Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova and Françoise Girard, the Current President of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) at an AMANITARE event; Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria; 2000.
By Amatesiro Dore
Destiny is a choice, a culmination of events, reactions and values that guide our souls towards a certain end.
Nuhu’s daughter, Cesnabmihilo, would boast about her days of little beginnings: filling her hungry stomach with a bowl of pap and licking a cube of sugar to ease the bland taste of the watery breakfast on her tongue. This will form an integral part of her life: a lot of hard work with a little sugar to soothe the transitions.
Like when she relocated to her Sharia-governed home State, in the Year 2000, in order to implement the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, Cairo 1994) and also practicalise the Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). This was to prove that the global deliberations of feminists and activists can be translated into grassroots projects in local communities irrespective of pre-existing and obnoxious cultures that deny the bodily rights of women, girls, sexual minorities and the misunderstood amongst us.
At this time, the wife of late George Aken’Ova, Dorothy, had received capacity from Professor Olukoya to emerge as a second wave feminist. She had incorporated a regime of Spartan living into her professional career and wove the provisions of her personal Christian faith with the universal rights of fellow human beings. This UN consultant had evaluated her passion and resources to do social analysis and carry out interventions to address all forms of injustices in the land. Above all, she had clarified her values and was ready to take on the world.
It was an apprentice-turned-Madam that showed up in Minna at the dawn of a new millennium. In adherence to societal norms that discriminated against women, she had not acquired driving skills even though her immediate younger brother, Matthew, could drive their father’s car at ten. Cesnabmihilo Dorothy learnt how to drive at forty, having finally awarded herself a car from her legitimate income, and become Schumacher on the Minna-Abuja Expressway.
Also, her eldest brother was the Deputy Governor of Niger State, where she spent three weeks every month, while the rest of her nuclear family remained in Lagos: where her children [Samuel, the second child, arrived in 1997] schooled; and her husband, George, had commenced his life-long dream of working as a graphic artist, and was also an ordained Minister at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Raboni Parish in Gbagada, Lagos State.
The wife of a Church Minister, Sister Aken’Ova, wore and owned only three Kaftans for Sunday services. She would give her tithe (from international consultancy jobs for organisations such as the UNFPA, UNDP, and UNICEF et al) to someone in need or anonymously donate it to the church. Like when she passed one hundred US dollar note to the woman seated beside her in church, who had asked for assistance to take care of the three-days-old corpse of her mother-in-law, still at home and unburied, as a result of a dire lack of funds to get an ambulance and commence other interment processes.
This private Christian and erstwhile worshipper at the ultra-conservative Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) and Deeper Christian Life Bible Church, Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova, established the International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE) along Bosso Road, in the heart of Minna, at the office space provided by a beloved Nuhu family member. In front of the office building was a large billboard proclaiming her liberal credentials, services, values and beliefs.
From this administrative headquarters, she was organising sensitization workshops on sexual pleasure in women; facilitating couple wellness sessions; campaigning against early child and forced marriages; intervening in cases of domestic violence and mitigating the impacts; hosting behavioural change communication (BCC) programmes and information education communication (IEC) strategies for adolescents; protecting and advocating for the bodily rights of women, adolescents, sexual minorities, physically and mentally challenged people; providing psychosocial support services for people in need; providing empirical data on SRHR and publishing reports on policies and status of human rights indexes in Nigeria; and advocating against the injustices of the newly-expanded Sharia law because the fundamentalists did not put into consideration the universal human rights of citizens and residents that were not adherents. The expanded Sharia legal system also abrogated the rights of women and minorities, and was flagrantly disrespectful of difference and diversity.
Dorothy Aken’Ova cannot quantify the loss of political capital that her activism probably cost her eldest brother who did not seek to control his petite sister, hamper her career or try to intimidate her from carrying out her multiple human rights interventions and programmes that ran contrary to the conservative views of the successive governments of their home state. How do you solve a problem like Dorothy, he must have probably wondered. Imagine sitting in an Executive Council meeting where grievous allegations are levelled against your own sister and her charitable organisation. The humiliation that her numerous good works have caused you and the questions you have had to answer and the nonsense you had to clarify when your parents, in Diko, called to get information about one rubbish or the other DarlingDotty (her popular workshop name, acquired in 1995) and her trouble-finding-and-solving organisation had generated. You’re proud of her but you’re also stressed and wish she would just…
Dorothy was a seasoned contributor to sexual and reproductive health issues on Channels Television in Lagos (the number one news media on Nigerian air) and had become a regular feature on NTA Minna (one of the stations on the National Television Authority network) when she was persecuted and falsely accused of spreading immorality in Minna. The First Lady of the State, who later became a Senator at the National Assembly, pacified her fuming husband and testified about the philanthropic works of Cesnabmihilo who the spouse of the State’s Chief Executive had watched on television. Consequently, the First Lady advised the Governor to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the scandalous allegations. After all was said and done, including considering the testimonies of INCRESE Policy Advisory Committee (I-PAC) members (such as the eminent Minna-based lawyer, Alhaji Tanko Beji; Dr A.D Tswanya, the renowned dermatologist of Skincare Hospital in Minna; and Mrs Salome NdaKotsu, former Local Government Area Chairperson and State Commissioner for Lands and Housing), Dorothy was found innocent, her works were vindicated and the programmes of the International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE) were permitted to proceed by a Sharia-ardent Governor.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova, the pleasant troublemaker of Minna, was prepared and equipped for battle.
Read Increse at a Glance: Begin with a Girl [Chapter I] here
Read Increse at a Glance: There was a Woman [Chapter II] here
Read Increse at a Glance: Partners and Partakers of the Vision [Chapter IV] here
Read Increse at a Glance: A luta continua [Chapter V] here