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Women are ready to serve too

Columns - Guest Contributors

Schola-100x100The elections have been won and lost, leaving ample time for reckoning before the commencement of another era filled with hope,

anxiety, promises et al; a Goodluck Jonathan era of fulfillment of promise and accomplishments made to the expectant electorates who defied rain and shine and made the journey to the voting polls to affirm his presidency. What a sweet victory that must have been for Jonathan on the night he was declared the winner of the 2011 Presidential election. That being said, a trip down memory lane on how the elections were won, who made what possible and what promises were made to the people is necessary to determine the way forward. It would be recalled that President Jonathan had in his electioneering campaign promised to actualize the 35 per cent affirmation action on women - to increase the number and contribution of women to Nigeria’s positive development

It has been said that behind every successful man there is a woman and it is on record that behind this past election were the women. The First lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan through her pet project, Women for Change Initiative, mobilized women all across the country with the utmost duty of making their votes count, especially in a society where they are better seen and not heard. Women took up the challenge as an avenue for change especially when poverty level has quadrupled and devastated the entire country leaving the electorates with little or no hope of survival. Most families have lost their earning power due to incessant lay offs and gross unemployment. Surely, women came out in large numbers to cast their votes because they want a change. Statistics emanating from many states show that women accounted for over 55% of the electorates that voted at the last elections. Also it goes to show that women are tired of playing the proverbial second fiddle to men and are ready to face reality and hold their future in the palm of their hands.

This election has shown to a great extent that women can change the face of any nation. As mothers, it is the women’s responsibility to ensure that the family is kept together in spite of everything going on around them. Women want a change that affects families positively by creating employment opportunities, affordable medical care, security, good roads and ease of transportation, good schools and adequate power supply among others. They are tired of promises that are never fulfilled and white collar politicians who are only out to feed their deep pockets and milk our oil revenue once elected. By this election, women are saying together that “we matter” and this is the mandate Mr. Jonathan got when he was declared winner. Also, this past election has redefined and changed the political map of the country. It is no longer party loyalty as usual but candidacy as was previously done in the past.

The 2011 elections came with a lot of upsets along party lines and it seemed the populace went for change and got more than they bargained for. So far, women account for less than 3% of the total winners to both state and federal legislative seats. This of course begs a lot of questions; what does this mean? Will Jonathan actualize his promise to give the UN mandated 35% to women through appointments to various offices, or will he leave women behind after all the support he got from them? Will Mr. President allow sentiments and frivolities to rule him? Or will he take charge and rule by doing the right thing?

A lot of people condemn the idea of women asking to be given a chance to show their ability in governance. They say women should quit demanding but go and get it. This is achievable as long as there is an equal playing field without any form of hindrance. Removing barriers to gender equality, tackling gender-based issues and getting more women into political boardrooms, has a positive impact on the economy and on the development of the society at large. Fact is Nigeria is still teething in the field of politics and even the men, after 50 long years, are yet to master the art of governance, hence not confident enough to have women partake in it.  They are afraid that if and when women are allowed fully to participate, the women might end up as super stars and take center stage.

These detractors are the reasons Nigeria is still far from making the much needed progress. Women should be given the same responsibilities as the men with the same goals and expectations. They should not be regarded as underdogs but represented in governance in order to create awareness about issues affecting women folks in general.  It is a proven fact that women are more trustworthy, transparent, honest, hardworking and gutsy among others.  These are definitely the qualities a good leader must possess and ones which our country needs and craves seriously at this time.

Nigeria, fondly called the giant of Africa, is sadly lagging behind in so many spheres among other African nations and the world at large.  With the election results out, both at Federal and State levels, it is very disappointing at the number of women who won at the polls.  It seems to me the harder the women try to be part of repositioning our Nigeria to a better country worthy of emulation by others in Africa, the more the naysayers pull the rug under their feet in order to render them incompetent and unavailable. It is implausible that out of 87 Senatorial seats, women clinched only 6 spots with PDP grabbing 4 while ACN and APGA each got one respectively.

The lucky winners are: Ngozi Nwogu from PDP representing Abia Central. She is a former Senate committee chairperson on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions. Ms. Nwogu supports Scholarships, Interest Free Micro-Credit and Skills Acquisition Schemes. Another is Helen Esuene also of the PDP. She is the wife of the former military governor of Cross Rivers State in the Gowon era. She was a former Minister of Environment in the Obasanjo term, for Akwa Ibom south; next is Chris Anyanwu. She is a Publisher, television and radio personality from APGA representing Imo East.

Others include Nenadi Usman, a former Minister of Finance under Obasanjo regime and currently chairperson of the Coalition of N.G.O's for Women Development in Kaduna State, representing  Kaduna South; Oluremi Tinubu of ACN and wife of ex Lagos State governor. Oluremi is representing Lagos Central. She is an advocate of rights and dignity of the poor, disadvantaged and most vulnerable members of the society; and lastly Aisha Jummai of PDP, was former Taraba State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice. She represents Taraba North.

The lower house returned with women winning only 3 seats out of 89 positions up for grabs in the Federal House of Representatives. Uche Lilian Ekwunife represents Anambra Njikoka constituency, under APGA while Rafeesuat Arinola Onabamiro and Olajumoke Abidemi Okoya-Thomas won the Lagos Island and Lagos Badagry constituencies under ACN respectively.

To begin to imagine that out of the millions of educated, intelligent, and professional women in the country only a few number made it to both the two most important law making houses of the country.  This by implication means that issues and laws affecting women in general may not get the attention they deserve. Women are supposed to be the backbone of any nation. It is a known fact that women can do as well as men in every area of life.  In government and business, women have demonstrated their ability to be highly efficient and effective leaders.

Globally, the world has recognized the leadership capabilities of women, such as Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Mary Mcleese, President of Ireland, President Doris Leuthard of Switzerland, President Dilma Rouseff of Brazil and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica. Others are President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Senator Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, former US Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi, former US House Speaker and member of House of Representative alongside 75 other remarkable women currently serving in the US lower House. Closer home, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is making great progress in Liberia. All these notable leaders have women appointed to positions of authority in their various countries.

Nigeria has highly seasoned women, both technocrats and politicians who have proven through their performances that they are just as competent as men, if not better. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, former Finance Minister and Managing Director at the world, for instance, have consistently shown ability to shine at different levels.  She led the Nigeria team that struck a deal with Paris Club; a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt worth $ 12 billion US dollars in exchange for an $18 billion US dollars write off that saved Nigeria roughly $1 billion US dollar every year on debt servicing alone. Oby Ezekwesili, currently Vice president for the World Bank’s Africa region held her own in various ministerial capacities as a former Minister of Education and also of Solid Minerals.  Dora Akinuyili, left an indelible mark as former National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) boss, so also Ndi Okereke Onyuike, (first woman) former Director General of Nigeria Stock Exchange. Diezani Allison-Madueke, Nigeria first woman Petroleum Minister is performing great on the job currently. Truthfully, the list is endless. In the business sector also, the country is blessed with women who are excellent in their various roles.  The Fortune 500 agrees that the best run companies with maximum profits and dividends are mostly those headed by women.

Recently, there have been calls from diverse schools of thoughts from all over the country and beyond to Mr. Jonathan. They have one underlying message - the need to make his Presidency count. This message is to appoint a 50 – 50 ratio cabinet comprising of technocrats and politicians drawn from all across the globe. Mr. President must shun sycophancy and not base his criteria or restrict himself to old and familiar names but should strive to include as many God fearing, intelligent, honest, and hardworking professional women with integrity who are aware of the problems and ready to give their best to see a new and revitalized nation. By this, women will surely have a platform where they can contribute immensely, bring to the fore issues affecting the ordinary man and woman on the street, and proffer solutions without fear or intimidation.  The President has a golden opportunity to break the 50 year old jinx supposedly put on the country’s governance by creating a legacy for his administration and make history. Likewise women are waiting to be partners in this history making administration. He has made several firsts already including the appointment of Diezani Allison-Madueke as the first woman Petroleum Minister in Nigeria.

Mr. Jonathan should borrow a leaf from the western world where women serve in various capacities of governance. In the United States, for instance, President Obama has appointed more women from all walks of life to positions of authority than his predecessors.  This is due to the fact that they oftentimes perform better than their male counterparts. They are very thorough, sensitive, in touch with the people and most importantly are mothers. They feel the pulse of the nation in more ways than one. The President must not let down the womenfolk that gave him the mantle of leadership but must keep his promise. Whatever he decides to do, he should listen to his inner soul for guidance when choosing his lieutenants. He should not allow this dispensation to turn out to be just like the rest of them or simply put “politics as usual”. “Mr. President Sir, this is your Legacy. Stand for change and make it count”.

The mandate is in your hands, Jonathan. Good luck.




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