Gender Equality Agenda & Obasanjo’s Presidency
Wednesday, 03 May 2006
“Women Empowerment: An Exemplary Record!” Was one of the first titles or headers which I had considered, as, aptly adequate to describe the giant strides attained within the President Obasanjo’s administration since its inception on May 29, 1999.
At the time that I first thought of writing about this issue, the all important issue of gender equality in Nigeria, particularly, given the giant strides that I speak of; Strides that are in connection with gender equality, gender emancipation for Nigerian women. Gender agenda of our current national government, is therefore the befitting subject matter that will herein be our focus.
I have mulled over this subject matter for quite a while, it is unstated or understated gender agenda by our current president; Perhaps, purposefully understated? Well, I finally settled on writing this article, I chose the present title because it captures, more adequately, the spectacular groundbreaking gender equality forays in Nigeria, since 1999.
Nigerians should be very clear on this issue. President Obasanjo has moved mountains in connection with gender equality agenda in Nigeria since the inception of his administration in 1999. And as I have written in the past, Nigeria is only one of two countries worldwide that has appointed a female as Finance Minister, Secretary for Treasury or as Director of the Exchequer. In plain words, it means the appointment of a female as the chief money or fiscal manager for the entire county of Nigeria.
Let us be clear, this has never happened in Nigeria, in Africa or anywhere else, in the recent past. The giant strides so far made by the current federal government in Nigeria, regarding the pride of place of our women folks, are unequalled and unparalleled. There have been many tangible and intangible accomplishments for women since 1999.
We concede that there is more that needs to be done to elevate women worldwide.
Even though unheralded by some, Nigerian women have faired so much better during Obasanjo’s presidency. The current president of Nigeria recognizes the availability in abundance, talented, educated, creative and experienced women technocrats of outstanding achievements and accomplishments. Our president has, as always, with a broad masterstroke, empowered eminently qualified Nigerian women by appointing many of them to high profile government agencies and organs.
Among the numerous outstanding federal appointments of women to high caliber positions is the appointment of the Honorable Justice Aloma M. Muktar who becomes the first woman in Nigeria’s judicial history to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Through this appointment, President Obasanjo broke the glass ceiling of female lawyers in Nigeria. It is a historical first. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has always been an all boys club since the founding of Nigeria as a nation.
Honorable Justice Aloma M. Muktar’s appointment gives credibility to Obasanjo’s promise to champion women’s empowerment.
Nigeria, during the Obasanjo’s presidency, have also been blessed with the appointments of many other females, such as Honorable Minister of state, Finance, Mrs Nenadi Esther Usman, as well as the appointment of Honorable Minister Mrs. Oby Ezekwsili of Ministry of Solid Minerals otherwise known as Madam Duc Process. Additionally, Dr. Dora Akunyili of NAFDAC and Mrs. Chikwe the former Minister for Aviation, and Mrs. Ojomo, who served as Minister for Housing. Nigeria’s Federal Internal Revenue Service is headed by Ms. Ifueko Omoigui and Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) is presided over by Mrs. Onyiuke. Mrs Chinwe Nora Obaji the Minister for Education and Mrs Halima Tayo Alao Minister of state, Education, Minister of state, Health Chief (Mrs) HU Esuene Presidential Liaison Officer Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Mrs Grace Ogwuche is one of the new cabinet ministers. This is by no means exhaustive list.
These are simply extraordinary and outstanding progress. If was legal to vote more than once and If I were in Nigeria and voting, I would have voted once each, for President Obasanjo, each vote in appreciation of our president, on the behalf of all my family members of the feminine gender.
Uproarious and dancing-in-the-street commendations ought to greet President Obasanjo for his boldness and courage of action, because his foresight in taking numerous swipes at women’s marginalization in our world. He is a man worthy of praises for denting, in a very big way, the age-old and perennial neglect of women; He has slashed and carved away, wanton neglect and the abhorrent practice that does not appreciate women as valuable national resource for development.
Even in America and other parts of the world, women continue to struggle for acceptance as full citizens, competent and qualified professionals trusted to hold important or key positions in the world, in both private and public sectors. This is changing in Nigeria, rightly so. Perhaps, in due course, Nigeria a president of our country whose gender is female; As the Americans are scrutinizing two high profile women for a possible run for the US presidency, that is, Senator Hilary Clinton and United States’ Secretary of State Dr. Condi Rice, two competent women, even though with different social philosophies, I hope that Nigerians will also scrutinize Nigerian super qualified women for Nigerian presidency. And Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs. Ezekwsili, Mrs. Akunyili etc comes to mind.
According to Mr. Sonala Olumhense, a self confessed critic of President Obasanjo, a virulent critic, I might add, President Obasanjo has had more than 27 women in assorted ministerial appointment chairs. Here is what he wrote in Nigeriavillagesquare.com (NVS)
“I am impressed at how much opportunity he has provided in his cabinet for the female constituency. Since 1999, he has had 27 women in assorted ministerial chairs, and many more in significant other top positions. Despite my reservations about him, he deserves to be congratulated for this. It is a clever political move, of course, but as long as his choices for high office are among the nation's best and brightest, I will not begrudge him.
Among President Obasanjo's best investments is the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonji-Iweala. Owing to her commitment and her credibility, Nigeria has made tremendous strides in the management of her foreign debt. I know that this is only one component of her portfolio, and that she has made some questionable decisions and indecisions in other areas of it, but her foreign debt triumph is significant, and she deserves both our congratulations and our gratitude. It is also a clear sign of what happens when the right professionals, not contractors, party-hacks or clansmen, are invited to serve.
Mrs. Okonji-Iweala serves in a huge, market-square style cabinet in which, over the past seven years, there have been many faces and personalities. I have often wondered about life around that table, and around the presidential palace. As you know, there is also a whole army of presidential advisers, assistants and "kingsmen." Hopefully, some of these powerful people will publish their political memoirs shortly”
Mr. Olumhense omitted the groundbreaking and spectacular appointment of the first female to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, just as he neglected to state the Finance Minister’s name accurately or correctly. It is Okonjo, not Okonji. Certainly, more needs to be done to empower women in the world and in Nigeria. Women are our mothers, sisters, aunts, wife, girlfriend, professional colleagues etc, there more women in the world population than there are men. Women are now outnumbering men, in college graduation numbers and admissions to the professions. It is unintelligent to neglect such huge segment of our human capital resources.
Clearly, President Obasanjo is obviously ahead of this all important worthy cause, the emancipation and empowerment of Nigerian women!
President Olusegun Obasanjo has frequently call on women to use their powers and skills constructively and collectively to effect positive change in society. President Obasanjo promised to champion electoral reforms that will require all registered political parties in the country to set aside 25 percent of their elective offices for women.
And as the flurry of activities in connection with the much debated Third Term or no third term continues; Nigerians will do well to accord credits to President Obasanjo myriad accomplishments and in particular, for having the vision and foresight to have commenced a gender agenda in our country to further gender equality in Nigeria.
President Obasanjo deserves all accolades and encomiums for women empowerment in Nigeria. President Obasanjo can deservedly add this to his retinues of laudable legacies.