Thursday, March 24, 2016 12:59 pm
By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
On March 8th 2016, as part of the activities to mark International Women’s Day, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Chair of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs tabled a motion to pay tribute to Nigerian women. As part of her motion, she said, ‘We represent courage and resilience, and without us, I don’t think this country will move forward’. Millions of Nigerian women, and hopefully quite a number of men would have agreed with this declaration. I am very sure that the hundreds of thousands of women who mobilized, travelled, danced, clapped, cooked, queued in the scorching heat and voted for the mostly male Senate in March 2015, would have agreed with Senator Tinubu as well. So we can only imagine her dismay when the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume from Borno State, rose in response to the motion to say, ‘I urge men to marry more than one wife…..the first care of a woman is marriage. Men should take care of women by not just befriending them, but by going further to marry them. Starting with the Senate President (Senator Bukola Saraki), I ask him to consider marrying more than one wife’. He then proceeded to move a motion to ask the Senate to declare that Nigerian men should marry more than one wife! He found a supporter in Senator Suleiman Nazif, representing Bauchi North Senatorial District.
There are two possibilities when we think about Senator Ndume’s failed motion. First, he was probably joking and decided to get his colleagues to loosen up and not take things too seriously. The second possibility is that he was dead serious and meant every word he said, regardless of how ‘politically incorrect’ it all sounded. The way I see it, neither of these two scenarios is acceptable behaviour from a distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a country which is currently facing contestations due to many layers of diversity. This drama came just two weeks after Senator Dino Melaye from Kogi State declared that Iara Oshiomole, the Cape Verdean wife of Governor Adams Oshiomole is a ‘Foreign product acquired with foreign exchange’.
This ribaldry at the expense of women is very unbecoming of distinguished Senators. There is nothing funny about March 8th International Women’s Day. This is a day for serious minded leaders around the world to re-dedicate themselves to uplifting women and addressing a whole range of political, economic, social, religious and technological disadvantages that weigh them down. Even though progress has been recorded and gains made, there is still a lot to be done. Across Nigeria on March 8th 2016, women and men gathered to take stock and motivate themselves for future actions. It is a day that required sober reflection, analysis of what has worked, and a commitment to addressing the numerous roadblocks which still exist. When Senator Remi Tinubu rose to address her distinguished colleagues, the least she would have expected from them was to betaken seriously as a peer. Instead her contribution became a backdrop for an unwarranted display of unseriousness. It was not Senator Remi Tinubu who was insulted on March 8th, it was the Nigerian women she was advocating for.
Let us examine Senator Ndume’s statement further. ‘The first care of a woman is marriage’ he declared. Really? What happened to educating her, giving her skills, employment and self-reliance? ‘Men should take care of women by not just befriending them, but by going further to marry them’. Aha. Here, the Senator openly admits what we all know, that many married men are always on the prowl after other women. The ‘lucky’ ones get married and the less fortunate are recycled to others. Of course, many of the men in question prefer ‘fresh blood’ which rules out the probably more deserving widows and divorcees in favour of young girls, sometimes the age of their daughters.
Women who venture into public service usually need to have skin as thick as that of a rhinoceros. I am sure Senator Tinubu, in spite of her dismay, took the shenanigans in her stride. She has probably heard and seen worse. However, one of the strategies we learn as kids on the playground, is to push back when you encounter a bully. Senator Binta Garba from Adamawa State appropriately responded to the looking for trouble Senator by saying ‘We are not sex objects’. You go sister!
There is nothing humorous about disrespecting women in leadership positions. There is nothing funny about setting aside a day to think of ways in which fifty percent of the population can live lives of dignity and respect. It is not funny when our representatives refer to us as products to be acquired in whatever currency, or prescribe marriage for us as our path to salvation. It is not a laughing matter when our children hear their leaders and role models speak in this way.
Our female Senators should not have to be put through this. If their male peers want to crack sexist jokes, they should do so in their spare time and not on the dime of Nigerians, including the Nigerian women who provided the plush seats for them to sit on in the first place. We still have our missing daughters from Chibok who have not been found. We still have women dying every day from maternal related issues. The level of violence against women and girls has increased exponentially. We have thousands of people languishing in internally displaced camps, most of them are women and children. With the education, roads, healthcare, high crime rates, and unemployment of many of our youth still key challenges, amongst others, I can understand if our Senators feel overwhelmed every now and then and need comic relief. But it cannot be at the expense of women, and the distinguished Senator chose the wrong day to get his laughs. The utterances of these male Senators serves to affirm a reality in the world of patriarchy – that women are transferable objects, property to be acquired, owned and disposed of, and where applicable, old models replaced with new ones.
Thankfully, the Senators voted against the strange motion tabled by Senator Ndume. What would have happened if the motion had passed? Monogamy in Nigeria would have become illegal or what? Or at least, the culture of ‘Aristo’ would now have public policy backing? This would have probably pleased quite a number of men, especially the ‘Mono-Polygamists’ who declare one wife in public and when they die there is drama at their funeral.
Don’t women’s rights activists like myself have a sense of humour? Can’t we take a joke? Of course we can. Life is too short to be serious about everything all the time. There is a time and place for joking around. There are also issues that are not funny. There is nothing humorous about disrespecting women in leadership positions. There is nothing funny about setting aside a day to think of ways in which fifty percent of the population can live lives of dignity and respect. It is not funny when our representatives refer to us as products to be acquired in whatever currency, or prescribe marriage for us as our path to salvation. It is not a laughing matter when our children hear their leaders and role models speak in this way.
Now here is a joke for Senator Dino Melaye. When you take your Naira to the market to ‘purchase’ your own ‘local product’, remember that some people will be waiting to compare your ‘purchase’ with that of Governor Oshiomhole. At least we know he did not waste his dollars! For Senator Ali Ndume, I hope you are not thinking of visiting Senator Bukola Saraki at home anytime soon. My dear sister and friend Toyin Saraki is as sweet and beautiful as they come, but she has nails of steel…just thought I should warn you sir. You are on your own.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com
*You need to read this postscript also: All Humans are born equal