“The only condition necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, so says the great Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Looking at this enduring aphorism in reverse, one might entertain the thought that, perhaps, the only condition necessary for the perpetuation of misrule by men in Nigeria is for good women to do nothing. How did we arrive at a junction where the minority (i.e. male) are perpetuating misrule and violence on the majority (i.e. female) for so long and with such reckless abandon? How come men in this country (as elsewhere) assume that positions of leadership and dominance are their birth-right, while the female folk clasp their palms in resignation? How come our religious leaders in this country continue to preach the virtue of “submissiveness” to the female gender in acquiescence to the perpetrators of violence and oppression against them; the maniac male in their midst?
When it comes to the analysis of gender imbalance in the public square in this country, it is best to start with the sharply contrasting north-south divide. It really is a tale of two cities.
The cultural inhibition impeding the career advancement of women in the north is more deeply ingrained than it is in the south, simply because of the prominence of religious indoctrination, which is so pervasive and regressive in its conception of the women folk as nothing more than appendages of men at best and second class citizens at worst.
The Boko Haram phenomenon in the North-East is an offshoot of the hacking back to ancient religious mores, which is better suited to the dark ages than it is to modern Nigeria. The colonial influence of western education in the south allowed for a faster and easier penetration of the white man in that region, but it also accelerated the drive towards mass literacy and a skilled workforce to serve the colonial administration. The north-south divide exemplified in this historical antecedent is still a subject of debate till today.
There are those who continue to see a contradiction between being a good Muslim and a well-educated female in many parts of the north. Of course, it is absurd to see, indeed acknowledge, any trade-off between these two values, but the stark choice being given to a whole generation of female children in the northern part of Nigeria says something entirely different. The good Muslim girl is one who has little or no social life, gets married in her teenage years and starts producing babies quietly in her husband’s house. This, in fact, is the lot of many of our female compatriots in the north.
By contrast, with education, the female child has been able to grow into an economically liberated adult in large parts of the south. But, this has also come at a price, especially with the infiltration of Western consumerism objectifying the female gender and denigrating them as objects of men’s lurid desire. This has warped the mind-set of many of the young female school leavers whose only purpose in life is hankering after Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood soap stars, focusing on their looks and fast cars, with little ambition for positions of leadership in society.
The gospel of “submissiveness” has been elevated into a religious edict in almost every household in the south, where women are still being taught to “know your place” in society. Whatever that “place” is, it is not in the realm of leadership. Being Mrs somebody is still more valuable than having a “BA” or “BSc” behind their name. Signing the family name for the last time remains the crowning achievement for most women in the south as much as it is in the north, of course. Where does this false consciousness stem from anyway? Why do we no longer have befitting female role models going forward in this country?
Did Haija Gambo Sawaba (1933-2001) not grow up in this same land of ours? A champion of the working people, who rose through the ranks in the defunct Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU as it was commonly known). How about Margaret Ekpo (1914-2006), a first Republic grass-root political firebrand, who inspired women to take a leading role in public life? And, Haija Laila Dongoyaro, married off at the age of 12, but fought through life to become president of the National Council of Women’s Societies, and a prominent member of the National Party of Nigeria in the 1980s. Let us remember Ameyo Adadevoh, a physician whose great-grandfather was Herbert Macaulay. She not only lived in our time, she put her life on the line combating the spread of the Ebola disease, which later killed her. Adunni Oluwole, founder of the Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party, and a foremost human rights activist, who took part in the famous General Strike of 1945 in Nigeria. Mammy Ochendu, founder of “Mammy Market” at military barracks all over the country, a template that is now part of everyday life in universities and other higher institutions in the country. Princess Adetutu of Ife, Queen Amina, the elder daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku, founder of the Zau Zau kingdom in the old Zaria. Kudirat Abiola, a foremost pro-democracy activist and wife of the winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential election, MKO Abiola. And, of course, the “Lioness of Lisabi”, Mrs FunmilayoRansome-Kuti, better known as “Fella’s mother”, who fought for the universal adult suffrage now taken for granted in this country.
The above list is not exhaustive by any means. There are many more names that can be plucked from the archives. Suffice it is to say that Nigerian women have a distinguished history of activism and public service no less than the men. Why progress for more advancement appears to have stalled is what many people find baffling. As the reader can deduce, I have been careful not to apportion gender blame in this write-up. When it comes to staking claims on leadership positions, women can also sometimes be their own worst enemies by insisting on a level of compliance on other women not uniformly imposed on men. Some women in positions of authority victimise other women even more vociferously than a man in a similar position would dare. “I am the only woman director here”, “the only female manager there”, “the only member of the executive”, and all the other esoteric corners reserved for token female presence.This appears to be the hallmark of accomplishment for some women, who would not lend a hand to others trying to follow in their footsteps. So, what we are talking about is more a societal problem than it is gender-specific.
It is nothing short of scandalous for there not to be a single female governor of any state in this country, let alone a major party leader or a serious Presidential contender of any political hue. Political parties are awash with so-called “women leaders” whose main role is to organise catering and welfare support largely for the convenience of men. Never mind the few infamous women who have also had their hands deep in corruption and looting in this country, it is my contention that the administration and good governance of this country would tilt towards a renaissance with the involvement of more female leaders both in business and in politics. So, to coin a phrase, I say, women of Nigeria, rise up, wake up, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
Opinion: Tayo Oke (Punch)
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