By Josef Omorotionmwan
PURELY as a matter of self interest, I have deliberately decided to adopt an approach that is slightly different from that of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The penultimate weekend, Sanusi tried to examine the issue of how to remove crushing poverty from Northern Nigeria.
Among other things, my approach obviates the need to obtain special permission from the erudite Central Bank Governor to adopt his title wholesale. Secondly, it is my firm belief that whatever is applicable to Northern Nigeria is equally applicable to the entire country; the difference may be a matter of degree.
If we are so blessed, why are we not rich? This was the type of question that Sanusi set out to answer in a paper titled: “Kick-starting the engine for job creation and economic growth”.
He was speaking to a gathering of local entrepreneurs in Kano; hence his answer was equally domiciled in the North. On analysis, though, Sanusi gave appropriate answers, which were universally applicable in the entire nation.
Sanusi quickly pointed to the population index and reminded his audience that only about half of the population is engaged in productive venture. It simply amounts to criminal negligence that women, who account for at least 50 per cent of the total population, have, ab initio, been schemed out of our economic activities. By any measure of assessment, where 10 people are doing the job that is reserved for 20, there is an open invitation to poverty and hardship.
For Sanusi, therefore, the shortest route out of our quagmire is the inclusion of women in our economic activities. In his words: “Poverty reduction in the North would certainly remain an illusion for as long as we continue to deny women their rightful role in the economic process by guaranteeing adequate empowerment like we have seen in our recent history”.
He argues further: “It is far better for our wives to earn their living by engaging themselves in one form of activity or the other so that they too can be employers of labour and contribute to the economy”.
There is the mistaking impression that women empowerment begins and ends with the number of women in the State Executive Council or in the legislature. On the contrary, according to Wikipedia.org: “Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social and economic strength of the individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their capacities”.
Closely allied to the discussions on empowerment are the issues of discrimination and marginalisation to which the Nigerian woman has been subjected in ages. Sanusi was essentially right, I think, when he asserted that Nigerian men have used these devices to create selfish and undeserved advantages for themselves.
Certainly, there is already an obvious imbalance in society that must be addressed without delay. It is not enough to suddenly tell women that they are now free to compete with men on equal footing. That would amount to engaging them in a long distance race in which some of the runners are forcibly held back at the starting line until the other runners have passed the half way mark.
If left unaided, women will continue to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to be half as good. They will continue to play catch-up and catch up, they never will. In order to avert this ugly situation, certain urgent steps must be taken.
For a start, we must take a cue from the United Nations, UN, which is now leading the crusade for women empowerment globally. At the UN, it has now become a permanent feature that when a man is occupying the Secretary-General’s position, his deputy shall be a woman and vice versa.
The same goes for the headship of programmes and agencies. In copying good ideas and best practices, Nigeria should adopt this in all governmental positions – from the presidency to the local government level.
We cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that women empowerment is a panacea for rapid social progress. Over the years, women have been forgotten far behind in the scheme of things. Now that we want them to catch up, government at all levels must introduce affirmative action in terms of definite quotas for women in governmental and political party positions as a matter of deliberate policy.
There is no denying the fact that the concept of Federal Character has worked well in this country. Affirmative action designed to alleviate the plight of women from past deprivations will also work.
Women empowerment is a journey. Sanusi is perfectly right to assume that this journey has started in the South. It must also be kick-started in the North. In any case, in this journey, all hands must be on deck. The womenfolk must be actively involved in fighting their fight. It is not enough for them to elicit the pity of others as if they themselves are in the pit.
Sanusi was clear on the point that the fight calls for total re-orientation and attitudinal change. For instance, at the point of struggling, most women are wont to think that it takes only wayward women to be involved in politics.
But soon after the elections, the same women who thought that politics was the exclusive preserve for loose women are usually the first to rush forward with tall CVs, wanting to be appointed into one position or the other. They do not want to take the risk. They only want to reap where they did not sow.
In the past, advocates of women empowerment have made good cases for the inclusion of women in political contests, only to be woefully disappointed when qualified women failed to show interest at the critical moment. To be meaningful, affirmative action for women presupposes that women themselves will stand up to be counted at the appropriate time.