Many Nigerians are upset at the Senate’s rejection of the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill.
Not me. I fully expected the bill to be laughed out of the National Assembly premises, and here is why: the proposed law held visions of progress and a better society, but the Senate has in the past 16 years been the direct antithesis of.
This is why we must resist the temptation, currently being purveyed by some analysts, to interpret last Tuesday’s rejection of the bill simply as another poor decision by federal legislators.
It is worse than that: it was the most fundamental challenge to Nigeria’s greed creed in recent times, and its rejection illustrates and underlines Nigeria’s iron elitism and tyrannical structure.
Our history reflects little evidence of political power that is committed to service. The objective of power in Nigeria has, curiously, often been to be powerful and rich. Under our greed creed, the greedy (and ruthless) own the land.
Look back and look around: under the Nigerian value system, poverty and powerlessness seem to be a crime. When we are in power and position, we think the earth (and the public treasury!) belongs to us.
This is why nearly two generations of leaders, working with hundreds of billions of dollars, have produced a jungle where there are no roads or rail or electricity. Worse still, we have often sent our worst to lead us, and they wind up looting the commonwealth.
Under this value system, it is a lucky child who gets a good education but to the best schools go the children of the rich. I mean, why share our wealth with a brilliant child if his parents are too poor to finance his brilliance. Our system says, in effect: how can you be both brilliant and poor?
Remember: over 100million Nigerians—two-thirds of the population—live in abject poverty. The rich and the powerful steal them blind in order to be rich and powerful, and then refuse to commit to serving the public interest.
This is a system where, in two years of the tragedy of the Chibok abductions, most Senators have shown none of the concern, commitment or character they have deployed into their case for new cars.
Remember, in 2012, these Senators purchased brand new Toyota Land Cruiser luxury SUVs, each costing about $100,000. Nobody has accounted for them.
This is a system where people in power look after themselves, and then after themselves again and again. Last week in Equatorial Guinea, President Muhammadu Buhari indicated he would work to enable citizens abroad to vote in national elections, something comparable African democracies have enjoyed for years.
The Nigeria Diaspora ought to be quite important. It is responsible for $20-$30 billion in annual remittances. In other countries, responsible politicians would have been courting their participation in the economy because it is evident they can do so much more than helping out where government has failed.
But remember: In October 2011, the House of Representatives threw out a bill that would have allowed the Diaspora vote. Some of the excuses offered by some of the Representatives are too embarrassing to repeat here.
Despite various assurances, that bill never returned. The politicians were simply too afraid of the Diaspora demographic the same way they are now afraid of women. Some of those politicians, meanwhile, were taking out illegal multiple voter registrations to enable them influence the ballot whenever they pleased.
In a system such as Nigeria’s, look at the massive wealth in the hands of a handful of Nigerian pastors: enough wealth not only for all Nigerian Christian children to enjoy free education up to university level, but also for these pastors to set a good example for the world.
It is also instructive to consider that some of these pastors own schools and universities that their own members cannot afford! Didn’t Jesus preach about the rich needing to give away their property, and that the rich will have a hard time making it into heaven? Did he exempt powerful pastors?
In a system such as Nigeria’s, it is hardly surprising that federal legislators, who are mostly male and polygamous hypocrites, were miffed to find in front of them a draft law suggesting that—upon their approval—women would enjoy the same rights with them.
Read that again: men and women, equal before the law.
The translation these politicians must have received is not that by such a law they would empower women, including their mothers, wives and children to rise higher and fly further, but that they—the mighty, the menacing and the magnificent--would in effect be reducing themselves to the status of women.
If you have a poor, closed mind, that is how you think. Most Nigerian Senators of the Republic, regrettably, come from that school of thought. As I have observed elsewhere, the so-called Upper House is dominated by a rather sad army of dubious ex-governors, pedophiles, certificate-forgers and money-doublers. Where are the visionary and respectable men and women from whom flow original thinking and elevating philosophies?
In connection with the Gender bill, it is obvious that it was also a trap for the Senators. The truth is that the men who objected to it have a complex. Despite their bluster, or because of it, they know that in a fair fight they will be humbled by many a woman.
The point is that while the bill may have appeared in gender form, it really was not about equality. It was about justice in Nigeria, and about maximizing the country’s resources to enable her rise to the level of a great nation the democracy of which is planted in justice.
A bill of this nature is about who is sufficiently committed to seeking the greatest good of the greatest number, and about multiplying opportunity for all citizens irrespective of geography or culture or gender.
A bill of this nature is about seeking service of the nation by those best capable of it; about setting free the totality of the nation’s human resources; about the Super Eagles playing with its best eleven rather than what Chinua Achebe called the 7th Eleven.
There are people saying the Senate should be ashamed for dismissing the bill. I do not say that; I think the Senate affirmed why we are where we are, and confirmed that it is led by our most retrogressive.
What now? I know that the legislature, particularly at the federal level, will not change in a hurry. It reflects our nation, and challenges all those who truly care to focus on long-term strategies to achieve redress.
Let progress-seekers and anti-corruption campaigners focus on the education, track records and voting records of these negative politicians in order to have usable public folders that rivals, the press and even the law can deploy against them before and during elections.
You know they will try to buy or subvert future elections the same way some of them buy Abuja homes or child brides. Voters and campaigners must now play a smarter game.