Are you one of those Nigerians deceived into believing that our Nigerian women are as affluent and comfortable as their male counterparts? Are you confused to reach this hasty conclusion because of media celebration of some few influential women holding very promising and prominent prime positions in some bluechip companies in the private sector? Do you feel that Nigerian women are pretty affluent because of the prominent roles some of them play in the much celebrated movie industry known as Nollywood? Or perhaps you are carried away to believe that Nigerian women are much more politically powerful than their men counterparts because of the ubiquitous role taken upon herself by the wife of President Good Luck Jonathan who has maintaind the tradition of running an elaborate office of the first lady of the federal republic of Nigeria that is not backed up by any subsisting law or statute? Is the mainstream roles that some wives of the 36 state Governors play in their respective spheres of political influences beclouding your objective sense of judment on the current financial status of the majority of Nigerian women?
Well, if you find yourself as a professed believer in one or all of the categories of the aforementioned interrogatories, then just watch me demolish the foundation of your mistaken belief.
First, have you ever taken the pain to drive round some surburban areas in most major centers or capital cities of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal capital territory and indeed taken time to visit the various trading stalls or markets that are scattered around these not-so-well planned places? If yes, then you must have noticed that the majority of the people that engage in petty trading in some dangerous parts of these badly built markets are either women or children of school age.
Worst still, if you take a careful study of the women that engage in these petty business of selling/hawking wares such as 'pure' water, bread and other consumables/edibles, most of them are also seen backing their little babies and are seen moving around in the terribly blazing sun and are most times mercilessly beaten by the rains.
Then if you depart the urban centers and move down to the different hamlets, villages and local council areas across the lenght and breadth of the country the clear majority of the workforce in the farms are women and younger children even as the women constitute the majority of the pesons that run the rural market stalls in their resilient effort to keep body and soul together and to keep the economy of their different family units growing. Do you also know that majority of women and younger girls engaged in the illicit and dangerous sex trade or prostituion in the different red light districts of the Nigerian capital cities and towns are forced into this disgraceful venture by poverty and other economic deprivations? Do you know that majority of the students of tertiary institutions who go into prostitution while in school do so because they have no financial support base either from their families or even religious bodies?
Without sounding immodest or derogatory, the fact is that the color of poverty in Nigeria is found indelibly in most of our women and children and several questions have been asked why women in Nigeria just like their counterparts in sub-Saharan African nations are so poor and much poorer than their male counterparts. One off the curf or rather sraigt forward answer to the basic interogation of why Nigerian women are so poor is that we live in a largely patrilineal society whereby tradition recognizes the male gender as the dominant and leading figures in all sectors of our daily life. Truth as this is, there are more to it than meets the eye.
While attending the United Nations congress on crime in Thailand in 2005 as part of the Federal Government of Nigeria's official delegation, one topic that dominated critical discussion at the different fora I participated was basically the disturbing cases of how some dangerous barons run the organizational system of the trafficking of minors and women from Nigeria to the developed European countries for sexual exploitation and prostitution. Trafficking in women from Nigeria for me is the modern day slave trade which reminds me that all those who celebrate and pop champaigne thinking that the era of slave trade was gone forever are indeed making the worst mistake of their lives.
The internationally reputable television conglomerate-Cable News Network recently aired very comprehensive and brilliant documentaries from diferent parts of the World including Nigeria which covered the criminal activities of the dangerous international network of traffickers in women and minors for sexual exploitations from the less developed societies to the more developed parts of the Western World including the United States of America and some European countries like Italy, Spain and The Netherlands. Interestingly, the producers of the documentaries aptly titled 'Freedom Project', do also acknowleged the universal fact that trafficking in women for sexual exploitation has indeed become the modern day slave trade.
The United Nations International Crime and Justice Research nstitute was so concerned about the emerging trend of trafficking in Nigerian women and minors for sexual exploitations that in the year 2004 it commissioned a study titled 'Trafficking of Nigerian Girls to Italy' which turned out as a 591-page scholarly book that mticulously captured the different ramifications of the criminal activities of these dare devil traffickers of Nigerian minors and women for sexual exploitation otherwise known as the new slave trade. The researchers found out that poverty among the Nigerian women was the root cause of the booming dangerous crime of trafficking in women and minors for sexual exploitation in Europe. The researchers also found out that one of the most interesting aspects of the organization dedicated to the traffic of Nigerian women for sexual exploitation is its capacity to appear as 'low profile', to avoid spectacular exploits and work in silence. This apparent low profile in reality is a very compact and well structured network, in the considered findings of these international researchers from the United Nations. The reasearchers stumbled on the reality that; "the Nigerian criminality dedicated to the traffic of women for sexual exploitation is characterized by a network structure with ramifications not only on Italian territory and the country of origin, but also in many European and extra- European countries". Such is the notorious international dimension of the systematic exploitation of our women and minors which come about by the unprecedented poverty that afflict the greater maojrity of our women and girls.
The United Nation views trafficking in Nigerian minors and women for sexual exploitation as a huge social phenomenon that is spreading across every region around the World. The United Nation also scientifically gave the historical foundation of this dangerous criminality thus; "Traffciking in Nigerian minors and women into Italy for prostitution started around the second half of the 1980s, following the economic difficulties caused by the Structural Adjustment Programme[Aghatise, 2002]. They started leaving the Country on promises of fantastic and well paying jobs in Europe, in factories, offices and farms. Tey arrived in Italy only to find themselves sold into SEXUAL SLAVERY. They were forced to engage in prostitution".
Ironically, the man at the center of the introduction of this anti-people policy during his rule as a miltary head of state- General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida[rtd] sougt to win political power through the ballots in 2011 and the critical component of his developmental blueprint that he prepared for implementation if he had gone ahead to win the 2011 Presidential election would have addressed the criticism that the Structural Adjustment Programme blamed for the exodus of most of our minors and younger Nigerian women for sexual exploitation in Europe. In his blueprint adopted by his campain office just before he was forced to withdraw from the Presidential primary race by members of his Northern regional political bloc led by Adamu Ciroma, was aptly titled 'Together we shall build a great and prosperous Nigerian nation'. General Babangida promised a pro-women policy that would have aggressively empowered the Nigerian women to regain a place of pride in the economy of the country. His words; "Nigerian women are the bulwark and mothers of society. Gender equality is therefore essential for sustainable development and societal prosperity. Gender friendly policies shall therefore occupy a central place in our developmental agenda. My administrationshall be committed to creating a Nigeria that places equal value on men, women, girls and boys". Any way, General Babangida never got the opportunity to right the wrong of his structural adjustment programme which adversely impoverished majority of Nigerian women and pushed many of them into sexual trade for survival. He [Babangida] may never get that opportunity since he has been forced by old age to quit the active political stage.
On its part, the Nigerian Government had in 2003 established the National anti-trafficking in persons Agency [NAPTIP] with the thematic mandate of battling the scourge of trafficking in Nigerian minors and younger women for sexual exploitation in Europe and other developed societies. If truth be told, this office is severely constrained by funding challenge because the Federal Government has failed to show adequate commitment to fight the menace of this modern day slave trade. There is the serious factor of political interference in the staffing and operational activities of this anti-trafficking in persons agency [NAPTIP] so much so that the Federal Government treats the office as a place whereby jobs for the boys can be created for political expediency and patronage. If Nigeria is to get it right, then the anti-trafficking in persons agency must be adequately funded and the Government of the day must respect the security of tenure of the key staff running the place so that they can bring to bear their wealth of experiences in waging successful war against trafficking in Nigerian minors and younger girls which debases our value system and impoverishes the Nigerian women.
Back to the question earlier asked on why Nigrian women are so poor, it is the belief of some researchers that women are not sufficiently represented in the formal sector emploment. In a yet to be launched research work conducted by the Nigeria's office of the British Council, the researchers found out that there are three key livelihood issues faced by Nigerian women namely; challenge with access to land; restrictions in formal employment and access to finance and taxation.
It is my considered opinion that the Nigerian Government must deliberately implement measures and policies to immediatelly and comprehensively demolish all the institutional and traditional barriers to formal employment for Nigerian women. The Federal Government must come clean regarding the enforcement first and foremost through effective legislative domestication in all segments of the Nigerian society of the United Nations convention Against all discriminatory Practices against the Women [CEDAW] which Nigeria voluntarily signed on to since it was introduced as far back as 1979. The Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."
But I ask, why are Nigerian women discriminated against in matters of ownership of land titles and why are women facing certain insidious institutional and traditional constrainsts in finding certain category of jobs in the formal sector? Why does the larger society see it as a political anathema for women to rise to occupy some male dominated offices like that of state Governors and that of the Presidency of Nigeria? Why do we still hold on to these and many other primitive anti-women practices even when chapter four of the constitution of Nigeria of 1999 as amended outlaws any form of discrimination of any citizen on the basis of gender?
In 2006, the United Nations Children Fund [UNICEF] found out that where women were excluded from family decisions, Children risked being under-nourished. The United Nations also found out that equality between men and women is essential to lowering poverty and improving health, especially of children, in developing countries. This truth as found out by United Nation is a sacred fact because the reason why there are over twenty million children of school age out of school in Nigeria is because of the systematic economic deprivation that most Nigerian women face on daily basis. This evil trend must stop and all the state houses of assembly in the 36 states of this country must pass legislation for the enforcement of child rights and should outlaw all traditional practices that deny women equality with their men counterparts especially in the area of land ownership and inheritance practices. Political leaders must embrace the new thinking that any nation that educate the women are indeed putting in place effective mechanism for the rapid educational and economic empowerment of our women and children. Our women must be liberated from the unfortunate and unwholesome medieval practices that deliberately deprive them of all the economic and educational opportunities that are available for the asking in our dear fatherland/motherland Nigeria.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria, and writes from www.huriwa.blogspot.com.