By Isa Aliyu Ciroma
It was John Donne, the English metaphysical poet who thought deeply about death and said “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
Like Donne said in his quote one death that diminished Nigerians especially Nigerian women is the death of Mrs. Maryam Babangida, on the 27th of December, 2007, 13 years ago today.
Since her passing a new generation of women have emerged on the scene, taking up the baton and continuing the fight and emancipation of Nigerian rural and peri-urban women.
For some of these young women especially the emerging ones it’s important that we write about Maryam Babangida not only as eulogy but to also reiterate why the National Women Center in Abuja should be named after her.
It all started formally when her husband was appointed the Chief of Army Staff in 1983, she was elected President of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA). She played a key role in the opening of daycare centers, hospitals, women’s training facilities, and schools while in this post.
The appointment of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida as head of state in 1986 marked a turning point for rural Nigerian women because it presented a unique opportunity to mainstream in the socio-economic milieu of the Nigerian state.
She transformed the ceremonial position of First Lady of Nigeria into a platform for women development. This helped her in carrying out some of her advocacy programs, which cut across research, providing training and empowering women. In 1987, she established the Better Life Program for Rural Women, which led to the establishment of several cooperatives, cottage businesses, farms, gardens, stores, markets, women centers, and social welfare initiatives.
With every conceivable opportunity, Mrs. Maryam Babangida promoted women rights both locally and nationally. She started a number of initiatives as First Lady to improve the lives of women in Nigeria. The “Maryam Phenomenon” continues to be known as “an emblem of beauty, fashion, and style.”
She promoted projects that affected women. She made contact with the First Ladies of other African nations to emphasize the crucial part they could play in enhancing the lives of their citizens. With the National Council for Women’s Societies (NCWS), she made a significant impact on gaining support for projects like the contentious Special Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM) effort to remove subsidies and devalue and repair the currency.
So much has been said about her since her demise, more touching and perhaps most fulfilling is her Islamic propagation in Niger State where she quietly touched the lives of so many people, educating and ameliorating their conditions. To this end individuals, institutions and governments continue to honor her, the Maryam Babangida Way was inaugurated by the governor of Delta State on March 19, 2020 in her honor. The most significant federal and state institutions are located along this road in the capital city. The route, a key entrance, takes you from the city center to Asaba International Airport in about five minutes.
One cannot ignore the reality that Maryam Babangida was a role model, looking at what she did and the importance of those projects she initiated. She was the first woman to make the First Lady’s post more than just a ceremonial one. Making it active to serve as an avenue that can affect the life of the citizens.
It will be an honor to accede to the NASS The National Centre for Women Developmental Act CAP N15, LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2022’, to rename The National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) after its founder, the late First Lady Maryam Babangida.
No doubt she lived an impactful life with contributions too numerous to mention that will endure forever. It is only befitting that for someone who went above and beyond the call of duty and brought dignity to African womanhood. The National Centre for Women Development should be renamed to Mrs. Maryam Babangida Center for Women Development to immortalize her. This will be a great honor to immortalize the woman who was able to impact millions of lives. This would show that she was here, though gone but that we are thankful she lives in our hearts forever.
Isa Aliyu Ciroma is a contributor and intern at Daily Review Newspaper, Abuja.