By Wale Akinola
To complement the efforts of legislators of the 8th National Assembly, the friendly society known as the Forum of Senators’ Wives pursued a development agenda throughout 2016.
Established in 1999, and customarily chaired by the wife of the President of the Senate, not much had been heard of the Forum of Senator’s Wives under former administrations despite the visibility and prominence of wives of Senate Presidents from Lady Margaret Okadigbo to Mrs. Felicia Wabara and of recent Mrs. Helen David Mark as social escorts to successive First Ladies of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Forum, under the 8th National Assembly, has been invigorated with a breath of fresh air, moving from social activities to complementary steps in sustainable development, as a sisterhood of advocacy to deliver for good.
In the first year of the current Senate, the Forum of Senators’ Wives, in collaboration with UN Women and national stakeholders, spearheaded the wide-reaching consultative and advocacy sessions calling for a review of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO Bill) which suffered a setback at the Senate in March 2016 after its presentation on the floor by the bill sponsor, Senator Biodun Olujimi.
This effort yielded positive outcomes as the bill was returned to the Senate for a second reading and further legislative attention. The GEO bill seeks to safeguard the rights of Nigerian women not only from a gender lens but from a more global human rights viewpoint. The stakeholder consultative group has since focused on advocacy and communications, championed by UN Women Gender Equality Champion, Mrs Bisi Fayemi.
The Forum also reached out to forgotten citizens, especially the internally displaced, the disabled, the incarcerated, the ill, orphaned and vulnerable children, and those with special needs, to contribute a collaborative quota to alleviating the burden of care.
In a uniquely unprecedented unity, the wives of senators of the 8th Senate and those of members of the House of Representatives, led by the Chair of the Forum of Senators’ Wives, Mrs. Toyin Saraki and Mrs. Gimbiya Dogara, wife of the Speaker, House of Representatives, last month, joined hands on Giving Tuesday to address the challenges of displaced persons as they visited and donated relief materials to the NYSC Orientation Camp, Damare; Malkohi, Saint Theresa and Fufore Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State.
Mrs. Saraki, in a statement delivered on arrival at the state capital, sympathized with the people of Adamawa as theirs is one of the states most affected by the insurgency in the North-East while also commending the state government for providing succor for the internally displaced persons in these trying times.
“I am happy this Giving Tuesday to be joined by my sisters, the wives of Distinguished Senators and wives of Honorable Members. As we enter the end of the year, we have gathered materials to help the displaced families resettle back into their homes, their lives, and their productivity. It is indeed our prayer, that the end of this year will mark the end of regional conflict and internal displacement, while the New Year ushers in an era of restored peace, progress and productivity,’’ she said.
The items donated include grains, beans, rice, beverages, clothes, toiletries, buckets, diapers, vegetable and Corn Oils, while Toyin Saraki’s Wellbeing Foundation Africa Mamacare Program supported the effort by donating Let Girls Learn Adolescent Personal Social And Health Education’s Skills And Drills Textbooks, No Child Left behind Back To School Literacy and Numeracy Kits, and Mamacare Clean Birth Mamakits, amongst others.
Similarly, on December 14, 2016, as Nigeria’s Prison’s Reform Bill passed second reading at the red chamber, the Forum of Senators’ Wives visited inmates at the Suleja Prison. Mrs. Saraki, during the visit, spoke against stigmatization of prisoners after their release. “Rehabilitation of inmates will make them relevant to themselves and the society. And we as Nigerians should avoid stigmatizing prisoners when they are eventually released. I also urge the released inmates to get a change of life at their return”, she said.
Fines paid, female inmates freed
The Forum paid the fines and secured the release of some female inmates incarcerated at the prison due to their inability to fulfil their options of fines, provided a grant to equip the prison’s vocational training workshop with necessary materials and tools.
The Forum also extended its social welfare engagement to patients at the Maitama General Hospital, and Special Needs Children at the Child Care Trust Foundation in Bwari. At the Stella Obasanjo Child Care Trust Foundation, the Chair assured the Foundation of the continuous support of the Forum. “Though our husbands at the Senate represent different constituencies, we as mothers represent one constituency which is caring for the needy, ill, disabled and the children in our society” , Mrs Saraki said.
While rounding off the 2016 Social Welfare Outreach, the Forum Chair Saraki thanked UNILEVER and FRIESLANDCAMPINA for collaborating with the Forum on the welfare package. She maintained that the Forum remains an avenue to keep members’ sense of duty alive as spouses of legislators.
Other engagements of the Forum include the launch of the Women Against Corruption Initiative in collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Office of the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha M. Buhari. The Forum, in a statement, commended the initiative for the inclusion of women, describing it as a critical step in not just the anti-corruption battle, but also in the noble commitment to set the country on the path to transparency, diligence, and accountability.
The Forum, during the year 2016, also enlisted in the Made-in-Nigeria campaign championed by the 8th Senate as members played prominent roles in the in-country activities of foremost textile manufacturers, VLISCO, Nigeria to grow local capacity and build entrepreneurial skills of budding stakeholders in the fashion industry.
The Forum’s efforts in driving targeted stakeholder engagement remain a frontline issue for members. As Mrs. Toyin Saraki put it, “The growth of our local communities depends on it if our people, especially our women and children must live lives where they are able to aspire, thrive and excel in their chosen endeavour. The task of nation-building has a role for each of us.
This is a moment fate has thrust upon us and it is up to us to make it count. We look forward to a more productive 2017 where we will continue to lend ourselves and our time towards partnerships that will draw attention to pressing socio-economic issues across our beloved country”.
It would appear there is a clearly defined commitment by the Forum of Senators’ Wives of the 8th Senate to demonstrate support for members’ spouses through careful and articulated advocacy that will ensure the wishes of the Nigerian people are well represented in emerging legislations for our national good. There is a renewed burden to conscientiously encourage the narrative around not just issues such as the GEO bill, but also a wider advocacy on women, children and socio-economic development in general.