Maryam Babangida

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Maryam Babangida
First Lady of Nigeria
In office
17 August 1985[1] – 27 August 1993.[1]
Personal details
Born Maryam Okogwu
(1948-11-01)1 November 1948
Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria
Died 27 December 2009(2009-12-27) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality Nigerian
Spouse(s) General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (m. 6 September 1969 – 27 December 2009; her death)
Children Mohammed, Aminu, Aisha, Halima
Alma mater La Salle Extension University (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.) (Diploma)
NCR Institute in Lagos (Certificate in Computer Science)
Profession Activist

Maryam Babangida (1 November 1948 – 27 December 2009) was the wife of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who was Nigeria's head of state from 1985 to 1993.[1] Her husband was the target of criticism for rampant corruption during his regime.[2] She was credited with creating the position of First Lady of Nigeria and making it her own.[1]

As first lady, she launched many programmes to improve the life of women. The "Maryam Phenomenon" became a celebrity and "an icon of beauty, fashion and style", a position she retained after her husband's fall from power.[1][3]

Early years[edit]

Maryam King was born in 1948 in Asaba (present-day Delta State), where she attended her primary education. Her parents were Hajiya Asabe Halima Mohammed from the present Niger State, a Hausa, and Leonard Nwanonye Okogwu from Asaba, an Igbo. 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 [clarification needed] from La Salle Extension University (Chicago, Illinois) and a Certificate in Computer Science from the NCR Institute in Lagos.[3][4]

On 6 September 1969, shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Major Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. They had four children, boys Mohammed and Aminu, and two girls, Aisha and Halima.[5] 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.[3]

First lady[edit]

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.[6]

As First Lady of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, she turned the ceremonial post into a champion 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 programs.[7] The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women's Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation.[8]

She championed women issues vigorously.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

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)[12] 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.[13]

Illness and death[edit]

On November 15, 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.[14] 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."[15]

Babangida died aged 61 from ovarian cancer on 27 December 2009 in a Los Angeles, California hospital.[14][16] Her husband was at her side as she died.[5] President of the Senate of Nigeria, David Mark, was said to have broken down into tears upon hearing the news.[17]

The Times of Nigeria reported on her death that she was "considered to be one of the greatest women in Africa today".[5]


  • Maryam Babangida (1988). The home front: Nigerian army officers and their wives. Fountain Publications. ISBN 978-2679-48-8. 


  1. ^ a b c d e Ademola Babalola (28 December 2009). "Maryam's life and times of beauty, glamour and…cancer". The Punch. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  2. ^ "Shamed By Their Nation", Time Magazine, 6 September 1993
  3. ^ a b c "Maryam Babangida". Pre-Adult Affairs Organisation. Archived from the original on November 19, 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  4. ^ Ikeddy Isiguzo (28 December 2009). "Adieu, Country's First Lady". Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c "Maryam's Death: General Babangida’s Statement". The Times of Nigeria. 27 December 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  6. ^ "Orkar coup: How we survived". Sun News. 1 November 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  7. ^ "Maryam Babangida, Charming, Still...". Nigeria Films. 25 December 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  8. ^ "Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women Development". Natural Capital Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  9. ^ "Anxiety over Maryam Babangida's health". Nigerian Compass. 16 November 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  10. ^ "Highlights of the 1991 Africa Prize: Mrs. Maryam Ibrahim Babangida". The Hunger Project. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  11. ^ Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi (1996). Africa wo/man palava: the Nigerian novel by women - Women in culture and society. University of Chicago Press. p. 56ff. ISBN 0-226-62085-9. 
  12. ^ "Nigeria - Structural Adjustment". Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  13. ^ David J. Parkin, Lionel Caplan, Humphrey J. Fisher (1996). The politics of cultural performance. Berghahn Books. p. 45ff. ISBN 1-57181-925-8. 
  14. ^ a b Zhang Xiang (28 December 2009). "Former Nigerian first lady dies in U.S.". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  15. ^ Iyobosa Uwugiaren (16 November 2009). "I'm Alive - Maryam Babangida". Leadership (Abuja). Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  16. ^ Semiu Okanlawon, Olusola Fabiyi and Francis Falola (28 December 2009). "Maryam Babangida dies at 61". The Punch. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  17. ^ Martins Oloja, Azimazi Momoh, (Abuja), Alemma-Ozioruwa Aliu, Benin City and John Ojigi, Minna (28 December 2009). "Tears for Maryam Babangida". NGR Guardian News. Retrieved 28 December 2009. [dead link]