Our Forgotten Heroine – Lydia Azuelie Akanbodiipo
In modern Ghana, and Buluk in particular, politics have been reduced to a patron/client relationship to the extent that our heroes, the real public servants who served with distinction, now have their names in the shadows of history. One lady who has suffered this fate most is the late Lydia Akanbodiipo, MP for Bulsa in the Second Republic of Ghana from 1969-1972.
Madam Lydia, as she was affectionately called, was born in 1942 in Sandema, Longsa. She had her basic education at Sandema Old Primary and Middle Boarding, now Sandema Senior High School. She later went to Tamale Training College and Winneba Specialist Teachers College of Education. Throughout her higher education she was a member of the Students Representative Council (SRC) where she was very vocal and also displayed unique leadership qualities.
After college she settled to her professional life as a teacher but her desire for public service was noticeable. She was active in community work and political activities. It was therefore not a surprise when in 1969 Mr. Komla Gbedema, finance minister under Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in the First Republic, approached her to stand for Parliamentary elections on the ticket of the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL), the party he founded. She accepted the challenge and won massively over her opponents, among them the Progress Party, which was better resourced and had the tacit support of the ruling government. She entered Parliament as the only woman MP in the opposition but managed to break that glass ceiling to be nominated as the opposition Chief Whip, a position she held until the end of the Second Republic. She won an election that no woman in Ghana ever did at her time yet unfortunately no one seems to recognize that. It is true that there were women MPs in Ghana already in the First Republic but unlike Madam Lydia, none of these women won their seats in competitive elections. It was the introduction of the Representation of the People (Women Members) Bill which became law in June 1960 that gave ten women free passage to Parliament unopposed. A notable woman who benefited from this Bill was Mrs. Susana Alhassan.
MPs are lawmakers, so the success of an MP must be measured by the bills that he as a legislator can draft, lobby and push to become law. Being a Women’s Rights Activist, Madam Lydia lobbied and worked hard on a landmark Bill that granted women the right to maternity leave with pay for 3months. Today the lives of many mothers are better off because of this remarkable achievement, yet the name Lydia Akanbodiipo remains in the shadows. Her advocacy for women and children rights won her admiration in Europe and North America. In 1971 she went to the USA to learn and observe women in politics and was immediately recognized and invited by President Richard Nixon for a state dinner.
In 1969 the people of Buluk had a choice to make in an election. Out of many men they went for a woman and she and Catherine Tedam became the only women in Parliament. This woman gave us national and international honor. She lived her life for Buluk fighting for the creation of Buluk as a district, pushing for children to have education and standing for the poor and marginalized. A great public servant but as the Biblical adage suggests- A prophet is not without honor except among his own people. Perhaps if she used her position to siphon resources and build herself an imposing mansion in Sandema, this generation would remember her. But she wasn’t the self-seeking type of politician. She was selfless, and served with dignity. I hope Bulsa will honour her memory in a fitting way in the near future.