Celebrating the Nigerian Woman

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

If there is any group of people that have been misrepresented either by their kind or those who don’t know or have not met them, it will be the Nigerian woman. More often than not, on the Internet, in the office and in various other places you find people talking about their perception of the Nigerian woman. They ask me how oppressed they are, how many of them have been stoned lately; even their kind come on the Internet to tell us of their suffering the kitchen and how we Nigerian men have conspired to keep there. But what bothers me is that the real Nigerian woman fails to show up at this crucial time to celebrate her achievements, especially in the last decade. The Nigerian woman is making great strides, she is liberated yet not confused, and she is free yet not immoral. She has shaped and carved her society and yet she is not compromised. She has fought her battles silently and wisely without insulting the sense of her traditional society; unlike some foreign based freedom fighters I like to call wannabe weirdoes, she has found a comfortable middle ground between modernity and the traditional. A slow but sure revolution has been taking place in the business community and the Nigerian woman is leading it.

It is my intention to celebrate the Nigerian woman in this write up as I deem it fit. When we, Nigerian men celebrate our women, we celebrate ourselves and our capacity to progress. For in as much as many will seek to cast us as primitive beings for time immemorial, our women have always been adulated in our society. In the spirit of my candid act of shameless self gratification, I shall be examining the strides of the past decade or so. The emphasis of course will be to highlight the achievements of these women particularly in areas their male counterparts have failed to deliver.

Since the past seven years of democracy in Nigeria, the Nigerian women have thrived. Partly due to the policies of the current administration but by and large due to her own inner abilities and endeavor she has risen up to the plate and performed where even her men have failed. In public service today, the names of certain women are a staple. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the Presidential Economic Team is as celebrity as they come. A woman revered at home and abroad for uncommon brain and tenacity she has successfully steered the economic ship of the nation for the past couple of years and championed a course men have failed previously at. Her lists of achievements are lengthy (debt repayment, transparency, due process etc.). Another well known person is Dr (Mrs.) Akunyili the NAFDAC boss. How else can you describe a woman who single-handedly stampeded fake drugs destroying our families and their health? Faced with death threats and assassination, she has proven that nothing will make her blink in that important task of public service. More recently, drug prescriptions were mandated by her agency: many predicted it will fail, but those “many” are may be what I call Ostriches with their head in sands. Times have change; the women of action are in town! There is a new Sheriff in town.

Lesser known and celebrated are three other women of not in the upper echelons of power. The current Minister of Finance, Alhaja Usman is one such people. Quietly serving but very effective in her role as Assistant Minister under Mrs. Iweala, the President have made a statement on her competence by elevating her to the premier position. While Assistant Minister, she worked with the minister to implement the policy of publishing allocations to states which can be assessed on her ministry’s website today: this has vastly improved transparency on the lower levels of government. Mrs. Ezekwesili, the first director of Due Process Unit (known as Madam Due Process) is also another effective leader in the cabinet. In fact, I can say she is the most capable of all the ministers till date. How else can you describe a woman that saved Nigeria billions? She enforced the due process but shied away from publicity and never turned it to a one woman business. In her absence today, the due process unit is alive and well. That is a leadership quality Nigerian men should emulate. She was redeployed to the Solid Minerals ministry and no sooner was the place cleaned up. Staff roll was cleaned up, qualified staff hired, unqualified ones relieved, ministry operation computerized and bidding for our country enormous mineral resources resumed under a professional technical program and management was put in place. Today, multinationals like BHP Australia and RTP are lining up to mine slices of Nigeria’s resources. In one year, she transformed a hitherto moribund ministry – where men have failed to deliver over the years. Today, she is doubling as education minister and I believe that she will also do well.

Of course, Mrs. Irene Chigbue is another Amazonian lady that has proven competent in her appointed portfolio. Taking over from men who were not able to execute their job of disposing off the government’s mismanaged corporations, in one year she has proven capable. The men failed to sell NITEL, wait a minute – she sold it. It might not have been for the best price (75% at 750 billion naira), but in my opinion it was a well executed transaction given that the men messed it up before and even messed the company up more. Hopefully, she will help us solve the NEPA problem and she is looking like she is handling that quite well. In the private sector the likes of Cecilia Ibru the CEO of Oceanic Bank one of the mega banks is proving to be adept at the art of management. Have anyone noticed Madam Corporate Nigeria? Even though I may disagree with the politics of Dr. (Mrs.) Ndi Okereke-Onyuike (such is the nature of the game) it is hard to ignore her achievement in breaking the so called glass ceiling in the corporate environment rising to lead the Nigeria Stock Exchange as well as Transcorp a recently capitalized conglomerate that have been gobbling up many government enterprises with the hope of churning out profit and enlivening the domestic economy. Such is the tenacity, acumen and dexterity of the Nigerian woman.

In so much as I have recounted the achievements of few women, it is needless to say that there are many in different corners of the earth distinguishing themselves in various professional callings; it is also important to mention that they still do very well in their domestic role as well putting a lie to the claim of those that want to restrict them in one dimension (kitchen or office?); they have not abandoned their homes and are good mothers, wives, aunts and yes, daughters. Nigerian women like their patrons gone past like Moremi, Queen Amina, Margaret Ekpo, Madam Tinubu, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Kudirat Abiola, Professor Bola Awe and Professor Grace Alele-Wiliamshave proven that they can and would be successful in all areas of human expertise given the opportunity to do so; and this remains the challenge of our nascent democracy.

On May 29 2007, we should have a sizeable number of women in executive position especially on the state and local levels. Governors mansion across the land can accommodate the reasonable expertise, wealth of experience in management especially on the home front; feminine touch that gets things done and the lack of the corrupt streak that their male counterparts have been inflicted with. It is time for Nigeria to welcome a new generation of Madam Governors and I look forward to a constructive amendment of the constitution that will require opposite gendered ticket for executive position on political party level such that an every aspirant for executive office must choose a running mate of the opposite gender: this will be an enduring first step towards ensuring we maximize the potentials of all citizens regardless of their gender.

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