Dame Okowa: No woman should just sit and answer First Lady
In her determination to support her husband, Dame Mrs. Edith Nkemakolem Okowa launched her pet project, the 05 Initiative, shortly after he took up the reins of government in 2015. She reasoned that a woman must be up and doing, instead of just sitting down in one place and being addressed as First Lady.
She explained: “A man was elected and sworn-in, and the man has a wife. He has responsibility, which God chose him to do, and I am assisting the man. I want to believe that no woman will just sit at home and answer First Lady. I asked God for direction and He led me to Matthew 23: 35 – 36 where we have six commands – feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, visit the sick, sick the prisoner and give hope to the hopeless.
With my knowledge of Jesus, I know that the number six is a number of sins, and I know that there something attached to five. And I know that water and food will go together. That is how I came about 05 Initiative.”
A devoted Christian and committed Anglican, she readily laces almost every part of her speech with quotations from the Holy Bible.
After a thorough soul searching, she decided to christen the project 05 in line with the book of Mathew 23: 35-36, where God explicitly commanded believers to, among other things, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, visit the sick, seek the prisoner and give hope to the hopeless. With her deep knowledge of the Bible, she was all aware that the number, six is a number of sin, but believed that there is something attached to number five, hence the 05 Initiative.
Without government’s sponsorship, she is surprised that the project has continued to wax strong. Starting with an orphanage called City of David, which had just one room and a parlour for so many helpless children; she said that 05 Initiative had succeeded in relocating the orphans to a more befitting place.
Three days after her husband was sworn in, on June 1, 2015, she was at Ogwashi-Uku Prisons, where she heard heart-rending stories from the inmates. She was told that the greatest problem faced in the prison was water. It was so bad that several inmates had to use the toilet before it is flushed.
The First Lady recalled: “Right there, all the women that went with me donated and we sank the first borehole. We have also been able to provide medication to the five prisons in Delta State – Ogwashi-Uku, Warri, Sapele, Agbor and Kwale courtesy of drug revolving fund. We have also been able to sink a borehole at Sapele prisons.”
At the prisons, anyone who has an option of N100,000 and below, the Initiative pays it off and set them free, noting that it is not about just setting them free, as they may not even have a place to go to.
She has made a passionate appeal to the state government to make available some spaces in its empowerment programme so that the ex-prisoners can learn a trade and be useful to themselves.
The governor’s wife had for the past two and a half years in government touched lives across the state. For her passion for sickle cell children, she had built and equipped sickle cell clinics across various hospitals in the state.
As a result of her deep passion for the welfare of children and the less privileged in the state, Mrs. Okowa had also paid over N2 million for patients who could not pay their hospital bills at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State.
She said that she hates to see a face without a smile. Mrs. Okowa was almost in tears when she gave reasons for including the caring for sickle cell anemia patients as part of the pet project. It occupies a prominent part of the initiative.
She was heaven glad when she gave birth, her first, to a set of twins. It was joy flavoured with sadness when one of them died at the age of one year and five months as a result of sickle cell anaemia.
The First Lady said: “When you talk about sickle cell, you will not understand until you experienced it. I went about on sensitization campaign to encourage those who are already into it and enjoined those who have not entered not to dare if their faith cannot carry them through. I told God that in my time, solution must come for sickle cell and He has done that. We know of the transplant.”
Aside from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), there will be another sickle cell centre at the Asaba Central Hospital, as 05 now has a wing in the complex, through the magnanimity of government.
Though, she wouldn’t disclose how much had been expended on the initiative in the last one year, she said the prominent donors are just too many to enumerate.
From her husband to his deputy, Kingsley Otuaro, the Speaker Monday Igbuya to his deputy Speaker Friday Osanebi, to members of the House of Representatives, Senators and even workers, the list is endless.
“In the last administration, I was the Director General to Mrs. Roli Uduaghan. My second name is charity, I have been visiting prisons even when my husband was just a medical doctor in Agbor, I have been reaching out; it is my ministry as an evangelist. If I want to win soul, I show love. I found out that boys are very teachable especially to female teachers because of love. Care for the less privileged is one important way of showing love. Charity is not what I started because I am First Lady. It is what I started long ago,” she said.
Looking at the gaily-dressed woman with all the paraphernalia of being a First Lady, you’d begin to wonder if she still cooks for her husband.
“Occasionally, I could enter the kitchen to see what is being done. I will not tell you that I do it 100 percent. My baby is 18 and I have adults as children that cook for me. I have three daughters that are married. So, it is very difficult for an African woman that had brought up her children very well to be found cooking all the time. Your children will cook, you will cook, and that is not to say that I have stepped aside from the kitchen, I still do my work.”
To young and up coming wives of politicians, he advised that what makes a marriage work is facing reality. Couples ought not to live in a fool’s paradise, adding that when she got married, some 28 years ago, he was just a promising young medical doctor. She said to herself that if she has the opportunity of going to the clinic where he was working, any person he saw there was a patient.
She counseled: “So, I’m not looking out for what is not looking for me. I have an agreement with him that he will not do anything contrary to the will of God, which gives me a plain heart. I will always tell women to stop insinuating, give people the benefit of doubt. As a politician, there are people – men and women around him – all the time, in the middle of the night, it does not make any meaning to me, I can’t even be at the sitting room with them, what am I doing there? They are doing their business, what they know how to do best.
“Whatever gives me peace is what I accept, anything that does not, I don’t accept. As I speak with you, nobody has ever come to me to say that they saw my husband in so-and-so place because I will not tolerate such idle talk. People know what you want to hear and so they tell you what you want to hear. I just stay on my own, study my word. And there are times he will come very late as a politician; I will welcome and give him food before going to bed. Even if there is a reason for doubt, talking about it will not change it, you talk to who will change it and that is the Creator.”
Mrs. Okowa was full of joy on Monday, November 13, 2017 when she stepped out to put smiles on the faces of orphans across the 25 local councils of the state. She heavily feted the orphans, who were drawn from 41 orphanages.
At the gathering, which was attended by women and senior government officials in the state, there were no holds barred as the governor’s wife dined and wined with the children. The coordinators of the orphanages were given various food items for the orphans.
Mrs. Okowa said that the celebration was a day set aside by the United Nations to recognise orphans all over the world. It is also to remind society to give awareness and recognition of orphans.
She said: “The special day aims at drawing attention to the needs of orphans suffering discrimination, violence, poverty, deprivation from education and to encourage the promotion of the right to a healthy and fulfilled life.”
In a broken voice, she said that no one chooses to be orphan living without the care and love of parents. Some, she said are orphaned due to circumstances in society.
God, she reiterated is very much interested in the welfare of orphans and widows. Some of the children do not know their parents, even as she called on the managers of the orphanages to give the word of God to the children.
“The children needed love more than money. The caregivers are the families the children know. They need to give the best of care to the children, give them home filled with laughter, peace and love and ruled by the fear of God,” she said, fighting back a teardrop.
Pastor Olutomi Sodeinde of Redeemed Christian Church of God, said one key part of religion is to take care of orphans and widows, adding that this duty is approved by God.
He said those who recognised orphans will be recognised by God, adding that reward is not only limited to this world but also in the world to come.
Sodeinde said parents should be encouraged to take care of their children, noting that as God rewards those who care for them, He will also punish those who abandon their children.
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