By Idowu Ajanaku
‘’ The tests we face in life’s journey are not to reveal our weaknesses but to help us discover our inner strengths’’ -Kemi Sogunle.
In branding principles and concepts, some words aptly describe the existential essence of a product, with regards to its compelling qualities of usefulness to mankind. This could be via its taste, flavour, nutrition (as with food items). Others include availability, affordability, accessibility and its enduring values to the public. As it is with prime products of top-range companies so it goes for the human persona. The critical question therefore, is what comes to the people’s mind once a name is mentioned, especially so if one is a public figure and commands frequent attention.
Interestingly, abundant empirical evidences are there to support each of the descriptions of who she really is. Looking at her inspiring life trajectory the the words of the Zimbabwean-born and Canada-based philosopher, entrepreneur and author, Matshona Dhiwayo come to mind. Said he: ‘’Beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences’’. Indeed so. For instance, she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 1997. She went through all the anguish and rigours of treatment and happily she survived it all. For some other survivors like her, all they would do is to give testimonies and recoil to their shells, to live a quiet life. But not her! She saw it as an opportunity to be a solution-provider, to make the difference in the lives of others going through similar travails she had experienced. As Ana Antunes rightly noted: ‘’Life always gives a Second Chance: It is called: ‘To Move On’.
That brings us to the rare breed in the person of Her Excellency, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu, incidentally the current First Lady of the ‘Sunshine State’, Ondo. Inspiring words such as “a passionate humanist”, “ care-giver”, “simple- at –heart”, “bridge-builder” and of course, “pillar of support” keep reverberating from the smiling lips of her teeming admirers-from both within and outside the political cycle. One cannot therefore, but wonder if these are mere attention-seeking accolades or they ring true for the person in question.
So, to move on and feeling truly concerned about the critical health challenge, gave her the inspiration to start the non-profit organization, Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN). Note that this was long before fortune smiled on her to become the First Lady of Ondo state. The noble aim of the NGO of course, is to raise the needed public awareness of the deadly disease and institute the preventive measures amongst the womenfolk. In addition, it assists in cancer-related researches.
It goes as a glowing tribute to her patriotic efforts therefore, that several women across the length and breadth of the country have given moving testimonies of how BRECAN came in to save their sad and sordid situations when it mattered most. One unforgettable instance was that of a middle-aged, Owo- born woman who goes by the name, Mrs. Elizabeth Akande. She was abandoned by her husband immediately he realized that she had fallen a victim of breast cancer! But the timely intervention of BRECAN through moral and financial support changed her story for good.
As she rightly noted during the inauguration of BRECAN in Kogi state in August 2017: ‘’We want you to make breast cancer awareness and treatment a priority so that women will not continue dying needlessly’’. She highlighted the fact that it is cost intensive as mammographic machine is needed for early detection. And awareness is a necessity to prevent women who detect lumps in their breasts from considering it a spiritual attack and heading to the mountain for prayers, instead of taking timely action.
As reflected in her thought-provoking lecture delivered as the 7th Distinguished Guest Lecturer at the University of Medical Services, UNIMED in Ondo state there is the increasing need for adoption of a population-based screening for breast cancer. The lecture was titled: ‘’A stitch in time saves lives; breast cancer realities in Nigeria and actionable steps’’. So profound her actions have proved that BRECAN has become a model for the frontal battle against breast cancer as supported by the United Nations Organization (UNO).
Furthermore, as one who is always exhibiting the humanist in her, she was there for Ondo state home makers, especially widows distributing palliatives across the state during the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the determined fight against breast cancer, she has been consistent in her battle against rape, her contributions to Girl-Child education delivery and the welfare of the womenfolk. In fact, she is also a supporter of the Bring Back the Girls Initiative, NGO aimed at the safe return of the long-abducted Chibok girls. All these and more interventions must have earned her the prestigious Distinguished Community Award by the Oyo state Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) back in July, 2018. She is a true care giver, isn’t she? Of course, she is. But that is not all about her.
As an intriguing act of immanent fate, Mrs. Akeredolu happens to be of Ibo extraction but married to a Yoruba man, who is both a renowned lawyer and politician. As expected this interesting social scenario must have raised some questions and sometimes untoward reactions that trail her every talk and walk. ‘’We know the husband is always dancing to her tunes’’, some would have said. Or, ‘’is she not an outsider? Does she really know where the shoe pinches us?’’ Some others must have nursed their grudges. But they have missed the point of the inner workings of Mrs. Akeredolu. As those close to her would readily admit she is an open-minded woman. Yes, she has the apparatchiks and goodies that her exalted office guarantees but good enough she has not lost the common touch. Instead, she knows, like Lailah Akita once stated that ‘’the victory of our inner self is a daily struggle and one must be strong and never give up’’.
Indeed, she has been able to use all such bricks thrown at her to build a strong bridge of trust with her several admirers who are Yorubas. And naturally with her Ibo people and the Niger-Deltans, many of who ply their trades in Akure, Ore, Ikare and other parts of Ondo state. Such bond she has deployed to garner the much-needed political support for the Aketi Project in Ondo state. As it was during the First Term, even stronger it is currently playing out for her husband’s Second Term ambition. The effect is that what some of the opponents of the governor thought would be his high hurdles, the unflinching support of his wife has turned into his launch pad to greater political heights.
Besides, because of the simple, down-to-earth nature she exudes, she is amassing support even from the owners of small and medium scale enterprises, artisans and of course, the market women led by the Iyalojas. For instance, in July of this year the representatives of the Iyalojas of the APC drawn from the 18 LGAs gathered at the Babafunke Ajasin Hall of the Ministry of Women Affairs to pledge their unflinching resolve; to see the governor back to Government House for his Second Term.
They used the opportunity to appreciate the governor for his administration’s giant strides in various sectors-from health, education, agriculture through massive infrastructural development across the state. Similarly, they commended his wife for her laudable initiatives, including the battle against breast cancer and OndoWidows Care. And on her part, she pledged to do more for them. ‘’You Iyalojas deserve every support and assistance…and I am available, with more, underway’’.
Going by all the noble values she stands for and her life’s varied experiences she remains as an enduring inspiration to men and women alike. There is much to learn and emulate from her desire to gain access to quality healthcare delivery, including support for victims of breast cancer, as well as her fight for gender equality when it comes to education and politico-economic empowerment.
Indeed, her massive grassroots support and more so, her pan-Nigerian disposition added to her husband’s outstanding achievements are sure guarantee that Governor Akeredolu’s Second Term ambition is a done deal. In fact, he is going to coast to landslide victory. As Eric Bates, the editor at large of ‘The New Republic’ succinctly noted: ‘’There are no negatives in life, only challenges to overcome that will make you stronger’’