By Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President 1999 – 2007 & son of late Aisha Kande,
Like in every upwardly mobile society, the story of our great country, Nigeria, cannot be complete without the contribution of our amazing women. Either in contemporary times or in those periods when the bonds of our nationhood was being forged, Nigerian women have stood tall to be counted as worthy patriots.
Once in a year, the world comes together to acknowledge the vital importance of women in the society. This day, the 8thof March is the day set aside for that purpose. Since the Almighty God in His infinite wisdom has created our humanity in a binary form, the essence of this day, therefore, is for men and boys alike, to celebrate those women in our lives for the wonderful roles that they continue to play as mothers, wives, sisters, cousins. And leaders too.
But the significance of International Women’s Day should not be reduced to merely celebrating the woman. It is much more than that. It is an opportunity for us as a human race to take the advocacy for an empowerment of the half of us to the front burner.
I owe a lot of what I have become in life to God and to my late mother, Hajiya Aisha Kande. I lost my father at an early age. So, essentially, I am a product of single parentage by my mother. But there are many Aisha Kande, whose daily stories of toil and labour to raise promising children have remained unsung. Both as supporting partners to their husbands or widows like my late mother, those successful women who endured all odds to educate their children in character and in learning are the real heroes that we celebrate today.
By their successes, they have shown to the world that given an opportunity, the woman can prove her mettle in a position of leadership, either in politics or business.
And that is where the theme for the year’s International Women’s Day, “Gender Equality Today, for A Sustainable Tomorrow”, becomes relevant.
The theme leads us to an important pointer that the synopsis for a sustainable future of our humanity must concede some power and responsibilities to women.
Whether we talk about the problem of climate change or the problem of mass illiteracy that continues to manifest as existential problem of out-of-school children in Nigeria; or be it the problem of primary healthcare accessibility and, even, terrorism – finding a sustainable solution to these problems will compulsorily start by giving education to the girl-child and impulsively require that we take the issue of Affirmative Action more seriously.
It is only when we educate the girl-child that we can begin to have a hope that the next generation will be better equipped to confront many, if not all of the problems that beset our world today. So, granting gender equality is not a want for our world. It is a need! And it is a decision that we have to take now!
In my private capacity as an investor in education, the American University of Nigeria, which I happen to be the founder, has since its inception in 2014, giving priority to girl-child education, and particularly espousing initiatives that continue to take formal education to the streets, affording vulnerable children access to learning in Arithmetic and English Language. Through these initiatives, the AUN has registered some level of improvement in mass literacy in the North-East area of Nigeria.
That is why all through my career in politics – either in government or in the opposition – I have led a consistent campaign for upward review of budgetary allocation to education. A lot about what we need to do about gender equality rests within the corridor of policy formulation at the governmental level. It is disheartening that just recently, the national legislature in Nigeria threw away the baby with the bathwater by a sweeping rejection of some proposals that will give women some advantages in the current constitution review exercise, I believe that the civil societies must continue to lobby both the executive and legislative arms of government in driving home the agenda. The process could be incremental, but we must never get our hands off the cart.
Once again, I congratulate all women the world over on this special day, and I also use the opportunity offered by this day to make a plea to government and relevant non-governmental actors to sustain the advocacy for gender equality towards guaranteeing a sustainable tomorrow for our world.