Late last year, Mrs. Funmilayo Banire, wife of Lagos State Commissioner for Environment, Muiz Banire, launched a non-profit organisation aimed, according to her, at reducing infant and maternal mortality resulting from frequent and spontaneous abortions arising from unmatched rhesus factors between two partners.
There is nothing unusual about wives of prominent public officials cultivating pet projects. What is unusual is that this particular pet-project has depth and clear focus, which is rarely the case.
Mrs. Funmilayo Banire is blessed with stunning looks with her well-cultured, light skin and gainly stature. Yet, it is her grace, her manners and her culture and her passion that win you over in the end. A real African beauty with palpable inner beauty and family values, she introduces her husband with the enthusiasm and pride of a newly wed, and it is with that same pride and enthusiasm that she speaks about her mother, with whom she shares a very close relationship. The same goes for her children.
What makes Funmi â€œRhesusâ€ Banire tick? Morenike Taire sought to find out more about this good hostess with a chat in her unpretentious G.R.A. Ikeja home. Â Exceptsâ€¦
With a prominent public official as spouse, you seem to be a rather private personâ€¦
I have a good number of children. At this stage, when the man is always out there, the two of us cannot always be out there. I believe that there are different stages in life and this is the stage to look after the home, my husband and children. When the time comes, you will see more of me.
Your recently launched NGO has a rather unusual focus. Â Did you have a personal issue with rhesus factor?
When I got married, I did not have any issue for the first 5 years. But, that is not the only reason. Most people know their blood group, their genotype but not their rhesus factorâ€¦
How are you dealing with the challenges of reaching the women at the grassroots level?
Weâ€™ve been carrying them along from inception. Our next targets are traditional birth attendants, the traditional birth attendants that a lot of our women patronise at Mushin (and other places) in Lagos. You will see about two hundred pregnant women. They donâ€™t go to the General Hospital; they only go to the people they know. Some of them lose their children and they donâ€™t even know why and itâ€™s been really tormenting them. Weâ€™ve been able to talk to the traditional attendants. Theyâ€™re ready to learn. Theyâ€™re talking to us.
Weâ€™ve been training them in the native language. Our posters are written in Yoruba, Pidgin English and, of course, English.
The pregnant women, weâ€™ve spelt it out to them that ours is a non-profit organisation. Weâ€™ve been giving the treatment injection free of charge.
Iâ€™m talking about sexual and reproductive health in general. Â Even amongst the elites, lawyers and so on. Iâ€™ve seen people with doctorate degrees; when they want to get married, they know how to ascertain their genotypes â€“ they know AS cannot marry AS, that kind of thing. (But) a lot of people donâ€™t know about rhesus. The educated ones too donâ€™t know.
We need to sensitise the generality of our people. We had a doctorate degree holder who was getting marriedâ€¦ He quickly ran to us to get information.
So itâ€™s not about women alone?
Yes, of course. Â It takes two to tango. Itâ€™s going to involve the two of them so itâ€™s better for a man to know that his spouse is of a matching rhesus so that he knows what to do when there is pregnancy; so that he can get the injection when the time comes.
In addition, weâ€™re (currently) encouraging people to carry blood group cards for emergencies. Â Itâ€™s not when they get to the hospital that someone can just start telling the doctor their blood group; when theyâ€™re unconscious.
The â€˜Oâ€™ negative people; we are universal donors. We canâ€™t receive just any blood. So, when thereâ€™s an emergency, a health worker can easily look for your card and see your blood details.
Could this be a model for dealing with women at the grassroots with regard to sexual and reproductive health in general?
Yes. I believe so.
When youâ€™re not talking to women about rhesus, what do you do?
This rhesus thing was something I just launched on my fortieth birthday. It took two years to register it properly with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Â Of course, before I began (the project), I had my businesses. I thank God that they are doing well and flourishing. That is why one can now say that out of what one is getting from God, what can one give back?
On the relaxation level?
Swimming. I go swimming quite a lot and these days, I have left my mornings open to go to the gym three times a week. I have already worked out this morning. The fact that youâ€™re running around does not mean you are fit.