By Chris Onuoha
THE Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture NACCIMA, and Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industries LCCI are now under the leadership of women.
While this is seen as a welcome development, noting that women are in control of these prominent economic agencies, the question is “Are women at all levels going to benefit from this?” Considering the large number of them who take up the business space in the country.
Honourable Agnes Sobajo, the Chairperson, Women Group and Vice President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, is of the view that women are currently being informed through their various programmes.
Speaking from my own experience, women are better informed on how to relate among themselves. The idea of the ‘Pull-Her-Down’ (PHD) syndrome that we used to talk about could be that maybe we are not enlightened or not positioned enough, because of the hustle and bustle in getting ourselves fixed up and all that. A lot of that is becoming something of the past. We realise that if I am able to pull more women along I would be in a better position to succeed in whatever I want to do.
Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry for instance with our President as Chief Dr. Mrs. Nike Akande, has pulled us women along with her. We are very close to her and she is very practical when it gets to doing what she wants to do, making sure that women are there. I have a feeling that that is what will happen with other women in leadership. What is the point of you being there if other women are not there to support you. Do you expect as a woman that men will support you? I think, it is the more the merrier.
If we are able to pull ourselves together, we would be able to get along and achieve more. For instance, I just spoke to Iru LCDA chairman who is a woman, same also to Sole Administrator of Eti-Osa Local Government who happens to be a woman too. The two of them are doing fantastically well. I can attest to that because I have been closer to them and I am also impressed that Lagos women are doing well in the industry. I have mentioned to them that we are going to visit them. The reason is that by the time we go, we will appreciate them for what they are doing.
I am so impressed with the quality of women we have. Under this group, we have women who are chief executives in the real sector of the economy. We have some who own their businesses, in agriculture and other areas. We have professionals, top bankers, lawyers, architects amongst us. So we are enlightened women and we know that if we are able to reach where we are, we still have to do much more to get better.
How do you intend to achieve this?
The only way we can do so is to pull all the women along with us. I was opportuned to represent Nigeria at an international workshop of African women in leadership about 3 years ago and up till now we are still relating with other African women to see that we discuss among ourselves the problems we have and how we can get there.
However, the problem we have now has to do with mentoring, networking, empowerment and even sharing among ourselves. In this case, we actually need the media to support and propagate the information, especially for some of us who are doing so much in the realisation of FIDA agreement that we had, and also to see to achieve the domestication of all the laws that have to do with gender mainstreaming. If we are able to put all these together, there will be no reason why we will not have more women succeeding. At the grassroots level, we have some women who do not understand what is going on. They are poor, just struggling and even some of them are breadwinners. We all have to put our hands together to ensure that we work and see to the mobilization and empowerment of these ones and all the good things that are coming from the government.
How would you rate government’s effort and intervention towards women?
Government is trying but they have to do more at all level. Because of what we have achieved, government need to try now to see that more loans and grants are made available from government parastatals and agencies like the Bank of Industry (BOI), even the Central Bank of Nigeria on issues of agriculture and SME schemes. Then at the legislative level, I must tell you that we have not reached anywhere because the Gender Bill that we are talking about was thrown out. It was not read at all. You would recall that that bill was brought forward sometime ago by Senator Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti State and what happened on the floor of the National Assembly on that day is a shame on us.
Professional women in politics
If we are talking about empowering women at all levels, you can see that those of us in the private sector are making something of the achievement that we see. Then that arm of government has to also make some efforts to support what we are doing. We have women who are Presidents in some African countries and Nigeria should not be an exception.
How do you think women can broker this gender parity in the legislative arm of government?
There is a lot that we can do. For me as a person, I have attempted to be senator two times, become House of Representative candidate once. I am still in the political terrain and still ready to serve. Currently, what I see is that we now have professional women in politics, but so many of them who are very apolitical – that is those who don’t want to associate themselves with politics. But for those of us who are interested in getting there, let there be some form of encouragement. Some of us don’t have the kind of money that is thrown around by the men but we have the wherewithal. The little we have can lead us to a substantial level. Some political parties have tried to say that women should be exempted from buying the form for political positions during election. But funnily, these same political parties will frustrate women and say we are not going to allow you get there.
It is observed that women do not show interest to even come forward to get the free forms when given that opportunity, why?
That’s not correct. So many women are now rushing to be part of governance. I got a call from Calabar about a woman who wants to vie for the Mayor of Calabar city. Other women are becoming chairmen of local governments and councilors, much more than what it used to be. I can tell you categorically that more women are interested in politics. The only thing is the wherewithal to get there. Although, many are exposed and have what it takes to contribute at all levels both intellect and everything.
In what way can these agencies headed by women facilitate cross-border trade in Africa sub-regions?
What we are trying to do is awareness creation. We are putting together some workshops, seminars, and interactive sessions. We are discussing with the agencies of government like the Customs, Immigrations and the Military. We have looked at the issues of the Ports. We are trying to see how we can open doors or build bridges across borders with other countries. So we have to create awareness where people have to know what to do, including the government. At LCCI, we are working very hard with these agencies one on one. We have had a session with the Customs discussing how to tackle the problems of cross border trade between Nigeria and all the neighbouring countries we share a border with. Media has to step in here also to help sensitize these agencies to key into what we are doing so that road blocks can be dismantled to help free trade transactions among the countries. Women should be allowed to have unimpeded trading across the border so that we can exchange ideas, services and other intra state relations that can improve the life of women.