SOFT POWER

Nigeria 2017 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: FEMALE EMPOWERMENT

With more than 170 million people, Nigeria cannot afford to ignore the power and potential of the girls and women that are the future of the nation.

The participation of women in the political and economic life is critical everywhere in the world but all the more so in Africa. As Ban Ki-Moon said, “Investing in girls and women is likely to prevent inter-generational cycles of poverty and yield high economic and societal returns.”

In Nigeria, the participation of women in politics is still far from equal even though women have been an integral part of the political scene since the pre-colonial era. In her paper Monitoring Participation of Women in Politics in Nigeria, Oloyede Oluyemi writes about Queen Bakwa Turuku, who founded the city of Zaria in the first half of the 16th Century, and her daughter, a great warrior who succeeded her as queen. Oluyemi also talks about several female traditional chiefs in Yorubaland and other positions held by women in pre-colonial days such as the Onni of Ife, the Emir of Kaduna, the Queen of Katsina, and the Monarch of Ondo.

In the Eighth National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria inaugurated on June 9, only seven of the 109 senators were women, which was a 12.5% drop from the female representation in the seventh assembly. Nigerian women are trying to make up for this underrepresentation in the public sector by participating more intensively in the private sector. It is in fact not a coincidence that the richest woman in Africa, Folorunsho Alakija, is a Nigerian.

In terms of sectors, Honorable Hon. Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, told TBY, “In Nigeria today, we have a succession of women in communications. Women form a key component of the ICT revolution, not just in Nigeria but around the world. I am happy that Nigerian women are not being left out. One of the pioneers in the ICT business in Nigeria is a woman, Florence Seriki, an engineer who heads a large company with branches in and out of around the country dealing with both software and hardware.” Onyeche Tifase, CEO of Siemens Limited, is another example of a young and successful woman running an ICT multinational who has become an inspiration and a mentor for many girls and women in Nigeria. Bunmi Okunowo, National Coordinator of the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE), told TBY “Women are becoming more active in the startup space.” Out of the 14 startups that they took to GITEX, at least five had women as founders or co-founders.

In agriculture, Graham Hefer, Managing Director of Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc, told TBY “Women are the mainstay of Nigerian agriculture, especially on the smallholder front,” especially “in areas where a great deal of finesse is required, such as in our nurseries.”

In an interview with TBY, Tunde Ajala, Founder & Executive Director of Dovewell Oilfield Services Limited (Dovewell Group), noted “Women are doing well in the oil and gas industry, and women run some of the biggest oil and gas firms in Nigeria. Brittania-U and Famfa Oil are run by female executives and a number of key decision-makers and senior managers in some leading oil and gas firms in Nigeria are also women.” He also noted that “women are entering the industry and doing just as great, if not a better job, than men.”
In order to keep the trend going in both the economic but also the political arena Hon. Aisha Abubakar, Minister of State for Industry, Trade & Investment, told TBY that education is key. “Women make up over 60% of SME ownerships and have the highest rate of loan repayment. It is, however, ironic that this demographic faces the most daunting challenges in business in terms of access to land and finance,” she noted.
A country cannot fully develop if only half of its population is empowered. Nigeria, with a more than 170 million people, cannot afford to ignore the power and potential of the girls and women that are the future of its nation.