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By Tope Adaramola
One noticeable imprint of military regimes on the political landscape of Nigeria is the amplification of the office of the wives of the Heads of State or Presidents and State Governors as First ladies.
Although there had been attempts to attach the desired glamour to these positions by some successive regimes the nation have had, the administration of General Ibrahim Babamosi Babangida gave significant glitz to the office which was occupied by his late wife, the flamboyant Dr Mrs Maryman Babangida.
The Asaba-born First lady, attracted huge public attention to the position within and outside Nigeria, making it a butt of envy to many. Cynics in some quarters questioned the constitutionality of the office with the military government unfazed, characteristic of the jackboots. But whatever side of the divide one chooses to be on the matter, the proponents of the Better Life for Women programme, which was Mrs Babangida believed stridently that the programme blew the lid off long years of gender discrimination against the womenfolk in the country.
The programme was therefore used effectively as a potent ammunition to fight the perceived hydra-headed challenges facing the women and children, among them: poverty, maternal health and discrimination against the girl child. The Better life project also became a potent voice for social advocacy across all strata of the country and beyond.
At the international plane, the 1995 Beijing Conference, which was the 4th world conference on “Women Action for Equality, Development and Peace” held in China gave birth to the most comprehensive global gender equality, known as the Beijing platform for action. Maryam, the Nigerian First Lady, did not only lead Nigerian women in their number and across strata to the confab she also saw to it that the action plan swiftly became the trajectory for the Better Life for Women programme.
There was no doubt that ensuring the permeation of the programme to the grassroots required the support of wives of State Governors, who were the Coordinators and First Ladies in their respective States. In Ogun State, it was not just a coincidence that the Better Life programme was berthed under the regime of then Navy Captain Oladeinde Joseph, with his wife, Mojirade as the First Lady and Chairperson, but the lot of propelling it forward soon fell on the laps of the elegant and clairvoyant Chief Mrs Aderinsola Osoba, wife of Chief Olusegun Osoba, an acclaimed Journalist and indefatigable administrator who became the States second Executive Governor. A graduate of English and holder of Master’s Degree in Education from the prestigious University of Lagos, Mrs Derin Osoba deployed her rich skills as a frontline educationist and teacher to steer the rudder of the Better Life programme in the State and by so doing ostensibly increased the reach of her husband’s regime for the betterment of the people of the state.
Being an indigene of the State, Ijebu-Igbo to be precise, gave Mrs Osoba the edge to know first-hand the feelings of infirmities of the main targets of the Better Life programme, and to effectively minister to them. Aside from batching the women into groups across all the local government areas under zonal coordinators, the Better Life programme gave significant fillip to the budding entrepreneurial spirit of the womenfolk, with belief that when women are positively engaged, the society was on the part of stability. While crèches were built in some selected schools to take care of toddlers, the Better Life programme often responded swiftly to unfolding health challenges faced by women and children as they partnered with relevant agencies in the state and nationally to combat them. It was a routine personally supervised by Mrs Osoba to take immunization to schools across the nook and crannies of the State. Women cooperative groups across the State also had a window of support through the Better Life programme under the indefatigable Chief Mrs Osoba.
Vestiges of some of these women’s entrepreneurial projects initiated under Mrs Osoba are visible till date in such places, such as Apoje oil palm sites; the Garri processing factory in Ilaro, Adire and batik making sites in Itoku, Abeokuta, among numerous others.
Although the regime of Chief Osoba was rudely interrupted by the military after spending a year in office in 1991, Mrs Osoba, an admirable silent prop of the Governor continued to support the needy through her personal pet project for about eight years before the military interregnum ended and Chief Osoba was re-elected as Governor of the State. Though now under the Family Support Programme, which was a replacement for the Better Life programme, Mrs Osoba continued with unabated zeal and passion as First Lady to see women empowered in all dimensions in the State.
Personally, this writer’s work experience with Mrs. Osoba as her Press Secretary was quite enriching. She never suffered fools gladly and could not bat an eye seeing anyone cheated. She was firm, diligent and carried herself with admirable finesse and panache befitting her lofty position as First Lady and wife of a State Governor. She had and still has low condonation for mischief and backbiting. All these traits she has brought to bear on her personal business and life as a longstanding frontline school owner and successful proprietress.
Mrs Osoba has no doubt remained a strong pillar and unsung hero behind the unimpeachable high profile of her husband and admirable consort, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, who remains an iconic politician, nationalist and indefatigable statesman.
As Mrs Osoba gloriously joins the prestigious league of the septuagenarians, I use this medium to join multitudes of family members, admirers and well-wishers to felicitate and wish this heroin personae happy landmark birthday, with a deep intercession to God to grant her more grace of good health to be of undiminishing relevance to the womenfolk children and entire humanity.
Tope Adaramola is a PR practitioner and former Press Secretary to Mrs Osoba