X-raying Kwara’s Historic Signing of Gender Parity Bill

By Mashood, Abdulrafiu Agboola

Gov AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State

“Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by Allah over women and tasked with supporting them financially. And righteous women are devoutly obedient and, when alone, protective of what Allah has entrusted them with..” (Qur’an 4:34).

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one’s estate. And if there is only one, for her it is half….. ” (Qur’an 4:11)

The foregoing verses of the holy book – Qur’an form a part of what an average man lays claim to in justifying why women can never stand shoulder to shoulder with them over what I consider the eligibility for social justice. It is also a belief or criticism that lasts for generations, consequent upon which women have become victims of gender discrimination and thus under-represented in economic and political decision-making circles.

Accordingly, a wife is expected to be submissive and respectful to her spouse, who, in turn, has a duty to take charge of the welfare of the former and the entire household. These are mutual obligations that largely seek to protect a matrimony. The second verse, which borders on inheritance and whereby men are requested to get outranking benefits from the sharing formula, also results in men generalizing it to limit the women’s chances in the outer World. God, the most knowledgeable, whose words are quoted, is very specific.

But something appears confusing here, and unless the word – womanhood is dissected, scarcely will an average man see a woman from a broader perspective. Who is a woman, if I may ask? A woman, like a man, is the gender that wears many hats. She is either a daughter, or sister, or colleague, or mother, or principal. Her title changes according to the immediate age and status. As such, she has obligations (social, economic and political) and expectations to deal with.

But her predicament sets in when she assumes or is in the process of assuming a principalship position, or where to make her voice heard or her person relevant. And this opposition mostly arises from her male counterpart. A reason why the feminists continue to regard men as superiority complex theorists.

Another hypothesis in the men’s disposal is that women are categorized as a feeble sex on account of their physical make-up, and not spirited, thereby considered to be lacking the required capacity to manage kinetic works. Yes, it may not be debatable that women are not as physically strong as men. That, to me, should have nothing to do with their intellectual capacity by which to sail the ocean that ultimately depends on motive power.

The funniest part of the criticism is that not only are men guilty of this unfair treatment, there are also women who, out of ignorance or myopia, align themselves with “the critics’.This is typical of what is termed – enemies from within.

Dr. AbdulRahman Ahmed, National Missioner of Ansar-u-deen Muslims Society of Nigeria, in his recent depraise of how female gender is being ranked low in the society, said and I quote – “As a people of faiths, we do not need to create artificiality (man-made).

There are enough inherent safeguards and provisions in Islam to ensure that women take their rightful places. It is not a competition because there is nowhere in the Quran that Allah mentions men without mentioning women. There can be no men without women.”

At the 4th World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (China) in September 1995, the conveners – United Nations – beckoned 12 key areas where urgent action was needed to ensure greater equality and opportunities for women and men, girls and boys. The UN also laid out concrete ways for countries to bring about change.

27 years down the line, however, the resolutions are still hanging in the air or slow in motion. The level of their implementation across the member countries including Nigeria is on the low side. What a setback!

The guilt of lollygagging Beijing’s 35% affirmative action for women may not have been informed by assimilation problem. It is a question on political will on the part of the leadership class, Kawai!

Very distinguishably, Kwara state recently carved a niche for herself by championing the course, thanks to the team captain Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who took the bull by the horns. Held on December 7, 2021 at the state Stadium Complex, Governor AbdulRazaq assented to an executive bill – Political Offices (Gender Composition) Bill 2021, which seeks to institutionalize at least 35% consideration for women in any appointment carried out by the state government.

The signing came as a part of the 2-legged ceremony – National Women’s Conference, which the state government hosted to celebrate women folk. A number of prominent women were conferred with awards of excellence at the state Stadium Complex in Ilorin, venue of the programme, that was themed: “Cracking the Glass Ceiling: the Story of Kwara Women”. It was such a large social gathering encamped with lots of heavyweights, and which made the Governor’s gesture the talking point across Nigeria and in the international community.

The bill (now a law) is arguably the first of its kind in the country that places a ceiling below which the government cannot go in appointment of either gender for public offices, according to the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary Rafiu Ajakaye.

In attendance were the representative of the wife of the President Dr. Rukayat Gurin; Kwara First Lady Ambassador Mrs. Olufolake AbdulRazaq; Women Affairs Minister Dame Pauline Tallen; Ekiti First Lady Mrs. Bisi Fayemi and several governors’ wives; Senators from the three senatorial districts of Kwara and House of Representatives members from the state; the Ilorin born business tycoon, Mrs. Bola Shagaya; former acting Governor of CBN Sarah Alade; National Missioner Ansar-u-deen Muslim Society of Nigeria, Dr. AbdulRahman Ahmad; Founder/CEO Sokoa Chair Centre and keynote speaker Mrs. Ibukun Awosika.

Rt. Hon.Yakubu Danladi-Salihu, the Speaker Kwara state House of Assembly led members of the House to the event which was also attended by cabinet members. The State Traditional Council Chairman and the Emir of Ilorin Dr. Ibrahim Zulu-Gambari (CFR) led a legion of first class Emirs and Obas to the event that also attracted a global audience such as the United Nations Women Representative to Nigeria/ECOWAS Comfort Lamptey; ambassadors; and others.

Among the awardees that day are former Chief Judge Raliat Elelu-Habeeb; Mrs Sarah Jubril; financial guru and former Lagos Finance Commissioner Mrs Foluke Abdulrazaq; Mrs Sarah Alade; business tycoon Bola Shagaya; Senator Khairat Gwadabe; first female HOS in Kwara Zarah Omar; former Deputy Vice Chancellor of University of Ilorin Prof Sidikat Ijaya; media veteran Hajia Eyitayo Mairo Mustapha; and the Onila/Agindigbi women who built schools.

Both King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (KWAM 1) and youth-pleasing Teni Makanaki are the major artists that glitzed the venue and heightened the fun at the youth-controlled assembly.

AbdulRazaq’s latest handout on the feminism course is another intrigue of his administration that might not have shocked his students particularly those who keenly follow his preliminaries regarding the concept of gender inclusion.

One recalls the Governor’s first cabinet composition, with 9 women out of the sixteen commissioners appointed then. This uncommon ratio was trailed by heat of criticism especially from embittered men, who are used to getting the larger share and consequently regarded that as alien. According to the critics, the state could not afford to have most of its public offices dominantly stewarded by women, the gender of which they reportedly called weak, flexible and not ripe (age factor) for that responsibility.

All this, to AbdulRazaq, seemed to be distractive, as he was observably not remorseful for taking such decisions nor has he altered his game plan. Aside from the cabinet position, he also appointed 50% female permanent secretaries and many other key government positions that are headed by women.

At a particular engagement the Governor had with visitors that time, he seized that opportunity to clear the air. He explained that his action (appointment of more women) was sequel to the conviction he had about women – being rather intelligent, zealous and goal-driven to work with.

This, by and large, later paid off on December 15, 2020, when Governor AbdulRazaq’s unique approach prompted his decoration for the United Nation- backed ‘He-for-She’ Award. Nigeria’s Minister for Women Affairs Dame Pauline Tallen carried out this on behalf of the federal government in appreciation of the Governor’s decisive push to give women a louder voice.

While justifying his recent action, the Governor said the recognition and the step to mainstream women in public service were the least the administration could do for the hard working women as a way of inspiring the girl child.

He said, “women are so critical to human civilization. They are just as brilliant, innovative, and smart as men. They are the largest voting demographic in Nigeria. Yet, they are often absent or unfairly represented when policies and programmes that shape everything concerning them and their families are designed. This needs a rethink.”

“Nevertheless, the gains we have made in Kwara in mainstreaming gender parity in appointments could easily be reversed by anyone. We have therefore decided to give a legal cover for gender parity in Kwara State, no matter what party is in power. I have therefore assented to the Kwara State Political Offices (Gender Composition) Bill 2021.

“A unique feature of this legislation is that no gender class shall henceforth have below 35% representation in the State Executive Council,” he added.

Describing it as a new chapter for an inclusive political system in Kwara State and Nigeria as a whole, the Governor said It became imperative to take such a bold step to deepen the growth of Nigerian political culture, adding that no segment of the society should be absent or underrepresented in the decision making process.

He recalled, many heroic efforts of women have contributed to the growth of the state, saying the conference was organised to single them out for special commendations.

“This is a moment to specially appreciate all of you Kwara women for the great things that you stand for”.

Nigeria’s First Lady who was represented by the Senior Special Assistant on Administration and Women Affairs Dr. Rukayat Gurin called on all states in Nigeria to emulate AbdulRazaq in promoting the welfare of women for overall development of Nigeria.

“You are a true partner to women and you are doing well to advance the course of women. We are all testimonies to the historic story of Kwara women under you,” she said.

She commended Governor AbdulRazaq for giving opportunities to women to thrive.

Kwara’s First Lady, Olufolake AbdulRazaq explained that the event is to inspire the average Kwara woman to leverage the women-friendly initiatives of the state government to chart progressive course for themselves and be active participants in the processes of governance for the development of their immediate communities and the nation.

“While today’s event is essentially to bring to the fore the impacts women can make when given a fair competitive chance in all spheres of endeavor, this convergence also provides the opportunity to celebrate women especially Kwara women who have carved a niche for themselves in their respective callings while giving assurances through the gender inclusive disposition of the Administration of the Governor of Kwara State His Excellency Abdulrazaq that there is no limit to the dream and aspirations of every woman and girl, irrespective of their religion or socio cultural leanings.”

“This event also stands to commemorate the United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which started on the 25th of November,” she added.

Dame Paulen said the formation of AbdulRazaq’s women-dominated cabinet is remarkably unique, adding the event further underlined the Governor’s efforts at improving the lot of women in national development.

She lauded the Governor’s wife for supporting his husband to cause a meaningful change in the history of the state.

She added: “It is most gratifying to join this event organised to celebrate the socio-cultural, economic and political contributions of women in Kwara State. It is on record that Kwara started cracking the glass ceiling in 2019 with the landmark appointments, where he appointed 9 women out of 16 commissioners into the state Executive Council.”

In her keynote address, Founder/CEO Sokoa Chair Centre Mrs Ibukun Awosika congratulated the Governor for being exceptional and a pacesetter in allowing the girl child to be a major part of the political and economic aspect of the state.

“Kwara State is a good example of states that understand the value inherent in women. Kwara has shown that it has women who have gone through many fields and every corner of this state and Nigeria,” she said.

“Nothing is wrong with you being a girl or woman. We need to appreciate and use every resource that we have to our advantage. We must educate every girl and empower women. I want to call on every young girl, as long as you have a brain and you are educated, there is nothing you can’t do because of your gender.

“Women are compassionate and care more about community. We need women and men to work together collaboratively. Women are not seeking to replace men but to work together for the development of society.”

Going by this outpouring of commendations for AbdulRazaq’s singular act it is safe to describe such as his government’s lofty gift to the female gender in the state, who, from time immemorial, are victims of social injustice otherwise called gender disparity.

Agboola is Deputy Chief Press Secretary, Government House Ilorin.