Monday, 26 November 2012

Nigerian Women and Democracy

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines democracy as “government by the people”, one in which “supreme power is vested in the people and exercise by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”. It defines politics as “the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy” or “concerned with winning and holding control over a government”. However, when leaders focus on winning and holding control over government instead of providing good governance, one has to wonder why? Shouldn’t politics be a tool for democracy? Is holding control more important to our leaders than progress? How can Nigerian women influence the current trend of politics over democracy? 

Growing up, we were told of the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 where thousands of women from different ethnic groups in the then South-Protectorate protested against injustice by the British government and their indigenous representatives. The government had instituted a new law to tax women and this was the last straw that led to the revolt by women already fed up with a system that took way more than it gave. They did not have blackberries then, but they employed smart communication systems to mobilize participants and ensure that their voices were heard and their demands met. Records have it that they sent palm fronds as invitations to women from neighboring regions and also used “sitting”, a practice of imitating every move made by an individual so as to force the individual to pay attention. 

Then we have Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who contributed immensely to education and law in Nigeria.  She rallied protest against price controls which were negatively impacting women merchants in Abeokuta and also against native authorities, one of which led to a temporary resignation by the Alake of Egbaland. She oversaw the successful abolition of separate tax rates for women, and also engaged in organizing workshops to help women who were not literate. 

Mrs. Ransome-Kuti and the women of the Aba riot refused to allow the political climate of their time influence their decision to fight for women’s rights. These women lived in a time when Nigeria was ruled by the British, so Nigeria was not under a democracy as we know it today, and one can assume it was not a period when the government embraced free speech. However, they stood up for what they believed and changed history. 

Today’s women are equally capable. Democracy is not limited to a few government positions, though we need more great women to fill such roles. Nigerian women must come together and seek an end to the injustice in our society. We have a lot of untapped experience and potential that is needed for Nigeria to progress, and we at Delta Women seek to encourage our women to stand up and speak up for progress.

Written by Obiomachi Madukoma.

Women in African Colonial Histories. Geiger, S., Musisi N., Allman, J. Indiana University Press, 2002 (p. 260 – 281).

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