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‘Nigerians should learn how to give and touch lives’


Martha Udom Emmanuel

Born into a family of four children by the late Prince and Professor Stella Idiong, Deaconess Martha Udom Emmanuel, First Lady of Akwa Ibom State and Founder, Family Empowerment and Youths Reorientation Programme (FEYRep), grew up like every other child from a good home with good parental care and upbringing. In this interview with Ayoyinka Jegede in Uyo, she talks about her passion for philanthropy and her platform, FEYRep, which has enabled her to actualise her vision of touching lives.

What led to the creation of Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme (FEYRep)?
Apart from my university degree, I am an Aquaculturist running a very active fish farm in Lagos. My passion for humanitarian services was inborn, as I grew up seeing my parents’ philanthropic disposition. I recalled how my parents trained many people, who are all successful today.

These attributes and good nature of my forebears were passed down to us as children-we all have a soft spot for the less privileged. I am always moved to help people, especially the less privileged. This led to the establishment of the Family Empowerment and Youths Reorientation Programme (FEYRep).

Therefore, once God gave us the opportunity to serve Akwa Ibom State, it became a good platform for me to extend my philanthropic activities, which have hitherto been on a small scale. That is, using my position as the wife of the Executive Governor of the State, I am able to do more than what I had done before now.

What do you consider as the most trying times in your journey to making this vision a reality?
The most trying moment was the challenge of being able to apprehend culprits involved in the rape of women and children. Apart from that, finance is also a challenge.

Can you briefly highlight the activities of FEYRep in line with the governor’s passion for assisting the less privileged in the society?
Out of the five pillars of FEYRep, empowering women is paramount. At the risk of sounding boastful, with the help of God, we have been able to adequately empower over 2,000 women in the 31 council areas of the state in the last two years of FEYRep’s establishment. These include support for the elderly, health outreach (de-worming, eye and surgical care), reduction of maternal and infant mortality, economic empowerment through grants to individuals who had learned one vocational skill or the other by equipping them with the necessary tools and start up funds.

In addition to that, our care for the elderly citizens cuts across different villages in the state.

However, my main focus is how to empower women knowing that when the home is stable, the children will also be stable and responsible. A stable home has a direct impact on how the children are raised and by extension, the society at large.

The experience is that most of the challenges in homes leading to traumatic marriages or even break-ups is traceable to the inability of the woman to make financial contribution towards the children and development of the family as a whole. Therefore, it is my passion to ensure that at least, a woman in every home has something doing to support her husband.

In the same vein, there is an urgent need to re-orientate and change the mindset of our youths. Today’s youth want things get done fast; they want instant prosperity; big money without following due process. Therefore, we need to call them together and advise them that life is in stages and that there is a duration in which one can grow from one stage to another.

It is important to let them know that no one can get rich overnight. There is a need for well-meaning citizens to work towards positive development of our youth. This is in tandem with the philosophy of Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, referred to as DAKKA NDA, which means ‘rise’–rise to achieve self- greatness. The philosophy comes in here that our youths must do something with their hands rather than being used as thugs or serve as instruments of instability, particularly by unscrupulous politicians. After orientation, we need to empower them, especially those who already learnt one skill or the other. This is part of the efforts to engage the youths and take them off the street.

How much contribution, in concrete terms, can you ascribe to FEYRep in this regard?
In the area of medical services, we have continued to do outreach programmes in collaboration with different agencies from outside the state and a lot of people have benefitted immensely from this. Through many free tests, diagnosis and surgeries, many people with different ailments have been treated, including those who ordinarily would not have had the courage to go to the hospital because of the cost. We also have records of success in free eye treatments, even for those that are practically blind. Many of those touched have gone to churches to testify and do thanksgiving. The one that touched us most was the case of a particular boy who had been blind from age one to 10.

Through our intervention in collaboration with MTN Foundation, the boy saw for the first time in his life. The parents brought him to this office to show appreciation.

This intervention also includes people with cancer and some with obscure diseases. With our lean resources, we have been able to help and equally appreciate those who have been assisting and sponsoring us even with the smallest things, it is always used it to fix something. People in need of interventions besiege FEYRep’s offices daily.

Is there a plan to sustain the activities of FEYRep, even after leaving office as the First Lady of Akwa Ibom State?
FEYRep is a personal programme borne out of my passion for serving humanity. It is not being funded by government and I did not inherit it from my predecessor. It is an entirely different non-governmental body, which has its own staff and its activities are separated from the office of the First Lady.

Currently, we have a programme built around girl-child rights to protection against rape, molestation, trafficking, and the like. The idea is to talk to girls in schools across the state on how to uphold their dignity and protect themselves against any abuses.

Definitely, the NGO will stand and continue its activities even after I must have left office, by the grace of God. That is why we are collaborating with many international organisations and agencies to ensure that it outlives my tenure as the state’s First Lady.

However, it is possible that the next First Lady of the state may have her own idea of serving the people but certainly, it will have nothing to do with FEYRep.

Meanwhile, I need to stress that the position of a First Lady is a privilege given by God. Importantly, all my life revolves around the word of God, which says a lot about the poor and the less privileged in the society. To me, the highest thing to please God is when you take care of the less privileged and it is quoted in the Bible that ‘when I was hungry, you fed me; I was homeless, you gave me a home; I was naked, you clothed me.’ These are the instance God created for us that when He blesses us, and we need to give back to the less privileged. It really gives me great joy to see someone crying with no hope but all of a sudden was able to get succor and the person is able to smile. I believe it is a command from God to do that.

Recently, the National Assembly restated its determination to pass a bill ‎to regulate NGOs. What is your take on this and what benefits do you think the passage of that bill will have on pet projects like yours that are officially categorised as NGOs?
Although I have not been fully briefed about the bill, but any law that is being considered to monitor what NGOs are doing, will give FEYRep an edge. It means the whole world will know more about what we are doing; our focus and commitment to elevate the less privileged. FEYRep is transparent; what we are doing is open for all to see. Therefore, if there is any prize attached to doing it right, then FEYRep deserves such; we are not afraid of regulations because I am sure it would not have any negative effect on me or the activities of my NGO.

What other effort do you think government can make to alleviate poverty and improve the welfare of the downtrodden in the country?
What Governor Gabriel Udom Emmanuel is doing in Akwa Ibom State is to create wealth because all his programmes are geared toward creating employment and training people in different skills. Reduction of poverty is one thing but creation of wealth is another. The durable strategy is to ‘teach them how to fish and not to continue giving them fish’. Until this is done, we cannot claim to have pushed poverty into the dustbin of history.

So far, I thank God for granting me the special grace for what we have achieved. Therefore, I want to use this medium to appeal to all well-meaning citizens to try and touch lives, no matter how little. There are so many people desirous of the type of intervention that FEYRep is offering. We should take solutions to the plight of the less privileged serious, be interested in what happens to others, and learn to give. There is no point in keeping huge sums of money in your account while others out there have no food to eat or are homeless. There are so many homeless children out of schools – many cannot pay their school fees. I will encourage people to learn how to give and God will bless them more.

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