By Norbert Chiazor
Maryam Babangida. What a name! Unforgettable queen of power and glamour, Nigeria ‘s finest First Lady, wife of former military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, and a ravishing beautiful woman who succumbed to cancer.
Like Greek goddess, Helen of Troy, death has since the 27th of December 2009 covered Maryam’s eyes. Her body is entombed under the foothills of Minna, Niger State where she has returned and emptied into vanity dust.
But alas! The memory of the late Maryam came alive on the 19th of March 2020 in Asaba. It was a memorable morning for the residents of Delta State capital, as Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, accompanied by his bosom friend and Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, commissioned the Maryam Babangida Way.
The project started under former Governor Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan administration, but the government of Okowa did substantial reconstruction of the road, expanding the infrastructure into a standard four-lane facility stretching 1.88 kilometers.
One of Okowa’s most dutiful cabinet members, Chief James Augoye, Commissioner for Works, noted that the road was in a sorry state and impassable before the intervention of the state government which awarded the contract for the reconstruction on the 27th of March 2018.
The will of Okowa in completing Maryam Babangida Way into a glittering tar underscores his regard for history and human legacy.
The life and times of Maryam Babangida evoke awe. Ebony black, lanky and elegant, she was one of Nigeria’s most beautiful women born to an Asaba man, the late Leonard Nwanonye Okogwu, in 1948.
Basking in the euphoria of her 21st birthday, she married a young army officer, then Major Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, on the 6th of September 1969, embracing a destiny that would later prove fulfilling in her mortal existence.
When her husband became the head of state in 1985, Maryam assumed the position of First Lady hitherto anonymous and colourless in Nigeria ‘s chronology of power.
With her poise, charm and character, she inspired national consciousness as First Lady, opening schools, clinics, women development centres ,sundry social welfare schemes and pubic charities.
Soon her initiative known as Better Life Programme for Rural Women would become the most talked about philanthropy in Africa’s most populous nation. By the time Maryam died at 61, she had established a sterling reputation as all time role model and mother of the nation.
Moved by the exemplary standing of the late Anioma foremost daughter, Okowa, also an illustrious son of the land, saw the necessity of immortalizing Maryam.The Maryam Babangida Way is easily the most iconic road in Asaba today.
The road houses the most important national and state establishments in the capital city such as Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, brand new Court of Appeal complex, Olorogun Felix Ibru Secretariat ,Delta library as well as luxury hotels , private Business facilities and NUJ Press centre among others. It is also home to one of the biggest government monuments in Nigeria, a multi billion Naira state secretariat under construction by the Okowa administration.A strategic gateway, the road is about five minutes drive from the city centre to Asaba International Airport.
No wonder Sokoto State governor, Tambuwal, gave Okowa standing ovation for the Maryam Babangida Way, labeling him “ a sound, pragmatic and accommodating leader, who has provided good governance to the people of Delta”
With a network of new roads running thousands of kilometers across Delta, Okowa is fondly called the road master. Given his efforts on road infrastructure, the tag truly tallies.
CHIAZOR is Special Assistant to Governor Okowa on Media