‘Breast cancer is not a spiritual attack’

Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu is the wife of the Ondo State governor.  She is the founder of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria and also a fish farmer. Mrs. Anyanwu-Akeredolu speaks with OSAGIE OTABOR on her experiences as the governor’s supporting spouse in the last four years. 
My programme

I belong to the school of thought of women that we have potential which society has stepped on for too long. Women cannot breath. The knees of the society have been on our neck and it behoves on some of us that are educated to recognise the subjugation and deliberate attempt of the society to continuously press women down even when they have the potential to shine. We keep emphasising on education because education empowers her. In the absence where a woman has been unlucky to attain education, there are other ways we can empower her and that was the reason for establishing the Foundation of Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO). The wives of the political appointee are on a step ahead in the social ladder by virtue of their husbands’ positions. Many of them didn’t know that. I tried to let them know they can use those positions to bring about change in their immediate community. Initially, there was resistance. When I got here, the pré-occupation of most of Ondo women, especially those politicians, was rice, Ankara and transport money that is not more than N1000 or N500 and they are happy. They will come to Government House , sing, clap and go. I started but there was resistance. There were vicious attacks and campaigns of calumny. They said it was not done like that and started comparing me with other First Ladies but I told them those First Ladies are analogues. I am a digital First Lady. I am happy today that I was not wrong on the decision. I continued despite all the criticisms. When I got here, they didn’t own a smart phone but today I do not think there is any of those women that do not own a smart phone because we are on WhatsApp. That is self-improvement, self-advancement. We started talking about what the women can do to improve their income. One of the reasons women face subjugation is lack of money. They lack economic power. A woman should be able to have a source of income. Why fold your arms and expect every kobo to come from your husband? It is erroneous for anybody to believe that if your wife has economic power, it will lead to disrespect. It is not true. It makes the marriage work. The man will live longer. If your wife has source of income even if it is feeding she takes care of it. We need to educate our men to understand these things. We started with training of Ondo women in different skills. They began to realise their potentials. I know two of them who bought a car each because of the skill acquisition. Shoe making and bag making. We are very proud of them. Those doing make-up and tying gele are making money in their communities. We didn’t just train them; we also gave them the tools. Those of them responsible enough have put what they learnt to good use. We even gave out hundreds of grinding machines.

Being the governor’s wife in the last four years

This our office is a funny one. There is a wrong perception of Nigerians about First Lady office. It has been a mixed baggage of emotions. My activism didn’t start as a First Lady. I started Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) in 1997. I have been in it. That is 21 years before anything like First Lady touched my body. I was among those that founded Bring Back Our Girls. I was in the trenches with Ezekwesili. It is a natural progression for me to continue without even waiting. I continued with BRECAN here. We established a centre in Ondo State because we knew what many women here will be facing with breast cancer. It was a sorry sight of what women were going through here when I came in. I am very proud and delighted that we have a strong and effective branch of BRECAN in Ondo. We have always said that creating awareness is the entry point in the fight against breast cancer. Our people do not even know what they were going through. There are too many dangerous misconceptions about the disease. The most alarming and prevalent is the belief that breast cancer is a spiritual attack. So instead of going to the hospital these ailing women go to church, go to mountain praying everywhere while the cancer cells are multiplying. We needed that education and enlightenment. We started crowd funding. People criticised office of First Lady because they still do not understand no money comes here. There is no budget for this office. I tell people this is a very powerful office if you know what to do and that was exactly what I did. When you know your worth and you know your surrounding environment, you can make good out of every bad situation. I met here empty. There was nothing but people felt I should help them because I am the governor’s wife. For somebody like me that comes from the civil society background, saying no to these women was not an option. I needed to figure out what to do. You see a woman with breast cancer and she does not have any money for her to go to FMC, Owo. I decided to use my office to start crowd funding with N200 and any amount for those who can afford it. Some said ‘why will the First Lady be asking for N200, is the money not in her bedroom?’ We have, however, assisted and paid treatment for 30 women who are suffering from breast cancer. If you had diseased breast, the first step is to remove the breast. We have doctors  who are our partners. We are not paying them but they are concerned citizens. There are good people in this world but we have few of them. The first place we touch is the surgery. You remove the breast and  then other treatments will follow. Most times we pay for chemotherapy. With that intervention, the cancer cell will no longer multiply. This is the mistake many women make when spiritualists tell them olive oil and other things like spiritual attack because they don’t have understanding. We plead with them to advise the women to go to the hospital.

Ondo women’s place by 2023 

I am a public health professional. I deal with figures. I have always had a bigger picture for women. I believe women can be more. I beleive there are hidden potentials in women which the society fails to exploit. We will discover and then let them excel. There is remarkable improvement of Ondo State women self-awareness. This self-awareness of the environment is what I didn’t see when I got here. I met little awareness. They were not empowered. Even when we talk about women participation in politics, the issue is not mouthing 35 percent. That self-awareness is very critical for our women to rise and we are on the right path. I never gave up when everybody descended on me. They told me it is their husbands that lead while they saw me as the one leading my husband. It was funny because I was pointing out the truth and how we can build a better society. Today, many of them are aspiring from the grassroots. I told them they need to be at the table to make decisions. You cannot be outside clapping and singing. You cannot make any effect. At a time, Aketi gave a marching order that there must be at least two female councillors per local government. Only a woman can fight for women.

The campaign for 50/50 position for elective positions

I am in support of that. The point is we have not attained the 35 percent signed in Beijing. People should be realistic and pragmatic. Let us get the 35 percent first. Our women are not serious with their strategy. I have started mine and it is solo. The solo is my Be More girls. They are between nine and 15 years. We train them at a boot camp every summer in ICT, Solar Technology and other life-enhancing skills. The aim is to bridge the gender gap in technology space. When we first started, we discovered that many of them have not been to Akure before. They will now aspire to go to higher institutions. That is the strategy. I took some of them to a political rally of First Ladies, they saw that responsible women are in politics. They used to think women in politics are prostitutes. That is how to change the narratives. They have participated in a German Embassy renewable workshop. They participated in Technovision challenge where some of them built Apps for birth registration for the National Population Commission because I urged them that their education must be tailored to solve a problem. They designed the App but the sad thing about our country which is retrogressive is that the NPC would have picked them because the App was for them. Up till now, they have not been heard from.

The expectation from your office in your husband’s second term

The foundation has been laid. Our mantra is that women can be more. Our girls and women are on a self-discovery journey. Ondo State women have seen that they matter. What remains is to see to increase in women representation in government through political appointment or elective position. Our girls now know they can be more; we have to keep mentoring them. Increase in participation in politics and representation is very important because that is where decisions are being made. In Akoko North East and North West, we are training school counsellors on distribution of Yellow Card to prevent rape and sexual assault. We expect all the girls in those locality to have that card. It helps them to know they are worthy of our protection. Hon Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is the first to pick those cards. Another lawmaker in Akoko South East and South West has also indicated interest. It is their children that will benefit. These are the ways you can get things done without waiting for the money to come from government.

Digital First Lady

It is because of my love for technology. I am active on social media. When I found out that some of them were insulting me,  I decided to leave. I am there on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. It is the world we live in. If you do not stay you won’t know what is happing in your state, you won’t be able to interact with the young people. These young people when you interact with them you begin to appreciate their thinking process. You will then be in a position to advise your husband. The downside is the insult. In politics, it is like your are in the kitchen. If you cannot stand the heat, you leave there.

A cancer treatment centre in Ondo State

It is one legacy I will like this Arakunrin administration to leave behind because when you know what breast cancer patients go through, you will know that the cancer treatment centre is something that is imperative. They have to go to Ibadan, Lagos, Abuja. It is terrible. When they think about this, they opt to die in their house. If  we have a cancer treatment centre, all protocols in cancer treatment you will be there closer and accessible. The proposal is for the centre to be sited in Owo because of the proximity to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo. Some people had reasoned that it is a federal hospital but it is Ondo people that will be treated. It is good to have people who are knowledgeable in making decisions in certain areas. You will have more people coming to Ondo State. That is medical tourism. It brings development to the area. Arakunrin is bent on it.

My plans for widows

We have cleared the road to make a point. People in my profession cannot do much without data. I felt we can get data of the widows in the state. If you look at the economic strata, you find out that the widows are the most marginalised and it came when the government started to give palliatives to people in the state. The politicians didn’t give chance and the widows complained. I decided not to follow the government approach. I didn’t involve the Ministry because they will do it their own way. They don’t care about data. They might be giving the palliatives to the same set of widows year in year out because they do not have statistics. If you want to solve the need of widows, the first question is how many are they? I decided to apply what I am known for and we did it in a digital way. At the end of the day, we registered over 25,000 widows and people are still registering. They didn’t believe when we said we want to give out palliatives. We distributed the palliatives to those that registered in each local government. It was a good thing. Some women said they had never directly benefited from government.

How often does your husband seek your opinion of his policies?

He does not request for my view. I have a civil society background. Before my husband became governor,  I already knew what was playing out there. I knew the gaps in government. For my women and youths, I develop most of the initiatives and do not bother him about the money. He knows I will go out to look for the money. I do not go to any ministry to collect money. I don’t ask them to give me money. I know how to raise money. My constituency is bigger than Ondo State.

Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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