“I hope, someday, someone will take the time to evaluate the true role of the wife of a President and to assess the many burdens she has to bear and contributions she makes.” – Harry Truman.
Setting out, Truman’s notation is alluded to for its striking contextual relevance to treatise. Truman’s words as President, like his evocative legacies, reverberate; historians rank him among the nation’s best Presidents. His time as 33rd President of the United States was reputed to have led his country through the final stages of World War II and through the early years of the Cold War, protected and reinforced the New Deal reforms of his predecessor, guided the American economy from a war-time to a peace-time footing, and advanced the cause of African-American civil rights.
Truman, from a vantage point, lent plausible lettering on the burdens First Ladies bear. We shall return to measure the substance of Truman’s stance, but will, in the meantime, weigh the remarks of the cleric’s son and governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu of the lawyering trade and ferocious traits. It may not make news for many that Akeredolu, under any guise, does not feed on ubiquitous patronage, neither does he crave for the mundane. His renown is more for being acerbic with words than being spongy with it, no matter how it tastes.
Akeredolu had, on a Saturday morning, attended the grand finale of Ondo 2021 Bemore Summer Boot Camp, initiative of his adventuresome spouse, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, which trains in Information Communication Technology (ICT), Solar Technology and other pivotal, life-enhancing skills. Leaning on lectern, the governor gave lucid exegesis on the essence of the Bemore Empowered Initiative. He gave also, sternly, a graphic portrayal of the woman who wrought the strides in a tone close to scriptural allusion. He described the First Lady as one who having put her hand to the plough, does not look back.
Eyeing Betty, the governor declared: “If anyone else does not know, I know that you’re a strong believer in feminism. You have fought for good causes all your life; most importantly anything that has to do with women and girl child is your priority. When you started the Boot Camp in 2017, I knew you were embarking on another journey from which nobody could pull you back. That is the stuff you’re made of. You started the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) in 1997 and nobody could pull you back. Today, BRECAN is in about seven states across Nigeria.”
On Truman’s thought, it is a given that Truman wasn’t oblivious of what was obscure to many. He had watched his wife, Elizabeth Virginia Truman, false named “Bess Truman”, perform passionately the onerous tasks of a first lady. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Truman, like Betty, by serious reckoning, was not the usual first lady. Bess’ name appeared on the Gallup Poll’s list of American women admired the most. The McCall’s magazine (April 1949) quoted Jonathan Daniels, former Press Secretary to President Roosevelt, to have described Bess Truman as “A first unchanged by the White House and determined to remain always what she is.”
While Bess was unchanged by the White House, Betty has changed the office of a first lady and fast redefining its lexis. She is a celebrated iconoclast who daily advances both the social and economic rating of womenfolk. However, of Betty’s several, incredible initiatives in her capacity as First Lady, Bemore has been particularly eminent. It has trained through the yearly Boot Camp over 2000 girls who now bestride the energy and technology space with especial sheen, and its products have, since inception, constituted enduring banners as competent hands in renewable energy, cancer advocacy and enterpreneurship.
Bemore is not run by government; It is citizen-driven, combining the proprietor’s personal resources with donations, outsourcing, crowd funding and gifting. It is a proud product of the courage of conviction; a humanist’s sturdy commitment that transcends the extents of a political tenure, a siesmic philosophy to the effect that womanhood deserves better than the age-long systematic subjugation. It is a delibrate mission to pull womanhood from the precipice and restore decency and dignity to its fold.
Its products are a credence to the fact that it is poles apart from the regular boot camps. Its harvests have since set it apart from the routine pedestrian projects. Feedback from the project has since distinguished it from ventures conceived for want of ideas. As a matter of fact, a humanitarian offering that Bemore is, apart from being enduring, is about the noblest of offerings.
After four consecutive years of comprehensive prosecution, the project Bemore has proven to be distinct and fulfilling with rare efficacy its primary goals of bridging the gender gap in Information Communication Technology (ICT) while raising competent solar technologists. Four years down the lane, the programme has evidently given to the world army of girls with consummate competencies in the two pivot areas and allied vocational spheres.
While Bemore has been one intriguing subject of regular debates, there is a more phenomenal side to it that is rarely discussed, and that is its strategic contribution of energy to the national grid. Through the 12 watts home system given to each Bemore girl, the scheme helps annually to assuage the nation’s crying need for power. The energy contribution impact of Bemore, besides its unqualified human capital development, should command a new attention.
When one considers that only from the 2021 edition of Bemore, for instance, each of the girls went home with a 12 watts panel, and the 12 watts multiplied by 368, would amount to over four thousand Watts culmilatively. That, by any rate, is a lot of energy for a one- off programme like this. If the government were to deliver this range (of 4000 watts) in a single programme, that would gulp several millions from the exchequer.
Designed to serve the basic need for electricity in a typical rural setting where many low income houses in the rural areas do not use big gadgets, the impacts of the home systems on the various communities where the girls live cannot be meagre. Families in the southern senatorial district, a region that hasn’t had light in ten years, whose wards benefited from the programme and returned to power their houses with solar would appreciate this intervention more.
Deploying 4000 watts of energy within a month is no mean feat. Bemore, only in 2021, has lit, at least, a hundred homes in Ilaje only, and another 50 homes in Ese-Odo, since the two council areas sponsored 150 girls in the fourth edition. If you do a household headcount in the region, you could have around 3-4 thousand houses, and of the number, Bemore has provided 150 households with basic electricity need. That’s about 1%; a whole lot for a state.
What’s more? It costs at least 300 thousand naira to train a Bemore girl, whereas, sponsors pay only 200 thousand naira per child. The home systems and new laptop (new Lenovo Laptops of 464 Grams) is already in the realm of 200 thousand naira already, apart from the cost of clothing, feeding, training, payments for logistics, facilitators and materials, provision of security, and man power. To multiply 100 thousand into 368 places is to say the size of monetary sacrifice the First Lady and her army of sponsors make to train the girl child for the future of Ondo State and the country.
There is no gain saying it takes only real passion and rare sense of commitment to invest such huge resources into the future of girls the way Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu is doing. If government would look beyond heavy investments and consider a more realistic approach (like Bemore is doing), more homes could be lit at relatively cheaper costs. That is how else Bemore sets pace profoundly.
In his own plan, that man of meteoric rising, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, who represents Akoko North East/Akoko North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State at the Federal House of Representatives, wants Bemore to endure beyond Betty so that girls from this part could ably lead the change underway for womanhood to the benefit of our dear state. He cited the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), anti-human trafficking organisation in Africa that attempts to stop human trafficking and child labor in Nigeria while calling on good-spirited Nigerians to support Bemore.
It’s true that WOTCLEF is to Chief (Mrs) Amina Titilayo Atiku Abubakar, wife of the former vice president of Nigeria Atiku Abubakar, what Bemore is to Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu. As a not-for-profit non-governmental organization which outlives its initiator and helped to create the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) and the Network of Civil Society Organisation Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour (NACTAL), Tunji-Ojo wants all hands to be on deck to perpetuate Bemore for its utilitarian essence.
I share the sentiment that Bemore is worth preserving; every new batch of Bemore breaks new grounds. The last batch, of the fourth edition, has been particularly impressive. Barely two weeks after the 2021 Bootcamp, Yusuf Boluwatife Chelsea,14, of the SDG9, from Akure, Oyindamola Eniola, of the SDG13; Olatunji Desola of SDG 3 and Olatunji Anu of SDG 4, both from Ilaje Local Government Area; Amuni Amuwa Victoria SDG 16/17 from Ilaje Local Government; and Roqeebat Otun from SDG2, have all successful installed Solar Home System in the various homes.
What, in 2017, poked the mind of Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu in favour of the Bemore project must be golden. This is because its birth has proven to be greatly rewarding. We shall judge Betty, but by the quality of her thoughts and the profundity of her strides. Lucky Orimisan Aiyedatiwa, of the silver beard family, who now deputises governor Akeredolu, has already given his own judgement. He adjudged the First Lady’s thoughts as ‘always good for the state’.
Meanwhile, beyond Lucky’s letters, the writer, under the cover ‘Bemore isn’t Betty’s Business, it’s Ours’, had forewarned on the dangers of taking the Bemore project for one of those mundane businesses. No, it’s a different dawn with Bemore. And the evidences reside as credence in the public domain, in their heaps, as a gamut of gains.
•••Debo Akinbami, Special Assistant to the Governor of Ondo State on New Media & Archives, writes from the Office of the First Lady.