If the dream of the founders of the National Council of Women Society (NCWS) is anything to go by, the springing up of various non-governmental organisations and other women groups that have become an all- comer affair would have been checked by the parent body.
The conception and introduction of a pressure group for women was to serve as the parent body for over 50 women societies across the Western Region, as far as Warri in the now Delta State, with the singular aim of engendering women’s development.
The Founding Secretary and the current President, South-West Forum of the NCWS, Professor Adetowun Ogunsheye, in her interaction with the Nigerian Tribune, said the society took off with four founding mothers, namely: Chief Tanimowo Ogunlesi, Chief E. Adekogbe, Chief Wuraola Esan and Alhaja Humuani Alaga, who were then Presidents of Women Improvement Society, Women Movement, Ibadan Peoples’ Women Society and Ibadan Muslim Women Society respectively.
Going down the memory lane, the first female professor of Library Studies , who worked directly with the founding mothers, said the first annual congress of the society, which had in attendance members of over 50 women groups, took place in 1961 and was declared open by the then Premier of Western Region, Chief S.L Akintola.
The high point of the congress with over 120 delegates was the adoption of the following resolutions: that community centres for women development be established, that day nurseries be established to help working mothers, that government should appoint women as Customary Court judges and women should be allowed to stand for election, that women be allowed to work in industries and become directors and that building fund be established for the construction of NCWS headquarters.
Though some of these resolutions have been actualised in Professor Ogunsheye’s lifetime, but to her, it is not yet Uhuru as their vision at inception has hitherto been dumped for satisfying the needs of over 1,000 groups that have joined in getting funds from United Nations, all in the name of improving the lives of women.
The activities of the once vibrant society seemed to have experienced a lull giving way to politicians to hoodwink the womenfolk who form the larger population of voters.
According to Professor Ogunsheye, the seeming takeover by government at various levels has made a mince meat of the NCWS as a state organ, as there were no longer programmes for women empowerment. Nowadays, members are sponsored to meetings by local councils as opposed to the founding spirit.
Consequently, the founding and surviving secretary of the society was made the President, NCWS South West in 2009.
Her second coming, in her words, was primarily to bring back to life the group that has hitherto been forgotten. Her first assignment was to revisit the issue of the 18 hectares of land initially dedicated to women’s estate that has been taken over by government and individuals without any recourse to the society!
Based on this, she asked these fundamental questions at a recent forum held in March 2017: What happened to the laudable plans of 1963? Where is the vocational centre for women? Where is the hostel for girls? Why am I back in the saddle as the president of the NCWS South-West Forum after over 50 years, among other questions?
With the coming of Professor Ogunsheye as President for Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Osun chapters of the society, she organised an elders’ meeting to reclaim the remnants of the 18 hectares of land from those who have encroached on it and make it available for the purpose for which it was initially meant, irrespective of the challenges they had in taking over the hall that had housed touts, street urchins, poultry, among others.
Rising from an elders’ forum with 37 delegates in attendance, it was decided that the hall standing on about four plots on the 18 hectares of land, which should serve as the society’s headquarters, should be taken over and managed by the executive committee of the society while a board of trustees was established to work on reviving the vision and mission for women empowerment economically, educationally and socially, as envisioned in 1956 by the founding mothers.
It was also resolved that action should be taken on matters that threaten common Yoruba heritage and norms while the society should influence the development of good government in South West States and Nigeria, promote and encourage research into common social and cultural problems common to the zone as well as manage the NCWS Estate in Samonda, Ibadan and employ estate managers to run it.
In her attempt to restore the lost glory of the hitherto abused auditorium, it has been put on lease to Christ Embassy which has given the edifice a facelift though with some portions of the hall yet to be completed.
Professor Ogunsheye is hopeful that with the support of stakeholders in the South West, the completion works of the headquarters and women development centres for the implementation of women and youths empowerment programmes is realisable. She enjoined the stakeholders to renew their membership while all the new non-government organisations should apply for membership as the estate belongs to all women societies in the South West.
Aside re-acquisition of the NCWS headquarters, Professor Ogunsheye has commissioned a Hall of Fame as she is calling on all the South West governors and wives to lend a helping hand in making the society vibrant again.