Eighth National Assembly Senators’ Wives as Development Partner

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Not many people were aware the wives of the 8th National Assembly senators, led by Mrs. Toyin Saraki, played a major interventionist role in nation-building, writes Shola Oyeyipo

As an aside to the constitutional responsibilities of their husbands, wife of Nigerian lawmakers in the red chamber formed an association registered as Senator’s Wives’ Association of Nigeria (SEWAN).

It is a non-political, non-profit making and non-governmental association that has as its core mandate, establishment of good and friendly relationships among wives of Senators. They plan to work with the wives of the president and the vice-president of each dispensation to do charity works and they have done that notably well.

Just as her husband, Senator Bukola Saraki handed over power to the President of the 9th Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, Mrs. Toyin Saraki, who is the wife of the 13th President of the Senate and Chairman, Forum of Senators Spouses in the 8th Session of the National Assembly, handed over to Hajiya Ahmed Lawan, Wife of 14th President of the Senate.

Mrs. Margery Okadigbo, Mrs. Felicia Wabara, Mrs. Helen David Mark held the position at various times, but it is right to say that the body came to major national limelight under Mrs. Saraki.

In her goodwill message, at the event to inaugurate the 9th Senator’s Wife Forum, which took place on June 18, 2019, Mrs. Saraki, who acknowledged the support she got from her colleagues and all their social and charitable activities embarked upon between 2015 and 2019, was elated that just as the 8th Senate ranks as the most productive in Nigeria to date, having passed 319 laws, her group also made remarkable progress.

She said: “As spouses, the 8th session of the friendly society, the Forum of Senators Wives, established in 1999, since 2015 expanded its focus beyond social activities to community interventions of significant social development impact, ranging from prisons welfare and rehabilitation interventions at Suleja Prisons on December 13, 2016, to maternal and child health interventions at Garki General Hospital, to collaborative engagements with leading global development agencies and the international diplomatic community towards Gender Opportunity Advocacy and dialogue in support of the Gender Equality and Opportunity Bill of 2016, to highlighting the Made In Nigeria and Food Security goals through agricultural advocacy.

“Additionally, the 8th forum provided significant financial and relief materials donations towards the needs of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria’s North East Region, in support of the Get Involved and Future Assured Programmes of Her Excellency, the Wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari’s Aisha Buhari Foundation, at IDP Camps in Adamawa States on November 29, 2016 and Borno State on December 23, 2015.

“As Wife of Senate President, I additionally and personally provided Endowment Scholarship Prizes to two merit worthy best female graduating students of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies during NILDS/UNIBEN Postgraduate programme Convocation and Award Ceremony on October 22, 2018, selected by that respected institutions management board, on behalf of the Forum of Senators Wives – a historical first in the annals of both the Senators Wives Forum and the NILDS respectively.”

The former Kwara State First Lady said: “In all our development-focused and social activities, we conducted ourselves with remarkable decency, dignity, accountability and reciprocal respect above and beyond political and party affiliations of our dear husbands, thus bringing a new and unique recognition to the Forum, at constituency zonal level, nationally, in the Africa region, and globally.”

Handing over to Mrs. Lawan, Saraki noted that: “I am thus delighted to congratulate the wife of the President of the Senate, 9th Session of the National Assembly, and all members of the 9th Forum of Senators Spouses, as you inaugurate the ninth edition of this friendly society, wishing all a bright and productive term of supportive spousal activities, and great success.”

Mrs. Saraki, a renowned global advocate of women’s empowerment, is also a staunch advocate of Every Woman Every Child effort of the UN Secretary General, the Girl Declaration, and the Girls Not Brides coalition.

Also, as the founder of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa; the Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM); the Newborn Champion for Save the Children, her position as the chairman of the forum simply came handy in further driving her passion.

Obviously, that passion repositioned the forum that has been in existence since the commencement of the fourth republic. The secretariat is however administered by an Executive Coordinator that is in appointive status.

By their rule, to be leader of the forum, your husband has to be the Senate President, and that really put the leadership capacity of those chairpersons to test and foundationally, it was established as a friendly society sustained by contributions from members.

Under Mrs. Saraki in the 8th assembly, the body carried out its activities through stakeholder engagements and advocacy. Notably, the leadership unveiled a new sustainable development oriented focus to guide its activities.

The forum is involved in wide variety of in-country welfare and humanitarian activities, including visits and welfare support for Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

In the first year of the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the forum, in working with United Nation Women and national stakeholders, organised far reaching consultative and advocacy sessions. Principally, they canvassed for a review of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO Bill).

Sponsored by former Ekiti State lawmaker, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, the GEO Bill was shut down in March 2016, when the female lawmaker presented it.

There were sustained advocacy by Senator’s wives to bring it back to floor of the Senate, but that was not to be till the expiration of Senate President Saraki’s tenure.

The Saraki-led Senators’ Wives Forum reached out to senators through their wives when the bill was thrown out. She also worked very closely with wife of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hajia Gimbia Yakubu Dogara. The group also generated interests from stakeholders. In fact, wives of Northern Senators spoke in favour of the passage of the bill.

Mrs. Saraki obviously saw a chance to use the platform effectively for positively influencing the lawmakers to consider some people-oriented piece of legislations.

Defending the GEO, she said: “The growth of our local communities depends on it if our people, especially our women and children must live lives where they are able to aspire, thrive and excel in their chosen endeavour. The task of nation building has a role for us.

Underscoring the importance of their collaboration as wives of lawmakers, Mrs. Saraki stated that “This is a moment fate thrust upon us and it is up to us to make it count. We will continue to lend ourselves and our time towards partnerships that will draw attention to pressing socio-economic issues across our beloved country.”

Who else are best positioned to influence the lawmakers if not their wives?In 2023, the achievements of the Mrs. Lawan Senator’s wives will also be brought to fore. But first, she has a challenge to catch up with the standards set by Mrs. Saraki and her team.