Judex Okoro, Calabar
One hundred and seventy one years after her birth and 104 years after her death, the contributions of Scottish Missionary, Mary Slessor, to uplift children and women of Calabar, Cross River State, have continued to attract accolades.
Born in 1848 in her native country of Scotland and passed on in 1915, women and children, particularly twins, have continued to acknowledge the contributions of Mary Mitchell Slessor to humanity. Her missionary work in Calabar, which contributed significantly to the abolition of the heinous practice of killing of twins as well as the mother of twins, is to reverberating in the minds of the people, UNICEF and the Presbyterian Church, which sent her to the city on missionary work.
Slessor’s contributions to the uplift of children came to the fore during UNICEF/Cross River State Government’s lighting of Mary Slessor iconic statue in Calabar. It also marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, aimed at highlighting the most pressing issues faced by children worldwide.
Besides, the venue of the event, which is the famous Mary Slessor Roundabout, is significant for residents of the city as it signifies an everlasting memorial in honour of the contributions of the Scottish missionary to the improvement of lives of the people.
It attracted hundreds of children, twins, Mary Slessor Family, the Twins Foundation and a host of other government dignitaries who came to acknowledge her contributions and celebrate her ideals. Ibrahim Conteh, Chief of UNICEF Field Office in Enugu, Anambra State, said the choice of Calabar was informed by the past and exemplary legacy of Mary Slessor, who promoted women’s rights and protection of children.
He emphasised that every November 20, kids across the world go blue to call on leaders to fulfil the rights of every child: “The choice of Calabar, Cross River State, for the UNICEF inspired lighting of an iconic place was informed by the exemplary legacy of Mary Slessor, a Scottish Presbyterian Missionary to Nigeria who during her lifetime promoted women’s rights and protection of children.
“She is most famous for having stopped the common practice of infanticide of twins among the Ibibio people, an ethnic group in South Eastern Nigeria. Her legacy lives on. We are happy to commemorate to celebrate 30 years of the convention of the rights of the children and celebrate Mary Slessor who has done so much for humanity, sacrificed her life, marriage, family to Cross River State, Calabar, particularly to save children.
“Children who had been neglected, abandoned and thrown into the thick forest were rescued by Mary Slessor. She was the first person who came and said ‘no, there is no reason for that, they are from God.’ What Mary Slessor did is what every human being should be doing.
“We have to be there for children and always make sure they are well protected and live a better life. Every year, on November 20, we mark the signing of the United Nations Convention of the rights of the child. UNICEF celebrates World’s Children Day to connect with the public and highlight the most pressing issues faced by children worldwide.
“On this day, kids take over and the world goes blue to call on world leaders to commit to fulfilling the rights of every child and acknowledge that these rights are non-negotiable.”
Prelate of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Rev. Nzie Eke, said Mary Slessor deserved all the honour given to her because she left her family, country, fiancé and came to Calabar on missionary work to advance the cause of the child. Represented by Rev. Dr Nnoke Ibe, he said Mary Slessor was a champion of the child who believed that every child should be given an opportunity and said the Church is proud to be associated with her as well as UNICEF emphasizing that her legacy must continue:
“She deserved all the honour given to her, Mary Slessor was the one we are celebrating. We thank UNICEF for choosing her as a symbol. She was born in 1848 and in her 20’s she left the coast of Scotland to Calabar to be a missionary.
“She had a fiancé and did not get married because of her desire to serve God and had to sacrifice her proposed marriage because of her missionary work. Our people believed that it is only animals that were created for multiple births and not humans. Whenever a woman gave birth to twins, it was believed that the woman must have slept with an evil spirit and one of the children belonged to the spirit.
“To be on the safe side, the twins would be killed because they could not ascertain which belonged to the evil spirit. The woman would also be killed for having intercourse during pregnancy with an evil spirit. Mary Slessor did not subscribe to this practice. She believed that every child must be given an opportunity to live, shine and excel. She also worked for women and believed so much in women rights.”
Director, Child Development, Ministry of Women Affairs, Asi Archibong, said: “The gesture by UNICEF to honour Slessor is victory for the child and a celebration of their rights. We are happy that UNICEF chose the iconic Mary Slessor as a symbol of hope. She was the first child rights activist East of the Niger who came all the way from Scotland.”
She added that the Geneva Convention on the rights of the child signed in 1989, was domesticated in the country through the Child Rights Law. The Cross River State Government as a demonstration of its commitment to child rights enacted the law in 2009.
Daniel Slessor a representative of the Slessor Family in Calabar, said members of the family are proud to be associated with the Presbyterian Church as well as UNICEF. He said Mary Slessor’s house in Okoyong and well as her personal belongings have been preserved for posterity.