Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello’s gender-friendly policy is unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria. It is a policy that other state governors should copy. By it, Bello has set a standard for a race on how best to run an administration of inclusion that not only recognises the role of women in politics – beyond being mobilisers of voters for male politicians, but also offering them high visibility offices, such that they could play an active part in shaping and implementing policies for a balanced and solid development of the state.
It has been rightly argued that Bello deserves a national honour, in addition to what he has been offered by the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS). By his women-friendly policy, Bello has richly demonstrated that the youths of this vastly blessed country are capable of piloting her affairs. Bello should not rest on his oars. Perhaps, his next move is to start grooming a woman (of substance), among those currently serving under his administration, as the first woman governor of Kogi State come 2023; in a very keen, open and peaceful election.
He has already laid the foundation for that. Let it be said, as would surely be the case, that he it was who made it possible for women to gain well-deserved recognition in the politics of Kogi State. By his women-friendly gesture, its Bello’s argument that no state or better still, no country makes any meaningful and sustainable development that holds back her womenfolk from occupying positions of leadership.
As laudable as Bello’s women-friendly policy is, he should also be grooming brilliant women to head all the local governments in the state. That would be truly Nigerian, if only to break male monopoly of power at that level. Ditto the State House of Assembly. And, as what would truly pass for pro-women political renaissance, it may well be a refreshingly tidy development to have Kogi State’s seats in the House of Representatives and Senate occupied by intelligent and politically savvy women. Women deserve an ample space in the Nigerian political terrain, because the 1999 Constitution, in Section 42, speaks clearly in favour of non-discrimination of any person, man or woman on the basis of sex, ethnicity group or religion. That provision is understood to make for orderliness, inclusivity in governance and good leadership, in a manner that no gender group – in this case, women – is left behind in the administration of the country.
One is persuaded that Bello shares the opinion of James Brown, the late African-American godfather of soul music, that: “. . . a man’s world. But it would be nothing, nothing without a woman . . . .
Yes, ’tis true that Man made the cars to take us over the roads . . . train to carry the heavy load . . . electric light to take us out of the dark . . . the boat for the water . . . and, as the Holy Bible probably told him. . . . like Noah made the ark . . .
“This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world.
“But it would be nothing, nothing without a woman . . . .”
By Bello’s women-friendly political appointments, one sees a gender-sensitive governor, who is committed to the cause of women’s political advancement. Bello realises that, yes, Kogi State, like every other state in the country, is male-dominated, but that should not espouse discriminatory political decisions against the fairer sex or daughters of Eve. The male political leaders should realise that women are also tax-payers. Therefore, by being in a position of leadership, either via appointment based on merit, as Bello has done, or vote, into, say, the state or national legislature, they, meritoriously, deserve a visible presence – and an ample say on how that tax money is spent by the government.
One is tempted to think that Bello took his revolutionary gender-sensitive move in recognition of the fact that:
(i) they were women, who, in their swarming number, voted, enthusiastically, more than men, for him in the last gubernatorial race, in 2019, when it was widely feared that he would not secure a second four-year term; and
(ii) without women men wouldn’t have existed, lest be around to dominate the (Nigerian) political space! Bello is a personification of political gratitude. He’s probably a reflection of President Muhammadu Buhari, who’s known for expressing gratitude to whoever does him a favour.
In response to Bello’s women-friendly political gesture, one is persuaded that we should be steeped in a political trend in which state governors and the President should have at least, 33 per cent of the seats in their cabinets solely reserved for women. And this is where rigorous voter education by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all the registered political parties is imperative.
It is also where the NCWS, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ministry of Women Affairs, National Orientation Agency (NOA), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), etc., should team up with women – from the grassroots to the national level – to press a fair representation of women in governance.
One expects that such a pro-women cluster or geography should have, as some of its strategies, picketing the office of the state governors and the presidency and, peaceful protest against unimpressive and stingy representation of women in their cabinets. Besides, such a pro-women cluster or geography could resort to aggressive lobbying; yes, it’s democratic and legal. State governors, first ladies, the Presidency, state Houses of Assembly, the House of Representatives and the Senate should enforce the rights of women to ascend to the position of leadership and decision-making at state and national levels.
And let all that be “blazed forth”, in the Shakespearean parlance, by the press.
Truth be told, government and politics have not been fair to Nigerian women. Since the 1920s, the lot of women in Nigerian politics has been a culture of tokenism, in which the men, who dominate the political terrain and positions of leadership, have been, unrepentantly, stingy – in a clear show of ingratitude and selfishness – by tossing an office or two at women.
It explains why little is today being said about the likes of the late Chief (Mrs) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hajiya Sawaba Gambo and Margaret Ekpo who played prominent roles in the country’s struggle for independence in the ’40s and ’50s. We seem, in a clear case of destructive self-denial, to have discontinued the teaching of history, so as to bury the heroic contributions and memory of these great Nigerian women nationalists. But Governor Bello has said no; that it is unhealthy and unconscionable.
Alone, men cannot build a healthy political system or milieu. It would be foolish and unprogressive not to give the womenfolk generous and clearly spelt-out roles in the noble task of sculpting a fairly-balanced, male-female chemistry in the art of redefining the place of gender in the politics of inclusion and nation building. It would not be a surprise if the youthful governor at the Confluence State is crowned with the Nobel Prize for Peace, for his unique and profound generosity to Nigerian women in politics.
By his women-friendly political appointments: Dr (Mrs) Folashade Arike Ayoade, for instance, is the first woman Secretary to the Government of Kogi State; and one understands that under this tip, there is an unusually vast iceberg of nearly two hundred other educated and productive women occupying political positions; Bello has made a ringing statement.
And it is to the effect that it’s high time Nigerian leaders, especially state governors and the Presidency respected the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of women, in terms of participation in politics or appointment to position of leadership or decision-making; what – since the country’s independence in 1960 – has been unrepentantly observed in the breach.
The same pro-women cluster or geography, should, in an election year, make it amply clear to political aspirants, especially men, that they would not be voted for by women, unless they have, in their manifestos, a provision, just in case, of 33 per cent of their cabinet – a la the United Nations-sponsored Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) – solely reserved for women.
The intent of this quid-pro-quo politics is to press a cousin of fairness, equity and justice for women. That way, women would be on the path of finding not only their voice and bearing but also making a forward-looking contribution to the affairs of the state. The flip side is to remind political aspirants what awaits them – “a comprehensive and humiliating defeat” – at the polls, should they fail to carry women along. And for those who would want to insist on winking at the political promises they have made for the progress of women, the pro-women cluster or geography, should, via press reports, rally, picketing their parties’ or constituents’ offices, name and shame them.
By Bello’s rare generosity to women, it should no longer be business as usual.
Arise, Nigerian women! You should reject tokenism or being consigned to the so-called “Women’s wing” of any political party.
Arise, Nigerian women! Reject political bribery of salt, sugar, milk, textiles, yam, plantain, stationery, T-shirts, false promises of sponsorship to meaningless and wasteful pilgrimages, N5,000.00 concealed in gargantuan or miserly loaves of bread, etc.
Arise, Nigerian women to demand your constitutional right for representation in positions of leadership or circles where far-reaching decisions that affect your welfare, that of your children and that of unborn generation.
Arise, Nigerian women! Realise that you are an indispensable political asset in Nigeria.
Arise, Nigerian women, join the campaign to re-engineer the Nigerian political space, so that there would be a generous accommodation of your productive, but long marginalised tribe.
•Uzuakpundu is a Lagos-based journalist.