Home Democracy A TRIBUTE TO NIGERIAN WOMEN -– SILENT HEROINES & PIVOTS

A TRIBUTE TO NIGERIAN WOMEN -– SILENT HEROINES & PIVOTS

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Whoever thinks deeply would appreciate the contributions of women to development on a global dimension. This writer has had occasions to reflect deeply on how hard women work, shouldering the greatest burden of keeping the home and seeing to the welfare of their families. Before other members of the family wake up in the mornings, women are up early to strategize on management of the home and ensure that all is well. Most men wake up later, only to manage their own affairs, leave home for work in a hurry, leaving children as responsibilities of the wives.  For professional women, the task is harder because they must factor in their employment in planning for the day.

PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES: Physical and emotional pressure take their toll on the professional woman, who must, in addition to her matrimonial functions accommodate extended family members at the risk of being branded an enemy by relations of her husband.  In Africa, women combine the roles of wives, mothers, sisters, and in-laws that are balanced delicately with keeping a home and nurturing the young ones. A few decades past, the often touted assertion was that: ‘’successful children belong to the father; while unsuccessful offspring are for mothers!  Reversing this awkward belief is a huge task because of cultural beliefs. And I am not being necessarily sentimental or judgmental. The thought of what women go through in labour rooms alone, is enough to melt a heart of steel and provoke compassion and understanding. We men most probably don’t experience half of that mental and psychological torture — and occurrences that women go through thinking about the home, children, work, and their spouses.

INVESTING IN NIGERIAN WOMEN: In the course of reading, (that takes much of my time) I came across a Year 2012 Report sponsored by the British Council/UK Department of International Development whose Foreword was written and jointly signed by Chairman of the Working Group – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,  and then CBN governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido as co-Chairman, described Nigerian women as the country’s ‘’HIDDEN RESOURCES.’’ I reasoned that it is not a misplaced caption for a very detailed Report that should ideally be read by policymakers and others in the corridor of power. It reads in part: ‘The negative outcomes outlined are the result of systemic and deeply entrenched discrimination that not only undermines the life chances of millions of individual girls and women; but adversely affects their future children and the whole community. Nigeria’s 2006 National Gender Policy is consistent with the global consensus when it states that ‘’women’s empowerment and gender equality underpin the achievement of all the other MDGs. A well-established link exists between maternal education and child survival, for example’’.

 NEGLECT OF  FEMALE GENDER HAMPERS DEVELOPMENT:  Obviously, any matter that ‘’adversely affects their future children and the whole community’’ as stated above, deserves proper attention. Still advancing cogent reasons why Nigerian women deserve encouragement and more opportunities, the account states that: ‘’Girls are more likely to avoid early marriage, plan their pregnancies, and have better maternal and child health outcomes. Nigeria’s progress and national development will be constrained if women and girls continue to be disadvantaged and gender equity is ignored. Non-discrimination is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution but in practice, the majority of Nigerian girls and women are unable to claim their constitutional entitlement. If Nigeria is to maximize its “demographic dividend” as the population of working age increases and fertility declines, it must prioritize investment in women and girls to ensure that the next generation of all young adults are healthier, better educated and more able to contribute to economic growth and development’’

MANAGING A HOME:  The responsibility for managing a home, nurturing children,  and constructing a society is that of husband   and wife; and these must be jointly executed.  Lapses and outright failure of parents to monitor their children as they grow into impressionable ages are the causes of the intolerable level of moral decay that the society is currently witnessing.  Evidently, there is a perceptible urgent need to inculcate the right values in the younger generation, as spouses exercise parental responsibilities. A content analyses of public speeches delivered by the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in and out of office, show conclusively that he is a realist propelled by compassion for humanity.  In his treatise at the first Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture in 2003 submitted that: “It takes a village to raise a child. ‘’ If we live in a global village, we are all responsible for every child. If we truly understand the nature of the modern world, then America and Europe and Australia and Asia and Africa are in the same village. And therefore, we are all part of our common endeavour to raise every child in the world. We have to be bound by simple strong values across every religious tradition’’

INFLUENCERS: Nigerian women have over time proven that they are strong and capable to lead, on both corporate and political turfs. Some have trekked routes that men feared to trek. Aside other early female activists of modern Nigeria like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Ladi Kwali, Kofo Ademola, Bisoye Tejuoso, Wuraola Esan, and Gambo Sawaba.  Other notable personalities from the academia include Prof. Adetoun Ogunseye, Prof. Bolanle Awe, Prof. Bimpe Aboyade and Prof. Grace Alele-Williams. From the nation’s bureaucracy emerged fine minds like the first female permanent secretary produced by Nigeria in 1968, Mrs. Fola Akintunde-Ighodalo; Mrs. Francesca Yetunde Emmanuel, a 1959 graduate of the University College, Ibadan, and the first female permanent secretary in the Federal Civil Service in 1975. From that same class emerged Princess Tejumade Alakija, first Nigerian woman to be appointed as head of civil service in the old Oyo State.

OTHER ROLE MODELS: From other professions are Dr, Elizabeth Abimbola  Awoliyi the first female physician, Mrs. Folake Solanke, first Nigerian female Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Mrs. Olutoyin Olakunrin, the first female chartered accountant first female physician; retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Hon. Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, and retired Federal High Court Chief Judge, Roselyn Ukeje.  Women almost emerged Inspectors-General of Police at various points in their career. These included retd DIG Ivy Okoronkwo, who was second-in-command to her IGP, and DIG Patience Ibekwe Abdallah. In the military, Major-Gen. Aderonke Kale, became the first woman to attain the rank of  a Major-General, and commanded the Nigerian Army Medical Corps.  It wasn’t only by Providence that those women of note attained those enviable heights. They proved their worth and there is nothing to prove that men have fared better than these illustrious mothers and wives.

These great women named above vacated active service, paving way for the recognition of next generation professionals who have demonstrated unparalleled courage and competence. In political governance, tested female technocrats have been thrown up by the system that has acknowledged their salient contributions.From  a Special Adviser to Mr. President and later Hon. Minister of the Environment, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, current Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations is a pride to Nigeria. She leapt from Nigeria to the United Nations and helped deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, that transited from the Millennium Development Goals. Senator Florence Ita-Giwa is a strong mobilizer, with passion for developing communities.

In the recent past, the name of Senator Florence Ita-Giwa has been synonymous with community development and mobilization at various levels. Her Bakassi community and Cross River State generally will for a long time to come appreciate this woman who stood at the forefront of agitation for the community that was to be ceded to Cameroon. Ita-Giwa stabilized and smoothened the National Assembly/Presidency relations during her tenure as National Assembly Liaison Officer in the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Rt. Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh proved how formidable she was (and still is) on the political arena and got elected to the enviable position of the Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives – Nigeria’s No. 4 citizen. I am aware that she is still deeply respected by her serving and even former colleagues who fondly address her as ‘’Mama’’ and hardly turn down her requests.

Dr Stella Okoli, an industrialist hails from Nnewi (popularly known as the Japan of Nigeria) has been Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. A Pharmacist, she is deeply respected.Dame Virgy Etiaba (Mama Anambra) made history by emerging governor of Anambra State for a very brief period. Dr. Sarah Omotunde Alade was no push-over and acted in the position of CBN Governor for long. Female Ministers of the Federal Republic like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Fearless Dora Akunyili and Oby Ezekwesili have appeared on the scene at various times.

THE CURRENT MOTIVATORS & INFLUENCERS: Women are prominent in the financial services sector, and Law practice, in which they have excelled. The following have made their marks: Retired Hon. Justice Ukeje was Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, while the Hon. Justice Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa is the current President of the Court of Appeal. Heads of the Federal Civil Service – Ebele Okeke and the incumbent Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita are on record as performers.  Aishah Ahmad – Deputy Governor, CBN; highly cerebral Ibukun Awosika – Chairman, First Bank Plc, Mosun Bello-Olusoga, Chairman Access Bank Plc, Osaretin Demuren, Chairman, Guaranty Trust Bank are also notable. Others making waves in that sector include Arunma Oteh, a former treasurer of the World Bank and former Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Sola David-Borha – CEO, Africa Regions, Standard Bank; Tomi Somefun of Unity Bank, Bola Adesola holds sway as the Vice-Chair of Standard Chartered Bank. Modupe Mujoja, Managing Director,  UBA Asset Management Limited; and Adeola Azeez, Deputy Country Head, Deutsche Bank Nigeria.  Women seem to be poised to dominate leadership of the private sector.

WHICH WAY FORWARD? Impressive as that analysis seems, the Year 2018 World Economic Forum’s Report on the Global Competitiveness Index indicates that a lot still has to be done to promote the interests of women in political and economic leadership. The Report  across the 149 countries assessed, stated that: ‘’there are just 17 countries that currently have women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women. Similarly, women hold just 34% of managerial positions across the countries where data is available and less than 7% in the four worst-performing countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan. However, there are bright spots, where significant progress has been achieved. Full parity on this indicator is already a reality in five countries (Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Lao PDR and Philippines); and in another 19 countries, there are at least 40% of women in managerial positions’’

CAPACITY BUILDING & MENTORING: The WEF Report under reference asserts that: ‘’Achieving equality, sustainability and growth together is possible but needs proactive, far-sighted leadership. There is a worldwide consensus on the need for a more holistic model of economic progress that promotes higher living standards for all, respects planetary boundaries, and does not disadvantage future generations’’ Records are replete with stories of successful female professionals who have successfully rubbed shoulders with men, and emerged by dint of hard work. We have high flyers who have become billionaires in their 30s, wn. We must show our younger ones the right way so they don’t get lost. They have proven that one can be successful without engaging in sharp practices. A number of our young ones have made it in their late 20s through ingenuity and creativity. Nigeria is blessed with humaurces that could make the nation great.

’’REALIZING AMBITIONS: Therefore, the issue about political and corporate governance leadership is not that women cannot lead. It is about giving them the opportunity to prove that they are competent and capable. It is not a realistic option to ask men to step aside because they would contest that as unconstitutional.  If it happened in Liberia; it can happen in Nigeria. It is also important that women prepare early, bond and devise the strategies to be at the top through negotiations, utilizing their skills. What seems to be the viable option as at now is for women to abandon the role of cheerleaders and settle for more concrete assignments, as equals with men in political and corporate governance. They could bag those coveted positions only if supported by men who control the political space. Women could court men who dominate the scene and who have successfully turned ‘’power brokers’’ to back a woman for vice-president or even president in 2023.

AGILITY & FUTURE READINESS: Without any doubt, critical situations would be resolved more speedily and with certainty if women are more involved directly and indirectly. Agility and future-readiness are key in a changing world. (WEF: 2018) Competent women abound in Women in Business and Management (WIMBIZ) a non-profit having Funmi Roberts, a tireless legal practitioner as Chairman, Board of Trustees. Another organization with similar objectives, Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR) founded by Amina Oyagbola, a business mentor is inspiring and empowering younger women in careers to help unleash their potentials by navigating careers pathways and nurture dreams. WIMBIZ and has produced at a least a Federal Minister and a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. WISCAR too could boast of notable professionals who have made their marks.  Nigeria currently has four serving elected female deputy governors. One is tempted to say that WIMBIZ and WISCAR accommodate most of the highly intelligent female corporate boardroom players in Nigeria today.

THE SILENT HEROINES & COMMITTED MENTORS:  It is believed that women, as pivots of family units are better placed to facilitate campaigns against social and criminal vices; and how to arrest the trend.  The evolving era of joint partnerships in the management of homes and businesses by spouses is worthy of being celebrated. We are blessed with several couples, who by dint of hard work and mutual encouragement have reached the pinnacles of their careers, jointly building their homes and businesses. There are also men, who have exceptionally supported their wives and female children to excel.  The stories of the lives and struggles of personalities; being featured on our channels are worth reading and praiseworthy, and are accordingly worthy of emulation.  For instance First Bank’s chairperson, Ibukun Awosika, with a charming delivery, held governors-elect (as they were then addressed) spellbound in Abuja recently, when she delivered a paper at a seminar organized for the governors-elect in Abuja. Another personality and silent heroine around is retd Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu, the first female regular combatant Officer in Africa, who in her active service years in the Nigerian Navy distinguished herself on account of her high buoyancy, courage, and ability to ride on storms alongside her male counterparts in the military. Itunu Hotonu enlisted at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna in 1985. She was the first woman to attend the academy and graduated as best overall student in her class of 73 cadets.

Hotonu is an architect like her husband. Her success story as a highly resilient and dedicated professional and her impressive credentials is worth reading.  In 2012, she was advanced to the position of Rear Admiral, and emerged the first woman in West Africa to attain this position. A brilliant mind, Hotonu attended the National Defence College, Abuja, where she emerged the best overall graduating student and won the Commander-in-Chief’s prize; as well as the Commandant’s prize for the best research. Hotonu was the first female officer to serve as an instructor at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji. In 2012 she spent time in Liberia mentoring women in that country’s armed forces. She probably could have successfully headed the Nigerian Navy, if it was her turn by promotion/appointment; and the Commander-in-Chief so wished. Young women, you could perform even a greater feat.  The sky is no longer be the limit because technological advancements have taken humanity to other planets. Go for your goals. But we must not get to any stage where there would be contests for headship of family units, as it is not part of our culture for any woman to say: ‘’hubby, it is your turn to fix things in the kitchen today”

IMPORTANCE OF MENTORING: Without any doubt, WIMBIZ deserves accolades and encouragement for paying particular attention to mentoring young professional women, and has proven to be a foremost breeding ground for present and future female leaders. Same applies to Amina Oyagbola’s WISCAR, a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering and developing professional women in Africa. This is one useful initiative that could be copied by all other similar bodies, including the federal government through the Office of the Specail Adviser to Mr. President of Social Investments. The success stories of these non-profits need to be told; and possibly copied by associations managed by successful men.  These professional women show the world that they are just as intelligent as any other people on earth.

Senior female lawyers who are proving unstoppable include Funke Adekoya SAN, Funke Agbor SAN. Funke Aboyade, SAN;
Kofo Dosekun SAN; Valerie Azinge, SAN; Funmi Awomolo, SAN; Funmi Roberts and Funmi Falana and Perhaps other organizations with related mandates could be encouraged to study this valuable programme; that is guiding young professionals to excel. Should the Office of the Special Adviser to Mr. President be positively inclined, it could go into working arrangements with these associations to promote issues dealing with the future of young professionals being mentored by these female bodies.

From this point of view, and the advancements recorded by women in governance (political and corporate) in the last two decades, one could safely conclude that it might not be too long for a woman to emerge Madam President of the Federal Republic.  Liberia made history by choosing the first elected female President in Africa,  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; now 81 years old, to lead the country. She succeeded in stamping her name in the positive pages of history. Johnson Sirleaf won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize as a champion for women’s rights. With our current level of development and enlightenment, those Statues and International Regulations on Women might not really work significantly as desired. The consolation, however, might be that the journey has at least commenced, and women could now assert themselves as professionally equal to men in all careers.  But not at home, where the husband is the undisputed captain.

Of advantage to the female gender is the fact that female professional associations engaged in mentoring younger ones appear more organized than the ones organized by men. I haven’t even heard about any put together by men to mentor boys and young men. Finally, in saluting the Nigerian woman again as NIGERIA’S HIDDEN RESOURCES, let the ‘THE CHANGE CHAMPIONS’ as they are described in the report under reference, come forward and start strategizing for political relevance. Fortunately, women also pray more than men do. Should you wish, Terrific Headlines will join you in prayers that God will move, ‘BY FIRE BY FORCE’ to locate women in their places of destiny.  By way of recapitulation, let me say to our women: Please, continue being our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, advisers, daughters  in-law, change champions.  et al.

May the Good Lord continue to bless Nigerian women.

 

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