Justice Aloma Mariam Muhktar
When a girl is born, the reaction is different. Some parents even weep when they find out that their baby is a girl because, to them, a daughter is just another expense but with the appointment of Justice Aloma Mariam Muhktar as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, it shows that with education and empowerment of the girl-child, she too can get to the very top. Justice Muhktar is the first woman to be appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). And it is all on account of her brilliance, resilience and hard work. writes Mary Ekah
A refrain which female children in developed countries are very used to is: “When you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be.” Practically from birth, they are encouraged to imbibe self-confidence and self-belief. They are encouraged to believe that girls can be just as smart, athletic, and successful as boys.
But for little girls in many developing countries, the message is just the opposite. From the day they are born, they are constantly reminded of their limitations.
When a boy is born in most developing countries, it is some form of insurance, as it is believed that he will inherit his father’s name, property and get a job to help support the family.
When a girl is born, the reaction is different. Some parents even weep when they find out their baby is a girl because, to them, a daughter is just another expense. She will marry a man and lose her name and will never be able to earn as much as the men to help her family. Even till date, in some parts of India, it’s traditional to greet a family with a newborn girl by saying, “The servant of your household has been born.”
It is unfortunate that this sort of utterly erroneous belief still persists in many developing societies. Even in this day and age, there are still societies here in Nigeria where education of the girl child is perceived as a waste of resources. There are also many cases of parents/guardians who give away their daughters/female wards in marriage at an early age rather than educating them to the peak of their abilities.
However, the good news is that gradually, the times are changing in Nigeria and the country is slowly warming up to the reality of women equality and empowerment sweeping across the globe.
As a result of education, more awareness, enlightenment and exposure more women are breaking free from the previous mold of house-keeper and wife to co-producer and helper. From women with vocational skills to the high-powered executives, Nigerian women today are developing wings and flying above previously set limitations.
Several factors may have brought about this change in mindset; for instance, the prevailing economic situation that has made it difficult for many families to exist on just one stream of income, the man’s.
Another strong factor may be the outstanding success of some Nigerian women who through qualitative education, resilience, self-belief and the encouragement of others have excelled in various endeavors, becoming beacons of inspiration for other women. A handful of such women have arisen in politics, business and the professions.
We have seen women like Chief Mrs. Pauline Tallen who is considered to be the first and only female Deputy Governor in the entire Northern Nigeria. Another is Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who was the first woman to hold the portfolio of the Minister of Finance. Prior to her ministerial career, she was vice president and managing director of the World Bank Group. Professor Dora Akunyili, the pharmacist who became globally famous on account of her work at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is yet another example.
These women continue to inspire millions of women across the country, assuring the young girl that there are no limits except the ones she imposes on herself. The most recent mile stone is the appointment of Justice Aloma Mariam Muhktar as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Justice Muhktar is the first woman to achieve this outstanding feat in Nigeria. And it is all on account of her brilliance, resilience and hard work.
Her achievement will not only help to ginger up young women to aspire to greatness, it is also a major eye-opener and paradigm shift, underscoring the fact that women are just as competent as their male counterparts.
Of course, we cannot pretend that it is uhuru yet. The limitations have been there for ages and in spite of the strides recorded, women still struggle every day with gender inequality at certain stages in their careers. With no policies that specifically address gender issues, and with no effective mentoring of up and coming bright women, the road will continue to be rougher for the female sex.
The recent policy pronouncement by the Central Bank of Nigeria, prescribing that all bank boards in the country must have a certain percentage of women is a step in the right direction. It is a step for instance that will force banks and financial institutions to infuse more rigour into their human resources planning and development in such a way that encompasses more depth and inclusion.
Given the tremendous disadvantage that women face career wise, more of such policies will be vital at helping to restore some form of balance in the work place. One of the embassies in Nigeria has also come up with an annual programme; “Take a girl child to work.” This programme seeks to disrupt the prevalent mindset in many families that only the male child is important, symbolically emphasizing that female children are just as important.
Non-governmental organizations are also playing an increasingly pivotal role in this regard. They are increasingly prominent in the area of lobbying for the institution of the right policies by government and the private sector. Very importantly, they also play a role in boosting the confidence of women, in guiding them on the path of greatness, and inspiring them to go for gold.
Incidentally, the newly appointed CJN is a strong supporter of at least one of such initiatives. She has quietly provided support for an organization called Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR), based in Lagos Nigeria. WISCAR is a not for profit non-government organization focused on high level and structured mentoring programmes for the entry/mid career professional woman. It is a network of women with the main agenda of facilitating healthy career growth among women. With Mrs. Amina Oyagbola, Human Resources Executive, MTN, as the prime mover, the group provides structured mentoring programmes for career women to help unleash the potential in them.
Clearly, the sub-optimization of the potential of women as seen in many under-developed or developing countries is in part responsible for the stunted growth that to a large extent characterizes these countries. For, any country that wishes to fast-track its development must deliberately put in place measures that enable it systematically mobilize and unleash the potential of its most potent resource, its human resources.
Justice Muhktar’s appointment is particularly commendable, and reflects yet another attempt by Nigeria to redress the prevailing situation. It is also a vindication of the work of the handful of NGOs operating in the area of girl-child empowerment. It should serve as a motivation for these NGOs to work even harder at inspiring families to develop their children -be they male or female- by educating them. Very importantly, it should serve as a motivation to the public and private sectors to continue to develop and implement girl-child-friendly policies that will help to unleash the latent potential of the female gender for overall country economic growth and development.