January 19, 2015
In social history, all over the world, the status of women has always been perceived as inferior to that of men. While relative gender equality has been achieved in the developed nations of the world, the developing ones are just waking up to the responsibility of improving the lot of the womenfolk and closing the wide gap between men and women. The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, unanimously adopted by 189 countries, was the outcome of an International Women’s Conference held in China that year. Nigeria was signatory to that historic agenda for universal gender equality and women empowerment.
Whatever anyone may say of the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, there can be no doubt that his Government has heeded the message of the Beijing Declaration, and is already bestowing pride and dignity on the Nigerian women. And, who else is the moving force behind this and other landmark achievements for our women than the President’s wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? It is, therefore, shocking to hear the recent announcement by General Muhammadu Buhari, the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), that he would abolish the office of the First Lady, if elected into power in 2015.
Buhari’s main reason for his position is that the Nigerian Constitution has no provision for the Office of the First Lady and that there are statutory organs of government empowered to do whatever that First Lady has been doing. In a rather patronizing tone, Buhari, in his statement to the press, declared that he had the greatest respect for women, especially as he “was raised by his mother after the death of his father when he was under six years”. He conceded that there were certain important roles that women could perform, although would not be specific about such roles. Certainly, they must, given his position, be within the home or in the kitchen.
It would appear that General Buhari’s comprehension of state structures and institutional functions is grossly impaired. It does not require much literacy to understand the distinction between statutory organs of government, ministries, departments and agencies on the one hand, and intervention agencies, on the other. The Office of the First Lady is not a statutory organ; it is an intervention agency, designed specifically to perform the special functions of empowering and mobilizing Nigerian women for mass participation in politics. Therefore, searching for its provision in the Constitution does not speak well of Buhari’s intellectual level.
General Buhair’s problem is more than that of intellectual inadequacy. The truth is that the former Head of State is still tied to the past as, indeed, his perception of the Nigerian woman of the 1980s has remained unchanged. Although his late wife, Safinatu (Nee Yusuf) Buhari, was Nigeria’s First Lady between 1983 and 1985, the circumstances of the time were totally different from those that exist today. The dominant mindset in those days was that the woman’s role was predominantly restricted to child-bearing, the kitchen and domestic chores.
In social circles, the woman was expected to listen without having an opportunity to contribute to discussions. Her participation in politics was severely limited and, in some cases, she neither voted nor was she voted for. That was the perception of the Nigerian women of the past, and it would appear Buhari wants to take us back to that era.
It is doubtful if General Buhari has an idea of the extent to which things have changed. He may not know what First Ladies do, or have done elsewhere in the world. Could he have heard of how America’s First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, made that office politically and socially relevant? Does Buhari appreciate the significant role played by that country’s current First Lady, Michelle Obama, when she added her voice to the call for the release of our kidnapped Chibok girls?
The target of General Buhari’s call for the abolishment of the office of the First Lady is beyond the Presidency. It is the generality of Nigerian women whose lives are being radically transformed by the Jonathan administration. It is worth stating, for the information of Buhari and many other Nigerians that since the current political dispensation in 1999, the Nigerian political space has been enlarged for the participation of our women who now occupy key positions in the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government. More importantly, Nigerian women now play a dominant role in the nation’s agriculture sectors and the informal economy, especially the small and medium scale business sector.
Currently, there is a National Gender Policy that is mainstreamed into all aspects of national planning and development. A major component of that policy is women’s empowerment in politics. It is in this regard that the office of the First Lady works in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs. The result has been a remarkable success in the creation of awareness on the participation of women in politics. Available statistics show that there has been an increase in women’s representation in Government from 10% in 2011 to over 33% in 2013, with the appointment of 13 female Ministers out of 42, representing 31% and 4 Special Advisers out of 18, representing 23%.
Buhari should be told that these achievements would not have been possible, without the constant pressure and mobilization efforts of the Office of the First Lady. Today, our women are pushing for 50% participation in all sectors of our national life. Their champion and motivator is the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, who has moved our women far beyond the level of Buhari’s kinds of women. She needs the support of all Nigerians to stop the General and other politicians who want to turn back the hands of the clock.
Source: Josephine BabaTunde, Daily Independent