In Praise of Women’s Protest ,By Issa Aremu

Aremu 600Commendably, Nigerian women in their numbers from all walks of life, on Thursday 6th of March came out at various state capitals and diaspora to protest the recent spate of bombings and killings in the north, especially the killing of the 43 students of Federal Government College, FGC, Bunu Yadi, Yobe State and the abduction of 25 female students of the school by the rampaging gun men. The protest coming on the eve of this year’s celebration of international Women day (March 8th) willy-nilly gave international women day a much desired human face in Nigeria. It was a radical departure from the elitist top- down official serminization of first ladies on peace without open demand for social justice which according to the protesting women must start with accountability for the abducted 25 female students of FGC, Bunu Yadi, Yobe State and an end to future wastage of students’ lives.

The idea of an International Women’s Day first arose out of mass protest of women for social justice at work and in the society as a whole. Some 157 years ago precisely on the 8 March 1857, women working in clothing and textile factories (called ‘garment workers’) in New York City, in the United States, staged a protest against inhumane working conditions and low wages. The police attacked the protesters and dispersed them. Two years later, again in March, these women formed their first labour union to try and protect themselves and gain some basic rights in the workplace. “On 8 March 1908, some 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour. The women adopted the slogan “Bread and Roses”, with bread symbolizing
economic security and roses a better quality of life.

An international conference, held by socialist organizations from around the world, met in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910. The conference of the Socialist International proposed a Women’s Day which was designed to be international in character. The proposal initially came from Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, who suggested an International Day to mark the strike of garment workers in the United States. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries,. The Day was established to honour the movement for women’s rights, including the right to vote (known as ‘suffrage’)”.

It is a sad commentary that a century after the proclamation of women day, Nigerian women are on the roads not necessarily to advance their rights (some of which that are still being daily violated), but to protect students (including female students) that are now becoming endangered spaces in the senseless war of attrition in the North east.

It was uplifting that female protesters which paraded notable protesters like Mrs Mariam Uwais ( wife of retired Chief Justice of the Federation) and Mrs Bisi Fayemi, (first lady of Ekiti state,) in Lagos defied the early morning downpour across the state and converged in Ikeja to demand that the Federal Government and the 36 states governors and the military agencies proffer solutions to end insurgency in the country. The women dressed in black attire, marched rightly expressed their worry over the massacre of the innocent students,called for improved security network in all the public schools and places of job all over the country.

The point cannot be overstated; the hearts of well meaning Nigerians grief over the terror attack on Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe State in which scores of students were murdered by gunmen and scores of girl students abducted.

While we can appreciate the official panic measure to hurriedly shut down 5 out of 80 unity schools, the government action is belated and reactionary rather than proactive. The action is unhelpful after scores of students had died. Why would government not proactively avoid the killing of these innocent students in the first instance? Why not shut down the schools to avoid the massacre? What happens to these students’ studies? Some of the students (numbering some 10,000!) are said to have registered for their WAEC and NECO examinations. How will they write the exams? Who will compensate them for the exams registered and not written?

Judging by the successful weeklong celebration of the Centenary of the amalgamation, in the final analysis, Nigeria cannot be said to be insecure. With the successful hosting of over 30 heads of government and states from Europe, America and Africa Nigeria is indeed secure. Are we saying that Nigeria is only secure for it’s leaders and their foreign friends or secure for all Nigerians?.

If there is the political will, there will be many ways to secure all Nigerians. What is good for the country’s leaders is even more desirable for our schools. And that is inclusive security for all.

If we could protect few dignitaries around the country during the centenary celebration, we should even be more upbeat and protect unity or any schools that accommodate tens of thousands of students. Good governance means security, service delivery for the greatest number of citizens not the few political elite.

Panic closures of schools invariably blackmail the nation to believing that education is indeed not needed. We must protect students and schools as much as we protect our political leaders. Nigeria cannot be part of 20 leading economies with hurriedly shut down schools on account of either terror attack or avoidable work-related crises. Many thanks to Nigerian women for raising the banner of social justice and an end to the studenticide (systematic unprovoked killings of students searching for knowledge).

Issa Aremu, mni

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