By Zik Zulu Okafor
Arise happened in Lagos. Big time, as the lingo goes. It brought together at one compact arena, the very rich, the top echelon of political power, captains of industry, the market woman, the indigent, and the woman on the street looking for food to eat. And yes, she got enough to eat and to take home.
This is the Arise Women’s Conference 2019. Propelled by passion founded on the compassion of one woman, Siju Iluyomade, this eleventh edition of the conference turned out an incredible delight and a meeting point of incisive, inspirational discourse and soothing hope.
The posh lawyer and women’s rights activist, Siju, painted that picture of a dream Nigeria as Arise transcended the frontiers of religion and ethnic sentiments to bring women together with women from various tribes and diverse religious inclinations for the cause of their fellow women and in particular the downtrodden.
Siju’s call for the course of charity was indeed answered. Nigeria’s First Lady, Dr Aisha Buhari answered her call. She sent a powerful delegation led by Dr Mairo Tanko Al-Makura, her Special Assistant on African First Ladies Peace Mission and wife of former governor of Nassarawa State, Tanko Al-Makura. There were first Ladies of States from far and near, business magnates and captains of industry. There were Muslims and Christians together for hours inside five different venues in Victoria Island, Lagos. But they didn’t seem to care about the city or where they were, the character of venues or who sat next to one another. What they all saw was the compelling compassion of Siju and the intensity of her passion that is blind to race, region or religion.
From a 15 minute documentary played at the event, Siju’s guests saw hundreds of folks, the most ordinary of ordinary folks, in a rustic village called Dafara on the precincts of the federal capital, Abuja.
The folks, women, children, old men, all ran ecstatically to welcome Siju and her team of caregivers. They came because they had heard that these compassion workers were bringing hope to their hidden village. Indeed Arise has this Adopt-A-Village programme. A seven-year project to transform every village adopted by Arise. And so Siju led her team to construct in Dafara, boreholes, a ten-room hospital, reconstructed and re-equipped two hospitals in addition to setting up a digital library; all with their resources, not aided by any government.
The grand audience knew that though sleek, swank and stylish, this holder of Doctor of Laws, Siju, does not have all the money in the bank. But they saw the result of her tenacity of purpose and iron-cast conviction for a cause. The sheer medical outreach to Dafara as seen in the documentary, the soulful emotions of old women returning home with gifts, the gratitude of men, women whose blood pressure, blood sugar, eye tests had been checked and drugs given by doctors, nurses and pharmacists left many of her guests in tears of appreciation for Siju’s sacrificial giving and the hope and love she extends to those dealing daily with bruises and pangs of life.
There is however a critical implicit message that Siju and Arise are sending through the gathering. And it is that charity, genuine care for people’s well-being is perhaps one of the most efficacious strategies to unify people. In other words, those in government can easily close the gulf of ethnicity, and religion, if they create an environment in which people are able to work and take decent meals daily and further show genuine commitment for the welfare of the people through their policies and even idiosyncracies.
The guests at Arise saw the fierce resolve of this ex-Queens College girl to transform lives irreversibly through intense skill acquisition and empowerment programme, a venture that trained thousands of women in making of soap, pomade, insecticides, deodorants, and shoes even as many learnt fashion design, traditional tying of scarf, gele, traditional master of ceremonies and so on.
At the end, Siju’s intellective, political and corporate audience knew that this highbrow lawyer and her Arise team were making a ringing and definite call. And it is for all to join hands to extend the boundaries of hope for the indigent and disadvantaged that overflow the streets of our nation.
And she aptly called the theme of Arise 2019, Bloom. For her, it is a time for women to bloom, a time to flourish, to blossom and to live a robust, fulfilling life.
And that simply is what Arise stands for.