From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The one day Summit on Emerging Trends in the Role of the First Lady in National Development put together by the Office of the First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari in collaboration with Women and National Development (WAND) has recommended institutionalizing the office at both the federal state levels given their achievements.
This is even as they bemoaned the dismal numbers of women in leadership and decision-making in Nigeria and have challenged First Ladies to serve as mentors and champions in order to open doors for more women in public life.
They also advocated the need for a culture of continuity in governance, noting that efforts should be made to sustain worthwhile social intervention programmes initiated by First Ladies, as “not everything needs to be thrown away when governments change.”
Their recommendations were contained in a communique issued at the end of summit and made available to the media on Saturday.
The First Lady, Edo State (Summit Chair), Dr. Batsy Obaseki, and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Women Affairs and Administration, Office of the First Lady, Dr. Hajo Sani, signed the communique.
They explained that the Summit identified several strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with the office of the First Lady, discussed their impact on those occupying the position before coming up with its recommendations.
The communique stated: “Summit affirmed the tremendous achievements made by Her Excellency Dr Aisha Buhari, her predecessors, and Wives of the State Governors in Nigeria and resolved that policy and administrative measures are required at National and State levels to formally accommodate the existence of this indispensable office as a complement to inclusive governance. This will also foster more accountability and transparency in governance.
“Summit encouraged every First Lady to champion an issue or a cause. It was also noted that projects should be structured as sustainable Legacy Projects and not programmes that will fold after the initiator leaves office.
“Summit advised that First Ladies should be focused, passionate, knowledgeable and resourceful and engage in projects that are impactful.
“Summit suggested that First Ladies be more visible in order to highlight their contributions and showcase how important their leadership is at the national and sub-national level.
“Summit discussed the dismal numbers of women in leadership and decision-making in Nigeria and challenged First Ladies to serve as mentors and champions in order to open doors for more women in public life.
“Summit raised the importance of First Ladies as role models for women and youth. To this end, and in order to avoid negative perceptions and stereotypes, First Ladies were encouraged to live up to expectations by being approachable and inclusive.”
The Summit declared that projects implemented by First Ladies should not be referred to as ‘Pet Projects’ as such terminology trivializes the importance of the initiatives.
The Summit further urged First Ladies to support advocacy initiatives that will facilitate laws and policies to ensure lasting institutional change to tackle key social issues such as Gender-Based Violence, Health, Education of the Girl-Child and other important issues.
The Summit also highlighted the importance of more research, data, and information on the roles and impact of First Ladies who were also advised to document their work and share their experiences.
The Summit called for partnerships with government agencies, civil society, and development partners to strengthen and scale up the work of First Ladies.
The Summit agreed that there should be mentoring and orientation programmes for First Ladies as well as ongoing learning and knowledge sharing, saying that it will foster a greater understanding of expectations, norms, and values that will make the role easier.
The Summit “confirmed that without a doubt, First Ladies in Nigeria have contributed significantly to national development.”
The Summit concluded: “In spite of all the limitations that they have faced, they have continued to be a reliable means of grassroots mobilisation, community engagement, and advocacy on behalf of the voiceless and vulnerable.
“Nigeria, therefore, needs to move with the times and formally acknowledge this critical role. This will enable more accountability and provide an opportunity for worthwhile initiatives to be sustained for the benefit of the people.”