THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN KOGI STATE

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It is a great honour for me to be here today as Speaker on this auspicious occasion of interactive session with Kogi State Gubernatorial Aspirants. When I was invited by the organizers to make this presentation, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation because the initiatives behind the event align fully with
my personal philosophy as a social activist, a development enthusiast and a stakeholder committed to sharing ideas towards the attainment of social justice, good governance, corrupt-free and just society for all of us and the generations yet unborn.

I have always been convinced that interacting with relevant stakeholders and interest groups to finding common solutions to the development challenges facing our dear kogi State is the right way to go. Let me therefore; commend the organizers for bringing stakeholders in the political class under this veritable platform for interaction on issues of good governance, particularly on the role of women in sustainable development of the State.

We are all witnesses to the challenges of development which every State in the country including Kogi State is faced with. Some analysts attribute the low level of development in Nigeria to the systematic alienation of women from active
participation in development programmes in the face of non availability of workable policies on the girl child education.

It is equally amazing that even though women’s active participation is central to the success of sustainable economic development, their marginalization in the scheme of things have over the years led to widespread poverty among the people; hunger, poor nutrition, low agricultural productivity and mass
unemployment, especially among the youths.

The marginalization of the female gender manifests in social apathy that is heightened by cultural practices whereby women are still perceived as the weaker sex that should be kept at home only for domestic activities. It is however evident from the various reports that women constitute over 50 percent of our national population and neglecting them in the sociopolitical and economic activities therefore, means undermining the contributions of more than 50
percent of the productive force.

How can that advance the cause of sustainable development?

Kogi State, no doubt presents a typical scenario of how States in the federation treat their women when it comes to issues of active participation in socioeconomic programmes with negative consequences in obvious underdevelopment. Since 1999 when the current political dispensation was ushered in women participation at all levels of government has remained embarrassingly inconsequential.

For instance, their combined participation at the legislative positions since the last 20 years has not reached up to 10 percent, while the number of women appointed into ministerial positions has not come to anything near the 35 percent demanded through affirmative action.

In the particular case of Kogi State, no woman has either succeeded in winning election into Chairmanship position at the local government level in the State since the past 20 years, nor have there been occasions where they were considered fit to serve as Deputy Governor, not to talk of Governorship position. In the current National Assembly, there was no woman elected from the State into any of the Chambers for lawmaking, neither had there been any before now. The nearest that women in the State have come to  a top executive position was the appointment of the current Secretary to theState Government, Dr Folashade Arike Ayoade in 2016.

Many women that aspired for various political positions in the State in the past have either one form of sad story or the other to tell, as most of them were humiliated out of the race with no tangible support that could have encouraged them to sustain their campaigns. Meanwhile, in the last National Assembly election in the State, one woman that stood out in her campaigns for election
into the Senatorial position of Kogi Central having successfully gone through the process of primary election and getting her party ticket to contest for the position with mass appeal is yet to recover from her experiences in the hands of political thugs, hangers on and chauvinists who do not believe that women can effectively represent men in male dominated gathering like the National Assembly.

It is therefore, not surprising that our State has been bedeviled with social and economic underdevelopment even with the available human and material resources.

Concept of Sustainable Development
It is my hope that this interactive session with gubernatorial aspirants in the State would create the necessary awareness that could address the challenges before us as indigenes of the State.

We shall therefore begin this discourse with critical assessment of the concept of sustainable development as relevant to Kogi state; take a critical look at the role of women in the success of Sustainable Development and assess the imperatives of good leadership to the realization of development goals.
Sustainable Development Goals:
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to Opaluwa (2016) are a set of targets relating to future international development, which replaced the Millennium Development Goals. The ideas of SDGs, he said, were first discussed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 (Rio+20), but it was only on 19 July 2014 that the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) forwarded a proposal for the SDGs to the General Assembly with 17 goals and 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues.

These proposals were accepted by the UN General Assembly on 4 December 2014. Despite the enthusiasm shown by the world leaders towards the success of the program, it has became clear through report of Bureau of statistics on MDG’s
that though there was increased performance from the 2012 report; the key aspect of the campaign which was poverty was on the increase.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Report on the performance of Countries and Continents of the World revealed that Nigeria performed less than 50% in all the MDG Goals, thus making it imperative that the country reviews its approach towards the program.

There are seventeen (17) goals set under the Sustainable Development Programme to cover various critical areas of human needs meant to address the challenges of development. These are poverty, food supply, health, education; Water, Women, Energy, Infrastructure and Economy. Others are
Inequality, Habitation, Consumption, Climate, Marine ecosystems; Institutions and Sustainability
The Importance of Goal 5 (Gender Equality) to the Success of SDGs: It is important to note that of the 17 Goals identified in the Sustainable development programmes, it is the success of Goal 5 which is on Women’s equality and enlightenment that remains the most critical to the overall success of all other
goals. The Goal is aimed at achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls with particular targets to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere and to eliminate all forms of violence against all
women and girls in the public and private spheres including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

Various studies carried out across the world on development issues underscore the importance of educating women and girls and empowering them to make contributions to national development. Some of such reports indicate that Women and Girls everywhere, need to have equal rights and opportunity, and be able to live free of violence and discrimination.

In fact, the report showed evidently that the success of all the SDGs depend largely on the achievement of Goal 5 (Gender Equality). But how far have we gone in addressing the challenges of women marginalization which is critical to the success of sustainable development?

On a positive note, there are indications across the world including Nigeria that some women have been able to record some successes in various areas of economic and political participation through personal efforts and perseverance and sometimes enabled by government’s favourable policies.

Such women achieved the breakthroughs either in corporate leadership, poverty reduction or politics with positive impacts in the development of their societies. While such efforts by women require further support to influence the passivity of greater numbers of women that are still largely marginalized, we find the attitudes of some women who would not support other women quite appalling.

Such negative attitudes of the women must give way to a new attitude of encouragement, support and solidarity from the generality of the womenfolk to make the campaign for women’s active participation in the socioeconomic and political activities successful.

Challenges of Sustainable Development in Kogi State:
Following the poor performance of Kogi State like every other States of the federation in the attainment of the goals of Sustainable Development evidenced by marginalization of women in development activities, I have identified a number of factors serving as the main hindrances to the realization of the goals, some of which are enumerated as follows:
a. Good governance: Since the creation of Kogi State 28 years ago, it has continued to be confronted with the challenges of ethnic rivalry, low level of industrialization, absence of appropriate policy on women empowerment and youth apathy arising from mass unemployment which have manifest in
political thuggery, armed robbery, rape and kidnapping.

There  are also issues of insecurity, unemployment among youths and inability of the state government to regularly pay workers monthly salaries, backlog of which reportedly runs to several months.
b. Low Level of Women Participation in Policy Making: As we have noted earlier, we are faced with a situation in Kogi State, where even with the large population of women, their participation in politics and policy making has remained minimally embarrassing. For instance, no woman was elected from the state to any of the chambers at the National Assembly and none at the State legislature. Meanwhile, other women aspirants could only show up for elective positions at party primaries from where their ambitions are truncated through a male dominated voting system that has no regards for affirmative action. In the studies carried out by Ajibade, et al (2018), to determine the factors that militate against women’s active participation in politics in Ofu Local Government Area of
Kogi State, they identified such factors as, inadequate financial resources, insufficient education, and enlightenment as well as lack of clear policy by the political parties on women political ambitions.
c. Restrictive Land ownership System: Ownership of land and access to farm implements which are critical to a successful agricultural programme are unfortunately skewed against women due to cultural practices that deny women ownership of land and personal property. Moreover, the policy of land acquisition for agricultural productivity in a sociocultural environment where women are employed mainly as farm helps during harvesting deny them of potentials for increased productivity. Appropriate reforms to make lands accessible
easily to people for agricultural productivity need to be put in place.
d. Ethnic politics of the State: There have been allegations of power monopoly consistently leveled against the Igalas who constitute the single most populous ethnic nationality in the State by other tribes. That allegation has always led to
agitations for power shift by the other ethnic groups from both Kogi West and Central Senatorial Districts whose politicians readily point to the fact that since the creation of the State, it is the Igalas that have produced all the former governors. This uncertainty fueled fears of marginalization as can be seen from
the ongoing agitation for power return to Kogi East after it was shifted to Kogi Central by providence in 2016. There is no doubt that this push and pull for power has negative consequences on the political stability and development of the State.
e. Pervasive Religious sentiments: Outside politics of ethnicity, another strong factor that influences the nature and scope of political participation and determines people’s loyalty in Kogi State is religion. Religious sentiment among the people has become so pervasive that people show less concern about the
performances of those in leadership position and more about the religious belief of occupiers of Lugard House at anytime. This primordial sentiment is not good for the development of the State, because, studies have shown that politicians only rely on religious sentiment to gain access to power, even though their
fear of God in governance maybe in doubt. Concerted efforts must therefore, be made by relevant stakeholders to deemphasize the issues of religion in the governance of the State.
My Stand:
For a state that is rated very low in all development indices, it is my stand that there is the urgent need for a proper identification of the challenges and finding workable solutions to them. In addition, it is my view that the responsibility for building the political consensus necessary for changing the status quo lies with the elites who must make use of all public enlightenment tools to bring about the desired perception and change. Furthermore, it is my belief that the only way the State can restore its glory and provide the desired level of development to the people is for the stakeholders to share critical ideas that could defeat the present levels of cynicism among the people and do away with the existing political apathy among women who must be encouraged to participate actively in the social, economic and political programmes of the state using their God-given talents and capabilities.
Way Forward
Following from the above, and consistent with my personal belief as a social advocate, a philanthropist, a development enthusiast and above all, a committed stakeholder in the development of Kogi State, especially in the promotion of
women participation in the development programmes of the State for sustainable effects, I wish to proffer the following solutions to the identified problems:
Promotion of good governance: You are all aware that no nation gets it right developmentally, if its political elites who perform the role of leadership are not focused on providing qualitative leadership to the people through a governance style that is development-oriented and committed to people’s welfare. Kogi state with its abundant human and material resources requires a leadership that is mentally and psychologically prepared for the challenges of good governance and provision of sustainable development. Such a leadership must have sufficient capacity to enunciate policies and programmes that can engender confidence; restore people’s hope and energize them for higher productivity through a reward system that promotes hard work and merit while denouncing ethnicity and
religious bigotry. It is our belief that if we are able to address the questions of ethnic and religious rivalries that characterizes people’s loyalty in the state, we would be on the way to answering the questions of quality leadership that is upright, firm, fair, but friendly.
b. Prioritization of women Empowerment and Girl child
Education: From the realization of the central role that women empowerment and girl child education plays in development activities, I am convinced that there is the urgent need for political leadership in the State to evolve policies and programmes that prioritize resolution of questions of gender discrimination. Various credible studies have shown the vital role that women play in enhancing development, thus making it imperative that government works conscientiously to reorientate people to the necessity of carrying women along as partners in development issues. Accordingly, it is hereby recommended that the policy of gender parity must be vigorously pursued to logical conclusion, while the girl child education must be pursued aggressively to provide more opportunities for this marginalized group to enhance development.
c. Modernization of Agriculture: As a state that is blessed with good weather, abundant rainfall, fertile land and young and active population that is largely unemployed, there is the urgent need to carry out appropriate reforms that could make agricultural sector play its rightful role not only as source of food for the people, but means of providing raw materials for industrialization of the State. Real development in Kogi State cannot be achieved under an atmosphere of disharmony between agriculture as the mainstay of the state economy and
industrialization. Accordingly, the State must aggressively pursue initiatives that could make farming not only lucrative, but acceptable to the population through easy access to land for agricultural purposes. Apart from creating opportunity of
participation by the generality of the people, it would particularly encourage women and young people to take to farming thereby absorbing them in gainful employment in the face of the current challenges of unemployment and penchant for white collar jobs among youths.
Conclusion
From the exhaustive work done on this topic, the conclusion is
That: Good governance is the panacea for the attainment of the
desired social justice, enhanced development and improved welfare for the good people of Kogi State;
That :  women empowerment through affirmative action and prioritization of the girl child education remain central to the success of sustainable development in  the state;
That :it is the responsibility of all relevant stakeholders especially the political class to join hands to carryout massive enlightenment programmes that could lead to the entrenchment of a committed, sincere and development-focused leadership devoid of ethnic and religious bigotry among the diverse people
of the state.
Finally, it is our hope that this platform could serve as a stepping stone towards the realization of the goals of good governance and sustainable development in the state, and that its efforts could serve as a vanguard to the attainment of a new dawn in the politics of Kogi State, which we have all been yearning for. But that the attainment of the lofty could only be feasible, if we remain sincerely committed and focused to the success of the campaign.

Thank you for your attention and God bless.

Dr. Safiya Musa

 

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