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The life and times of Maryam Babangida

By Okey Ndiribe,  Asst. Political Editor, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Monsur Olowoopejo
The late  Mrs Maryam Babangida added a lot of glamour to the office of First Lady when her husband Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was military President between 1985 and 1993.

Born on November 1, 1948 at Asaba in Delta State, she attended Queen Amina College, Kaduna, between 1961 and 1964; Federal Training Centre Kaduna,  1965 to 1966 and  La Salle University Illinois-Chicago, USA 1974 to 1975. She also attended the NCR Computer Science Institute in Lagos in 1986. She got married to General Ibrahim Babangida in 1969.

She had four children ( two sons and two daughters)  for her husband. She was President of Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association  (NAOWA), 1984-1985 and First Lady of  Nigeria between 1985 and 1993. Since her husband  left office in 1993, she had lived at the Hilltop Mansion residence of her husband in Minna, capital of  Niger State.  She established a school called El-Amin International School in the city.

Maryam Babangida won several awards which include Harlem Women’s Committee/ New Future Foundation Incorporated award and the International Recognition Award at New York in 1988. She also published a book entitled  The Home Front. It was published in 1988 by Fountain Publication based at Ibadan, Oyo State.

Her hobbies were  gardening, interior decoration, music, squash, badmington, collecting birds, philantropic activities and reading.

Dr (Mrs) Babangida would be remembered for a long time due to her pet project which was  dubbed Better Life for Rural Women. She had launched the programme in 1987 for the purpose of achieving gender equity with special focus on rural women. The programme was conceived to have direct bearing on the lives of rural women which were described as the most sidelined, poorest and therefore the most vulnerable in the nation.

It has been argued in some quarters that  the foundation that was laid in the nation’s  women affairs  through the BLP programme led to Nigeria signing as a party to several United Nations conventions on elimination of  discrimination against women. It is also believed that the adoption of a draft a national policy on women and the establishment of a National Commission for Women which was upgraded to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the National Centre for Women Development were due to gains realised from the BLP.

Over a decade after her husband left office, Mrs Babangida attempted  relaunching the BLP programme but this time on a continental level. The new project which was conceived sometime earlier started making news late  in 2003 and was re-christened Better Life Programme for African Women. It   was designed in such a way that it would accommodate wives of other African first ladies as members.

It was a grand event when the project was launched on March 3, 2004.

At a workshop which discussed the topic “Better Life Programme for African Women; the way forward,” Mrs Babangida had said that “… The foundation of the second phase of the mission for the BLP must be pitched against the background of the current dispensation, as the democratic environment provides room for dialogue and negotiation, thus giving room for achieving every goal.”

She had further stated that,  “Another key consideration is the current decision to account for women’s work in the National Accounting System. This is expected to quantify women’s works  both domestic and otherwise as non-rival and therefore as an economic activity that contributes to the development of  the country.

“We must therefore take cognisance of this in order to acknowledge every work done by women professionals, give it its deserved status. The feminisation of poverty is also key consideration in our agenda.”

However, it did not take long before rumours began making the rounds that the project  was the women’s political wing of the defunct Project IBB 2007 – a group which was committed to ensure that Gen. Babangida ran for the presidency during the last general elections.

Maryam’s death grieves Fashola, AC

The Action Congress (AC), and Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State have condoled with former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida over the death of his wife and former First Lady, Hajia Mariam Babangida, who died in the United States of America on Sunday.

The National Publicity Secretary of AC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, enjoined General Babangida and his family to take solace in the fact that Maryam lived a good life and left indelible footprints on the sands of time.

AC described her as a  woman of style and poise, adding that her outstanding personality defined her epoch.

“Mrs. Babangida lived a purposeful life, touching many lives along the way. As far as First Ladyship goes, she was a trailblazer. With her Better Life For Rural Women programme, she brought local and international attention to the plight of women in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.

“Her visibility and vibrancy in her days as the First Lady helped redefine that office, holding it out as a potent platform to engineer socio-cultural and political change.

“In fact, if subsequent First Ladies have continued in her footsteps, in terms of using the office as a platform for development, the women folk in particular and Nigerians in general, would have been the better for it,’’ AC stated.

The party also noted that when she fought the debilitating disease that eventually led to her demise, she did so with rare courage, apparently because of her strong faith and her inner strength.

“We pray that God will forgive her sins and grant her eternal rest, while also giving the family she left behind the fortitude to bear their irreparable loss,’’ AC said.

Governor Fashola, who described the death as sudden,  expressed grief that the death came at the yuletide season , adding that knowing how close the General was to the former First Lady, the pains of natural separation could only be imagined.

“I share in this pain and I am one with your family in prayers at this moment of sadness. While I urge you to take solace in the inevitability of transition as spelt out in the scriptures, the family should be comforted by the accomplishments of the departed as a mother and a rallying point for women in noble causes,” Fashola said

The governor said the former First Lady would be sorely missed at the national and continental levels for her leadership qualities displayed first as the President of the Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA) which she repositioned for pursuit of public spirited endeavours and for initiating the Better Life for Rural Women, a project she actively promoted between 1985 and 1993.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Lagos State , please accept my condolences once again. I pray to Almighty Allah to grant the soul of the departed Al-janah firdaus and to give you and the family, the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss,” the governor said.


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