FEATURE ARTICLE

Oyibo E. Odinamadu (Mrs.)Wednesday, February 15, 2006
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OBASANJO'S THREE ADMINISTRATIONS AND THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN NIGERIA


igerian women have been suffering under all sorts of disabilities of the denial of their human rights under the three administrations of President Obasanjo: 1986 - 1979; 1999 - 2003; 2003 - to the present. For instance, there are the disabilities of Childhood Marriage; Female Circumcision; Illiteracy; Not Enough Political Participation; Punitive Widowhood Practices; Trafficking of the Girl-child and male child; Etc.


In 1981 the Organization of African Unity adopted the Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Certain provisions of the document may also be interpreted to create a state duty to protect women from female circumcision. The Law for the prohibition of female genital cutting and mutilation (FGM) has been passed for Nigeria, but female genital circumcision is still going strong in Nigeria as if no law has been passed. That shows that it is not the wild claims of success that matter, but how far a law or measure is being implemented and enforced? What has President Obasanjo done for the women of Nigeria in this regard, or what is keeping him from wiping out the practice in Nigeria totally? Yet Paul Udujie will expect the girl-child and women of Nigeria to herald Obasanjo's diplomatic finesse all over the world and to vote for him for another term in office.

President Obasanjo should take a cue from Burkina Faso's Melegue Traore, the traditional chief and former president of Burkina Faso's National Assembly when he said, according to the Authoritative Link: "We are in no way abandoning African culture when we abandon female genital mutilation." We also hope that the conference of politicians, health and human rights NGOs, religious experts and traditional leaders in the Senegalese capital included Nigerian Christian and other religious leaders, whose stance has been to support retrogressive native cultural practices rather than Christian progressive and forward-looking reformations. We hope that Nigerians joined them in their rejection of female genital mutilation as not being against tradition. West African religious and traditional leaders meeting with political officials the first week of December 2005 affirmed their commitment to eradicating female genital mutilation, saying that: "To abandon the practice is not to reject traditional or religious values". Nigeria must be one of the 28 countries of Africa and the Middle East where three million girls still undergo some form of genital cutting annually, according to the UN World Health Organization, as reported by the Authoritative Link.

PUNITIVE, DEHUMANIZING WIDOWHOOD PRACTICES IN NIGERIA

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The Banjul Charter also includes the right to health, the right to be free of cruel and degrading practices, the right to sexual and corporal integrity, and the right to reproduction. A right to health is also provided for in Article 16 of the Banjul Charter, which states: Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health. In addition, Article 18(3) declares that the state shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions. The women of Nigeria still live under punitive, demeaning and dehumanizing widowhood practices because the woman lost her husband as a man would lose his wife. Why must widows - young or old - suffer untold torture, hardship and deprivations, INCLUDING DISPOSSESSION OF LIFE AND PROPERTIES from their husband's families? Since these punitive, humiliating and dehumanizing practices obtain in all the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria, it is a matter for the Federal Government to legislate against for the whole country, and to stop such practices forthwith. What has President Obasanjo done to effectively extricate the women of Nigeria from these inhuman practices? NOTHING! Yet he is very proud of the Nigerian women he has appointed into his Cabinet who still live under these oppressive conditions described above in their respective ethnic nationalities. What diplomatic finesse are there for the women of Nigeria to herald for President Obasanjo?

THE RIGHTS OF TRIBAL GROUPS VERSUS THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN

The preference of the International Organizations to support the tribal groups right to IDENTITY AND RECOGNITION as opposed to the RIGHTS OF THE GIRL-CHILD AND WOMEN TO BE FREE FROM CERTAIN PRACTICES, SAY, CHILD MARRIAGE, is the same trend of male domination which extends from the individual, to the family, to the community, to the state and to the international organizations. Tribal identity and recognition, as it were, are only found in the practices that oppress women, never in such practices as FACIAL SCARIFICATION BY MEN (Igbu Ichi), which has been banned ages ago without any fanfare. Ultimately, patriarchy establishes interdependence and solidarity among men, which enables them to dominate women - in most cases to hoodwink women. And in Igbo parlance, they say: "Ka eme nya ife ana-eme nwanyi". (Do to her what is normally done to women). In effect, to trick her or hoodwink her, or leave her in confusion, wondering just what is going on or what has happened, while men get on with "taking care of business as usual". The men at higher levels can buy off those at the lower levels by offering them power over those still lower, including women. It is this interdependence and solidarity, and closing of ranks among men, which is the strength of their domination over women, and by which men in authority, who can help women, just pay lip service. What has President Obasanjo done to break this chain of injustice in favour of the girl-child and women? NOTHING!!!

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN NIGERIA

The practice of wife-battering, which is condoned by Native Laws and Customs, to tame and discipline the woman, is one of the marks of IDENTITY of tribal groups. Domestic Violence or Wife Battering is treated with levity in Nigeria. Section 252 of the Criminal Code Laws of Nigeria 1990 defines assault and section 351 penalizes assault.

The criminal code is however silent on wife-battery. In reality, wife battery is treated by the Police as FAMILY AFFAIR and is, therefore, neither investigated, nor the batterer charged to Court or even restrained from battering his wife. IRONICALLY, IF THE WOMAN IS BEATEN TO DEATH, THE HUSBAND IS CHARGED TO COURT FOR MURDER. See the case of Nafiu Rabiu Vs. The State 1980 8-11 Sc. WHY MUST THE AUTHORITIES WAIT UNTIL THE WOMAN IS KILLED BEFORE THE PERSECUTOR IS RESTRAINED OR PROSECUTED? What has President Obasanjo done for women in this regard except keep quiet and pretend that these conditions do not exist? NOTHING!!!

Nigeria is a signatory to many International Conventions and Treaties and Human Rights Laws that guarantee women's freedoms from discriminatory practices and equal fundamental rights as men. Theses include:

It is the duty of the Federal Government, headed by President Obasanjo who goes to defend the human rights of the women of other African countries, to implement the international conventions and treaties concerning the fundamental human rights of the girl-child and women in Nigeria. These have been neglected over long periods of time, ESPECIALLY BY THE MILITARY RULERS WHO DO NOT WANT THEM TO EVEN BE MENTIONED.Yet he as well as the other MILITARY MEN WANT WOMEN TO CONTINUE VOTING FOR THEM TO CONTINUE RULING NIGERIA.

President Obasanjo should tell us which one of these United Nations Conventions he has domiciled and implemented for Nigerian women in the last nine years that he has been in the saddle, as Head of State of the Federal Government of Nigeria?

WHEN WOMEN WILL NO LONGER COMPLAIN

If the Constitution would be properly amended and the provisions of these Charters and Conventions complied with and enforced in Nigeria, women would not be complaining at all. But the snag is the unfavorable attitudes of the dominant group in power - men - towards implementing them. Therefore, the Charters, Conventions and Treaties, of the African Union and the United Nations, become mere paper tigers, toothless bulldogs, and the epitome of: Justice Delayed Which Is Justice Denied! A law just on paper is a stillborn and moribund law and, therefore, useless, void and of no effect! What has President Obasanjo done to change the situation? NOTHING!!!

ABROGATE, AMEND, CODIFY, CUSTOMARY LAWS AND HARMONIZE THEM WITH STATUTORY LAWS INTO ONE BODY OF LAWS

It will do a world of good to the people, especially to women, to have the most obnoxious of customary laws abrogated, some amended, and then codify and harmonize them, with the statutory laws, into one body of laws for each ethnic people, as it has been done in South Africa. There is no need to continue to have two or three bodies of laws, complicated with the unwritten and un-codified customary laws, for one and the same people. After all, the governments - customary and constitutional - are all in the hands of the people now as there are no more foreigners to hide from, fight or compete with. When the Laws are harmonized, then and only then will women know what laws that govern them and which they have to live by; not the ever fluid and changing customary practices as they are now. This is an initiative that a Head of State will have to take for the modernization of the laws of the land and governance. Has President Obasanjo or any of his predecessors in-office done anything about it? THE ANSWER IS A CAPITAL NO!!! what then do we herald?

FEMALE GENDER SPECIFICITY IN THE CONSTITUTION

The Constitution of Nigeria, which President Obasanjo, the man with diplomatic finesse has sworn to protect and to defend, lacks specificity about the female gender. For instance: the lack of specificity or the unwillingness of the Government, and even the international organizations, to specifically write in the feminine gender separately, in the Constitution and in statements to include women as persons, causes confusion, ambiguity and lacks clarity. The idea that the female gender is inclusive in the male gender is a fallacy and unfair. It is the same deliberate tactics of leaving women out, and having them go on to protest and to pressurize to the ears of men, which have been tuned off and deafened, that is still going on. If women are meant to be included as persons, much time and energy and stress would be saved by simply saying or writing in: "men and women; he and she; him and her"; from the very beginning. This ambiguity of the female being included in the male is mischievous, trickery, hoodwinking, fraudulent and a manifestation of the Government running with the hares and chasing with the hounds. President Obasanjo should be pressurizing, in behalf of women, to have the Constitution amended to re-arrange references to women equitably and to accommodate the girl-child and women properly, rather than to amend it so that he can stay on in office. What has President Obasanjo done for women in this regard? NOTHING! And yet they are expected to herald his diplomatic finesse!!!

TRAFFICKING OF THE NIGERIAN GIRLS AND BOYS

The children of Nigeria - girls and boys - are still being trafficked at home and abroad, with impunity, for domestic labour and sex trade. What has President Obasanjo done to save Nigeria's children from this shameful state of affairs, other than to look the other way, as the home and foreign mass media report? NOTHING! I have read of a case where more than 50 children were going to be shipped overseas in ocean-going crates used to carry fish across the ocean to Europe and America before the traffickers were caught. This may not be an isolated case. But suppose that this consignment was not caught? The economic conditions at home that make parents to give up their children, to be taken overseas, in the belief that they would soon be sending money home to them, must be very desperate.

NO SOCIAL WELFARE BENEFITS OF ANY KIND TO ANYBODY IN NIGERIA

Above all, with all the oil-wealth of Nigeria, which Udujie says she is awash with, there is no Social Welfare Support for anybody in Nigeria - indigent widows and orphans, the unemployed and elderly or handicapped and destitute, etc. Why? It is because the Treasury of the country is looted by the men in high offices; there is no transparency in accountability; there is widespread financial impropriety and mismanagement; there is insatiable appetite of those who loot even though they have become richer than the State and Federal Governments; and because they have no PATRIOTISM and SHAME! THEY HAVE DONE NOTHING FOR THE PEOPLE! YET THEY ARE REQUIRED TO HERALD WITH FANFARE WHAT THEIR PRESIDENT HAS BEEN DOING FOR OTHER COUNTRIES!

OBASANJO IS AN ARCH CHAUVINIST AND A MISERABLE HYPOCRITE

I read it sometime ago when he said, while addressing a democracy group in Mexico, that all the Nigerian men with him there were chauvinists, because they believed that men will always be first. You see, that is what is mainly wrong with President Obasanjo's assessment of situations in Nigeria - he and his chorus boys discount himself as being involved. As far as I am concerned, he is the first and foremost chauvinist in Nigeria. Every Nigerian man, except a handful of them, is a chauvinistic. Of course; any man who is a polygamist is an arch-chauvinist by equating so many women to himself as wives. Above all, polygamists in public office are super-arch-chauvinists of the first order, by usually using one wife to suppress the others, and by appearing and making the people and the world believe that they are what they are not. What diplomatic finesse is there in this hypocrisy to be heralded?

THIRD TERM OR FOURTH TERM BID IS REAL

It is very good that Mr. Udujie outlined some of the things that are wrong with the PDP as well. Well placed PDP members have said it that what is wrong with their Party is President Obasanjo himself, because he would not let other people elected into offices do their jobs. He tries to do his job as well as the jobs of the other people. In other words, he meddles too much in other people's jobs and businesses beyond what it should be. The President has also been reported as saying that he is all and all in the Party and in the Government, and that no one else in Nigeria can do the job as well as he would or better than he.