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Girl child education, democratic governance and sustainable development in Africa: A call for action

By Dan Mou
14 May 2015   |   12:48 am
IT is the position of this Paper that our inability to recognize this basic fact in the past has been primarily responsible for the failure of our previous efforts at social mobilization, especially dealing with the girl child education problem.


A paper presented as a keynote speaker at the occasion of the kick-off of the “Pan-African Girl Child Education Campaign” organized by the Boss Friendship Club in Nigeria in conjunction with the World Dynasty Pageant, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Nigeria.

IT is the position of this Paper that our inability to recognize this basic fact in the past has been primarily responsible for the failure of our previous efforts at social mobilization, especially dealing with the girl child education problem.

The significance of family or household approach to the theory and practice of national development and societal change can be further appreciated when we consider it against the existing intellectual traditions and their treatment of the family. This is done briefly below.

For liberal (bourgeois) analysis of society, pluralist groups, be they ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic or otherwise, are seen as agents of history. Thus, they forget that these groups are not monolithic along gender lines.

Within every ethnic, religious, racial, etc. group, there are always male and female member with different social conditions and opportunities for socio-economic advancement or the reverse.

Yet, this perspective, operating at higher levels of the social structure, fails to appreciate the significance and relevance of the family.

For instance, whether there is ethnic, racial and religious intolerance, or for that matter, whether there is massive corruption and indiscipline in any society, depends on the kinds of social values to which members were socialized or exposed to at the family levels.

Within Marxist analysis, the question of females (women) and for that matter, the family, have never been addressed. In fact, most class theory and analysis has been centred upon males; and it has rarely been closely associated with the study of the family.

It is common knowledge that Marx wrote virtually nothing about possible intersections between class exploitation and the exploitation of women. He simply indicated that the family, like the State, will wither away in the course of societal progress.25 Engels did attempt such a task however, in the Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State.

In his book, he tried to tie the origins of sexual domination to the emergence of private property, which in turn was regarded as the condition for the development of the State.

The earliest forms of society, Engels argues, were matriarchal, that is, women were more powerful than men. But this relation between the sexes became reversed with the formation of private property.

27 While I do not want to bore you with the details of Engels theory on how this process came about, it is enough to point out that it was supposedly associated directly with the advent of private property (and therefore, social classes), since men assumed supremacy to protect inheritance.

Accordingly, sexual exploitation in Engels’s analysis is explained as an offshoot of class exploitation under capitalism. With the advent of socialism, gender exploitation will disappear.

28 Given the rise and recent fall of socialist societies in the Soviet Union and Western Europe, we know as of fact that women continued to be subject of exploitation even under socialist systems.

Thus, socialism and communism did not provide any solution to the problem of women because they failed to make the family the central unit of analysis and therefore, public policy.

Thus, Marxism or class analysis, simply put, is not an adequate vehicle for either understanding patriarchy, i.e. domination of women by men, or for developing practical programmes of social change that would alter existing imbalances of power between the sexes.

The failure of Socialism and Marxist class analysis to address the problem of women domination and subordination has angered feminists of all persuasions.

Most feminist theorists now state explicitly that examining the effects of inequalities in the sexual division of labour on the class system entails revising, in a fundamental way, some of the established concerns of class theory as advocated by Marxists.

31 Feminists have also rejected the view that the family, and not only simply women, should constitute the focus of analysis; and therefore, the target of Public Policy and Publicity.

Consequently, they reject the view that the class position of families is above all, determined by the occupational position of the male head of the household.

The feminist position is that in all societies, most families are not engaged in production as a unit but as individual wage earners or employers.

34 Besides, a high proportion of household units are made up of single adults, of one parent families, or of families where the adult male is unemployed or retired.

Moreover, focusing on the family as a whole does not allow for analysis of the contribution of women’s work inside the household as domestic labour, and outside the household as paid wage labour, to the resources of the family. Thus, feminist further argue, it is simply not justifiable to proceed as though the activities and attitudes of females are just a pale reflection of those of the males.

36 The involvement of women in unpaid domestic labour, caring for the house, and child-rearing are indeed critical activities. These domestic labour, feminists insist, may not be “productive labour” in the Marxist sense; but it is still “socially necessary labour” which acts as a major prop to capitalistic class systems.

Thus, feminists conclude that, men will have to be forced to give up their favoured positions in the division of labour – in the labour market and at home – both if women’s subordination is to end and if men are to begin to escape class oppression and exploitation.

38 This was indeed the kind of feminist rhetorics that informed the conception and implementation of the defunct Better Life for Women Programme by late Mrs. Mariam Babangida.

By this action, she made a tremendous development of women generally, and rural women in particular. Many of them became empowered in different ways. She championed the building of the Mariam Babangida Centre for Women.

This Centre was unfortunately renamed by the General Abacha Government as the National Women Centre, thus denying Mrs. Babangida of her hard earned honour.

This needs to be reversed. Despite these achievements, the unfortunate aspect of it was that with their consciousness significantly raised by this programme, some of the women saw themselves as antagonistic to men, and even their husbands.

Thus, rather than saving the family, Better Life for Women Programme became a tool for the destruction of marriages, and therefore, the institution of the family. Little did these feminists wait to think of the negative consequences of these actions on societal values.

They forgot even that the family must first be preserved and supported if men and women are to realize their full potentials and contribute their quota to national development and social mobilization towards positive societal values.

39 Of recent, analysts working within the socialization perspective have regarded the family or the family household, as a major factor in the dissemination of societal values.

By socialization here, I mean, the developmental processes whereby each person (male or female) acquires the knowledge, skills, believes, values, attitudes and dispositions which enable him or her to function as a member of the society. Through the teaching of the family, children grow up to learn how to live with others and acquire these values, believes and attitudes.

The reproduction of values, even from generation to generation, is in part, due to the role the family plays within the society. As former President Jimmy Carter stated it cogently: The family is the first Government.

If we want less Government, we must have stronger families, for Government steps in by necessity when families have failed. In effect, therefore, when social and economic strains challenge the stability of the family unit, the whole society stands to lose.

It is a matter of great surprise that previous attempts to promote societal values, through several kinds of social mobilization programmes in this continent never considered the family as the target and agent for carrying out these social mobilisation campaigns. No wonder, therefore, that they have so far proved to be largely a failure.

STATE AUTONOMY, SOCIAL CLEAVAGES AND THE GIRL CHILD EDUCATION The role of the state in the society has generally been on the increase, despite the increasing agitations in certain quarters for limiting it.

However, where the individuals and the family fail to protect the girl child education, the rational expectation is that the State should intervene on her behalf. Why has this not happened in most cases in Africa? The fact that the problem of girl child education is still with us today is an indication of the failure of state policy.

To be able to address this question, we need to examine the emerging intellectual traditions regarding the state and social cleavages.

Does the state have the autonomy to act decisively in matters of this nature? The earlier paradigms or approaches considered above, cannot fully answer this question.

From the perspective of rational choice or household strategies approach, the issues relating to the state and state action in the society are clearly left out. In other words, even when taken collectively, these perspectives have not and cannot address the question of the state and the public policies that stem from it.

Neither can they address the uses or in fact, misuses of state power in Africa”42 An examination of the political implications of why the girl child education has persisted all over Africa, including Nigeria, despite the emergence of democratic rule in most of the continent needs to be done.

This requires an investigation of the autonomy of the state in Africa vis-à-vis the dominant and subordination cleavages in the various nations.

These dominant groups and classes as well as the international lending agencies dictating state policies in African nations, are collectively referred to as international capital. State autonomy basically means “the freedom of the state from direct and indirect control by dominant economic classes and ultimately from structural constraints.

The importance of state autonomy revolves around the question: to what extent, or under what conditions, can the capitalist state operate independently of class intervention and pressures both within and outside the society? It is clear enough that an autonomous state may intervene in the economy with different implications than a state captured by the dominant classes and foreign capital.

The concern here is that “the (economic) crisis has severely undermined the power of the state as the banks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) joined forces to demand austerity programmes and a lower level of state participation in the economy.

”45 Since individual’s assessment and perception of state intervention in the economy usually depends on their social conditions; it is important to locate this discussion in a particular theoretical problematic. There are three basic problematics from which attempts tend to be made in evaluating a state policy.

First, is to assume that the government had good intensions in initiating the policy. If the outcome is not desirable, it is simply because things may have gone wrong during the process of implementation.

Reflecting this view, Dan Mou has cautioned that: Whatever the alleged noble intentions of state policies, that by itself is not sufficient evidence to conclude that they will be realized as intended. This is because policy proclamations and implementation are different creatures.

In the process of implementation, the original goals can be obstructed, distorted, diverted or even inverted by the prevailing structures, agents and interests.46 The second view holds that “capitalist reform reflects the conscious will and understanding of some sectors of the capitalist class that has grasped the magnitude of the problem and proposes a set of solutions.

This, it is argued, they do through the use of the state to implement “strategies of forcing the working class to bear the costs of economic contradictions through dramatic reductions in living standards combined with severe political repression”.

The third problematic “suggests that the capacity of capitalism to rationalize itself is the outcome of a conflict among sets of agents – the capitalist class, the managers of the state apparatus, and the working class.

Rationalization occurs ‘behind the back’ of each set of actors so that rationality cannot be seen as a function of the consciousness of one particular group”.

By “rationalization” and “capitalist reform”, Block is “referring primarily to the use of the state in new ways to overcome economic contradictions and to facilitate the integration of the working class” into the prevailing hegemony.

50 The present Paper is located mainly within the third problematic, even thou it also draws from the other two whenever the discussion so demands. In short, recent debates on the state and economy have reflected all these three problematics.

Liberal contributions to this debate on state intervention in the economy begin from the assumption that the state is a “natural agent” that functions for the “common good” of “society” or the “public”.

The more sophisticated ones go further to suggest that sometimes there are problems, and state power is not exercised for the “common good.” But these are usually seen as exceptional instances (which, in Dahl’s reasoning, are to be tolerated) rather than rule.”

52 The state is defined in this pluralist perspective in terms of its inherent characteristics and behavioral attributes. These attributes and characteristics usually include but are not limited to: monopoly of power, territoriality, neutrality of rule, institutional ensemble, sovereignty and anthropomorphic features.

Whether or not state policies benefit certain groups or classes is thus seen as a function of this participation in politics. Participation in this case, understood broadly as the ability of citizens or some collectivities of citizens to influence state policies in favour of what they stand for.

54 Whatever the merits of pluralist approaches to state intervention in the economy, they seem grossly inadequate. Most students of public policy are by now aware that electoral participation is not a good predictor of state policies even in the democratic societies.

Moreover, direct participation in policy, particularly in a present context, is a function of power. In which case, in a class divided and multi-ethnic society, such as Nigeria, the more powerful individuals, groups and classes are winners by definition. State policies, therefore, end up serving the interests of the most powerful groups and classes in society.

Hence, the argument that there cannot be any state functioning for the “common good” in a society bedeviled with various social cleavages based on class, region, ethnicity, religion, gender and even language.56 Neo-Marxist writings on the role of the state in the economy have rejected the notion that state policies are serving the “common good” of society.

The argument is that the state lacks the autonomy to ensure that its policies are in the interests of all groups and classes in the society.

Instead, the state, and therefore, its policies, are completely hostage to serving the interest of the dominant classes and groups on which it depends. Lenin, Miliband, Therborn and Domhoff are the leading advocates of this instrumentalist conception of the state and its policies.

Aside from the dominant classes and groups using the state and its policies to pursue their interests; they also use the state for the subjugation of the subordinate classes and groups. Lenin, for example, explains that “the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another”.

Similarly, Miliband states concerning the capitalist state: There may be occasions and matters where the interest of all classes (i.e. dominating and dominated classes) happen to coincide.

But for the most part and in essence, these interests are fundamentally and irrevocably at odds, so that the state cannot possibly be their common trustee; the idea that it can is part of the ideological veil which a dominant class draws upon the reality of class rule, so as to legitimate that rule in its own as well as in the eyes of the subordinate classes.

60 When this instrumentalist framework, even state policies that apparently favour the subordinate classes such as social welfare schemes, or even girl child education are seen merely as attempts to “control” these subordinate classes and legitimize class rule.

Three major reasons are given as to why the dominant classes and groups are able to hijack the state and its policies for their exclusive benefits.

First, it is alleged that these dominant groups and classes usually control the institutions of the state and other ideological apparatuses – the executive, the judiciary, the legislative bodies, political parties, educational system, the mass media, etc.

Second, it is suggested that “even where the people concerned are not directly (by social origin) members of the dominant bourgeois class, they are recruited into it by virtue of education and connection, and come to behave as if they were members of that class by birth.

Third, the ability of the dominant classes and groups to resort to their economic power to control the state is given. Thus, it is argued that the dominant class, because it controls the major sectors of the economy, can compel the state to do its will through the threat, or actual use of, “investment strikes” – withholding capital and forcing the economy to a standstill.

This, it is believed, will lead to the final collapse of the regime in power.63 Part of the major limitation of this instrumentalist neo-Marxist approach to the state is that it assumes that there is no disagreement among and within the dominant classes. It is obvious that policies do hurt some members of the dominant classes such as they may have benefitted others.

It can, therefore, not be simply assumed that the dominant classes and groups have to always serve through its policies. Moreover, if the state were so dependent on the dominant classes as they allege; the state will not be in a position to manage the long-term interests of the dominant classes.

To do that some amount of autonomy may be required. It is this apparent contradiction in the instrumentalist view that led to the structuralist neo-Marxists view championed by Poulantzas and Wright.

Thee instrumentalist interpretation concedes some “relative autonomy” to the state. Poulantzas put it thus: This state by its very structure, gives to the economic interests of certain dominated classes guarantees which may even be contrary to the short term economic interests of the dominant classes, but which are compatible with their political interests and their hegemonic domination … However, this simply shows that the state is not a class instrument, but rather the state of its society divided into classes.

65 Of recent “state-centred” perspectives have also emerged as alternative explanations of state policies. Writers within this perspective make a strong case for state autonomy.

The most notable ones being Skocpol and Nordlinger.66 Skocpol rejects the arguments of neo-Marxists who see the state as representing only the interests of the dominant classes. Instead, she argues that in the struggle between the dominant classes or groups and their subordinates; the state is to be viewed as a third party.

This third party (the state) is more or less autonomous from these conflicting groups and classes. Yet, the state autonomy is not to be seen as a deceptive strategy that enables it to stay above social classes and groups and resolve the stalemate in favour of the dominant ones. Rather, state policies, are to be seen as a consequence of domestic and international factors.

68 Nordlinger accepts this position as well when he states: The democratic state is not only frequently autonomous insofar as it regularly acts upon its preferences, but also markedly autonomous in doing so even when its preferences diverge from the demands of the most powerful groups in civil society

69 While it may be true that a stronger case can be made for state autonomy, this has to be demonstrated, not assumed. As Gowa correctly points out, “the conclusion that state officials do not act consistently (or at all) on behalf of interest groups or classes does not resolve the issue of how and why state officials do act.”

Thus, statist theories, to be useful, might have to tell us why the state acts the way it does. It seems only a concrete substantive investigation of a particular state action can resolve this debate. The key issue, therefore, is one of good governance under a democratic setting. We consider this below:

NATURE OF GOOD OR DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE The concept of ‘good governance” is equally contentious. It is both a juridical, ideological and public policy concept. From the juridical or legal perspective, good governance can be defined as governing in accordance with the rule of law and providing the public good for the general public by the leaders in a given society; or by the government or the State in accordance with their rights and entitlements. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25

(1) as adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of December, 1948, defines good governance from this legal or juridical perspective. According to the United Nations Declaration just cited about, citizens of every nation and indeed all human beings have basic needs and human rights.

Once the leaders or government or the State caters well for these basic needs and protects these human rights; then there is good governance in that society.

It means, therefore, that where there is good governance, the interest of the girl child and her right to equality with the boy child in education and other areas, should be protected. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25 (1) 10th December, 1948 states it: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

72 The basic needs of man and the protection of economic rights are therefore the basics, under this definition, for determining whether there is good government in a given society or not.

Minister-of-Education-Mr.-Ibrahim-Shekarau-360x225Most African countries, including Nigeria, do not have these economic rights stated in their Constitutions under the juridical sections where they can be held accountable.

As we shall see, in the case of Nigeria below, they are only stated as “Directive Principles of State Policy”. Thus, no citizen can have the legal basis to sue regarding what the particular Economic or educational Rights he is insisting upon. There is no question that the concept of fundamental human rights is truly fundamental.

At the heart of it all, is the recognition and acceptance that man, as a superior animal, should of necessity distinguish himself from other living things, such as animals and beasts.

The driving motive behind the idea of fundamental human rights is therefore, essentially human brotherhood, irrespective of individual differences.

The problem, however, is that central as these rights are in defining good governance, there is no consensus on them among nations. There is also no consensus amongst scholars and policy makers, regarding these fundamental human rights that others consider the minimum condition for rating a leader or government as engaged in good governance73. This fundamental divide is between the “naturalists” and the “positivists”.

The naturalist conception understands law and human rights as handed down by providence or human reason. Thus, writing within the naturalist viewpoint, Canston defines human rights to be “something of which no one may be deprived of without a great affront to justice. These are certain deeds which should never be done, certain freedoms which should never be invaded, some things which are supremely scared”. This conception, however, can be seen as largely idealistic.

It also does not recognise the variations of human rights practices across cultures and societies. We know as of fact that “justice” as a value may vary from society to society and that the law does not often recognise what ought to be. Rule of law means simply operating under the existing laws.

The problem is that in Africa, most governments do not regard education as the right of every citizen, male or female. It is partly these limitations with the naturalistic view of good governance and human rights that gave birth to the “positivists” type definitions. Within this realm, Osita Eze has maintained correctly that: “human rights represent demands or claims which individuals or groups make on society, some of which are protected by law and have become part of ex lata while others remain aspirations to be attained in future.

In strict legal terminology, only a right recognised and protected by the legal system can be considered as right”. The question of legal recognition of human rights is very important.

This is because no right can be presumed to exist which is not recognised within the legal infrastructures of that particular society.

Hence, it is meaningless for one to claim a right when others do not agree that such an individual does infact have such a legitimate claim. Human rights are therefore, those claims which the prevailing legal infrastructures of a given society do allow individuals, groups or organizations to enjoy. In our specific society, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has clearly outlined those fundamental human rights to which we are entitled.

Chapter IV (Fundamental Rights) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for instance, recognises the following fundamental human rights for Nigerians; even though the economic and educational rights are not recognized. They are only listed as Directive principles of State Policy. The rights recognized are as follow:- “Right to life; Right to dignity of human person; Right to personal liberty; Right to fair hearing; Right to private and family life; Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Right to freedom of expression and the press; Right to freedom of assembly and association; Right to freedom of movement; and Right to freedom from discrimination.”

In addition to the Constitution, Nigeria is also a member of international organizations, such as the United Nations Organization (UNO), Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU), and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). To the extent that Nigeria is a subscriber to the Charter of such organizations; it becomes obligatory on Nigeria to abide by them as well. Consequently, by the dint of her membership of and signatory to the UNO and AU Charters on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigeria automatically has to accept the provisions of human rights as provided therein.

In the light of this, any government in Nigeria is supposed to shoulder the responsibility of protecting such rights as enunciated by these international organizations.

It is in this context that the poor people including the girl child, in Nigeria have a case which must be carefully addressed. In his book on Africa, titled Ideology and Development in Africa, Crawford Young has argued that there are no universal standards for measuring good governance, even though there may be some for measuring development. He argues that the ideology of nations, especially in Africa, affects what they consider as ingredients for good governance.

Good governance in Africa should therefore, be seen in moral or ideological terms.76 Incidentally, Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, also agrees that economic and educational rights in Africa are to be considered as a moral, rather than juridical matters.

As he puts it in his message to the 2006 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: “The campaign to make poverty history, a central moral challenge of our age-cannot remain a task for the few, it must become a calling for the many. On this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I urge everyone to join this struggle. Together, we can make real and sufficient progress towards the end of poverty.”

77 From a public policy perspective, it is usually possible to come out with indices to measure good governance. These indices are then used to judge leaders and governments. From this point of view, two methods are usually adopted.

First, the relevant legal documents, policy statements by the leaders or Governments and party manifestos are used to develop criteria for good governance. Second, analysts can also come up with their own, deductively, based on their review of the literature on good governance.

Whatever the approach, it is clear that issues such as eradication of poverty, satisfaction of basic needs, including the need to be educated, free press, protection of human rights, provision of basic infrastructure, creation of conducive environment for economic activities, rule of law and laws on social development and so forth, are usually included.

Also, income indicators, levels of unemployment, gender issues, and youth development tend to be included. The tendency usually is to include on the list general economic indicators such as per capita income, Gross Domestic Product, capital utilization and foreign exchange stability. Since national security is very important, law and order, security of lives and property and freedom from external aggression etc. are also usually included.

Thus, we can say that indices of good governance must have political, economic, educational, social, institutional, security, rule of law, and international dimensions.

To the extent that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policies, there is always the need to include a foreign dimension in the assessment of good governance.

It is indeed a combination of some of these indices of good governance, using both the juridical, moral and policy analysis criteria, that we hope to apply to our case study, Nigeria, in the next section. Before that, however, we need to first settle the theoretical issues regarding the concept of democracy.

CONCEPT OF DEMOCRACY Democracy is also of various kinds: liberal democracy; social democracy, consociational democracy and so forth. Most of what is operational on the African continent is multi-party liberal democracy. This is also the model of democracy that is practiced in Nigeria.

Consequently, the discussion that follows focuses mainly on multi party liberal democracy. It is also the type that is expected to protect all rights, including the girl-child’s right to education on the same pedestal as the boy child. In common palace, democracy is seen following Abraham Lincoln as “government of the people, for the people and by the people”.

It is also seen generally by the public as the best form of political organisation that would promote good governance and national security.

It is mainly associated with more than one political party and periodic elections. It is also believed that democracy involves the participation of more citizens in politics.

This is not just for the purpose of electing their leaders and representatives. It is even in the area of citizen participation in the formulation and making of public policies. As Watson states, “democracy involves not only the process for making public policies but also the results of the process.

Democratic government by definition produces policies that foster certain basic democratic values, such as liberty, equality, and justice.”

78 The word democracy itself comes from two Greek words: demos which means people and kratia, which refers to the English word, rule. It is in this sense that democracy means, “rule by the people”. Whether in its current practice, especially in A