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Women You Should Know: Maryam Babangida

Credited with the creation of the office of the first lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Maryam Babangida was regarded as one of the most glamorous Wife’s of the Head of State that Nigeria has had so far; Beautiful, Elegant and a contemporary version of a vintage Queen; expressed by her attainment of a celebrity status, a beauty Icon, a fashionista and a woman of style.[1]

Birth and Early Life

Maryam was born on November 1, 1948 at Asaba, Delta state of Nigeria to the family of Asabe Halima and Leonard Nwanonye Okogwu. Her mum was from the present day Niger state in Nigeria while her Father was a Delta-Igbo man. For her early education, she started her primary education in Asaba, Her family moved to the north and that enabled her to attend Queen Amina College Kaduna between the years of 1961 to 1964 and then the Federal Training Centre Kaduna from 1965 to 1966. She further attended La Salle University Illinois Chicago, USA from 1974 to 1975. She also eventually earned a certificate in Computer science from the NCR institute in Lagos.[2]

Maryam: from ‘Another Girl’ to ‘First Lady’

Shortly before her 21st birthday, Maryam married then Major Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on the 6th September 1969, a marriage that was blessed with four children namely; Mohammed, Aminu, Aisha and Halima. She had the normal hobbies of gardening, interior decorations, reading amongst other sporting and philanthropic activities. Maryam’s husband became the Chief of Army Staff in 1983 and that privileged her with the opportunity to become the President of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA), an office she actively engaged with, leading to the establishment of schools, clinics, women training centres, child day care centres etc.

The transition to first lady came when her husband became the head of state in 1985. As first lady, Maryam turned the title of first lady from a ceremonial title to an opportunity to champion the causes for the betterment of women’s lives especially in the rural areas. She founded the ‘Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987, which launched many co-operatives, cottage industries, farms, gardens, shops and markets, women centres and social welfare programs.

Maryam: A Lady that Lived; A Lady that Led

Maryam had an iconic status even amongst women, one journalist had this to say about her; “She was like a Roman Empress on a throne, regal and resplendent in a stone-studded flowing outfit that defied description…”, and of couse, this description went beyond just her physical outlook. Considering the times in which she lived, Maryam had a heart that was of a staggering size, she championed women causes vigorously and reached out to first ladies of other African countries, emphasizing the effective roles they can play in improving the lives of their people. The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women’s Development was established in 1993 for research, training and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation. Summarily, people looked up to Maryam as a role model, and Maryam ensured that she was a model in that role, they kept their eyes on her; she kept their eyes on her; possessing an appeal that lasted long after her husband’s regime as head of state.

Maryam won several awards including the Harlem Women’s Committee/New Future Foundation Incorporated Award, and the International Recognition Award at New York in 1988. She also published a book; Home Front: Nigerian Army Officers and their Wives, which was published in 1988.

Maryam had a purpose driven life; especially as it relates to the enhancement of the lives of the rural women. She was the example of what a first lady should be like, a trailblazer in such an office; commanding attention from both local and international levels to the plights and challenges of the Nigerian and African woman at large. She gave the outstanding definition of what the office of the first lady should be as, a potent platform to engineer socio-cultural and political change.[3]

Maryam Babangida: The Exit of an Exemplary Woman

It is reported that Maryam Babangida died in her hospital bed at the University of California (UCLA), Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles over complications arising from terminal ovarian cancer.[4] She passed on at the age of 61years. The times of Nigeria reported on her death, that she was ‘considered to be one of the greatest women in Africa today’.[5]

[1] Ademola Babalola, 28 December, 2009. Maryam’s life and times of Beauty, Glamour and… Cancer. accessed 07/01/2019

[2] Hhtp:// Accessed 07/01/2019

[3] accessed 07/01/2019

[4] Zhang Xiang, 28th December 2009, Former Nigerian First Lady Dies in U.S. Xinhua News Agency, accessed 07/01/2019

[5] Maryam’s Death: General Babangida’s Statement, accessed07/01/2019

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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