Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Will the Nigerian Woman Ever Stand Up? By Sonala Olumhense
Four times in the past 10 years, I have challenged the Nigerian woman to rise and shine.
In: “Whatever Happened to the Nigerian Woman? (New Age, April 2003), I said:
“Basically, I do not think that the Nigerian man is comfortable with the prospects of a woman President or Governor. They ought to give this ego problem no more than a passing acknowledgment because women constitute about half of our population. Why has the Nigerian woman not taken advantage of this, settling instead for second best in the one stronghold that can make all the difference?
“…Why is the Nigerian woman not challenging this order, this bias, this glass ceiling? Is it just coincidence that none of the major parties is being run by a woman; that none of them is presenting a woman to be voted for as President or Vice-President or Governor? Even at the level of appointments, what does it mean that a woman may be Electoral Commissioner of a state, but that no woman has ever headed the nation’s Electoral Commission?
“Women have governed some of the world’s most challenging countries, such as India and Pakistan. Today, a woman is leading Indonesia, a nation of 230 million people, 92 per cent of them Muslims.
“I support the political advance of the Nigerian woman to the very top because our masculine self-serving swagger apart, men have not made much success of the art of governance, an area that remains outstanding for its ineffectiveness, incompetence and corruption. For 40 years, many families have routinely been deprived of their male heads night after night because such men are involved in “politics.” This nonsense is not working, because in addition to not being present at home to learn the true meaning of father, these political pretences have failed to move Nigeria nation forward.
“It is time for the Nigerian woman to insist that, in the interest of both the family and the nation, parenting and politicking responsibilities must be shared. I am certain that the presence of more women at party meetings on an equal basis as provided for by our constitution, will re-align the way horses are traded. It might even be that the Nigerian woman does not want to ride a horse, let alone condone trade permits for that animal.
“It is also possible that some men, observing that a woman is the boss, are not so eager or casual about trying to corrupt her office or their own. On the other hand, her male subordinates may be so uncomfortable under a woman’s authority that they work hard to discredit her; that is a challenge that I know the Nigerian woman would welcome and possibly beat back by some superlative performance.
“The problem is that the Nigerian woman is nowhere to be found. She is too far away picking up after men who tell her to wait; to wait for them; to wait somewhere else, to wait for a bottle of stolen perfume. They give her dubious pocket money, assure her that politics is too important or too dirty for women, and she listens. Up until the national elections that began two days ago, the Nigerian woman seemed to have accepted this nonsense as well. My sister, how can your contribution to progress, all 52 million of you, be to wait: waiting at home; in bars; in hotels; in the backroom; in the back of the house; in the back of the bus; waiting for what?”
In another reflection on August 27, 2006, provocatively titled “How to Offend the Nigerian Woman,” I wondered why a woman could not be president.
“…No, it is not a gender thing, it has to be a question of who can do the best job, or we are all lost. If you are honest enough to say you are unqualified or unprepared, surely you can help find or persuade someone who is. And yes, you can continue to love your husband, in fact, I insist on it. But you know in your heart—don't smile now—that you have always been smarter than he is. You know he is egotistical, corrupt and lazy. If you seek true improvement, you must begin by helping to ensure that the wrong people do not assume high office. By the time you apply your third layer of make-up, they would have done so, again. Unless you are an angel who never complains about how bad things are, you must become involved…
“…Ask them for an equal number of female governorship candidates, or negotiate a complete gender mix and match in political contests. Your influence, of course, is not in only in the power of your tongue, as forceful as that must be; it is also in the volume of female votes that you must work to command. In other words, sister, even if the party chieftains do not listen to your concerns about changing the party structure to allow for more women, you can do even more by organizing and sensitizing the female vote statewide, beginning with your own. Each is useful to the other: the more high-profile women there are in the party, the easier it will be for you to attract young female voters; the more female voters you attract, the easier it will be for you to negotiate high-female profile positions.
My point, dear lady of light, is that for too long, our men have been "right" in our country for no better reason than their gender. They emerged as the "politicians," the wise and powerful ones who reserved the right to be wise and powerful. They have since been found to be empty-headed simpletons posing as prophets. That is how we got stuck in the mud, but the female constituency can engender great change, or be that change. The opportunity that comes your way in the next few months is huge. In these months, Nigeria woman, the motherland will be crying for the best of her children to come forward to restore its spirit…”
In “Sleeping Beauty, Now Snoring,” on February 10, 2007, I I contemplated that year’s national election.
“There is only one face missing in all this: one kind we have yet to see: the Nigerian woman. I am amazed that given the size of our population and our political history, the Nigerian woman is still timidly loitering on the sidelines of power.
“In the major political parties, the Nigerian woman is not a factor, and she raises her voice neither in outrage nor to demand the microphone. Party big-wigs speak as though they are a one-gender gang. Small surprise then—isn’t it—that in none of these parties was a woman remotely thought of as leadership material.
“Nearly 50 years of independence, and our top female political figure will again be the First Lady. As usual, she will make a complete mess of it because, rather than engage and encourage her husband to serve with honesty and vigour, she will set herself up as President of the Governors’ Wives, or administer a “charity”. Nearly 50 years later, the Nigerian woman is still timidly serving tea and coffee in the public sphere, lying in the political bed just as she has made it. She is waiting for Master to come home. When he barks, she will say, dutifully, weakly, “Yes sah!”
In The Women of OVATION, I commended her beauty and power in every edition.
“Hopefully, when the cameras are shut down, the clothes changed, and the make-up taken off, these wonderful ladies do not lose their electricity. Hopefully, in their real lives they are able to hold in the sun and the moon, and personally illuminate the world around them. Hopefully, in their lives, they shake hands not only with those who appear in, or aspire to appear in OVATION, but also reach out to those who just aspire to a meal.
“It is one thing to appear in OVATION; it is another to be worthy of a standing ovation. And you do not collect a standing ovation sitting down, or with your eyes closed.
Women are so much further upfront in many other countries. When will the Nigerian woman stand up?