By AYO AKINYE

The issue of the wife of a leader of government playing a prominent or visible role in the administration of  the spouse was strange to Nigerians until 1985 when General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida emerged as the first military president. One other first he brought to the fore was the exposure of his wife to prominence and the subsequent addition of First Lady to the nation’s political nomenclature and lexicon.

Before the Babangida era, the much that was known of the wives of leaders of government at the national, regional and state levels, was strictly ceremonial. Even, whispers from the grapevine, was that, during his first time out as Head of State, 1976-1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo ‘was a bachelor’. That, then, whenever a visiting head of state was accompanied by his spouse to Dodan Barracks, arrangement would be made for a woman to keep the company of the visiting First Lady.

First Lady Maryam Babangida was not a happenstance. Her pet-project, Better Life for Rural Women, was packaged as the female arm of the mass mobilization agenda of the IBB administration. Little wonder, the infectious impact and the phenomenal success of the Better Life project, nationwide.

Apart from the institutional support, Maryam herself, had poise. She was charming, elegant and blessed with the natural physique of a true African woman. Her carriage and comportment were fascinating. Because it was the first time in the history of the country that such exposition of the First Lady was happening at that level, Maryam Babangida was an attraction wherever she went.  So also was whatever she did. There was none of her stature before her and there has been none in her mould, at that level, ever since.

Today, at the lower level of governance, there seems to be appearing in the horizon, someone in the same bracket with Maryam. She is Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of the Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. A mere looking at her reveals a woman naturally blessed with a striking feature that cannot be ignored. She stands out like a red rose among green vegetables. A closer contact with her brings forth a woman with a beautiful heart full of compassion for the less privileged, the downtrodden, especially the truly rural women, the disabled and widows.

Since the emergence of her husband as Governor, she has ceased to be just another woman around, not by virtue of her status, but more as a result of her activities and the way she relates with the very indigent inhabitants of the state. Until recently, I have regarded her activities as a package put together by paid experts.

A chance meeting with the very pleasant woman a couple of months ago changed the impression. That fateful evening, her words and expressions gave her out as the initiator, motivator and executor of the various projects she had been involved in. They are original ideas of hers borne out of circumstances she had had to contend with from childhood and the cumulative experience in the course of life.

‘I feel for the women in the core rural areas. They are really suffering. They work very hard but get very little, even in terms of care and affection from their husbands for whom they labour very hard, daily. You may not believe it. Most of these women do all sorts of jobs to sustain the home while the husbands more or less lazy away. And if the tired or fagged out woman dare say no, to his advances in bed in the night, he resorts to battering. I was touched to the marrow when I realized that the little package in the Ajumose Food Bank which we dole out to the women meant so much to them. I pray the Almighty God would give me the grace to do more for them’, she said that evening with an emotion laden voice.

The narration is a recall of her first hand interaction with the women in their rural locations. ‘The women were rural in the true sense of the word, and down to earth. They give the very clear picture because I discuss with them in Yoruba interestingly, at times they use some words and expressions I don’t readily understand. I take note of such words, without betraying the confidence we share, and find out the meaning of the words and expressions later. These my rural women friends have also improved my Yoruba vocabularies’ she affirmed with a smile.

Of greater concern to Mrs. Ajimobi is the future of the off-springs of the rural women who are the focus of her Educate the Rural Child Project. If educated,  she believes that ‘the rural children who had no say in the choice of their birth, would be better situated and insulated from the deprivation and inadequacies being experienced today by their illiterate parents’.

The resolve to do this piece was inspired by the latest initiative by the Oyo State First Lady which I perceive as a fulfilment of the desire which she expressed during our chat that fateful evening to do more for the rural women, who, according to her, also farm. She has been going round the 33 local governments in the state, giving out farm implements and money to lessen their stress and enhance the yield on the farms. Men too, are directly and indirectly benefiting from the gesture.

A widely traveled and cosmopolitan in her outlook, behaviour and comportment, Mrs. Ajimobi’s also feels the plight of the men and women with disability and identifies with them. She also abhors child abuse, against which she has championed a strong campaign. As a caring mother and dutiful wife, she is an advocate of a peaceful home and exciting family enveloped in excellent husband, wife and children relationship. The issues were front burner subjects pointedly and exhaustively discussed at the recent conference staged by the Oyo State Workers Wives Association (OYSOWA) motivated by Mrs. Ajimobi.

This brief close-up on Mrs. Ajimobi would not be complete without a mention of  her spectacular major healthcare project – The Access to Basic Medical Care Programme (ABC) first of its kind by a First Lady. The programme, according to her, ‘is borne out of the need to ensure healthcare for people in the rural areas of the 33 local governments in Oyo State. The initiative is galvanized by the specific need to extend basic health care solutions to the masses, especially, those within significant distance to the town centres.’

In order to make the programme sustainable and enduring, it is being managed under the umbrella of The Access to Basic Medical Care Foundation. The headquarters of the Foundation is a first class architectural master-piece which houses state of the art and latest medical equipment that compare favourably with any of such establishment anywhere.

Mrs. Ajimobi’s heart of giving and caring has also been extended to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. Sometime ago, when her mother-in-law was on admission in the hospital, she was moved by the pitiable experience of relatives of patients on admission who had to keep the night in the cold, on the balcony of the hospital wards. She promised to donate a guest house to the hospital to alleviate the suffering of the people. A promise kept. Months later, the Alaanu House, named after her mother-in-law, now of blessed memory, was handed over to the management of the UCH.

I exploited the light mood that evening to ask about the “Madam Ni Interest”  phrase – of she hovering juicy contracts in the state. ‘I’ve heard it but it makes no meaning to me because there is no truth in it. Those saying that don’t know my husband. They don’t know the stuff   he is made of. All is part of the game of politics. I’m not bothered by that. My focus is on my philosophy of life predicated on service to God and humanity. I believe that the child and the woman in the rural area must not be at a disadvantage because of the circumstances of his or her birth or environment”.

Culled from the sunnewsonline.com