By Tunde Opeseitan
I love the letter ‘C’ for a number of reasons. First, it serves as the first letter of the word Claudius, one of the names of my beloved father, late Chief Claudius Taiwo Opeseitan, former Risa of Odogbo-Ijesha in Atakunmosa East Local Government Area of Osun State. He was a compassionate man!
The letter also begins a long list of good words and these include comportment, competence, comprehensiveness, capacity, commitment, compassion, collaboration, and comprehension, among others.
The part I profoundly appreciate about the letter is that it conspicuously features in the cliché ‘cool, calm and collected.’ And this perfectly fits into the person of Dr. (Mrs.) Claudiana Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, the First Lady of Lagos State, who by the grace of God, clocks 55 today, January 8, 2022.
In the last three years, I have closely followed up on the activities of the First Lady and I make bold to say that they have been clear, copious, and conspicuous display of competence, capacity, commitment, and compassionate disposition to the welfare and wellbeing of residents, especially women and girls and the lower rungs of the society.
As a thoroughbred medical practitioner with about three decades of outstanding practice and intimidating academic qualifications, Dr. Claudiana has brought her impressively rich experience and influence to bear to support the quest of the visionary and purposeful administration of Mr. Governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu to reposition the health sector for efficient service delivery, and in other key sectors including environment, education, stamping out the scourge of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, boy child initiative, senior citizens welfare, free medical mission, and financial assistance to the elderly, women, youths, the physically challenged, among others.
In the last year, Dr. Claudiana initiated some novel programs and also brilliantly displayed acts of ingenuity in expanding and improving on the initiatives of the Office of the First Lady of Lagos State.
For instance, in terms of youth empowerment, the First Lady put together the maiden Lagos Inter-Youth Collaboration where all the relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of the State Government and the Federal Government as well as the private sector engaged with over 1,000 youths drawn from 100 groups both from the formal and informal sectors as well as paramilitary institutions in the state.
The program, held at the LTV Blue Roof, Agidingbi, Ikeja, was with the theme: “Youths and Moral Values in an Evolving Society: Challenges and Recommendations,” and it afforded the MDAs the opportunity to reel out available opportunities in critical sectors that the youths can maximize.
Among others, the core objectives of the program include encouraging youth participation in Nation-building, creating awareness on civic rights and responsibilities, providing access to opportunities profitable for youths, enlightenment of the youths about the activities of the state government, and re-orientation.
At the program, key government MDAs in Lagos State including Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Finance, Wealth Creation and Employment, Youth and Social Development, Science and Technology, Health Management Agency, and Office of Sustainable Development Goals and Investment were on hand to educate participants on various initiatives of government including bursaries and scholarship opportunities, low-interest loan packages of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, Technology and innovation funds, among others.
Representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were equally on the ground to enlighten participants on how to participate in the voting process, while various prizes including laptops, phones, cash rewards, and other gift items were won through raffle draws personally supervised by Mr. Governor and the First Lady.
In her usual characteristics of being a trailblazer, the First Lady, in the period under review, also came up with the novel Boy Child Initiative aimed at playing up the welfare, well-being, and interests of the boy child and most importantly ensuring that boys are not left behind in the scheme of affairs.
Tagged: “The 21st Century Boy Child: Creating a Vision for Transformation,” the objectives of the initiative included raising awareness on the rights and welfare of the boy child, promoting educational opportunities to male children, especially the indigent, facilitating the rehabilitation of the vulnerable boy child through referrals; and to build a new generation of transformed male children who will contribute positively to the society.
From the objectives of the project, it was clear that the First Lady was already thinking ahead of issues of bullying and other forms of anti-social behaviors. Thankfully, the launch of the initiative was well-attended by students and teachers from educational districts across the state, as well as representatives of religious bodies, Non-Governmental Organizations, and boys from the informal sector.
Through the initiative, the plan is to put in place a structured program through which boys and parents would be thoroughly tutored on Security Matters, Mental Health, Media Literacy and Responsible Use of Social Media, Counseling, Parenting, Family Values, Civic Responsibility, Entrepreneurship, Career Path Finding, Self-Esteem, Personal Hygiene, and Etiquette, among others.
In terms of educational intervention, the First Lady sustained the Lagos Exams Support (LES) project which she initiated in 2020 with the aim of helping candidates of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) to pay outstanding school fees.
Specifically, the initiative is designed to support students especially in low-cost schools from the five administrative divisions of the state namely Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island, and Epe, with payment of outstanding fees that may prevent them from writing the Senior Secondary School WAEC examinations.
In 2021, 90 students benefited from the LES project which was an improvement on about 50 students that benefited in the maiden edition in 2020. For the First Lady, the Lagos Exams Support is a way to increase the quota of students who have successfully completed WASSCE or JSCE in order to attain the goal of free education till Secondary School, as well as ensure that the social capital in our dear state is not depleted bearing in mind that SSCE is the constitutional requirement for leadership in Nigeria.
As a follow-up on the initiative of Yaba Local Council Development Area (LCDA) to resuscitate and remodel Senator Oluremi Tinubu Model Nursery and Primary School, Yaba, formerly known as Reagan Baptist Memorial Primary School, Onike, Yaba, the First Lady donated 10 HP Desktop Computers, 10 Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems and 10 Computer Tables to the school to support the education of the pupils.
The donation is one out of many similar ones that have been done and also in the works in furtherance of the education pillar of the current administration’s THEMES Agenda.
Also, in introducing flair to the annual Spelling Bee Competition through which the One-Day Governor is produced, the First Lady sustained the tour of critical state assets which she introduced with the aim of giving the winners both in the secondary and primary school categories first-hand knowledge of the history behind the monuments.
The students were taken around the Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja; Lagos House, Marina; and the Presidential Lodge, Marina, known as the Parliament which was built during the British Colonial rule, after which they were hosted to a breakfast and courtesy visit where they were presented gifts by the First Lady to celebrate their academic excellence.
In furtherance of the environmental initiative of the Office of the First Lady in partnership with the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) and the Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs, the second, third, and fourth series of the Seminar on Market Sanitation, Security and Safety were held in 2021 for market men and women in Ikorodu Division, Ikeja Division and Badagry Division respectively.
Realizing the link and interconnectivity between the state of the environment and the health of residents, the Market Sanitation Seminar was birthed to put the welfare and wellbeing of market men and women and indeed the entire state on the front burner.
Another area where the First Lady continues to demonstrate grace and compassion is in terms of financial assistance to the needy residents who are selected solely based on merit and without tribalism or favoritism. Through this initiative, hundreds of residents are reached out to almost every other week including small-scale businesses, those who require start-up funds for small businesses, those with medical conditions that require help, those who require support to pay school fees, house rents, and other important fees.
As we speak, women of Lagos are still basking in the euphoria of the success recorded in the 2021 edition of the annual National Women Conference (NWC) of COWLSO. Prior to the conference proper, the First Lady personally led an awareness walk against domestic violence as part of the pre-conference activities, while a number of NGOs and Motherless Homes taking care of children with special needs and indigent children were visited by representatives of the First Lady with necessary food and gift items in Imota, Ikorodu; Magodo, Ikeja; Makoko, Ebutte-Metta; and Ijora-Badia in Apapa.
Between 70 and 80 senior members of the Committee were visited with cash and other gift items under the COWLSO Senior Citizens Project designed to ensure that senior citizens are not left behind in the scheme of affairs, while a national prayer was also organized for God’s intervention in terms of security, progress, and development of the state and country.
During the conference, several topics, aside from the main theme of “Awake,” were thoroughly dissected to equip participants with the relevant information to engender the consciousness of being awake to their responsibilities as mothers of the land.
Aside from the inspirational awards to eminent personalities and the novel inspirational youth award bestowed on Super Falcons captain, Asisat Oshoala at the conference, several thrilling prizes were won by both physical and virtual lucky participants, including N25million worth 3-bedroom apartment at Sangotedo, Lekki won by a civil servant attached to the Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mrs. Olasunbo Bankole; brand new GAC GS3 SUV won by a shop owner in Surulere, Mrs. Adetoro Ojora-Akintola; and a return ticket to London won by the Director of Administration and Human Resources, Lagos State Agricultural Development Authority, Mrs. Amodu Mary-Ann Adetoro.
On account of the fact that the return ticket was won by Adetoro on her wedding anniversary, Governor Sanwo-Olu, who was in attendance at the event, announced another return ticket to London for Adetoro’s husband, to pave the way for the couple to travel together to celebrate their anniversary.
Already, the First Lady has unequivocally displayed her passion and commitment to work towards stamping out all forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the state. As such, it was not a surprise that the annual global 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls were celebrated in a special way in the state by the First Lady.
First, Dr. Claudiana held the 3rd Grassroots Community Sensitization Programme for Political Groups and Non-Governmental Organizations through which SGBV issues were thoroughly explained to the participants. She had earlier organized seminars for NGOs and Civil Society Organizations working in the communities across the state where she urged them to support the efforts of the government to drastically reduce the menace of rape, defilement, child abuse, among others.
In line with the global celebration, the First Lady also participated actively in the Second Annual Conference of the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum (NGWF) held in Abuja where issues around sustaining action on the state of emergency against SGBV were discussed.
It must be noted that through the effort of the NGWF, more states have domesticated women and children protective laws, established more Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and Shelters, as well as provided Gender-Based Violence survivors with funds and other critical support to surmount the challenges associated with abuse.
Upon return from Abuja, the First Lady attended an interfaith parley of religious leaders and traditional rulers where she equally preached the gospel against SGBV and gave an expert opinion on how to preserve evidence against sexual predators in the event of abuse.
For instance, the First Lady told the gathering that if a child is defiled, the first thing is not to bathe for the victim, douche, or change clothes because doing so would destroy the evidence. Rather, all these should be preserved within the first few hours, while the survivor is taken for medical attention.
She also took her advocacy to some schools namely Dolphin Senior and Junior High School, Tapa; and Aje Comprehensive Senior and Junior High School, Sabo-Yaba, where special sessions were facilitated courtesy of the First Lady by subject-matter experts for the students to engender their thorough understanding of SGBV, including the provisions of the law and what to do to avoid falling victim.
In all, over 2200 students were reached out to, while plans were perfected to set up a Sick Bay at the Dolphin Junior High School as requested and as part of efforts to contribute to the welfare of the students of the affected schools. She also donated some educational equipment to the schools including laptops, industrial cooking gas, and materials on SGBV.
Other strategic institutions visited by the First Lady included the Lagos State Judiciary, State Police Command, some NGOs, and State Headquarters of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) where she sensitized the leadership and members of transport workers on the need to join the fight against SGBV.
In addition to the three utility vehicles she facilitated to be presented to critical agencies to support the fight against SGBV, she also presented another six vehicles to engender prompt, efficient and effective response to the menace of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse and associated crimes.
Thankfully, the activities of the First Lady have not gone unnoticed. As a matter of fact, they have earned her the deserved recognition and awards. Recently at the Annual Commendation & Awards Night of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team now Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency, the First Lady bagged a special award in recognition of the advocacy and initiatives against SGBV.
Among others, notable recognitions for the First Lady were the historic naming of two primary health care centres in Lagos Island East Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and Somolu Local Government after Dr. (Mrs.) Claudiana Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu in appreciation of her various initiatives in the health sector to support the Health and Environment pillar of the THEMES Agenda.
Just some days ago, on January 1, 2022, the First Lady toured three health facilities namely the Harvey Road General Hospital, Yaba; Onikan General Hospital, Lagos Island; and Lagos Island Maternity Hospital to receive and celebrate the first babies of the year.
In 2021, she visited General Hospitals in Mushin, Alimosho, Orile-Agege, and the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), while in 2020; the First Lady visited General Hospitals in Ijede, Agbowa, Ketu-Ejirin, and Lagos Island Maternity Hospital, thereby expanding the initiative to facilities that had never benefited from it in line with the all-inclusiveness mantra of the present administration.
In a recent meeting with representatives of Procter & Gamble Nigeria Limited, it also emerged that the First Lady collaborated with the firm and the Office of Lagos State Sustainable Development Goals and Investment to reach out to health facilities, religious bodies, NGOs, and various rural and peri-urban communities with the distribution of over 500,000 diapers as part of efforts to ramp up intervention on gender equality, promotion of menstrual health hygiene and attainment of SDGs with a special focus on the welfare of women and children.
The list of the various impactful interventions and initiatives of Dr. (Mrs.) Claudiana Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu is exhaustive as they cut across all sectors and sections of the state and humanity in general.
Today, as she turns 55, I celebrate the grace of God upon the life of this rare gem, quintessential administrator and compassionate First Lady of Lagos State, and wish her many more years of amazing service to the people.
Happy birthday, Ma!
Opeseitan is a Lagos-based Journalist