alone state governments. There, Governors cannot be left to take on this huge responsibility.
The bible says God created wives as helpmates to their husbands. Gone are the days when a Governor’s wife is seen and not heard and gone are the lack of portfolios: it is now expected that a governor’s wife has responsibility to the citizens of her state to take on a cause, one that is in line with her passion and/or which enhances the governor’s vision.
We all know that in the Nigeria of today it would be undeniable if we do not have immediate challenges that need urgent and vital attention.
Presently, we are aware that nearly all our First Ladies have a number of various NGOs ranging from Youth and Child empowerment, Empowerment schemes for Orphans, Widows and the vulnerable members of our society, Eradication of prostitution, Girl child issues, Eradication of child Labour and Child Trafficking, Women empowerment schemes, Empowerment of Children and Youths through education, Various Feeding programs, Child abandonment programs, as well as various Health initiatives to eradicate diseases and the rest have taken on Ministerial capacities behind the scenes.
The wives of the governors of states all over Nigeria are doing a superb job nationwide with their grassroots initiatives, however, one cannot but mention a few in the six geo-political zones.
In Her Excellency the First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan, we have all seen a driving passion for empowering all women. Through her NGO: Women for Change and Development Initiative (WFCDI), we have seen her taking up a number of key initiatives where she is extremely vocal in ensuring her drive for women to contribute to the development of Nigeria.
In the South West, the wife of the Governor of Lagos State, Her Excellency Dame AbimbolaFashola, through her passion towards driving and empowering our youths to be future leaders, has established a unique Non-Governmental Organization, the Lagos Empowerment and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N). As Chairman of the NGO, her strategic vision is to establish resource centers in the five Administrative Divisions of Lagos State as a basis for exporting the L.E.A.R.N. model to other jurisdictions.
In the South South, Her Excellency Mrs ObiomaImoke, has also established a number of key NGO’s such as: Mother Against Child Abandonment (MACA), Partnership Opportunities for Women Empowerment Realization (POWER) which is a holistic way of empowering women. She has also initiated a programme called “A-State-Fit-For-A-Child’ (ASFAC) which ensures that the child even from the womb through school years to adolescence gets a total package. She has also started an initiative called Giving Life Options to Widows (GLOW). These are all initiatives borne out of her passion and vision to make Cross River State a better Place.
You may wish to replace the Borno State first lady with the First of Owerri instead or as below which covers the North East.
In the South East, one of Her Excellency Mrs. NonyeRochas’s initiatives is for indigent widows called She Needs a Roof (S.N.A.R.) She has built 100 two bedroom houses to change their lives from living in mud houses with thatched roofs to furnished apartments. Her Women of Divine Destiny Initiative improves the spirituality of the women’s lives, also encouraging them to be good wives and mothers.
In the South East Anambra; Her Excellency, Chief (Mrs.) Mercy Odochi Orji, has dedicated her time to helping the less privileged in Abia State. She is also championing an NGO known as the Family Empowerment Programme (FEP), a channel for implementing her social and humanitarian programmes. In addition, she has an awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS, cancer and so much more.
Finally,even in the light of the challenges which are currently being faced in the North East, Her Excellency HajiyaAdama, has initiated a pet project tagged “HajiyaAdama Women Empowerment”, designed to assist women, the less privileged, aged and unemployed youths in the state. With this project she has succeeded in making thousands of women and unemployed youths in the state self-reliant and made life better for the aged and less privileged children, which has also helped reduce crime rate in the state.
Of course those mentioned are just the very tip of the iceberg as time will not permit me to list them all. I have also chosen not to mention those who were nominated for tonight’s special award, the reasons of transparency. Our Governors’ wives have given their time, in line with the vision of our Governors, their husbands, driven by their passion to make a difference in their individual states. Therefore we say ‘Thank You.’ You are appreciated.
I speak to you here today as someone who has gathered some experience in attempting to transform Nigeria with the establishment of my own NGO The Rose of Sharon Foundation (RoSF) . We are a private, voluntary, non-profit, faith based, non-governmental organization, focused on working to alleviate the plights of the world’s most vulnerable people – widows and orphans. Since 2008, RoSF has amalgamated into a network of almost one thousand empowered widows to date, with 11 currently in university. We awarded scholarships to 1,366 widow’s children and 72 orphans to tertiary level. The loans we offer to widows are interest free and the scholarships are unconditional. The foundation has provided accommodation for residential or business purposes for 82 widows. Moreover, we have provided some free healthcare checkups and free legal services to our widows with the support of other agencies.
Even with all of these there is room for improvement as there are millions of people that have not been captured under any of these initiatives. Early this year, in an online article by Dr. Peregrino Brimah for Sahara Reporters, stated that Nigeria, is the 7th most populated nation worldwide and 1/5th the total population of Black Africa. Only a fraction of the surface has been scratched!
Nigeria will be 100 years old this year and we all want to leave a good legacy for our generations. The role of Governors’ wives includes being the eyes, ears and mouths of Governors; seeing what they do not have enough time to observe or take care of, hearing more from those on ground in the cities and villages, and being the spokespersons while the Governors face other major issues confronting the States. For example, Edo state has a huge problem of women and child trafficking which has been largely focused upon by predecessors ladies like Her Excellency Mrs. EkiIgbinedion. She identified the area that would be most impactful on her people and worked tirelessly in her 4 years to pursue the campaign and awareness of this problem in her state.
The most needed virtue here is passion. As women we are genetically endowed with compassion and are naturally more passionate than our male counterparts and therefore more able to make significant changes in our own little way. This is a role we must play very well and in so doing, contribute to the uplifting of our people, our states, nation and world around us.
Being first lady must not be a show piece of jewels and tiaras. It is hard work and you have to be seen to be engaging vigorously in changing the fortunes of our people: men, women and children. Collectively, we can make a better country that will be more habitable for our children.
I therefore urge you all to look deep into your hearts and to continue to make your husbands proud of you as assets not only to themselves but to their states and ultimately, their country. We as women, are the main support that the government needs in their quest towards alleviating poverty.
I do not feel that I would have done widows any justice if I do not use this opportunity to appeal to the Government to look into legislation for the orientation and the protection of our widows and I hasten to add that they are indeed OUR widows.
I am aware that some states in Nigeria have tried to enact laws to protect the rights of widows. Various NGOs have pushed for the National Assembly to enshrine their rights into the Nigerian Constitution. This would give widows legal protection from these traditional rites, which infringe upon their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution.
We need to create awareness by educating Nigerians and the general public on what is and is not the acceptable way to treat a widow – some of the current traditions in Nigeria are extremely barbaric to say the very least. As fellow Nigerians, we all need to be mindful of the fact that widows are vulnerable members of our society. They have rights just like you and I do. They are widows through no fault of their own, therefore legislation should state that they are treated with the respect and dignity we are all entitled to. We must remember that these women are someone’s mother, sister, aunt or in-law regardless and I ask you – why should they then be treated any less well than any us?
When writing my widows book The Cry of Widows and Orphans, I included first hand testimonies from widows who have survived their ordeals to enable us highlight the dreadful ordeals these women have been through. In addition, I asked a KEY question: How did these women actually become widows? The answer to this is not exhaustive but includes: War, terrorism and military service, poverty, accidents, poor health, old age, HIV/Aids, Illness, and social and economic conflicts. We therefore need to ask ourselves – is there justification in our country for widows to be stigmatized the way they currently are.
So I will end by using this platform to appeal once again to the Government: drastic steps need to be taken to protect these widows who are an increasing number (as we see annually from the number of widows we attend to at the Rose of Sharon Foundation) sooner rather than later.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to working with some of you in the near future.
- Poverty in Nigeria is a huge challenge, it needs serious attention and should be top priority with government policies in spite of the different poverty alleviation programs introduced by different tiers of government in the past, and it still remains a significant social problem.
- We must empower the poor, if we do not, they cannot contribute to the process of national development of the country and one of the ways to do this is through grass-root initiatives.
- The general notion is that the problems of the country lies solely on the shoulders of governors, however, the governors’ wives’ must move away from past culture of being seen alone and not heard, she has a responsibility to the citizens of her state and one of it is assisting her husband by taking on causes that will ameliorate poverty in her state through grass-root initiatives implemented through NGOs.
- The Governor’s wife in her delivery to the citizens of her state must be borne through passion for her cause and compassion for the poor and down trodden in her state.
This speech opens our eyes to the achievements of Governors’ wives’ in their various states, there are more words of advice for Governors’ wives’ which are golden and should a must read for all Governors’ wives’. It will help them in effectively assisting their husbands to deliver their mandates to the states that have elected them.