I grew up knowing that the first step to greatness is to admire greatness. Finding my way to the spotlight of public life however taught me that we owe our society the duty of celebrating greatness in a world where negativity has greater audience. This is the conviction with which I tell the world about the greatness I see in Mrs Bolanle Ambode.
First Ladies in Lagos State from Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Dame Abimbola Fashola to Mrs. Bolanle Ambode have been of great blessings to the State. In her foresightedness, enthusiasm and dynamism, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, has bequeathed many landmark projects, most of which continue to yield fantastic results and benefiting millions of women and children up till today. These programmes such as “Spelling Bee Competition” and “One Day Governor” have been nurtured by succeeding first ladies to national prominence. The present First Lady, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, however, is widening the scope of these programmes, increasing their acceptance, promoting participation and proliferating benefits, which are now having very visible impacts in social, economic and political land space of Lagos.
Thus, on Wednesday, 13th September, 2017, Lagosians had a glimpse of the future, when the First Family hosted the One Day Governor, Miss Zuffon Bukola and her Deputy, Miss Rosemary Ogidan, both of whom are young girls (an unprecedented feat in the annals of the programme), prompting His Excellency, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, to remark that: “I believe Lagos will soon produce the first elected female governor in Nigeria.”
However, I know of one individual who shares the same passionate view, but more religiously, our own First Lady, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode. She has every reason to feel that way because females are almost 50% of Nigeria’s population while youth (under 35) are over 75%. However, a vast majority of these groups are under-privileged.
Indeed, Nigerians have had many First Ladies both at the federal and state levels. But the current First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, is one with a difference. She is not only an epitome of humility but she is also a paragon of modesty with deep love and affection for the underprivileged people, particularly the rural dwellers who are the primary targets of her humanitarian initiatives.
Right at the Central Primary School, Oba Akinjobi Way Ikeja on February 17, 2017, the First Lady flagged off distribution of 175,000 school shoes and socks, to children in Lagos State public primary school 1-3. The distribution of these items was never by mistake or accident. It was a conscious act and promise that was faithfully fulfilled in spite of the number of pupils and resources involved.
The essence of school shoes must not be lost on us so soon if we can recall its devastating implications in our political misadventure of recent. This generous and motherly gift of shoes and socks are important and symbolic in a system where the shoe has become a mark of status while uniform has become a leveller.
The provision of uniform shoes to all children of different backgrounds and status is indeed a creative strategy for the attainment of “Project Bright Steps of the First Lady. One, disadvantaged parents are relieved of the cost of shoes as their children and wards return to school. Two, the pupils too are purged of envy, unnecessary show off, rivalry and segregation on the basis of foot wears. With a uniform clothe and shoe, the children are left to face their studies squarely with a high sense of equality.
I must confess that it takes a great divine touch to embark on an ambitious project of this nature. It is only the chosen ones like our First Lady that can feel the obligation as a responsible and responsive mother of a nation to ensure our future leaders have all the supports in preparing them to fulfil their purpose. It is a rare demonstration of courage and empathy by a first lady to know and unequivocally point out that wearing shoe is not a luxury, but a necessity.
The far-reaching and thoughtful projects of the Lagos State First Lady are a clear testimony of her being a gift to humanity. The empowerment of widows in a system where women are overburdened with family upkeep in addition to child upbringing can only place her on the same pedestal with Melinda Gate, the wife of the world’s richest man, who is widely regarded as a thoughtful campaigner and works methodically to drive change without seeking the limelight.
However, the uniqueness and effectiveness of the project of Mrs. Ambode on the widow lie in its extensive research leading to distinct categorization that determines and specifies appropriate needs of each group. After a careful analysis, the First Lady said at the occasion of her widow empowerment programme that “we realized that though all the widows need support, but the same type of assistance cannot work for everyone because of age differences and circumstances around them, And working in line with the analysis, beneficiaries of her largesse were divided into three categories, one of them being those that require skill acquisition, these are relatively young widows. The second category comprises those that require equipment support to stabilize their businesses. The last category has widows that require financial assistance to expand their businesses.
The use of research to come up with projects, define beneficiaries and determine appropriate methodology to reach the target groups sets the First Lady apart as somebody that is determined to make a difference.
I am more than convinced that Lagosians haven’t seen anything yet from the amiable First Lady of Lagos State. She has just begun like her husband just started the work of changing the face of Lagos. Mrs. Ambode too is currently changing the orientation of women, young children and the underprivileged. The First Lady has said and practically demonstrated she is prepared and willing to partner and support the initiatives of local non-governmental and community based organizations that share her vision. It is a great innovation to move forward and faster too. It is a leverage strategy that enhances and develops the capacity of the giver and the receiver organizations and their beneficiaries.
Just this year, Mrs. Ambode extended her hand of cooperation, through the instrumentality of her non-government organization – Hope for Women in Nigeria Initiative (HOFOWEN), to Sebeccly Cancer Foundation to support cancer cases; Irede Foundation to provide prosthetic limb for children with mobility issues; Children Development Centre to support children with autism and Lydia Foundation to rehabilitate prostitutes. Meanwhile, all these are in addition to self administered individual cases like the two-year-old John Akinbo who was supported to undergo operation in India to correct the hole in his heart and Mrs. Folake Muritala who had hip replacement surgery.
Another notable legacy of Mrs. Bolanle Ambode is the scholarship programme that she has institutionalized. The outstanding mark of this scholarship is that it is not given on the basis of party affiliation or connection. It is an award based on excellence and that is why a tall requirement of six distinctions has been made a condition. This requirement, though tough and tall, but it is to align with the slogan of the state that prides itself in excellence. It is also important and gratifying to note that the two beneficiaries of this year’s awards are from humble background that has no link with the government. Mrs. Ambode has no room for discrimination or favouritism. She is strict with rules and regulations.
Bolanle Ambode is a mother to all. She is very humble and friendly. She is ever supportive of her husband but never interfered in the affairs of the state. She stays clear of duties having no concern of hers and she does not compete with any official of the government. Yet, she relates freely with everyone and finds time to rejoice and sympathize with anyone and everyone.
At many fora, the First Lady has reiterated that the underprivileged are the reasons that Nigeria will prosper and take her place among the great nations of the world in future or dissolve into obscurity as a failed state. She believes and often said forcefully that women must be equipped with skills that appeal to their respective passions to achieve financial independence and realize full potential that will enable equal participation with men in socio-economic and political space of Nigeria. She is convinced that these goals are doable and achievable, with strong desire, dedication, and determination of women folks, working with men together to achieve fundamental and important human values which are the liberation of women from domination and dependency mentality to unleash the full women potentials. This all inclusive participatory approach will be vital in our nation’s drive to a renaissance and sustainable human development. “For women and youth, I am very passionate and optimistic about better future,” says Mrs. Ambode.
Indeed, the essential contributions of women have been observed and recorded in countries that have attained high level of sophisticated, diversified and self-sustaining economy. In the United States, women contribute almost equally as men to the national income, even when political representation still lag behind in relative term. In Canada, where political participation is higher, women contribute 41% to the national purse; in Norway, with high female political participation, women contribute 45%; women’s role in national development is also very high in Germany, Belgium, Israel, France, The Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and China.
World-wide, women contribute 33% of gross national income, but in Nigeria the contribution of women to the national income is less than 20%! And, with high level of unemployment, youth between the age of 15 and 35 contribute even far less. What this translates to is that it is only 25% of Nigerians who are overwhelmingly men that are responsible for about 75% of our national income. No wonder that our economy continue to be perpetually crawling. Our nation can never develop if this situation persists.
But for Lagos, promoting full participation of all critical segments of the population is crucial in the drive to a quick realization of the SMART city goal. To harness to the utmost, the potentials of the state, Ambode is charting a path, which is fast bridging the gender gap, empowering the youth and the girl-child and building on the ability of the physically challenged to be more productive.
The Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Akinwunmi Ambode, cognizance of the vital roles that women and youth can play in his transformational agenda, is expanding the frontiers of appropriate climate in relevant ministries and agencies, with complementary measures cutting across health, education, women affairs, home affairs, commerce and entrepreneurship, youth and sports.
Ambode is passionate about emancipation of women and development of youth; he believes that women must be helped to function at their best and equal men’s opportunities. Sharing these hopes and aspirations, and with even more passion, is Mrs. Ambode, who continues to infuse her husband with the necessary strength and courage, with love, in words and in actions.
Right from day one of the present administration, Mrs. Ambode has been providing inspiring leadership, especially through her programme, “Hope for Women in Nigeria Initiative” (HOPOWEMS). By these projects many women, and, in fact youth, have received empowerment, resource, financial, logistics and material/equipment support.
Most importantly, participants and beneficiaries are trained in suitable areas of interest and skills such as baking, piggery, fish farming, hair dressing, mushroom farming, grass-cutter farming, garden and vegetable farming and even technology and artistry ventures. To her, every woman must be encouraged and assisted in her endeavour until she can be self-sustaining on her journey to the peak of her potential. The First Lady’s common maxim to youth and children under the programme is “see you at the top”
“Project Bright Steps” project is targeted at brilliant students who have financial challenges. To the First Lady: “any students who comes from a humble background and wants to be serious must not be limited. Several students such as Miss Oluwadare Caroline and Olakunle Felix have received scholarships through this scheme. “Inspirational Women of the Year Award,” initiative is carried out annually to celebrate and honour, women whose contributions, in the previous year, have been outstanding in the area of women and youth development.
Mrs. Ambode’s leadership of COWLSO (Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials) is yielding very visible and beneficial impacts. Here she had been able to stand up for women and youth, in a more focused and systematic manners. Women, far more than ever before, are increasingly occupying sensitive positions in public and civil service.
Bolanle loves working with children, who are “the future of Lagos.” She abhors any act done to denigrate or spite women. “Power is immoral when it violates the dignity of the weak, and is, therefore, illegal,” she would say.
Mrs. Ambode is satisfied that she is working for the benefit of women and children. Her pursuit of perfection on these issues is amazing. No doubt, she has proved to be a good example of a mother: a symbol of care, love and commitment bringing stellar grandeur and much grace to the office of First Lady.