Headline Nigeria Special Report

Office of the first lady: Sustaining pet projects thereafter

In Nigeria, despite the fact that the Nation’s constitution does not recognise the office of the first lady in any tier of government, the office still functions from the centre to the states allegedly with funds from government coffers or solicited using government machineries to run activities of such offices championed by wives of the political office holders.

Most spouses of the governors during election campaigns often highlight their areas of interest to win the sympathy of the electorates.

Immediately after inauguration, their pet projects are launched while some who previously engaged in a particular area of interest prior to coming into public office use the opportunity to expand the scope and projecting it to accommodate more beneficiaries.

Majorly, these pet projects are usually focused on issues concerning children and women including but not limited to widowhood, orphanage, disabilities, child/girl education, empowerment and health campaigns.

Alas, these projects which often gulp millions of naira in implementation are unsustainable and not sustained, making them fade out immediately their spouses leave public offices.

Another good thing about this however is that some governors wives having access to donor agencies use the influence of the office to partner such agencies and access funds to implement developmental projects to achieve goals in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The first ladyship office system started during the General Ibrahim Babangida’s military administration, when his wife, Late Maryam Babangida officially launched her pet project; “Better Life Programme for Rural Women” on September 18th 1987.

The pet project no doubt impacted tremendously on rural women with various empowerment intervention programmes which improved the capacity of some of them hitherto neglected women in the rural communities.

The National Centre for Women Development in Abuja also came to life during this period with many states offices of the centre established in different parts of the country.

Unfortunately, shortly after the exit of the family from power, the succeeding military administrations took different paths making the better life programme suffer relegation.

Upon return to civil rule In 1999 with President Olusegun Obasanjo coming on board, his wife, Mrs Stella Obasanjo set up her pet project, “Child Care Trust”, to cater for physically and mentally challenged children while the wife of the then Vice president, Mrs Titi-Atiku Abubakar named her pet project “Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), spearheading the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Person (NAPTIP) as adopted by the federal government.

Though, some of these projects touched lives of many women and children as attested to by breadth catching testimonies, but the fundamental question is what has become the fate of such projects since their husbands tenure elapsed?

It is therefore pertinent to call on wives of Chiefs Executives at all levels of government to use various donations and contributions of philanthropists to their pet project more purposefully and rather build on the programmes of their predecessors.

Taking another path upon assumption of office to initiate entirely new programmes has always been counterproductive, resulting in abandonments of projects and confusion.

The office, though not recognised by the constitution is a veritable tool to achieving women inclusion in government at all levels, abolishing harmful cultural practices and ending poverty among the women folk.

Writing by Olufisoye Adenitan; editing by Muzha Kucha