As Nigeria sets to witness the dawn of new democratically elected leaders to be inaugurated on May 29, 2023, Nigerian women will be welcoming a new First Lady, Oluremi Bola Tinubu. Daily Trust Saturday highlights some of her promises and spotlight on what her office holds for Nigerians, especially women and children.
Though the constitution does not provide for the position, roles and duties of a First Lady, the subtle acceptance of the office cannot be unrelated to the distinct contributions occupants of the office offered to the development and wellbeing of women and children over the years.
At a time when the global lens is focused on how to tackle women- centric issues, there might be little disapproval or no question for the legitimacy of quotas offering to join the bandwagon of achieving gender parity. Though the debate for a constitutional backing for the office of “First Lady” has popped up, it is yet to reach a potent stage of consideration.
Like her predecessors, Oluremi Ahmed Bola Tinubu is expected to either maintain the tempo of that office or beat the set records with more interventions for women and girls in the country.
Mrs Tinubu is coming at a time when Nigeria is struggling to achieve gender parity at so many levels, with intensifying advocacies for a legal document to consolidate on the National Gender Policy, 2006, 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a 2022 report it released, estimated the number of out-of-school girls in Nigeria to be at six million.
Meanwhile, the scorching effects of poverty, early child marriage, maternal and infant mortality, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, among other problems peculiar to women and girls in Nigeria, are factors for consideration.
Oluremi Bola Tinubu
Oluremi Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wife of the president-elect, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, is currently a senator representing Lagos Central in the National Assembly.
Born on September 21, 1960, the native of Ogun State is the youngest of 12 children in her family.
She began her educational career at Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Ijebu-Ode, where she got her West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Exam (WASSCE) in 1979. She later obtained a postgraduate diploma from The Redeemed Christian Bible College in 2010.
Oluremi received a B.S in Education from the University of Ife and a National Certificate in Education in Botany and Zoology from the Adeyemi College of Education.
From 1999 to 2007, Oluremi became the First Lady of Lagos State when her husband was governor.
Promises she made to Nigerian women
Although the Office of the First Lady seems to independently execute projects and initiatives, its contributions are in tandem with the policies and programmes of the government in office.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that in the Tinubu/Stettima “Action Plan for a Better Nigeria” document, the incoming administration presented plans and programmes for women development, which include Social Inclusion and Political Empowerment, Economic Empowerment, Fighting Domestic Violence and Abuse, as well as Achieving Education Parity.
In the document, the incoming government promises women a 35 per cent of all governmental positions.
“Equity and fairness to women will be a top priority of a Tinubu government. Greater equality and the economic empowerment of women shall be at the heart of our national agenda.
“Working with the National Assembly, we will aim to pass legislation promoting female employment in all government offices, ministries and agencies.
“The goal will be to increase women’s participation in government to at least 35 per cent of all governmental positions. This legislation shall also mandate the federal executive, particularly the cabinet and core senior advisers, to reserve a minimum number of senior positions for women. Private institutions shall be strongly encouraged to do likewise,” the document stated.
The promises contained in this document were reiterated by the wife of the president-elect at campaign rallies and women group meetings prior to elections. She promised to prioritise girl-child education, women empowerment and restore peace to conflict-ridden communities in the North West and North East.
Speaking about what Nigerian women should expect from Oluremi Tinubu, the All Progresives Congress (APC) national leader, Dr Betta Edu, said, “Remember that she is not a First Lady for the first time, she served in that capacity in Lagos State. She also has a track record of being the only woman to have been in the Senate three times in a row, so she has the experience. She is a wonderful woman.
“She said she was committed to women and their development, as well as helping the poor and vulnerable and those who need medical help.”
Reacting to the concerns of Nigerians about the statement of the president-elect during his acceptance speech, describing the First Lady as “my house wife” and making reference to “the other room,” Dr Edu assured that the incoming First Lady would carry out her duties as promised.
“She will remind her husband about issues that concern women, the vulnerable, less privileged and children when the noise is not there,” she said.
Professor Hauwau Evelyn Yusuf, the director, Centre for Gender Studies at the Kaduna State University, who spoke about the implications of the unconstitutionality of the office of the First Lady said, “The Nigerian constitution does not have provision for that office and once something is not constitutional, it doesn’t resonate well with the larger populace.”
She added that a First Lady’s office is assumed by the virtue of somebody’s husband being the president of the country. She said, “Now, the question is: How have they used the position to better the lot of women in the country? If the answer is yes, then why not? But once the answer is no, then of what importance is it?
“In polygamous societies like Nigeria where some men have mny wives, who will be the First Lady? Would we have four first ladies?
“I guess this is one of the reasons it is not constitutional. Some first ladies have bettered the lives of Nigerian women and children while some have not done anything for them,” she added.
Meanwhile, Maryam Ibrahim Hali, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Kano State Collage of Education, told Daily Trust Saturday that Nigerian women should be optimistic about the office of the First Lady.
On the 35 per cent affirmative action, Maryam said Nigeria had never fulfilled this promise, adding, however, “But then we are not sure, we can’t really tell until after the appointments.”
Office of First Lady from inception
The concept of the role of First Lady in Nigeria can be traced to the country’s independence in 1960.
On the list of first ladies from 1960 till date are: Flora Azikiwe, the wife of Nigeria’s first president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. She is often regarded as Nigeria’s first First Lady. She was succeeded by Victoria Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966. Over the years, subsequent first ladies have embraced their roles to varying levels, undertaking initiatives and projects aimed at addressing social issues and promoting national development.
Other first ladies are: Victoria Gowon, wife of former military head of state, Yakubu Gowon. She was First Lady from 1966 to 1975; Ajoke Mohammed, wife of General Murtala Mohammed (1975 to 1976); Esther Oluremi Obasanjo, wife of then military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976 to 1979); Hadiza Shagari, wife of former President Shehu Shagari, who came to office in 1979. Safinatu Buhari was First Lady in 1983 as wife of the then military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari; Maryam Babangida, wife of military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, from 1985 to 1993.
Margaret Shonekan became First Lady in 1993 when her husband, Ernest Shonekan, became the head of an Interim National Government.
Maryam Abacha was First Lady from 1993 to 1998 when General Sani Abacha took over government. In 1998, Fati Lami Abubakar occupied the position of First Lady while her husband Abdulsalami Abubakar was president.
Also, Stella Obasanjo was First Lady from 1999 to 2005 as wife of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, while Turai Yar’adua, wife of former President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, took over from 2007 to 2010.
Patience Jonathan, the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan occupied that office from 2010 to 2015, while Aisha Buhari, the wife of the out-going President, Muhammadu Buhari, has been Nigeria’s First Lady from 2015 till date.
Activities of some past first ladies
As the wife of former President Ibrahim Babangida, Maryam played a key role in promoting women’s rights and empowerment.
She championed initiatives such as “Better Life for Rural Women” in 1987, which aimed to improve the socio-economic conditions of rural women through skills acquisition, education and health care. Her efforts had a far-reaching impact, addressing women’s needs and empowering them across Nigeria.
She organised the National Women’s Conference in 1993, which brought women from diverse backgrounds and regions in Nigeria together.
Through the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation, Mrs Babangida actively campaigned against female genital mutilation in Nigeria.
On the wellbeing of women, she launched several health campaigns, including the Breast Cancer Awareness Programme and Child Survival and Development.
The main objective of the FSP was to improve the standard of living of Nigerians through the family unit on health, education, agriculture, income generation, disability and destitution. Other areas of interest included issues affecting children and widows and national peace. And for proper documentation and accountability, Mrs Ababcha affiliated the FSP to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs Social Development.
The FSTF, which was launched in 1994, on its part, was instrumental in the construction of the National Women and Children Hospital, Abuja which is today known as the National Hospital, Abuja.
She raised the idea of the National Hospital for Women and Children (NHWC) and later saw to its establishment. The institution is today known as National Hospital, Abuja.
She also She founded the Poverty Alleviation Program, which millions benefited.
Also, in her quest for peace on African soil, she galvanised African First Ladies promoting the Peace Mission. She also promoted some programmes including Poverty Alleviation Programme, National Programme on Immunisation, the Family Support Programme, Family Support Basic Education Programme and Family Economic Advancement Programme.
During her time as First Lady, Mrs Obasanjo focused on children’s welfare, among other social issues. She established the Child Care Trust, providing scholarships and educational support to children in need.
She committed to improving children’s access to quality education and health care, which had impact on vulnerable children across the country.
She is known for her Maternal and Child Health Initiative” (MCHI), which was launched in 2008. This initiative aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria by improving health care services and infrastructure.
She actively participated in the fight against HIV/AIDS while collaborating with local and international organisations to raise awareness about its prevention and control, promote voluntary testing, and support treatment programs.
The “Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation” (WAYEF) was part of initiatives to support education by providing scholarships, educational support and skills training opportunities to disadvantaged children and youths.
Patience Jonathan championed various causes during her tenure as First Lady. She launched the Aruera Reachout Foundation, which focused on health care interventions, particularly in areas of maternal and child health. Her foundation provided medical assistance, educational support and empowerment programmes benefitting numerous Nigerians, especially in underserved communities.
Aisha Buhari has been actively engaged in initiatives promoting women’s empowerment, health care, education and advocacy for good governance. She launched the “Future Assured” programme, which addresses health challenges, women and youth empowerment and education. Her efforts have generated significant awareness and impacted the lives of many Nigerians.
Although projects and initiatives of various first ladies are believed to have impacted on women and children, they have been short-lived with many tagging it “First Ladies’ projects of waste.”
Commenting on the durability of projects of first ladies, Professor Hauwa Evelyn Yusuf said, “Because it is unconstitutional, every First Lady wants to do her own thing. For a project to last, it has to touch the lives of Nigerians and should be self-sustaining. As long as the project is not built on a sustainable pathway, it is as good as dead and gone.”
She, however, said the only project that had outlived its author was Better Life for Rural Women because it had and still has a direct impact on women.