Friday 24 July 2015

Buhari’s 33-Man Delegation to the US: The Absence of Female Representation

President Muhammadu Buhari and his Delegation to the United States of America pose with former President Barack Obama at the Oval Office.
Image: Sahara Reporters.

President Muhammadu Buhari is back in the country from his four-day official trip to the United States of America and in my view, just in time to be reminded of certain campaign promises he made which ensured his victory.

The President was in Washington, USA, on Sunday, July 19, 2015 with an entourage of 33 men. The delegation was literally made up of men; and if that doesn’t sink in, it means that his delegation to the United States of America was entirely devoid of a woman.

This rubbed me some type of way. So many thoughts ran through my mind as I tried to look at all possible angles for excluding women from a delegation of such international importance. Many people who know me think that I am overly critical of President Buhari so I tried to be as balanced as possible in my analysis of his decision. I will admit here that in the end, my original perception of the decision to exclude women did not change.

I decided to make it a topic on my radio breakfast show. At the end of the show, I felt it was a tie between my listeners. While many said there was no reason why he should have taken any woman on the trip, an almost equal number believed that at least one woman should have been a part that pivotal bilateral discussion with the United States.

As a result of that, I decided to write again to the President, with the hopes that, unlike Senator Shehu Sani, he would care about my opinions; even if he did not directly seek my vote and even though I did not vote for him.

Here is why I think there should have been female representation in that 33-man delegation to the United States:

      1.      The delegation seemed to represent most of the major demographics and sectors of the nation with just one exception; women! Looking at the list holistically, it seemed like the North East was represented by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state and he doubled as a representative of the region most affected by the insurgency of the Boko Haram sect. On the other hand, Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo state represented the South-South region. Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state represented the South-West, Governor Umaru Tanko Almakura of Nassarawa (North-Central), Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo (South-East) and Senator Hadi Siriki of Katsina (North-West) ensured that the six geopolitical zones of the country were represented. That being said, the economic sector was represented by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele. There were ambassadors in that delegation (Paul Bulus; G. B. Igali; and Lawal N.B. Kazaure), a representation of media in the person of Femi Adesina, the special adviser to the President on Media and Publicity and of course the representation of the youth, which was by the son of the president, Yusuf Buhari. Religion was also represented by Pastor Tunde Bakare and the Malam Garba. The list also had top civil servants, representatives from the National Security Adviser and representatives from economic policy and foreign affairs think thanks, according to the PM News dated July 12, 2015. They delegation seemed to be devoid of JUST one demographic; female representation. That should have been a reason to get women on that delegation.


Index Mundi put the entire population of Nigeria at 177,155,754 people. As at 2013, the World Bank put the female population of Nigeria at 49.10%. If we factor in 49.10% of the figure given by Index Mundi, we have the total number of females in Nigeria at 86,983,475. That is an almost equal number of females as there are males.

In one meeting, former President Barack Obama had four women on his team. The Nigerian delegation didn't have one.
Image: The Guardian.

Since the insurgency, women and children have suffered as much – if not more – than men. This has been documented by Wikipedia in the ‘Boko Haram Timeline’ article. Some of the more tragic stories are seen below;

a)      In 2013, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was reported to have said ‘Borno was hit, with about 1.3 million people – MOST OF THEM WOMEN, CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY (emphasis mine) – in need of aid’;

b)      In February, 2013, an attack on polio vaccinators left 9 women dead;
c)      Four months and a day after that attack, precisely June 9, 2013, 9 children were killed in Maiduguri. On the same day, 13 students and teachers were killed in Damaturu;
d)      Less than a month after the preceding attack, more than 42 people were killed by Boko Haram gunmen in a Yobe School. This happened on the 6th day of July, 2013;
e)      The attacks continued on September 29, 2013, in schools in Yobe, with one in Gujba College, where more than 50 students died;
f)       In 2014, the attacks of children came in early on February 25. The attacks happened at the Federal Government College, Yobe State. 59 students were massacred;
g)      And the story that really made Nigeria an epic failed state was what happened on April 15, 2014; the kidnap of 276 female students from Chibok, Borno State. 216 girls are still in captivity 466 days (as at post) after they were kidnapped. Though this was the most important story to the international community, there were much more women kidnapped, raped, married off to members of the insurgent group and killed. The rescue of about 256 girls from Sambisa Forest, the Boko Haram stronghold, was a clear testament to that;
h)      Between June 20 and 23, there were attacks in Borno State where at least 70 people were killed and 91 women and children kidnapped;
i)        And finally, on November 10, 2014, 46 students were killed in Yobe attacks.

This is just a brief overview of the women and children affected by the insurgency. Why have I added the children killed on this point? It is because of something called mother-child connection. Every woman who lost a child, a husband and other family members died (figuratively) too. There were stories of women leaving children behind because they could not save all their children. The trauma many women had to face as a result of the insurgency cannot be overemphasized. It is then not far-fetched to expect that women are represented on a delegation that talked on issues of security, internally displaced people and resettlement of affected towns.


Another reason why women should have been on the delegation is that the members of the insurgent sect have switched their tactics, using female suicide bombers to wreak havoc on unarmed civilians in common places like religious centers, markets, car parks, restaurants and military/police check points. Below is a timeline of the insurgent’s use of female suicide bombers in the country, as written on Wikipedia’s article title ‘Boko Haram Timeline’:

a)            December 1, 2014: 5 people were killed by two female suicide bombers who detonated bombs at a crowded place in Maiduguri.

b)            December 10, 2014: At least 4 people were killed and 7 injured by female suicide bombers near a market in Kano.
c)            January 10, 2015: Exactly one month after the last attack, a female suicide bomber believed to be around 10 years old, killed herself and 19 others in Maiduguri.
d)            The next day, more female suicide bombers, also believed to be around 10 years old, killed themselves and 3 others at a market in Potiskum.
e)            February 2, 2015: A female suicide bomber attacked minutes after former President Goodluck Jonathan left an election rally in the city of Gombe, resulting in at least one death and 18 people injured.
f)             26 days later, two female suicide bombers killed up to 4 civilians near Damaturu.
g)            July 5, 2015: Six persons were killed in an explosion at Redeem Christian Church of GOD parish in Potiskum by a female suicide bomber.
h)            On the same day, but in Jos, 52 persons were killed in a twin explosion in Jos. The police said the attacks were carried out by two female suicide bombers.
i)              The most recent of the attacks by female suicide bombers happened on July 17, 2015, when two female bombers, including one thought to be a 10 year old girl, blew themselves up in Damaturu at an Eid ground during the Sallah celebrations.

This history is not to depress you but if it does, then you might see why a representation of women was important in a meeting that was geared at ending this menace. This insurgency affects us all and as such, we must all be a part of its solution. One of my listeners asked what a woman would have been doing in that meeting. My response on the show is the same response I give here. ‘What were the men doing in the meeting?’ Buhari could easily have gone to the flurry of meetings alone and still achieved all he did. He definitely didn’t need 33 men to be a part his team to have been respected and honored as he was. Just as he excluded women from the delegation, he could easily have included them too. That brings me to the next point.


The African Charter Protocol says that women must have 35% representation at all levels of decision making. If for nothing else, the president should have included women for the sake of affirmative action. If the 35% affirmation action had been considered, President Buhari should have had at least 11 women on that delegation. There wasn’t even one!


I followed the APC manifesto closely because I wanted to see what ‘change’ would be brought about by the President if he was ever elected. I was more interested in the economy, job creation, national development and issues affecting women and children. When I read the APC manifesto on women empowerment, I felt like I could work with that. The manifesto says the party would;

a)      Ensure the rights of women are protected as enshrined in our constitution;

b)      Guarantee that women are adequately represented in government appointments and provide greater opportunities in education, job creation, and economic empowerment;
c)      Recognize and protect women empowerment and gender equality with special emphasis on economic activities in development and in rural areas;
d)      Promote the concept of reserving a minimum number of seats in the national assembly for women

This manifesto was clearly defined and can be found in the APC Manifesto website or page. Now, I know many will say that the manifesto talked about ‘appointments’ and not ‘members of delegations’ but I am bold to say that the members of the delegation were appointed to accompany the president on his visit to the United States. The APC Manifesto does not tell of long/short term appointments and as such, I am permitted to assume that the President did not follow through on one his party’s cardinal principles. With that said, I come to the last – and most important – point of why the President should have had women in that delegation.

       7.   HE PROMISED!

In an event held at Harbour Point, Victoria Island, Lagos on Thursday, March 19, 2015, President Buhari met with women groups and promised gender equality and equity in all areas of the economy if voted into power. I took a quote from the PM NEWS piece; ‘he said that women were visible and competent in nation building as well as played key and prominent roles in the country’s independence but unfortunately their efforts are not fully appreciated’. Fast forward to his trip to the United States and it seems like he is the one not appreciating the role of women in nation building. Some of the quotes the president made are seen below;

“My mission is for my daughters and their daughters to see their dreams come true. I therefore make a solemn promise that they won’t be taken for granted. It’s impossible to clap with one hand.
“APC under my administration is committed to gender equality in all areas of the economy and national development. I will ensure the implementation of gender policies especially women empowerment, promotion of women equality and equity.
“I will provide level playing ground for our women at all levels of governance and strong political will to promote gender equity. I will also make concerted effort to empower women in the rural areas, provide legal protection for women against violence, rape and abuse.
“I will ensure that women have better access to credit facilities to support their businesses. I will also ensure that women interests are protected and safe guarded,” he said.
The President went beyond the 35% affirmative action and dropped ‘GENDER EQUALITY’ time and time again. In my view, gender equality is 50% participation. We didn’t even have 3.03% representation in the delegation to the United States.

At every point of the meeting, there was a woman on the United States of America's Delegation receiving President Muhammadu Buhari and his team. There should have been women on the Nigerian Delegation.
Image: News24 Extra.
When I played the speech by the President for my listeners, one man in particular got angry and told me to allow the President work and when he has settled, he can attend to ‘our’ issues. I got pissed at that point. Was I less of a Nigerian because of my gender?! Did I suffer less hardship as a woman?! Did the president promise to handle men’s issues first before coming to mine?! Or did he promise to handle ALL Nigerian issues?!

Why am I harping on this last point? Quite simple! President Buhari is said to be a man of integrity and it is a word defined as ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’. He came into power based almost entirely on his reputation of integrity. It is then too early to prove the critics right by displaying anything but.

Many of my listeners said that he was probably weary of women since women in the past administration had not done well. They mentioned Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the economy and Diezani Alison Madueke, former Minister of Petroleum Resources, as examples of women who were corrupt. I asked if they could vouch for the character of most of the men who are around the President now and the response was something I expected; silence. So, why should women be vilified for alleged corruption and men made to go scot free? One listener even said women were more ‘vulnerable to corruption’. I laughed at that point. If the list of corrupt people in Nigeria is drawn up, I am sure that there will be a 90:10 women to men ratio of corruption. And yes, I am being sarcastic!

This is a list of women I felt could have made the list and contributed immensely to the team;

a.     Obiageli ‘Oby’ Ezekwesili: I may not be a fan of hers but I know that she has been as worried about the Chibok girls as their mothers could have been; even more than the President himself. She has kept the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign alive, hounding the army to be accountable for the number of Nigerians dying from this insurgency and generally reminding us all to have empathy and a conscience;
b.     Professor Oluremi Sonaiya: Presidential candidate of Kowa Party in the last elections. She is sound, mature and very intelligent;
c.  Senator Binta Marsi Garba: She represents Adamawa North senatorial district; is the only female senator from the 19 northern states and is from one of the areas most affected by the insurgency;
d.     Honorable Abike Dabiri-Erewa: She combines her media know-how with an intelligent brain and could have been a good addition to that delegation list. Plus, she really rallied for the APC before the elections. To my knowledge, she is corruption free.
e.     Hadiza Bala-Usman: She is the initiator of Bring Back Our Girls Group and at this point, the Chief of Staff, Kaduna State government. Need I say more?
f.  Josephine Okei-Odumakin: a Nigerian women’s rights activist and also President of the right’s group, WOMEN ARISE FOR CHANGE INITIATIVE and CAMPAIGN FOR DEMOCRACY. She even had the ‘change’ slogan of the APC in one of her NGO’s. She has also been presented with an International Women Courage Award in the US.
g.    Ndidi Nwuneli: founder and managing partner of Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism (LEAP) Africa, a leadership training and coaching organization which is committed to empowering, inspiring and equipping a new cadre of leaders in Africa.

Why have I written this piece? I want the President to work! I may criticize him but that is because I really need the President to deliver on his promises. I want to have a Nigeria that is a physical representation of the campaign promises delivered. I want my issues adequately represented at all levels of government so that Nigeria – MY HOME – is good enough for my dreams, my plans, my goals and my vision. I have no other home; nor do I want one.

I want to hold the President accountable for his words, which means that I want to see at least 35% of women in all spheres of the change we want to see. I do believe in merit based appointments and I can say that there are millions of women in Nigeria who are as good as the men. Our efforts and capabilities should not be swept under the rug or under-utilized; or only needed when it is time for elections.

As the President prepares to appoint members of his cabinet, I hope a repeat of this slight against women will not be done. I hope to see the President stay true to his words and promises. And best of all, I hope to see a Nigeria that utilizes the vast difference of her human capital in improving the state of our nation.

President Muhammadu Buhari, you are reputed to be a man of integrity. That is a breath of fresh air in our political scene, but it comes with a daily responsibility of maintaining it. I urge you to do all you can to keep your words. Like you said to the women groups in Lagos, ‘one hand cannot clap alone’. We need you as much as you need us.

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