2019: Why women’s matter matters

Posted by News Express | 24 October 2018 | 1,752 times

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Recently, I strolled into one of the key offices in the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a singular matter for constructive dialogue with a friend who is a senior aide of President Muhammadu Buhari.

My concern was on the lack of observation by the mainstream political parties of the policy framework that greeted the 1995 Fourth United Nations women conference in the Chinese capital of Beijing, which basically recommended certain percentages of women inclusion in all aspects of political governance globally. Of the 17 key goals under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), number five demanded gender equality in terms of appointments into decision-making process.  Given the lack of adherence by the major political parties to the basic imperative of observing gender mainstreaming in deciding aspirants to run for public offices in the forthcoming election, I was seriously worried by the decline in the number of women that emerged from the fratricidal warfare that was termed party primaries of the two major political platforms: the All Progressives Congress (APC) and leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Of the two national parties, only the All Progressives Congress picked very insignificant percentage of women aspirants for the available slots in the forthcoming elections in 2019. Adamawa has two women who got tickets to stand for office of senators out of the three slots. On the other hand, the Peoples Democratic Party, which for over a decade respected the mainstreaming of women participation in governance, unfortunately did very badly. 

Take, for instance, the Federal Government administered by Dr Goodluck Jonathan between 2011 and 2015, made sure that women got a greater chunk of the top-flight federal appointments. Women got 33 per cent of top appointments made by the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, according to a statistics made available by the Nigerian Institute of Management. 

Women, for instance, headed both the petroleum and the national economy portfolio for the duration of Jonathan’s era. He also gave unfettered opportunities to his wife to engage constructively in pro-women projects which, to a very large extent, achieved a lot of mileages for the advancement of the rights of women and children. The current government of Muhammadu Buhari is reported to have offered only a paltry 19 per cent of such appointments to women, which is like 50 per cent decline from the benchmark set by the immediate past administration, as noted by Prof Olukunle Iyanda, president of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM). Indeed, the NIM accused President Buhari's administration of sidelining women. 

Ironically, the list of those to run for elective offices in the coming election among the women members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party has significantly declined compared to the All Progressives Congress which is accused of marginalising women.

The All Progressives Congress looks set to present more women to run for offices than any other political party of national significance. For instance, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) schemed out the wife of the renowned legend, Ikemba Igboland, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Mrs Bianca Ojukwu was rigged out of the senatorial primary in Anambra State by a political party that rode on the good name of her late husband to gain tremendous acceptance among Ndigbo. Such deliberate scheming out of women by political parties preparatory to the 2019 poll is worrisome.  

So this friend I went to see in the Presidency also expressed shock and disappointment with the turn of events which, according to her, will not augur well for the advocacy for gender equity in governance that has gone on in Nigeria for so long. She was rather sad that Nigeria, instead of making progress in this area, has suddenly declined. She referred yours truly to the practice in Rwanda, where women make up over 50 per cent representation in the parliament.

While still lamenting over the unfolding scenario, yours truly flipped through a copy of the day’s newspaper and saw a very sad story about a couple in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, who sold their week-old baby-boy for N200, 000 to a human trafficking syndicate, so they can relocate from a part of Ngwa land in Abia State to Port Harcourt in Rivers State, or any other urban centre.

The couple, who hail from Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Area, confessed to the crime, saying it was hard times that forced them into the decision.

Narrating her part in the deal, the wife said: “I have given birth to four children, one is late. I have two now. So when I became pregnant I told my husband that we would sell the baby and use the money to relocate from my village to township to start a better life. He refused, but I forced him into agreeing with my plan.

“My husband is a labourer, he is a wheelbarrow pusher. I owe debts everywhere and I needed to settle them. So, we sold the baby for N200, 000; but I later learnt the baby was sold for N500, 000.”Her husband, Richard added: “We were owing N10, 000 and the hardship was too much for us to bear. I went round seeking for help, but no help came. We wanted to relocate to the township for a chance of a better life: that was why we sold the baby to enable us raise money and rent an apartment in the city.”

Parading the suspects alongside other seven child traffickers at the IGP complex in Aluu, Ikwere Local Government Area of Rivers State, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the IGP Monitoring Team, DCP Benneth Igwe, disclosed that the team rescued six pregnant women and arrested seven child traffickers in connection with the business.

He said: “Based on reliable intelligence, about a notorious child trafficking cartel operating in Obigbo-Afam in Oyigbo Local Government Area, and Omagwa, Aluu, the operatives burst into Afrique Hotel in Oyigbo and rescued six pregnant women awaiting delivery.

“The hotel is used as a harbinger by suspected child traffickers. Information further revealed that on October 7, the victims, one Richard Benson and his wife, Chidinma Benson, delivered a baby-boy at Grace Land Maternity Homes, Afam Obigbo.

“The maternity is owned by a quack nurse called Grace Daniel. After delivery, the parents were paid N200, 000 by one Mrs. Rose Onyia and the baby was later sold to Mrs Eucharia Jaja of Omagwa for N500, 000. Thereafter, the baby was resold by Mrs Jaja to her potential client in Lagos. Operatives are on a trail to recover the baby.

“The cartel pays N150, 000 for a girl-child and N200, 000 for a boy to the mother. The baby is later trafficked to an unknown destination for amounts between N1 million and N1.5 million,” he said. Meanwhile, another couple, Eucharia Ihunna, aged 48, and her husband confessed that they have been in the business for four years and have sold over four babies. 

Not long ago an ugly story also trended about the sexual slavery of Nigerian girls to some European nations, just as international news channels found a notorious forest in France whereby Nigerian girls who are trafficked into sexual slavery are engaged in forced prostitution.

The US-based Cable News Network reported last month about the discovery of the forest in France, adding that the trafficking of Nigerian women for prostitution began in the late 1980s, according to the UN, when women were sent to Italy and forced into sex work. Returning home, they became the “first generation of madams”. They, in turn, made other young women suffer as they did.

Aurélie Jeannerod, who works with NGO, Aux Captifs la Liberation, which visits and supports prostitutes in the Bois de Vincennes and other parts of Paris, says there are also men involved with the networks.

Happy Iyenoma, a.k.a Mama Alicia, the head of a Paris-based network called the Authentic Sisters, was jailed along with her husband Hilary in May. They were both sentenced to 10 years in prison for charges including human trafficking. In total, 15 members of the network were found guilty of trafficking roughly 50 women. A charity that was a civil party in the case said one of the victims alleged the network assaulted her parents in Nigeria in 2015. She claimed her father died of his injuries.

In France, the maximum sentence for human trafficking is life imprisonment. But their juju oath forbids the women from speaking to authorities, making it more difficult for police to take down the networks. Some of the women on the street have asylum documents, said Jeannerod. Besides, “The people who are doing the real business, the real human traffickers, are in Africa, said Nadège. "

The head of the Paris police department in charge of prostitution and trafficking described the difficulties in fighting the crime. "As soon as you dismantle a network, you see the effect in the street," he told CNN, "but that only lasts, at most, 24 hours, because we create a vacuum for another network to set up."

What the two stories relayed above show is that Nigeria is experiencing unquantifiable degree of problems associated with promoting, protecting and nurturing the human rights of Nigerian women and babies.

This, therefore, dovetails into the next area of concern: which is the necessity for demanding from all aspirants to political offices in the coming election to swear to  court affidavit, explaining to the electorate what programmes and achievable projects and timelines they would implement in the next four years, if they are elected with specific and unique reference to addressing the fundamental developmental issues affecting women and children. 

If truth be told, the current government has not done well in the area of protecting the human rights of women and children. Women and children have in the last three years suffered the most from the numerous criminal acts of terrorism and bloody violence unleashed by armed bandits, including armed Fulani herdsmen. Also, the different levels of government administrations have yet to vigorously implement and enforce laws against human trafficking and the emerging phenomenon of “baby factories”.

On the issue of healthcare for women, it is a notorious fact that most public hospitals are dysfunctional, even as Nigerian women have become victims of maternal deaths. The Guardian of London recently reported this ugly incident of high maternal mortality of Nigerian women.

According to the latest UN global estimates, 303,000 women a year die in childbirth, or as a result of complications arising from pregnancy. This equates to about 830 women dying each day: roughly one every two minutes. The majority of deaths are from conditions that could have been prevented had women  received the right medical care throughout their pregnancy period and during birth. Severe bleeding and infections after childbirth are the biggest killers, but high blood pressure, obstructed labour and unsafe abortions all contribute.

Accurate maternal mortality figures require strong in-country data collection, which is often unavailable in developing countries, so the number of deaths is likely to be under-reported. The overwhelming majority of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. About two-thirds of all maternal deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria and India alone account for one-third of global deaths.

The maternal mortality ratio in the world’s least developed countries stands at 436 deaths for every 100,000 live births, which is in stark contrast to the corresponding number of 12 in developed countries.

In 2001, UN member states agreed on the millennium development goals, which included a call for the number of maternal deaths to be cut by three-quarters by 2015. While the MDGs boosted efforts, the goal was not met in the countries with the highest death rates. In fact, it was the target that made the slowest progress. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 1990 and 2005, maternal mortality rates decreased by an average of 2.3 per cent a year: way below the 5.5 per cent needed to achieve the MDGs. And now the decline seems to have plateaued.

The Nigeria electorate should, therefore, demand clear pro-women agenda from candidates running for all offices in the 2019 elections. The presidential candidate who has the most-convincing pro-women agendum should be considered and voted for by the majority of Nigerians who are youngsters. Women, by the way, constitute over 50 per cent of Nigeria's current population, computed by standardised agencies locally and internationally. Women, therefore, should exercise their powers during the election to elect candidates whose blueprints include issues of women and children. 

This is precisely why civil society groups should mobilise Nigerian youngsters who have already enrolled to vote to resist the tendencies to mortgage their votes to the highest bidder, but should look at the developmental blueprints of each candidate before casting their votes in 2019. 

Recently, the United Nations population agency told us that majority of Nigerians are youngsters, going by the current statistical evidence. These youngsters must demand from political office-seekers a clearly implementable agenda for women and children. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that Nigeria’s population is 195.9 million at the moment; and that 76 per cent of Nigerians are between ages 0 to 24. In its state of world population report entitled “The power of choice: Reproductive rights and the demographic,” the UN agency added that 148.8 million Nigerians are under the age of 25.

The UN report goes in contrast with figures from the National Population Commission (NPC), which claimed that the country’s population was 198 million as early as April 2018.

The UNFPA report added that 44 per cent of Nigeria’s population is aged 0 to 14, while 32 per cent are aged 14 to 24. The UN agency also revealed that Nigeria has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, with less than 20 per cent of married women in urban areas using modern contraceptive method. In rural communities, less than 10 per cent of married women use a modern contraceptive method, the UNFPA affirmed, noting:

“No country can yet claim to have made reproductive rights a reality for all. Choices are limited for far too many women. And this means that there are still millions of people who are having more—or fewer—children than they would like to, with implications not only for individuals, but also for communities, institutions, economies, labour markets and entire nations.”

These are exact reasons why women’s matters must matter in the 2019 elections.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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