Says nobody is too big for community work
Former Liberian president, Sirleaf, others, applaud his gender equality campaign
By Demola Akinyemi
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaqof Kwara state will not stop warming his way into the hearts of his people. Penultimate Saturday, Governor AbdulRazaq dropped the governor’s toga and picked up a cutlass to cut grass at Mount Carmel Junior Secondary, Oloje Ilorin to demonstrate the need for everyone to be involved in community work.
Clad in smart jeans trousers with T-Shirt and a fez cap to match, the governor trimmed the bushy grass while his aides were looking in amazement. The governor was obviously setting the right tone that every stakeholder must contribute their quota for a smooth resumption of schools across the state after about six months of closure as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking during the exercise, Governor AbdulRazaq said, “the message here is to emphasise self-help and community contributions to public projects. When government locates a project in any community, that particular community should take ownership of the project. My being here is to send the signal that nobody is too big to be involved in community work; we need to help ourselves. It is really no big deal to make things work,” the governor told members of the community.
AbdulRazaq also said that a lot of community self-help projects and interventions were needed now more than ever as government resources dry up amid global economic downturn and rising needs of the public.
According to him, “there is scarcity of resources to go round. From the recent ecological disaster, it is clear that government can’t really cope in terms of funding. Communities should assist and join hands together, especially the Parents/Teachers Associations (PTAs). Everyone should cooperate with the government in order to keep the environment clean and mitigate environmental disaster.
“There is a lot of work to be done. Most of our schools are dilapidated and many have also been affected by the recent flooding and rainstorm. So, the message is self help and community work. The communities should take ownership of schools and adopt schools around them.”
He reiterated the efforts of his administration to reposition basic schools whose conditions he described as mostly appalling, citing the condition of the Mount Carmel that is one of the most popular schools in the state capital.
He said, “the neglect of schools is disgraceful and this justifies our commitment to invest in the schools. We will renovate and rebuild most of these schools because most of them are not about renovation. That is why the cost is coming high because we’re rebuilding some outrightly. With the help of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), we will gradually put things back in shape. It will not stop at just that; we still need to train the teachers and give them the conducive environment to be able to teach.”
Mededem Jacinta, the Principal of the Mount Camel Junior Secondary School who later joined the governor, commended him for the unannounced visit to the school to see things for himself.
Earlier, on Thursday October 1st at Nigeria’s 60th Independence day anniversary, panelists at the 1st Kwara State Gender Virtual Conference roundly applauded Governor AbdulRazaq’s higher inclusion of female gender in his administration than any of his colleagues in the history of the nation’s governance.
They stressed that mainstreaming gender inclusion in governance requires institutional and legal reforms and deliberate efforts by political leaders to give women a fair chance to contribute their own quota to development.
The virtual conference was attended by former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed; Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen; World Bank representatives; ECOWAS Parliament; Chair of the Forum of Nigerian First Ladies, Erelu Bisi Fayemi; First Lady of Kwara state and Secretary of the First Ladies Forum, Dr. Mrs Olufolake AbdulRazaq; the First Lady of Sokoto State, Mrs Mairo Tambuwal; Dangote Foundation; among several others.
The event was organised by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Dr Jamila Bio-Ibrahim.
In his remarks to welcome regional leaders, top gender rights advocates, and boardroom gurus to the virtual conference, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq said gender inclusion was key to faster growth that leaves no one behind.
The governor also said, “The truth is governments needs to go beyond the tokenism and get to the core of this issue. Businesses need to do the same also. Pushing for women participation in the private sector is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Statistics have shown that the presence of women in leadership is linked to better performance of private sector firms.
“Our hope is that the conference today will trigger a domino effect that leads to similar policy agendas being prioritised in all African countries. The active support and participation of women leaders and the major international institutions is crucial to the success of the initiative.
“We set out to offer a strong platform to state and non-state actors alike to discuss domestic, bilateral and multilateral strategies to increase women’s participation in our societies. True to that, we are joined at this conference by some of the strongest voices in the clamour for better opportunities for women in Africa. Kwara State is actively taking the lead in the campaign for gender inclusion because we are convinced that a society works better and grows faster when no one is denied equal opportunities to succeed. And we have no regret pursuing this noble cause,” he said.
The governor added that, “for me personally, it is an open and shut case. Under my leadership, the Kwara State Executive Council now has 56% female representation, with women also in the key portfolios of finance, education, water resources, and environment. The Head of our Civil Service is a woman, as are about 50% of the permanent secretaries. The quality of policy formulation and administration are better as a result.”
He said the state has also invested a lot in the economic empowerment of women especially through its social investment programmes which prioritise indigent women, and commended the Dangote Foundation and the Central Bank of Nigeria for the recent support that targeted women.
Former Liberian president, Sirleaf said advocacy for women empowerment should include reforms at various levels, a view shared by World Bank Country Representative for Liberia, Khwima Nthara who said institutions need to undergo reforms to promote gender inclusion and women empowerment.
Sirleaf described AbdulRazaq as a regional leader in the promotion of gender inclusion and urged other leaders to emulate him.
“You have demonstrated that ensuring parity in leadership positions can be done. You have moved considerably the numbers of women at the leadership level in the civil service and the numbers of female cabinet members are truly to be applauded,” she said.
Tallen, on her part, said the federal government was also putting in place various mechanisms, including striking partnerships with key institutions like the National Assembly, to boost women empowerment.
“I just returned from tour of some states and in my conversations, I made reference to what the Governor of Kwara State has done by having more gender based cabinet and that has yielded better results,” she said.
Nthara said the world bank was supporting countries and subnational entities with agenda for girls to have access to good education and reproductive health services. “The world bank rather is supporting legislative and institutional frameworks that are promoting gender equality and women in empowerment”, he said.
United Nations Women Representative in Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Comfort Lamptey called for increased support for various measures that break all the barriers against women. “We urge you (the governor) to encourage other governors and bring them on board in this quest for gender equality,” she said.
ECOWAS Parliament Speaker, Sidie Mohamed Tunis said Article 63 of the ECOWAS Treaty called on member states to formulate policies and development of programmes which enhance women’s economic, social and cultural conditions.
“ECOWAS has adopted several instruments and established institutions to secure social protection for women and increase their participation in governance. One of such instruments is the supplementary act on equality of rights between women and men for sustainable development in the ECOWAS region,” Tunis said.
Anna Raas, a representative of the Swedish embassy shared the experience of how the European country has put in place policies that put gender equality at the centre of policy making.
She said gender equality is not just about equality for women but also for men. She said one major area that was helpful in driving gender equality was by ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
Fayemi on her part called for the strengthening of the political and legal frameworks for protecting women, hailing the unprecedented political will displayed by AbdulRazaq while also commending the pro-women institutional frameworks in Ekiti. She asserted that only legal and political frameworks would herald sustainable gender inclusion, urging subnational governments to also domesticate the national gender policy. She also urged states to pass Gender-Based Violence bills into law.
Mrs Tambuwal, in her own contribution, said gender inclusion was majorly about fairness and justice and called on Nigeria to domesticate and implement various global conventions on gender rights noting however that “political will is very key”.
Mrs AbdulRazaq, who co-hosted the conference with the Governor, commended the state government for the event and recalled steps so far taken in Kwara, including her office, to promote gender inclusion.
“I trust that we will continue the conversation within and among communities in order to amplify the voice of every girl, listen to the word of every woman and support women in political process,” she said.