An Agenda for Nigerian Women in Public Service


I feel humbled and honoured to be invited to this occasion as the Keynote Speaker at the Reunion Dinner, Fundraising and Awards 2012 ceremony of the St Catherine’s Anglican Girls Grammar School Owo Old Girls’ Association.

I thank the President of the Association, Her Excellency, Otunba (Mrs) Grace, Titi, Laoye-Tomori, and the Deputy Governor of Osun State for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic-“Nigerian Women in Politics and Governance; Challenges and Prospects”.

The School’s mission as I was told since inception is to produce pupils that would imbibe the qualities of academic learning and responsible behavior. There can be no greater or nobler mission. From this gathering this evening, we see a lot of great achievers, products of this great institution not only taking charge in society but breaking grounds, shattering the proverbial glass ceiling in various institutions and establishments. Today, when we look around us and the ever changing circumstances across our nation, the kernel and focus of the school’s mission is required for the upcoming young generation. When drilled into them, they imbibe these values and help create and advance a better society. Hence, as beneficiaries of good moral upbringing and excellent tutoring, we owe it a duty to propagate the richness and goodness we have experienced.

Lest we forget, the generation of Nigerian women leaders who went before us left a legacy unrivaled in the history of our country. They left behind a legacy that can survive universal scrutiny and that compares well with what other women on different continents have done. Here I speak of the likes of Queen Amina of Zaria, Chief (Mrs) Margaret Ekpo of Crosss River, Chief (Mrs) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, Professor Jadesola Akande all of blessed memory. Here with us are still some living legends in the likes of Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, the Iya loja general of Market Men and Women Association of Nigeria, Professor Bolanle Awe readily come to mind.

These great women invested their time, energy and resources in the public good. Whether as private citizens or public servants they used their position and influence to ensure the betterment of not just women but the girl child. Individually, at their point of duty, they had one overriding passion; a desire to make others better and to pour out into the lives of those around them.

That is why today, we can look back and be inspired by their lives and the work they did. But very often, we have stopped at drawing inspiration or just talking about their selflessness and courage in the face of daunting challenges. We have failed to take after them and run the race for women empowerment like a relay race in which we all must band together as a team.
In the last two decades, Nigeria has produced women with sterling qualities, but as we look around, can we point to landmarks these often powerful women have achieved in terms of empowerment of others or are they using their position as a conduit to drain resources meant for public good into private self aggrandizement?

I came out tonight swinging because I feel strongly that our women leaders have not measured up and inspite of the challenges, the competition, the rude reminders that it is a man’s world, the trophies we ought to have won in the areas of creating more opportunities for the girl-child and empowering other women are not won. My decision to tinker with the topic is informed by the fact that the agenda setting mindset that we as women ought to have is no longer there. I therefore apologize for altering the topic of this discussion in order to be more provocative, hence the title-An Agenda for Women Nigerian Women in Public Service. The great Nigerian women who were before us of course had an agenda which became their preoccupation and which propelled them to do exploit. They did not just wait for power and opportunities to come to them they fought and reached out for such opportunities not just for their benefit but to benefit the lot of womenfolk.

The agenda they had then cannot be remarkably different from the agenda Nigerian women have today. The right of every girl child to a good education, the empowerment of women to be able to fend for themselves, the right to have a say in the choices they make marriage, child bearing and their health, the right to equal employment opportunities and the overall agenda of Women Liberation under which everything is now subsumed. This agenda is a universal one and not peculiar to Nigeria alone. However, each country, based on specific circumstances decides what tops the agenda.

In Nigeria for instance, where at least 100 deaths are recorded for every 1,000 women who give birth; a country in which out of every 1,000 girl-child, only about 50 have the chance to be educated; a country where 68 percent of women are not allowed to make choices about marriage and reproductive health is in great peril. There needs to be no other overriding agenda than to look into these issues. And there is no better way to tackle them upfront than through the instrumentality of women in key public positions and the influential rich and powerful women. To expect that our problems will be solved on a platter or that our victories or successes over these issues will simply be handed over to us is at best unrealistic. I do not pretend that there is a simplistic solution or even a silver bullet. No. The hostilities and discriminations women suffer in the hands of men will still be there. The attempts to always make women play second fiddle will remain and the disposition to try to push to the back burner all issues relating to women liberation will not easily fizzle out. But as we open ourselves up to these hostilities, we must also ready ourselves to seize the opportunities in advancing our agenda. The bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18a. The vision for us is the agenda to liberate women from the very forces and discriminations that hold them down. Magreth Thatcher, former British Prime Minister admonishes thus, and we need to always bear this in mind “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction”.

This occasion is for me to send a message to the upcoming generation. A message that it is only in service to others in the community that great fulfillment and success is achieved. And that the ability to rise up to a position of power, professional excellence and influential status is a function of the training, education and values imbibed over time. Having earned these positions, it must go beyond service to self to learning to give to and invest in others. As women, we need to achieve a critical mass in the numbers of the girl-child that have access to good education, good health and also vocational opportunities. Even in our generation we have women leaders both young and old who can still help turn the tide and powerfully advance the agenda we have set today. Even though there is a place for government policy, there is more importantly a place for the challenge for us to take our destiny in our hands.

The power in giving back to our communities and the womenfolk through our intellect, resources and contributions in other ways is easily translated into the empowerment of others. The prospect is bright, but only if we put ourselves to the task. We must isolate the issues that seek to divide us or hold us down and identify those that fit into our agenda and vision. We must then recruit into our rank and file persons with the heart for the fight to liberate and uplift women. Let me leave you with this very inspiring quote by Matilda Joslyn Gage from National Citizen and Ballot Box- 1889, a newspaper she founded and edited, “The women of today are the thoughts of their mothers and grandmothers, embodied, and made alive. They are active, capable, determined and bound to win. They have one thousand generations back of them … Millions of women, dead and gone are speaking through us today. “Let us rise up and speak up for Nigerian women today. I believe the empowerment of the Nigerian youth for a brighter tomorrow shall be our greatest legacy.

I thank you for listening. Also, I am grateful for the award of Legislative excellence and Women Empowerment given to me by your association. This award will undoubtedly spur me on to greater dedication in the service of our people, particularly women.
God bless you all.