New IGP: Shortchanging Women Is Corruption

DIG Peace Ibekwe A. While campaigning in Awka, Anambra state last month, President Muhammadu Buhari told South Easterners, Ndigbo that he had not

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While campaigning in Awka, Anambra state last month, President Muhammadu Buhari told South Easterners, Ndigbo that he had not been appointing people from that zone into top decision making offices because he has not found any who merits such in their midst. He was responding to criticism over the appointment of the new Inspector General of Police who he picked again from the north even as Nigerians are shouting coarse that these appointments have continually been one-sided.

The president could have also been indirectly making no apologies to Nigerian women for by-passing the next most senior police officer, DIG Peace Ibekwe A., a woman, to pick his candidate, the new IGP, Adamu.  Following the choice, all senior officers before the new man, have been compulsorily retired from service as is the practice.

While many have condemned the President’s continued disregard for due process and federal character, the silent acceptance of the denial of opportunity to attain the peak of police service, opportunity of being Nigeria’s first female Inspector General of Police even as the cry for gender equity rings loud, speaks volumes on the level of respect the Buhari administration has for women in this country. Buhari is not alone, the system has consistently ignored women for top positions offering only a token safe for the Jonathan administration which gave women more and meaningful space in governance. Under President Goodluck Jonathan women for the first time since Independence, had 13 ministers in a cabinet of 42 (31%) and six out of18 special advisers (33%), surpassing the 30% affirmative action.

In 2007, barely weeks after Late President Musa Yar’Adua named Alhaji A. B. Ahmed successor to the former Comptroller General of the Customs Service, a group of Nigerian women who were monitoring that administration cried foul, lamenting that a woman, Mrs Rhoda Ako was the right candidate for that post by virtue of both seniority and merit. According to the women, Mrs Ako was sidelined, as has been the cross of many women in decision making, being a woman, while the list of the mandatory three names for presidential selection was compiled and sent.

 In a protest letter addressed to President Yar’Adua and copied to the first lady Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, the National Assembly, Benue State governor, Benue State House of Assembly, the Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, the National Council for Women Societies, NCWS and WRAPPA, the aggrieved women lamented had due process been applied, Ako would have been the Comptroller General of Customs and Excise  and called on the president to correct the wrong.

Part of the letter signed on behalf of the Benue State Staff Widows Association by its president Hon Evang. Esther. Acheka read:

“It is with heavy hearts that we came out en masse to protest the recent development at the Nigeria Customs Service. We , Staff Widows of Benue State of Nigeria and greater widows of Benue state and beyond view with resentment, the choice of candidates as Comptroller General of Customs Service aside from Mrs Rhoda Ako, a slight not only to womanhood but despising the state of widowhood.

“Your Excellency, this Association has on good authority, the list of the three names of Deputy Comptroller General, DCG ranking recommended and forwarded to the presidency for approval for the position of Comptroller General of Customs Service and how that of the superimposed  and assumed Comptroller General Customs Service did not make the list.”

The Benue Staff Widows said the sidelining of DCG Rhoda Ako, who had served in vital and sensitive positions in the Customs Service, at the time in question, head of administration, finance  and technical operations, all  areas that demand competence, was a slight on  a woman who had offered distinguished service and women while also negating the terms of the Beijing Platform of Action’s 30% recommended decision making positions for women  as well as denial of development.

Going further, the women stated:

“Not querying your veto powers, may we refresh Your Excellency’s memory to the fact that the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, 1995 set as goals, gender equality, development and peace and constituted an agenda for the empowerment of women. The full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of women is essential for the empowerment of women, which is also essential for poverty reduction and sustainable development.

“Without gender equality and equity, national development will stunted and lopsided. A World Bank report reveals that countries with minimal gender gaps have less poverty and faster growth. Also, countries that promote women’s rights and increase their access to resources have faster economic growth and less corruption than countries that do not.”

The women stressed that In Nigeria there is a gender imbalance which has to readdressed by government policies and programmes. Twelve years later,  these gaps are still unattended to. Many barriers are still obstructing women from breaking the glass ceiling especially in the uniform forces

Looking back, the women traced how the Nigerian system has continually discouraged women. They pointed out that the first  woman to head a para-military establishment in the country, late Lady Uzoamaka Nwizuw as struck by a strange disease. She was even frontally embarrassed by the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Adu Bayero when she visited his palace on a familiarization tour as she assumed office.

“The widows expressed fear for the future of women in the country. “In a case such as this, Mrs Ako’s, in the Nigeria Customs Service and the nation,  we fear that Nigerian women are an endangered species. We therefore fear for our future positions to suffer annihilation of gender placement and contribution in our country Nigeria.”

That fear is still playing out. From ward to national level, women are still being shortchanged in politics, they are the unheard and unsolicited voices in the family, communities, even churches. They face continued gender discrimination in the office and are last names to be considered for meaningful positions anywhere. The danger is that the longer society feigns unaware of this ugly trend including the Ministry of Women Affairs and the legislative assemblies which organs should be pushing for an end to this injustice, the greater the harm to the girls coming up behind us as the message is that there is no vacancy at the very top for Nigerian women, a call to despondency. It is therefore time to put to work the National Gender Policy and bring on the Equal Opportunity Bill for this endangered segment of our society.

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By Constance Meju, Port Harcourt based publisher of National Point Newspaper and Gender and Environmental  Justice Advocate