Vanguard (Lagos)

8 December 2012

Nigeria: The Women in Jonathan's 'Life'

Women's participation both in politics and governance, predates the Beijing's Conference. In the developed nations, women President and Ministers have emerged. But in Africa, traditional and religious barriers still stand as bulwark in the realisation of the 35% affirmative action in both elective and appointive positions in Nigeria and by extension Africa. CHARLES ADINGUPU attempts a review of women ministers in President Jonathan's cabinet.

Before the Beijing Conference of 1995, women had been active in governance in developed nations. FromAmerica to Europe andBritain toAsia. Confident in their turf, women have left indelible footprint in the sand of times.

Most popular women politicians in history are iron lady and former Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, former Prince Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, former US Secretary of State, Dr. Madeline Albright, former US Senator and later US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, former French Finance Minister and later Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms. Christine Lugarde, current President of Germany, Angela Merkel and President of Philippines, Gloria Aroyo among others too numerous to mention.

But within the African continent, women's participation and inclusion in governance has been hampered by religious and antiquated traditional believes. These practices, however, define the place of the woman to be in the kitchen. Within the Muslim faithful, women are not to be seen but heard. The purdah in which women are subjected to, has it made difficult for them to extricate themselves from the cleavages of a male dominated world.

Conversely, the African traditional believe that women must always play the second fiddle at all gathering remains a bigger burden they must put up with.

All these informed the agenda of the 1995Beijingwomen's conference inChina. Since the end of the conference, the continent has witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of women in politics and participation in governance, as issues articulated keeps radicalising their minds.

Though, the emergence of women politicians in some African countries predates the Beijing Conference as the radical Nigerian women politicians and activists as, Mrs Olu Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gambo Swenbe, Margret Ekpo and the role played by the glorious Aba women's riot towards the attainment of Nigeria's independence cannot be described as infinitesimal or a mere storm in a tea cup.

Available evidence has established that women make better leaders than their male counterparts. There is no gainsaying that women and children are often at receiving end of bad governance. This, perhaps, may inform their agitations for more inclusion in governance.

The first ever female president in Africa Dr. Ellen Johnson-Serleaf ofLiberiaitched her name in history through the rebuilding of the war ravaged country. Also, President of Malawi, Joyce Banda who upon assumption of office sold off the country's only Presidential Jet and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Limousine. She prefers instead to use private Airlines for official engagements. Mrs Banda also announces a 30% cut of her annual salary from 37,000 thousand pounds to 26 thousand pounds.

InNigeriajust as elsewhere in the world, women inclusion in government has gone beyond a campaign issue to implementation. Since the enthronement of democracy, political aspirants had pledged to appoint more women in their cabinet.

Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo stoked the fire when upon assumption of office as well as in his second term, appointed nine women in his cabinet.

Though, the number was below the 35% benchmark stipulated by the Beijing women's conference but it was indeed, a good beginning as the likes of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Professor Joy Ogwu, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and Dr. Kema Chikwe showed that they were indeed made of steeler stuff.

They distinguished themselves in their chosen profession, made great impact in their respective portfolios

Unfortunately, however, his immediate successor, late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had only seven female ministers including Prof. Dora Akunyili, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, Prof. Adenike Grange in his cabinet.

Again, this number of women so appointed violates theBeijing's 35% agreement. Ironically, some of them had a brief stay as the then President in 2008 reshuffles his cabinet.

However, the battle for women in government predates the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. But his liberal dispositions toward involving women in government in both elective and appointive positions have become quite evident.

At the moment, it is more easier to campaign and win elections under the present dispensation because of the enormous support women enjoy from the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.

Through her pet project, Women for Change Initiative, the first lady at the last presidential electoral campaign urges support for her husband. Dame Jonathan held rallies in almost all the 36 states of the federation, assuring Nigerian women, that her husband will give more prominent roles to women in his administration.

The affirmative action stipulates 30 per cent women representation in government but the first lady raised the bar to 35 per cent in order to give more room for women's involvement in government.

It will be recalled that President Jonathan during his campaign in Jos, Plateau State capital made a declaration to the women. "I promise we will work with the party and give women 35 per cent ministerial and ambassadorial postings, vote for us, mobilise women and we can guarantee you this."

True to his electoral promises, not only has Jonathan appointed more women into cabinet positions than his predecessors both military and civilian in Nigeria's 50 years of independence but has equally assigned the most pivotal ministries of the economy to women, particularly in realising his much taunted informational agenda.

As at today, the number of female appointees in the cabinet represents well over 31 per cent of the 42-member cabinet. The new cabinet led by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Minister of Finance who trusted with the responsibility of overseeing other ministries. Other female members of the cabinet are Mrs Diezeani Alison-Madueke - Petroleum Resources, Prof. Ruqayygatu Rufai (Education), Mrs. Stella Odua-Ogiemwonyi (Aviation), Mrs Hadiza Ibrahim Mailata (Environment), Mrs Omobola Johnson Olubusola (Communication Technology), Ms Ama Pepple (Lands and Housing), Mrs Sarah Renge Ochekpe (Water Resources), Hajiya Zainab Maina (Women Affairs and Social Development); and Hajiya Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi (Minister of State, Niger Delta Affairs). Others include, Prof. Vila Onwaliri (Minister of State Foreign Affairs), Erelu Olusola Obada (Minister of State, Defence).

For some Nigerians, it was expressed in certain quarters that for the President to concede the 35 percent slot of his appointment to women, implied they (women ministers and appointees) would come under pressure to deliver and sealed the lips of gender critics who had employed funny lexicon in the nation's political vocabulary to describe the President's magnanimous gestures.

However, we shall attempt an appraisal of some of these women ministers in Jonathan's government and evaluate their remote and immediate challenges in their various portfolios particularly with regards to their relationship with their male counterparts.

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