By Abdul Rahman Aliagan, Editor
The notion that women end their educational career in the kitchen has been largely described as trite and discriminatory.
The outdated belief, fashioned out of a gender-biased tradition, often do not apply to contemporary women as many are comfortably combining motherhood with careers.
They are able to do these successfully without one affecting the other. Indeed, the modern woman of this age has over time successfully survived and they are found at the top of the various careers in the society.
It is instructive to state that the contribution of women to the progress of any society can’t be ignored, as no society can develop without women’s contribution. In the contemporary time, women have refused to left behind in the affairs of the society as they now identify themselves with the socio-economic and political activities with sole aim of pursuing their common interest.
Today, Nigerian women have stood up to be counted in assuming important roles in the quest for socio economic development of their world.
Even, in the context of religion, both Islam and Christianity one time or the other featured the roles being played by women in their course growth and development as the story of Marry Magdalene.
From the Bible, one can conclude that Mary Magdalane was a leading figure among those attracted to Jesus Christ. When the men in that company abandoned him at the hour of mortal danger, she was one of the women who stayed with him, even to the Crucifixion. She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to preach the “Good News” of that miracle.
Also, during the time of Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), women played an important role in his religious career. According to Muslim sources, Khadijah was the first person Muhammad spoke to about his initial, terrifying experience of revelation. She consoled him and became the first convert to Islam. She remained a confidant and source of support throughout their entire marriage as she provided for Holy Prophet of Islam physical, economic and religious assistance.
There was also Aisha, the daughter of one of his closest companions. Aisha was betrothed to Muhammad while still a girl, but she remained in her parents’ home for several years until she reached puberty. Years later, when absent from Medina, Muhammad often recommended that, if religious questions arose, people should take them to his wife Aisha. After Muhammad’s death, Aisha became a main source of information about Muhammad, and on medicine and poetry as well.
Fatima, Muhammad’s daughters also played an important and influential role, both in his life and in the establishment of Islam. Most notable was his daughter, Fatima, who is still revered by all Muslims, particularly Shiite Muslims.
The historical illustrations drawn copiously from religious perceptions, are attesting to the fact that in the course of time, women played critical roles that cannot be ignored or wished away. From pre-colonial times to-date, the role of women in Nigeria have continuously evolved. However, proper recognition has not been accorded the various roles Nigerian women have played in the social, economic and political aspect of the nation throughout history.
In Nigeria’s contemporary history, mention have been made of some women of substance and noble character whose wealth, ingenuity and experience have contributed greatly to the socio-economic and political development of the country.
Among the prominent ones are late Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransom-Kuti, Madam Tinubu, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, Margareth Ekpo, Queen Moremi, Queen Amina and Flora Nwapa among many other women of note.
Hardly would the history of Nigeria be completed without mention being given to these great women.
Their contributions to the political and socio-economic well being of Nigeria is enormous and much greater than they are acknowledged for. Nigerian women are economic assets to their family and Society. The role of women in the family units made them indispensable entities in the struggle to survive against the harsh realities of time and tended to endow women with significant influence in their society. Nigerian women are sensitive, compassionate, understanding and empathetic. They are givers and nurturers of life.
Like a popular aphorism paints them, “Behind every great or successful man there stands a woman.” It could equally be argued that “behind the failure of a man there also stand a woman”. This tells much of the powerful roles wives play in the making or marring of their husbands.
Drawing from the contemporary political scene globally, the First Lady syndrome originated in United States of America and the functions of the first lady is expressly defined as the hostess of the White House and also in charge of all social and ceremonial activities of the White House.
As it is not constitutionally recognised as an elected office, the office operates without interfering or intervening in government official duties and politics, drawing sustenance rather from purely traditional and domestic values.
With Nigeria’s democracy developing alongside America’s template, the Office of the First Lady is expected to follow suit. It thus appeared in the recent times, that Office of the First Lady in Nigeria is assuming another phase of political development with practical involvement of the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, in politics, policy and programme of the nation.
The Nigerian Constitution does not create or recognize the office of the First Lady, yet official funding and staff have been allocated to first ladies of Nigeria since independence. From the First Republic to the present occupier of the office, they are so called and addressed as ”Her Excellency” starting from Flora Azikiwe, Victoria Aguyi-Ironsi, Victoria Gowon, Ajoke Muhammed, Esther Oluremi Obasanjo, Safinatu Buhari, these Nigerian first ladies have majorly confined themselves to traditional and domestic functions and didn’t flaunt themselves as official figures.
Noticeably, the flaunting the Office of the First Lady started with Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha, Stella Obasanjo while Turai Yar’Adua took the privilege her husband’s health crisis to introduce herself as de facto President in waiting.
Mrs Patience Jonathan took the office to another level, promoting prominence, flamboyance, extravagance and recklessness. The political drama in the preludes to the 2015 general elections and the subsequent ugly events that characterized Rivers State’s politics resulted saw the odious side of “ first ladism.’’
Some sense could therefore be gleaned President-elect, General Muhammadi Buhari’s resolve not to operate the Office of the First Lady without considering the fact of the significance roles the First Lady perform in socio-political and economic development in a decent society.
The president-elect’s position was hinged on the fact that “ the Nigerian Constitution does not in any way provide for the “office” of the First Lady.’’
He told Daily Trust in December 2014 that there would be no such office during his regime . “The First Lady is not in the constitution , so there is no official role for them.
Attesting to the fact that GMB is always in control, Mrs. Aisha Buhari also expressed support for her husband’s position while speaking during the inauguration of the All Progressives Congress ( APC ) Women Campaign Council in January.
“When my husband is elected as the president of this country, he will rule the country within the rule of law based on the constitution of the country ,” she said .
“If the office of the first lady is constitutionally recognized, he will not tamper with it but if it is not, that’s okay . For me I will perform my duties and role as the wife of the President of Nigeria traditionally, ” she said.
Obviously, Buhari’s position underscores the supremacy of the constitution and total respect for the rule of law.
It is necessary, however, to emphasise that the traditional role of the first lady can still be maintained in-line with the developed democracies such as America, United Kingdom, Canada among others.
Nigerian women have become a very strong constituency and therefore IT will be out of place to deny them their seeming flagbearer. The Office has evolved over the years and has become part of the Nigerian system. It is on record that Nigerian women look up to their first lady position to promote one pet project or the other.
Not minding the existence of the Ministry of women Affairs, first ladies easily identify with women at the grassroots, attend to the issues of women concern, particularly girl-child related cases. Nigerian women become more free to relate with First Ladies rather than passing through the bottlenecks of Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, States and Local government levels.
Without any ambiguity, the Office of first ladyship could be well operated without interference in governance, its traditional role could still be played with decency.
It has become an established fact that from the late Maryam Babangida who came up with Better Life Programme for Rural Women, Mariam Abacha with Family Support Programme (FSP), Justice Fati Abubakar’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), to late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo’s Child Care Trust (CCT) and Hajia Turai Yar’adua’s Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF) to the present Dame Patience Jonathan’s Aruera Foundation and Women for Change and Development Initiative (W4CDI), pet projects abound.
These women have one way or the other contributed to the cause of women, youth and children in Nigeria.
In compliance with the global trend, shutting down of the Office of the First Lady is likely to be understood as the breach of Beijing Declaration of Affirmative Action of women which seeks participation and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.
The office the First Lady should be restructured to create a peaceful, just and humane world based on human rights and fundamental freedom including the principle of equality for all people of all ages and from all walks of life.
To this end, broad-based and sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development would be promoted to sustain development and social justice.