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Undermining the Gender Agenda

SimonKolawolelive! By Simon-Kolawole,

My maiguard was looking downcast. I asked him what the matter was and he replied with the obligatory “I am fine sir”. I was not convinced. I probed further and he finally opened up: his wife was expecting another baby — and, going by the scan result, “it is a girl again”. He has had three girls and is desperately looking for a boy, despite the economic situation. He was plainly frustrated and trying to blame the wife. I took time to explain to him what they taught us in O’Level Biology about XX and XY chromosomes and how it is the man, and not the woman, that determines a child’s sex. I could have been talking to a wall. As far as he was concerned, his wife was the “Abi-girl”.

I then went slightly off-topic. “But why do you even think you need a male child? I don’t have a son and I have never felt like I killed somebody,” I joked. He said he wanted to perpetuate his family name. I laughed intensively and asked: “Do you know how many Musas we have in West Africa?” It’s not as if we are talking about Mansa Musa. I told him a bit of my family history. My surname, Kolawole, is my father’s first name. It is not my “family name”. My grandfather was Gabriel Komolafe. My father was Kolawole Gabriel. He chose his father’s first name as his own surname. His three younger sisters answered Komolafe before getting married and discarding the name entirely.

In other words, the Komolafe “family name” was not perpetuated and the last time I checked, heavens have not fallen. But it even got more interesting some years ago when I asked my grandmother (God rest her soul) a bit of our family history. She said Gabriel and Komolafe were my grandfather’s baptismal and middle names. Basically, his surname was his own name! The family name is Adigun but he refused to use it because it was associated with the family cult, she said. I was aghast. In a world where people are fighting for male children to perpetuate family names, my own father and grandfather wilfully discarded theirs. Else, I would be answering Simon Adigun today!

Not that my story swayed the maiguard. Not that I gave up either. I told him that since he has brothers who have male children, the family name would survive. If my family wants the Kolawole name perpetuated, I said, my younger brother has a male child so “Kolawole” is already “preserved” (whatever that means). His response made me laugh the more. “Oga, you know you are a big man, so it may not affect you. It means a lot to have male children in my community. Otherwise, nobody will respect you.” But I can tell he loves his daughters dearly. He finally arrived at what might be his real worry: “If I don’t have a male child, I will not be entitled to family land in the village.” Oh dear!

Although I joked it away by asking him to buy land in Lagos instead, something hit me hard and stuck out at the end of our one-hour conversation: the odiously chauvinistic mentality of the traditional, patriarchal part of the African society which can still not understand that a female child is a full, complete human being. The girl-child is seen as a handicap and, ultimately, a nonentity. A bosom friend of mine who had a son after a succession of three girls was congratulated by a family member who told him pointedly: “Finally, you can now say you have a child!” Can you beat that? The reality is that some still have blighted brains about the female gender in 21st-century Africa. It is what it is.

As we can see in the case of my maiguard who would not be entitled to family land because he was yet to have a son, some traditional African communities do not only discriminate against the female gender, they also visit the consequences of the chauvinism upon the parents. The National Assembly has just voted on a number of proposed amendments to the constitution and — surprise surprise — the female-specific bills were flung out of the window. The most glaring gender bias was in citizenship by registration. Section 26 of the 1999 Constitution allows foreign spouses of only Nigerian men to become citizens. An attempt to extend this right to the women was defeated.

An argument can be made that how many foreign spouses of the women would really want to take up Nigerian citizenship in the first place? But this completely misses the point about gender inequality. Why should the spouse of a man be entitled to citizenship by registration but that of a woman is not? We preach equality all the time. We say what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, more appropriately, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. What many don’t know is that goose is female and gander is male. An amendment would have established the principle of gender equality, even if foreign male spouses would not take up Nigerian citizenship.

The bill for affirmative action — to give women at least 35 percent of elected and appointed spaces at federal and state levels — was defeated 34-53 in the senate but the house favoured it by 195-107. The indigeneship rights bill to allow a woman to be regarded as an indigene of her spouse’s state after a minimum of five years of marriage also failed to make the cut. The heaviest defeat came in the bill seeking to give reserved legislative seats to women: senate voted 58-30 and house 208-81 against it. For an amendment to pass, both chambers must agree. It then goes to the 36 state houses of assembly for concurrence. At least 24 must vote “yes” for any amendment to be final.

By the way, I am not in full support of all the gender bills. I do not support, for instance, that additional 111 legislative seats should be created and reserved for women. For one, we are going to be unnecessarily increasing the running cost of government — assuming we believe every kobo should count. I would favour a different strategy: promoting gender equity among the parties. The lowest-hanging fruit is to make the parties reflect gender in picking candidates, rather than for us to blow up the size of the legislature. I would also propose that governorship and presidential tickets should have gender balance. And we need to start naming and shaming parties over gender issues.

I am in support of the indigeneship rights to the extent that it should apply to all, not just women or those who marry outside their states of origin. Every Nigerian should have a right to be treated as a bona fide citizen of where they reside and pay their taxes. They should enjoy every right and privilege accorded to “indigenes”. We have been complaining about this indigene thing for long. It is a scandal that the lawmakers have never taken any step to address it, despite the billions we spend on constitution review all the time. It is nothing but regressive thinking to be talking about “indigene” in a modern world where Nigerians are elected legislators or given appointments abroad.

On a fairly positive note, the bill seeking to give women at least 20 percent of the slots for commissioners and ministers sailed through. It should be 35 per cent; and who says it cannot be 50 percent? There is a latent assumption that we are doing women a favour and they should be thankful that 20 percent was given to them at all. I say “thank you” to the lawmakers for even making it a legal requirement at all — at least, it will be justiciable if the provision scales through at the state houses of assembly and becomes constitutional. But nobody is doing women a favour by promoting gender equity. It is common sense and natural justice. Thank you, guys, all the same.

Let me come clean at this point: I have a daughter, three sisters and an army of aunties, female cousins and nieces. I may, therefore, not be an unbiased commentator on gender matters. I don’t want my daughter to be treated as a second-class citizen anywhere, much less in her own society. I don’t want her to be told that her future husband can molest her as a form of enforcing “discipline”. I don’t want her to be told she cannot be president, or senate president, or even speaker, or chief of army staff. I don’t want her to be told that because she is a woman, she is of less value to the society and should take the back seat. My daughter is not inferior to any man in any ramification.

I believe the origin of treating women as lesser mortals in the African society might have been rooted in primitive farming, when able-bodied men were used as tractors. Since male muscles are biologically stronger than female ones, our forefathers apparently preferred male children because they were better for business. Women were limited to fetching water, preparing meals and getting pregnant. But the world has changed over time. We now have tractors and pipe-borne water, so human beings have become incomparably more productive physically and intellectually. The gender chauvinism, passed from generation to generation, will take a lot of efforts and time to dismantle.

Women lag behind men for various reasons. Because the male child is preferred, he gets the necessary investment from birth. The parents want him to become a doctor, an accountant, an engineer, etc. The girl-child is not seen as adding much value, so she is being prepared to breed children and tutored to be “a wife material”. She will not be on the table where critical decisions that shape society are being taken. Those taking the decision will continue to entrench masculinity. In the end, more will be given to the men who already have, while even the little that the women have will be taken away. Male domination is thus reinforced from generation to generation.

Our society can be quite funny. The same patriarchal system that treats women as second-class humans also celebrate them as heroines. On the balance, we celebrate our mothers more than our fathers. In Yoruba language, many prayers and sayings are positively tied to “abo” (female) than “ako” (male). We pray “odun yi ay’abo”, meaning this year will be fruitful/productive “like a woman”. There is “ako iba” — the severest form of malaria. Some pray to have a girl as first born — it is called “owo ero”, meaning you have started a family on a pleasant/less stressful note. Yet the same culture says a woman cannot talk or preside where men are gathered. The dissonance!

Back to my maiguard. Exactly two weeks ago, he called me excitedly: his wife had just been delivered of a baby boy. The scan was incorrect. Trust me to tease him: “Another Musa is born! Family land for you!” I now officially call him “Baba Bomboy”. You could see his raised shoulders. You would be mistaken to think it is only villagers that sell the fable that a boy is of more value than a girl. Many of our legislators are not any better. They junket across advanced countries and see how gender inequality is being addressed. It is not solely an African problem, we appear to be too slow in tackling it. We need to urgently retrace our steps. What is sauce for the gander is sour for the goose.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

SO LONG, S.O.

Pastor Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase (S.O.), the legendary journalist who transformed sports journalism in Nigeria with Sports Souvenir, Complete Football and Complete Sports, recently died at 71. It was a life well spent, although I think he did not get the recognition he deserved from a country that ends up giving national honours to mediocre characters. I had done my internship with Complete Football in 1991 and gained something like part-time employment thereafter, and he gave me my first job in October 1993 straight after my national service — thanks to the mentorship of Dr Abdulmumin Alao, the editor at the time. Ojeagbase’s footprints will remain visible and indelible for ages. Adieu.

DEFECTION DEFECTS

I understand the media outburst of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state following a high court judgment that he has to lose his position for defecting from the PDP, on whose platform he became governor. Defection is as moral as it is legal. Why leave the party that brought you to office and still retain the position? Having defected from PRP to NPP, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi resigned as Kano governor “on moral ground” ahead of the 1983 elections. This issue of defection has to be legally resolved once and for all, possibly through a constitution amendment. I don’t like it but it has become part of our evolving political culture and maybe it should be fully permitted. Reality.

RUSSIAN ROULETTE

It is now time for me to confess that I never knew how important Russia was to global economy until its war against Ukraine started. I knew Russia to be a big supplier of oil and gas to Europe but I never thought the country had any impact on food prices — until I started reading recently that it is a major exporter of wheat. The sanctions mean the prices of bread and noodles will go up in Nigeria because we import wheat from Russia. It is also a major producer of inputs into fertilizers, so we cannot escape higher food prices, coming at a time the world is still recovering from COVID-19. Soaring oil prices are, meanwhile, hurting homes and threatening global economy. Snookered.

WEIGHTY EIGHTY

Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), recently marked his 80th birthday to wide acclaim. It was well deserved. The former university teacher, who holds a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Lagos, is many things to many people, but one interesting thing I find quite commendable about his ministry is how he has managed to bring millions across denominations and even across religions under one roof at the monthly Holy Ghost night. He has also managed to stay out of scandals in a terrain full of booby traps and landmines. I wish him a longer, healthier and more fruitful life ahead. Felicitations.

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