17 January 2016

Nigeria: Moribund State of Former First Ladies' Pet Projects

Pet projects by first ladies across the country, though said not to be funded by government, cease to function with the end of the tenure of governors. MATHIAS NWOGU, ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, OKECHUKWU OBETA, BERNARD TOLANI DADA, GEORGE OKOJIE, OBINNA OGBONNAYA, TOPE FAYEHUN, ALO ABIOLA, BEATRICE GONDYI, and MUAZU ELAZEH write on some pet projects of former first ladies, now rested.

While there is constant denial by authorities of government that the office of first lady is not funded as it is not constitutionally recognised, investigations by LEADERSHIP Sunday indicate that the pet projects run by many first ladies are run with public funds hence the discontinuation of many of them with the end of the tenure of the governors.

Hannah May Foundation was the pet project of Chief Mrs Mercy Odochi Orji, the wife of the immediate past Governor of Abia State, Chief Theordore Orji. The foundation was formally launched on April 12, 2012, as a non- governmental, non- profit organisation to address the needs of women, youths, the poor, widows and children as well as physically and mentally challenged people in the society.

While her husband's tenure as governor lasted, Mrs Orji through her pet project carried out various poverty alleviation programmes through which she supported indigent people, especially women. At one of such programmes in Umuahia, she gave out 227 sewing machines, 198 power generating sets, 158 hair cutting kits, 94 hair dryers and three vulcanising equipment. The donation went down as the largest single empowerment programme for the less-privileged in the state.

Through Mrs Orji's pet project which was broad-based, houses were provided for indigent widows and men, seminars that gave direction to women on the annual August Meeting were organised, people living with HIV/ AIDS were provided for and skills acquisition trainings were organised and equipment provided for physically challenged persons, including wheel chairs and artificial limbs for amputees.

Mrs Orji promised to continue to assist people through her pet project, even after her husband's tenure. According to her she had registered Hannah May Foundation as a non- governmental organisation with board members so that the Foundation would continue to impact on the less-privileged in the society.

However, not much has been heard of the foundation since her husband left office seven months ago.

In Anambra State there has not been continuity in the implementation of pet projects initiated by wives of the state governors, at least since the current democratic era began in 1999.

This is probably due to the differing visions and passions of the wives of the governors as well as the attitude of the various governors towards the Office of the First Lady.

For instance, the wife of the incumbent governor, Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, did not inherit any pet project from her immediate predecessor, Mrs Margaret Obi because the Peter Obi administration throughout his eight year tenure did not approve of the establishment of the Office of the First Lady.

The former governor, Obi, insisted that since the country's constitution did not establish any office for the wife of a state governor, such office could not be provided for in the state's budget. So, his wife did not own any pet project which she funded.

Former Governor Obi's wife however championed the establishment of the women wing of the state's association of town unions formerly known as Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU-Women Wing), through which she strengthened the popular annual August Meeting in all the 177 communities in the state.

The ASATU-Women Wing became a rallying point for activities of various women groups, including those formed by the various churches. And through the state Ministry of Women Affairs, the state government funded the association's various poverty alleviation programmes for the indigent, including financial assistance to widows, motherless babies' homes, the physically-challenged, etc, in all the communities in the state.

Though she had no office that was directly involved in the procurement and disbursement of any material or financial assistance to the needy, or did any of such by herself, former governor Obi's wife, Margaret, actively championed the cause of the wellbeing of women, children and people in the rural communities.

Just as Mrs Obi had no formal pet project, Mrs Evelyn Ngige, the wife of former governor, Chris Ngige, throughout the three years of her husband's tenure, had no pet project.

In fact, unlike former Governor Obi's wife, Ngige's wife did not put up any public appearance anywhere in the state throughout the period her husband was governor.

However, unlike former Governors Ngige and Obi, the wife of former Governor Chinwoke Madinuju had a pet project

Mrs Nnene Mbadinuju named her pet project Daily Bread Organisation (DBO) but the project did not outlive her husband's tenure.

The Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI) is the pet project of Mrs. Judith Amaechi, wife of former Rivers State Governor and current Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

ESI, founded on October 16, 2008, provided practical support and advice for women and children, particularly the most disadvantaged.

The nongovernmental organisation also provided free holiday computer training for secondary school students, as well as provided taxis and commercial buses for women, who were known as ESI Lady Cabbies.

The former first lady's pet project also established free nursery schools in the 23 local government areas of the state for children of the less-privileged indigenes of the state.

The skills acquisition programmes of ESI, which were targeted at women and youths, remain the best in the history of such programmes initiated by previous first ladies.

However, since the Amaechi administration ended on May 29, 2015, all the programmes initiated by the former first lady have gone under, except the ESI nursery schools, which are still functioning till date.

The once popular ESI Lady Cabbies, especially the taxis, have been converted to private use while some of the commercial buses have been registered with the Rivers Transport Company (RTC), by their beneficiaries.

Family Life Enhancement Initiative (FLEI) was the pet project of former Akwa Ibom state first lady, Mrs Ekaete Unoma Akpabio. The non-governmental organisation which worked to protect and provide for people at the margins of society was launched in 2007.

The sole aim of the pet project was to take care of vulnerable groups - women and children, especially stigmatised children, carry out advocacy on the child rights law and sensitise the people against violations of widows' rights.

The NGO also embarked on direct interventions in the cases of children being branded witches or wizards, took care of abused women, abandoned women, widows etc and worked in the area of economic empowerment, providing better livelihood options for the poorest and weakest members of the society.

They achieved this by giving them tools and funds to start or expand their small business.

FLEI while it lasted built and donated a 4-bedroom bungalow to a blind man, Mr. Noah Jonah and also assisted his three children to go back to school while his wife received some cash to start a small scale palm processing business.

The project which traversed the length and breadth of the state reportedly built 400 units of 3-bed room apartments across the 31 local government areas of the state for widows and widowers without shelter.

Lack of continuity has however taken its toll on the project. Not much has been heard of it since the end of the Godswill Akpabio tenure in May 2015, just as the wife of the incumbent governor, Mrs Martha Udom Emmanuel, has introduced her own pet project known as Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme (FEYReP), whose vision is to create a platform to showcase successful families, empowering women, provide emotional support to their families, advocacy against teenage pregnancy, promoting moral values and economic excellence in youths as well as support government efforts towards sustainable development.

Chief Mrs. Josephine Elechi is the wife of the immediate past governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi. When her husband, became governor on May 29, 2007, she became more involved in political life, becoming the Chairperson of the Ebonyi State Women Development Center (WDC) in 2007, and founder and facilitator of the Mother and Child Care Initiative (MCCI), also in 2007.

The MCCI used public and private sponsorship to address issues for the benefit of Ebonyi women and children. The initiative was adjudged by the international community as the most efficient and people-oriented in the history of South East zone. The thematic areas of the initiative were reduction of the unacceptably high maternal/neonatal mortality, reduction of maternal morbidities like obstetric fistula, early detection of breast and cervical cancer, girl-child education, youth/women empowerment, HIV/AIDS, Orphan and vulnerable children (OVCs) among others.

The overall goal was to promote the survival of Ebonyi women and children. Many activities of the initiative were carried out between 2008 and 2015, in the areas of promotion of maternal mortality, cancer and gender-based violence including, advocacy visits, interactive forums and meetings to create awareness about MCCI, its projects, and obtain support.

To effectively facilitate the reduction of maternal mortality in the state, a Bill on Mother and Child Initiative and Related Matters capturing maternal mortality monitoring, was sponsored to the State House of Assembly by Mrs. Josephine Elechi. The aim is to, among others, have a law in the state that will make maternal death reportable and stipulate 10 hours duration for referral of pregnant women labouring in peripheral centre. The Bill was eventually passed into Law on May 21, 2008 and assented to by the Governor on June 5, 2008. Full implementation of the law was stepped down to 2009 after adequate sensitisation, awareness creation and inauguration of the maternal mortality monitoring committees at the state, LGA and ward levels, as well as the implementation of the free maternal healthcare programme of the state government.

Having garnered the necessary support, the MCCI team set out to construct and equip a Vesico-Vaginal Fistula Center for the South-East zone to make Ebonyi a centre of excellence in VVF management. This was done in collaboration with UNFPA. With the centre in place, the team set out to identify and prepare VVF patients for the first ever VVF mass repair campaign in Southern Nigeria. The campaign took off on November 17, 2008 in collaboration with UNFPA, followed by the official commissioning of the centre by the wife of the former President and then First Lady of Nigeria, Hajiya Turai Yar'Adua on December 5, 2008.

The centre carried out VVF operation on over 1000 persons across the federation free of charge. To encourage the women and girls operated and re-establish them with their families, Mrs. Elechi on discharge presented them gift items including wrappers, food items, drugs and undisclosed amount of money.

The centre was thereafter taken over by the federal government and still conducts VVF operations free of charge.

Though Mrs. Elechi no longer runs the affairs of the VVF centre, she still carries out some of the thematic areas in her MCCI which includes training of women and girls in agricultural production and other self-empowerment programmes. Mrs. Elechi uses her JOSEL farm located in Abakaliki to organise and train young girls and indigent women on production of beverages, livestock and other economic empowerment programmes.

In the area of advocacy on HIV/AIDs, orphans and vulnerable children, Mrs. Elechi has continued to organise sensitisation campaign for the victims and often makes donations to widows, prison inmates and payment of hospital bills for indigent women in the Federal Teaching Hospital since she left office.

Just like Mrs. Elechi, the wife of the first civilian Governor of the State, Mrs. Eunice Egwu still maintains and runs her pet project, the Widow Care Foundation located opposite Liberation Estate along the Enugu-Abakaliki Express road. Mrs. Egwu's pet project focused more on stopping violence against widows and orphans.

In her bid to stop such violence which was predominant then in the state, Mrs. Egwu established the family law centre located inside the premises of the Women Development Centre Abakaliki. Though the family law centre is now under the leadership of the wife of the present governor Mrs Egwu still carries out projects for widows. Through her pet project, she hosts annual Christmas get together for widows since 2007 when her husband's tenure ended in the state.

In Ondo state, the pet project of Mrs. Funke Agagu, the widow of the late former Governor Olusegun Agagu, tagged Handicapped Education Foundation has gone into extinction.

The project was founded to cater for the education of underprivileged children, especially the physically and mentally retarded as well as orphans. But the foundation was abandoned immediately Mrs. Agagu left office as the First Lady of the state.

Nothing has been heard about the two schools for the blind and dumb children situated in Ikare Akoko and Akure, the state capital, after the Appeal Court judgment that sent the administration packing.

On why the pet project was abandoned, some people who spoke with our correspondent averred that they started the interventionist programmes because they were occupying a particular office. They were of the opinion that since they no longer had access to funds, the project automatically died a natural death.

Mrs Aregbesola Grace said that some of them embark on such projects to assist their husbands and the moment their husbands leave office, the basis for the projects no longer exists.

"I see no reason they should continue with the projects except some of them who are wealthy enough to run such programmes with their private funds," she added.

In a contrary opinion, Barrister Eyitope Adelugba, urged successive governments to always adopt such programmes, especially those that are beneficial to the masses.

According to her, "If any first lady is able to raise money for a pet project, that project should be taken over by the ministry. If the government wants to be kind, it should name such project after the founder. That way, we will be able to stem the tide of abandoned projects all over the country."

Although, the first ladies in Lagos are at liberty to have personal pet projects, the fact remains that pet projects of wives of the state governors are largely tied to the activities of the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) which is a community-based gender organisation founded in 1974 by the wife of the first Military Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Funmilayo Johnson.

The primary objective of the pet project over the years in the state has been to complement efforts of government by providing recreational centres; mobilising grassroots support for child health care; canvassing for resources to empower women and to preserve and clean the state's environment.

The beauty of it is that continuity has been the bedrock of the pet projects. Thus, successive first ladies in the state have keyed into the programme to deliver many projects in the state. For instance the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) delivered the Retirement Villa at Lekki Phase II after about four years of construction at the site.

The villa comprises of 12 guest chalets, a library, a clinic, a lawn tennis court with two changing rooms for male and female players, a swimming pool with two changing rooms, a 250-capacity multipurpose hall, a caretaker apartment, a shopping mall, a snooker room, a gymnasium, several administrative offices, water treatment plant as well as generator for regular supply of electricity.

At the commissioning, then Chairperson of COWLSO, Dame Abimbola Fashola, wife of the former governor of the state, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said the idea of the villa was conceived during the tenure of her predecessor, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, under whose leadership the site of villa was secured.

"What we are celebrating today is the actualisation of her idea, which I and other members of COWLSO are proud to be part of," she said.

In line with the laid down tradition, wife of the incumbent governor, Mrs. BolanleAmbode, who is the current first lady in the state had also taken up the mantle of leadership of COWLSO to continue with the pet project.

Beyond the traditional pet project, Lagos first ladies also take up other personal pet projects. During the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, his wife Senator Oluremi Tinubu floated the New Era Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to youth development, girl-child education, and women empowerment and inspiring young persons to excellence.

In 2007 when Fashola became the governor of the state his wife initiated the Lagos Empowerment And Resource Network (LEARN), a non-profit organisation committed to grooming the youths to become confident, self-sufficient and socially responsive, by creating for them alternative platforms for education in a dynamic and exciting learning environment. It is on record that no fewer than 6,500 children have passed through the vocational and entrepreneurial training programmes of LEARN.

Ekiti State first ladies like every other wives of states governors in the country are not left out in the pet projects frenzy.

Past and present first ladies in Ekiti state, Erelu Angela Adebayo, Mrs Feyisetan Fayose, Mrs Kemi Oni and Erelu Bisi Fayemi had at different times designed their developmental initiatives with emphasis on children development, women empowerment and family wellbeing.

Erelu Adebayo Children Home, Iyin Ekiti in Irepodun/Ifelodun local government area of the state was one lasting legacy of the wife of the former governor, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, which enjoyed the patronage of most of the successive first ladies of the state.

The immediate past first lady of the state, Mrs Fayemi initiated quite a number of projects including championing the gender policy law which criminalises acts of violence against women.

Through her Ekiti Development Foundation, she also initiated multiple birth scheme for twins, triplets and above, support programmes for women, youth and children in the state: micro credit to women's cooperatives, skill acquisition training programmes for women and advocacy campaigns that led to the building of new model markets in the 16 LGs in Ekiti

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, the special assistant on media to the Ekiti state first lady, Mr Gbenga Ariyibi, said though his principal had consistently said that she had no specific project to execute, she had spent millions of naira to settle hospital bills of indigent patients in hospitals across the state, made cash and food items donation to special schools in the state, embarked on enumeration of widows in the state for assistance, championed advocacy for family planning among women and construction of three block of classrooms at Angela Children Home, as parts of efforts to sustain the legacies of her predecessors.

On why the Food Bank and Soup Kitchen initiated by Mrs Fayemi had no place in the Mrs Fayose's plans, Ariyibi said voting huge sums of money on such venture may be a waste as it may not get to the people it is meant for.

In Bauchi, most wives of the former governors have abandoned their pet projects. The pet projects came to an end at the end of the tenure of their husbands.

The pet projects include Girl Child Education of Aisha Yuguda, Challenge Your Disability Initiative of Abiodun Yuguda and A.D Rufai Foundation of Maria Yuguda, all of which have since been put to rest

Some residents of Bauchi attributed the suspension of the pet projects to lack of money to continue with them, as they may have been funded with public funds when their husbands were in office.

Wife of the immediate past governor of Cross River State, Mrs.Obioma Liyel Imoke has handed over one of her pet projects, Destiny's Child Centre (DCC), to the new administration in the State, a source has disclosed.

DCC is a rehabilitation, resettlement and reintegration project meant to cater for the welfare of erstwhile street children in Calabar, managed by Mothers against Child Abandonment (MACA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), founded by Mrs. Obioma Imoke.

While her husband held sway in government house, she deployed MACA alongside another NGO, Partnership Opportunities for Women Empowerment Realization (POWER), to render humanitarian services to abandoned children and less-privileged women folk in the state.

At the last count, over 200 of such abandoned children, both Cross Riverians and non-indigenes had been rescued and sent to schools, while some had even graduated from various skills acquisition programmes, all facilitated by Mrs. Imoke.

However, in the twilight of her husband's administration, according to a source at the facility, who preferred anonymity, the former first lady, for undisclosed reasons, handed over the rehabilitation facility to the erstwhile ministry of social welfare, now called ministry of sustainable development and social welfare in the state.

He said the handing over modality was effected through MACA.

According to him, "Mrs.Obioma Imoke ran the place with over 200 children, both male and female. Some of the children are from other states, especially Akwa Ibom. As at May 29, 2015, she formally handed over the centre through MACA to the former ministry of social welfare which is now the ministry of sustainable development and social welfare.

"When the ministry took over in May 2015, we had 37 children, but later we were able to trace their families and relatives and did a reunification."

He explained that some of the children were given the opportunity to acquire various skills at the centre before the eventual reuniting with their respective families.

While noting that the ministry recently brought five new street children into the centre, he decried the unavailability of power supply therein.

He, however, applauded the government in the area of security, noting that the facility is well secured.

Our correspondent reports that at the time of his visit, the gate of the centre was mounted by men of the Nigeria Peace Corps, while the five male children, whose ages range between 18-20, where sighted playing football within the vicinity.

At night, the facility is guarded by a combined team of Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and the Peace Corps, while the police force engaged in regular patrol within the neighbourhood, the source added.

Meanwhile, a visit to POWER office, the administrative hub of Obioma's charity organisations, situated within the Housing Estate axis in Calabar, indicates a shadow of its old self, with inactivity dotting the once busy edifice.

The NGO, POWER, was intended to empower the women folk; ensuring that they meet their basic needs.

Prior to her exit from the government house, POWER undertook two projects, Project Awake and the GLOW Project.

Project Awake, is an agricultural women empowerment project designed in partnership with Cross River State Microfinance and Enterprise Development Agency (MEDA), aimed at promoting sustainable economic development in communities through a gender specific intervention strategy, while the GLOW project was tailored towards enhancing the livelihood of at least 1,980 poor widows in the state through vocational skills acquisition, micro enterprise development and access to micro finance.

Among the organisation's entire workforce, LEADERSHIP Sunday met only three workers, including a guard at the office premises, which now takes the semblance of a deserted area.

The commissioner for sustainable development and social welfare in the state, Mr. Oliver Orok, was not on seat to comment on the development when LEADERSHIP Sunday visited his office. He also declined comments when contacted on phone, on the ground that he was busy.

Also, the new manager in charge of MACA, Mrs. Dodeye, was not available for comments.

Former first lady of Kwara State, Mrs. Toyin Saraki established her pet project, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) in 2004, after a devastating experience of stillbirth. Since 2004, WBFA has gone from strength to strength in improving reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health (RMNCAH) across Nigeria, developing an unparalleled global reputation with Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Affairs Council (UN ECO-SOC) and establishing global partnerships and positions with the UN Secretary-General's Every Woman, Every Child initiative, the International Confederation of Midwives, Johnson & Johnson, Knorr, the White Ribbon Alliance, Sesame Street, and many more.

WBFA has established globally commended and empowering frontline programmes across Nigeria. The NGO has established best-practice global models including the development and distribution of WBFA client-held Personal Health Records (PHR) that can transform health accountability; the Alaafia Universal Health Coverage Fund (AUH. CF) that provides free, high-quality health insurance for 5000 Nigerian residents; free antenatal education classes delivered by skilled midwives that empower families through health; WBFA 'MamaKits' that can transform any incidental delivery location into the likeness of a fully-equipped health facility; and a partnership with Johnson & Johnson and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to deliver emergency obstetric and newborn care 'skills and drills' training in Kwara State that could lower maternal mortality by up to 20 per cent.

WBFA has also implemented a national and international health education initiative via the widely popular and viral #MaternalMonday social media campaign.

Mrs Saraki's work has been globally recognised for its impact on mothers, fathers, children, and communities across Nigeria and the African continent.

In 2014, Mrs Saraki was appointed the inaugural Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives - a role that has seen her speak on international platforms including The Hague to amplify the voice, visibility, and vision of midwifery.

She was awarded the MM&M Platinum Award for Outstanding Global Contribution to Healthcare, and in recognition of her role as a global inspiration to women, she mentored Girl Advocates for the global Girl Effect movement at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, and is an invaluable partner to Girls, Not Brides. WBFA was named one of the Guardian UK's NGO Heroes of 2015 for their full scope of impact, empowering programming, and international advocacy on global health.

In 2016, WBFA plans to dedicate itself towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria and across the African continent, drawing from its experience in the Millennium Development Goals era, and its global perspective as an award-winning health and development NGO.

However, the impact of Mrs Saraki's pet project has thinned away in Kwara state since 2011 when her husband ceased to be governor of the state.

When her husband held sway as governor, Mrs Saraki, apart from influencing the rehabilitation of and equipping some hospitals in the state, also organised periodical visits to such hospital to donate health items to babies and their mothers.

So many a times, Mrs Saraki brought succor to indigent nursing mothers through financial assistance and donations of various kinds. The quality health care that nursing mothers and their babies enjoy today at the Children Specialist Hospital, Centre Igboro, Ilorin and the Maternity wing of the Sobi Specialist Hospital, Ilorin is as a result of Mrs Saraki's efforts.

But since her husband left office and the wife of the incumbent governor, Mrs Omolewa Ahmed established the LEAH foundation, little has been heard of Mrs Saraki's Wellbeing Foundation in the state.

In Katsina state, the former first lady, Fatima Ibrahim Shema, operated an NGO - Service To Humanity Foundation - through which she carried out numerous humanitarian services across the 34 local government areas of the state.

The NGO which literally was the former first lady's pet project, was involved in different services including educational support, assistance to women and youths, medical services and support to women farmers. Part of the NGO's outstanding support services were the provision of care and support to persons living with HIV/AIDs, sickle cell patients and antenatal services to pregnant women.

The NGO was also in the forefront of providing support, in collaboration with the MDGs office in the state, to victims of Vesico Vaginal Fistila (VVF).

The NGO, which was synonymous with the office of the then first lady, also made a mark in the area of providing economic empowerment items to women in the 34 council areas of the state. People living with disability also received essential commodities and cash donation from the then Katsina First Lady.

Although Hajiya Shema assured that her pet project would continue to render selfless service even after the expiration of the tenure of her husband, findings indicated that there has been a halt in the services rendered by the NGO. Only recently, some of the beneficiaries of the former first lady's free sickle cell treatment had cause to lament the halt in the distribution of free drugs to them. Care and support for persons suffering from sickle cell disorder was one of the support services rendered by the former first lady's pet project.

Regrettably however, barely eight months after her husband left office as governor, the much celebrated free drugs to sickle cell patients had been stopped.

Virtually all services rendered by the NGO have been rested.

Explaining the abrupt stop and seeming discontinuation even though the services were highly beneficial to the citizenry, a staff of the former first lady's NGO, who craved anonymity, attributed it to lack of funds to sustain the services, insisting that the present administration in the state had not indicated its commitment to support the NGO to continue to render its selfless service.

"We are constrained by paucity of funds and obvious lack of government support to enable us continue with the laudable services that had provided succour to hundreds of thousands of peace loving Katsina citizens and residents alike," he lamented.

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