Tuesday, January 24, 2012


In July 2009 when my article “Whipping skirts and the fraternity of the boys” was published, I was in Law School. My two buddies, Bahoreh, a soft spoken Gambian army officer and Austin, a passionate crusader of everything law, were having trouble wrapping their minds around my knack for heated debates. Even though, some compliments were grudgingly given for the contents of my mind, I still found myself repeating “see me as a human being before anything else.” Not to say my friends didn’t respect me, I was just one of those women who continued to ask “why on earth do these lecturers keep saying gentlemen of the bar when women make up a good proportion of this class” much to their consternation and distraction. That was me. Assertive, argumentative, fiercely independent and a feminist through and through. The article was a chance to vent and vent I did.

My first port of call was the legislative arm of the Nigerian government. I criticized what I thought was an endless display of machismo and the underrepresentation of women in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. I argued that women were not taken as seriously as they should be and that some of the female law makers had decided it was fine to play second fiddle to their male counterparts with a barely felt presence and ridiculous bills. I bemoaned the fact the last female speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh had been muscled out of her seat by some chauvinistic males in the house. I surmised that the allegations of corruption was only a ruse to get her out of the leadership position as none of the members of the upper and lower houses of legislature could boast of stainless reputations. My condemnation was loud and clear. GIVE THE WOMEN A CHANCE TO LEAD FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.

As a student of history, I have always known that African males were not always so unreceptive of female leadership. From Amina of Zazzau, Cleopatra, Queen Idia, Queen Nerfetari, Anne Nzinga and Yaa Asantewaa women led wars, ruled kingdoms and played prominent roles in the society. Apparently all that changed with the introduction of Christianity and Islam, two Abrahamic religions that are paternalistic in view and support the ideology of male supremacy. Despite the glorious past of the African female, I believe that most women in Africa have been so relegated to the background that when they make an attempt to step out of the shadows of men, they always meet a brick wall.

Very little has changed since the inglorious exit of Patricia Etteh from the House of Representatives in 2007 over the 626 million N aira (About US$5 million). Despite the reported rise in the participation of women in politics since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, women are still at the backstage in Nigerian politics and still grossly underrepresented in the nearly all tiers of government. The memory of Sarah Jubril, the only female presidential candidate in the January 2011 PDP presidential primaries standing on the podium with flailing hands and a very comical speech still hurts to think about.

In a country with about 50% of women in its population, less than 10% are represented in government. It will not be farfetched to assume that the deeply rooted patriarchal culture introduced by foreign religion has affected the prospects of Nigerian women in general. Female leaders are yet to leave an indelible mark on the Nigerian political terrain and when they try, they are dogged down by rumours of corruption, conspiracy theories and claims of ineptitude. In this article, I will be taking a look at two powerful women in President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet. They both hold portfolios of very important ministries and have subjected to all manner of criticisms and intrigue.

Doctor Okonjo Iweala
Minister of Finance

Former World Bank executive and current Minister of Finance. A much respected economist Okonjo Iweala has a stellar record with the World Bank. She led Nigeria out of debt with a US$30 billion deal and a further cancellation of US$18 billion with the Paris club of creditors in 2005 under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. In 2006, she returned back to her World Bank job and it was whispered that she resigned as a result of a clash of egos with the president. However, in 2011 The president Goodluck administration decided to woo her again. However, this time, Okonjo Iweala has more than fragile male egos to deal with. For some reason, the notion that she is an unpatriotic agent of the World Bank and IMF has been promoted around the country. During the subsidy protests which Nigerians dubbed as the “Nigerian Harmattan”, despite her many attempts on television and the internet to explain what the subsidy removal meant for the economy of the country, many still found it hard to shake off the conspiracy theories that had been perpetuated against her. Now the question is – Is Doctor Okonjo Iweala a reformer or a tyrant sent by the powerful west to destroy the economy of her own country or is she just another woman set up to fail by some disgruntled elements who have a problem with taking orders from women? The jury is still out on that one.

Diezani Madueke
The Minister of Petroleum Resources

A former employee of Shell, Diezani Madueke rose to the position of leadership in the much coveted oil ministry in 2010. A trained architect with an air of assurance who has had the record of being the first woman to be appointed to the board of Shell Development Company Nigeria, the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources, first woman to lead a country delegation at the annual OPEC conference, and the first female minister of transportation, Diezani ranked among my best female leaders. Allison Madueke has been at the forefront of pushing for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which is supposed to bring development and reduce corruption in the petroleum industry. Her opponents pointed out her lack luster performance at her former positions in the ministries of transportation and mines and steel as reason for her inability to bring the much needed change in the petroleum industry but it was hard to disagree with Diezani when she implied during her screening on the floor of the senate in 2011 that the clamour against her return as Minister of Petroleum resources was tied to the fact that she stepped on some toes during her first tenure as head of the ministry.

Diezani’s credibility is being called to question with every step she takes in the fight against corruption in the industry. Apart from the oil oligarchs that Diezani has to contend with, the rumours of a multimillion dollar house in Australia and lavish lifestyles of her family continue to make rounds daily. Diezani’s credibility is being called to question with every step she takes against corruption in the petroleum industry. I don’t know how true the allegations against Diezani is but one thing I wonder about is – if Diezani had been a man, will the “toes” that pull the dirty strings behind the scene been more forgiving of her trespasses?

In conclusion, it is obvious that while Patricia Etteh, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Allison Madueke might have their short comings, their biggest sin is that they are women. If you think I am just another feminist ranting, pray tell me, what happened to the Dimeji Bankole, the former speaker of the House of Representatives who took over from Etteh? What happened to the $1 billion he stole? I’ll tell you. He was given a slap on the wrists by his co-travelers. He is one of the boys after all.

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