• Debo Akinbami

The other day, a minor was raped. A sour, sombre tale. Her parents were serfs, and poor. Worse still, poignantly, her father was blind. To get justice, rehabilitate and restore the poor lass, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu threw her weight behind her. A body of female lawyers, at Betty’s instance, joined the noble fight. It was in Imo State. That emotional encounter would set the tone for what became a rewarding relationship between Betty and the group of lawyers, from which not a few less fortunate have profited.

Another was a seven-month old baby who was raped, and in the process, died. The fella who destroyed the baby was 70 of age. Betty also took over the matter, giving all it takes to get justice for the bereaved parents. That happened in Ondo State, where a physically-challenged minor was likewise defiled and impregnated by a randy septuagenarian. The list is long but the First Lady has always helped to confront the culprit and comfort the victim.

This is not to be a delibrate ploy to cast my subject in glint, or to reel out a luminous list of achievements against her wish. That apposite time will come, when she wills it, but certainly not now. Probably when she’s out of office as First Lady and has left a big shoe. Then, not a single intervention would portray the enigma that she is. By then, books would be written on her from the various prisms, depending on what part of her suits a writer’s bias.

Chief Mrs Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu

This is only within the province of telling the premises upon which Betty’s profuse awards are built. Meanwhile, there is no such attempt to erect the torrential trophies up in the manner other achievers do to announce them in heaps, or help its bearer to facial heights. The type that invokes the mental image of the superabundant laurels won and weaved on walls by Dora Akunyili, the ex, evocative boss of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control who won enemies with the same energies she won medals.

But then, Dora and Betty shared a plethora of values in common. Yes, a plethora. Both women are non-conformist achievers who have unsettled the sociopolitical space with both gifts and guts; both by acts quashed the falsified faith in male superiority over female. Two irrepressible amazons who when committed to a course are hardly distracted by the loud tune of lies; both, more strikingly, are of the Ṇ́dị́ Ìgbò lineage. But since it’s not proven that gifts and guts reside more with the Igbo bloodline than others, one may as well call it a coincidence that it is.

Betty’s daring exploits birthed the many laurels and attracted consequential laudations from serious, individuals, institutions and organisations, even far long ahead of the first lady’s label. In 2005,
Senator Hillary Clinton, applauded Betty’s strides. The Harvard University, in 2018, gave her a trophy for the work done on cancer awareness and advocacy; University of Heidelberg, Germany, had, in 2019, recognized her efforts in the fight against cancer in Africa.

Biden cancer, in 2018, recognised what Mrs Akeredolu is doing with the Foundation for Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO) in community mobilization against Breast cancer through Sekem Dance. The Federal Ministry of Health (in 2021) pronounced BRECAN, her brainchild as the best cancer NGO in Nigeria- one of those trophies she noiselessly keeps in the bag; but then the clamorous and glamorous Sun Newspaper Award (2020) shone her out for distinction with the “Most Supportive First Lady” tag
among the first ladies, the same way the Nigerian Assembly News dignified her as the “Most Valuable Governor’s Wife” (2021).

The Nigerian Tribune Newspaper, at the commemoration of its 70th anniversary (2019) had given Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu the Platinum Award as “The Champion of Humanity”. African Women Industrialization Awards (AWIA), in its own reckoning, called her “Woman of the Year” (2021). What the writer delayed to say, in setting out, is that the women with whom Betty battles gender and sexual violators belong to the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA).

The female lawyers had converged, in their numbers, in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital. It was a beautiful, enthralling sight. They surmoned Betty and honoured her for contributions to the society, women empowerment and continuous support to humanitarian service. Meanwhile, what attracted FIDA of Imo State to Betty was different. They had watched her overtime give women a sense of belonging, lift many out of poverty and fight for the downtrodden, and for this they gave a different trophy.

FIDA, for those who know, is not the all comers’ affair. Established in 1944 to promote, protect, and preserve the rights, interests, and well-being of women and children, it’s a Non-governmental organization with observer status at the United Nations and present in 80 countries of the world with 33 branches in Nigeria. This is the worth of the institution which its members have repeatedly honoured the spouse of Ondo State’s governor.

Since Betty mounted the tribune, the usual tepid temperature of the office has been interestingly altered and new, progressive templates evolved to the admiration of many. And now, by her examples, it’s fast dawning on folks that the enviable and supposedly noble office of the first lady, at any rung, should tower above frivolous offerings. By Betty’s deeds, we’re learning fast that how inspiring or insipid the office turns depends largely on the personality and motivation of who conducts the space. There are accidental first ladies that Betty is not; there are regular ones whose forte are to perpetuate mundanities, but she’s a darling difference.

There’s a sense in which she’s altered the status quo and set new standards for those to come after her to adopt and soar or dump and go below. We are used to women who bow their heads in deference to dissidents and so find Betty’s point a hard pill to swallow. But it’s better folks get used to her blunt, unpretentious and daring traits, which per force account for the star that she is. The ancient, who cannot stand the heat of contemporary leadership trends have told us, rather crudely, how it is an affront that a woman speaks so frontally, an “Igbo woman” for that matter, in a preposterous tone deserving pity.

Ondo State should be luckier to multiply this tribe so that the womenfolk can take their rightful places in the scheme of things, work unusual strides and crowd its space with tons of awards to help disillusioned doubters with new impression on winning awards. That is how wrong it sounds to give the spurious verdict that these laurels are laundered. Harder to take is the fact that Betty’s avalanche of trophies are normal with nobles who take unbeaten paths.

The awards, copious as they appear, are meager when compared with Betty’s mega works.

***Debo Akinbami, Special Assistant on New Media & Archives to the Governor of Ondo State.