Edith Okowa: Standing Out With O5 Initiative
Nigerian mainstream journalist Chinweizu once wrote in a shocking chronicle “Anatomy of Female Power” that women rule the men who rule the world.
Given the intrinsic maleness of the human society, especially in Africa where the man culturally leads, the writer may have overstated the powerful allure of the female folk. But truly behind every successful man stands a woman.
The First Lady is the ultimate power matriarch in Nigeria .The status symbol of sway. Authority figure, political influencer, hidden persuader. First Ladies by nature are stunning in command structure but some come with austere charm. That captures the persona of First Lady of Delta state, Dame Edith Okowa.
The wife of Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa is a study in plain uncomplicated taste. By pedigree, she has worth. But she is simple, laid back and unpretentious.
Born into a middle class home, she is the daughter of an elite police officer who rose to the peak of his security career and a charitable mother reputed for feeding almost a whole village free.
Edith went to University of Ibadan, the first university in Nigeria where she read history in 1985, graduating in her early 20s to join a privileged coterie of educated young Nigerians that would shape the future of the emerging giant of Africa.
She would obtain postgraduate education to consummate an uncanny passion for teaching and mentoring. A life long preoccupation from trophy teacher to grand Vice Principal, culminating in a befitting cap as Permanent Secretary in the Delta state civil service, Post Primary Education Board.
She has been Okowa’s doting wife from his days as a young medical doctor, local government Chairman, commissioner, Secretary to state government, Senator and the crowning glory- Governor.
Even with her substance, she strides in easy gait. Ostentation does not define her. Never a dame of dainty dressing. Her appearance is far removed from glossy Jewelries and glam ornamentation.
Avant-garde fashion trendsetters may find her too casual, less glamorous and beneath high profile. But her glitter is in her stylish simplicity. She comes nimble in natty chic couture and mellow accessories that advertises her in classy sophistication that is never superficial nor showy. A woman of modest make up devoid of beguiling dazzle. No vain colouring.
An unfamiliar observer may find her remote and withdrawn because she is not flighty or wired to jump at people’s faces. In her elements, she can be so warm, jovial and open.
The closest encounter one had with her was at a public ceremony she attended sometime in 2013, with Mrs Roli Uduaghan wife of the then governor of Delta, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Mrs Okowa was chatty, lively and free hearted. Years later when she became First Lady,one ran into her at a local departmental store, shopping quietly unaided . For a wife of the most powerful political figure in Delta, that was humbling.
This spartan image does not suggest that Okowa’s wife does not perhaps sometimes indulge in luxury abroad or elsewhere but the point is that her lifestyle hardly betrays vainglorious relish or hedonism.
But beyond her sterner stuff, her most profound essence seems to be devotion to her maker. Since 1992, she has kept an unwavering faith with God, serving the Christian creed deeply without sanctimonious airs or pandering to self-righteousness.
It is hard to hazard a guess who first got redemptive grace between her and the husband, but her piety reflects on him. Like the wife, the man carries himself with rectitude and humility.
With a self-effacing temperament that stands enduring, it becomes easy to understand why Okowa’s wife envisioned a public charity with lofty significance, called O5 initiative. Drawn from the first letter of her family name, 05 Programme projects a five – fold agenda – “to feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the prisoners and help the sick”
Pet projects are commonplace among First Ladies in Nigeria but most had been designed glibly over the years to pamper the ego of presidential or gubernatorial wives, as the programmes often served no useful purpose as regards uplifting the dignity of the trampled poor and needy. This explains why Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka in a damming treatise sometime ago, dismissed Nigerian First Ladies as diamond -loving, gold obsessed drama queens, decorated for play and party.
However, the First Lady nomenclature particularly gained traction under the late Wife of former President Ibrahim Babangida, Maryam who made a bold statement with Better Life for Rural women Programme, empowering the female folk.
The 05 initiative of Dame Edith Okowa has rolled forward with visible impact and serious acclaim since its establishment in 2015, thanks to her good education and strength of character.
She has donated over 15 sickle cell clinics established by the 05 Initiative to the Delta state government, located at Asaba, Oleh, Orerokpe,Patani,Ughelli, Umunede,Sapele, Kwale, Eku, Koko, Otu-Jeremi, Agbor and Issele-Uku among others . She recently built a special sickle cell centre equipped with Newborn Screening equipment for the treatment of sickle cell anemia in Asaba.
She fed thousands of prisoners and secured release of many with minor offenses through payment of the option of fines, empowered vulnerable women with financial succour and other material care, set up orphanages and provided skill acquisition schemes for unemployed youths and the less privileged.
Dame Edith is the wife of the governor. But 05 is not a government agency. It is a non-profit and non-partisan organization without official funding. Affluent Nigerians especially Deltans and corporate entities should support the initiative as it seeks legacy of infrastructure and improved fortunes for the mass poor.
With the clarity of 05 schemes, she seems not on a self-aggrandizing mission as her actions show the heart of a responsible mother out for good neighborliness and selfless aid.
Her voice once resonated from the abundance of her heart “ I like compassion. I hate to see a face without a smile. I believe doing good pays, the good you do might not yield results today, there is no good that is wasted, it might take time, but someday it will speak”
Edith Okowa, a tale so telling.
Norbet Chiazor is Special Assistant to Governor Okowa on Media