By Tunde Opeseitan
Nothing more surely cultivates and embellishes a man than association with refined and virtuous women – William E. Gladstone
The above expression by Gladstone, a British statesman and liberal politician who served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, aptly explains how the 15th Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu has been able to achieve so much in life and positively impact humanity on account of his association with virtuous women starting with his amiable wife and quintessential First Lady of Lagos State, Dr. (Mrs.) Claudiana Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, who is today celebrating her birthday.
Indeed, the story and trajectory of Ibijoke who is the first Medical Practitioner to become the First Lady of Lagos State is that of exceptional combination of beauty and intellect. And more importantly, she has been passionately consistent with her abiding faith in the aphorism that the true essence of life is to make every effort for the world to be a better place.
Born on January 8, 1967 to the family of Paulinus Olusegun Carrena of Popoaguda, Brazilian descendant area of Lagos Island, Ibijoke holds Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S) from the prestigious University of Lagos, Akoka. She also has in her academic kitty a Post Graduate Diploma in Hospital and Health Management (PGDHM); Diploma in Anesthesia (DA); Masters of Public Health (MPH) and Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
A thoroughbred medical practitioner who represents the league of the brightest minds and pride of the profession, Ibijoke is an active member of Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), Lagos Anesthetic Association (LAA), Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN) and Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO) where she is currently serving as the Chairman.
Prior to becoming the First Lady, Ibijoke served Lagos State Government meritoriously for 25 years rising through the ranks to become the Chief Medical Director and Chief Executive Officer of Harvey Road Comprehensive Health Centre, Yaba; and later General Hospital, Somolu.
While taking the reins of leadership of COWLSO from the immediate past Chairman, Mrs Bolanle Ambode, Ibijoke declared emphatically and I quote: “I will do my best, God helping me, to move COWLSO to the next level.”
True to her words, Ibijoke, within a short period of time in the saddle, has carried on with commendable zestfulness, passion, courage and unwavering determination to promote the ideals of COWLSO which is a community-based gender organization established principally to complement the efforts of the Lagos State Government in bringing about exponential development and growth and generally improving the welfare of Lagosians.
COWLSO is a platform through which wives of the officials of the State Government promote child healthcare, empower women to discover their hidden treasures and protect the environment, among others.
In furtherance of the above, Ibijoke introduced a novel initiative of recognizing and appreciating the contributions of elders to the successes recorded by COWLSO through a program tagged ‘Senior Citizens’ Visit’. The essence of the visit is to basically appreciate senior citizens and to identify with them in whatever they are going through.
At the last count, from July 2019 when the initiative was birthed till date, a total of 42 senior citizens have been visited with gifts and other items. Apart from giving senior citizens a sense of belonging, the elders in turn have also offered insightful and useful counsel on how to deepen the ideals of COWLSO to positively impact humanity.
A passionate lover of women and children, the First Lady has also been a strong voice and a leading light in the advocacy against all forms of sexual abuse and domestic violence against women and children. For her, such bestial act must be stamped out of our society and she is relentlessly pursuing that with the desired vigor and candor.
Another area which the First Lady has not hidden her bias is that of health and environment. Interestingly, the second pillar of the developmental agenda of the present administration for greater Lagos otherwise known as T.H.E.M.E.S talks about Health and Environment. T.H.E.M.E.S is an acronym which encapsulates the vision of Lagos State for Traffic Management and Transportation; Health and Environment; Education and Technology; Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy; Entertainment and Tourism; as well as Security and Governance.
During the electioneering for her husband’s emergence, the First Lady actively participated in the Free Health Mission of the then Sanwo-Olu campaign train that traversed all nooks and crannies of the state, especially the grassroots and riverine communities. Not done with that upon assumption of office, she was also actively involved in the Lagos State Healthy Bee Project, a free health initiative carried out by the State Government in partnership with Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu/Kadri Obafemi Hamzat (BOSKOH) Health Care Mission International, an offspring of Sanwo Cares and Independent Campaign Group (ICG).
The program, which was designed to positively impact a critical mass of Lagos population through specialized medical services, achieved remarkable success and contributed significantly to the bid of the present administration to revamp, rejuvenate and reposition healthcare delivery in the State, especially in the area of assisting the less privileged members of the society.
Specifically, Pediatric Surgery, Pediatric Eye Surgery, Dental Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, and Adult Eye Surgery were carried out at General Hospitals in Lagos, Badagry, Onikan, Randle, Gbagada, Orile Agege, Ikorodu, Epe and Massey Children’s Hospital, with health screening done at Primary Healthcare Centers across the State including Ajara, Badagry; Akerele, Surulere; Iga-Iduganran, Lagos Island; Epe in Epe; Ikotun in Alimosho; Onigbogbo in Ikeja; and Ita-Elewa in IKorodu.
At the end of the exercise which lasted for a month, over 21,000 people received free health screening and treatment out of which 3,157 surgeries were carried out for residents.
Also, the First Lady was strongly involved in another medical mission carried out by the State Government in partnership with Benjamin Olowojebutu Foundation to mark the 100 days of Governor Sanwo-Olu’s impactful administration. Through that intervention, free surgeries were carried out for 150 residents suffering from Lipomas, Breast Lumps, Hernia and Fibroid, with additional Free Consultation and Free Dental Check at General Hospital, Ijede.
She has equally been visible in a number of health advocacy interventions, including the need for residents to key into the Lagos State Health Insurance Scheme, a game changer that will greatly facilitate the Universal Health Coverage plan of the State Government.
In the area of environment, the First Lady has also been at the vanguard of advocacy for residents, especially women to embrace the Blue Box Program of the Lagos State Government, among other initiatives to engender clean, healthier, livable and sustainable environment. The Blue Box Program, which is being implemented by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), is designed to encourage waste sorting, especially from source of generation.
Prior to hosting the 2019 National Women’s Conference of COWLSO which is one of the best in the history of the association, the First Lady participated in a number of pre-event activities where she announced some of the things the people should expect from COWLSO under her leadership.
First, she said concerted efforts would be geared towards medical assistance, financial assistance to students, especially through the ‘Adopt A Student Project,’ creating more awareness to women, building more youth centres, and a lot of health interventions, among others.
“In our tenure by the grace of God, we would be looking more at medical assistance and financial assistance to students. In this direction, there is a project called ‘Adopt A Student in UNILAG (University of Lagos) which we are going to embark on to assist our children as much as possible so that they can finish their education. We are going to combine efforts of what my predecessors have done and that includes creating more awareness and building more youth centres. A lot of health interventions would be taking place by the grace of God,” she said.
Just a day after making the declaration, the First Lady walked the talk during a special walk to create awareness for the COWLSO conference when she said that plans have been firmed up to launch an Endowment Fund to defray the cost of pediatric surgeries for needy babies of Ayinke House of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
Till date, many are still basking in the euphoria of the 2019 COWLSO Conference held from October 22 to 24 with the theme: “Unlearn, Learn and Relearn: 21st Century Women’s THEMES Approach/Perspectives. The conference recorded massive attendance of over 3,000 participants who went through three days of mind shifting trainings and brainstorming on how to equip women and position them to key into the emerging opportunities in Lagos State.
Participants benefited immensely from the life changing experiences, true life stories and case studies presented by thoroughbred professionals in various fields who facilitated the sessions at the conference. It was also on record that for the first time, two houses were won at the raffle draw held during the conference, among other mouth-watering prizes which include cars, cash rewards, return air tickets, deep freezers, cooking gas, television, washing machines and exquisite bed.
During the 2019 edition of the annual Lagos Women Run, the First Lady also broke Nigeria’s road race record as the first governor’s wife to finish an athletic road race. The First Lady not only flagged off the race as scheduled at the Tafawa Balewa Square, but also ran the whole course of the 10km race to the finish point at Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere.
Under her, the annual Children’s Party and Christmas Party were also held with remarkable improvement, in concert with relevant government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
In sustaining the annual first baby of the year celebration, the First Lady improved on the year 2020 edition with special visit for the first time to some general hospitals that have never benefited from the initiative since it started 18 years ago. These include General Hospital, Ijede; General Hospital, Agbowa; General Hospital, Ketu Ejirin and the regular beneficiary, Lagos Island Maternity Hospital. Exciting gifts including mum’s packs, baby essentials, cash rewards and other baby items were presented by the First Lady to the first babies and their mothers.
The ultimate definition of a good team player, the First Lady is always carrying all COWLSO members along in the activities of the association, especially the Deputy Chairman of COWLSO and wife of Deputy Governor, Mrs Oluremi Hamzat, who she always refer to as ‘my amiable sister.’ Obviously referring to the Governor and his deputy, Mr Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, the First Lady would always say that Lagos is fortunate to have two for the price of one at the moment.
As a matter of fact, the First Lady is the type that loves to give full support from behind the scene to the Governor. I have heard her say several times that “I want all the focus and attention to be on the Governor; I am not competing with him but complementing him to succeed.” That is loaded! It speaks volumes about the amazing quality of the First Lady. She also loves to encourage people to ‘walk the walk, talk the talk, and dance the dance,’ meaning that people must have time to work hard, make the necessary moves and position themselves to get the best out of life.
It is, therefore, not surprising when in his testimonial, Mr Governor has this to say about his wife: “I can attest to the Bible verse that says, He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord. You (Ibijoke) have not only been my wife, you have also been my prayer partner, my confidant, my number one supporter, my happy place, and most importantly, my peace. Ibijoke mi, your commitment of service to Lagosians continues to delight me because you are my pillar of support and epitome of love.”
As this remarkable jewel and inestimable diamond celebrates her 53rd birthday today, I can only join her numerous well wishers to congratulate her. I pray that may the good Lord profoundly bless her today and always with sound health, peace of mind that surpasses all understanding and the good things of life to continue to be a blessing to humanity.