Female Ministers Ready to Steal the Spotlight

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Vanessa Obioha and Udora Orizu examine the readiness of serving female ministers, in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, to give the best performance, while fulfilling their huge responsibility and confidence reposed in them

One of the promises of the President Muhammadu Buhari during his presidential campaign was to make his cabinet gender inclusive. He boldly told Nigerians that women will make up 35 percent of his cabinet as part of his commitment to take the country to the ‘Next Level’.

When the president finally rolled out the names of his ministers nearly two months after he resumed office, only seven women made the 44-member Federal Executive Council. It may be tactical to include Folashade Yemi-Esan, Head of Service, increasing the number to eight. The new appointees have since been cleared by the legislative chambers and assigned portfolios at a well-attended inauguration ceremony, held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The positions assigned to the seven women include: Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development; Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Ministry of Federal Capital Territory (State); Transportation Ministry (State); Ministry of Environment (State); Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; and Ministry of Trade and Investment (State).

Those who were appointed to individually or jointly supervise the ministries respectively are: Pauline Tallen, Zainab Ahmed, Ramatu Aliyu, Gbemisola Saraki, Sharon Ikeazor, Sadiya Farouk and Maryam Katagum.

However, the numbers did not justify the earlier promise of the President. It showed that only 16.3 percent of women are represented as against 35 percent the president promised. Inclusion of women in decision making positions in the Nigerian political system has been a contentious matter with eminent persons like Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi arguing that women should stand up and fight for what they believe is theirs. In a widely reported statement, the former governor of Rivers State urged women “to stop begging” for their entitlement. A research carried out by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in 2017-18 reveals a declining fortune for women in position of governance. “Following the 2015 election, 9.8 percent of councillors and 3.6 percent chairpersons were female, down from 12.5 percent and 3.9 percent in 2011 and 10.2 percent and 9.9 percent in 2007 respectively. In the national parliament in 2015, 5.7 percent of seats were occupied by women.

The Independent National Electoral Commission disclosed that only 62 women out of the 2,970 who contested for different political offices in the 2019 general election were elected. A breakdown of the figure showed that while only seven women were elected into the Senate during the 2019 elections, the House of Representatives has 11 women. Four women were elected as deputy governors, 40 women were elected into the 36 state Houses of Assembly.

These revelations have been greeted with mixed reactions. Some advocates of women in politics like Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Mufuliat Fijabi expressed disappointment over the number of women on the list, saying it was preferable to have at least 35 per cent representation of women.

“Sincerely, Nigeria is not practising what we would describe as inclusive democracy because of the almost absence of women. The president failed to keep his promise to have 35 percent of women in his cabinet. Although he hasn’t given reasons why he did that, in my opinion, he didn’t fulfill his promise. He has only appointed a few women, which we thank him for; but he hasn’t fulfilled his promise to the Nigerian people,” she argued.

With two months already gone since they assumed office, the focus has shifted from the number to the performance of these female ministers. Pundits are constantly plumbing how they will navigate the deep oceans of the peculiar political landscape of the country and if they can actively justify the confidence in them by delivering excellently in their various ministries.

There is also a school of thought which posits that Buhari may have compensated women substantially by ensuring they get key and sensitive positions in the cabinet. For instance the only ministries standing on three-legs, otherwise known as, ‘super ministries’ are supervised by women. They are Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning which has Zainab Ahmed as head and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development manned by Sadiya Farouq.

Since direct and disbursement of critical welfare intervention by the Federal Government now comes under the Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Ministry, Farouq has important role to play in the perception management of the Buhari administration, as her work impacts on the living condition of persons in the low income bracket. Of course, the overall success of the Buhari government depends on how the finances of the country are managed. The task of coordinating deliverables from strategic tink-tank, like the Presidential Economic Advisory Council rests on Finance Minister Ahmed.

Arguably, these ministries have seen better days. In the past four years, the ministries have been confronted with towering obstacles that will no doubt test the strength of the women manning the positions. From formulating policies to handling delicate cases, certainly, the task ahead of the female politicians is one that can either make or mar them. It all depends on the degree of bravura they bring to the political stage. To achieve this, each of the ministers must carefully examine their portfolios.

Ministry of Women Affairs

This important ministry which is being supervised by Pauline Tallen is embedded with many challenges. Though there are claims that it has made an impact in the country, but its significance is yet to be seen. With this appointment, Tallen makes an important return to the FEC, having previously served as Minister of State for Science and Technology in the cabinet of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo

It is widely speculated that the ministry has relinquished its responsibilities to NGOs, as it lacks the political will to fully address the challenges of women, which include health, education, business, politics among others.

Tallen, an astute politician and experienced administrator is expected to change the narrative in the next three years. Supervising a ministry with minimum funds and which in the past has suffered due to low budgetary allocation that has crippled its activities is not going to be an easy task for the former gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Plateau state in the 2011 elections.

However, there is still an opportunity for Tallen who was the first female to be appointed deputy governor in Nigeria to turn things around. The ministry can review its strategies and consider how to accelerate the 2030 agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of gender equality and empowering all women and girls, which is one of the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It should be looking in the direction of using integrated and innovative approaches and new solutions that disrupt ‘the usual’ to advance gender equality and empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection, participation in decision making, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

Tallen needs to use her wealth of experience to address the barriers to advancing women’s rights, particularly in education and politics. The new Minister is also expected to continue to push for girl-child education because it is a strategic intervention for empowering them. That way, the ministry can effectively restore its lost glory.

Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning

The biggest task ahead of the new manager of Nigeria’s finances, Zainab Ahmed is how to revive the country’s economy and propel growth. Ahmed who replaced the erstwhile Minister, Kemi Adeosun and now serving a second tenure is not new to challenges facing the ministry and what is expected of her to do in order to achieve the mandate of the ministry.

The Finance, Budget and National Planning Ministry is buffeted by sundry challenges, including late budget preparation/passage, poor implementation of fiscal plans, huge revenue shortfalls and the attendant delay in budget releases to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the flagship medium-term economic blueprint of the federal government, which Ahmed helped to midwife while she was the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, has failed to meet virtually all its specific timelines.

Now that the ERGP will fall under her supervision, it will be in the economic interest of the country to see what could be done to meet the outstanding targets within the remaining one year of the life of the blueprint.

With efforts being made to return to the December to January budget cycle, the onus is on the ministry to make such a target possible.

Also, the issue of increasing debt accumulation, the fallout of a disproportionate ratio of revenue and expenditure should be tackled.

With her wealth of knowledge and experience in finance, Ahmed, the immediate past Executive Secretary and National Coordinator of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), is in a good position to revive the economy and propel Nigeria towards growth.

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT)

The Ministry is constrained by many challenges which are undermining its ability to deliver on its critical mandate since it was established, 40 years ago.

One of the key challenges is insufficient funding, which hampers and frustrates the efforts to provide key infrastructure for those living in the nation’s capital and its suburbs.

Between 2015 and 2018, out of the total N634 billion budget proposals to fund about 313 projects, only N354 billion was appropriated, while N162 billion was actually released for the same number of projects.

Also, the Abuja master plan has been abused resulting in environmental development disarray, slums and housing inadequacy.

Abuja will grow into a model city if the Abuja urban actors would coordinate and properly execute the master plan and the development laws, integrated into a coordinated programme that would take advantage of urban development principles and create the much-needed environment for the inhabitants.

Ramatu Aliyu is expected to ensure the digitalisation of urban transport and make Abuja like many urban cities in the world, restore CCTV projects and traffic lights to reduce the height of insecurity.

With her wealth of knowledge in urban and regional planning, she should be able to ensure the security of the entire territory and make it more responsive in terms of service delivery by the agencies of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).

Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment 

One of the major concerns of this ministry is to improve Nigeria’s business environment in order to enhance ease of doing business and attract foreign investments.

In the era whereby made-in-Nigeria goods are constantly encountering problems accessing international markets, there are high expectations on the part of the minister to make exports more standardised and competitive among other things.

However, Mariam Katagum will be working closely with her senior colleague in the ministry, Adeniyi Adebayo to implement policies relating to industrialization of the economy, development of small and medium scale enterprises and promotion of exports and foreign direct investment and expansion of trade.

The Bauchi-born technocrat is expected to use her wealth of knowledge and experience in administration, planning and social development policy, to ensure that the Industry, Trade and Investment Ministry which is critical to the realisation of the country’s economic potentials, especially in the areas of industrialisation and boosting the investment prospects of the country as well as enhancing both domestic, regional and global trade is achieved.

Katagum who became the Secretary General of the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO in 2001 must also ensure that the various trade agreements the country has with various countries are domesticated, ensuring that Nigeria maximises its opportunities from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which it recently endorsed.

Ministry of Environment

Despite having so many special initiatives to make the environment more friendly, the Ministry of Environment has turned out to be one of the few federal ministries whose impact Nigerians hardly feel.

With such programmes as the Ogoni Cleanup, to remediate hydrocarbon-impacted sites in Ogoniland, Rivers State; the Green Bonds, which is fixed income securities issued to finance projects; the Great Green Wall Programme, conceived to address land degradation and desertification as well as boosting food security and support communities to adapt to climate change in the Sahel-Sahara region of Africa, the ministry’s activities ought to have been more impactful than it is presently.

One critical area where the ministry will make such an impact is to come up with a firm policy document to deal with issues of global warming that have negatively affected the environment.

There are also ecological problems such as erosion and desertification bedeviling the Southern and Northern parts of the country that urgently require the ministry’s attention.

The ministry also needs to come up with an effective action plan to tackle flooding that has led to the death of many and loss of assets valued at millions of naira.

Therefore, the newly-appointed Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor is expected to use her vast experience and knowledge in the field of project management to work with the Honourable Minister, Dr. Muhammed Mahmoud.

The duo are expected to involve in a robust collaborative efforts to make the ministry more relevant to Nigerians and take the ministry to an enviable ‘Next Level’ as championed by the Buhari administration. They have to gird their loins to make the environment friendlier.

Ministry of Transportation

Notwithstanding that this sector has recorded many facelifts in the last four years, the newly inaugurated ministers still have a lot of things to do. The new ministers’ hardest task in the maritime sector would be infrastructure. Access roads to all the nation’s ports are deplorable, notably the eastern ports, which are mainly redundant as a result of poor access.

Unlike in the last four years when former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi worked alone in this sector, Kwara-born, Gbemisola Saraki has been placed beside him to complete his efforts and get things back on the right track.

Working with Amaechi, Saraki may also need to activate the ministry to push for the quick dispensation of all outstanding bills relating to the sector still hanging at the National Assembly.

Six bills, among them the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act 1954 Amendment Bill, the Nigerian Transportation Commission Bill, the Nigerian Shippers Council and Nigeria Ports Authority Amendment Bill must not be allowed to die.

In all, the overall expectation for Saraki is to achieve the mandate of the ministry which is to build a secure world class transportation system that facilitates Nigeria’s socio economic developmental needs and enhances the quality of public life.

Saraki will continue with reforms aimed at birthing for Nigeria a shipping line that would return the nation’s lost glory as the leading and biggest economy in the sub-region and in the African continent.

Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development

This newly created ministry, as its name implies, is expected to coordinate the national action for the protection and assistance of refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, stateless persons internally displaced persons (IDPs) and migrants.

The person appointed to supervise this ministry,  Sadiya Farouq hails from Zurmi Local Government of Zamfara State. She will be working hand-in-hand with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), having had the knowledge and experience needed to integrate the best projects, policies to achieve its mandate.

Farouq is expected to run a clean slate administration considering bad reports in the past concerning the mandate of this ministry where majority of relief materials meant for IDPs were diverted. By doing this, Farouq will surely navigate the troubled waters threatening to submerge this ministry.

As a champion of humanitarianism, Farouq will definitely work well in achieving the mandate and challenges that comes with the creation of this new ministry, having worked as the commissioner of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI).

QUICK FACTS:

*There are only seven women in the 44-member Federal Executive Council. It may be tactical to include Folashade Yemi-Esin, Head of Service, increasing the number to eight

*President Muhammadu Buhari failed to deliver on one of his critical promises during his presidential campaign to make his cabinet gender inclusive, by having women occupy 35 percent in his cabinet

*The seven female ministers are Pauline Tallen, Minister of Women;  Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Ramatu Aliyu, Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory;  Gbemisola Saraki, Minister of State, Transportation; Sharon Ikeazor, Minister of State, Environment, Sadiya Farouk, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and Maryam Katagum, Minister of State, Trade and Investment

*Representation of women in the current FEC stands at a meagre 16.3 percent, far from the 35 percent promised by the President

*The only ministries standing on three-legs, otherwise known as, ‘super ministries’ are supervised by women. They are Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning which has Zainab Ahmed as head and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development manned by Sadiya Farouq

*A research carried out by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in 2017-18 reveals a declining fortune for women in position of governance. “Following the 2015 election, 9.8 percent of councillors and 3.6 percent chairpersons were female, down from 12.5 percent and 3.9 percent in 2011 and 10.2 percent and 9.9 percent in 2007 respectively. In the national parliament in 2015, 5.7 percent of seats were occupied by women

*The Independent National Electoral Commission disclosed that only 62 women out of the 2,970 who contested for different political offices in the 2019 general election were elected. A breakdown of the figure showed that while only seven women were elected into the Senate during the 2019 elections, the House of Representatives has 11 women. Four women were elected as deputy governors, 40 women were elected into the 36 state Houses of Assembly