Hundreds of people have walked in and out the doors of the Society for Family Health (SFH) Nigeria, one of Nigeria’s leading non-governmental organisation headquartered in the nation’s federal capital territory and many have left with various questions but a reoccurring one would be the need to know why the noble organisation carries the name “Hon. Justice Ifeyinwa . C. Nzeako, rather than its organisational name.
Why is it called “Justice Ifeyinwa C. Nzeako House?” I also asked as a first time visitor. I soon found out that she was one of the founding members of the organisation amongst other founding members namely; the Late Professor Olikoye Ransome –Kuti, Pharmacist Dahiru Wali and Phil Harvey. This was intriguing, so I continued my quest. An instant google search revealed that Hon. Justice (Mrs) Ifeyinwa C. Nzeako (late) was a former Justice, Court of Appeal, Jos Division. She was President Emeritus, National Council of Women Societies, and Nigeria and previously Vice President, International Council of Women (ICW) Paris, France and how this prestigious woman was presidentially recognized for being a trail blazer in delivering health services that impacts the lives of millions of women, girls, children and families nationwide.
Although enlightening, I was still to get an explanation on why amongst the four founding members, this public health edifice was named after her. A chat with Dr. Jennifer Anyanti, the Deputy Managing Director Programmes, disclosed that Justice Ifeyinwa, served as the longest president of the Board trustees for so many years. Under her leadership, she contributed immensely to the success of SFH. She is remembered as someone who always went beyond the call of duty and had a genuine interest for the organisation. Driven by her passion to create healthy families in Nigeria and reach out to the vulnerable in the society thereby motivating and guiding the SFH team to be the best that it could be.
In an interview with the Managing Director, Sir Bright Ekweremadu, I realised that Justice Ifeyinwa played a pivotal role in ensuring that SFH possessed its own property. She made it her mission to see this vision become a reality. She was instrumental to linking up with donors like DFID who donated about a million pounds for the SFH project, which played a major role with the finances needed for the procurement of the organisation’s Head Office building in Abuja. However, beyond being a leader, she was known as a mother. From the way she visited fields, held meetings in her house, fed anyone who visited her, dealt with issues around families and invested her time and hard work in seeing that people’s lives got better.
Pharm. Kenechukwu Eruchalu, the Deputy Managing Director Operations at SFH, recalls an official trip he took with Justice Ifeyinwa. During that trip, he talked about his daughter who was a year old at the time. He said he will always remember the numerous times the Justice would ask after his daughter years after that trip. She had a unique and genuine interest in the welfare of SFH staff. She encouraged them to view their salaries as tokens and view it as though it were a volunteer service. Knowing that they were making great impact on the lives of Nigerians and leaving their mark in the sands of time.
I also came to realise from further interactions that Justice Ifeyinwa was a Model for the SFH woman. Besides being the only female founding member, she modelled to other woman who worked in the organisation how to behave and fight for the rights of other women in the organisation. Currently, SFH is known as the largest indigenous NGO in Nigeria, this is largely due to the work of Justice Ifeyinwa. She encouraged accountability, integrity, passion, hard work and a safe and friendly working environment. These values have kept SFH going till date and are part of her outstanding legacy. A legacy that serves as a reminder to those coming behind to put in the necessary effort and results will eventually come.
“While it is rather virtually impossible to sufficiently reward her for the good works she did for girls and women, for SFH and the Nigerian society at large, we decided to dedicate this structure to her memory as a daily reminder for us to emulate the life she lived,” said Professor Shima Gyoh, president of SFH board of trustees.
It became clear to me why this woman is befitting of such honour and even though this great mother has passed on to greater glory, her name will not just be immortalized as it stands on the SFH Head office building alone, but it will also remain in the hearts of the workers at SFH and in the accomplishments of the organisation.
Williams Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” Mama Ifeyinwa has indeed played her part and now exited this stage handing the baton to those left behind.
By Omileha Odey, Isibhakhomen Ikhimiukor and Abdulrazaq Abilagbo Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic