Elegant, stylish and soft-spoken, but bold and super active are perhaps some of the qualities to describe Arabirin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, wife of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. Commonly addressed as Mama Fowoso, Mama Brecam, Digital Mama-worldwide among other pet names, Arabirin Betty believes this is the era of the women folk who are resourceful, focused and determined. In this chat with OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI, she said her husband’s government marks a new era mostly for Ondo women
You are a very active person and able to relate with ease especially with the rural people. What is the secret behind this?
I want to attribute that to my involvement with breast cancer advocacy. I founded an organisation 21 years ago and that was after my experience with breast cancer. I thought I could use my experience to educate others, having survived the disease and I thought why not? Why won’t other women survive the disease? And the reason most of them were unable to survive it was lack of information and if you don’t get the word out for the people to know what you did to make it, there is no way others would survive. Majority of the people would tell you they have never come across somebody who has the survived breast cancer, and that is because all around them are people who died due to the disease. In recognition of that, I decided to take it up as a cross to try as much as I can to educate others. If you are aware that breast cancer does not discriminate, it affects everyone, there is no way you will limit your effort and information dissemination to probably people within your socio-economic status, you have to reach out to everyone, so that is the secret. By the time I got involved in the advocacy, I realised that I have to reach everyone regardless of who you are, regardless of where you live, I think that is the secret. So by coming in to this office, I used the same approach, also dealing with women in the rural area, you could see how I was shaking their hands, and the ones that didn’t get the placement of hands or fingers, I demonstrated to them. I have always had that interaction for a long time, I am not just learning about how to reach people. Basically, I can attribute the secret to that.
You survived breast cancer, some are not that lucky because they don’t survive a year of chemotherapy. How did you survive that and 21 years after, you are still very much healthy?
First of all, we need to understand the Biology of the disease. We may not necessarily say what causes breast cancer because we don’t know, yet except in few cases where you can really trace it to genetic causes. In that case, it is something that runs in the family, hence there is no way you can help it. It has been identified among certain group of Jewish women. Research had gone for a very long time and they noticed that their own is linked to a certain damaged chromosome. So, it runs, just like in a family where you have an albino, even when the thing is suppressed, the albinism will just come up in other generation. As albinism is recessive, so also is breast cancer recessive especially in the Ashkenazi Jewish tribe. Those ones have been able to subject themselves to research and they have now traced it. So you see that people from that axis are well aware and are alert, but you can’t say that of our people here. Our people still believes it is a spiritual attack and all the rest of it. That is why, it the education about it has to be intensified, to do away with all those misconceptions about it and that is why, our women when they have this painless lump or any discharge that is not painful, they ascribe it to all sort of things, supernatural powers, spiritual attack more reason our women are dying, largely due to ignorance. So it is one of the mandate for anyone who is a breast cancer association of Nigeria member (BRACAM), to see to creating the awareness. We have an organization that recruit membership.
Is the membership open only to survivors alone?
They don’t have to be cancer survivors, any women that feels that she can be part of the process in educating other women, membership is N5500, renewable annually. Gradually, people are showing interest because I try to emphasize that you cannot sit on the fence and be looking, you have to be a part of the system, you have to be part of the advocacy process. Here our people will just stay and be looking, others will be doing the work. But in other countries, it is their women that changed policies, making sure that their women did not die needlessly due to ignorance, making sure that state governments, federal government, they vote money into advocacy, they vote money for infrastructural development in breast health care. Let me just mention that it could be cancer care or anything, most times you need people to push government to do things. You do not expect things to drop on your laps. Not even in developed countries like America, women too can work the congress, I work on the halls of the congress to push for fund appropriation in cancer research because they are the ones doing the work, we are just consumers of research outcome, we do nothing.
Recently, we are hearing that there is a cure for breast cancer, how true is that?
Well I can say I’ve beaten it. Yeah, you can, why not. If you’ve survived it more than 20 years and you go for your check and you are declared free and safe, then you can say you’ve beaten it. But the point is that, we cannot say that until every woman suffering from breast cancer can also be cured or can also be said to cured. Because you find out that breast cancer is not even one single disease you find out that the type that affected me may not be the type that affected the other person. That is why this education is very important. We need to educate our women to understand it properly. Sometimes they are busy doing with some concoction, Chinese herbal thing that is going on, they have forgotten that breast cancer could present as a lump breast cancer can also present as a discharge they are not the same. There are some called inflammatory breast cancer, it comes with a red patch on your breast, on your skin it is a sign, it is different, it is not lump. It is a sign.
Breast cancer comes in different forms, not just with lumps. Discharge is a sign, redness of your skin can also be a sign and each is treated differently. That is why research continues; it never ends. We should all, journalists inclusive, be part of the awareness, we should be educated about this thing by reading materials on it.
We understand that you are very busy person and you are very active going around, what is the common ground like at the home front?
We are busy people indeed, we juggle things and that has kept us all these years but we understand ourselves really. From outset, we agreed to give each other his or her own space; it is as simple as that. My husband and I are busy people but we know how we jungle things even with our busy schedule, we have the ability to communicate with one another. He knows what I want; I also know what he wants. I want to believe strongly too that there are some women who are their own person, with that equivocation. I believe that I am my own person and my husband at the outset realized that, and he gave me that space. That is why my marriage has worked. People have asked how you people do it. So for every modern man, you have a role to play. I emphasise MAN because this is a patriarchal society where it has to be a man. And you and I know that it is hell No, it’s not true, they have a role to play. I keep telling the women in the village that ‘you do not need to have a PhD to make a difference in your society.’ Then you need to be economically empowered. If a woman cannot bring in a kobo to the family, she is nothing; she is a foot mat. So like I said, he realised that I needed my space and that is what would make me happy, for this marriage to work and it has worked.
Do you cook for your husband?
Well, when you talk about cooking for my husband, it is one of those things that the traditional society thinks is what a woman does that gets her the love of her man. My dear, this 21st century and I’m here with you, so answer the question. The important thing is that he feeds well and we are both even watching our weights. Every morning, we drink bitter leaf water to cleanse, and you are asking me who cooks. We have left there, my dear.
There is a trend among women, if you look at it, women are becoming economically more empowered than men and that is leading to violence. Do you agree with me?
Yes. That is why I advise women that we have to take a deep breath and look at how we raise our sons. I have two sons , my last baby is getting married in a couple of weeks but then my first son’s wife is a medical doctor, this one that is getting married, she just got her PhD. They are career women and I am a career woman. And I believe that marriage is a shared responsibility.
So far, concerning FOWOSO and other projects, how far has is it impacted on the women, particularly in the rural areas?
FOWOSO is a mega programme, the impact is amazing, there is no question about that. Even the opposition sees it, agrees with it and on the media saying something so.
FOWOSO means Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials. It is a programme that stands for and create equal opportunity for women of the state so as to prepare them to take charge when called upon. A programme set up to address the low representation of women in position of real authority and decision-making. Women’s roles had grown to the point where it is a loss to the society to segregate them from economic activity and decision-making processes. I am very optimistic that FOWOSO would become a lasting legacy that would continue to carry out projects aimed at empowering, establishing and encouraging girls and women to be more in the society even after she leaves office.
We as women are capable of leaving lasting legacy in the annals of time of this great sunshine state and the nation at large. We believe that FOWOSO can be one of such legacies, not mine but of all women in this state. We believe that FOWOSO will be here for a long time, even after I leave, providing unity amongst women in the state to carry out projects aimed at empowering, establishing and encouraging girls and women to be more and do more.
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