By Maxwell Adeyemi Adeleye
In a country where life expectancy hovers between 47 and 49 for both men and women respectively for myriad reasons, hitting 60 years of age is worth celebrating. It’s actually a milestone and those who have the wherewithal usually leave no stone unturned in throwing a birthday bash to mark it.
The celebration, at 67, inching gradually towards the 7th floor of life, is even worthier and therefore deserves huge celebration when the celebrant defied all odds to survive the beast that breast cancer is when she was just beginning to actualize her manifest destiny in life.
The foregoing fittingly captures the quintessential personality of Mrs Betty Akeredolu, Ondo State First Lady, who clocks 67 on Monday. She has, indeed, come a long way celebrating three scores and seven with stories of survival, resilience, grit and undying faith to boot.
A cursory deconstruction of her existential existence in the last twenty years or thereabouts leads to one irrefutable conclusion about the sterner stuff she is made of : she has become a model paragon of selfless service to humanity. She could have opted to go into her shell as a lot do in this clime but decided to give hope to the hopeless and succor to those on the edge.
The reason for her altruistic service to humanity is not far-fetched from those who are familiar with her story: she defeated breast cancer by owning up to the ailment when there was so much opacity around its management and treatment and resolved after defeating it, that for the rest of her life, she would continue to raise awareness about the disease while also helping those afflicted with it to get treatment in whatever possible ways she can.
Her resolution then to fight breast cancer to a standstill in the country was what led to the creation of Breast Cancer Awareness in Nigeria(BRECAN), Nigeria’s foremost, non-governmental organization in the forefront of raising awareness about the scourge of breast cancer. Beyond creating awareness about the disease, BRECAN also undertakes research about the ailment aside from pooling resources to help those suffering from it get timely and quality and affordable treatment heavily subsidized by the organization.
Her activities with BRECAN and collaborations with other sister organizations have earned her plaudits both local and international coupled with the fact that there is so so much awareness about breast cancer today in the country through the instrumentality of BRECAN. So many women have also been saved from the wasting disease through her efforts while some are currently receiving help through the organization.
Long before feminism began to gain traction in the country, Mrs Akeredolu had always been passionate about the girl child, preaching gender equality and inclusiveness wherever she goes. Little wonder she only had to activate the feminist activist part of her entire fabric when she became the First Lady of Ondo State in 2016 with the establishment of BEMORE.
Besides BEMORE, the First Lady has been advocating for more women holding leadership positions at the highest level of governance. This is precisely the focal reason for the establishment of Foundation for Wives of Ondo State Officials(FOWOSO) which is to mobilize and prepare women for leadership positions in every stratum of government. In fact, through the relentless agitation of Mrs Betty Akeredolu, by the time Governor Akeredolu will round up his tour of duty, his governemnt may end up becoming the most gender friendly in the history of Ondo State.
In any case, BEMORE is a pet initiative of the Birthday Girl popularly called Digital Mama by her legion of fans and admirers meant to create more opportunities for the girl child especially in a country highly patriarchal as Nigeria. For the past three years, over 1000 girls, mostly from poor backgrounds, in the country have been trained in various aspects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which include programming, artificial intelligence, computer hardware and software, internet appreciation, data analytics e.t.c.
Some of the beneficiaries of BEMORE, who are usually trained in an annual Boot Camp by various experts, have also been trained in alternative renewable energy production such as solar panel configuration, vocational training such as soap and bead making, baking e.t.c. Today, some of the graduates of the various skill acquisition programs are now self-employed helping to contribute to the household economies of their families while some are employers of labour. Some have gone ahead to become trainers of other girls thereby replicating what they were taught with increased multiplier effect.
Mrs Akeredolu is not relenting neither is she resting on her laurels. She has recently expanded the net of her women empowerment programs in Ondo State by incorporating the widows in the state devoid of political interference and coloration into the system. How did she do it? She simply created a digital portal where the widows can register by uploading their particulars which, after verification, will qualify them for whatever empowerment programs she is rolling out. So far, since the commencement of the program, it has been good.
One may not be totally wrong if one says Mrs Akeredolu is the most accessible First Lady in Nigeria at the moment. She is digital savvy and makes use of social media platforms where she contributes to issues of public importance regularly. One outstanding attribute of her is that you only need to be smart, intelligent and engaging in order to command her attention. She does not discriminate on the basis of religion, tribe or tongue.
At 67, and despite having crossed many life-threatening hurdles in life, Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu remains a jovial, smart, intelligent, wife, mother, grandmother, feminist, gender activist, politician and public commentator of note. She does not look like someone who will quit the stage soon as she has got many more altruistic services up her sleeves to render to the public. Happy birthday, Mama.
Adeleye is a Media Entrepreneur and Political Scientist.