By Debo Akinbami
Today, Ada-Head, the headmaster’s daughter, who dared cross the Niger, Betty Onyetugochioma Claribel Uburuamaka Anyanwu-Akeredolu, aquaculturist, philanthropist, feminist, public health expert, gender activist, grandmother and prolific founder is up for probe. In probing, nonetheless, the various estimations should at least be indulged as we sieve the sides and indulge thoughts that may either qualify as mere ideations or those within the length of honest valuations.
Let us assume, however, that the subject of treatise excites a category of readers and got others’ snub, or suppose that it sprouts enthusiasm in certain ideologues and toxicity in other thinkers. Then it would confirm the writer’s first fear on the personality of his subject — one which is expected to ignite divergent passions, due either to her nature as a nonconformist who overtime was pretty much misunderstood or her guts for being an unusual torch.
She likes being a torch, and her persistent penchant for being so may not be unrelated to the fact that she was born on Monday. Monday, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CBC), got its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “mondandaeg” which translates to “the moon’s day”; the second day of the week in Nordic cultures that is devoted to worshipping the goddess of the moon. CBC says girls born on Mondays were given the name Mona in Ancient Britain, as it was the Old English word for moon.
Her birth happened on a Moon Day, the day man first walked on the moon, an occurrence reported as being “…the single greatest technological achievement of all time.” President Richard Nixon, in 1971, proclaimed July 20 as National Moon Landing Day to honor the anniversary of man’s first moon landing. Apollo 11 had carried the first humans to the moon.
The timing and circumstances of Betty’s birth may have supplied certain obscure signals that were either ignored for abstraction or for a woman’s worth at the time. Yet the early propitious signs remained true and have since translated to luster. Meanwhile, she was especially lucky among her peers to have been fathered by a man who chose to be different and would not succumb to the tide that celebrated a male child at the expense of the female.
But while the father would not subjugate his own, Betty bore early bruises as a girl child — those bruises carelessly inflicted on the psyche of an impregnable girl at formative stages. She learned early in life that the society was not fair to her kind and she would take on herself the burden of shifting the paradigm even till date. Curiously, she wondered why many of her colleagues – of school age – were simply married off by parents who placed low or no premium on the girl child, parents to whom nursing a girl child made no real economic sense.
While she trekked between Emeabiam and Egbu, near Owerri, she harboured hearty indignation towards the untoward treatment being meted to the womenfolk, and she swore early in life to strive to destroy the societal ills that debar women from reaching heights and defend their interests to far extents. Her trekking far distance to school paid off since education and values instilled in her by parents helped in finding and growing a voice for her. Having had a voice through sound education, she sought a medium to convey a message. She sought a tribune.
Betty grew up to hate the habit of silencing women and the mental torture they are often subjected to, and the perpetuation of same by successive generations, and so she itched to speak against the ills that repress her kind. She was hungry for a pedestal and yearned for one formidable enough to convey her deepest convictions. Nature, in its weirdness, however wrapped the keys to her hearty desires in mystery, testing first her resolve with a cancerous fight that she won while tying a potent platform to a spousal ambition would only come after repeated trials.
When she found a bigger pedestal in governorment, she chose, like her father, to be different. Her difference became deafening. Her conducts convey courage hitherto unseen in women leaders. She has been, in the estimation of some, weird. Not one to settle for nauseating norms and tepid traditions. For her, women deserve more than merely dancing in cultural attires around a governor’s wife and receiving ridiculous handouts for chorusing ego-feeding political lyrics.
She became the unusual first lady, drawing praises on the one hand and poison on the other. She was very well misinterpreted. Many times she was constrained by the same women for whom she’s taking pellets; she was fought by the folk who should fortify her focus. But she was undeterred. “I’m in the kitchen because I could stand the heat”, Betty would say. She was not fighting persons, she was fighting stubborn prejudices in persons who she felt should be librated from the claws of ignorance. Those on the other side saw an enemy in a woman who meant well.
The priority for her was not in the paraphernalia that come with being the wife of a governor. The office means just one thing to her — opportunity to speak. To address age-long injustice against girls and women. To encourage women to be on their feet and to raise a new generation of women who would alter the tide in the course of time. But only a few knew about these fine longings. Negligible was the number of those who cared to know that the inherent advantages were really not for her. Only a handful understood the reason she was all out, using the various fora, including the social media space, to portray the new tribe of woman that multiply to achieve gender parity and subsequent relevance.
The gulf, while it lasts, won feeble minds, and swayed folks who are either unwilling to test noisy pontifications or who merely give in to deceptive definitions. It is gratifying to note the rate at which she is now flocked as a result of new knowledge, and not discouraged, she daily wins and warmly welcomes new friends. That is who she is; a loving leader like Dora Anyanwu, her late mom, who, in the words of her people, symbolized a good woman. In her days, she was a mobiliser, human rights activist, and community developer who contributed notedly to the growth of Emeabiam, her village, and its environs.
Dora, records say, championed the establishment of a secondary school in her community to reduce the stress children of Emeabiam underwent while trekking to a distant community to attend school. She advocated zero tolerance for female genital mutilation in the community and was at the forefront of the training and psychological know-how of children.
The man who raised Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, Chief BUB Anyanwu, promoted very strongly his belief that education is the sure avenue for climbing the social ladder. BUB was gender neutral in his educational pursuit of his children. He did not raise Betty as a girl-child the way men of his generation were wont to do, and this perhaps was largely responsible for her outlook on life. BUB instilled confidence in his daughter and pushed her to dream big.
Betty said of her mom that: “It was through my mom that I knew that women could lead; our compound was like a courtyard as all manner of women would come with their problems for counseling and intervention.” And her dad: “He gave me wings to fly.” It’s therefore safe to say that Betty had a peculiar background that laid the bricks for the giant that she has become.
Betty, a visionary and incredible folk dancer, loves to play tennis. She was born on 20 July 1953, and married in April 1981 to her long-standing friend, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN, the inimitable governor of Ondo State.