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Tribute To Olabisi Olateru-Olagbegi: An Icon Of Women’s Movement

By Ijeoma Opara
30 January 2016   |   4:33 am
ON the 17th day in December 2015, Chief (Mrs.) Olabisi Ibijoke Olateru-Olagbegi died. Born on August 4, 1953 to the family of the late Justice Ezekiel Akinola-Cole, former Chancellor of African Church Inc.
Olabisi-Olateru Olagbegi

Olabisi-Olateru Olagbegi

ON the 17th day in December 2015, Chief (Mrs.) Olabisi Ibijoke Olateru-Olagbegi died. Born on August 4, 1953 to the family of the late Justice Ezekiel Akinola-Cole, former Chancellor of African Church Inc., she attended the prestigious Queen’s School, Ede from 1966 to 1970, where she obtained the West African School Certificate in 1970 with a Grade One division. She studied for her A’levels in the combined Higher School Certificate (HSC) class of Queen’s School Ibadan and Government College Ibadan.

She attended the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where he obtained a Bachelor of Law (LL.B.), and proceeded to Law school and was called to bar in 1975.

In a tribute service held in her honour, female politicians, civil society groups, colleagues, friends and family, eulogised the late icon who stood out in the quest to ensure that the common girl and woman’s right is respected.

President of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) Ghana and wife of former Governor of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi noted that the late Olateru-Olagbegi, which is fondly called Auntie Bisi, gave her time, energy and significant intellectual resources to promoting a campaign against trafficking in persons.

“The period I first came in contact with Auntie Bisi was characterized by intense level of engagement at all levels with members of networks, donor partners locally and internationally, governments at all levels and peer movements around the world. The impression I formed of Auntie Bisi in those years was that of a woman who had passion, a brilliant mind, focused vision, integrity and limitless energy. My impression of her never changed till she sadly left us on December 17th, 2015. Auntie Bisi was a role model, teacher, mentor and friend to so many, either up close or from a distance. She was always impeccably turned out in lovely aso oke or adire, local fabrics, which she proudly promoted everywhere she went in the world.

Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi noted that she was a patriot who dedicated her life to contributing to the global cause of women empowerment and emancipation. “She was a comrade who impacted positively on the social condition of women in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole. In 2013, with other friends in the movement, I celebrated you, coordinated your book launch and surprised you with a birthday gift. Your book launch and birthday was a celebration of your courage at battling breast cancer, your success in speaking out and coming out to say you were a survivor, on that day, we spoke about women’s health, and I looked back now and was happy that I led that initiative.

“In 2014, both of us were nominated under the civil society platform to the national confab; we ensured that we brought women’s issues to the fore, from the first day; we made the conference adopt a set of gender friendly rules of procedure. Your contributions at the confab and your leadership cannot be quantified.”

Executive Director, Women Law and Development Centre Nigeria (WLDCN), Dr. Keziah Awosika said, “For about three decades, Olori Bisi (late Olateru-Olagbegi) and I were together in the trenches of activism on gender and development issues in Nigeria and at international level. With late Professor Jadesola Akande, we carried the message of Beijing 1995 to at least 14 of the then 19 states of the federation. At every stage, Olori Bisi was a lively spirit; she remained in the vanguard for women movement and development.”

Human rights activists, Oby Nwankwo who described late Olateru-Olagbegi’s death as shocking said she will be remembered for her contributions to the women’s movement in Nigeria and her principled advocacy for the empowerment of women, the girl-child and the promotion of human rights and social justice. “She has fought a good fight and left a legacy for us and for the next generation to follow. She is now at peace and lives in the hearts of the many who loved her and whose lives she has touched.”

Members of the Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN) said that Olateru-Olagbegi made the association proud through her many works and her representation at the National Conference, a forum that provided crucial and fundamental suggestions for the sustainability of our nation; such was her passion on national issues.

Global Fund for Women Grantees Network in Nigeria in their tribute said she was a successful advocate in Nigeria because she understood Nigerian society; “we will strive to keep your flag flying, we will make you proud by immortalizing in your name and memory the campaigns against all forms of discrimination against women in Nigeria.”

For Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), West Africa, late Olateru-Olagbegi was a tireless women’s rights defender, an exceptional human being who you could always rely on. Her commitment to WiLDAF was not in dispute as we could always rely on her to arrange for the use of the Nigerian embassy’s conference room in New York for all our side events during the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) while mourning Olateru-Olagbegi’s passage described her as a great mobilizer whose impact on rallying members of the civil society to take principled stance on several issues, earned her a place at the national conference in 2014 where she acquitted herself with great and insightful contribution. Until her death, she was TMG coordinator in Ondo State.

The late Olateru-Olagbegi commenced a career in legal practice with a very short stint as a lawyer in government service before moving into private legal practice. In 1982, she established her own law firm of Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi & Associates where she was the principal partner till death. She was also a licensed notary public of Nigeria.

In 1977, she joined the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), a global association of women lawyers committed to the enhancement of the status and welfare of women and having United Nations Consultative Status Category B. In 1984, she became the Vice Chairman of Comparative Law Committee of FIDA International, a post she held until 1986.

From 1989-1990 late Olateru-Olagbegi was the Publicity Secretary and Chair, Public Relations Committee of FIDA Nigeria during which period she initiated the publication of ‘LOYA’, a newsletter of FIDA Nigeria. In 1993, she became the president FIDA Nigeria and pioneered the launch of the ‘Street Children Project’, in Lagos. A member of Eko Lioness Club, she attained the office of President (1990-1991) and mobilised funds for the purchase and donation of wheel chairs and beddings for the Lagos Island maternity hospital, the refurbishment of the Children’s Ward in Mercy Hospital, among other things. She was also a member of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) where she was the secretary of the Law and Status Committee from 1988 to 1992 and founding member in 2000. She was till death, the national Coordinator of the Nigeria Country Chapter of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF).

Olateru-Olagbegi founded the Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), a non-governmental organization to promote and monitor the enforcement of women’s rights and led the organization to provide one of the earliest national institutional mechanisms in response to the problem of trafficking. She was a member of numerous organizations and bodies across Africa and globally including Women Organisation for National Representation and Cohesion (WORNACO), member, Association of African Women in Research and Development (AAWORD), Regional Committee for the Adoption of the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on Women among others.

An international consultant, she advised the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, UNESCO and ILO in various technical capacities.

Her community service spanned the church, cultural groups, women’s socio-economic and political participation initiatives and health initiatives, where she sat on boards and led community work. Among her national and international awards are: The Daisy George Award for activism in women’s empowerment by the Sisters to Sister, International Inc. of United states of America at the 50th session of the United Nations Commission of on the Status of Women (CSW) New York, March 2006; 2010 award of excellence for outstanding contribution to nation building and women empowerment by the Business and Professional Women Association of Nigeria and 2012 and ‘Golden Link’ award of mass medical mission and the national cervical cancer prevention programme 2009.