Chief Constance Meju, CEHRD Chairperson giving the opening remark
The world is moving on, creating records of women leading nations but the Nigerian story is that of a big and endowed nation where, women though large in number and burden bearers, have a very insignificant voice in governance resulting in a general state of underdevelopment as only the combined contributions of both men and women can give a nation growth in the right direction.
What has brought us today is the long absence of a critical volume of women in the decision making processes of this country due to political marginalization arising from deep rooted male-dominated traditions.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (MDGs), especially SGD 5 enjoins all member states to ensure women’s full and effective participation and provide equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life”.
Key speakers at the inauguration and Rivers State Local Government Vice Chairpersons
Though the Nigerian 1999 constitution (as amended) guarantees equal rights of sexes, races, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (1979) as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1996) among others all prohibit all forms of discrimination in the area of sex, religion, or race, the political story of the female politician in Nigeria speaks boldly of discrimination. This discrimination which manifests in varied ways has helped to keep female politicians way behind their male counterparts and that is now becoming a serious cause for worry as rather than improve, records show a decline especially with regards to women getting into electoral office.
During the post-colonial period, Nigerian women played very active roles which the coming in of the military in 1996 truncated. Some argue that if the post-colonial administration had not been interrupted, more women would today be occupying political office. In 1960, Mrs. Wuraola Esan from Western Nigeria became the first female member of the Federal Parliament. In 1961, Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo contested and won the election, becoming a member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly till 1966;Mrs.Janet N. Mokelu and Miss Ekpo A. Young also contested elections and won. They also became members of the Eastern House of Assembly.
The Second Republic (1979 -1983) saw a little more participation of women in politics but the advent of military rule in 1996 truncated what should have been a gradual expansion of the female circle in political leadership which has today degenerated to a less than three percent participation in governance at a time a country like South Africa is celebrating a 50/50 representation and Rwanda and other sister countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, over 35 per cent, the representation rate stipulated by the United Nation and accented to by Nigeria and many other nations.
As things continue to go bad rather than improve, coupled by the evidence based position that a government that cannot include a major component of its population cannot achieve sustainable development and, that democracy requires diversity to flourish, world bodies, development partners, non-governmental organizations and women themselves, have been calling for a critical inclusion of women in decision making across board.
Unfortunately, the federal government has consistently paid deaf ears to these calls even though women play major roles as mobilizers, voters as well as candidates for elections. The gallantry of Okrika women in safeguarding votes in the 2019 elections as well as the part played by Kano women in the same election have gone down in history as the few high points in the heavily flawed 2019 elections.
You are all witnesses to the fact that for all the efforts of women in the last elections the Buhari government found only seven women worthy of recognition in a 42-member planned federal cabinet and women all over the country continue to say that seven out of 42 is a slap on the intelligence, capability and contributions of women.It signifies a continued denial to women, of the right to participate and contribute appropriately, to nation-building.
The Center for Environment Human Rights and Development recognizes this cry of marginalization and the negative consequences hence some ten months ago, it embarked on an enlightening campaign in communities across the three senatorial zones in this state to begin to change perspectives on women representation in governance from family to community, and state level as the first step towards achieving inclusion. It has used consultations, town hall sensitization and radio programmes to drive this process.
The outcome is the formation of the body, Women in Governance Network which we are inaugurating today. This could not have come at a better time for the country and state are crying for women’s special contribution to help us out of the myriad of vices manifesting as insecurity. Your coming should begin a journey of collective responses to issues of governance in the community, state and country, a voice that would e heard so loud that it will generate positive action from society.
You have to link up with other women networks on this mission for this needed success but I have no doubt that your records marked you for choice in this noble task. Please note that the route will not be easy as you have chosen to try and bring about change. So be ready to make sacrifices and be committed. If you do, your successes will become the gain of all-a better society through an inclusivegovernance. That too is the mission of CEHRD so demand that women be seen everywhere in government and in peace-building organs.
We must applaud the continued effort of the Rivers State governor Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike for including women in his administration which has produced women as caretaker chairpersons, deputy chairpersons, counselors and state and National Assembly members in addition to our Deputy Governor. We only ask that he continues to increase the presence of women in critical positions as a beacon for others to follow and that the local government chairpersons duly include their deputies in the affairs of government. We’ve been told some are merely there as symbolic representatives and that is not good.
I want to on behalf of CEHRD express our deep appreciation to the Netherland Embassy for making this process possible. Our honourable chairpersons, thank you for identifying with us and your anticipated support in helping achieve the goal of this network. Thank you also our media and development partners.
Permit me also to congratulate the management of CEHRD and the Human Rights and governance team for making today possible. May you continue to soar!
Thank you all and God bless.
Chief Constance Meju, CEHRD Chairperson
Being an address presented at the inauguration of the Women In Governance Network on Thursday August 15, 2019 at The Edge Hotel, Port Harcourt.
Gender Accountability and Transparency Project (GAP)
Constance Meju is publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper and Gender and Human Right Justice advocate