By Dr. Joel Ademisoye
It is a privilege and indeed a great honour to take the readers of this Special Edition on a journey of life, marking the Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu’s spectacular, rich and rewarding 67 years on Earth. I write to capture, recognize and share with the reading audience, especially her friends, supporters, fans and members of the world community at large, who this unique celebrant is, in terms of her profound achievements/accomplishments and major contributions to the greater goods of the community, society, state, country and the world at large. In this write-up, I sincerely ask for the indulgence to employ the elements of brevity, precision and shorthand in order to reducing clumsiness, boring and poor writing. More importantly, for the author to eliminate redundancy and repetitive writing.
Who is Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu?
For those not familiar with this iconic woman, she was born on July 20, 1953 and hails from Emeablam, in Owerri West Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State. In the post secondary school education, she attended and graduated from the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka campus, because of phobia as an Igbo, she faced and experienced a tough and difficult period of the Nigerian Civil War, in 1967-1970. Nonetheless, she bagged a BSc degree in zoology in 1977 and obtained a Master’s degree in Fisheries from the University of the Philippines, Ilollo, in 1986, which may help to explain why Mrs. Akeredolu is today, a business and entrepreneur woman, in the big business of fish farming and consultancy, via her company, Aquatek Farms Ventures, in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State.
Furthermore, it is worthy of note that her studies at the University of the Philippines served as an ‘eye opener’ for a lady from Nigeria through the reading of E. F. Schumacher’s book, entitled, “Small is beautiful”, which changed Mrs. Akeredolu’s worldview and ultimately turned her to an Activist. In 1986, in her own words, she returned to Nigeria, “a new Betty.” Consequently, I consider Schumacher’s book, which sees economics from the perspective that people mattered, as a ‘life changer’ for the First Lady.
In the area of education, age isn’t a barrier for the celebrant, who is currently pursuing the Mph, Health Education & Promotion from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan and a Ph. D. in Fisheries with a major in Aquaculture from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, respectively.
Family life after the Nigeria Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
For many young Nigerians after the completion of their university education and training, the next port of call is to serve in the NYSC, which is a prerequisite to seeking and gaining employment opportunities in the public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy. I consider Mrs. Akeredolu’s service in NYSC in 1977-1978 in Kano State, a ‘milestone and historic’ one, while she met her future husband in Enugu, also a Youth Corper Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu. Finally, they tied the knot in 1981.
The Akeredolu family is blessed with 4 grown-up children, who are doing well in their chosen careers. I wonder if the marriage between the couples, a Yoruba man and Igbo woman, was part of the cultural norm of Nigeria at that time, following the geography of hostilities and ethnic resentment of the civil war. Also, cross-cultural marriage wasn’t a common occurrence at that time. As they say, the rest was history.
The Contemporary world of Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu
This section of my write-up focuses and examines primarily the work of Mrs. Akeredolu’s as the First Lady of Ondo State, her achievements, contributions and the delivery of services to improve the quality of life for the people and residents of Ondo State, Nigeria and the world at large. The list of initiatives and programs to sensitize, inform and create awareness among women folks is too long to adequately enumerate here, but I will briefly mention and discuss them.
• First, as the founder / president of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), a NGO, for promoting awareness, establishing diagnostic and treatment Centres for breast cancer in Ondo State and across Nigeria. Mrs. Akeredolu, a breast cancer survivor herself, who discovered that she had cancer in March 1997.
A devoted and committed leader to the fight against the scourge and deadly disease of cancer in Nigeria. I would venture to say that the BRECAN initiative birthed in Ibadan catapulted Arabinrin Akeredolu into the national limelight and prominence in combating the devastating disease in the country. Her name is synonymous with BRECAN, among other major programmes created for children, girl child and women in Nigeria’s landscape. Interestingly, the First Lady of Ondo State, is an important voice and champion of cancer cause and patients’ rights in the country and international fora, such as forging a partnership with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), USA. In fact, Mrs. Akeredolu’s efforts and outstanding contributions to cancer cause and women’s health in general in Nigeria, is beyond reproach, which have been recognized and appreciated by her receiving many awards from the local and international organizations around the world, such as the prestigious Merit Award that she received from the International Inner Wheel District 913 in July 2007, among others.
• In November 2017, in the early days of the Akeredolu administration, the Foundation for Wives of Ondo State Officials and Female Political Appointees (FOWOSO), another brilliant idea and innovative ‘brainchild’ of Mrs. Akeredolu, invented this women’s organization through the assemblage of the wives the appointed political office holders in Ondo State, to exercise a paradigm shift for a proper role of women in good governance, especially reaching the rural areas of the state. Mrs, Akeredolu saw and realized the utility of the women’s group in the state by harnessing their collective resources to address the socio-economic problems facing them, such as poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, unemployment, etc. I vividly recalled one of the FOWOSO’s popular initiatives concerning the empowerment of women in Ondo State. I accompanied the First Lady to witness two events at Oka and Odigbo towns out of the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs), where the empowerment programmes were implemented. The Obas in 18 towns played host to the events, where equipments – such as grinding and sewing machines, laptops and agricultural machineries were distributed to the poor and underprivileged women in order to improve their sources of economic livelihood and promote the family’s stability and sustainability in the state. Also, FOWOSO engaged the women through a strategy, involving a lecture and
discussion series, where women’s issues were examined and their legal rights discussed by a lawyer, with a primary focus on property inheritance laws and cultural diversity in Nigeria.
Moreover, FOWOSO is instrumental in making skill acquisition easier and accessible to women through its training Programme in the 18 Local Government Areas of Ondo State. The numbers of trained women in array of skilled areas the state is tremendous and large, for example, between 2017 and 2018, 1800 women trained in the production of household items; 255 women trained in making wigs; 346 women trained on bead making; 706 women trained on the art of make over and 493 women were trained on shoe making. Plus the fact that 1500 start-up kits were handed over to women. In essence, I view FOWOSO’s strong intervention thru its training Programme as a means to reducing the poverty threshold among the poor women in Ondo State.
•Bemore Summer Bootcamp in Ondo State
This is another signature Programme for the young girls established by the Ondo State First Lady, Her Excellency, Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu to arose the interest, develop the minds and bring the best out of our children of the secondary school age across Ondo State. Bemore as the name reflects, it means you can be more than what you are now in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This programme underscores the celebrant’s interest in and love for science and technology, which helps to explain a popular alias given to her by admirers and fans alike- “Digital Mama.” Mrs. Akeredolu is a ‘nut’ when it comes to computer knowledge and its use in solving human problems.
Back to Bemore: What is the programme in Ondo State all about? It is an incredible two weeks Summer Bootcamp designed for young girls to promote interest, knowledge and develop their skills thru hands-on training. The girls are trained in computer and technology such as solar technology. The Bemore programme is consequent to the celebrant’s concern for and efforts at bridging the gender gap and empowering the young girls in computer, ICT and solar technology in Ondo State and Nigeria at large. However, the programme incorporates other life enriching skills such as training in leadership, entrepreneurship, crafts, etc.
It is worthy of note, that since the inception of the programme in 2017 to date, 1031 girl child from the rural and urban areas of the state have taken part and benefited from the two weeks intensive training.
It might interest the reader of this piece, to know, what these young girls learn and the skills acquired thru the Bemore Bootcamp – computer appreciation, coding, web and app design, solar PV installation, energy efficiency, management and entrepreneurship.
I see Mrs. Akeredolu as a Special gift from God Almighty and a role model for the lives of the young girls in Ondo State, because of her determination and commitment to promoting their knowledge, improve their education and the quality of life for them.
Through the Bemore programme itself, there is huge potential benefits for the young girls at the country and global levels, especially with the decline in the value of fossil oil and the emerging importance of alternative, renewable energy sources like solar energy around the world. Therefore, the Bemore Bootcamp is preparing the young girls for the technology of the future and to make them ready and available in taking the next step in the world of technology. More importantly, the girls are not only prepared to be part of the global solutions to the current energy crisis, they are equally ready to use their solar energy skills in unraveling the climate change crises facing the world at the moment.
• The Girls Summit in 2018 in Akure
The Girls Summit of 2018 was organized and hosted by the Office of the Ondo State First Lady, Mrs. Akeredolu, in collaboration with other private companies and government agencies in the state. It was a momentous gathering for secondary schools girls in the state capital, Akure, from the 18 LGAs of Ondo State. The Ondo State Cultural Centre on Igbatoro Road was filled to capacity with students. The goal of the summit was to sensitize, debunk the taboo and improve the knowledge of their rights as per the challenges facing the minor students in
the school environment and community at large. Consequently, experts such as a lawyer, social worker, educationist, academic, a technocrat from UNICEF, etc on societal problem areas were brought to the summit, to address and discuss with the students and what action they need to take in solving those challenges involving various issues- unwanted sexual advances and harassment from adults, violent rape from boys, girls’ personal hygiene and health, human trafficking, truancy and dropping out of school, young students rights under the state and Nigerian constitution, were among other topics discussed.
The students were actively involved and participated in the summit thru role play and a question and answer session. As an attendee at the summit, I found it extremely informational and deeply educative in enlightening the students, particularly their rights under the Nigerian laws.
The celebration of 50th year Anniversary of the Owo National Museum in 2018 The three -day cultural event and extravaganza was organized and hosted by the First Lady of Ondo State to commemorate the existence of the museum in the hometown of her husband, Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN. The event was vibrant and colorful with food and music, the display of traditional clothing materials, artifacts and art works, paintings and sculptures of historic significance and cultural importance to the Owo people. The special event marking the museum anniversary was well attended by the residents from the Owo Kingdom and beyond. In fact, I consider the cultural event a huge success. • Ondo State Widows' Care Initiative This is the latest in the long list of initiatives, which was formulated and implemented by Her Excellency, Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu for the people in the Sunshine State, with a special focus on meeting the information and data needs of the widows. The celebrant felt the need and the importance of data collection and its availability for public policy formulation and the use by the NGOs in the private sector of the Nigerian economy. The importance of the availability of information on widows in the state cannot be overemphasized, especially in the planning of a government programme and the budget allocation for it. The lack of data on widows suggest they are out of the government radar and out of the loop of government decision -making process, meaning that widows are not captured in a specific women's program in the state. But, with the shift in paradigm on widows thru Mrs. Akeredolu's initiative, it is a win, win situation for this vulnerable group of women in our state and country. Imagine, today's data in the number of widows in Ondo State stood at 15,000 throughout the 18 LGAs of the state. Currently, out of the above registered numbers, 2364 widows from 9 local government areas (Akure South, Akure North, Ifedore, Idanre, Ondo East, Ondo West, Odigbo, Irele and Okitipupa) have received benefits in the form of a palliative distributions in this COVID-19 pandemic period. Widows in the remaining 9 local governments are scheduled to receive benefits shortly. On the fulfillment of the widows care initiative in Ondo state, I wish the celebrant, Her Excellency, Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu, a Happy 67th Birthday and many more years of great services to women in Ondo State, Nigeria and to humanity in general.