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Women in Nigeria’s leadership space


President Muhammadu Buhari and members of  Women In Politics Forum (WIPF) during a courtesy visits on the President by members of the Forum on January 2, 2016

President Muhammadu Buhari and members of Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) during a courtesy visit on the President by members of the Forum on January 2, 2016

When President Muhammadu Buhari announced the other day that he would up the appointment of women into the boards and parastatals of the Federal Government, the move was undoubtedly not unconnected with the campaign promise of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to create greater opportunity for women in the affairs of the country. Another driver is the incessant clamour for increased role for women in the public sphere and the intention to meet the Beijing threshold of 35 per cent affirmative action.

The 2016 International Women’s Day celebration provided the president the opening to reiterate his administration’s commitment to the affirmative principle as well as its intention to revamp the National Gender Policy to make it more responsive to the priorities of Nigerian women and men so that it could serve as a tool for realising global benchmarks.

The question of women in leadership position is ever present and was also the pre-occupation of the enlightenment thinkers in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was reasoned that the level of freedom of any society could be glimpsed from the level of freedom that its women enjoyed. Today, this line of reasoning is still very relevant. The global demographic is weighted in favour of women and to exclude them from the processes of development is itself negating to the cause of development.

Therefore, it cannot be over-emphasised that many more women are needed in the public sphere to drive development. Affirmative actions are meant to right historical hedges against women, more compelling in pre-industrial societies and the demand of modern production does have a place for gender inclusivity.

While production relations may have greatly shaped the disparity that does exist between men and women, the proper way to go is not to reify exclusivity as an imposition as well as an explanation but to adopt measures that can bridge the disparity between men and women in society. Education, of course, can play that role. Government must ensure that every Nigerian child has equal access to education, because the latter as a tool of liberation from ignorance, poverty and disease is the greatest equaliser.

Already, there is the perspective on the ‘end of men’ because women today are having quality education and doing better than men in most human endeavours. This changing dynamics of the women question must be appreciated. Today, there is a changing role for women in the society. Indeed, women no longer see themselves as home-maker, even though many are still saddled with the triple burden of being wife, home-maker, and worker. Their universe is changing and must be understood.

Given the primal place of education as a great leveller, creating special opportunities for women may sometimes be seen as a displacement of merit for mediocrity and a reinforcement of the ‘assumed’ inferiority complex even when women are already breaking bounds and excelling. Even so, a country is not to be governed by arbitrariness. Sheer mention of quotas, in this case 40 per cent is arbitrary and not based on any survey. Governance is a serious business, not a whimsical affair. From Nigeria’s historical experience, democracy provides the opportunity for women to participate in public affairs. Arbitrariness is itself an obstacle.

As an unscientific approach, the best women will never get appointments because it will get to those who are ensconced within the political machine. As is well-known, in these parts, politicians are enamoured of other criteria than merit in their appointment of men and women to public offices and positions of responsibility. Importantly, the point is to be made that quota breeds mediocrity and this has been the bane of Nigeria’s national development.

The feats that women have achieved today are a thing of pride in which, equality measures and education have played a great deal of role. Therefore, merit must be privileged and education must be democratised to achieve greater freedom for the womenfolk. As the late Burkinabe leader, Thomas Sankara, explained some years ago, the lot of the women can only improve only with the elimination of the system of oppression and an interpretation of the plight of women solely from an economic prism. He stressed that women are also victims of privilege and perilous relations and of course relations of conflict and violence that are perpetrated under the cover of physical differences. All these must be factored into the empowerment of women in Nigeria.

Women’s participation in public affairs predates Nigerian independence, and those women who participated in public affairs earned their position with brilliance, conviction and commitment to excellence. In privileging women in public affairs as is the trend today, merit, and not cold political calculation, must reign for women have proven and can still prove their worth on merit and not on any special consideration.

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