By Muhammad Ajah
In the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, which I have advocated and is growing rapidly and whatever political association will emanate from it, youth under 40 years will have 30 percent and women will have 30 percent in composition of any of its organs. That composition must be transformed into political power at the executive and legislative levels, former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, while speaking recently in Lagos on ‘Pressing for Progress: Women in Politics and Nation Building’ at the 14th annual lecture of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria can be anybody he designs for himself anytime, anywhere and under any situation. He is often misunderstood by his admirers and critics alike. By the time any of the two categories are thinking him one way, he is the other way, doing his things the way it suits him. That attitude has made him seemingly unique amongst contemporary elder statesmen of Nigeria. And whether one likes him or not, he does not care.
I am a member of both categories. I admire Obasanjo because he is a diehard nationalist, a courageous patriot who can dare death anytime for his country. After all, he had seen death several times while a soldier and while behind the bars. He enjoys life to the lee, knowing that man has only one life to live. Yet, when he plays the “Ali Baba”, he is very conscious not to transcend the boundary as Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma could do, knowing the strength in words. My criticism of him lies in his stand on leadership as his Achilles’ heel could not put Nigeria in the right stage at the time all the prerequisites were in abundance. With that misstep, our dear country continues to crawl.
When Obasanjo talks, he does not talk for mere caricature. If the belief that spirits freely control humans was orthodox, one can easily conclude that the spirit that controls Obasanjo is of the political high class. Not because he has been on the corridor of Nigerian power for too long, Obasanjo understands Nigeria like a child can identify, play and sing with the alphabets. That is why when he speaks, those who are younger than Nigeria are at lost either trying to comprehend or undermine him.
Obasanjo, late 2017 bagged the award of Doctor of Philosophy, PhD, in Christian Theology from the National Open University (NOUN) with NOUN no. 146058901. There were wide new reports that the award was possible after a 163-minute defence of his voluminous thesis before a six-member panel led by Samaila Mande (Dean, Postgraduate School), who said that Obasanjo had put in “enough study” and “intellectual rigours” to produce his work. His PhD thesis is titled: “Resolving the Unfinished Agenda in Liberation Theology: Leadership, Poverty and Underdevelopment in North Eastern Nigeria.”
With this background, it is not far to understand why Obasanjo could have the touch of an Imam, quoting from the Holy Qur’an to put Nigerian women on the path of pursuing excellence just like the men. In addition, he must have made a lot of research about the challenges of the northeast predominated by Muslims and as a PhD holder, he must be versatile in the commonest contemporary knowledge of religions, cultures and democracy, amongst others.
Obasanjo wants Nigerian women to vie for the highest political positions in Nigeria, such positions as the president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the House of Reps and the governor. Out of all these position, only the speakership has been held by Rt. Hon. Patricia Etteh, though she was tactically schemed out. By default or by chance, Virginia Etiaba, was placed on the governorship seat of Anambra state where she did not last longer than four months. Pauline Tallen, a woman of courage, tried to be the governor of Plateau state. More can be said of Sarah Jibril in the pursuit to pull the Nigeria women politician to limelight.
However, the inability of the Nigerian women politicians to ascend to these positions is definitely not because of lack of physical qualifications. It is basically the mindset of the men. And if Obasanjo ratio of the gender population of Nigeria which he put at 50:50 is correct, then the women have not proven themselves. Only seven women are presently in the Senate of 109 members and only 15 women in the House of Representatives of 360 members.
I concur that women and their children are usually victims of maladministration and poor leadership. Nigerian women should, therefore, study the nation’s history to know who were Iyalode of Ibadan, Efunsetan Aniwura in the 1860s and the Sarauniya, Queen Amina. They should take Joyce Banda of Malawi and Ellen Johonson-Sirleaf of Liberia as models and examples of the strength in womanhood in Africa. Look at Rwanda where 64 percent of the members of parliament are women – the highest proportion in the world. Then look at Nigeria since Independence, over 57 years ago, no woman has occupied the highest office in the land or ascended to the second highest office.
Obasanjo is querying how the 30 percent Affirmative Action Nigeria acceded to in Beijing in 1995 is being implemented. “The progress and development of any nation, I must say, is equal to the quality of women in that society.” That is because, he said, they are mothers, sisters, lovers, builders and pro-creators by divine design. Thus, women represent a tool for positive change, depending on how they are treated and the levels of opportunities given to them to actualize their potentials.
He wants the women to mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the next phase of the liberation struggles, which is to mount the saddle of political leadership for Nigeria to achieve its welfare and human development goals. He believes that the Scriptures established women’s equality with men. Quran Chapter 16:97 and Chapter 4:124 as well as Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2 and Proverbs 19:14; Ecclesiastics 9:9, according to him, declare God’s recognition of the significance of women and their impact in societal building.
Obasanjo also finds human beings as the same with insignificant difference for the purpose of the sustainability of humanity on earth. He reminiscences that the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Survey ranked Rwanda first in Africa and fourth in the world when it comes to the fair treatment of women. In 2017, according to the United Nations, gender inequality cost Africa $95 billion a year. Obasanjo does not want Nigeria to encourage such human waste.
On how to make it to the exalted positions, Obasanjo wants Nigerian women politicians to understand how to interpret the knowledge and facts they acquire from schools to network. “That is what I call wisdom. Be wise”, he urged them. The women should unite with the men who are naturally theirs by birth or by association. They should negotiate and seize the opportunity before the 2019 is turned against them. His wish is that the women as majority must be reckoned with and be participants at the commanding heights of policy and decision making. That was a note Obasanjo sounded while calling on them, their children and the youth to get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to have a place of honour in the next general elections.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected].