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« Feminism and the man | Main | The Exclusion of Ojukwu: A Nigerian Affair »

March 16, 2005

Hats off for Maryam Babangida

by Okechukwu E. Asia --- It began with a Saturday morning telephone call from a very dear friend in Boston, Massachusetts, USA Mr. Ndamati Timothy inviting me to accompany him to a reception organized by the National Chairman of The Nigerian Project, USA Dr. Lawrence Egbuchilam at his Boonton, New Jersey mansion to honor Nigeria’s former first lady Madam Maryam Babangida. I quickly accepted. I have not seen Maryam in person before. I am, however, one of her greatest admirers having witnessed the wonders of her “Better Life for Rural Women” program did and continues to do for women in my Local Government Area. I have been praying for this day to just shake her hands, and I will be happy.

Sunday March 6, 2005 I set out on a 5-hour drive to Boonton, New Jersey in the company of my good friend Ndamati. It was a beautiful day to see a very beautiful woman and beautiful terrains of Boonton, New Jersey. As we pulled into this brand new, intimidating and yet gorgeous mansion belonging to Dr. Egbuchilam overlooking the White plains of New York with a breath taking landscape made for Buckingham Palace my curiosity began to set in. We were more than three hours early. But waiting for three hours to see Maryam was like waiting for 10 minutes. I was determined to wait for one week to see her. We settled into this cozy living room decorated with a 42” Widescreen Plasma television mounted on the wall and several museum-quality works of arts in every corner.

Within hours Nigerians from all walks of life filled the house in anticipation to welcome Maryam. They came from Texas, Washington D.C, Boston, Ohio, Florida, California, New York, New Jersey etc. Many of them in serious traditional attire, and some in their Sunday best. Wherever Nigerians gather, you know very well that rice; stew, moi-moi, fufu; egusi and vegetable soups are very plentiful. This was no exception. Also there were plenty of beers and cognac to drink. I took care of myself very well.

At about 5 pm Maryam walked in with Madam Ibrahim Gambari, the beautiful wife of the former U.N. Ambassador by her side. At first I did not believe who she is. She looks younger than I expected and very beautiful. She has a teenage body. You really have to look closer to notice that she is a woman, a mother and a grandmother. She was offered a very fluffy and smooth leather chair, she rejected it and opted for a dinning room chair. Amazing!

I was expecting to see a glamour lady with gold and diamond all over her fingers, but I was wrong. She wore only her wedding band and another small ring. I had expected to see her in an expensive and designer dress and shoes. Again, I was wrong. She wore only some not so great long skirt with a matching top and a Moslem head tie and regular shoes. As she sat quietly on that dinning room chair, my eyes were glaring at her in amazement and disbelief. But I was filled with happiness that I finally met one of the people I most admire.

Few minutes later the chief host Dr. Lawrence Egbuchilam and his beautiful and very excited wife introduced Madam Maryam Babangida to the full house. The chants of first lady erupted-as to say she will become Nigeria’s first lady come 2007. She took the floor and began to speak. First, she apologized for being late and for keeping many of us waiting, as if we were worried about waiting. She notices and acknowledged the African attires worn by the majority of the guests. “I am so happy to see you here today in your African attires, it shows that you are proud Africans” she said.

Her speech focused more on Better life for Rural Women than politics. The following are the excerpts of her speech:

Thank you very much for welcoming me and my entourage to your beautiful home. Ladies and gentlemen as I stand before you today, I feel happy and proud. Proud in the sense that you have great Nigerians around the world and you are one of them. Proud in the sense that seeing a lot of you in our traditional outfit is a very good act of patriotism. I am indeed very happy that God has given me an opportunity to meet you today. Most of you I have not come across to know, and some of you are just seeing me for the first time. But what a great opportunity God has given to us to meet tonight. You coming across from your various communities, living your various lives to come here today, I say thank you very much.

I have been given a task of explaining a program to you. Now I am going to be a teacher and act like a professor. The Better Life for Rural Women (BLRW) program commenced its activities in 1987. The BLRW is for rural women. Who is the rural woman? The rural woman is the woman who resides in rural area, who lives in the typical rural setting with no water, no electric light, no amenities, or basic facility around her. And yet she nurtures a family and she is not educated. She does not have health facility; she does not have anything around her that will give her recognition and that will give her sense of belonging. So what we do was to visit and identify with her to see what she got and be able to help her out.

How do we help her out? If she is a farmer, what does she plan to produce? Rice, cassava, vegetable? What tools does she need? How many hours of labor does she put in? We take these findings to urban areas and people like you, to discuss her problems. How do we help the woman in terms of productivity? How do we increase her labor production? How do we help her, and how do we work closely with the woman? What are the tools she will need that will help her to produce more and better?

We have to educate her, give her basic education on how to manage her business. Then we go out and recruit more people like you. If you are a teacher, give us your time, come to the villages and contribute the materials needed to give her the education. The BLF is a program that addresses the welfare of women. It addresses their education, their health, and their agriculture. That is their economic problem, their industry, where she does her market. After all these productions, what happens? They do not know how to market their production. How can they move these goods to the urban market? The roads are not accessible. They do not have education. If they had education, they could do something. So we the urban people, we the elite, you the elite, you the haves, we are pleading that you support what we are trying to do now. When you come home, I would like you to travel with me to the village. There is no water in the villages; rivers are dry now. You cannot tell somebody to do something with her life when there is no water supply.

So what do we need to do now that we have all these problems? We are expanding. We have not done so yet in Africa. Some African countries have contacted us to help train some of their people to introduce this unique program to their peoples. So now we are expanding nationally and internationally. In the process of expansion for example, Abuja we move from there into the rural areas to provide it or some of the amenities that are in Abuja. Listen, ladies and gentlemen, if you are really a true Nigerian, you must be worried about the education system in our country. In the next few years, maybe 30 years, if we do not educate each individual in our country, we will have a very poor country, because if they are not educated we can’t achieve anything. What we are doing here are for the people. We can’t call our country rich when there is no drinking water in our urban and rural areas. In many rural areas you can see our people swimming and drinking water from the streams in which animals wash themselves. The human beings and animals are struggling for the little water left in our ponds. And then, when you see the color of this water you will weep for our country and our people.

Our plan for this program “Better Life” is to expand, to bring women’s products to trade fairs, including international trade fairs. The Better Life works with the women in our rural areas, we don’t work for them. We go there and we see what they do. We provide them with tools and training facilities. We partner with them. Many times there are no good roads to get to the rural areas. We approached the Ministry of Works and we asked them to please give us their graders to grade the roads so that the women may be able to ship their produce to the urban areas. We partner with the ministries. We are all working for success. We explained to the people in the ministry, whether you are living in there or out there, that we all have to join hands together to achieve our goals. It is our country.

Each and every one of us here is from the rural villages. That’s who we are. We are rural people. So our development should be reversed from rural development to urban. We should all go back to the rural areas and live there. You people in America are capable of training ten or more people in primary and secondary schools in your village. Our program is in all the states of the federation. The program has branches in most of the local government areas of the federation. It is very difficult to try to cover all the local government areas, but we are working towards achieving that goal. You in America should thank God for what you have, and who you are. When you go to the villages you see the children in rag clothes, many naked. You see the women going to fetch water, coming back to cook, going back to the farm, that is why we must address the issue of women’s development. You the men are comfortable. You are the bosses. You can never have a full development when you leave the women behind. Men should take their women side by side. The truth is that men cannot succeed without a strong woman by their side. You cannot wash your hands clean with one hand. You need two hands to wash your hands clean. You cannot walk fast on one leg; you need both legs to walk fast. You cannot have an even balance on one leg; you need the other leg -- that is the woman. Who is the man here that can claim that he was not born of a woman. If you know that, why don’t you look at your wife as a partner? Women have the economic base, but politically they cannot be there. How can they be there when the political meetings are scheduled at 3:00 A.M? At this time, the women are at home in bed with the kids. If a woman dares to attend one of those meetings, the men will call her “Ashawo”. I think the time has come for all the women to participate fully in the prophecy. God has given us so much. Men must be grateful to God for giving them women. The men are denying women privileges, which means that men are not grateful to God. Men and women should partner together. Sincere partnership. Women are not in competition with men. Women respects that authority, which God has given to men, and we want to be there for them, bathes them feed them and love them. All we ask from men is to allow us to belong.

So my dear sisters and brothers, to cut my speech -- the Better Life Program is designed to help the rural women, to teach them necessary skills, provide good health, teach them personal hygiene, good nutrition and a clean environment. So I am appealing to you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, think of the rural women. Think of your root. How you can help. That is what you should be thinking. If today you save a dollar per week in a piggy bank within one year you will have saved enough to take care of one or two women in the rural areas. And bring the piggy bank with you when you come home. It will go a long way in helping more people than you will ever realize. You have the option to decide how your donation can be used. Do you want to use it to build a well, water tank or school, or market stalls or to purchase tools for their trade? You choose where your money goes. Or tell us which village should benefit and we will use that money and invest it there and you will see what we did with your donation.

In the name of God, the Almighty, we thank you for all the things you have given us. We pray that our needs and goals be met. Amen. We pray that each and every one of us present tonight, and those absent, be blessed. Amen. That whatsoever we set to do, God will help us achieve. Amen. As we are all together here, I am not in your minds, but you know what you are pursuing. You say you are pursuing 007, the Nigerian project, may God bless you all and keep us alive. But it’s my prayer that each and every one of you has some good intentions at this moment. May God bless your intention. May God bless your goals; protect you, because if you don’t have good intentions you can never succeed in life. And if you are not honest, you can’t go far in life. So, therefore, we are all human beings, we have our likes and dislikes, we have our weaknesses, and so what I strongly appeal to you is that you work with us. It is okay that we work out our differences. We cannot all be leaders. Let us pray for good leaders in Nigeria, and that others should learn to be good followers. So my dear brothers and sisters, I thank you all for coming here tonight to converse with me. I am glad you came, and I am so happy to be here with you.

May God bless you all.

The speech was followed by all night pomp and pageantry with appreciative guests and hosts all congratulated each other for a reception well organized. There were stampede to take photograph with Maryam. So many photographers both professionals and not-so-professionals all struggling to get a snap of the former first lady. It was a night I will never forget. Thank you Dr. Lawrence Egbuchilam for hosting this wonderful august visitor. Thank you The Nigerian Project, USA under whose auspices this event was made possible. I hope we will be able to meet again.

Okechukwu E. Asia

Boston, MA, USA

Real Beauty is My Aim - Mahatma Gandhi

Posted by Administrator at March 16, 2005 07:49 AM


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