Women: Whence The Difference? By Issa Aremu



Aremu2013Somehow unwittingly, Nigerian women seemed to have refuted Francis Fakuyama’s outlandish proclamation of the “End of History” (1992) following the deafening collapse of Soviet communism in the 80s. It is certainly not yet the end of history of Nigeria’s elitist women celebration of their increasing incorporation to the structures of Nigeria’s governance ( or is it mis-governance?). It an open knowledge the entire socio-economic activities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were grounded as the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, (in almost discredited unproductive Soviet/North Korean style) led some women groups, under the auspices of the Nigerian Council of Women Societies (NCWS), to march for peace and empowerment on Thursday 15th of August in Abuja. But observers with
memory would recollect there nothing original about Thursday outing.

Indeed it a continuation of the very same state financed top-down Abuja gathering of largely wives of political office holders, political female and their related allies dating back to OBJ era of political psychophancy and resource wastage. Indeed it was a reenactment of exhibited culture of “First Ladysim” and “political Wifisim”. It is not yet the end of history. In 2007, Women in Government, WIG, so-called, rolled out the drum “in
profound appreciation of President Obasanjo administration’s remarkable involvement of women in governance since 1999”. At last week’s colourful televised dinner, President Goodluck Jonathan was conferred with a Life Time Icon award by the women. Similar generous awards were given to obviously over-awarded Vice President and some Governors. The President certainly boasts of awards overload too. Two months earlier he was honoured with the Global Women Advancement Award. I cannot recollect what award in 2007, was conferred on the then President Olusegun Obasanjo whose bagful of awards would fill his
presidential library. But the then organizers, Women in Government, WIG were smarter. They massaged OBJ’s ego and made sure the appreciation party coincided with Mr Large ego’s 69th (?), 70th (?), 71st (?) or was it 72nd (?) birthday (President Obasanjo, the celebrant told those who cared then his birthday was anybody’s guess). The appreciation party just like last Thursday’s witnessed who-was-who in females in governance; from ministers to special advisers! The impression was OBJ was the first and the last President to enhance quantitative participation of females in government in terms of affirmative action.

Last Thursday’s rally, tagged: “Celebration of Nigerian women for peace and empowerment,” created serious gridlock as security agents blocked and diverted motorists away from some of the major routes in Abuja. All roads from Berger Junction, Central Area and the Federal Secretariat complex were reportedly blocked for the special rally, which started around 7am at the Old Parade Ground, Area 10, Garki, as participants marched through designated routes to the Eagle Square, venue of the gathering. And that is the issue! Are we saying that when women celebrate just like men in government, socio-economic activities
of a country with 70 per cent bellow poverty income are grounded? Whence the difference in women in governance when on the day for National Productivity Award Day, the Federal Capital was shut down? Why celebration on a working day, not on a Saturday?

As a gender equality activist, I am excited that women are being integrated in national development process. I am even more impressed that millions of our women including my mother earn and deserve their achievements and accomplishment not necessarily through affirmative actions. Indeed it is the society that must apologise for the historic exclusion of women in the past rather than women rolling out praises for leaders who are doing what they should in the first instance if Nigeria must have a sustainable development; women inclusion.
However as good as the feminization of governance the difference is not yet as clear. As the celebration continued, Universities remained closed; the education portfolio is under the heel of a woman who signed agreements with ASUU in 2009 but implemented in the breach. Why would the women not put pressures to bear to reopen the universities? Certainly Nigeria parades first female of state, first foreign Affairs , first of Finance, Ministers for Solid Minerals and Education, first Petroleum Minister, twice times Minister of the Federal Republic and first cordinating Minister (read; Prime Minister!) and a significant number of high profile female advisers
on critical success programmes like Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But Nigeria is 153rd on the global United Nations Development index out of 163 countries.

Women can and must effectively bring a different perspective into governance based on their experiences, rich heritage of struggles, competence, resistance to oppression and marginalization. In Nigeria, the expectation about the difference women could bring to bear is even very high: the widening gap between great and miserable reality, mass unemployment amidst idle capacity, self-aggrandizement and corruption amidst dwindling commonwealth and grandiose promises and deepening poverty.

Paradoxically women in government do not pose the question of their relevance in governance in this way. They seem more contended being accorded unprecedented opportunity to be appointed to serve. They individually counted in personal awards and serial global appointments. The abysmal and scandalous shortages of basics like water and energy shows that we are far from meeting the MDGs. With trillion of Naira on power sector, Nigeria is still largely in darkness. Industrialization remains a tall order without electrification. A dispensation that throws many women up for national service has further pushed (or has not uplifted) as many women as 70 per cent bellow poverty. In fact gender
desegregation of deepening poverty and destitution makes observers talk of the new phenomenon of feminization of poverty again in a dispensation in which women political office holders have captured imagination. There are cynics who insist that women in governance have only legitimized bad governance and underdevelopment. The issue here is that female participation comes to naught until Nigeria’s existing recurring failure factors, namely education, power, industry and health are transfigured into clear cut success factors. There cannot be celebration as such, until commonwealth is built in place of the present personal aggrandizement of the political elite made up of men and few privileged women.

Nigeria is totally imperiled if either by omission or commission, women join in the present obscenely advertised madness of the ruling (read: ruining) male elite, the manifestations of which include political blood-letting, corruption, insecurity, water shortage, energy failure, robbery, universities’ closures ad-infinitum. Maternal mortality ratio (adjusted) per 100,000 live births in Nigeria 948. The corresponding figures for Ghana and South Africa were 540 and 240. Our Celebration seems too soon!

Issa Aremu mni

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