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As strong-willed Turai quits, Nigerians wonder what kind of First Lady Patience Jonathan will be

Though she looked simple and had a mien that was unassuming, the immediate past First Lady demonstrated how strong-willed a determined woman can be in…

Though she looked simple and had a mien that was unassuming, the immediate past First Lady demonstrated how strong-willed a determined woman can be in the face of adversity. She held her head above waters and fought hard to ensure her husband held on to the office of president in spite of the fact that he was tied to the hospital bed by a terminal kidney disease. Though she did not have a loud pet project like other First Ladies before her, Turai cannot be forgotten quickly.

Since the introduction of pet projects by the late Hajiya Maryam Babangida in 1986 as the wife of former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, it became a tradition for wives of Nigerian Presidents and even state governors to have pet projects, even though the office of the First Lady is unconstitutional. While Maryam Babangida introduced, “Better Life for Rural Women”, Maryam Abacha had her own project as “Family Support Programme,” and the late Stella Obasanjo had “Child Care”, while Hajiya Turai Yar’adua didn’t seem to have a specific project. This was in spite of the fact that in November 2007, Turai voiced her intention of a pet project, ‘Women and Youths Empowerment Foundation’ (WAYEF), nothing much has been heard about it.

Hajiya Turai   who was born 53 years ago, attended Garama Primary School in Katsina. Then she went to Government Secondary School,  Kankia, in Katsina State, from where  she proceeded to Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology and the Ahmadu University, Zaria, where she graduated with a Bachelor  of Arts (Education) degree in Language Arts in 1983. She worked as a teacher before her husband was elected as governor of Katsina State in 1999 and she became the First Lady.

Hajiya Halima Ben Omar is the Director, Women in Media, in Kano State. She is also involved in the programme of reducing maternal mortality. She said after the announcement of the death of the late Yar’adua, she and a lot of other women discussed and examined what contributions Hajiya Turai had made towards efforts to improve the lives of women, compared with Better Life and other projects of previous First Ladies.

“In my opinion, she didn’t do anything that could impact greatly on the upliftment of women, especially since people are suffering from poverty. There are no jobs and there are diseases. Though, at first, she seemed to have a focus when she became involved with HIV/AIDS issues where a technical working group was even formed, yet nothing more was heard about it and all fizzled out,” Halima said.

Ene Ede of Equity Advocates, said Hajiya Turai had so much zeal to work, but the problem was that it was not properly coordinated because of the type of women she surrounded herself with. “She didn’t have the caliber of professional women to help her, unlike the late Mrs Maryam Babangida.  If she had, she would have done much. In the case of ordinary women, she didn’t do much,” she added.

 She, however, commended Hajiya Turai for not breaking down during the trying period of her late husband’s illness, which, Ene said, showed that women could be strong.

But, according to Hajiya Habibat Salman-Saidu, executive member of the Kwara State Islamic Foundation, and also the Chairperson, Governing Council, National Centre for Women Development, Hajiya Turai had contributed in a unique way to the development of women as regards health issues, like the reduction in child mortality.

On April 9, 2008, Turai Yar’adua invited former First Ladies to the Presidential Villa for a consultative meeting where she was said to have sought their support for the fight against infant and maternal mortality in the country. Out of the former 12 First Ladies, seven graced the invitation: Hajiya Inni Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Professor Uche Azikiwe, Mrs Ngozi Aguiyi-Ironsi, Mrs Victoria Gowon, Dr Ajoke Murtala Mohammed, Chief Margaret Shonekan and Hajiya Maryam Abacha.

Turai  launched the International Cancer Centre in July, 2009 where about N10  billion was realised with the aim of bringing the highest standard of medical facilities within easy reach of Nigerians, and  that the centre would provide services in the areas of diagnosis, treatment and research. Even though, the International Cancer Centre is not like other pet projects, but still, can it become a reality, now that Turai is no longer the First Lady?

Who really is Patience Jonathan?

Born in Okrika, Rivers State Patience Faka Jonathan lost her father when she was young. Her mother raised her in Port Harcourt. She may have met her husband   when he was a lecturer at the Rivers State College of Education and she was a student.  She lived with her mother during that period, in the mid 1980s in Port Harcourt.

Those who know her very well before her husband became governor of Bayelsa State from deputy governor, said she was not ready for the job of First Lady. But as wife of the governor, she set up a pet project known as the Aruera Reachout Foundation. Its focus was on catering for widows. It led to the establishment of a leprosy and tuberculosis center at the Federal Medical Center in Yenagoa. It also donated gifts and food items to orphanage homes and gave scholarships to some category of children up to the tertiary level.

Hajiya Halima Ben Omar said what Mrs Patience Jonathan should do as First Lady is to  provide opportunities for income generating activities for women, adding that it could be done at the state level, through the PDP political wards.

“Then, she can do programmes that will increase awareness for school enrolment, particularly for girls. Education is very important and women are backward when it comes to that. HIV/AIDS is also a very important area, especially for vulnerable children. She also needs to look at the policy documents that was done on the issue of almajirai, because it is also a social issue, and those involved are vulnerable children,” she said.

The First Lady should also work with development partners, Halima suggested, creating awareness to encourage women to become self-reliant with the little money they have. There should also be an awareness campaign to reduce maternal mortality, by encouraging husbands to allow their wives to go to hospitals, and for mothers-in-law to allow their daughters-in-law to go to the hospital for medical attention during pregnancy.

“For this awareness, she can come up with her own programme or she can find an existing one and buy into the activities that others are doing and make them stronger,” she added.

According to Ene Ede, the First Lady should recruit women who have the passion for helping women, not those who will shield her from ordinary women. “Let her look for the real women in the rural areas who are carrying the burden of Nigeria. There are women in rural areas where N1,000 or N2,000 can empower.

“Let her go and look at Maryam Babangida’s programme, not necessarily to copy it, but by going to the grassroots, she can make much more impact. She should not allow all those opportunistic women to deceive her. She should not be looking at so many programmes, but the empowerment of the rural women. Women are training their children.  So, if she can empower women, there will be less prostitution. If you go to Gimbiya Street in Area 11, Abuja, they call the place HIV/AIDS because of the level of prostitution there, and some of them say they can’t stand their parents’ suffering, that is why the enter into  prostitution. So let her look at the rural women,” she said.

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