Giving Women Better Opportunities to Excel

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Semenitari, Mrs. Linda Ayade and the wife of the Cross River State’s deputy governor, Mrs. Evara Esu, at the final command performance of the stage play, ‘Little Drops’ in commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day in Calabar…recently

The Niger Delta Development Commission recently organised a drama titled ‘Little Drops’ in Calabar, Cross River State, to draw attention to the plight of women and children in the oil rich region of the country, writes Ifeatu Agbu

For eight days, the poignant story of the Niger Delta was told and re-told by the characters in Professor Ahmed Yerima’s; ‘Little Drops’. From the nation’s capital in Abuja to the Garden City in Port Harcourt; from the ancient Benin City to the Canaan City, Calabar, the story of the unscripted victims of the conflicts in the Niger Delta was etched in bold relief.

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) used the stage drama as a platform to reach out to the women. The drama looks at the Niger Delta from the perspective of women – the neglected innocent victims of the war of contradictions in the region. One of the characters in the play puts it succinctly: “They fight their wars, yet we and our children are left with the scars…”

Conscious of its role as a facilitator of all-round development of the Niger Delta and its people, the NDDC used this year’s International Women’s Day to put the spotlight on the plight of women and children in the region. It was an opportunity to inspire and celebrate the achievements of women in the Niger Delta region.

Although, the international Women’s Day, launched by United Nations in 1914, to reflect on progress made, pursue change and commemorate acts of courage by women globally every March 8, this year’s celebration was taken a notch higher by the NDDC. Thanks to Professor Yerima’s ‘Little Drops’, the message was kept alive for over one week as men and women of diverse callings converged to watch and empathize with the story of Niger Delta women.

The NDDC also used the celebrations to offer men an opportunity to sign on to gender equity. At all the venues of the stage play, in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin and Calabar, huge boards were mounted for all invited guests to endorse the gender parity campaign in furtherance of the theme for this year’s Women’s Day celebration, which is: ‘Pledge for Parity, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality’.
According to the United Nations, this year’s commemoration reflects on how to accelerate the 2030 agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new sustainable development goals, as well as focuses on new commitments under the UN Women’s Step It Up Initiative.

At the final command performance of ‘Little Drops’ in Calabar, on Monday, March 14, 2016, several women of substance jostled for space and attention. The wife of the state governor, Dr Linda Ayade was there, so was the wife of the deputy governor, Mrs. Evara Esu. The deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof. Florence Obi attended, so did the Vice Chairman of Odukpani Local Government Area, Dr. (Mrs.) James Okon. Obviously, the women of Cross River State led the way in boosting the campaign for gender parity.

The popular Efik dance, “monikem” set the stage for the grand finale which was also spiced with a poetry rendition by Iquo Dianaabasi, an online magazine editor based in Lagos. Iquo moved the audience to tears with Nnimmo Bassey’s poem: “I thought it was oil.”

The haunting poignancy of that poem had a sobering effect on the audience and more or less created the right ambience for the command performance of the night.
The NDDC Acting Managing Director, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, provided the justification for inviting the crème de la crème of the society to watch the ‘Little Drops’. She said that the stage play “is as much entertainment and drama, as it is a campaign to bring, once more, to national conscience, the anguish and travails of the women, children and people of the Niger Delta. It is part of programmes which we have lined up to raise awareness, encourage industry among the people and improve human capacity.”

Mrs. Semenitari threw more light on the essence of the play. She said: “It provides us with startling and brilliant metaphor, a most enchanting pathway through which we can begin to resolve the twin inequities of gender and development, both infrastructural and human, which the Niger Delta has suffered for far too long. Told from the perspective of four women, caught in the crossfire of the armed conflict in the region, we come face to face with the tragedy of our beloved Niger Delta.”

“The Niger Delta torment, her needs, her sores and bruised spirit, some aspects which are so brilliantly captured in this play, must continue to remain an item in the national agenda, a constant narrative in national and international discourse, demanding and requiring healing. In doing that, we must also begin to think more on helping to rebuild the lives of women and children who are unscripted victims of the conflicts in the Niger Delta.”

The NDDC Chief Executive Officer said that it was necessary to use the engaging platform of drama to re-introduce the issues confronting the Niger Delta to national consciousness, adding that the burden of development was great.

She said that the Federal Government had indentified important stakeholders that must work together, as development partners, to move the region forward. “These partners, working with the NDDC, under the new standards of probity, due process, proper application of funds, clarity of vision and engagement, which President Muhammadu Buhari has ushered in, will help ensure greater synergy and accelerated growth,” Mrs. Semenitari said.

Mrs. Semenitari decried the challenges confronting the Niger Delta region, especially the environmental, political, social and economic challenges, noting that women and children have suffered, for too long, the consequences of the conflicts in the region, one that is scarcely highlighted in all intervention strategies to address regional challenges and the attendant agitation for resolution.

As part of the response to this challenge, Mrs. Semenitari said that the NDDC had started the Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science (GEMS) programme, as well as instituted the Queen Kambasa Awards for Excellence. She explained: “GEMS aims to encourage young girls in the region to embrace science and technology, as well as to provide quality manpower that will enable them participate in the predominant oil and gas sector of the region, while the Queen Kambasa Awards recognize the first known queen of the Niger Delta. In her honour, NDDC aims to recognise and reward achievement of Niger Delta women in different spheres and, in doing so, inspire women to excel in whatever they do. It is important to create role models for our young women and girls by showing them the path to excellence.

According to the NDDC boss, “women cannot continue to trail in a society that defines them as weaker, that puts them in the straightjacket of male-dominated narratives. Because it is a fact that women, by numbers alone, are more than half the world’s population.” She said that the marginalization of women must change. Women, all over Nigeria, have shown great capacity to drive the course of development. In more and more homes of the Niger Delta, they have assumed roles of bread-winners, holding society by the scruff of neck and demanding to be taken seriously.

For Dr. Linda Ayade, the wife of the Cross River State governor, women should not allow themselves to be made to feel inferior as that could only happen when they permit it. “It is what you permit that comes to you. Our women have been permissive for a very long time,” she said.

She charged women not to be deterred by retarding traditions that tended to hold them down. “We must resist the negative forces and forge ahead to be at par with the opposite gender. Whatever inspiration you get that will lead you to your purpose must be followed without distraction. You may fail, but failure is not a limitation. What matters is what you do to overcome your challenges,” she said.

Dr. Ayade advised women in privileged positions in the society to assist others who were at the fringes to rise to some reasonable level, advising women to always set their goals right. She further admonished: “Do not follow the crowd for any person that goes with the crowd will stop where the crowd stops. But the ones that follow their dreams soar to greater heights.”

Speaking in a similar vein, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, urged stakeholders to strive to bridge the gender gap to make for a balance in leadership roles. She spoke at the International Conference Centre in Abuja through Mrs. Pauline Tallen, the former Deputy Governor of Plateau State.

According to her, the world was in an era when women were making impressive contributions to social, economic, cultural and political achievements. She said: “I urge you, through your imagination, influence and decisions, to create a world where the weak and vulnerable, as well as the strong and gifted will have room to excel. I also urge you to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly, so as to create gender balanced leadership, respect and value difference.”

At the Port Harcourt event, the wife of the Rivers State government, Hon. Justice Eberechi Wike, said that apart from the issues of eradicating poverty among women and gender parity, attention should also be paid to the health of women. She explained: “I thought they should have also said something about health of women. When I say health I am not talking about only the physical health of women, the mental health should also be considered. Mental health should not be ignored when we are talking about the rights of women.”

Wike advised women to learn to love and support each other, noting that women were very important in building a nation. She said that peace building was another important point to address since women play very key roles in the maintenance of peace in the country.

Justice Wike enjoined women to fight against domestic violence and other forms of injustices meted out to women. She urged them to advance the course of women in Nigeria against issues like rape, domestic violence, early marriage and all forms of discrimination against women.

The story was the same in Benin when the ‘Little Drops’ was performed in the Edo State capital.
Lady Belinda Ogiefa, the Special Adviser to the Edo State governor on Women Affairs, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, urged both men and women to support the campaign for gender parity.
Ogiefa, who represented the wife of the Edo State governor, Mrs. Lara Oshiomhole, said that women should be empowered in various ways to enable them realise their full potentials.
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