Stella’s body arrives • I planned to be with her in Spain –Obasanjo
The passing on of an Amazon; Stella Obasanjo: 1945-2005
By Jide Ajani, Bolade Omonijo, Paul Odili, Ogbonna Amadi&Charles Ozoemena
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
How she touched children.
In 1999, few months after her husband Chief Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office, as the civilian President of Nigeria, the first lady, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo established the Child Care Trust (CCT) Foundation which sought to bring succor to the physically challenged children.
A mother herself, Mrs. Obasanjo worked very hard to ensure that joy, smiles and sunshine was brought into the life of these children she took off the streets.
And at about that time, the problem of diagnosing children with holes in the heart was becoming embarrassing as suspected cases were often referred in error, to specialist hospitals abroad because of the non availability of diagnostic equipment.
Worried and sad at the development, Mrs. Obasanjo moved fast and did what every right thinking mother would do - welcome the idea of a childhood friend, Ben Murray-Bruce to host Miss World 1999, Miss Yukta Mookhey, who was on a one-day working visit to Nigeria.
Determined to explore to the full the presence of the beauty queen, Mrs. Obasanjo's CCT in conjunction with Silverbird and the Miss World Organisations, held a fund-raising ceremony where over N20million was raised in one clean sweep.
The best ever recollection of her early life was presented by the Murray-Bruces'
The relationship between the Murray-Bruce and the Abebe family dates beck to 1929 because their fathers worked together at UAC.
In the words of Michael Murray-Bruce, “we grew up as children together. Stella, I recalled was a very nice person and very kind indeed. She went to the same college, the St Theresa in Ibadan with sister Philomena and she took care of her since she was very small.
“We partied together as family and Stella never hesitated to identify with family even when she became the first lady.”
A few months after that remarkable feat, she was to commission the first ever Endo-Cardiograph machine at the University College Hospital in Ibadan. The machine was manufactured by an Israeli firm and was bought for over N17million.
While speaking at the commissioning, Stella Obasanjo said the investment in a heart surgery machine was to “give a new lease of life to our children who have heart related problems. The machine was bought with funds realised during, Miss World's visit to Nigeria.”
During the commissioning, the first lady told the Hospital staff that, “when we launched the Child Care Trust in May 2000, we pledged to cater for the less privileged. The machine we are commissioning, is a product of our pledge.”
Born in 1945, Stella Obasanjo loved life and her interest in the CCT was a manifestation of her desire to assist in the sustenance of life
At that ceremony, she implored the hospital to use the machine very well while assuring that the Federal Ministry of health would henceforth be responsible for the maintenance of the machine.
The occasion also had in attendance the Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Arie Adidor who poured encomiums on the first lady and pledged his country's continued support and collaboration to save the life of the Nigerian child.
Called Mama by both staff, business associates and political allies, Mrs. Obasanjo received several awards which included The Achievement Award from Nigerians in the Diaspora, Woman of the Year from the women of the year organisation, while she also bagged chieftancy titles like Obongawan of Calabar and Yeye Oranmiyan of Ife.
She also played a prominent role during the botched Miss World contest that never held in Nigeria and was also instrumental to the success story of the event in London.
With a Chairman of UAC, Dr. Abebe as a father, and belonging to the elitist class, she had everything that she needed. But it was her love for life that made her care for the less privileged, believing that touching the lives of other people should be imperative in sustaining humanhood. Reflecting on her death, her childhood friend, Ben Murray-Bruce, former DG NTA, told Vanguard that the news of Mrs. Obasanjo's death got to me in South Africa and I was devastated.
As soon as I got the news, I put a call to Mr. President, but was told by Bayo one of his sons that Baba was not available to take any calls. I also tried to reach the first lady on her cell phone that also failed.
Right now all I call tell you is, I'm in great pains. I have just lost a great friend.
For Michael Murray-Bruce, “I heard the news when my brother Roy called me in the church. Moments after mass I broke the news to the Reverend father who was a school mate at St Gregory college. The news came to me as a rude shock to put it mildly.
“She was part of the Silverbird anniversary and played a key role in ensuring that event was very successful.
“Her presence at the ceremony further confirmed her devotion to a family tie that lasted the test of time.
We have lost a member of the family and a true friend. The country has lost a gem by Stella's death.”
Her last public outing
The last public function attended by the late Obasanjo before her death early hours of Sunday was her decoration as Patroness of the Gateway Games 2006 by the Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel on Thursday 6th October 2005 at the State House banquet hall Abuja. Her decoration and investiture was ahead of the 15th biennial sports fiesta scheduled to hold in Ogun State next year. And she pledged her total commitment to the success of the sports festival. The Ogun Governor along with his wife, Funke and the wives of the governors of Kwara and Oyo states, decorated Mrs. Obasanjo with a medal and certificate of investiture as well as the special jacket made for the games. While thanking the governor and his team of organisers for considering her worthy of being the patroness of the Games she regretted her inability to contribute financially to the Games.
“As you are all aware, my office is not publicly funded. That means that I am in no position to contribute financially towards the Games. However, I pledge to give my strong moral support to make 'Gateway Games 2006' a great success”, she said.
On Monday 17th of October Mrs Obasanjo left for Spain where she underwent a surgery but never returned to be part of the Gateway games she vowed to support.
BIRTH AND EARLY EDUCATION
Her Excellency, Chief (Mrs.) Stella OBASANJO, First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was born in Warri, Delta State, on 14th November, 1945. She is the first of seven children born to the distinguished industrialist and administrator, Dr. Christopher Abebe and Mrs. Theresa Abebe. Dr. Abebe is the first indigenous chairman of UAC Plc. Chief (Mrs.) Stella OBASANJO attended Our Lady of Apostles Primary School, Yaba, Lagos, from 1955 to 1959. In 1960, she enrolled into St. Theresa's College, Ibadan, and passed the West African School Certificate in 1964. She completed her Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 1966, also at St. Theresa's College. With her Higher School Certificate in the bag, she proceeded to the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, where she read English from 1967 to 1969. She could not complete her course at the University of Ife, due to a new and irresistible love for Insurance Studies. Consequently, she went to the United Kingdom to study and discover the challenging world of Insurance from 1970 to 1974.
Never one to pass on an opportunity to acquire knowledge, Chief (Mrs.) Stella OBASANJO also trained as a Confidential Secretary at Pitman's College, London, in 1976.
LIFE AS A WIFE AND MOTHER:
In 1976, the young Stella married General Olusegun OBASANJO, as he was then. As a caring, loving and supportive wife, she was able to seize the moment and quickly provided the pivot for her husband's widely--acclaimed success as military Head of State.
By the time she became First Lady in May 1999, during Chief Olusegun OBASANJO's triumphant return as civilian President, Chief (Mrs.) OBASANJO had already proven herself as an amazon and a trusted and loyal supporter of her husband. There is a sense in which it could be said, therefore, that her marriage has, somehow, defined and circumscribed for her, a career of mothering for the whole nation.
FOCUS AND VISION
Since becoming the First Lady, Chief (Mrs.) OBASANJO has never lost any opportunity to advocate and to promote the health and well-being of children, especially challenged children. The First Lady's guiding philosophy has always been that children are a special gift from God, and they need to be appreciated and loved, no matter their physical or mental circumstances. The CHILD CARE TRUST, a private, non- profit, non, governmental organisation, which she founded, is the vehicle through which she has sought to address the needs of underprivileged and challenged children in Nigeria.
The CHILD CARE TRUST is founded on the premise that when the necessary care and support are given to disabled children, such lifeline could guarantee for them a happy and productive adult life. This principle derives from her conviction that there is ability in disability, especially when the educational, healthcare and emotional needs of challenged children are addressed early in their lives.
The CHILD CARE TRUST operates from a beautiful complex in Bwari, on the outskirts of Abuja, and has facilities for classrooms, pre-school and day care services for working mothers. The centre also offers vocational training schemes for children and women from less privileged backgrounds. A specialist clinic that provides primary health care services to children and women is also part of the set...up in this modern complex. The clinic also offers occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy.
The First Lady has also thrown her considerable weight behind issues of women empowerment, both in the economic and political spheres. On both scores, she has recorded notable victories, as evidenced by the growing representation of women' in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria. On the economic front, her efforts have been, but not limited to, giving encouragement to wives of State Governors to develop and run people... centred projects in their various states.
To her credit, many of the wives have taken up this challenge and are vigorously running viable and self...sustaining programmes and schemes that address the needs of the less...privileged and the economically...excluded in the society. To push through her vision, Chief (Mrs.) OBASANJO has traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, using every opportunity to challenge women and women organisations to rise above their social, economic and political circumstances and to aim to reach for the skies.