Recently, Children’s Day was marked throughout the world. In Kwara State, the wife of the governor and initiator of LEAH Foundation, Mrs. Omolewa Ahmed hosted some special children in Ilorin to celebrate the day. Thereafter, Omolewa shared her thoughts with journalists on the plight of the less privileged. Hammed Shittu was there
What have you done so far to enhance the wellbeing of children through your pet project, LEAH Foundation?
When we resumed in 2011, we generally organised children’s party but we didn’t celebrate with children of political office holders. It has been the norm of this office to take it to rural communities in the state. We take all those things our children are enjoying in the city right to their doorsteps. We go with bouncing castles, electric trains, fun-characters, just to show our love to them and to encourage them to aspire to be whatever they wanted to be and to live a better life than they did presently. That has been the norm. We’ve had series of programmes for the physically challenged in areas of empowerment, educational sponsorship, vocational training sponsorship and equipping with materials needed for their trade. We’ve done quite a bit, especially for adults. We try to take them off the street and empower them. We found out what they love doing and empower them to get a formal training and we equip them to be self-sustainable.
During the recent get-together for physically challenged and disabled school children to commemorate 2016 children’s day, some children showed their talents. How do you intend to develop their talents?
I was also wowed by what we all saw. I was also encouraged and blown away by the prowess of the children’s singing. We intend to tap into some of the professionals you saw there and develop their talents. We had done something like this in 2012 when we had our first edition of Reading Camp. We discovered some talents at the camp. When some children who could act did command performance of Sango for His Excellency, the governor, he couldn’t believe it was the children from public schools in Kwara State. So, with what happened there, we will be working with SA on Social Welfare because of his affiliation with Nollywood to tap the goodwill of some practitioners to develop the kids’ talents.
What is the status of the Child Rights Implementation Act?
I can’t put a number to how many children we have assisted. We’ve actually done quite a bit. Our acronym, LEAH is Life Empowered Anchors Hope, and our slogan is ‘Touch a Life Positively.’ We try to assist every one we come across, except if not what we can afford or there’s nothing we could do about such case and, which is in rare case. At least, we try, as much as possible, not to leave you the way we met you. We’ve empowered people with deep freezers, grinding machine, sowing machine; we set up people in shoe-making business for physically challenged since our assumption of office. On the issue of child abuse and child rights act, we are already working. We have a committee that will be inaugurated. It will be working on violence against persons, both male and female. We are already working with the Ministry of Social Welfare in that regard. We want to embark on massive advocacy and ultimately, we want to have a home for them, a sort of refuge where they can stay; like when a child is molested. Last year, we also produced a movie, titled, Delima, which was nominated in Ghana Movie Award in best shot film category. Still talking about ills of child abuse in our society, we want to do more. We want to do a lot of advocacy with community leaders, religious leaders. We’ll be rolling out very soon.
What have you been doing to involve other NGOs in the development of children?
We’ll be encouraging the government. There is so much we can do as an NGO, but I try to strike collaboration between private NGO that are into taking care of these children and I want them to be involved with ministries to be properly registered so that these children can have access to whatever is coming from government. We’ll be doing a lot of advocacy for them. We want government to give them more opportunity because the children, as we’ve seen, have great potentials in them.
What is your foundation doing to provide mobility aids to the physically challenged in the state?
Though, it’s the state government’s programmes but we will collaborate with the state Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to assist these physically challenged children so as to provide them with mobility equipment. I talked to the Commissioner for Women Affairs on it recently and said that there was a plan by the state government to equip them soon. But as a mother, I will lend a voice to see that the programme is carried out.
How do you see Kwara people?
How do I see Kwara people? Kwara is home. They are my people. You know, it’s not really about where you come from. It doesn’t matter the colour, tribe or religion. What matters is that you are a person. And that I can add value to you and you can add value to me. So, for me it’s not about just being Kwara. I see this office as a privilege, an assignment. I’m driven by the fact that I am accountable.
So, for me it’s not really about Kwara people but assignment of being a governor’s wife and the privilege God has given me to be sitting on this chair and to do the best as much as God will give me the ability to do so; that I give a good stewardship of this opportunity of being governor’s wife at this time.
What is your relationship with the wife of the senate president, Mrs. Toyin Saraki?
I call her Auntie Toyin. She’s my big sister. We share so much; much more beyond politics. She’s someone that I give a lot of respect and honour to and am always grateful to God for binging her to my life because she’s been a source of blessing to me. And I cannot forget the fact that when my husband was nominated, she took me through, like an orientation course, telling me her own experiences. Sometimes, I do some things and she reaches out to me, ‘Lewa, do you remember when we were driving to airport or so so place, and you said so so things. There are things she had said to me that had helped to shape my work and activities. One that has been outstanding to me is that the office of the wife of the governor is a call to responsibility and that it’s not a lifestyle; which is something I have held on to. So, she’s my big sister.
What’s your assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on women affairs so far?
Nigerian women were in support of PMB’s administration. They campaigned for him to win. The present Minister of Finance is a woman. He’s giving women the opportunity to express themselves. He brought Dr. Amina from United Nations. So, he has a lot of cerebral women in his cabinet. His wife has also been encouraging us and there have been a lot of collaborations even between the governors’ wives and her office during this era. We have a forum where we discuss our programmes, things we want to do and we encourage each other on activities that are going on in our respective states. This is something that has trickled down from the head. So, I think we’ve really tried so far.
After your stewardship, what would you like Kwara people to miss about you?
I will like to be missed as a woman who came and really made a difference.