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


goodluck jonathan


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.

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.

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. Most 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.

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 Africa, the people are actually ruling, is a different matter, as we shall see in the case of Nigeria later.

Watson articulates clearly, what must be in place, before a society can be seen as democratic, at least in a liberal sense. He states:
“For a society to be democratic, then, a large number of its people must enjoy the right to have some say over important decisions that seriously affect their lives. To express it another way, democratic government is based on the consent of the governed.”79

The greatest attraction of democracy then, is citizen or political participation, understood as the involvement of citizens in the affairs of their society. This enables them to be involved and have a say on issues that affect their lives. Even though political participation has for long been a subject of analyses by students of politics and public policy, the literature, as will be demonstrated below, exhibits some gaps. In short, the general tendency on the part of most researchers and policy makers, has been to assume that political participation in a democracy is somehow positively related to national development and self—reliance. This study, drawing from the Nigerian experience, suggests that this is not necessarily and always the case. It argues instead that the question of citizen participation in public policy making process is a highly problematic one. While certain forms of political participation do in fact promote development and self—reliance; a majority of other forms are notable for producing the opposite effects. They do foster mass conformity and acceptance of established inequalities, underdevelopment and material dependency of the citizenry on the state and the dominant classes.

Political participation is understood, as noted above, to be the ability of citizens or some collectivities of citizens to influence governmental policies in favour of what they stand for. It is one of the major ways by which liberal democracies attempt to convince their citizens that “the success of some groups was facilitated by the ‘apathy’ of others with opposing interests” in the context where all had “equal opportunities” to “make themselves heard”.

One of the myths of public policy in a democracy, viewed as what the government chooses to do or not to do, is that it is usually made in the “public interests”. It is also erroneously assumed by the public that all individuals, groups and classes would benefit equally. The differential inequalities from the benefits of the policy stemming only from the differential involvement of citizens or some collectivities of citizens at the time the policy was being made and implemented. This is clearly a myth since rarely do public policies have equal impacts on all groups and classes in society. As Lorwin points out, there is always the possibility that “some individuals, groups, or classes benefit unjustly or unfairly from the labour of, or at the expense of, others”.

Nonetheless, to classical liberal democratic theorists such as Mill and Rousseau, democracy was thought inconceivable without citizen participation. Since then, revisionist theorists have debated what forms of participation and to what degree should citizens be involved. Some have maintained that electoral participation is sufficient. Others favour continued public representation on an issue—to—Issue basis. Yet, for some others what seems more crucial is agenda—setting, citizen participation viewed simply as complementary.

It is not that all students of democratic politics favour citizen — participation. There are those who argue that citizen — participation is not necessary in the context of “responsible government”. The critical thing is to be careful at the electoral (or appointment) stage and choose “responsible” state managers. For one thing, they argue, it tends to hinder the efficient running of government, causes “political decay” and delays policy—making. For another, not all citizens are politically informed; especially since policymaking has become more complex and requires some measures of expertise to understand. In general, however, as Gormley observes, citizen—participation “is thought to improve the fairness of the decision—making process, the quality of decisions, and the legitimacy of political authorities”

These conceptions of political participation are however inadequate. For instance, most students of public policy are by now aware that elections are not good predictor of state policies. Thus, elections cannot be regarded as efficacious mechanisms for ensuring even the “will” of the majority beyond leadership selection. As Dahl acknowledges, “neither elections nor inter—election activity provide much insurance that decisions will accord with the preferences of a majority of adults or voters”.

There are also those who claim that political participation itself is a function of power.92 In which case, in a non-egalitarian society, such as in most African societies, the more powerful are also the winners by definition. Public policies, therefore, end up serving the most powerful groups and classes in society. Yet, others reject the idea that citizen participation on an issue—to—issue basis does affect the final decisions that later emerge. According to this view, all forms of “legitimate” or conventional participation are legitimation processes that do not produce any concrete social, political or material results. At best, they may provide symbolic rewards that, together with some coercion, help to maintain social order.

Furthermore, it is argued that the contemporary state, contrary to pluralist formulation, probably determines which demands the citizens or collectivities of citizens can make. Other demands on the state not “approved” are “silenced” or not put on the agenda for consideration. The manner of political communication or language used helps to accomplish this goal. Hence, it is only unconventional participation such as riots, demonstrations and mass uprisings that are seen as effective in determining policy outcomes.

In this study, however, the discussion is limited to conventional forms of participation — i.e. those generally seen as “legitimate” in a democracy by the ruling classes. Edelman distinguishes two forms of conventional political participation that have some relevance to our discussion here. The first is what he calls “instrumental political participation.” This is the form that he argued tends to have direct effect on the decisions that are finally made whether it involves locating a project or providing subsidy for fertilizer or girl-child education.

The second is what he calls “symbolic political participation.” Symbolic political participation is the one that he says does not make any difference to the policy outcomes or decisions when they are finally made. This is the kind of political participation that promotes mostly mass conformity and acceptance of glaring inequalities, poverty and dependency on the state and the dominant classes.

There is also a growing debate as to whether the type of public policy, the issues involved (whether complex or not, highly technical or not, very salient or not) affect the nature of citizen involvement. Beginning perhaps with Lowi, there has been a tendency to view public policies as different in several aspects, depending on the policy arena one chooses to consider. The difference over policy arena also calls for different types of citizen participation.
Of recent, it is argued that even within a particular policy area, say rural development – there are still variations in political participation depending on the particular policy proposal one looks at or the issue area in question. Wilson tell us, for instance, that whether costs and benefits appear concentrated and/or diffused in a policy proposal has different implications for the nature of political participation that will evolve.

Gender inequality, is a global reality as shown by the World Bank Policy Research Report. Some groundbreaking legislations have played a vital role in changing the fate of women in different parts of the world. In Africa, there is the African Union (AU) Protocol to the African Chapter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which was passed in July 2003 and is ratified by over 30 Member states. In line with the concerns of this Paper, the 12th Article aims at enhancing the educational chances of women and their development as it categorically opposes “all stereotypes, syllabuses and the media, that perpetuate such discrimination and to protect women, especially the girl child from all forms of abuse, including sexual harassment in schools and other educational institutions and provide for sanctions against the perpetrators of such practices.” The provisions of the Protocol further take a stance to “promote education and training for women at all levels and in all disciplines, particularly in the fields of science and technology.” Other parts of the legislation place more emphasis on women or girl-child education.
The Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing, China from 4th-15th September 1985. The impact of this Conferencing was its binding and compelling power in trying to get member nations to keep their part of the bargain in their various countries. Nigeria, under the Abacha government, attended this Conference which engendered so much attention and resolutions. It influenced so many government’s decisions afterward just as delightedly stated by the then United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, “Now the momentum of Beijing must be translated into concrete action. We must all ensure that decisions reached in Beijing will change the world.”

The Beijing Conference may, for the moment be considered to be the height of the decision-making conferences, with the highest impact because of the implications on legal, economic, social and political policies on women world-wide.

The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a major reference literature or a guide to the policies to nations that follow the part to equalization of women. It is composed of 30 Articles that clearly spell out what is expected of member nations. It begins with the requirement on Member States to strengthen their legal structures against discrimination targeted at women and at the same time enhance the equalization of women. As a matter of principle, Article 3 requires its members to:

Embody the principle of equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle.

The above Article also includes its concern for political representation of women. This is not just in politics, but also Member States are to effect the development of women “…in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women.” As can be seen in Article 7, there is more pressure on State parties to expand the political ambience of women both in politics, government and the general decision-making structure of the society as can be seen in the following terms:

State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:
a. To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;
b. To participate in the formation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government.

CEDAW is not just about the political life of women. It places expectation on UN Member States that ratify it, but it has also given room for part-ratifications and expression of reservations against certain parts that some nations may not adjudge as adoptable. And it should be noted that inequality between men and women is much more emphatic is underdeveloped nations than can be found in economically advanced countries as noted by H. R. Kerbo in his book Social Stratification and Inequality: Class Conflict in Historical and Comparative Perspective. Kerbo takes us around the world to some of the most advanced nations of the world to consider the situation surrounding women and their relevance in societies. This may be true in some way but economic advancement does not automatically mean female equality with men, especially in politics.

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