In Defence of Nigerian Women

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The verdict olusegun By Olusegun Adeniyi: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

I guess I have told the story before of a couple driving on the road when another vehicle drove past and nearly pushed their car into the bush. Shaking his head, the husband muttered: “Women! They are lousy drivers”. This was in apparent reference to the person at the wheel of the car that drove past. Not done, the man began to reel out examples of how women usually cause road accidents to the consternation of his wife who felt angry about the generalisation.

As it would happen, in the course of the conversation, they caught up with the car that started the debate only to discover that the driver was actually a man. “You see now that it is a man,” said the wife who wanted an apology but her husband had a ready reply: “Well, his mother must have taught him how to drive.”

The man in the story must be a Nigerian, given the chauvinism and prejudices that drive this society. That much was on full display on Tuesday when the world marked International Women’s Day 2016. Incidentally, to prove a point, in India, their national carrier, Air India, chose the day to set a record by operating the world’s longest all-women flight from Delhi to San Francisco. From the ground staff to pilots and in-flight attendants, the flight was managed by an all-women team. Two days earlier on March 6, the airline also operated 20 other all-women crewed flights on domestic and international routes. It was a significant message.

But what did we have in Nigeria? In presenting a motion to mark the day, Senator Oluremi Tinubu argued, “We represent courage and resilience; without us (Nigerian women) I don’t think this country will move forward.” Unfortunately, the significance of her motion was lost on her colleagues. On a day you expect them to at least remember the roles played by their mothers in shaping their lives, many of them could only think of their concubines and with that, they reduced a serious issue to banality.

Making his contribution, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who ordinarily is a very reflective person, decided to insult our women, reducing them to no more than chattels. “I urge men to marry more than one wife. The first care of a woman is marriage. Men should take care of women by not just befriending them, but by going further to marry them. I know there is nowhere in the Bible that prohibits marrying more than one wife. Starting with the senate president I ask him to consider marrying more than one wife.”

Ndume, thereafter, made a formal request to the senate to declare that Nigerian men should marry more than one wife. “As a sign of respect for women, let’s urge men to marry more than one wife,” he said. His prayer was seconded by Senator Suleiman Nazif. But Senator Binta Masi Garba did not allow the insult to go unchallenged: “We are not sex objects. Bible is in support of one man, one woman. We want gender parity where women and men can work side by side,” she said.

That precisely is the 2016 theme for International Women’s Day: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. And the tragedy of it all is that at no time in our history as a nation has gender issues been on the front burner as they are today: rape, early marriage, domestic violence etc. Yet, our lawmakers can only trivialise such an important debate.

In his message on Tuesday, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, said: “We have shattered so many glass ceilings; we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers,” while UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka amplified the message further: “Each one of us is needed—in our countries, communities, organizations, governments and in the United Nations—to ensure decisive, visible and measurable actions are taken…” to achieve the objective.

That we have a serious problem in Nigeria is quite evident when those who make laws for us do not consider women as equal but rather as mere consorts. That is the meaning of Ndume’s intervention, which merely reechoes that of Senator Dino Melaye, a week earlier. Yet it is such warped thinking that is responsible for the endangerment of the girl child in Nigeria today, from Chibok to Yenagoa and Lagos.
In his contribution to the motion by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, which advocated the need to patronise products made in Nigeria, Melaye had said most memorably: “We must reduce the allocation for made-in-Nigeria goods and services to the basics. What are those factors limiting the production of these goods? We must tackle them. We must also begin to look at our legislation, then, we will begin to talk about made-in-Nigeria goods. We will also move in order to encourage made-in-Nigeria products and begin to talk about made-in-Nigeria women…”

The inference of that statement is that Nigerian women are no more than commodities that can perhaps easily be traded on the ‘Abuja Stock Exchange’. Yet a society where leaders see a significant proportion of their population (all available statistics even suggest there are more females than male in Nigeria) that way is not going anywhere. Unfortunately, it has always been like this.

On Monday, Amanda Okoli, a Nigerian lady I presume, posted online a piece published by the (American) TIME magazine on Monday, August 8, 1955 titled “NIGERIA: Wives For Sale Cheap”. And here is the story, very brief but instructive, as published 61 years ago: “In Britain’s West African colony of Nigeria, where men buy their wives and thereafter own them, the price scale got out of hand after World War II when soldiers came home with the Crown’s mustering-out pay in their pockets. Soon they had to pay as much as $600 for an educated girl, $450 for an illiterate. Since this was far beyond the means of the average young tribesman, the Nigerians asked their British rulers to impose price controls on wives. The British stiffly refused. Last week a committee appointed by the Eastern Nigerian government to bring some relief to Nigerian males recommended: 1) a ceiling of $84 per wife, with instalment payments permitted; 2) only one to a customer.”

What that story says very clearly is that the objectification of the Nigerian woman did not start today but the bigger tragedy is that it is now reflected in every area of our national life such that to most Nigerian men, the real “office” of a woman is no more than the kitchen or bedroom. That is also reflected in our law at a time our women are accomplishing great things in all fields of human endeavour. For instance, in a 2013 piece titled, “How Nigeria legalizes discrimination against women”, Aminu Hassan Gamawa, a younger brother and doctorate student at Harvard Law School, wrote that the language used by the Nigerian constitution “is not gender neutral, perhaps because it was written by men. For example, the pronoun ‘He’ appears in the 1999 constitution about 235 times.”

Under government appointment and composition of agencies, Gamawa argued that Section 14(3) of the 1999 constitution is completely silent on gender consideration. On citizenship, whereas Section 26 (2) (a) confers the right to any woman who is married to a Nigerian citizen it denies such right to foreign men married to Nigerian citizens. Again, under our criminal law, a man cannot be deemed to have raped his wife because, as Gamawa pointed out, “Section 182 of the Penal Code provides that ‘sexual intercourse by a man with his OWN (emphasis mine) wife is not rape if she has attained puberty’.” Section 55 (1) (d) even recommends that a man can actually keep koboko in the house “for the purpose of correcting his wife”.

I know we operate a patriarchal society where everything revolves around the “man of the house” but for us to develop as a nation, we must begin to cede to our womenfolk the rights and respect that they are due. And it is not too much to say that all genders be treated equally as enunciated in the International Women’s Day 2016. Besides, in both the private and public sectors, Nigerian women have proven to be as good, if not better than their male counterparts and we see that in many areas, notwithstanding the fact that the system is skewed against them. Indeed, if there is anything that attests to the resilience and strength of character of the Nigerian women, it is in the way the #BringBackOurGirls coalition has evolved over the last two years.

Monday marks the 700th day that the Chibok girls have been in captivity yet I cannot but remember that first day in Abuja when some of us decided (based on an idea initially floated by Hadiza Bala Usman and Maryam Uwais) to stage a peaceful protest. While many of us who demonstrated inside the rain two years ago have retreated, Oby Ezekwesili, (who led from Day One), Bukky Shonibare, Maureen Kabrik, Florence Ozor, Aisha Yesufu (a woman I admire a great deal) and others are still holding the fort. Of course, there are also men like Abubakar Yusuf, Sesugh Akume, Hosea Tsambido, Rotimi Olawale, Abdullahi Abubakar, Jeff Okoroafor, Tunji Olanrewaju, Dauda Iliya and others who remain faithful; but it is the women who are calling the shots. In that, they demonstrate the capacity of the Nigerian women to stay the course in pursuit of noble ideals–even in the face of daunting odds.

I take this issue of disrespect for our women very personal because I come from a loving but poor family. My father had just one wife and they were devoted to each other. My father, a carpenter, was also a very responsible man but, growing up in the village in my early years, I knew who made most of the sacrifices for me to attend both primary and secondary schools. My mother denied herself all comforts, and at a point had only one set of clothes. I was not too young to understand why she would go to the river, wash the cloth she was wearing and wait for it to dry. I also knew the shame she had to endure in the process of borrowing just so I could pay my school fees. She, like most women and mothers then and now, epitomized the ideals that define our better humanity.

That then explains why I find it difficult to accept the insulting depiction of the Nigerian women by those who ought to be our leaders. Coming at a time that the nation and the international community are yet to recover from the shock of the tragic Ese Oruru saga and other similar cases, especially the kidnapping of three female students in Lagos, the remarks of the likes of Senators Ndume and Melaye bespeaks a level of chauvinism and backwardness that one would not have imagined still existed.

That perhaps explains why many believe the recent obsession with the denigration of a vital segment of our populace indicates something more sinister about the state of our legislature. And they do have a point. In a country beset with so many pressing existential issues requiring legislative intervention, it is a negative testimonial that those who make laws for the rest of us can only find relevance in denigrating Nigerian women. It is a big shame!

Corrections
In my piece of last week, titled “A Gathering of Great Ife”, I described Justice Bimbo Adejumo as a Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibadan Division but that was her former position. She is currently a Judge of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. In the same piece, I wrote that JAMB Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde was a former Vice Chancellor at Ife. He wasn’t. The errors are regretted.
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  • amador kester

    Among the indices of a societal level of civilization should be the extent it respects and treats its women humanely and their primordial job of stabilizing a family structure,proper upbringing of children ( for the married ones) is among the most important with fundamental ramifications for humanity. And historically too some sensible ladies have procured peace and political stability by gently persuading their husbands to give up destructive power plays and there was even lady abigail in the Bible to educate women on their peace roles whereas some like jezebel mindlessly ruin their family and nation swiftly by their preposterous actions. Thus a good wife respects the husband as head of the family and shows vicarious discipline to the children and a good husband passionately loves and protects the wife as if thats his own soul while being cognizant of some unique freedom and responsibilities for each individual thus although its the merrier and better if both are in one religion or denomination yet a sensible husband will allow it if the wife wants to belong to another religion and may even use it as opportunity to learn something or make a visit to that faith. She might even decide to rejoin the husband,s faith later after getting the spiritual experiences destined for her from that religion or denomination. This makes marriage more of a sublime spiritual experience than material possession or quantitative objectification of relationships. Those who didnt marry are no less inferor, it all depends on individual freedom to choose their spiritual destinies and callings as adults! In this regards senator ndiume,s exhortation to polygamy bears no ring of spiritual veracity and saraki should not listen to it. I think moslem religion recommended a MAXIMUM of four wives. It did NOT say it MUST be four wives thus one is equally as good if that is the personal choice with freedom and responsibility. It all depends on home training. I have seen a polygamous home where all the kids eat from one plate and none eats until all others are around and i have seen another such home where pandemonium reigns like bedlam, each kid carried his own plates to different apartments as beginning of seperate family republics! Thus home training and discipline are fundamental. Now on the emancipation issue i think the UN is doing a lot to sensitize traditional societies to send their female children to school. Educating a girl even up to mere primary level reduces infant mortality significantly. And if a lady can take proper care of family,train the kids, identify wholesome healthy meals for the family and exclude popular toxic foods by virtue of education then the sky is the limit and why cant she be doctor,,lawyer,lecturer,accountant,scientist and also a homely mother all in one. Presently pres buhari has promised 40 percent of appointments to women and to those who are surprised at this unparalleled, iconoclastic gesture should read history and realize that most emancipations came from unexpected sources. The republicans freed the black slaves in usa centuries ago when democrats and catholic church were grand champions of slave trade and slavery. These to mention but few. I recommend the celebration of family day as it is the greatest human institution own soul while recognizing n soul

  • chyke

    Our National houses of comedy are peopled by buffoons, peodofiles, drug barons etc. Any wonder How we can expect succor to come from there?

    • amador kester

      You may not go that far but remind the comedians that a few years ago a man in a northern city married about 85 wives or thereabouts which was far more than allowed by moslem doctrinal orthodoxy and the clerics came hard on his throat for exceeding the sanctimonious bounds of orthodoxy which to me translates to exceeding the pragmatic bounds of reason and precipitating the very maximalism of material objectification of human relationships .Why didnt senator ndiume rush to protect him? He probably realized that the man ( now late,, sorry to say) was not solomonwho could have up to 1000 according to accounts and still maintain a peaceful environment in his palace as the wisest king in then world. But this nigerian most probably had not the wisdom of solomon in contracting 85 or so nuptial wahalas and palaver and a man must be wise as solomon before his magic ring can work

  • prince

    Our women are very courageous, good and brilliant. They are equally exceptionally beautiful. I wish that our dear country could give them more to exploit with.

  • Toby

    How many women are today under the hammer of the EFCC? How many women received a share of the Dasuki’s booty?

    The level of corruption in our public administration will be significantly reduced if we have more women manning sensitive and “juicy” positions.

    It’s pathetic that Senator Ndume could disparage women with such a nauseating statement.

    One of the reasons the incidence of corruption is extremely high among Nigerian men is the financial pressure to maintain several wives and a harem of girl friends.

    It’s time Nigerian women push real hard against all these male chauvinistic rhetorics.

  • Jon West

    The Boko haram senator Ali Ndume is normally reflective? perhaps you have another definition for the word. This evil, empty barrel of a amn, is a poster boy of the troub;or with his blighted region of Nigeria. In that region, every serious issue is reduced to a joke and confined to the carnal. How can people who arranged the abduction of nearly 300 girls into sexual slavery and religious oppression, have ant respect for womanhood? In any case how also can parents who allowed their young daughters to stay alone in a war zone after warnings from the central authorities also have respect for women, including their young daughters? The men were defenceless, but by few spikes on the roads ot of town, could have disabled some of those trucks and ensured the rescue of some of those unfortunate young ladies, now lost to the backwardness of the peoples of northern Nigeria.
    As for the Ese Oruru case, I must confess that the Ijaw are the Hausa/Fulanis of the south, in heir treatment of women. They are as non-respectful as these malams. How can your daughter even be away from your house for hours and you do not know? And she is taken to Kano from Yenogoa? That is why very few educated Ijaw women, marry Ijaw men. They all want to escape to areas that value women, hence the Diezanis,Ketebus,etc vote with their feet and hearts to marital respect.
    The Indians, unlike their Pakistani compatriots, also have shown that in spite of cultural problems with female emancipation, you can allow women the freedom to actualise themselves. Pakistan will not even allow female pilots, let alone an all-female crew, even though they have had a high profile female prime minister. It will also not happen in a Nigeria led by the Certificateless One, even thought his daughters brandish british education: he will never allow them marry men that will set them free to actualise themselves.
    You have to pity Nigerian women, always at the receiving end of the disastrous rule of men from a region that has no respect for them.

  • John Paul

    The vermin who looted the funds meant for the development of Nigeria and denied us critical infrastructure are worse than Boko Haram.

    They do not wish Nigeria well, at all. Especially our women

    Anyone who loots funds meant for the provision of roads, healthcare, education and electricity to our beautiful women – Nneka, Bidemi, Adesua, Jummai, Mfon and Ebiene – is not a man.
    Linguists have to look for another word to describe such despicable organisms

    Nigerian men have to find a way to get rid of their Serengeti, lecherous and even callous attitude towards our women and start strengthening our infrastructure, institutions and service delivery, so that our women – their mothers, sisters and daughters – will not have the need for that Luxury Condominium that they purchased in Dubai with the funds meant for the development of our country

  • gohen

    Kudos to the women, We need to do more collectively to emancipate women from these chains of discrimination. I do not think this has much to do with APC/BUHARI.
    It BEGINS WITH ALL OF US in the manner we treat our sisters, lovers/girlfriends/wives and our female colleagues.
    Most importantly the women must do more for their own freedom as well, because most times, the chains holding us back are usually mental than physical. Women should be in the fore front of the challenge.
    There is a woman that contested The PDP presidential primaries almost everytime and she has never got more than three votes, despite over 100 female delegates present.
    But in all these chaos, we most remember what the role of a woman in the setting of life. It is not necessary that a woman wants ‘freedom’ so as to Lord over her family. There is a reason while a woman goes through the painful process of pregnancy/delivery, whereas the man who is supposed to be stronger does not. In the same vane that is why after marriage, the woman takes up the man’s name and not vice-versa.
    ALL HAIL THE WOMAN… ESPECIALLY THE AFRICAN WOMAN