As Rivers people celebrate 50 years of the creation of Rivers State, efforts and contributions made by the women in the growth and development of the state cannot be over-looked.
This piece, therefore, seeks to chronicle major milestones made by some selected Rivers Amazons whose contributions in their various fields engendered rapid socio-economic development of the state.
Since the creation of the state, it has, however, been male dominated, women have also played key roles, protecting the interest of the oil-rich state otherwise known as the Treasure Base of the nation.
Rivers women have made significant difference in various spheres of life including politics, government, education, religion, sports, engineering, medicine, fashion and entertainment.
In the era of Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, the first Governor of Rivers State between 1975 and 1976 women made their marks, in the academia and sports. Women like Miss Ethel Jacks, who won the African table tennis championship in 1973 and 1975, Mercy Akide, a two-time African footballer of the year from 2000 to 2002 and Mrs Inyengiyikabo Okumgba won several medals nationally and internationally in swimming. Sports as a unifying factor has kept Nigeria going and given Rivers State the desired prominence. Bella Bell-Gam made Rivers State proud as she won the gold medal in the 1978 All African Games held in Algeria alongside other championship awards.
The first female Commissioner, Mrs Constance Sarowinyo was appointed during the Melford Okilo administration as Commissioner for Higher Education and Commissioner for Economic Development and Planning.
She was also a member of the then National Committee on FESTAC 77. Dr Sarowinyo, who is a Medical Scientist was a consultant on Oil Spillage and Environmental Pollution and a one-time member of the 10th Governing Council of Rivers State University of Science and Technology (now Rivers State University) who in pursuance of the development and growth of Rivers State worked tirelessly to win the Motto/Logo Award of Niger Delta Development Commission.
Thereafter, Prof Mrs Bene Willy Abbey, who was saddled with affairs of moving the state forward in Information, Culture and Tourism came into the picture of the Amazons as she was appointed the only female in the cabinet of Group Captain Ernest Adeleye, the then military governor.
Rivers women are no mean people, always ensuring that the goals and aspirations of the state are realized. As a result, another prominent woman was found and appointed Mrs Bene Abbey a pioneer member in two different institutions.
1.Board of National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD)
2.West Africa Research and Innovation Management Association.
Professor Abbey with several degrees gave a very high profile to the state as she served in the National University Commission as well as in the Rivers State Scholarship Board and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Commission between 1997 and 1999.
Ms Medline Ngo Tador served as Commissioner in two Ministries, Women Affairs and Social Development, Ministry of Information and Culture. The trend continues as women occupied the women ministry and that of information and culture because between 1999 and 2007 Mrs Julie Wika was not only appointed commissioner but was honoured as the best performing Director-General in the 36 states of the federation.
Mrs Toru Ofili was not left out as she was appointed Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development in 2003 but prior to that time, she had been in charge of social services and Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties in 2000.
Rivers State is known to be the first in most areas even as it was the first to have Miss Syster Jack as Miss Nigeria in 1980. Jack handed over to Miss Agbani Darego who promoted Rivers State globally, as she was crowned Miss World in 2001.
In governance, Ngeri Benebo now 62 years, was in governance from 2006 to 2015 as Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Environmental Standard and Regulations Enforcement (NESERA). As a daughter of the soil and in moving the state forward occupied various offices and one of the most outstanding achievements was the introduction of the 28 environmental regulations into the Gazette of the state government.
Another illustrious daughter is Ann-Kio Briggs, an environmental and human rights activist, who was founder and executive director of a non-governmental organization, “Agape Birth Right”. She moved on to become the spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA), also member in the energy development security strategy (UNDEDSS).
Ms Gloria Fiofori, a dynamic women leader worked and served her state tirelessly, she was a Commissioner, General Manager of the State Broadcasting Corporation and the Director, National Orientation Agency (NOA).
Dr Ngozi N. Odu is not left out as she has occupied the office of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, state President of the National Council of Women Society (NCWS), and a Commissioner for Education who during her time, the state witnessed the pursuit of progressive education policies.
Ministry of Works considered as a Ministry for the male folk because of its activities witnessed a change within 2003 and 2006 as a woman, Okpete F Ovai was found to be capable of that seat and piloted the affairs with positive difference. Prof Mildred Amakiri, a scholar with vast technical knowledge held various positions as a Commissioner for Higher Education. She belonged to over 10 national and international professional bodies.
In politics, Rivers women are gradually making their marks as the state has witnessed the first female Deputy Governor, Dr (Mrs) Ipalibo Harry Benigo. She had held several exalted seats before now. Hon Mrs Betty Iyne Apiafi is currently the member, representing Abua/Odual/Ahoada East Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.
Hon (Mrs) Blessing Ibiba Nsiegbe is another woman, highly respected in the Federal House of Representatives, representing Port Harcourt Constituency. Late Mrs Anthonia Membere, an outspoken and active woman, Mrs Linda Somiari Stewart is a renowned journalist and Hon Irene M. Inimgba were all in the House of Assembly.
In the judiciary, we have Hon Justice Mary U. Odili as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Daisy Wotube Okocha served as a Chief Judge being the 7th since the creation of the state. Another Woman is Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson, a Judge of the High Court of Rivers State also the Deputy Vice President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), first Nigerian to be elected to the African Court on Human and People Rights. In the education subsector, the women equally made a mark as Dr Constance Tamuno became the first female Registrar of the University of Science and Technology also appointed acting Registrar University of Port Harcourt in 2000.
A woman was the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Prof (Mrs) Rosemund Dieye Green-Osaghogulu. Also Dr Balafama Wilcox was appointed Provost of the state College of Arts and Science now Port Harcourt Polytechnic.
Women have made tremendous contributions in the economic, cultural and social emancipation of Rivers State.
This explains the reason many have continued to call for deliberate affirmative actions in women mobilization in the socio-political development of the state.
Recall that the immediate past First Lady of Nigeria, Mrs Patience Jonathan, advocated 35% affirmative action for which almost 35% was met through appointment, elective positions and others.
Women should support themselves as politics is a game of numbers, so considering the numerical strength of women available in Nigeria, women can make the difference.
Thankfully, the state has a women friendly Governor, who with his political will is ready to surpass the 35% affirmative action. All needs is the right legislative framework. Let the women stop watching and become players to achieve the desired goal.
Many Thanks to our Rivers Amazons.