Betsy Obaseki: An account of International Women’s Day in Edo
By Idemudia Oviosun (PhD)
Less than a month ago, Mrs Betsy Obaseki, Wife of Edo State Governor and First Lady of the state was in the eye of a media storm. News making the rounds at the time had it that her job at the Bank of Industry (BOI) was threatened and she was only being greedy to have kept her job at the BOI after becoming First Lady.
John Mayaki, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Obaseki and himself a journalist was having none of that. In a few articles, he quite took the fight to every negative account of Mrs Obaseki’s job such that by the time he was done, I would like to think he had convinced everyone that the negative reports were the sort of claptrap that could only have been born out of malice. He was also able to, I believe; convince his readers of the First Lady’s candour as far as her Job at the BOI related to her position as First Lady of Edo state.
As it stands, he was right. Using her influence as Head of Strategy and Planning Unit at the Bank of Industry Trust Company (BOITC), she has been making moves to empower the women of Edo State, particularly the widows.
In less than a month, she concluded plans to empower some 500 widows through animal husbandry, and carried this out during the recently concluded International Women’s Day celebration. This empowerment initiative was a huge statement from Mrs Obaseki in more ways than one.
Apart from the fact that it took those who had erstwhile accused her to the pillory and exposed them as myopic and ignorant, it also actualised part of the governor’s campaign promises during electioneering.
During his campaign, Governor Obaseki had referred to his grandmother, Madam Sarah Elabor, as one of the most important people in his life as a child. He noted that he spent some time with her and so knew what women are capable of if given the chance to excel and therefore promised to empower women even as he promised after the election that 35% of his political appointments would be women.
He also promised to select some 100 widows and give them monthly stipend for the next four years, but she decided to take the plan a step further and develop the empowerment project for the widows by collaborating with Bank of Industry.
Added to the fact that the initiative would go in tandem with the governor’s plans for women empowerment, there is also the aspect of agriculture, which the empowerment programme has the potential to affect.
In executing the programme, each of the 500 widows were given 40 chickens comprising 20 layers and 20 broilers of a special breed. They will also be given the required feed for three months, and she assured them of a ready market for the produce from the chickens.
Not to be forgotten is the potential this programme has to curb food shortage in the state. Basic things such as egg and chicken would flood the market and cause the prices of these items to drop in the market, while still serving as a steady source of revenue and food to these women and their children.
In a word, the First Lady has handed the 500 widows steady means to an income on a silver platter. They would not only have the means to an income, they would also have an employment to keep them busy and since it is animal husbandry, they could even combine it with another job if they wanted.
She did not plan to leave them ignorant after giving them the money. Is it not often said that a fool and his gold are soon parted? She therefore organised a 1-day training programme on poultry production for the 500 widows in the state.
The widows were trained on how to rear birds and that the empowerment would give the widows monthly stipends and boost the production of rural women, to tackle food shortages and poverty. Notably, she did not make it a partisan affair. Mrs Obaseki revealed that the programme was for everybody, irrespective of whatever political leanings they may have. She later revealed that the programme would be extended to 1000 women in the future.
Mrs Obaseki did not stop her empowerment initiatives with agriculture. She additionally appealed to the Edo State House of Assembly to pass two pending bills on gender violence elimination speedily.
This appeal was timed to mark the International Women’s day celebration in Benin. The bills – Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill 2016 and Law to Eliminate Violence in Private and Public Place – have the potential to bridge the existing gap in gender issues.
Mrs Obaseki has proven that she is not given to the frivolities, unnecessary ceremony and pomp that hang around as temptations to those occupying the office of the First Lady.
She genuinely intends to help the women in the state and her background in finance and economics is helping her do it in such a way that not only the women, but also the state’s exchequer can potentially benefit from it. Coupled with her husband’s managerial ingenuity, Edo State may soon come into an economic and agricultural boon.
This is something the people have deserved for so long. They must however sustain this tempo for it to last.