The entire community of women rights advocates, Thursday night, gathered to pay their last respect to two of its strong voices for women and girls advancement: Dr. Olasunbo Odebode, and Barr. Esther Uzoma. In this report, ENE OSHABA captures the mood the Night of Tribute organised by the Womanisfesto as sad but filled with encomiums on their remarkable lives.
Dr. Olasunbo Bolanle Odebode was born to the family of Mr. John Olajide, and Mrs Patience Adeola Amosu, of blessed memory, on October 10, 1963.
She was married to Mr. Adeniji Jonathan Odebode, a Management and Environmental Consultant and they were blessed with three children and two grandchildren.
Olasunbo was a trained teacher with a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Ibadan, which she obtained in 1983.
She taught Biology at various secondary schools in Ibadan for 14 years and during this period obtained a Masters of Education degree in Adult Education at the same university in 1991.
She, subsequently, completed the Ph.D course work in Education after retiring from the Teaching Service Commission of Oyo state.
She then pursued a Master of Arts degree in her new field of interest, Women, Gender and Development, at the prestigious Institute of Social Studies, the Hague, Netherlands.
Dr. Olasunbo completed her programme in December 1998 and worked briefly as a programme officer at the Centre for Gender and Social policy Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife between February 1999 and December 1999.
She started her Ph. D degree in the same field which she completed by defending her thesis a day after her 41st birthday on October 11 2004.
She worked as a consultant to the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) in 2005 before she was appointed as the Gender & HIV Programme Coordinator of UNIFEM, Nigeria in the same year.
She later moved from UNIFEM to the UNDP in 2007 as the Coordinator for the Non-Resident UN Agencies in Nigeria and sat at the Resident Coordinator’s Office. She later became the Coordination Specialist at the Office of the Resident Coordinator in 2007.
In 2010, she was appointed as the Gender & Development Specialist at UNICEF Nigeria to protect and promote the rights of women and ensure the mainstreaming of gender in all the UNICEF programmes.
She also later worked as the Child Protection Specialist where she campaigned to put an end to female genital mutilation and all forms of violence against children across states in Nigeria.
The Lady Comrade
Barr. Esther Uzoma, fondly called Lady Comrade, hails from Anara, Imo state in South-east Nigerian. She was a patriotic Nigerian and pan-Africanist.
Young Esther attended Township Primary School, Aba, and later proceeded to Girls Secondary Commercial School, Aba. Thereafter, she proceeded to Alvan Ikoku College of Education to study English.
Her quest for knowledge and passion for human rights and social justice inspired her to study Law which informed her journey to the Imo State University where she bagged a Law degree. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002 after one year sojourn at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
The Lady Comrade was the National Coordinator, Proactive Gender Initiative (PGI), a Non-Governmental Organisation she founded.
Esther Uzoma was also the Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation (CSO) Room, a coalition of over 70 CSOs that monitor Nigeria’s electoral process and elections across the country, a position she held till her death on January 6, 2021.
She led lots of initiatives in the defence of the rights of women.
She is renowned for her quest for justice women was severally quoted as stating: “I saw the evils of patriarchy and how easily it could constrain the development of a woman.”
For Esther Uzoma, the name Lady Comrade was her bold statement challenging the stereotype associated with masculinity to the idea of activism and unionism. She understood that, often, stories of great women who stood their ground and fought against oppression and injustice were mostly untold or overshadowed by the society’s tendencies to want to celebrate only men.
Lady Comrade was her way of inspiring younger women to find themselves and intentionally define their identity in society. This belief of hers was easily seen in her fight for gender equality especially fighting for the right of the girl child.
As a Lawyer, she travelled the breadth and length of Nigeria taking up cases on rape and injustice against women.
In one of her cases in North-Central Nigeria, she defended a two-year-old girl who was raped and had argued in court that the rape of the little girl was not just criminal but a major violation of her fundamental right to life and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution.
Judgement was given in her favour and precedent established.
Same also on the case of six-month-old baby girl who was raped and the case of an 11-year-old boy who had been sexually violated by an officer of the law.
In these cases, and others, Esther Uzoma worked tediously in defending these young survivors of rape. For her, it was beyond a case in court but setting precedence in the jurisprudence of fundamental rights enforcement in Nigeria, that the law could indeed protect the vulnerable and that fundamental human rights were not a wishful thought but real and enforceable to protect the vulnerable.
To her, rape was not just a heinous crime, but also a major violation of the fundamental right of an individual to live, to be and to exist.
Death so sudden, sad – Womanisfesto
The Night of Tribute organised by the Womanisfesto for the two great gender champions was not only filled with sadness and sober reflection but a celebration of giant strides they were known for.
Setting the pace for the evening, the Convener of Womanisfesto, Dr. Abiola Akiode, described Olasunbo Odebode and Esther Uzoma as great women and feminists per excellence, who have written their names in gold fighting different courses for the generality of women, children and girls in particular.
Akiode, who regretted their demise, however, reminisced on their great works, relationships, and commitment to the emancipation/advancement of women and the development of Nigeria.
According to her, both women’s death sends a message to everyone, especially women, to live a worthy life.
She said the deceased were being celebrated rather than mourned because of the impact they made in the lives of others.
It’s a difficult time – Minister
On her part, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, said both women made great mark in the sand of time by promoting the rights of women and children.
Dame Tallen, who said their deaths were irreplaceable, irredeemable and irreparable, noted that the world had lost a great gem with a big vacuum left in the crusade against Gender Based Violence (GBV).
“Olasunbo died of Covid-19, while Esther died of undisclosed ailment, both women touched lives and we’re charismatic and committed to women’s advancement. Their deaths almost sent me into shock because I was down with Covid19 and I was just recuperating when the news came.
“It was painful and unbearable because they were both committed to promoting equality at all cost, they were dedicated, resilient voices for women, children and girls,” she said.
‘… We lost our generals but we’ll soldier on’
Similarly, the Nigerian Governors Wives Forum lamented that women were going through terrifying times with different challenges.
Chairman of the Forum, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, who said that was not how women would have loved to celebrate the New Year, said their death was a message to colleagues of the deceased.
She, however, stated that consolation was the fact that both women have built themselves into an army which strengthened them to face any battle before them.
“If death takes away a colleague it is sending a message. These are terrifying times and we are under siege on so many fonts but we always know how to fight and build. We have built an army, every now and then we lose our generals but we will soldier on,’ she stressed.
“We have lost many generals in the past and Sunbo and Esther just joined the list. We are sad, in pain, in despair, but we learn from them and move on by continuing to teach ourselves. Learn, make mistakes and move on with the weapons of truth, integrity, hard work. Match on together in solidarity, determination and unity in progress,” she urged.
Immortalize Uzoma, Sunbo NASS charged
The outpouring of encomiums described the great ideas championed by both women and the need for their legacies to be nurtured to fruition for the betterment of women especially in Nigeria.
To this end, the women called on the National Assembly (NASS) to consider passing the Bills for Women’s Advancement and Electoral Reforms which will also benefit women and as a mark of respect and honour to the struggle both championed.
The President, Nigeria Women in Politics (NWIP), Ebere Ifendu, who made this call while fielding questions from the media during the Night of Tribute, said both women were very vocal and had great ideas on the development of women and the country at large.
“I’m calling on the NASS to please immortalise my sisters by passing the electoral reform act into law to ensure a true democracy.”
Speaking particularly on Esther’s death she said, “It is not easy to accept her death, if she were here I would hug her tightly and encourage her to do more because we had so many ideas lined up for 2021 but death was not a part of it.
“I’ve been able to hold myself hearing all the encomiums, tributes of her achievements. Esther is the Dorcas of our time because the whole community is weeping just like people wept when Dorcas in the Bible died.
“Esther’s life and all she achieved is an encouragement to do more. She didn’t just die, her death is a reason to do more, and we shall keep celebrating her and do those things she loved much.”
Womanisfesto convener too
Similarly, Dr. Akiode called on NASS to honour the deceased by ensuring that there was a national policy to end forceful child marriage and female genital mutilation as championed by Dr. Odebode and Electoral Reforms Act as championed by Barr. Esther Uzoma.
“Both women had aspirations which we all shared; aspirations that can take Nigeria to a better place. We hope that the country can honour them by ensuring there is a national policy to end child marriage, and that elections are better through a more efficient and effective electoral reforms system,” she stated.
We’ll celebrate women annually – Tallen
Dame Tallen disclosed that the ministry would institute a forum to celebrate women yearly.
This, she said was to encourage women to work harder and be sources of inspiration to others.
“We must all take courage; these women came, saw and conquered. The Ministry of Women Affairs will institute a forum to celebrate women achievements annually instead of only paying tributes when they die. They were friends to the ministry and to live in the hearts of others is not death,” she said.
Gov’s wives plan Sistory Mall
On her part, Erelu Fayemi advocated a special celebration of great women, stating: “We plan to celebrate you in April when we shall be marking the Nigerian women Sistory Mall, an idea of celebrating women achievers which I am a part of.”