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First Lady of Nigeria
August 17, 1985 – 1993
Born November 1, 1948(1948-11-01)
Asaba, Delta State
Died December 27, 2009 (aged 61)
Spouse(s) General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (m. September 6, 1969)
Children Four: two boys, Mohammed and Aminu, and two girls, Aisha and Halima
Alma mater La Salle Extension University (Chicago) (Diploma)
NCR Institute in Lagos (Certificate in Computer Science)
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 in Nigeria and making it her own.
As first lady, she launched many programmes to improve the life of women. The "Maryam phenomenon" became a celebrity and a "an icon of beauty, fashion and style", a position she retained after her husband's fall from power.
Maryam Babangida was born in 1948 in Asaba, in modern-day Delta State, into an Igbo family. She later moved north to Kaduna where she attended Queen Amina's College Kaduna for her Secondary education. She graduated as a secretary at the Federal Training Centre, Kaduna. Later she obtained a diploma in secretaryship from La Salle Extension University (Chicago) and a Certificate in Computer Science from the NCR Institute in Lagos.
On September 6, 1969, shortly before turning 21, 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.
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 from 1985 to 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a potent force 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 programmes. She also empowered Nigerian women through programmes on adult education, primary health, agriculture, crafts and food processing. 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.
Her book Home Front: Nigerian Army Officers and Their Wives, published in 1988, emphasized the value of the work that women perform in the home in support of their husbands, and has been criticized by feminists.
Working with the National Council for Women's Societies (NCWS) she had significant influence, helping gain support for programmes such as the unpopular SFEM (Special Foreign Exchange Market) program to cut subsidies, and to devalue and fix the currency. She also established a glamorous persona. Talking about the opening of the seven-day Better Life Fair in 1990, one journalist said "She was like a Roman empress on a throne, regal and resplendent in a stone-studded flowing outfit that defied description..." Women responded to her as a role model, and her appeal lasted long after her husband fell from power.
Maryam Babangida loved outdoor activities such as gardening, enjoyed birds and was interested in domestic decorations.
Illness and death
On 15 November 2009, rumours circulated that the former first lady had died in her hospital bed at the University of California (UCLA) Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles over complications arising from terminal ovarian cancer. However, an aide to the former president, said "Mrs Maryam Babangida is alive ... I told her about the spreading rumour in Nigeria concerning her death and she laughed, saying those carrying the rumour would die before her."
Babangida died aged 61 from ovarian cancer on December 27, 2009 at California's City Hope Hospital in the United States. Her husband was at her side as she died. President of the Senate of Nigeria, David Mark, was said to have broken down into tears upon hearing the news. Mark said: "I feel a sense of personal loss, a loss to Nigeria and to (the) African continent". Nigerians were "thrown into mourning". The Times of Nigeria reported on her death that she was "considered to be one of the greatest women in Africa today". She is to be buried in Minna.
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