Nigerian women are not leaving any stone unturned in their quest to break the age-old taboo, which has always relegated the womenfolk to the background, especially in some African societies.
It was Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States of America, who said that “There is no limit to what we, as women can accomplish.” Perhaps, it is in the realization of this truism that the first International Professional Women Conference was recently held in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, put together by the Society of Women In Taxation (SWIT), the women wing of the Chartered Institute of Taxation in Nigeria (CITN).
The conference, which started on Wednesday 16th and ended on Saturday, 19th, February 2022, took place at Azalai Hotel, Cotonou with the theme: “The Roles of Professional Women In Nation Building.”
And had in attendance, Professional Women Accountants of Nigeria (PROWAN), Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), and The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA).
In her paper presentation, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa said the contributions and most importantly the impact of professional women in any human endeavor and nation-building cannot be over-emphasized. This is because, given their enormous contribution to socio-cultural, socio-economic, and socio-political development, women cannot be excluded and neglected in the scheme of things, even as she regretted that, over the years, women have been relegated to the background on issues of development, especially in developing countries, such as Nigeria.
Dabiri-Erewa, who joined the conference via the internet, identified lack of adequate education, prejudice/discrimination, culture, religion, and male dominance as some of the barriers women face in strategic professional roles.
She said for women to enhance their participation in policy-making, they must strive to visualize new options, mentorship and guidance, advanced leadership training and communication skills, financial resources, support, entrepreneurship, and- creating a bigger vision.
The broadcaster turned politician emphasized that no appreciable development can be made either at the local, national or international platform without recognizing women as key players. The nation must empower, up-skill, and invest in the girl-child, for a better society, she added.
According to her, several efforts have been made to address the low representation of women in elective and appointive positions in the country, among which are the establishment of women political empowerment office, Nigeria women trust funds, women lobby groups, the institution of an INEC gender policy, the national multi-stakeholder dialogue; the initiation of several interventions to actualize affirmative action and the convening of the Nigeria Women Strategy Conference.
She urged professional women to get involved in politics, adding although it may be tough and rough, nothing really comes easy.
“We have to take our destiny in our hands. We have professional women like you all here; competent, brilliant, energetic, hardworking, with proven integrity. Even if you are not contesting for elections, you must be involved at your community, state, and national levels,” she said.
The NiDCOM chairperson appealed for the advocacy of the protection of women from abuse, empowering them economically and politically and reviewing
the necessary legislations to accommodate the growing interest of women in governance both in elective and appointive positions.
In her presentation via zoom, former Defence Minister, Erelu Olusola Obada, shared her personal experience as a woman who held leadership positions previously regarded as exclusive to men, hoping it would serve as an encouragement to women that the sky is the beginning for them.
She disclosed that it is good to be audacious and ambitious as well as hardworking with integrity and the fear of God, adding that her experience in the political terrain gives a very good example of what obtains in Nigeria’s traditional society.
She went down memory lane to 2003 when she wanted to contest for the governorship post in Osun State. Although she had all it took to perform brilliantly in that position, she had to settle for the position of deputy governor because according to her colleagues and leaders of the party, the state was not ready to have a woman occupy that position.
She further explained how former President Goodluck Jonathan asked for the submission of 10 nominations from each state out of which one person would be appointed into the cabinet.
“I remember that my name was placed at number eight on the list which emanated from Osun State. It is now history that number eight got the appointment from the Osun list. I was initially appointed Minister of State for Defence, while Dr. Haliru Bello was appointed the Minister of Defence. We enjoyed a most cordial working relationship. However, upon Dr. Bello’s exit from the Federal Executive Council in June 2012, I became the first female Minister of Defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with all the defense/military architecture under my supervision,’ she said.
Obada disclosed that presently, there are seven women as ministers in the country, with three as full ministers and four ministers of state.
“In this 9th National Assembly, there are seven women in the Senate and 12 in the House of Representatives. There are 44 women as members of state assemblies nationwide. These are not acceptable figures in Nigeria in 2022. Something has to be done in 2023,” she said.
Obada’s prognosis to balance power in leadership and decision making include; commitment to gender parity in leadership, implementation of laws and regulations that guarantee a safe and open environment for women’s participation and leadership, the establishment of policies and practices that encourage women’s leadership and promote gender parity, investment in and development of public services and programs that enable women to succeed as leaders, enabling and supporting women’s organizations and movements, changing the narrative on women in leadership and confronting socio-cultural drivers of gender inequality.
“Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender
justice and gender equality—and to furthering economic, social, and political progress for all,” she added.
She was of the opinion that when women are meaningfully represented and engaged in leadership bodies, such as legislatures, courts, executive boards, community councils, and laws, decisions are more likely to be inclusive, representative, and take diverse views into account.
In his remarks, the 15th President/Chairman in Council, CITN, Adesina Adedayo said the 1995 Beijing Platform for action flagged 12 key areas where urgent action was needed to ensure greater equality and opportunity for women and men, girls and boys, adding that it also laid out concrete ways for counties to bring about change, one of which is women and the economy.
He disclosed that over the years, many women have broken the ice in feats achieved in nation-building.
Adedayo mentioned a few women who had made an impact on the country’s politics, such as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs. Obi Ezekwesili, late Prof. Dora Akuyili, and Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui.
He congratulated the national chairperson of SWIT, Dr. Abiola Adimula for taking the huge initiative of organizing a conference with an international flavor which he said would be recorded in the annals and hall of fame of the institution.
In his speech, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Republic of Benin, Lt Gen Tukur Buratia (rtd), said the theme of the conference was apt as there was no better time to discuss what is expected of professionals in all spheres of endeavor, especially women, in contributing to the development of their respective countries.
Buratia, who was represented, added that the convergence of eminent personalities from various professional bodies in Nigeria and other West African countries mostly women to discuss specific roles to move their countries forward is commendable and worthy of support.
Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed was the special guest of honor, while Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of UN Sustainable Development Group, Mrs. Amina Mohammed was the keynote speaker.
Minister of Economy and Finance, Republic of Benin was also well represented as the special guest of honor.
In her welcome address, Dr. Adimula said nation-building aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run, adding that nation-building is all-encompassing, bringing all and sundry into the net of making inputs as agents of change.
She commended the various sponsors, which she said contributed to the success of the conference, especially Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq, who sponsored 12 women to the event.
The conference featured financial management sessions, transformational leadership for women in business seminars, health talk, women and health, and entrepreneurship sessions.
Other features of the conference were African night and a tour of Cotonou.