As Anambra Shows the Way in Female Empowerment

As Anambra Shows the Way in Female Empowerment

By Azuka Onwuka

Senator Uche Ekwunife

The International Women’s Day for 2019 was on Friday, March 8. A day later on Saturday, March 9, Nigerians held the second part of her elections. However, two weeks earlier when the presidential and National Assembly elections held in Nigeria, something interesting happened in Anambra State. Two out of the three senatorial seats were won by women. Senator Stella Oduah won the senatorial seat of Anambra North, while Senator Uche Ekwunife, won the senatorial seat of Anambra Central. Both ladies were elected Senators in 2015. This is a feat no state in Nigeria has recorded.

In Anambra South, another woman, Mrs Bianca Ojukwu, had tried late last year to emerge the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, but was unsuccessful. Imagine if she had got the APGA ticket and won the senatorial seat! That would have been another record: three female senators from one state.

Out of the 109 Senators (from Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory) inaugurated in June 2015 into the 8th National Assembly, only six were women: Uche Ekwunife, Stella Oduah, Rose Okoji Oko, Fatimat Raji Rasaki, Oluremi Tinubu and Binta Garba. Interestingly, two of them are from Anambra State, meaning that only Anambra State produced 33 percent of the female Senators.

The repeated election of these two female senators this year was a big boost to female empowerment in Nigeria. These amazons were voted for in contests which involved prominent male political figures. And that these positions were not given out to them as tokens was also heart-warming.

In spite of the progress made across the world to bridge the gap between men and women, it is still difficult for many people to accept women as their leaders. For example, despite the high level of modernity and equality achieved in the United States of America, a woman has never been voted in as president. Happily countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Pakistan, have broken that barrier.

Anambra State has shown that it is obviously the most woman-friendly state in Nigeria. These are not the only women that have been elected as Senators in Anambra State. Chief Mrs Joy Emodi from Anambra North had been Senator twice during the 5th Assembly (2003 to 2007) and 6th Assembly (2007 and 2011). In 2011, Lady Margery Chuba-Okadigbo was elected Senator in Anambra North. In 2015 the battle for legislative representation of Anambra North Senatorial District was between two women: Chuba-Okadigbo, who was the incumbent, and Stella Oduah, former Minister of Aviation. Oduah edged out Chuba-Okadigbo. That same year, Uche Ekwunife was also elected Senator in Anambra Central.

Anambra also has the record of producing the first female governor of a state in Nigeria in 2006: Dame Virgy Etiaba. Some may argue that she was not elected as governor, but that is false. As the running-mate of Mr Peter Obi, both of them were voted for as governor and deputy governor respectively. When Obi was illegally impeached as governor of Anambra State, Etiaba was sworn in as governor of the state. Having anticipated that a governor could resign, die or get impeached, the Constitution had created the position of the deputy governor to fill that gap when such a situation arises. That was also how Dr Goodluck Jonathan became the President of Nigeria in 2010.

Senator Stella Oduah

Currently, of the three arms of government in Anambra State, women are “manning” two. While Governor Willie Obiano is the head of the Executive, Chief Mrs Rita Maduagwu is head of the Legislature as the Speaker of the House of Assembly; and Justice Ijem Onwuamaegbu is the head of the Judiciary as the Acting Chief Judge of the State. Obiano made history recently by appointing Onwuamaegbu as the first female Chief Judge of the State.

In the current Obiano’s cabinet, there is good representation by the women. Among the commissioners are: 1. Prof Kate Omenugha, Commissioner for Basic Education; 2. Prof Theresa Nkechi Obiekezie, Commissioner for Tertiary Education; 3. Lady Ndidi Mezue, Commissioner for Women Affairs and Children’s Welfare; 4. Dr Mrs Imelda Uju Nwogu, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice; 5. Mrs Sally Mbanefo, Commissioner for Indigenous Artworks, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs. There are also special advisers like: 1. Dr Mrs Amaka Akudo, Special Adviser on Continuous Voters Registration; 2. Mrs Pat Igwebuike, Special Adviser on Legal Matters; 3. Mrs Vera Okonkwo, Special Adviser on Chieftaincy and Community Affairs.

It should also be remembered that Anambra State has produced some prominent female personalities like Chief Mrs Margaret Ekpo from Aguluzigbo, who was elected into the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961; Prof Dora Akunyili, a former Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as well as Minister of Information; Dr Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education; Mrs Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Olympic medallist; Ms Ebele Okeke,  first female Head of Nigerian Civil Service; Ms Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, popular novelist, and a host of others.

Is it accidental that the state has produced this array of amazons? No. It did not happen by chance. It has been nurtured over the decades. Anambra people, like most Igbo people, give preference to girl-child education. If an Anambra man with four children (two girls and two boys) does not have enough resources to fund the education of all his children, he will make the boys to end their education after senior secondary school or even junior secondary school. He will send the boys to other business men as apprentices and train the girls through the university.

The reasoning behind this is that it is believed that even without university education, a man can survive and excel in life, but a woman without university education is disadvantaged, because it is believed that women should do white-colour jobs. Sometimes, the first son of the family, having started his own business, joins in training his sisters through the university. Furthermore, when men marry young girls who have no university degree, they embark on the journey of training them through the university. The men feel proud that even though they do not have a secondary school certificate or a university degree, their wives have chains of degrees. Since the women usually take care of the children’s revision of school work, the men believe that the women need to be properly equipped to impact knowledge on their children.

Secondly, rather than seeing their wives as only good as housewives, these men support them to pursue their dreams. They do not see their wives as rivals. Most men make it clear to suitors that their daughters should not be kept at home as housewives after all the education they have received.

Thirdly, the women are seen as delicate and priceless. A man would prefer to wear rags but have his wife beautifully dressed. A man may drive a rickety car but ensures that his wife’s car looks good. If a woman looks unkempt and unhappy, the man is ridiculed as incapable of taking care of his wife. The man sees his wife as his glory.

The result is that right from the cradle, Anambra women are bold, career-driven and success-driven. The Anambra society also does not look down on women as incapable of doing what men can do. So it is not difficult to appoint them or elect them into offices, with the firm belief that their gender is not an impediment to their expected performance.

It is gratifying that in spite of the chauvinistic African environment, some positive steps are being taken in the empowerment of the girl-child and the female gender as a whole in Anambra State. Anambra is, therefore, living up to her motto as the “Light of the Nation.” It is also important that these women in authority should ensure that they excel, so as not to give naysayers any opportunity to fight against the achievements recorded in women’s empowerment.

It is something to be emulated and replicated across the states. It is also a challenge to Nigeria to look in the direction of women for national leadership, since men have not succeeded in transforming the country after six decades of being at the helm.

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