7 February 2006

Nigeria: Healthy Family . . . Bedrock of the Nation


Lagos — For any society to succeed, family values must be entrenched. This view was eloquently canvassed when the International Federation of Women Lawyers began its law week in Lagos on how to build a better society by maintaining the dignity of human persons through proper education and legislation. Agha Ibiam and Hilda Okoisor write

The acronym for FIDA in Spanish flows correctly, meaning, Federation International de Abogadas. But translated to English, it goes slightly different, as, the International Federation of Women Lawyers. Whichever way it is translated, it simply means an umbrella organisation of women lawyers with the objective of promoting women's rights.

FIDA, as it is fondly called, was founded in 1944 in Mexico, by a group of women lawyers from Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and USA. At present, the organisation has spread to over 80 member countries including Nigeria and enjoys a class 2B status at the United Nations.

In Nigeria, FIDA was inaugurated in 1963, as a non-governmental organisation, comprising female lawyers resident in Nigeria with about 23 branches. The Lagos branch of the organisation was inaugurated in 2003 with an expanded objectives. These include to enhance and promote the welfare of women and children and to promote the study of comparative law and principles and aims of the United Nations in their social and legal aspects.

However, its scope further stretched to educate, project, assist and defend the rights of the underprivileged, principally women and children by eliminating any form of discrimination, whether cultural, social or legal. Also, it strives to achieve an improved access to policy makers by the poor and oppressed through enlightenment and sensitisation programmes.

Recently, the Lagos branch of the association organised a programme titled, 'The Law and the Family', at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, under the chairmanship of Dr. Ausbeth Ajagu, Group Executive Chairman, Betcy Group, Lagos.

The event was not a dull one as guests probed and proffered solutions to most of the problems children and women encounter in the society. Each speaker especially during the opening ceremony argued strongly for a better society using the family as bedrock of the nation.

To set the ball rolling, chairperson of FIDA, Lagos branch, Mrs. Sylvia Shinaba, in her speech acknowledged the fact that the family is the bedrock of society, therefore any breakdown of the family and loss of attendant family values would spell doom for any nation.

She stated that FIDA had planned activities to highlight the importance of the family, in order to encourage all stakeholders to join hands and ensure the enthronment of proper values in the psyche of the children, either in homes, on the way or under the care of their parents or oversight.

Among other issues the organisation will try to accommodate, is to explore ways in which the law can assist and indeed encourage society in raising the child. "We acknowledge the truth in the popular saying that it takes a village to raise a child. We will address the available options, proffer new ideas, provide suggestions to the relevant agencies and push for legislation. We shall also address such issues as protecting the future of the family in the cause of the unexpected but certain event, death", Mrs. Shinaba said.

The chairman of the opening ceremony, Dr. Ajagu, accompanied by the wife, Anuli, saw the event as another privilege and opportunity of identifying with the noble efforts of service to humanity and advancing the cause of mankind.

Nonetheless, having gone through the objectives of FIDA, he could not but pitch his tent with the organisation because of his passion for service, study, equality and mutual respect of all people which the organisation represents.

"One of the ways one can truly be happy and fulfilled is through service, giving back to humanity in one's humble way. Moreover, service is one way we can be truly thankful to God for his abundant mercies and unmerited favours and gifts to us", Ajagu said.

However, he commended FIDA for her efforts to enhance and promote the welfare of women and children. Equally worth of commendation, the chairman said, was the organisation's quest to extend the frontiers of knowledge through the promotion of and study of comparative law as well as for seeking to promote equality and defence of the rights of the underprivileged through the elimination of any form of discrimination in addition to the enhancement of gender development.

In shapening a governable society, the role of lawyers and the judiciary in democratic process, Ajagu said could not be overemphasised, noting that lawyers owe it as a duty to ensure that due process and the rule of law were strictly adhered to. Belonging to the school of thought that strongly believes that the judiciary must be seen to be free and independent, Ajagu lamented that executive arm-twisting of the judiciary being witnessed in various parts of the country was a case for serious concern.

"There can never be rule of law where the judiciary is not independent. I urge our learned gentlemen to rise to the challenge of nation building and sustenance of our nascent democracy by ensuring the strict application of independence of the judiciary", he said.

As if in a law court, there was absolute silence in the hall when Dr. (Mrs.) Imelda Wallace presented her keynote address on 'Law and the Family'. As a teacher, she knows how to draw the attention of her listeners and bring them to total submission.

She said, "I feel honoured to be invited to give the keynote address at the FIDA Lagos Law Week 2006. But I also feel a certain trepidation to be here addressing lawyers. I am not a lawyer, so I ask for your clemency and trust you will listen with a sympathetic ear."

The family, she said, unites and it is something everybody has in common. In families, people are not accepted for what they have or for what they do but for what they are. Family, she said, is the most basic communion of persons and hence the first vital cell of society.

Her presentation covered family as a communion of persons, the human person, the dignity of human person, marriage, sexuality, fatherhood and motherhood, education and the law. She insisted that if the family is healthy, invariably it would translate into a healthy society. She pointed out that family is the first school of values and virtues and parents are suppossed to pass them on to their children. Such fundamental values inherent in human person like truth, freedom, justice and love, she said, are developed in the family.

Dissecting each topic and especially on marriage, Wallace went spiritual by saying that the human body has two distinct modalities of male and female, equal in dignity because there is only one human nature but different in such a way that they complement one another. She said that it is only when people accept the role marriage plays, that proper understanding of what marriage is, meaning an intimate partnership of life and love established by God and endowed by Him with its own proper laws could be appreciated.

"The aim of married life is that spouses achieve an identification with each other, rooted in the unity of wills, but including the whole person, mind and body. Marriage is a convenant and its fundamental principles of fidelity, indissolubility and parenthood belong to the truth and about man and woman which do not change and are applicable to everyone and are in everyone's best interest.

"Marriage is a natural institution and it is the foundation of the family. The spouses enrich each other with gift of self and their aim is that they should achieve an identification with each other rooted in the unity of wills, but including the whole person, mind and body with fundamental values", she explained.

On fatherhood and motherhood, Mrs. Wallace reiterated that though the world is a global village, nonetheless, multitudes should not be followed in committing sin. Parents, according to her, could be leaders in a return to family values and human rights based on the human person and spiritual destiny.

She condemned the way of life of the materialists whom she said deny the transcendence of the human being and reduce the body to a mere piece of the material universe, a mere object, an instrument of dominion or an occasional element of pleasure. In that way, she maintained that, they impoverish the concept of human person, leaving mankind without a transcendent aim or goal in life. The materialists, she said, see no harm in divorce, same-sex marriages, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, prostitution which they try to enforce on others who have different values and culture.

To return to a better society, the education children receive in the family and afterwards by delegation of the parents in the school she said, would form the future society of the world. She noted that a child who observes generations of family and community members engaging in daily work industriously, honestly, responsibly and cheerfully, is likely to absorb work ethics and a spirit of service to mankind.

And moreso, a child, who inherits a legacy of joyful and stable family life is more likely to believe in family solidarity, the backbone of society and oppose the legislation of divorce. But on the other hand, the child growing up in a cultural environment where honesty and sincerity are sacrificed for harmonious relations may not internalise love of truth, and he is not likely to develop a sense of justice.

Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu, represented by the wife of the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mrs. Mayowa Kuforiji, restated the need for all to join in the collective fight to ensure that the family is once again restored to its proper pride of place in the scheme of things in the nation.

Justice Yetunde Idowu, who represented the Chief Judge of Lagos State, urged the organisation to utilise the opportunity as female lawyers to champion the cause of women emancipation, particularly on widowhood rights. Lagos chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Folusho Fayokun, maintained that only when there was stable home and society would there will stable democracy. "If women are not happy, the society will not be happy. We should do those things that will encourage women to be happy", he said.

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