Nigeria: Women Empowerment in Akwa Ibom!

January 4, 2011

By Peter Udiong

If the Athenians of the First Century AD (the Christian Era) were around today they would surely be heading for Akwa Ibom State to observe at close quarters the uncommon mode to governance so far initiated by the administration of Governor Godswill Akpabio. For, both secular and religious records bear witness that these ancient Greeks “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”

Thoroughly drilled in the philosophy of the great triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the citizens of Athens were said to roam around the city-state seeking something novel. Visitors were mostly welcome only if they came along with strange ideas.

It was a path dictated by Socrates who had lived centuries earlier. “Socrates” a British historian writes, “…was… a familiar figure on the marketplace, questioning the citizens of Athens, convincing them of their lack of knowledge, leading them to realize that the only lasting foundations of any community are truth and virtue and earning a reputation for wisdom which has lived and will always live…”

In this case, our friends the Athenians would be particularlyinterested in Akwa Ibom because of Governor Akpabio’s political and administration innovation of allocating a whopping number of over twenty political seats to women namely; chief judge of the State, head of service, commissioner for health, commissioner for women affairs, special representative on inter-governmental and national assembly relations, etc. It might also interest you to know that the State has a female senator of Federal Republic , local government chairs and councilors. Akpabio administration is gender friendly in which women of all shades and hues must give him a resounding support.

Although a man with a couple of notable entries in the history of Nigeria politics, Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State appears to be ready for more exploits in the tough business of revising the record. In a coup d’etat of sorts, Godswill has sworn-in women to take charge of various ministries, parastatals and local government councils in Akwa Ibom State . At one of the historic event in Uyo the capital, the Governor himself admitted that what he was doing was quite novel in a patriarchal society such as ours.

It represents a new twist in the tale of governance in Nigeria , whether under the military or the civilians. For neither as a symbolic gesture nor as an experimental instrumentality of bridging the gender gap has Nigerian ruler given women such a preponderant presence. And there appears, in this administrative stroke of novelty by the Akwa Ibom helmsman, that Godswill still has more to pull out of his bag in his second tenure! Afterall, one good term begets another term.

For instance the governor hinted of a future higher calling for women in Nigeria ‘s larger political space, and not just at the local government and state levels. He said the appointment of the women was in recognition of the managerial abilities of the Akwa Ibom women, adding that they were being recognized because of their immense contribution towards the political, social and economic development of the state.”

Godswill Akpabio did also state that the future appointment of women into positions of authority in the state (and, most assuredly, outside Akwa Ibom) will be based on the performance of these women, insisting that “the time for change has come and women… are the tools with which to bring about the needed change at the grassroots.”

Finally the governor delivered the ultimate challenge: “your performance will affect the way people look at women in the whole world. See yourself in the same light you see President Barack Obama of the United States .”

This may seem a tall order. But we must realize that the grassroots have served as the vary first step to many on illustrious path of excellent public service of some of the figures we all have hailed in the past or are hailing now.

How many Nigerians know for instance that the acclaimed anti-drug campaigner professor Dora Akunyili started politics at the local government level? She savoured life first on that platform without hogging the headlines. Then she moved on evenly until she bagged NAFDAC job. And from there she is now making her way to the exalted post of minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Outside Nigeria we can capture the example of Susan Rice. She was a middle-ranking US diplomat, peaking as under-Secretary of State in the government of President Bill Clinton. Now Barack Obama has brought her into his administration as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Quite an influential member of government!

It is possible from the foregoing cases to predict that out of the “wise” women picked by Akpabio may yet emerge an Akunyili, a Susan Rice, a state Commissioner, a governor and indeed a President. It’s not a far-fetched or wild dream. With Akpabio, we see a governor who says his four years in office have brought in steady streams of empowerment indices to the people and womenfolk alike. He has established what he calls “irreversible foundations” of development.

Right before our eyes we’ve had an African-American elected to the seat of the most powerful office in the world. It was quite unthinkable a few years and decades back. And to be sure world leaders will some time in the near future sit side by side with a female US President!

But charity, they say, begins at home. Nigeria must therefore empower her womenfolk towards a gradual march to full political, economic and social emancipation the way it’s been done for African-Americans in the United States . Akwa Ibom State has taken a good exemplary lead, with pundits predicting that other states are likely to either follow suit or attempt to break new grounds such as increasing the number of female cabinet members or fielding women in the parastatals. There’s also the possibility of getting more female appointees by Godswill Akpabio in 2011. May be reaching the thirty-five percent mark in 2011?

A wider involvement of women in the affairs of the society especially in politics and in the public services also means getting all hands on deck for nation building. For too long we’ve run society along narrow male centric lines that have only stunted full development and made nonsense of our huge human resources. Now this is beyond affirmative action.

In this case, what Godswill Akpabio appears to be saying through his efforts is that women need empowerment, not affirmative action which has not yielded the dividends expected since the Beijing Declaration. Affirmative action is passive whereas a policy of empowerment for women, backed by a conscious awareness of the role of this group of citizens in the politics and governance of the society, suggests an active move to develop the nation applying all factors of labour.

Affirmative action depends, for its succession the sheer goodwill of bureaucracy and persons in power. This has severe limitations as we have witnessed with the Beijing Declaration more than a decade after it called for 30% of political affairs to be ceded to woman.

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