THEME: NIGERIAN WOMEN, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
PAPER PRESENTED BY THE NATIONAL CHAIRMAN OF THE ACTION DEMOCRATIC PARTY (ADP), ENGR. YABAGI YUSUF SANI AT A POLITICAL SUMMIT ORGANIZED BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN SOCIETIES (NCWS) IN ABUJA ON 26TH OCTOBER, 2017.
Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to speak to mothers of the nation.
Before tackling the main thrust of this paper, it is imperative that i first define the meaning of the phrase “DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE”.
By DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE, we mean governance run in accordance with democratic principles. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English (2010, 2012) “Democratic Governance” is the type of Governance or Government which supports Democracy or its principles. On the other hand, democracy has been defined in various ways by different scholars as “Government by the people or rule of the majority. It is also a Government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free and fair elections”. Democracy also involves the non-existence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinction.
The most common and popular definition of democracy is probably the one +given by a former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865). He defined democracy as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
The term “democracy” is derived from the Greek Language which means “rule by the people”. Athens and Rome were great democracies in classical antiquity and represent the ancient forms of democracies while the United States of America and India represent modern democracies. While the United States is the oldest modern democracy, India is the largest democracy today. For the purpose of today’s subject matter, I believe the submission of Michelle Bachelet, head of UN Women, former president and defence minister of Chile, in The New York Times that “For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected.” We can then safely conclude that as far as democracy in Nigeria is concerned, the ball is firmly in the Court of our women, but are Nigerian women ready?
WOMEN AND DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA
Nigeria’s chequered history of democratic rule, cannot be complete without a mention of the contributions of Nigerian women and the obstacles they have faced. Even in Pre-colonial times, Nigerian women, along with their male counterparts, had fought for the emergence of Nigeria as a free, fair, just and egalitarian Nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, going by my knowledge of Nigeria’s political history and the contributions of our women to national development, I cannot subscribe to the temptation to resort to endless lamentation about the marginalization of Nigerian women in the Politics of the Country. Women in Nigeria have always taken their place in the politics of the nation despite the obvious challenges confronting them. Nigeria’s political history is replete with the names of women such as: Adunni Oluwole, Queen Amina of Zaria, Margaret Ekpo, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Alimotu Pelewura and contemporary time politicians/activists such as Hanatu Cholom, Ebun Oyagbola, Dora Akunyili, Kema Chikwe, Josephine Anenih, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Dame Virgy Etiaba, Dr. Sarah Jibril, Zainab Kure among others. All these women have played major roles in the socio-political and economic development of Nigeria.
THE ABA WOMEN UPRISING OF 1929
In 1929, 50 Nigerian women lost their lives while protesting against unjust economic policies of the British Colonial Government. The protests involved women from Igboland, Ibibio, Andoni, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo. In the riots, many warrant chiefs appointed by the British were forced to resign and sixteen Native Courts were destroyed. The women protested against increased school fees, forced labour, high Taxation and corruption.
The British colonial rulers were forced to change some of their harsh economic policies following the Aba women’s revolt. The protests also raised the political consciousness of many Nigerians and eventually led to other revolts such as the Tax protests of 1938, the Oil Mill protests of the 1940s in Owerri and Calabar province and the tax revolts in Aba and Onitsha in 1956. It must be in this vein that — Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, during an Exchange of Toasts with President Barack Obama proffers that “Neither the chains of dictatorship nor the fetters of oppression can keep down the forces of freedom for long.”
Furthermore, the socio-economic and political benefits of the Aba women’s revolt inspired other Nigerian women to seek positive changes in the politics of the Country but the current situation appears to suggest that the women have gone to sleep. Today’s event must inspire our women to actions that must rattle the status quo for the voice of the Nigerian woman to be heard loud and clear.
Adunni Oluwole, a female politician born in Ibadan, made her mark in the politics of the Western Region. She got involved in politics to fight against the maltreatment of the masses by the Leaders of the day. In 1954, Adunni Oluwole founded the Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party (NCLP) which later won a seat in Osun North (Ikirun), defeating major Political Parties like the NCNC and the Action Group which gives effect to the submission by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, at Harvard Commencement that “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” — This is instructive to all you women in this hall today.
HAJIA GAMBO SAWABA:
Despite several imprisonments, humiliation and alienation, Hajia Gambo Sawaba put her life on the line to fight for the liberation of women in Northern Nigeria and beyond.
Another Nigerian woman who left her footprints in the sands of time was Margaret Ekpo. In 1945, Margaret Ekpo was the only woman who joined male politicians to address rallies on the 1945 general strikes. The rallies were addressed by late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir. Herbert Macaulay, Mazi Mbonu Ojike among others. Ekpo organized a union of market women in Aba which she used to fight for women’s economic and political rights. In the 1950s, Ekpo and Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti jointly protested against the killings at the Enugu Coal Mine. In 1953, Ekpo was nominated by the defunct National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) into the Regional House of Chiefs and in 1954, she established the ABA TOWNSHIP WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION.
Determined to further fight for the emancipation of women, Ekpo contested and won election in to the eastern Regional House of Assembly. Despite the serious challenges she faced in her time, Ekpo wrote her name in gold to the extent that in 2001, the Calabar Airport was named after her. Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, in an interview with Press Association said “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” Ekpo did not set out to be liked and she achieved, Ditto: Sarah Jibril, Kudirat Abiola and others who remained focused in challenging the status and are winning. May I share with the NCWS today, that any pressure group or organization that spends all its valuable time and resources on conferences and meetings alone shall remain irrelevant unless it embarks on deliberate actions to challenge the status quo. I am sure the event of today will inspire women.
In the first Republic, late Mrs. Wuraola Esan was the first woman to be appointed into the Nigeria Senate.
I have given these examples to buttress the fact that Nigerian women have always participated in the political process and have always made their contributions to national development in spite of obvious challenges. We cannot also forget in a hurry, the achievements of some women in contemporary Nigeria. Some of these women include: Prof. Dora Akunyili, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Prof. Jadeshola Akande, Dame Paulen Tallen, Major Gen. Aderonke Kale (rtd.) and the greatest mobilizer of women in our modern history, Dr. Marayam Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who brought women to active participation in governance. According to Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan at The Women’s Conference 2007 “Whatever title or office we may be privileged to hold, it is what we do that defines who we are. Each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be-what kind of legacy that we want to pass on.”
CHALLENGES CONFRONTING NIGERIAN WOMEN AND THE WAY FORWARD
THE CHALLENGE OF THE TRIPPLE HERITAGE
The development of Democracy in Nigeria is characterized by what I will describe as The Triple Heritage. These are Regionalism, Millitocracy and Religiosity, the bane of our democratic development, unity and good governance.
Regionalism is the heritage bequeathed to us by the colonial masters to undermine progressive national development, keep us divided, underdeveloped and perpetually dependent on them for solutions to the resultant inherent restiveness by the regions such as the current clamor for cessation by IPOB, Arewa Youth and OPC amongst others. Regionalism breeds, tribalism and nepotism.
Millitocracy is the heritage bequeathed to us by the military whose res+pect and confidence in democracy is minimal. They are ironically in charge of our democratic development from the transition era till date, resulting in a systematic undermining of the fundamental institutions in democracy especially Political Party Machinery. President Obasanio at assumption of office as a civilian president in 1999 brought PDP to its knees by appointing himself and all the state governors as leaders of the PDP. President Muhammadu Buhari did much more to APC by refusing the party to meet even at the leadership level.
Religiosity is another heritage bequeathed to us by Islamic and Christian missionaries introducing new considerations other than the constitutional requirements for qualification to occupy political positions.
These unfortunate heritage continue to hold hostage the development and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria; making us move in a vicious circle The economy is suffering, marriages are failing, suicide everywhere, criminals and criminality near every home and sincerely the pains of these are borne mostly by women. This is why women must do everything to change the narrative.
In the words of former President Olusegun Obasanjo: “We are in an era when issues concerning the feminine gender have assumed the centre stage at national and international levels” (Kema Chikwe, 2003).
Despite the attention which the issues concerning women have attracted globally, the participation of women in democratic governance has continued to be hindered by several cultural, economic and religious challenges. Nigeria and the rest of the world cannot afford to keep women down and continue to condone practices and policies that impede their development. This is in view of the fact that women constitute more than 50% of the world’s labour force, but more than 60% of its poor.
The United Nations already has the UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women which is meant to allow women flow into the main stream of national and international development. There are also the Beijing Declaration of 1995 and Nairobi Forward — Looking Strategies for the Advancement of women.
For the Nigerian woman, the march to unhindered participation in democratic Governance has not been easy. In fact, it is not a tea party. Issues such as violence, lack of finance and discrimination are making it a herculean task for Nigerian women to attain the Eldorado in politics. Not even the 30% Affirmative Action which prescribes the allocation of 30% of all political positions to women has helped matters. Several Governments in Nigeria have displayed indifference or even lack of commitment to the AFFAIRMATIVE ACTION.
Even the National policy on women, formulated by the Olusegun Obasanjo Government in 2000 has not helped matters. The gains made by Nigerian women have been largely eroded under the Muhammadu Buhari — led Government, which maintains a hostile disposition to women in appointments and other matters. This slide in the participation of women in democratic governance became noticeable from 2003 to 2007. In 2003, the percentage of females in the National Assembly was 2.7% for the Senate and 5% for the House of Representatives. In 2007, the figure rose to 8.25% in the Senate and 7.22% in the House of Representatives. This increment in 2007 was a far cry from the 30% Affirmative Action prescribed in the Beijing Declaration. The percentage of female participation and election into the National Assembly has gone abysmally low between 2011 and 2015. For example, only seven (7)female Senators and Nineteen (19) female Representatives were elected in 2011 as opposed to Nine (9) Female Senators and 25 Female Representatives that were elected in 2007.
In 2015, only seven female were elected into the Senate made up of 109 Senators, four from PDP and three from APC. They are: Senators Stella Oduah, (Anambra North), Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central — she has long been removed through the Courts), Rose Oko (Cross River North) and Fatimat Raji-Rasaki (Ekiti Central). Those elected under the platform of APC are: Senators Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) Binta Garba (Adamawa North).
Furthermore, the number of female ministers has equally dropped drastically under the Buhari Government. Apart from three states with female Deputy Governors, no state in Nigeria today, has a female Governor. The emergence of Dame Virgy Etiaba as Governor in Anambra was a political accident which does not occur regularly.
However, according to Gloria Feldt (a co-founder and president of Take The Lead Women, a nonprofit that prepares women for leadership parity) “If you don’t run you cannot win”. But while prevailing theories say women don’t run because of less political ambition and care giving responsibilities, researchers have found that those are excuses. The underlying reasons are found in women’s culturally learned ambivalence about power. This is not to blame women but to inspire them to action.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR NIGERIAN WOMEN
It is a known fact of history that nobody gives anyone else power. You must fight for power. I urge Nigerian women to borrow a leaf from great women who have changed the course of history in their Countries by being courageous and determined in their participation in the political process. Nobody gave power to Adunni Oluwole, Margaret Ekpo, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Queen Amina and Hajia Gambo Sawaba.
The civil Rights Movement in the United States Of America was inspired by the refusal of a black woman, Rosa Parks to vacate a section on a public bus reserved for whites. In Israel, Golda Meir emerged the first Prime Minister of Israel. On March 17, 1969 — at a time Israel was facing a serious threat to her sovereignty. David Ben — Gurion used to call Golda Meir the best man in his government. Golda Meir’s father was a Carpenter and her mother a Grocer.
Her husband was a painter. From this lowly background, Golda Meir rose to become one of the signatories to Israel’s Proclamation of Independence in Tel AVIV’S Art Museum in 1948 following the Balfour Declaration. All the women who have risen in history, did so by dint of hard work and determination. The truth is that nobody will give Nigerian women power on a platter of gold. They must fight for power and stop this endless lamentation over their marginalization in the political process.
The current President of the Appeal Court, Justice Zainab Bulkachulawu made a declaration which has cast some shadows on the so-called marginalization of women. She said:
“As a Female judge, I have worked hand in hand with men both in the State, and Federal Judiciary and I have been fairly treated; given my due respect and a free hand in determining all cases that come before me. I have helped others on the bench; strive to maintain a high sense of absolute honesty and integrity, both in and out of the court, for we all believe that the duties and responsibilities attached to the office are enormous”.
From this statement, it is clear that any woman who works hard with determination and courage will be accorded her due. Granted that there are challenges obstructing the participation of women in politics in Nigeria, our women must challenge the status quo to be able to take their place.
Wife of the President, Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, an epitome of courage, intelligence and resilience, would have remained confined to the kitchen and the other room but for her doggedness. Her voice is becoming that of the opposition and a thorn in the flesh of those who hold her husband hostage. I thought the NCWS should have risen up to support Aisha Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Michelle Obama (Archives), former USA first lady, “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”
I tell you Aisha Buhari may not find it difficult to find a place in Nigerian politics in the nearest future, As a matter of fact ADP is willing to encourage such women who are bold, truthful, consistent and ready to be on the side of the people.
It is my singular honor and privilege to invite all the women in this hall to take advantage of the constitutional provisions of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), which allocate 25% of all party positions to women at all levels. No amount of sabotage or conceived plots of marginalization against women can hinder their participation in the ADP. For Nigerian women, the journey into the future begins today.
Engr. Y. Y. Sani
To get this speech in PDF please click this link http://bit.ly/adpchairmanspeech
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