By Ajayi Oluwapelumi Tobi
Despite having an unwieldy population of over 200 million, spotlighting achievers in Nigeria is not a difficult undertaking. In a clime where there has been a gross neglect of leadership and a huge disconnect between the ruling class and the ruled, Nigerians can easily tell you who among their leaders and prominent citizens have empathy for the masses and caring for their wellbeing. Such people have track records, so to speak, that attest to their good works. In the past few years, Akwa Ibom State has been a bulwark of purposive leadership. Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom stands out as a shining example. Just as well, his wife, Mrs Martha Udom Emmanuel has distinguished herself with her Family Empowerment and Youth Re-orientation Programme (FEYReP).
Nigeria has recorded a slew of initiatives instituted by first ladies since the days of Better Life For Rural Women in the mid-1980s. These NGOs have become complementary apparatus to government’s efforts at providing infrastructure and catalysing developments. To that extent, programmes by first ladies have become mechanisms of social interventions. FEYReP- from its mission statement to the design of the programme to its extraordinary impact and achievements in just five years- is an illustrious example of such social intervention mechanism. At its inauguration on the occasion of the 28th anniversary celebration of Akwa Ibom State’s creation on September 21, 2015, the First Lady had concisely stated FEYReP’s raison d’etre: to re-position the family and the youths for positive and productive living. With a five-point agenda that includes, empowering women to provide economic and emotional support to their families, advocacy for the prevention of teenage pregnancies, education for the girl-child, promotion of moral values and economic excellence, and providing support to government efforts toward sustainable development, there was no doubt about what its set objectives are or how to achieve them.
The programme had a fine start. And today, FEYReP still maintains the momentum, providing far-reaching social intervention for people Akwa Ibom people across all strata of society. It is not surprising that FEYReP is touching so many lives; what is surprising is that an NGO can touch lives in so many ways as to encompass everyone in the society.
There is, for instance, the Girls Uphold Your Dignity programme which keeps a cycle of sensitisation going for teenage girls in secondary schools on the benefits of abstinence from premarital sex, enlightening them on HIV/AIDS, VVF, teenage pregnancy, rape and the rights of the girl child to education. This effort is complemented by the Martha Cares for Young Women programme, which awakens young female adults’ awareness, and resolve to decline unsolicited sexual advances from men. By providing counselling, scholarships and economic empowerment to inspire and support indigent young women, FEYReP has in the past three years become a bastion of gender empowerment. With these two programmes, FEYReP found a way to clip the wings of early pregnancy, which in the past years, was a scourge in Akwa Ibom.
The NGO gave a further boost to gender cause with its collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that resulted in the establishment of Gender-based Violence Centre (GBV) in Uyo. Focusing on the family as a unit of society, FEYReP’s Shelter of Hope programme has been meeting indigent’s family need of a decent home. In the past five years, widows and other women and men who are economically disadvantaged one way or the other and therefore unable to provide shelter for their families, have enjoyed philanthropic gestures that made them homeowners. Across three senatorial districts, at least 30 families have been beneficiaries of two and three-bedroom apartments, newly built and furnished. To further lift families above the poverty line, start-up grants of N100, 000 and capacity building training were provided for them. At least, over 5,500 rural women benefitted from the various economic empowerment interventions. What’s more, the beneficiaries have always been the poorest of the poor.
In sustaining and empowering family units, the NGO provides access to good health in the state. So far, 30,672 beneficiaries have enjoyed free eye care intervention, deworming, surgical care and other surgeries both within and outside of Nigeria.
Among the beneficiaries are more than 1000 senior citizens who on every International Day for Older Persons, went home with wellness kits, gift items and cash grants. In providing health services to the people, FEYReP has forged a partnership with organisations such as MTN Foundation Eyesight Restoration Intervention Scheme (MTNF EyeRIS), Niemeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, Pro-Health International and Akwa Ibom State Association of Nigeria (AKISAN, USA Incorporated).
By design, FEYReP has stamped its presence in areas that are often of concern as sustainable development indices. One such index is maternal and infant mortality. This is being taken care of by the Martha’s Pregnacare Outreach, a special programme that educates pregnant mothers on pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. Aside from free medical care and counselling, expectant mothers on the programme are entitled to delivery packs. Overall, the programme has helped stem the tide of maternal and infant deaths, as it has made pregnancy easy and risk-free for Akwa Ibom women.
Similarly, orphans and vulnerable children are not left out. Through FEYReP’s Divine Children Home, several orphans have been given a new lease of life with a roof over their heads and their education is taken care of. The First Lady further strengthened care and rehabilitation efforts for abandoned children in nine special children’s homes across the state and those in foster care with monthly support of food, cash and other supplies.
There is no end to the beneficiaries of FEYReP. Even society’s outcasts, such as prisoners and lepers, are among beneficiaries of the first lady’s philanthropy. Mrs Emmanuel Udom is providing financial and material support to inmates of Leprosy Hospital, Ekpene Obom in Etinan Local Government Area by way of monthly allowance for inmates. At Uyo Prisons, she was instrumental to the building of a kitchen, while she also sets up skills acquisition centres in both Eket and Ikot Ekpene prisons. Her interventions have led to the materialisation of significant developments in other areas including the construction of state-of-the-art gallery in the Faculty of Arts, University of Uyo and a primary health care centre at Obio Akpa in Oruk Anam Local Government Area.
Even agriculture is not outside the scope of FEYReP’s interventions. Its Food For All initiative, necessitated by rising prices of staple foods, especially garri, in early 2015, had led to a 17-hectare model farm cassava farm and a cassava processing factory at Ikot Aba, Ibiono Ibom LGA. This is but one example. Others abound like the fish processing factories at Ukpenekang in Ibeno and Ibaka in Mbo LGAs respectively that have been retooled, reinforced and revved for maximum output for rural fish sellers, and the establishment of palm oil processing factories in Edem Akai (Etim Ekpo LGA) and Aya Obio Akpa (Oruk Anam LGA) to take advantage of Federal Government-Central Bank’s drive to boost palm oil production in the South-South region.
What Deaconess Martha Udom Emmanuel has done with FEYReP will continue to generate rave reviews. She has brought an unprecedented engagement to the Office of the First Lady of Akwa Ibom State and the country at large, so much so that not only is FEYReP nationally-acclaimed, it has become a blueprint of how to catalyse development at the grassroots.
Her efforts have been hailed by numerous accolades, at home and abroad, with honours coming her way including the Heart of Champion Award from the International Human Rights Commission (New York), Africans Impact Leadership Award from Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (Paris), Number One Nutrition Champion Award from UNICEF, Cultural Ambassador of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners and Environment-Friendly First Lady in Nigeria by the Nigerian Chapter for Conservation Biology (NSCB) University of Uyo, to mention but a few.
It has been five highly productive years for the Akwa Ibom first lady. And the people of the state are appreciative of being blessed with someone whose focus is about bringing on positive impacts on their lives in many areas.