FOR WOMAN AND THE NATION: THE PHENOMENAL FIRST LADY
Maryam Babangida (November 1, 1948 — December 27, 2009) was the wife of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who was Nigeria’s head of state from 1985 to 1993. She was credited with creating the position of First Lady of Nigeria and making it her own.
EARLY LIFE, EDUCATION AND MARRIAGE
Maryam was born in 1948 in Asaba (present-day Delta State ), to an Igbo father and a Hausa mother, where she obtained her primary education. She later moved north to Kaduna where she attended Queen Amina’s College Kaduna for her secondary education.
On September 6, 1969, shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Major Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. They had four children, boys Mohammed and Aminu, and two girls, Aisha
and Halima. After her husband became Chief of Army Staff in 1983, Maryam Babangida became President of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA). She was active in this role, launching schools, clinics, women’s training centres and child day care centers.
CAREER AS FIRST LADY
When her husband became head of state in 1985, Maryam Babangida moved with her children into Dodan Barracks in Lagos. She had to arrange for considerable renovations to make the rooms more suitable for formal receptions. Dodan barracks was one of the key locations seized in the April 1990 coup attempt by Gideon Orkar against Ibrahim Babangida, who was present in the barracks when the attack occurred, but managed to escape via a back route.
As First Lady of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a champion for women’s rural development. She founded the Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987 which launched many co-operatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women’s centres and social welfare programs.
The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women’s Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation. She championed women issues vigorously. She reached out to the first ladies of other African countries to emphasize the effective role they can play in improving the lives of their people.
The “Maryam Phenomenon” became a celebrity and “an icon of beauty, fashion and style”, a position she retained after her husband’s fall from power.
Maryam Babangida died from ovarian cancer on December 27, 2009 in a Los Angeles, California hospital. Her husband was at her side as she died. She was 61.
Maryam was instrumental in making Asaba, her hometown, the capital of Delta State, when it was created in 1991, instead of Warri which is the economic nerve centre of Delta State. #HistoryVille