by Uche Briggs
I recently returned from the Nigerian Symposium for Young and Emerging Leaders at Ikogosi Warm Springs Resort, Ekiti state. It was a constellation of stars – Nigeria’s finest young folk passionate about leadership and governance. As one would expect, it was full of unforgettable experiences – the rambunctiousness of Atom Lim, Damilola Oyedele’s stunning yellow dress and the particularly beautiful and ornately crafted Muslim lady who many hoped was Hauwa Gambo made flesh. Oh such beauty.
Some have argued that while young people went to chart a course for Nigeria, I was on a mission to find ‘woman.’ I don’t see how this assertion can be misleading. I figured that Chude and his remarkable team at Red Media would be too glad to take credit for it. YNaija would promptly carry a story like: “Young and Emerging Leaders find Love in Ikogosi’s Haven.”
This was not to be the case however. There were only a handful of women and most were ‘accounted for’.
One fellow that remained etched in memory was the remarkable lady, Ola Orekunrin, who was agitated about the lack of women representation on the panel. While some found her amusing, I considered her brave and brilliant. It raised questions about women in government positions.
The facts: Out of 360 House of Representative members, only 25 are women. A paltry 4% of local government councillors are women. Worse still, only 9% of the people who stood for elections in 2011 were women. 9%!
Dr Okey Okechukwu’s response to Orekunrin was interesting. He explained that there was a certain ‘irritating beggarliness’ about the call for women inclusion in leadership and the political sphere. He advised women to build capacity and competence and everything would naturally follow.
I can understand his viewpoint but does this mean we lack competent women? Is the amount of able and intelligent women commensurate with the representation in leadership in Nigeria? I doubt so.
I have two thoughts: 1. Women are culturally disadvantaged and/or 2. Women, the intelligent ones, have refused to get involved. Point 1 has been sufficiently addressed. Point 2: I have noticed that it is increasingly difficult to find young women who are increasingly vocal about politics and leadership, who have decided to engage the situation and be heard above the din of political activism.
I suspect that the internal-external dialectic of identity is responsible for this. In the immediate environment, we have a chronically paternalistic society. Nigerian women, raised in this environment, have unwittingly digested this kind of thinking. As such, women are trapped, thinking of themselves only as society thinks of them. When women open themselves to external information on how society works; one that is built on equity, there is a conflict of information. The real experiences and the mediated, cohabiting in one mind, begin to jostle for attention. Women thus resolve this internal conflict by learning to be active in certain issues but when certain terrains, like leadership and politics are crossed, they become disturbingly mute. It is almost as though they are programmed not to walk certain paths.
The structure and forces of society are constantly under negotiation. The transactional nature of society assumes that society is not a fixed construct but is constantly recreated and redefined by its inhabitants. While Nigeria may have nurtured a tradition of women seclusion, it doesn’t have to always be that way.
The most effective way, I posit, is for women, understanding the cultural and historical impediment, to take charge. Leaving women inclusion to happenstance or the good nature of men is a precarious stance. It is too important that the Damilola Oyedeles, Kathleen Ndongmos, Tola Sarumis and Ola Orekunrins of this world understand the need to actively speak and influence polity and policy discourse. They would need to enter the public sphere with a conscious determination to be heard and embraced.
Women being reticent and subservient within the course of the democratic process would never change things. It would require women who understand the need, the utmost importance, the strategic place in history they occupy. They would have to develop their competence to suit the dictates and requirements of the modern day Nigerian political sphere. Above all, they must understand that their absence in the decision-making quarters fuels the inanity that resource allocation has come to be. They would need to get more active in governance and politics than they already are.
The time is now!
PS: Tola Sarumi, my friend in the abroad, inspired this.
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