Women & the Need for Active Citizenship: The Gender & Equal Opportunity Bill in View

Abimbola & Damilare

Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. (a retired General of the US Army) describes leadership as a potent combination of strategy and character, strongly emphasizing character as the leading of the two elements. Nigerians believed this in electing Rtd. General Muhammadu Buhari based on his projected anti-corruption stance. Increasingly, the people are realising their power is greater than that of those in power. The growing hunger for good governance in Nigeria has birthed movements like the #RedCardMovement, emphasising the importance of the 3C’s (Character, Competence and Capacity) in elected and appointed leaders. Active citizenship has seen Nigerians ask for the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill. As at 9th March 2018, the Bill has been approved in 35 out of the 36 State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria. Thus, the constitutional requirement for approval by two-third of all the State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria has been met, leaving only the Presidential Assent as a condition to make the Bill become law.

However, such active citizenship continues to leave women behind in the discourse on those qualified to be the 21st century problem-solving leaders in Nigeria. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (2016), women only occupy 7.5% of positions in the Federal Parliament; 5.6% in the State Parliament and 31.8% in the Judiciary. This is an improvement on female representation in the parliament in the early and mid-60s. Between 1960 and 1965, there were just four (4) female legislators in Nigeria, namely: Mrs. Wuraola Esan and Mrs. Bernice Kerry of the Federal Parliament; Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, Mrs Janet Muokelu and Mrs Ekpo A. Young of the Eastern Region House of Assembly. In an attempt to remedy this situation, the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill of 2016, sponsored by Senator Biodun Christine Olujinmi, is proposing a minimum of 35% participation of women in politics to be enforced by the Federal Character Commission.

An intersection of geographical, ethnic and economic challenges already limits their access. Bright female minds have been lost to and suppressed by domestic violence, early marriages, rapes, kidnappings, female genital mutilation (FGM), corruption and patriarchal-led causes. Corruption has stifled meritocracy which would have produced many more women than currently available in the political sphere. Men, primary beneficiaries of patriarchy, and women alike are resisting and paying lip service to gender equality. Are men, especially political office holders, willing to give up power to accommodate women and ensure gender equality? Owing to past and recent events, this is doubtful. Are the women confident enough in their capacity to attain equality? Many are still caught up in the patriarchal-grab, unwilling to break its shackles.

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Although, Nigeria has long ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), steps to achieving gender equality have moved very slowly over the years, if not abandoned. Events in the legislative arm of government has revealed the gross disrespect for women, and openly admitted fear of women in government.

On the 9th July 2016, an altercation on the floor of the senate ensued between Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Remi Tinubu which caught media attention in Nigeria. Reports of the closed-door session reveals that Mr Melaye said: ‘Look, this is not Bourdillon (the residence of Mrs Tinubu’s husband and APC Chieftain, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu) I will beat you up…… impregnate you and nothing will happen’. In Mr Melaye’s unintended admittance to the validity of this statement, he claimed this was a reaction to Mrs Tinubu calling him a ‘Thug’ and more infuriatingly, a ‘dog’. He also amused reporters at his press conference saying ‘Biologically, it is even impossible to impregnate Mrs Tinubu because she has arrived menopause’. To say the least, his words and the reactions of the reporters at this press conference reveal utter disrespect and disregard for women.

In a similar development, patriarchy was at its best on March 8, 2018, the international day for women, on the floor of the lower chamber of the federal legislature. According to the Honourable Member of the House of Representatives, representing Kazaure/Roni/Gwiwa/Yakwanshi constituency of Jigawa State, Mr Gudaji Muhammed Kazaure:

“Right now, we give them some opportunities which is almost a captured 70% of our opportunity. MY FEAR is, the women CONTROL THE MEN at home, if you give them too much opportunity OUTSIDE THE HOUSE, they will CAPTURE EVERYTHING……. Because most of them are very intelligent, VERY (VERY) INTELLIGENT. If you give them too much chance, one day, they will OVERTHROW US. One day you will come here and find women everywhere in this chamber and THEY WILL MESS UP…. Because when they go zig-zag, we are the ones who straighten them…. let them stay under our control.”

This statement captures the thoughts of many Nigerians, men and women alike, including the President who said his wife belongs to the kitchen, the living room and the other room, after she made a ‘negative’ comment about his (mal) administration. For those who understand the mockery reference to the First Lady (by Mr. President) as belonging to ‘the kitchen and other room’, they will acknowledge that the statement is a serious gender issue— a statement that sought to strength the gender-biased and masculinist belief that women are societally designed to be house wives whose lives are expected to be spent in the kitchen cooking for their husbands and in the bedroom, making babies.

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The ridiculous fear that women are out to capture everything, and overthrow men has impact on the slow passage of the GEO Bill. Gender equality is not women’s domination and the fall of man. Let everybody be told. A legitimate struggle by women to occupy a fair space in the political sphere and jointly take an active part in our economic growth and development should not be construed as a threat to men. Women, from time past till date have fought side by side with men only to lose the reward of legitimacy to men alone. The role of women in Nigeria’s independence proves this.

The Aba women’s riot/ women’s war of 1929 was led by Nwanyemura Ikonnia. The two-month long protest led to the reversal of harsh taxation policies, release of imprisoned activists, reduction of the warrant chiefs’ powers, resignation of some warrant chiefs, spread of feminist and anti-colonial struggles at the expense of the injuries and fatality of some of these women. In the same vein, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (later known as the Abeokuta’s Women Union) and led protests in 1949 against harsh taxation of market women by the British through the traditional rulers. She led and joined the delegation negotiating for the independence of Nigeria from the British Colonial masters. Despite being a ranking member of the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC), she was expelled after losing her bid at the federal parliament, and consequently formed her party, The Commoners People Party. She lost the elections in her area facilitating the win of the opposition party, Action Congress.

In recent times, women have continually proven their leadership qualities and technical skills across various sectors. Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, tamed the spread of the Ebola virus when she quarantined the infected immigrant, Patrick Sawyer despite pressures from the Liberian Government to release him to attend a conference in Calabar. She paid the ultimate price with her life but saved millions of Nigerians. Let’s not forget Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a two time Minster for Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In charge of Finance, she was able to, with her intellectual capacity and integrity, bail Nigeria of a 30 billion dollar debt— a negotiation she did with the Paris Club of Creditor’s; she steered Nigeria’s macroeconomic management and put in place the implementation of an Oil-price based fiscal rule; introduced the practice of publishing various states’ monthly financial allocation on newspapers for the promotion of transparency in government; built an electronic platform with the Personal Information System (PIS) to curtail corruption in the process with the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. She currently sits as a chair of the board of African Union African Risk Capacity.

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The exploits of great women such as Alimotu Pelewura, Margaret Ekpo, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Grace Alele-Williams, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, Prof Dora Nkem Akinyuli, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Ndidi Nwuneli, Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, Mosunmola (Mo) Abudu, Uche Pedro, Josephine (Joe) Okei-Odumakin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hadiza Bala Usman, Olufunke Baruwa, Funmi Falana and many more prove the undoubtable capacity and character of women to lead, even in politics.

Despite the contributions of women to the independence and development of contemporary Nigeria, they are majorly exempted from the elected political class, hence had no legitimate right to lead in the elective political sphere. Doling out appointment letters to women is not an optimal use of their capacity and strengths, neither is relegating them to Deputy Governor slots. The GEO bill would ensure a fairer playing field for women in public and private spheres. Therefore, active citizenship in getting the Not Too Young to Run Bill passed is needed for the GEO bill also. Men and women should in unison:

  1. Campaign and advocate for the enforcement of the 35% minimum candidacy by Political parties in any election;
  1. Challenge the gender stereotypes that abound in our cultural beliefs by propagating the achievements of women and men who have thrived above these stereotypes; and
  1. Campaign aggressively for the Federal and State Legislatures to pass this bill for the benefit of our nation.

Women with the 3C’s are abound and should be encouraged to contest elections at local, state and federal levels, that come 2019 Nigeria can benefit from the vibrancy of youthful, capable, competent and strong character men and women. The TIME is NOW, and we hereby nominate, invite and encourage all the living women mentioned in this article and other women of like minds and pedigrees to join the political field to deliver a truly united, equal, equitable and prosperous Nigeria of our dreams.

Abimbola Abikoye & Damilare Shodimu.


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