By Yemisi Suleiman
Recently the office of the First Lady of Bayelsa State organised the first Bayelsa Fashion Week.Â A Fashion Week which was born out of the desire to discover new talents,Â empower Bayelsans, as well as projecting a positive image of a state that has come to be known as the â€˜Militant Zoneâ€™.
An encounter with the initiator of the fashion week, Mrs Alayingi Sylva, wife of the governor ofÂ Bayelsa State, at the Government House Yenegoa, can best be described as warm and receptive.Â For all the splendour of the Government House,Â the First LadyÂ Â infused it with a palpable ease; her presence makes the place feel open and approachable, as she welcomes guests for the fashion week to her sitting room.
When we sit down to talk, she seemed so relaxed, as she speaks on the influence of a fashion show, in the dreaded militant zone,Â her role as First Lady and onÂ how she hopes to use her position to help Bayelsa women and youthsÂ transform their lives.
What necessitated the need for a fashion show?
It is toÂ showÂ you that Bayelsans can be known for something else, something like fashion, other than the bad militant zone we have been associated with. We can be known to look good, to promote our people and promote truly who the Bayelsans are.
In almost every household here, there is a tailor and it just shows that there are people here that are very talented and have so much to offer when it comes to fashion and making people look good, all they need is good exposure andÂ that is what Legendary Gold is doing with us.Â They are bringing the international exposure which is what has been lacking in our area and I believe this fashion week is really going to promote Bayelsans culture and give them that international flair that has been lacking all the while.
This is a new initiative by the office of the First Lady, what do you think would be the impact of the fashion week on the image of the State and on Bayelsans generally, in the nearest future?
What will gladden my heart is after this fashion show, one year down the line, you see a Bayelsan designer and model on the runway in New York City, then I will know that it is an effort that we all put our hands in and it has paid off. I know a lot of talented Bayelsans who are dress makers, artists, designers and they are doing so much to bring everything together. Like I said, it will give anybody joy that what we
started with the fashion show have taken life, when we are known in the fashion world.
What did it take to put up all these?
So much, what you see today is 3 months of a lot of hard work and planning that have gone into it. So many committed people, the consultants, the screening committee; I have also been on my toes just to make sure that everything goes well.
What are the challenges of being a First Lady in a state like Bayelsa?
Well whatever endeavour you embark on, you are bound to face challenges even though you do not see it before embarking on it but, there are always challenges and I think these challenges are all there so that you can appreciate whatever you are doing and actually look deep and see that it is not all about the fun fare of being the first lady, there are lots of work to be done here.Â Â If you know Bayelsa very well, you will know that you need to do a lot. Since we came here, it has been all hands on deck, I have not rested, I have been working because like you know there hasÂ been lot of issues in the stateÂ and a lot of things that have been lacking, a lot of things have not been done right, so we need to make a difference, not to leave the place same way we met it. There have been a lot of challenges but, I give God the glory for the challenges because it just shows that I didnâ€™t come here only to be part of the fanfare of being the first lady.Â I appreciate the challenges and I am happy about the work.
Tell us about your all health awareness campaign, which is your pet project as first lady. What informed it?
Health has been a serious issue for me, because it has always been empowerment, empowerment, empowering the people, the women and the youth. In my own case it was empowering the women, for me, I thought the perfect empowerment I have to give to the women isÂ health because as far as I am concerned if you are not healthy, whatever money you have you canâ€™t move very far with it. So my first empowerment is health. I have to make sure that women are healthy and health conscious so I embarked on all health awareness campaign which we actually zeroed in on breast and cervical cancer and that is what the campaign is all about. We have been round the local governments, screening women and telling them about the dangers of breast and cervical cancer, early detections and as a silent killer. Since I came on board, it has killed at least thirty women that I know, so you can see it is a real danger not just talk about it in the state capital but we have to go down to the rural areas and grassroots to tell the women what breast cancer is, the dangers and why you need to screen early and we did a lot of screening and even in the local government and the villages we went to, we saw a lot of cases which we also treated, wherever we encounter such cases of cervical and breast cancer we try to treat. We have sent some people abroad, India, South Africa for treatment and they are well now. I can say now that almost every woman in Bayelsa, has an idea of the danger of breast and cervical cancer.
What do you miss most as the First lady of the state?
I miss spending time with my kids, I love being a mother, love being with my children, I love spending time with my family and that is one of the things I miss a lot about being the first lady, yes it can be very fulfilling, when you work and all that but sometimes I really miss staying with my children.
They say behind every successful man is a woman of great influence, how much of your influence rubs off on your husband.
I donâ€™t know if I should answer that because it is for him to say. I try as a wife, as a partner, to help and support my husband in everything that he does. First of all, I believe in what he believes in and when you believe in what your partner believes in, it makes it all easy in his aspirations especially when it involves many other people you get to key into what he is doing and it makes it less tasking because you believe in what he believes in. I think I believe in what he is doing and he is making a lot of impact on the people and I have tried to help him in my own little way by supportingÂ him by way of advice and whatever way Iâ€™m required to render my support, I do.
Were you into politics before you married your husband?
Not really, I was a very private person.
Away from your regular schedules as the first lady, how do you relax?
That is why I said I miss spending time with my kids but nowÂ I think that is one way to shut down , when I travel to spend time with my kids, I just shut down because that is therapy for me. It shuts me away from everything that goes on in the state and I just enjoy spending time with them, I travel with them, I read and listen to music.
What would you love to be remembered forÂ when you are out of office?
I am hoping that one of the legacies will be the Bayelsa fashion week.Â Apart from that, I would like to be remembered that I tried to create health awareness for Bayelsans, to make Bayelsa women more health conscious, that I tried as much as I could to touch the lives of children. I wouldÂ like to look back and say I managed to touch the lives of the people in Bayelsa.
Tell us about your growing up
I am the only girl in the family of five boys, I had a lot of protection from my brothers, and of course I was a daddyâ€™s girl. I had a lot of love from my parents, it was just beautiful growing up and finding all the attention as the only girl, whatever I said went because my father believed in me so much as an only girl he protected me and it was just a beautiful experience growing up with them.
What is your educational background like?
I had my primary and secondary school in Port Harcourt, while I read Banking and Finance from Uyo and because I love studying, Iâ€™m running a doctorate programme at the University of London, which I hope to finish in a few years but,Â time is just the major challenge I have as regards that.
How would you describe fashion?
It has to be simple and comfortable.
How do you cope being a wife, mother and with your office as First lady?
Well I must tell you it is not easy, it is a lot of stress onÂ one person putting it all together but,Â I give thanks because I have always been led aright, even before we came here my prayer has always been Lord, please help me balance so that in no way will I be lacking. Not lacking as a wife, mother and in my office and I think the Lord has helped me and answered my prayers Iâ€™m not lacking in any area.
How has the glamour side of being a first lady influenced you?
Well I try to stay away from the press a little bit not deliberately, but if I have something to offer, I come out. Most of the times, I have been in the press it has been for a cause or another, for the programes that Iâ€™m doing as regards cancer and other health related programmes. It is always about promoting me in the right image, sending out the right messages not because I want to be out there taking pictures, but always for the right reasons.
What dreams do you have for Bayelsans?
First to make sure that all the women are health conscious because that is one of the problems women have, we take care of the kids, husbands and we easily forget ourselves. Also I initiated the setting up of HIV clubs in our secondary schools in Bayelsa. I believeÂ that the HIV campaign is becoming so strong in the country but, I felt that the children are not getting the message because they thought HIV was an adult thing, so we had to move to schools and we did huge campaign on HIV clubs in schools.Â Presently in these schools, every week, theyÂ set aside a day to educate students on HIV. It is a package for health, it might look very small as if it is nothing, but like I said,Â health is very important if you are not healthy, no matter what you do you cannot excel in it.