By Owei Lakemfa
The girl-child for many years suffered discrimination on education. Girls were those kept at home while their brothers went to school. This was especially the case when school fees had to be paid. Rather than be at school, she was asked to help with the home, farm and sell at the market. Many families thought there was no need investing in a girl’s education when she will end up in her husband’s house procreating and continuing the circle of life. In fact some argued that the girl would ultimately change her name and would not continue the family linage which under the patriarchal society, only the male child can guarantee.
The struggle to change these perceptions has been long and tortuous and many are still unconvinced. As a result, many of our mothers in the 1940s to the early 70s were barely literate in Western education. Today, the titanic battles to educate the girl-child are still on with some parents using the cover of tradition and religion to deny her education. The phenomenon of underage marriage is still very much with us. So the battle to educate the girl-child is on. That is why the kidnap of 276 girls from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Bornu State in the night of April 14-15, 2014 was even more tragic as more parents would think it better that the girl-child remains at home rather than become the target of terrorists. Exhibiting a belief by some that the woman is no different from any other commodity, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau gleefully announced that he had sold off some of the Chibok girls. Although 57 of the girls escaped while being transported into servitude and quite a number were released in 2016 and last year, a significant number remain in captivity used mainly as sex slaves.
Tragically, on Monday February 19, 2018, the terrorists raided another girls school, the Government Girls Science and Technology College, Dapchi, Yobe State leaving 110 girls unaccounted and presumed kidnapped.
All these will have negative effects on the campaign to get the girl-child educated. As the world commemorates the International Women’s Day on March 8, let us in Nigeria focus on the Chibok and Dapchi school girls who have been frog jumped into premature adulthood; fearing for their lives, uncertain of a future, forced into marriages with men of bestial instincts and not certain if they will ever see their loved ones again or ever return home. Let us spare a thought for their parents who in sending their children to school hoped for a better future for them only to have them kidnapped and their lives endangered. Let us think of the trauma the girls’ siblings and loved ones are going through.
Let us praise the men and women who have made concerted efforts to free the girls. Especially those of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group led by Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili who have campaigned tirelessly for the girls to be brought back home. They are the ones who continue to prick our conscience and ensure the issue remains on the front burner despite harassment.
They remind me of the conscientious people who in the 1980s and 90s under the Women In Nigeria (WIN) group campaigned vigorously for women rights, end to discrimination against women, for girl-child education and an equitable country based on social justice. They worked tirelessly to defend the rights of women, fought against the abuse of women and combat sexist stereotypes. Leading lights of that movement included Ayesha Imam, Altine Muhammed, Ify Iweriebor, Nema Ngur, Ngozi Iwere, Theresa Nweke, Ladi Olorunyomi and Professors Bene Madunagu and Molara Ogundipe-Leslie. There were men in WIN like Dr. Jibo Ibrahim who is also a member of the BBOG group.
The WIN women are worthy successors to a long line of Nigerian women who in colonial and the immediate post-colonial era made a difference. Women like Adunni Oluwole who in 1936 broke away from the established church to become an itinerant preacher with a keen sense of social justice. She came into national limelight when she supported the first general strike in the country, the 1945 Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) Strike. Although not a worker herself, she mobilized for the strike, donated money for it and cooked for the striking workers. She also has the distinction of being the first woman to establish a political party when on May 29, 1954,she founded the Nigeria Commoners’ Liberal Party in Mushin, Lagos with the aim of chasing away the colonialists and enthroning commoners especially workers, in power rather than the elite politicians whom she did not trust. She died within three years. Although she lost the legislative elections, her party’s candidate, D.l.G. Olateju won the Osun North (Ikirun) Constituency Seat,
Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was another leading nationalist who fought the colonialists and asserted the right of women. She led an estimated 50,000 women to resist paying tax to the British colonialists, and fought for the right of Nigerians to free movement including their right to visit Socialist countries without repercussions. There was Hajia Gambo Sawaba who fought for the rights of the poor and went to jail sixteen times for her political activism, especially for her uncompromising struggle against feudalism. She was a vigorous campaigner against child marriage. Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, was a consummate social mobiliser who stood her ground in the colonial and First Republic politics especially in the East which was dominated by powerful men like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike and Michael Okpara.
Historically, Nigerian women have never shied away from making fundamental contributions to the development of society even if they had to sacrifice their lives or those of their loved ones. There was Inkpi, the Igala Princess who offered to be buried alive to save her people from being colonized. There was Moremi from Offa who saved Ile- Ife from constant raids. She consulted Esinminrin the water goddess promising to give whatever prize the goddess required if it helped the Ifes. She discovered the secret of the invaders which led to their defeat. When she returned to fulfill her vow, the goddess demanded her most prized possession, her son, Oluorogbo. Like the Biblical story of Abraham who offered his son for sacrifice, Moremi in deep sorrow, offered her son. Until this day, a seven-day festival, Edi is held in her honour.
Queen Kambasa Edimini was the first woman to rule a Niger Delta kingdom when she ruled the Bonny Kingdom. She established a formidable army whom she personally led.
On this occasion of the 2018 International Women’s Day, let us give a thought to these Nigerian girls and women who have had to suffer or make sacrifices for our communities and country’s development.
Lakemfa a Senior Journalist, and labour activist lives in Lagos