The passage of former first lady of Nigeria, Victoria Nwanyiocha Aguiyi-Ironsi and ex-first Lady of Eastern Nigeria, Adanma Okpara is a great loss to the people of Abia State and Nigeria. There is no doubt that the demise of the two women has robbed Nigeria of their patriotic services. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, the wife of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, Major-Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, was Nigeria’s First Lady from January 16, 1966 to July 29, 1966, when the husband was killed in a military coup.
Born on November 21, 1923, Lady Aguiyi-Ironsi hailed from Ohokobo Afara in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State. She married Aguiyi-Ironsi as a student of Holy Rosary Convent School, Okigwe in 1953 at the age of 16.
Madam Okpara, the wife of Premier of Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Okpara, who died on August 22, 2021, was the First Lady of the defunct Eastern Region from 1959 to 1966. She would have turned 97 in December this year. She attended Central School Ndoro, Ikwuano Oboro; Mary Flanney Memorial School Oron, Women Training College, Umuahia, among others.
As a First Lady, Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi was reputed to have laid the foundation for women’s leadership role in government. Her role as a founding member of the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association (NAOWA) would remain indelible. After the death of her husband, the former First Lady worked so much for the peace and unity of the country. In the absence of her husband, Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi courageously groomed all their children to become useful members of the society. Being virtuous and hardworking enabled her to hold forth, in the face of daunting challenges.
That she was able to hold the family intact without blemish in such trying periods spoke eloquently of her bravery and candour. Before her death, Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi was the coordinator of former First Ladies of Nigeria, an umbrella body for surviving wives of former presidents of Nigeria.
She formed the body as an avenue to help former first ladies who were always forgotten the moment their husbands left office or died. She was at a time, a Commissioner in the Local Government Service Commission of Abia State and also played prominent role in politics as a mobiliser for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), in the Second Republic.
Mrs. Okpara gave enormous support to her husband, who served as Premier of the old Eastern Region from 1959 to 1966. The Okpara administration recorded so many achievements in the region, especially on the economic front.
The region witnessed the establishment of Enamel Ware Factory, Port Harcourt, Hotel Presidential in Enugu and Port Harcourt; Aba Textile Mills, Modern Ceramic Factory, Umuahia, Catering Rest House and Modern Shoe Factory, Owerri. He established a cement factory at Nkalagu, Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia, a tobacco and glass making plant in Port Harcourt.
Okpara laid the foundation for Calabar cement factory and a giant textile mill in Onitsha. The period he was Premier witnessed the building of a spinning and weaving company in Enugu, the Sunray flour mill and a Vehicle assembly plant in Port Harcourt. Cashew and Palm oil plantations as well as Extension Farms sprang up in different parts of the region. He built well-paved roads, streets and residential quarters in Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Enugu, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Abakiliki. Before her death, Adanma Okpara was woman leader, farmer, teacher and influential community leader whose counsel was highly revered.
The two women displayed high sense of patriotism and responsibility as first ladies to the national and regional governments of their time. They were unarguably instrumental to the achievements of their husbands in office. They had played advisory roles to successive first ladies in the country.
We join notable Nigerians and entire people of Abia State to mourn the demise of the great amazons. We urge women leaders and first ladies to emulate their shining examples. Let them be immortalised. We commiserate with their families, friends, Abia State and the Federal Government on the irreparable loss. May God grant them eternal repose.