“Mr. President, at least don’t shy away from the issues we continue to face as Nigerian Women”.

We are all shy to some extent. I for instance shy away from publicity. Some folks will disagree with me, since I am in the public eye (remotely though,) which if I had a choice over, would  choose to stay as far off as possible.
Why then am I in the public space? Simple, it comes with my job as a development practitioner, where I advocate, lobby, and create awareness towards the desired outcomes in the areas of my work-the tenets of democracy, good governance, gender mainstreaming and of course youth development. For these reasons I embrace the very thing I loathe, in order to deliver.
That is precisely my point about the story that made headline a couple of days ago about elected President Muhammed Buhari being shy around women. Yes and yes, Mr. Femi Adeshina, the president’s special adviser on media and publicity did come out to refute the story, but perhaps there is some truth to it, just perhaps?
Then it’s imperative that Mr.President perhaps  take a look at the impact this might have on his relations with the women constituents of this nation if perchance it is true?.

1.     Every man generally comes from a woman’s womb, though they would rather believe they fell from the sky: all grown and macho. As they grow and take positions of brothers, husbands, fathers and leaders, they imbibe the prejudices of society, oppressing the very source that helped nurture them to life, the female.
Women and girls are labelled subordinates and not equals to men and boys. From the fetus, when it’s questioned if it’s a boy or a girl, to her first defilement at circumcision, in order to prevent her supposed tendency for future promiscuity (which takes two right?) and then the phrases and other practices that will echo in her ears and shape her entire life for as long as she lives-“ don’t you know you are a girl”, you get married not dream of becoming a presidenta girl learns to cook, wash, and take care of the home”.
The girl child is born to hit the ground running on her fragile legs, groomed for all but herself, without the time and space to discover self-fulfillment.But no matter how long this has been the norm, it doesn’t change the fact that women and girl’s rights are human rights too.
1.   Mr. President, please shy not at least of our issues as women. You might want to apply tactical diplomacy to deliver on your mandate no matter what-going by your popular mantra “I belong to everybody and belong to nobody”, remember this earned you a nationwide applause, interpreted as meaning 'yours is going to be an inclusive administration where no group, nor gender will be left behind' and truly we are hopeful still that this will be the case.

    If all that does not suffice, how about the fact that the negotiating tool in the ever rapid, and competitive world of today is the human capital,knowledge based power (inclusive of both men and women’s) and that it is seen of any nation, planning with only 50 % of its populace and a token of women, as underutilizing of its most singular raw potential and power?

4.     Mr. President, only in the recent past, December 2014-March 2015 during your campaign from state to state, some remote towns, some cities, clamoring for votes, did we see in the mammoth crowd not just men but also women, standing by you as their ideal candidate. 
    We watched proudly, the ever presence of Hon. Abike Dabiri Erewa being your anchorwoman; from the night of the primary at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos and through the campaign period.
The APC woman leader Ajiya Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu was also not left out and even though it was much later in the campaign when Nigerians especially the women constituency questioned the seeming absence of your amiable wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, did we finally get to meet her, elegant and prepared for the task ahead. At your swearing in on the 29thof May 2015, wasn't she a sight to behold as she stood behind you as you took the oath of office! Although according to you now she is not our first lady but nevertheless as the “wife of the president she remains active.

How can we forget Zahra, your truly beautiful daughter? Reserved she seems, but thrown into the limelight for emphasis, to the delight of the men folk who instantly turned her into a  prayer point for a life partner! Let’s not forget the most important of all your supporters and  loyalists, the backbone of every political party (not the money bags) but the millions of women at the grassroots and their women leaders, mobilized to meet you in each state you visited with pomp and pageantry.

They keep the show going, especially behind the scenes, despite their inner pains and agony’s when repeatedly they are maligned as party candidates for elective positions, quantitative and qualitative appointments and as main stakeholders at the negotiating table.
These women and varied other women groups of Nigerians and in the diaspora, both old and young, went through all odds, to register, to collect their permanent voters cards, waited long queues to exercise their franchise to actualize your dream of becoming the President of Nigeria after 3 failed attempts. And when the women back you, you experience success like you did.

Amnesty International (2006) observed that women make up more than 50% of the Nigerian population, this remains a fact that cannot be wished away.A truly patriarchal society calling women all sorts-subordinates to men, the weaker vessels, it further makes Nigeria, one of the most unequal countries in the world, where the expected contributions of women to national development continues to be marred with gross gender inequalities. 

These and many more is the reason for the widening gaps in income, gender inaccessibility to economic and social opportunities; growing inequality between and within rural and urban populations;and widening gaps between economies in different parts of the federation (MDGs, 2010).

5.     “Your Excellency sir, as a northerner, if you are not already aware, it should interest you then to know that the National development indicators graphically shows wide regional disparities and the wider the disparity, the deeper the vulnerability of women and girls of that region.The North East of the country remains the lowest in human development, followed by the North West (Action-Aids 2012) as clearly shown by the gripping story of the abducted Chibok Girls in the hands of terrorists, called Boko Haram. 

The current insurgency has further set the growth backwards and seeing millions living in IDP Camps of which 60% are children, girls and women, further made vulnerable in an already vulnerable situation. In the educational system, empirical data continues to show that our girl children lag behind the boys in early childhood education, in primary schools and in fact in all forms of educational programs. Not to talk of the lack of girls in STEMS (science, technology, engineering and Math).They continue to be married off at tender ages, babies themselves becoming mothers, many continue to be affected by vesico vaginal fistula commonly referred to as VVF

6.     Across the country, community clashes, migration and societal norms continues to deny women and girls the power to self-choices about-their bodies, are susceptible to rape, early marriages, and of course illiteracy and ultimately poverty.

7.     Women are the most impacted in all failed economic policies of the government so far, take for instance the structural adjustment program (SAP) of the 80s. The present day reality is that Nigerian women are mostly found in the informal sector, working multiple jobs for extreme low wages and in poor conditions and unstable jobs. Women operate mostly in the informal sector, they are likely to be targets of multiple taxation, exploited and harassed the most by tax agents, whereby they lose their wares daily to raids, and at the constant mercy of the bureaucracy of the tax administration, with no systemic, nor effective complaints and redress mechanisms in place for their ordeals ,they give up trying and this impacts on their ability to provide for their children and are likely to look to the male figures in their lives for survival and that includes whatever it entails, i.e. the fact that this is likely a recipe for, exploitation, domestic violence and abuse in many cases.
These and much more further impoverishes the Nigerian woman, as poverty continues to wear the face of the woman globally.

9.    The national gender policy, the MDGs, women liberation movements, women empowerment programs, first ladies-summits, family support programs, better-life programs, 35% quota affirmative action, all have not fully yielded dividends in the integration of women into the Nigerian political process for better socio-economic development (Ndubisi, 2005),yet without the active participation of women and incorporation of women’s perspectives in all levels of decision-making (gender mainstreaming), the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved ( WardC  2003).

 Life expectancy, adult literacy and income are statistical measures of the human development index (HDI).  As it stands, the real value of Nigeria’s human development is at 0.278 but HDI, for distributive inequality across the population purposes, adjusted it to 0.459, nonetheless placing Nigeria at 156 out of 179 countries (UNDP, 2011).

1     Statistics shows that we lose on a daily basis, more than 130 women of childbearing age and over 2000 children under the age of five. These deaths could have been avoided if only essential and timely interventions reached the patients early on. This statistics has put Nigeria as the second largest contributor to the under-fives and maternal mortality rate in the world (UNICEF). This justifies the need for an integrated intervention service for maternal, newborn and child health.

 Mr. President, these issues are too numerous to exhaust, neither are they new to policy and decision makers, but what has always forestalled the collective development we yearn for, is the lack of political will of all governments from the Centre to the local government to mainstream gender appropriately more so in the national budgets, everything around these issues has remained an act of tokenism. These days ,women are told to demand not for gender equality but gender equity, this doesn’t change the fact that the imbalances between  males and females, be it allocating resources, programming, decision making and benefits must be addressed without any discrimination on the basis of sex’.“Mr. President, Nigerian women have contributed in no small measure to the development of this country and continue to do so. Women played a vital role in the emancipation of these country from the colonial masters and the attainment of independence, we have always been industrious and that is still the fact. We are a good thing to humanity, as it is a proven fact that 90% of a woman’s resources goes towards the welfare of her family, we wish our nation well and together we want to rebuild and bring this nation back from the brink of total collapse. Some Nigerian men and women have failed us all, but let society stop tainting the women folk as a colossal failure, because some women played the game too. We have since found out, that greed and corruption is gender neuter, we must therefore let the third arm of government, the judiciary and the rule of law abound as the yardstick of justice for all. We must continue to look around us, because among us, still lies zillions of credible women who can help take this nation to its promise land and whether we like it or not the future of Nigeria lies collectively on our shoulders, whatever happens to the Nigerian woman has a long term impact on the family system and that is the true Nigerian society. In conclusion Sir’, maximize all of the human potential of this nation be it male, female, physically-challenged, the old or young. Be an exemplary and fair leader; be truly for everybody and indeed belong to nobody".

About the writer: Abimbola Junaid has a master’s degree in Social Policy and Administration from the University of Nottingham, UK. A development practitioner with over 15 years’ experience in Democracy and Governance. She is the Lagos State coordinator of the Nationwide Tax Justice advocacy and governance platform and the founder and Executive Director of Arise Nigerian Woman Foundation. www.arisenigerianwoman.org.Email:info@arisenigerianwoman.org


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