There is the conspiratorial fable in the olden Yoruba folklore about an elephant whom its peers sought to kill by trick. Having realised that to physically subdue the size and strength of an elephant would prove uphill, the assailants devised a ruse by approaching the elephant to be crowned a king over other animals in the kingdom, citing its exceeding grace, towering stature and aura as qualifications. Elated, the baited elephant accepted to be king over its kind and the process leading to proper enthronement commenced fervently.
Preparations for the throne took dual dimensions. The elephant on the one hand has made exquisite orders for the best of food and wine and of magisterial textiles befitting the tent and title of an imperial king. On the other hand, the romantic killers had prepared a death-stool for the elephant. To execute the already deluded candidate, an pit was dug, covered with a golden carpet and decorated with imposing ornaments. A magisterial chair was fakely positioned on the surface of the decoy so that the elephant falls straight into the pit as it sits on it. All set, the elephant was ushered to the pseudo throne with beautiful chants and songs to which it danced with vigour.
At the point of accession to the throne, the gold-plated crown was raised to the admiration of all and the itchy elephant was requested to sit and be crowned. It obliged and fell into the pit. He was captured and killed by his foes. The moral of this speaks more to putative leaders on the various rungs who feed fat on the frame of mischievous followers and their flattering exaltations. Many a leader find themselves helplessly deified unduly by ambitious enthusiasts who subtly sway them from substance. Some who suck of this poisonous pleasure have often found themselves sunk into the dungeon like the proverbial elephant who fell to the ploy of a throne.
There is a way in which being well to do or occupying lofty leadership positions poses a challenge to the holder. It puts the unsuspecting figure out of touch with realities, be it the exalted political offices that come with paraphernalia and often, awe, or a private position with economic consequence. The head who wears the crown is usually flocked for various interests, in our clime, in a way that leaves a sour taste. The leader, political per se, is typically patronised by folks with all manner of persuasions. He gets profusely pampered and laundered with both deserving and undeserving praises.
Meanwhile, often, the ostentatious acts of lackeys are meant to impress the leader so that the interest(s) sought may be granted. Conversely, experiences have also shown that quite a number of leaders enjoy being verbally diefied; they are usually caught in the web of what is otherwise referred to as ego-trip. They feed fat on this prank to feel in control, dearth of which social psychologists call ego threat. Ego threat, in social and personality psychology, has been captured differently, but contemporary psychologists agree that ego threat represents a threat to a person’s self-image or self-esteem.
The hoax, for leaders, comes in different shades. Sometimes as a gift or frankincense; at other times as showy chants or endearing emblems in form of honourary labels, or even an award which is herein the focus. While it is common place to see leaders indulge in amassing counterfeited awards and giving superficial alibis to sustain it, some leaders have luckily developed sufficient restraints to enable them see through this vanity. That is not to suppose that there are no genuine laurels and recognitions on accounts of evident distinctions and fine records of public service; the worry arises only when one considers the ubiquitous treachery that is nowadays associated with awards.
And so, for Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, Ondo Governor’s wife and pronounced leader of Owerri women, the decision of the editorial board of the Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of Sun Newspapers, to confer on her the Most Supportive First Lady award of the Year 2020, was something to be scrutinised, so that it is not merely a patronage of a personage; so that it is not built on nothing. It was the same stance in 2019 when the African Newspapers of Nigeria Limited, publishers of Tribune titles, chose to honour her with the Tribune’s Platinum Award. Not of haughty standing but of delibrate difference, of careful carriage and purposive guarding of a hard earned reputation.
The Sun award, however, delivers a darling difference for which it is taken seriously by denizens who are living witnesses to the beatitude that Betty has since proved to be as a governor’s wife. The tag of ‘most supportive first lady’ therefore holds special significance for the people of Ondo State because it speaks to their long-held, heartfelt conviction that Betty has always been a potent pillar of support to her household before and beyond her public stature as a distinguished first lady; and it is in that sense that the award constitutes a credence.
The award is for the woman who has frontally espoused the Redeemed Agenda of the government her husband leads while contributing lustrous legacies that will outlive her as first lady; who leads the single largest investment in girl STEM education project in Ondo state, and possibly in the country in the last 20 years, who has deployed about 2000 solar home systems across the 18 LGA of Ondo state- the second largest deployment of solar home system in Ondo state aside from the 5000 solar home system programme of the federal government; a first lady who, against all odds, facilitated the passage of VAPP bill into law in Ondo State and daily makes onerous efforts at huge personal costs to protect girls from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
The Sun is honouring the woman who has distributed over 30,000 yellow cards as part of preventive and awareness strategies for combating gender-based violence; who, in the last four years, has trained up to 1, 868 secondary school girls in renewable energy and solar technology across the 18 LGA in Ondo State and beyond as part of her efforts to bridge gender gap in ICT and Solar technology, who has distributed about 2000 brand new laptops between 2017 and 2021 to secondary school girls who have completed ICT training; and sustained efforts in human capital development by building an army of female technology leaders through her Bemore Empowered Initiative.
Knowing that the prestigious award is a proud product of a rigorous selection process made the difference. That she earned it on the strength of outstanding achievements as wife of the Governor of Ondo State sounds like it. It is true that Betty has since wrought incredible support for the Akeredolu-led government. She is not the spec of a governor’s wife we are used to. Here is a woman who, having reached the top of her career in the federal civil service had seen seasons; who, having grown through the rungs, came into the coveted office with a culture of content and the finesse of a veteran.
As first lady, Chief Anyanwu-Akeredolu has a plan for every stratum. Small wonder each of her various initiatives reaches out to specific group with a palpably progressive goal. From the formidable Bemore Empowered Initiative for school girls to the WidowCare programme for the widows, the the Accelerated Maternal and Child Survival programme otherwise called Solayo scheme which complements the effort of the governor in providing quality healthcare services for Ondo State’s pregnant women and their babies. These and more she has done and for which she has earned enduring admiration.
Meanwhile, earlier interventions have considered the persistent sheen around Betty as probable consequence of her birth on Monday, ‘a moonday’. She likes to be a torch, to set the pace. But while her luster may not have any direct relationship with her belief in the sun as one inexhaustible source of light. By the noun sun, we make primary reference to the star at the center of the solar system; the object which the book of reference says it is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, heated to incandescence by nuclear fusion reactions in its core, radiating the energy mainly as visible, ultraviolet light.
The Sun award, apposite as it is, is coinciding with a new opinion that says Betty personifies the Sun and so suggesting same as her sobriquet for lighting hundreds of homes with solar energy through the renowned Bemore project. The supposition, however makes more sense when one considers the fact that, the sun, like Betty, is in a distinct class of its own, with its sheen unrivaled as its unexampled splendour. The sun, in its rare, majestic pace, leads the galaxy, the way Betty leads her peers.
•••Debo Akinbami, Special Assistant to the Governor on New Media & Archives, writes from the Office of the First Lady.