History Of Maryam Babangida’s Pet Programme

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First ladyship has its origin in the United States of America. According to history, it originated in 1849 when president Zachary Taylor called Dolley Madison “first lady” at her funeral while reciting her eulogy, However, it was said to have gained wider recognition in 1877 when Mary C. Amees wrote an article in the New York city newspaper, the Independent, describing the inauguration of president Rutherford B. Hayes – she was quoted as having used the term to describe Lucy Webb Hayes. The term is now used all over the world to describe the wife of president or head of state. In Nigeria, apart from using it to designate the president wife, it is also used for wives of Governors and those of Local government chairman. Much was not heard of this term in Nigeria until the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) came to power in 19851.

Nigeria in recent years, has witnessed a number of programmes introduced by her first ladies, broadly aimed at improving the socio-economic situation and also making women contribute to the growth of the economy. Before the Babangida regime (1985 – 1993), no first lady’s presence was felt beyond the gates of the former state house – Dodan barracks. Ajoke Mohammed, wife of the Late General Murtala Muhammed became a publicly known figure only after her husband’s assassination. For General Olusegun Obasanjo and President Shehu Shagari, there were no publicly known first ladies although the two were undoubtedly family men. Safinatu Buhari was known to the public only briefly as she made a few outings and participated in a few public events.

Mrs. Maryam Babangida came with a new image of the first lady vocal, determined and fashioned conscious, she was an elegant woman that brought glamour and grace to the position of first lady and it significant, almost as a sort of government parastatal. She was born as Miss Maryam King on November 1st 1948 at Asaba in Delta State. Had her education at covenant primary school, queen Amina College in Kaduna, federal training centre Kaduna and La sale extension university in Chicago USA.2 She later got married to General Ibrahim Babangida in 1969 and had two sons and two daughters. Maryam Babangida was the president, Nigerian Army officers Association (NAOWA), she founded the BLPRW, she also lobbied key government decisions dealing with women issues. She was the recipient of many national and international awards, like the international recognition award with Mrs. Kenyatta and Winnie Mandela as past recipients of the award. Mrs. Maryam Babaginda died in December 2009 of Ovarian cancer.

Mrs. Maryam Babangida also brought with her another important aspect in governance recognizing that women played and still plays an important role in agricultural production, she introduced the better life programme for rural women meant to empower particularly rural women socially and economically, in order to enable them gain economic emancipation. The programme went in line with the drive for women empowerment in the world. This move created a new turn of events in first ladyship and the study of women in Nigeria. Nigerian women realized that their responsibility does not end in the kitchen and have come together to form associations such as National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Nigerian Army officers wives association (NAOWA) etc. with the aim of women development.3

The better life programme for rural women was a pathfinder for women all over Nigeria, it made subsequent first ladies decide to contribute their quota towards women development. After the better life program (BLP), came the family support programme, which aimed at addressing issues affecting the average Nigerian family. One of its goals, was to eliminate all forms of discrimination which degraded Nigerian family. One of its goals was to eliminate all forms of discrimination which degraded women as human beings (such as wife battering) and to support entrepreneurial development through greater participation by women in all spheres of the economy, particularly through improved access to credit facilities for commercial and other ventures she instantly become a rallying point for the women folk because many women and especially the rural poor, who never had such bountiful opportunities in the past, saw her as a source of hope and a symbol of emancipation in a men dominated polity.

Despite sitting on the crest of political power in Nigeria, Maryam Babangida remained modest in her approach and opened to constructive criticisms which endeared her to the Nigerian public. Women responded to her as a role model, and her appeal lasted long after her husband fell from power. Over a decade after her husband left office Mrs. Babangida attempted relaunching the better life programme but at this time on a continental level. The new project which was conceived sometime earlier started making news late in 2003 and was re-christened better life programme for Africa women. It was designed in such a way that it would accommodate wives of other African first ladies as members.4

This programme as well as subsequent pet projects by Nigerian first ladies lacked continuity after the first lady leaves office. Other pet programmes by first ladies includes family support program by Maryam Abacha wife of General Sani Abacha, Women’s Right Advancement Programm (WRAPA) by Justice Fati Abubakar the Wife of Abdusallami Abubakar, Child care Trust by Stella Obasanjo wife of General Olusegun Obasanjo .


The declaration of the decade for women by the United Nations in 1975 sparked off “women in development” activities all over the world. There had been no visible programmes to address the issues of the rural women folk until the better life programme was launched on September 1st, 1987 by the first lady of Nigeria at that time, Mrs. Maryam Babangida. It was born in the aftermath of the U.N. decade for women which ended in 1985 with an appraisal conference in Nairobi, Kenya. This conference brought together students, leaders policy makers, and activists from all across the African continent and beyond and resulted in a set of declarations and strategies that were to serve as a blueprint for gender equality programmes nationwide.

The better life program focused its attention on rural worm, most of whom were farmers and illiterates considering that agriculture was the main stay of the Nigerian economy.

The better life program has tried to close the gap between the male and female folks, it is no news that in terms of credit, rural women farmers are for the most part at a greater disadvantage in comparison to their male counterparts. Their plots of land are generally smaller, their incomes are generally used towards immediate family needs, and their access to inputs, capital and important forms of collateral are generally poor or non- existent. The reason for this goes back to how certain family systems are organized with men controlling almost all of the family income, with women seeing their family assets seized by the husband’s family upon his death, with gender disparities in educational achievement and level of skill in many parts of the country limiting the advancement of women and with men generally assuming for more administrative and managerial positions than women.


The research seeks to answer questions of what the importance  of pet projects to the Nigerian populace  particularly women in Jos, Plateau state, using Maryam Babangida’s pet project as a case study (BLP). The research also seeks to analyze, evaluate and identify transforming role played by better life program in the realization of national set goals and how it affected lives of women in Jos, Nigeria .


The aim of this study is to analyse the factors that motivated the establishement of the Better life program. The objectives are to;

  1. To investigate and historicise the activities of Maryam Babangida’s pet programme(BLP) in Jos from 1985-1993.
  2. To examine the achievements of the Better life Program among the women in Jos.
  3. To study the challenges that the Better life program faced in Jos.
  4. To identify the factors that led to the establishment of BLP in Jos
  5. To historicise the activities of Maryam Babangida’s pet programme(BLP) in Jos from 1985-1993.
  6. To establish the achievements of the Better Life Programme among the women in Jos.
  7. To show the challenges that the Better Life Program faced in Jos.


One of the crucial issues that demand immediate attention is the need to raise the socio economic status of women in our society, and this needs to be done by involving every member of the society, especially women, who could become great assets if channelled into the right direction.

By so doing, many programmes have been introduced by the Nigerian first ladies in Nigeria. This research is significant because of the need to improve the socio-economic status of Nigerian women particularly in Jos which gave birth to Mariam Babangida‘s pet programme (BLP). It also justify based on the achievements of BLP, unlike other earlier studies that focus only on its weaknesses. Also, this research intends to stimulate more research on the various pet programmes of Nigerian First ladies. It serves as reference materials for researchers..


This study will generally look at the Better life pet project by Maryam Babangida from 1985 – 1993) extensively. The limitations faced by the researcher so far, is the language barrier in the conduct of oral interviews. Some of the rural people that either participated or gained from the programmes set up by the first lady in the rural areas don’t communicate in English, so it was quite difficult getting information from them, so the researcher had to use interpreters in such  cases, for data collection. Secondly, some of the people that were involved with the BLP are difficult to reach due to their tight schedules but the researcher was patient to keep checking on them until the researcher was able to interview them.


The researcher used both primary and secondary sources. Primary source like interview with women from the ages of 45 to 60 as well as men. Secondary source like books, newspapers, articles were gotten from the libraries in Nsukka, the National library Abuja, the National library Jos, the national centre for women development, Abuja, and the national centre for women societies Abuja. The work is presented based on themes.


Development: Development is about people. It revolves round the quality of people, the capacity to improve the conditions of their lives. To recognize, reach, control and utilize their resources for greater productivity, autonomy, and self reliance. The theme of national development therefore is to mobilize material resources. Its against this backdrop that these programme aimed at development were introduced.5

Gender Roles: Gender roles are those functions that are culturally allocated to individuals on the basis of their gender but not related to biological functions as such, the allocation of such roles vary from culture to culture.  Gender roles contrast with sex roles such as carrying a pregnancy or breast feeding that are exclusive to the female sex roles.

Sex Roles: Sex roles are those that require certain biological characteristics in order to perform, while gender roles however does not require any special body organ. Roles include child bearing, which can be shared between a man and a woman.

Gender Equality: Gender equality means that thereby no discrimination on the grounds of somebody’s sex in the allotment of resources or access to social services. It means in the implementation of welfare programmes, women are not discriminated against on the bases of sex.6

Gender inequality in Nigeria can be attributed to factors including religion,, culture, legislative and judicial pronouncement, colonialism, and post-colonialism and inequalities can be said to be one of the reasons why pet projects of past first ladies were channelled towards women and the girl child women studies have served as pioneers for women development and the ability of women to protect themselves and succeed in self protection. Overtime, the government and non-government organizations have tried to provide various empowerment  programmes to uplift the status of women make them self reliant and independent and have also tried to change the biased male controlled dominant values which affect access to scarce political positions and economic resources. This belief is that women can do what men can do physically and mentally and otherwise and in turn should enjoy the rights and privileges a man enjoys.7


Prof. Bolanle Awe is a renowned professor of African studies, an activist on gender equality, and poverty eradication. Her book “Nigerian women in historical perspective” consists of works by different historians and was first published in 1992. The book is a literary exercise in historical construction, they delved into the economic activities of women in colonial times, and how there has been a shift from segregation of women to less segregation.

Dr. Hajo Sani is a former minister of women Affairs and Youth Development. The researcher tried on different occasions to get an interview with Dr. Hajo Sani, but unfortunately, that did not come to pass. In one of her works, ‘first ladyship and empowerment programmes in Nigeria published in 2012, Dr. Hajo Sani criticized the trend of leaving office and demise of pet projects. In her opinion, she felt an ex-first lady’s work can be continued by an incoming first lady as there is nothing wrong with first lady as there is nothing wrong with that, and the researcher agrees firmly with this.

The work started out with biographies of the ladies involved, which was critical and then she listed the pet projects carried out. Also, in her opinion, she saw some pet projects as a waste, a way for the women involved to keep busy and waste tax payers fund. She mentioned that if the pet projects were executed well, they would end up affecting positively on the lives of the masses and aid development which governments have tried to do overtime.

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