On Tuesday, June 25, 2019, n the morning witnessed an uncommon, if not stunning, an assemblage of women. The object of this cluster of professionals, technocrats, icons of business, diplomatic corps and the culturati, in general, was the much-admired Women in Leadership Series, WILS, an offshoot of Handmaidens.
The event turned out to be an astounding success in size and in content. WiLS wore all the hallmarks of excellence in organization, in the lecture, and the dialogues that followed, in quality of attendance and the aura of the cultured erudite gathering.
But the turn out of this bluestocking and the cultivated audience cannot be discussed without the inspiration and convener of this event, a highbrow women’s rights activist and lawyer who has in her intellectual repertory Doctor of Laws, Dr Siju Iluyomade.
Indeed Dr Iluyomade had a dream, a vision to create and nurture a platform for women. It was 24 years ago. And so came a Faith and Life Clinic, a place where women share their problems, pains, joys, successes, and failures. So, they weep, merry and pray together as they come to the saving knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The Faith and Life Clinic would morph into The Handmaidens as Dr Iluyomade, a gender equality advocate, began her journey of faith not only to work for but to empower and raise the profile of the market woman, the homemaker and ordinary women doing groceries on the sidewalk. Within a space of five years, the Handmaidens had taken phenomenal strides in skill acquisition programmes and empowerment of women. The women learned such trades as a hat, soap, insecticides, deodorants, indigenous furniture and dressmaking among others.
But just as thousands of women began to appreciate this hope-inspiring programme and celebrating the quintessential Siju Iluyomade marvel, this groundbreaker and indeed pacemaker, was already in the next phase of her trendsetting journey to help the cause of God and to lift her fellow women. And so she envisioned and berthed Arise Women’s Conference. The Arise Women, a faith-based foundation, reinvented, redefined and reconstructed the whole concept of women’s cause. A lawyer of 30 years standing, Dr Iluyomade using her immense influence, gathered annually, topmost women in Christendom plus First Ladies of Nigerian governors, female ministers, women of the intelligentsia, business magnates and thousands of everyday women to conferences with Christian themes.
Arise however became a national subject matter of discussion for its tremendous impact on the empowerment of women, care for children and even elderly men and displaced people.
Arise Women adopted villages around Abuja including Dafara Village for seven years development programmes, constructed schools in these villages, built a modern hospital, refurbished some schools and built fully computerised libraries and went to female schools like Queens College, and Methodist Girls Secondary School among others to educate the young pupils on health and specific hygiene matters and donating a massive generator to the visually impaired in Queens College, Lagos .
Dr Iluyomade and her team would acquire mobile clinics to treat women and people in the remotest parts of Lagos and visit prisons. There is no doubt that Arise Women Conference staggered many an observer with its appetite for skill acquisition and empowerment of women as thousands of women benefitted from its exemplary programmes.
The sterling impact of Arise Women, however, would not appease or slake this groundbreaker’s appetite for new dreams for her womenfolk. And so as Arise was rising Dr Iluyomade began to think of a platform in which leading women in all walks of life could converge, where they could dissect national issues, from the perspectives of the womenfolk, a place they will be challenged to take up positions of responsibility to impact homes, society and the nation at large.
The Women in Leadership Series, WiLS, is the outcome of Dr Iluyomade’s journey of creative introspection. The programme designed to hold annually, held its maiden edition in 2016, with former Minister of Communications, Mrs Mobola Johnson as the Guest Speaker. The second edition with the theme, Leading Women, Breaking Barriers, had Mrs Olusola Momoh, the Vice Chairman of Channels Incorporated as the Keynote Speaker.
However, on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Dr Iluyomade and her team took WiLS to a different pedestal. In attendance were the First Ladies of Lagos, Edo and Ogun states, Dr Mrs Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, Mrs Betsy Obaseki and Mrs Bamidele Abiodun respectively plus the wife of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Mrs Femi Gbajabiamila.
With a powerful and resonating speech that delineates her eloquence and spiritual depth, Dr Siju set the tone and clear acoustic range of the historic day. Her speech was precisely an anatomy of legacy in which she cautioned her audience against the legacy of greed. She then dwelt on the subject of gender equality, challenging the women not only to take their place in society but to leave a legacy of honour and distinction.
The Guest Speaker, a Hermatogy Oncologist and Cancer Geneticist at the University of Chicago, Dr Olufunmilayo Olopade, focused on the subject of Cancer, the challenges of treating cancer in Nigeria and what she and her colleagues in Nigeria are doing to reduce these traumatic challenges including training for some Nigerian doctors in the United States. She challenged the WiLS Convener to use her huge influence to raise funds towards building a specialist hospital with focus on Cancer.
In all, WiLS 2019 was a grand and historic event. It was not just a day of cerebral speeches and bookish postulations. It was also a day in which lives were changed as 4000 women were empowered after skill acquisition programmes.
With a fervent spirit and infinite joy, the upmarket, posh visionary, Dr Siju Iluyomade expressed gratitude to her special guests and all present giving all the glory, in her characteristic mode, to God.