Today, we see Nigerian women standing up to be counted where it matters most. We have Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, heading up the World Trade Organisation, and always being in contention for any massive global position where an African can make a difference. Her trajectory and experience are the envy of most people. Arunma Oteh was here with us as the director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission and discharged herself creditably well. She went on to a fellowship at the prestigious Oxford University. Amina J. Mohammed represents Nigeria at the United Nations where she is a deputy secretary-general, and in pole position for heading what is arguably the most powerful organisation on earth. Back home, we have Aishah N. Ahmad as deputy governor at the central bank in charge of Financial System Stability whilst Zainab S. Ahmed is at the helm of the finance ministry despite the difficulties associated with such responsibilities they have brought a lot of grace to bear on their roles.
Delving a little deeper into the banking sector which is considered most impacted by the increase in female representation, we find Bola Adesola, former managing director of Standard Chartered Bank, now chairman of Ecobank and Dere Awosika who had headed the National Immunisation Programme but now chairs Access Bank Plc. Sola David-Borha, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Ireti Samuel Ogbu, Tomi Somefun, Miriam Olusanya are some chief executive officers of some of Nigeria’s most powerful and systemically-important banks. Osaretin Demuren, Mosun Belo-Olusoga and Ibukun Awosika were all bank chairpersons until recently too. Many of Nigeria’s large companies, including conglomerates, have appointed a great number of Nigerian women into their boards – especially as executives, non-executives and independent directors. Research published by the Morgan Stanley Composite Index in 2016 showed that boards with more than one woman on them performed better than all-male boards, were more stable and sustainable in decision-making, and encountered fewer crises.
A look into Nigeria’s petroleum sector shows that Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Petroleum, arguably Nigeria’s most powerful oil producer, is headed up by Elohor Aiboni, a lady. The richest African woman, Folorunsho Alakija, operates Famfa Oil, one of Nigeria’s indigenous oil producers, and has made a huge success out of that company. Thousands, perhaps millions, of Nigerian women currently head up many micro, small, and medium companies all over the country, making their marks and ensuring that the economic clock keeps ticking. Nigerian women have since gone beyond being adept at running schools, restaurant chains, fashion outlets, and such industries that had been considered a preserve of females. What is more? A handful of young Nigerian ladies current lead consulting firms, fintech companies, construction and architectural firms, engineering companies, infotech firms and others such that had been seen for way too long as territories for males. The barriers have since been eliminated. Of course, the civil service in Nigeria is headed by Folasade Esan, and the list of permanent secretaries shows a good number of women playing critical administrative roles in our public sector.
Nigeria’s women have arisen and have kept rising.
A keen observer will correlate the renaissance of Nigerian women with the establishment of the Women in Management, Business, and Public Service (WIMBIZ), a non-governmental organization, which was set up in the year 2001 to add verve to the activity of Nigerian women in the corporate world. What started in 2001 as tentative steps have today become a phenomenon, encompassing Nigerian women home and abroad, growing in strength, and empowering up and coming ladies to try and achieve a lot more than they had hoped. Many ladies, fresh out of Nigeria’s higher institutions, today have a reference point, as WIMBIZ – through her annual conferences and other advocacy and empowerment programs – keeps raising the bar and showing to all, that Nigerian women are able to do a lot more than everyone had imagined. The organisation lists on its website that it has influenced or impacted over 200,000 women, but chances are that its influences have gone far beyond that in its 20 years of existence. It would be great, however, to see the impact of WIMBIZ in encouraging women into leadership positions, through the increasingly disorganized democratic system. Maybe what Nigeria needs is women helping to straighten out that space.
Someone offered to tell the difference between men and women. And that difference was not the obvious physiognomic ones that come to mind. It had to do with the way women think. I’m not quite sure this is scientific, but it made a lot of sense from his definition – men seemed to think of a singular issue at any particular time, while women’s brains functioned bionically, connecting everything to everything. If you can recall the imagery of an electric ball, with so many sparking electrons, links, statics and connections all buzzing around, yes. That is the brain of a woman. That is why the world has agreed that women usually multitask, and do so quite effortlessly. Many women at their prime, are mums, wives, organisers, fixers, beauticians, artists, and bosses at the same time. Perhaps a number of the CEOs I mentioned earlier may still be expected to cook special meals for their families at home, despite having the weight of billions, probably trillions of naira, on their delicate shoulders. We will usually never hear them complain openly about the stress they have to go through. Without sounding patronising, my personal belief is that women are made of much sterner stuff than men. I am a man and could hardly bear most of what women go through. I have a wife and daughters too and have seen the sheer strength they exude. We were taught wrongly for too many years. For except for the business of lifting heavy objects, women are certainly not the weaker sex.
I suspect something may have happened a long time ago that made men conspire against women to allocate to them, roles that will suppress this same prodigious talent I speak about. With the slow-downs caused by pregnancy and childcare, men generally filled societal leadership roles and relegated women to the background.
But even then, women played a central role, providing backup for men in every regard, and indeed running most homes and farms more efficiently than men could have managed. It came a time when the world realized that it was locking out at least 50% of global wealth and productivity by keeping women sequestered at home and thus out of the tax net. That story too has changed.
Developments in medicine, science and technology, has helped in making life easier for all, and women have greatly benefited. Today, developed countries are perfecting methodology on how to quantify the unpaid work that billions of women do at home as part of the gross domestic products (GDP). The research I referred to above by the MCSI has been further extended too, indicating that company boards that can push up the numbers of female members to about 30% female membership will achieve spectacular results. What looks like a newfound subscription to female inclusion is thus grounded in psychology and rooted in data; all-male boards sometimes allow adrenalin to overflow, often focus on benefits to members, and males are known to sometimes be addicted to modern toys sometimes at the expense of the company’s survival or sustainability.
The future, therefore, looks very female, and I joke sometimes that it is men that should by now be worried about what the future holds for their own inclusion in how society is run. Europe and parts of the Americas are now known as ‘woman’s world’. Women have also focused greatly of late, on the development and assistance of the female child, offering scholarships, training, bursaries, mentorships and handholding to girls even as men who mainly run governments remain blind to the crisis of new illiteracy and delinquency in our society today.
The upshot of this development is a decline in the dominance, productivity, and indeed dignity of men. Men – who have since inserted themselves to permanently dominate governance and often used their positions to do and undo – should perhaps find time to apologize for past misdeeds, and change their ways because women are known to be very meticulous and never forgetful – even in demanding their pounds of flesh.
The future is decidedly female. And indeed, the future is no longer far away. The future is now! The future is today. For me, it looks like Nigeria will really soar, the day we get a female president to run our affairs. Women are known to be non-nonsense folks and are not as distracted as we male folk are. When women-headed government agencies here, many who are used to the old ways of doing things, to slicing and dicing the commonwealth, sometimes find it hard to take and so we see a new wave of female leaders who are often antagonized and hounded out by some men who just detest the idea of being led by women and the strictures that come with that – something we must all watch out for and fight against. We have had some bad examples no doubt, but psychology, and empiricism, tells us all that women tend to be more reliable. I believe we are now on a growth trajectory with regard to the increased participation of women in governance, business, sports, intellectual discourse and every sphere of our existence. We should look forward with great hope. Nigeria, and the world, could only be better for it.