#Features #Interview

Why I am passionate about women – Mrs Akeredolu

Interview Dec 17The First Lady of Ondo State and founder of Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO), Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu recently granted an interview with some journalists including Maria Famakinwa at the Government House, Akure where she spoke on the reason for FOWOSO, her passion for the female gender.

 Excerpts:

Is FOWOSO your pet project?

First Ladies are expected to play their own roles in supporting their husbands to provide good governance and dividends of democracy to the people and I think that every responsible First Lady will do her best to see that the administration of her husband is a success. First Ladies may have different programmes, but we are working towards achieving the same purpose, which is supporting our husbands to succeed.

What did you meet on ground in the Local Governments you have visited?

I didn’t meet anything on ground, you should rather ask what we have been able to achieve because if there was anything on ground, I will not have gone there at all. I came in here fully prepared due to my civil society background. No matter the bad connotations Nigerians might have given to Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), they are people who on their own are doing thankless jobs and also sacrifice their time and resources. Some people are saying that NGOs are for profit making, I challenged them to go into it instead of complaining or assuming. NGO was my constituency before I became the First Lady, therefore, I knew where the problems were and steps to address them.

There are some areas of endeavours that governments had neglected in the past and it is only selfless individuals who can draw the attention of  government to these grey areas. The I don’t care attitudes of some citizens is affecting every sphere of life, only few of us show concern. We have some people who pick up homeless children on the streets to cater for, how many of us do this? Very few, and they should be appreciated because government has very many things that demand their attention and cannot notice all these challenges confronting the citizens, but somebody will be the one taking steps to call the attention of government to these problems. I knew this  before my husband was elected as the Governor and I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do which was why I started FOWOSO. Even, when people came to me with different proposals, I told them not to bother because I knew what it was.

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The issue of women is very dear to my heart which was why I founded Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) after my experience with breast cancer. I believe that women should be given opportunities, they should not be left behind. Until you meet a woman who is sick and realise that she must take permission from her husband before she goes to the hospital. This is because the husband feel that he is the one who should determine every step she takes, because most women who know the right thing to do are financially handicapped. I then began to realise that it was not just enough to be on the podium and discuss women’s issues without taking a step to raise their profiles in order to improve their economic status. This was why my programme has been conceptualised. There is need to tackle the root of the problem responsible for the set back.

How have you been tackling these challenges facing women across the state?

I think of some businesses that women can go into and make steady income without renting a shop like becoming a make -up artists, because today, there is no woman who attend social function without making herself up. Even to tie hear gear (Gele) also brings in regular income. These are skills women of the state are being trained freely for three days and are given start -up kits to take off immediately. Some are also trained on how to make beads, bags, shoes, household items like soap and disinfectant among others.

Some group of women who had learnt tailoring and hair dressing but could not start due to financial challenges were also given sewing machines and dryers all for free, so that they can contribute to the development of their homes. This idea is already yielding fruitful results as some of the beneficiaries now have apprentices they are training. Doing this will help to  boost rural economy.

How do you wish to sustain the programme since some of the Caretaker Chairmen whose wives were part of FOWOSO’s one year anniversary success  had been changed?

FOWOSO members are female political appointees or wives of male political appointees, it is just a structure. Some of them felt bad about this and I discussed this issue  with my husband (Governor) and made him realise that they are human resources we had invested in. Besides, the wives of Local Government Chairmen are the closest to the people of the grassroots and that once a FOWOSITE is always a FOWOSITE.  Mr Governor gave me approval to carry every FOWOSO member along.  So, I am not loosing any of them, they are still FOWOSO members. Since, there are new Caretaker Chairmen now for the 18 Local Governments, the former Caretaker Chairmen wives will be the one to guide the new ones on what they need to know about FOWOSO.

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Most of your programmes are tailored towards women empowerment and developing the girl-child, is there any programme for the male folk, so that they do not take you to be gender bias?

Most of my programmes focus on women and girl-children because if we want to change the society, it must come from women but all the same, there are some of my programmes that are for males and females like the Junior Tennis Club. All I am doing is to correct the cultural beliefs that women are limited. Women can achieve more if given the opportunity and the needed support.

There were reactions regarding the N20,000 that the participants were asked to pay during the recently held FOWOSO summit. What is the reason for the money?

Those who complained were doing so because the programme was strange to them. All over the world, people pay to increase knowledge. State like Lagos even charge higher. Other neighbouring states like Osun and Ekiti also charge money for the same programme. Summit entails bringing resource persons who will speak on different topics and at the end must be paid. How then do we get money to pay for those we invited to speak to people on certain topics to increase their knowledge and understanding on the chosen topics?  The venue we used must also be paid for. Why then were they complaining?. By now, people should start embracing innovations that FOWOSO is all about. Empowerment is knowledge and skills which are most critical when it comes to women development. These make women unstoppable. Remember that we don’t just train women, we also give them start-up kits.

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Is there any plan for more vocational trainings in the future, so that those who have not benefited can?

We have that at the back of our minds but sometimes, it is advisable to continue doing what is feasible. That can come much later. With the speed we are going now, we can’t afford to wait for that. The idea we are promoting is the perfect template because aside the fact that most of them are already having apprentices, they are also making steady money which helps at meeting their financial needs. But if government so desire to establish vocational centres, so be it. We are not ruling out that expansion but the template we are having now is amazing.

As we approach 2019 elections, what is your take regarding women participation in politics?

We have been agitating for this for a very long time, but you have to also do analysis to know why women participation in politics have been very low. It is a problem that cuts across and until we look into it critically, we may not be able to address it. One of the set back like I mentioned earlier is the economy. Women do not have the money so, conscious effort must be made to solve financial status of women generally. How do we do this? Like the FOWOSO we started in the state, it is a foundation to improve women economically. Though, some might think that it is a joke.

    Women are asking for 35 per cent inclusion in politics but they forgot that politics involve a lot of things. You want to be in politics and you are to bring N50,000 and you don’t have, then you are a big joke. There are some political parties that tell women interested in any elective post to get their forms for free, they will just laugh at them. That is why women are not taken seriously. If I am vying for any political post and women are asked not to pay for form, I am going to pay because to me, it is the worst style of disenfranchisement. We must figure out how to encourage our young girls to be part of nation’s building.

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