By Mary Olisa
Since the inception of Akwa Ibom State, there have been several initiatives by the first ladies but none matches that of Her Excellency, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel. This is because of the unprecedented impact it has recorded among various strata of the state within six years of its operation. Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel, a devout Christian, philanthropist and family-oriented woman who has the heart for her people, in a bid to improve their lives, established an initiative, Family Empowerment and Youth Re-orientation Programme (FEYReP), in 2015 during the of the 28th anniversary of the state. The five-point agenda of the initiative was clearly stated from the outset: to empower 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, as well as providing support to government’s efforts towards sustainable development. For the past six years she has been working tirelessly with her team of experts in ensuring these objectives are met at all levels of the society. This article outlines the projects successfully executed or still being executed by Her Excellency over the last six years.
FEYReP has been a blessing to so many lives in Akwa Ibom State through its various projects and outreaches highlighted below: The first is Martha Care for Young Girls, which provides sexual education to young girls in a bid to combat teenage pregnancy, which was a menace in the state. This project also deals with issues of self-esteem as well as tackles the issues of sexual assault and rape in the society. Secondly, the Girls Uphold Your Dignity is an outreach for secondary schoolgirls to sensitize them on the benefits of abstinence, life-building skills, enlightenment on HIV/AIDs, VVF, teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse and girls’ right to education. Flowing from this project, Mrs. Udom collaborated with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to establish a gender-based violence centre (GBV) in Uyo.
Shelter of Hope Project is another laudable project undertaken by Her Excellency. The idea behind the project is to empower families and ensure the home front is stable, invariably leading to the advancement of the society. This project has met the needs of indigent families in the past six years through the empowerment of widows, as well as disadvantaged men and women across the state. At least 30 families have benefited from the philanthropic gesture of the First Lady through the newly built and furnished two- and three-bedroom apartments gifted to them. This project has also benefited over 5,500 rural women through the start-up grant of N100,000, in addition to the capacity-building workshop facilitated for them.
It is worthy of note that the inmates of Uyo Prison were not left out of Her Excellency’s philanthropy, as she donated food and other relief items to them to help them. Furthermore, she set up skill acquisition centres in order to aid the rehabilitation process of the inmates.
Eye Restoration and Intervention Scheme (EyeRIS) is another project of Her Excellency carried out in partnership with the MTN Foundation. In 2016, the scheme provided free eye care intervention and surgeries. Over 1,000 senior citizens were beneficiaries. Other medical intervention projects, which were carried out in partnership with organizations such as Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, Pro-Health International and Akwa Ibom State Association of Nigeria (AKISAN, USA Incorporated), include the deworming outreach for children across all 31 local government areas in the state reaching over 48,520 children. The Martha PregnaCare Outreach is another programme, which seeks to reduce the incidence of maternal and child morbidity and mortality in the state. Up until this intervention, there was a spike in the rate of maternal and infant mortality, but with the advent of this outreach, which provides free medical care and counselling as well as free delivery packs for expectant mothers, the numbers have greatly reduced, and the programme has reached over 1,600 expectant mothers across the state. This outreach has also catered for orphans and vulnerable children through the Divine Children Home, which accommodates several people. The outreach grooms them educationally, thereby giving them a ray of hope for a better future. In addition to this, there have been huge efforts to rehabilitate and strengthen nine special homes for abandoned children across the state through a monthly donation of food, cash and other supplies.
Going forward, Her Excellency has inaugurated of a boy-child campaign tagged “Bright Future for Responsible Boys.” This is a platform where primary and secondary schoolboys are educated against indulging in vices such as cultism, rape, premarital relationship and drug abuse. In the words of Mrs. Udom, “We cannot be raising the girl-child to uphold her dignity while the boy-child is left unattended to, it would imply that our work would be incomplete.”
Of note is the Food for All Initiative, which was brought to bear as a result of the hike in the prices of staple food such as cassava flakes (gari). Provision of a 17-hectare model farm and a cassava processing factory at Ikot Aba, Ibiono Ibom LGA, fish processing factories at Ukpennekang in Ibeno and Ibaka Mbo for women fish sellers, as well as the establishment of palm oil processing factories at Edem Akai Etim Ekpo LGA and Aya Obio Akpa, Oruk Anam LGA are part of the First Lady’s effort to drive the agricultural sector as well as to alleviate food scarcity in the state.
As a reputable philanthropist, Mrs. Martha Udom has impacted the lives of the people in the state, especially women, girls and children through her generosity. Here are some highlights: Donation of educational and welfare materials to the Divine Home Orphanage under the ‘Back to School’ project within her first three months in office; donation of over 200 wheelchairs and 100 special writing desks for the physically challenged in secondary and tertiary institutions; training of 20 visually-impaired persons in various skills at the Nigerian Farm Craft Centre, Lagos, with further financial empowerment for start-up/
Sponsorship of 155 widows to Jerusalem for the holy pilgrimage; provision of N 200,000 grants each for about 500 women organizations across the state in a bid to improve women empowerment; Fully furnished homes for widows and disadvantaged families which brought joy and stability to the lives of the beneficiaries.
One of the ways the First Lady has shown immense love and care for Akwa Ibomites is seen in her visit to the Qua Iboe Church Leprosy Hospital, Etinan in 2018 to celebrate the Easter celebration, during which she shared gifts to the inmates and spoke great words of encouragement. Being the first of the kind visit by a first lady, one of the inmates expressed gratitude to Her Excellency for making them have a sense of belonging in the state.
Flowing from her notable works, Her Excellency, Martha Udom Emmanuel has received several recognitions, honours and awards from both national and international organizations such as the Heart of Champion Award from the International Human Rights Commission- New York; African Impact Leadership Award from Center for Economic and Leadership Development in Paris, the Number One Nutrition Champion Award from UNICEF, Cultural Ambassador by National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Environment Friendly First Lady in Nigeria by the Nigerian Chapter for Conservation biology (NSCB) University of Uyo, Award of Excellence in Women Development by the Akwa Ibom State University Women Association (AKSUWA), to mention just a few.
Furthermore, in recognition of her substantial contributions to improvements in human social conditions, development of hidden talents with capacity building among the youth without gender bias, and feats of philanthropy which have touched many lives positively, the University of Uyo on her 25th Convocation awarded Mrs. Emmanuel an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy of Science Degree in Social and Human Development (Ph.D Honoris Causa).
In conclusion, as stated in the Biblical Book Proverbs Chapter 31 Verse 29 many women have done well but Mrs. Martha Udom excels them all, a virtuous woman to the core. Little wonder she is fondly called ‘Eka Unwana’ – a Mother who has brought sunshine of hope and fulfillment. Her drive for excellence, virtuous living, family re-orientation, promoting moral values, re-instating broken families as well as improving the lives of her dear people via various initiatives has gone a long way in proving that she is indeed a quintessential woman of impact.
• Mary Olisa writes from Uyo