Thursday 17 November 2022

Maryam Ndidi Babangida (nee. Okogwu)

Maryam Ndidi Babangida (nee. Okogwu) (1948-2009) was best known for her women empowerment program called Better Life for Rural Women during her time in office as Nigeria's First Lady (1985-1993). This program was also subversively known as "Rural Life for Better Women".

Maryam King was born in 1948 in Asaba (present-day Delta State), where she attended her primary education. Her parents were Hajiya Asabe Halima Mohammed from the present Niger State, a Hausa, and Leonard Nwanonye Okogwu from Asaba, an Igbo. She later moved north to Kaduna where she attended Queen Amina's College Kaduna for her Secondary education. She graduated as a secretary at the Federal Training Centre, Kaduna. Later she obtained a diploma in secretaryship from La Salle Extension University (Chicago, Illinois) and a Certificate in Computer Science from the NCR Institute in Lagos.

On 6 September 1969, shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Major Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. They had four children, boys Mohammed and Aminu, and two girls, Aisha and Halima. After her husband became Chief of Army Staff in 1983, Maryam Babangida became President of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA). She was active in this role, launching schools, clinics, women's training centres and child day care centers.

As First Lady of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a champion for women's rural development. She founded the Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987 which launched many co-operatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women’s centres and social welfare programs. The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women's Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation.

Maryam died aged 61 from ovarian cancer on 27 December 2009 in a Los Angeles, California hospital. On March 19th 2020, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa accompanied by Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal immortalised the memories of Maryam Babangida by commissioning the Maryam Babangida way in Delta state capital, Asaba.

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