Being a Paper Presented


Tessy T. Gusim

Carefronting – Nigeria

tessygusim@yahoo.com, Carefronting@yahoo.com



                                                                At the

International Women’s Day Celebration 2012

Organised by:

Her Excellency

Hajiya Jummai Banbangida Aliyu

First Lady Niger State and Chairperson Life Rehab Foundation

Held At

U K Bello Arts Theatre, Minna – Niger State

Thursday 8th March,2012




Investing in girls and women is likely to prevent inter-generational cycles of poverty and yield high economic and societal returns.

—Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General


The Nigerian woman has proved to be more than a mere bench-warming spectator even in the midst – of the male-dominated congregation. Many examples abound for us to see even here in this state. Women have proved their strength and competence in our societies in all spheres even in male dominated professions but the rise of women to lead several professional male dominated environments gives us hope and their achievement is a pointer to the capability of the Nigerian woman. Three of such male dominated professions – the – Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria – have been led by female presidents.

These feats according to an accomplished, professional, Chief Mrs. Bola Kuforiji Olubi, apart  from testifying to the resilience, determination and unyielding “spirit” of women, cast in bold relief two useful and challenging facts. These are firstly, that leadership traits are not genetically acquired and – have nothing to do with gender. Women can effectively participate in policy making and governance, if given the chance. They can hold their own in very difficult and stressful situations and can do as well, if not better, than men.

Secondly, that men admire and respect women who wield power whether it be economic or political. This fact dismantles the confusing and misleading notion that successful women are abhorred and constitute a threat to the society and especially to their husbands and associates.

The steady advancement of women in contributing to the nation’s socio-economic development and their progressive prominence in the national scheme of affairs have, to a large extent, impacted on the Federal Government; and the Government has responded positively in many ways
Mrs. Maryam Babangida was active in the promotion of women-related issues and interests during her husbands’s tenure as President. During this period the Better Life for Rural Women Programme was established for the purpose of empowering women economically and socially.

The subsequent creation of the National Commission for Women and a ministerial portfolio for Women Affairs provide additional avenues for the promotion of women-related issues and the enhancement of the role of women in national deveopment by way of a statutory body and a Ministry.

At this juncture it is pertinent to pose a number of vital questions: Are these achievements, with an ever present spectre of tokenism hovering over the potential of the future Nigerian women, far-reaching enough? Can they translate into permanent structures that will guarantee the desired equitable society in terms of gender relations? Can they be used as yardsticks for measuring the latent calibre of the future Nigerian woman and her placement within the national scheme? To avoid succumbing to a narrow political scope, the foregoing questions are juxtaposed on the assertions of Professor Ali Mazrui in his 1991 Guardian Lecture titled, ‘The Black women and the problem of gender: Trials, Triumphs and Challenges” where he sought to establish a distinction between political visibility or centring and political empowerment. To him, the greater proportion of positive developments for women in Nigeria can be classified as “the politics of centring or liberation.” His words in part:
“A woman can be at the Centre without being empowered, a woman can be Liberated without being either centred or empowered…. The strategy of redemption needs to go beyond liberation and beyond centring towards genuine power-sharing between the two halves of the Black world, male and female ….in real life, motherhood leaves the African women at the center but not necessarily in power (Mazrui, 1991). .”

It is only in redressing the obfuscation of centering without empowerment in the various domains involving women that issues inherent in the answer to the foregoing questions and the path leading to the emergence of the future Nigerian woman could be addressed.
Beyond politics, the broad domains involving women of various classes are agriculture, urban work – place, the law, and education. Women contribute tremendously to agricultural output but unfortunately they hardly, benefited from agricultural incentives and innovation because of economic suppression and social and traditional practices which undermine the constitutional provisions on the equality of men and women. Ignorance had hitherto been adduced as the reason for the lack of women participation in agricultural programmes and projects, but research has shown that gender discrimination, more than anything else, has been responsible for this situation.

For instance, Ayu cites the 1987 research work of Nema Ngur which shows that in a study of 40 women and men in Pella village in Gombia Local Government Area of the former Gongola State, inspite of the high level of awareness of the benefits of adopting agricultural innovations, only men benefited from government loans and were members of co-operatives et cetera.

A separate investigation carried out by Ayu in 1992 amongst the Berom women of Plateau State, shows that all of the 600 women interviewed were aware and desired the benefits of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and tractors but none of them had direct access to it. They had to get such inputs through their husbands who do not get enough of such and must satisfy the needs of their own farms, first. In the same study, it was discovered that none of the women had benefited from government loans because their husbands would either not approve or when they do, would take the money from them. Again, the land tenure system permits women only limited (sometimes none at all) ) access to land ownership and use – an anomaly which the Land Use Decree has not been able to correct. But much more fundamental, according to Ayu, is the problem of implementation of women in specific programmes as a result of communication gap between “the women and programme officials in relation to the programme, an input that could be of benefit to them.”

To correct these anomalies, Ayu rightly suggests that gender analysis be made a standard tool of economic analysis, and of project design and monitoring. There should also be improvements on women’s access to basic economic resources such as land (as owners), labour-saving machines (such as tractors), food processing machines, financial capital and other agricultural innovations such as improved seedlings, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers et cetera. To ensure proper utility of these facilities, technical services as well as market information should be made available to women farmers among others. It boils down to the need for the education of the rural women.

The success of a lot of women both at home and careers have helped in debunking the widely held notions about the ability of working women to fulfill their maternal roles as pointed out by Dr. (Mrs) V. N. Arene, in a paper titled: ‘The Nigerian Women in the Workplace.” Her words: There is no validated research that professional housewives bring up children better than professional service ladies. The children of working women certainly do no less well than the children of pure housewives. On the contrary, it is to be expected that happy and fulfilled professional career women and mothers will apply the benefits of their knowledge, their vast exposure, more balanced judgment, in educating their children and running their homes. They will also be a greater inspiration to their children (Arene, 1993).

The foregoing submissions of Dr. Arene corroborate an earlier assertion by Chief (Mrs) Kuforiji that women need not shed filial commitments in search of professional glory and makes attractive her list of “strategies for winning” for women all of which would be the abiding principle of the future Nigerian woman.

In sum, she believes that women must adjust mentality for winning because the frustration of the past led to many of them pegging their aspiration low. They should grant themselves intellectual liberation and cast away timidity while expressing informed and enlightened boldness and confidence. Furthermore, rather than depend on the use of feminine attraction, she believes that women should be able to match aspiration with ability, ambition with qualification; and be informed while exploiting legitimate opportunities to foster their career potentials.


In Nigeria, awareness about the role of women in development gained momentum in the later half of the “1980s (Omu & Makinwa, 1987). Awareness was further enhanced in 1995 as a result of the effective participation of Nigerian women in the International Conference on Women in Beijing, China.

In spite of these efforts, it is appropriate to state that the role of Nigerian women in development has not been sufficiently emphasised. In highlighting the Nigerian experience, three periods namely, the precolonial, colonial and postcolonial, will be briefly looked at.


During the precolonial era, Nigerian women contributed to the sustenance of the kin groups. Precolonial Nigerian economy was basically at a subsistence level, and Nigerian women participated effectively in this economy. Apart from being mothers and wives and taking charge of the domestic sector, women contributed substantially to the production and distribution of goods and services.

The strength and function of women can be seen in the agricultural sector, the women farmed alongside their husbands and children. Women in pre-colonial Nigeria were fully involved in food processing, for example, fish drying (especially in the coastal areas of Calabar, Oron and the Niger Delta area), garri processing et cetera. In eastern Nigeria, the women of Okposi, Uburu and Yala were very active in salt production.

In northern Nigeria, even the women in purdah were involved in food processing and also traded with the aid of their children. Most often, these women supplied the means of sustenance for entire households.

Precoionial Nigerian women also provided health care and spiritual services, extensively. Women also officiated as priestesses, diviners, healers, traditional birth attendants, and oftentimes as custodians of sanctuaries for gods and goddesses.

Other areas include administration and Politics eg Queen Amina (Zaria), Moremi (Ife) and Emotan (Benin) etc




The colonial economy was an export oriented one and it seriously undermined the prestige of the traditional occupations of Nigerian women. While it placed women at a great disadvantage, it enhanced the economic status of the British, Lebanese, Syrian and a few male Nigerian merchants.

Many of the smaller markets hitherto dominated by women gradually disintegrated as a result of the emergence of expatriate firms such as John Holt, United African Company (U AC.), Lever Brothers et cetera. Women were denied access to medium and large scale loans which were vital in operating at the bulk purchase level of the colonial economy. In agriculture, cash crop incentives, technology and innovations were restricted to men (Curtin, 1964). Colonial policies and statutes were clearly sexist and biased against women. This era affected even administration and politics in relation to women to meet colonial interest needs.




During this period, Nigerian women began to play very active roles in various aspects of the nation’s development, and assumed a more critical role in traditional agriculture. Particularly as a result of the large scale exodus of able bodied men to wage labour; Nigerian women took over an increasing portion of the burden of food production, contributing between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of Nigeria’s food requirements.

While the situation in the public sector remained unsatisfactory, it was markedly different from what had obtained during the precolonial and colonial times. Five years after independence, only 6.9 per cent of the salaried workforce were women; by 1970, 8.7 per cent of the total number of established staff in the Federal Civil Service were women. In 1980, the percentage of women had risen to 12.6 per cent. Similar patterns were maintained in State Civil Services but the situation has been getting better with time.


Several points can be identified as the obstacles confronting empowerment for women and they include but not limited to:

  • Economic Policies

–         Government Structural Programmes

–         Poverty Alleviation progammes

–         Empowerment policy Issues

  • Marriage, Household and Women Welfare

–         High Fertility

–         Economic value of Children

–         Early Marriage age

–         Unpaid labour

–         Heading homes

  • Women in Economic Life

–         Backbone of rural economy

–         Access o Land

–         Labour Bottleneck

–         Credit and other inputs

  • Women in Employment

–         Formal Sector

–         Informal Sector

  • Women and Social Services

–         Education

–         Health and Sanitation

–         Mortality

  • Women Legal Rights and Political Participation


The way forward for the Nigerian woman is simply addressing the challenges listed above:

  • Access to resources
  • Reducing Labour time
  • Improving Education and Health
  • Encourage Women in Leadership
  • Promote Women organizations
  • Provide Long Term support
  • Offer Business training and small loans
















Ali Mazrui (1991), Guardian Lecture series, A paper titled: The Black Woman and the problem of Gender: Trials, Triumph and Challenges.

Arene V.N (1993) A paper titled: The Nigerian Woman in Workplace

Curtin P.D (1964) The image of Africa: British Ideas and action, 1780 – 1850, University of Wisconsin (Madison)

Nema Ngur (1987). Nigerian Women in Development (A research Work).