Along with Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, General T.Y Danjuma, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, Queen Elizabeth II, Wangari Maathai, Oprah Winfrey, Gambo Sawaba, Chief Moshood Abiola, Jerry Rawlings, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mamman Shatta, Bishop Matthew Hassan-Kukah, Michael Jackson, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Obi Ezekwesili, Mother Teresa, and Mohammed Ali, Margaret Thatcher was one of the public figures in my lifetime who have left, and continue to leave footprints on my heart and mind and whose teachings, character and example has had a big impact in my life. With the news of her passing Monday evening (8th April, 2013), I and millions of people across the world who admired her lost a great role model. She had fought a long battle with dementia and a series of strokes and eventually succumbed to a massive stroke. She will be greatly missed although it’s somewhat a relief knowing that she no longer suffers. Additionally, I have an immense amount of positive lessons that I was able to learn, that will continue to serve me through the balance of my life from this profound figure I watched at the time I was growing up.
Though I was very young when I went to Britain in 1979, Margaret Thatcher, as the first British female prime minister, was very much present in my everyday life. Coming from a society and country where women did not traditionally assume the kind of leadership role that Margaret Thatcher did, I immediately became fascinated with her. Growing into my consciousness through the 1980’s I observed with intrigue how she commanded her position with such direction and conviction.
I remember as a small girl seeing her on television and wondering how she had the guts to speak so convincingly and decisively in a room filled with males. Even to my young and inexperienced eyes and ears, I understood that she was a very passionate lady who was changing the world and the role of women. I found her enthusiasm very infectious and a lot of the time she got me interested enough to ask questions about governance.
Although I always knew that I admired and looked up to Margaret Thatcher, it was only very much later in my life that I realized the significance and magnitude of the impact she had on me. Being the Chancellor of The University of Buckingham at the time I was a student there, I had the good fortune of meeting her on two occasions. As I stood face to face with the woman that I had looked up to and admired for so long, I was certainly not disappointed but I was most definitely star-struck.
Baroness Thatcher was a legend in her own life time. There are very few people of whom this can be said. One of the most intriguing and wonderful things about this woman was her dedication to her principle and conviction. Never was there a leader who was so prepared to stand by their convictions for good or bad like Margaret Thatcher. She always stayed true to her core values and her unyielding stance never to compromise them stood as her greatest strength and, at the same time, probably her greatest weakness.
Apart from her just ‘being’, there were many other aspects of Margaret Thatcher and many things she had done that have combined to make the many footprints on my heart and mind. She was a great example of the importance of dedicating oneself to hard work and a commitment to excellence. She was not a woman to suffer fools gladly and she had a healthy understanding of how to give as good as she got and absorb disapproval; as long as she believed in what she stood for and her principles, she really couldn’t care less about criticisms or distractions. A key lesson I learned from her. Her confidence and security in being different has always inspired me not to be afraid to be different, independent and to make my own decisions. She cared for her people and her country almost to a fault and she believed in the purpose of everything she did for Great Britain. As one of the most influential political figures of the 20th Century, she defined her country and had a profound effect on the politics of Britain and the world.
She was feisty, determined, focussed and brilliant. She was a remarkable, courageous and special woman. And it wasn’t solely because she was a woman who achieved what she did at the time she did, it is because only a handful of politicians ever in history have exercised such dominance during their term in office and attracted such strength of feeling, both for and against. Agree with her policies or not, there is no doubt that an era ended with her passing.
Her legacy has had a deep effect upon the policies of all her successors even though her radical and sometimes confrontational approach defined her 11-year period as prime minister. It was an innate stubbornness she had which led to her refusal to engage in consensus politics that made her a divisive figure. That, together with an opposition to her policies and her style of government led eventually to rebellion inside her party. Whilst not everyone will have agreed with her more controversial actions and policies such as the response to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and introduction of the poll tax, the integrity and determination with which she pursued them was truly intriguing. She had many faults as a leader, but the positive impact she had on her country far, far outweighed the negative.
The people who knew her best speak of her very dissimilar persona when she was in her personal capacity than the towering public figure that the world was presented with. As a public figure, Margaret Thatcher was viewed as an uncompromising and overbearing iron lady with an obdurate allegiance to her country at the detriment of others. As a private person, she was said to have had a great sense of humour, been kind natured and had an unassuming ability to make all those around her feel special and loved.
In the last decade, as I watched Margaret Thatcher negotiate the last stage of her life, the quality that first endeared me to her was what continued to strike me most about her; that characteristic of a person with strong convictions, who never gave up her dreams and never lost her zeal to speak up for what she believed in. She took advantage of the blessings life gave her and she aged with a grace that one would hope to emulate.
Though she had to curtail her activities as a result of deteriorating health, she continued to appear in public and lend her voice to support the courses she stood for, whenever she felt the need to. The tragic loss of her best-friend and husband, Dennis, whom she had described as her "rock" in 2003, and her good friend and political partner, Ronald Reagan only a year later, may have been big blows to her but it failed to completely take the wind from her sail.
The life and works of other people often influence us to be great in what we do. For so many of the achievements she accomplished, for so much of what she represented, Margaret Thatcher was truly what role models are made of. And her life and work will no doubt serve to influence generations yet to come. From the manner in which she operated as a leader, to her steadfast nature, to her commitment for her course, I doubt that anyone can ever write the history of world politics without mentioning Margaret Thatcher, who is much more than a footnote in the example of patriotism, conviction and determination.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher came a long way from the town of Grantham, Lincolnshire where she was born on the 13th October 1925. Being the daughter of a local councillor must have had an enormous impact on the direction of her life, her love for governance and the political policies she would eventually adopt. Becoming only the third female president of the Oxford University Conservative Association at the time she studied Chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford and latter qualifying as a Barrister, more than qualified her for the role that would come to define a historical way of governance.
Margaret Thatcher was a lady and a heroine. She was ‘my’ heroine, someone who taught, encouraged and helped this Nigerian woman on a journey without ever knowing she did. There are so many things I learned as a professional and a strong, independent woman from the example that Margaret Thatcher so unapologetically set. Excellence, integrity, personal sacrifice, virtues, resilience, patriotism, a deeper understanding of my greatest potential as a lawyer, a politician, a woman, a wife and a mother are just some of the teachings I strive to pick from her. I will value her example for the rest of my life.
Like so many others, I will never forget Margaret Thatcher and I feel privileged to have lived through a period that saw her strength of leadership and even more privileged to have had the good fortune of meeting a woman that I will forever look up to. I grieve at her passing and send my prayers and condolences to her children, Mark and Carole.
“Rest well Baroness, you will be sorely missed. While your footprints remain in the hearts and minds of millions of us, your legacy will never, ever be forgotten….”