BEING TEXT OF SPEECH BY PASTOR ‘TUNDE BAKARE ON THE OCCASION OF THE 2ND ANNUAL CHIBOK GIRLS LECTURE
DATE: SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2018
VENUE: SHEHU MUSA YAR’ADUA CENTRE, ABUJA
TIME: 11:00 A.M.
THEME: TOWARDS A JUST AND GOOD SOCIETY: RENEWING OUR COMMITMENT TO THE GIRL CHILD IN NIGERIA
Introduction: Reflecting on a Dark Chapter
It remains painful to reflect on that day, exactly four years ago, when the pages turned to a dark chapter in the history of our nation as 276 precious daughters were carted away from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok where they sought an education. Indeed, it was a dark chapter that struck our families with grief, sent waves of terror into our communities, threw our nation into confusion, and shocked the rest of the world. It was a dark chapter that cast a long shadow over the gains in girl child education, particularly in Nigeria and West Africa. It was a dark chapter that questioned the worth of the girl child in Nigeria. But it was also a dark chapter that Nigerians refused to be defined by.
Let me therefore use this opportunity to salute the courage of everyone who stood up to be counted in the global outcry that followed the heinous abduction of our Chibok Girls. I salute our global village for holding on to the values of our shared humanity; I salute the Nigerian people across the nation for becoming co-parents of our precious daughters and, in so doing, affirming the African tenet that it takes a village to raise a child. I also salute the Nigerian military for the gallant role it has played in the past four years in the quest to bring back our girls. I particularly salute the Bring Back Our Girls movement for being at the forefront of a fierce battle to keep this grave matter on the front burner of not just public discourse but also of public policy.
With utmost respect, I salute the courageous faith, the unwavering optimism, the enduring motherly spirit and the steadfast fatherly fortitude still being demonstrated by the biological parents of our girls. Two years ago, at the Unity Fountain, I met with some of you on the occasion of the second anniversary of the abduction of our daughters. On that occasion, I declared that although some cynics and sceptics had suggested to us that our daughters would never return, we had never lost hope and we would never lose hope. I reminded us then that it is better to hope than to despair; I charged us to keep hope alive knowing that “hope”, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”. Fathers and mothers, ladies and gentlemen, despite the gloom that still looms from that dark chapter of our nation’s history, I am today filled with joy that the darkness has so far been pierced through by 107 brilliant rays of light. We praise God who has, thus far, brought back alive a total of 107 of our daughters. I welcome our beautiful daughters back home and I congratulate their biological parents, the Bring Back our Girls movement, the entire nation, and well-wishers around the world.
I also have a message for our returned daughters who, I believe, are mostly in school now, and I do hope this message gets to you wherever you are in the world. Even as I welcome you back home, let me offer my heartfelt apologies to you on behalf of the Nigerian nation for exposing you, in the first place, to what it has always been our responsibility to protect you from. As I said two years ago while we awaited your return, we failed you as a nation. We failed to live up to our promise to you that your security and welfare would be our primary responsibility. We were not there when you cried out for help as you were being taken away by those who should not have had access to you in the first place; we were not there in those hours, weeks, months and years of your captivity and it might have appeared that you were of little value to us. As a nation, we are deeply sorry and we affirm to you that you are worth much more to us than those moments and years may have suggested. It was why we never lost hope in your return.
It was why the Unity Fountain, despite all the harassments suffered, became a home away from home for members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, who marched the streets of Abuja, Maiduguri, Lagos and elsewhere demanding your return. We never lost hope. It was why Nigerians, Christians and Muslims alike, prayed earnestly for your rescue and safe return; we never lost hope; it was why those gallant soldiers defied the odds, put their lives on the line in combat, some paying the ultimate sacrifice, fighting for your return; we never lost hope. Today, you have become the symbols of hope that the remaining Chibok Girls will be returned alive; you have become the forerunners of the return of every other captive Nigerian, male or female, and I am confident that each of your futures is as bright as the promises of God. At this time, I also remember the dearly departed parents who died waiting, hoping against hope; may their souls rest in perfect peace. And to every parent and family still waiting, may our shared good wishes for your children be fulfilled.
The Dapchi Re–enactment
From the recent events at Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, it is obvious that the dark chapter that was opened four years ago today is still open. While I rejoice with the students who were returned and their families, even as I remember and extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the girls who lost their lives, permit me to use this occasion to demand that Leah Sharibu, who is still being held by the terrorists, be brought back home alive and unhurt, not just because her parents and the Nigerian people of all creeds cannot wait to see her back, but also because of what she now represents for the Nigerian nation. Leah Sharibu has become the symbol of the validity of the Nigerian constitution, section 38 of which guarantees religious freedom; therefore, her safe return is synonymous with the constitutional stability and sanctity of the Nigerian state. The Nigerian government must do all that is necessary to bring her back alive. Our hearts go out to her parents and our prayers go out to her wherever she is at the moment and we affirm, in the spirit of hope that, very soon, we will see her safely returned to us.
A National Malady
The fact that the Dapchi episode happened four years after the Chibok incident and one year to elections, just as it was in the Chibok case, is evidence of an alarming national malady. There is something wrong when a nation is twice bitten, yet never shy with respect to the safety and security of its girl child. There is something undeniably wrong when the girl child repeatedly becomes the bargaining instrument in negotiation deals between the government and terrorists. There is something absolutely wrong when the girl child becomes a pawn in a political chess game in which the major political parties seek to score political points.
One of the key indicators of stability or the lack thereof in a nation is the state of its girl child because she is often the most vulnerable in a destabilised polity. The problematic issues encountered by the girl child in any society are symptoms of an underlying malady which must be diagnosed. In essence, the brazen assault on the girl child in the Nigerian state is a clear indication that our nation is sick. It is therefore with the intent to uncover the nature of this malady that I will begin by examining the issues affecting the girl child in Nigeria, establishing the causes of such a dire state, and then concluding with implementable solutions that encapsulate a renewal of our commitment to undoing the damage done and laying a foundation for a just and good society.
Issues Affecting the Girl Child
- The Expectation of Violence
Domestic violence has become a frequent feature in news reports and, every now and then, we hear or read such outrageous stories as: the commercial motorcyclist in Nasarawa who beat his wife “to stupor” allegedly because she accused him of snoring; the man who beat his pregnant wife to death in Abuja; or the man convicted of stabbing his wife to death for allegedly infecting him with HIV. Statistics indicate that at least “25 percent of ever-married women age 15-49 report…having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence from their spouse”. This would suggest that daughters in many homes in Nigeria may have been programmed to anticipate a violent marital experience going by the experiences of their mothers.
- Victims of Violence
From observing and being conditioned by violence against an adult woman, the girl child has become, herself, a victim of heart-breaking cases of violence, particularly in the form of sexual assault by adult males. Findings from a 2014 survey indicate that 1 in 4 girls surveyed reported experiencing sexual violence. This is rather conservative considering the fact that much of such abuse is not reported. In 2016, the Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme reported 65 cases of sexual violence across the country in just three months, and the perpetrators included “a family member, friend, or community member…as well as…strangers.” From the rape of a 6-month-old baby by a man in Kano State to the gang rape of a 1-year-old baby by three men in Katsina State, the reports are extremely disturbing.
- Female Genital Mutilation
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria has the highest incidence of female genital mutilation in the world. Purportedly to achieve such aims as sexual deterrence, this practice is a violent act against women and girls resulting in diseases such as urinary tract infection, reproductive tract infection, vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) and rectovaginal fistula (RVF).
- Girl Child Trafficking and Slavery
According to UNICEF, although there is “no reliable estimate” on child trafficking in Nigeria, our country remains a “source, transit and destination country for trafficked women and children” usually for the purposes of “prostitution, domestic and exploitative labour”.
- Terrorism–facilitated Violence and Abductions
The Chibok and Dapchi incidents have been the most notorious and publicised cases of terror attacks on the girl child in Nigeria. This is understandably so due to the sheer magnitude of the abductions, the gender-specific target of these terror attacks, and their impact on girl child education. However, Boko Haram has also been known to abduct girls from villages that have come under attack. As at 2017, Amnesty International reported that “at least 2,000 girls and boys have been kidnapped by Boko Haram since 2014, to be used as cooks, sex slaves, fighters and suicide bombers.”
- Girl Child Marriage
UNICEF reports that out of 100 Nigerian girls, 17 get married before the age of 15 while 44 become brides before the age of 18, with this occurrence prevalent in the North-West. Furthermore, Nigeria is “home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood.” In 2013, the outcry against child marriage reached a crescendo when a then 49-year-old Nigerian senator married a 13-year-old after reportedly divorcing a 15-year-old. Whether one considers the fact that the education of the girl child is stalled by early marriage or that she is readily divorced and left exposed, not to talk of the health implications, child marriage has grave consequences for the girl child.
- Unequal Access to Education
It has become widely known that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. As troubling as this is, even more disturbing is the continued gender-based inequality in access to education. According to UNICEF, “in the North particularly, the gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys to 1 to 3 in some States.”
- Unequal Access to Economic Empowerment
One major way in which the girl child is deprived economically is in terms of inheritance rights. Certain customs in Nigeria regard the girl child as a temporary member of her family of birth since she gets married and changes her surname. As a result, she is deprived of inheritance in certain customs. Although the Supreme Court has invalidated such customary laws, the cultural dimensions of this practice persist.
- Unequal Share of Aspiration
Aspiration is a product of visualisation. One day, as a little boy growing up in Abeokuta, I saw a well-dressed lawyer presenting an argument in a magistrate court around the neighbourhood. That was the day I knew I was going to be a lawyer. The aspirational potential of the girl child can be unlocked by the success of her mother or the women around her. Therefore, the current limitations of the Nigerian woman could, inadvertently, prove to be a glass ceiling to the dreams of the Nigerian girl child unless that glass ceiling is shattered. I am reminded of the metaphoric shattering of the glass ceiling as Hillary Clinton spoke to the Democratic National Convention in 2016:
…I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet…And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say: I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.
The dreams of the Nigerian girl child may be encumbered by many layers of glass ceilings as represented by at least three kinds of deficits, including: the deficit in decision–making power in the family due to the failure of many males to recognise that differentiation of gender roles does not make the woman inferior or unequal to the man; the deficit in corporate representation characterised by inequality in the workplace as only 11.5% of board directors in Nigeria are women according to a 2015 report; and the deficit in public representation with barely 6.7% involvement of women in political elective and appointive positions, with 8 out of 109 seats in the Senate and 19 out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives occupied by women according to a 2015 report. These conditions of the Nigerian woman are not aspirational for the Nigerian girl child.
Causal Factors Affecting the State of the Girl Child in Nigeria
- Cultural Causal Factors
In 2003, an advert by a major telecommunications company hit the screens in Nigeria. In the ad, a man is seen pacing the walkway of a hospital. Apparently, his wife is in labour. Just then, a female doctor is seen walking out of the labour room. She walks up to the man, holds his hands and passes some information to him. The man is elated. Next, he punches the keys on his mobile phone and we see a woman in a village setting racing though her waist bag with her hands to pick up her ringing phone. “Hello”, she calls out to the person on the other end. Next, we see the man as he excitedly says over the phone to his mother who listens with intense expectation that could pass for anxiety: “Mama, na boy o!”. Suddenly, the woman leaps into the air with joy and screams, “Heeee! Na boy!” She then breaks into a song and the villagers gather around her, singing and dancing excitedly. Though the ad was heavily criticised for its seeming promotion of male gender preference, it was a mere reflection of the prevailing cultural disposition to the girl child in relation to the boy child in Nigeria, and, indeed, Africa – a culture that sees the baby girl as inferior to the baby boy.
Religion has proven to be another cultural causal factor limiting the outlook of the girl child in Nigeria and in many parts of the world. Indeed, throughout history, women have been victimised by religion. We see this victimisation in the dress codes imposed on women by the male-dominated leadership of churches and mosques, the restriction of women from certain roles in these religious organisations and in society at large, the religious justification of paedophilia in the name of child marriage, and the isolation of women for shameful treatment and punishment in cases of sexual misconduct such as adultery, as though it does not take two to tango. It is obvious that the woman, and, by extension, the girl child, have tended to be at the receiving end of religious dogma and fundamentalism.
Another cultural causal factor is the commoditisation of women. This is why women and girls have historically been spoils of war to be carted away as the Boko Haram terrorists did to our daughters; it is why, in some cultures, girls are considered possessions of their fathers ready to be auctioned off to the highest bidder in the name of bride-price, at which point they become possessions of their husbands. The same disposition is behind the deployment of women as sex objects in corporate sales and marketing or the entertainment industry.
- Structural Causal Factors
There is a definite geopolitical dimension to the sociocultural and socioeconomic plight of the girl child in Nigeria. In the first place, there is a geopolitical undertone to poverty and underdevelopment in Nigeria generally. The poverty figures show significant disparities between the North and the South of Nigeria, prompting a past governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to conclude that “poverty in Nigeria is a phenomenon in the North”.
Primary school attendance figures obtained in 2014 also reveal a geopolitical zonal disparity with the South-East leading the way at 90.5% while the figure for the North-East was 42.5%. This disparity was also reflected in the level of literacy among girls and young women with 93.5% of girls in the South-East found literate while only 35% of girls in the North-West and 33% of girls in the North-East were literate. According to the National Demographic and Health Survey (NHDS), even incidents of sexual violence vary by zone.
- Institutional Causal Factors
The institutionalisation of oppression takes oppressive practices from the realm of custom to the realm of public policy until oppression is accepted as a way of life. It is clear that the oppression of the girl child has become institutionalised in Nigeria. This is why a significant number of state legislatures, especially in the north, have not ratified the Child Rights Act since its passage into law in 2003. It explains why the family institution has become complicit in the abuse of the girl child such that some mothers would rather shield a depraved husband who has repeatedly abused a maid or even his own daughter than protect the survivor child; it also explains why our law enforcement agents have become tolerant of girl child abuse such that policemen could have the effrontery to ask a girl who has been raped and has the courage to report the incident what she wore when she was raped.
- Constitutional Causal Factors
Practices that limit the girl child are further ingrained in the society when they find their way beyond policy and legislation into the provisions of the grundnorm. We recall that the outcry against child marriage was in response to controversies generated during a constitutional amendment debate at the Senate that touched on section 29(4)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, regarding the age of maturity in girls where marriage is concerned.
- Leadership Causal Factors
It was John Maxwell who said “everything rises and falls on leadership”. Whenever and wherever the girl child is abused or deprived of the opportunity to live out her true potential, leadership has failed. The parents, the school authority, the religious leadership, the community eldership and/or the government have failed to live up to their responsibility towards this vulnerable demographic.
The right intervention must be guided by the realisation that the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is symbolic. The demand to bring back our captive daughters echoes the demand to bring back the dignity, the potential and the promise of the Nigerian girl child in every part of the country. It is the realisation that the girl child can grow to become a strong and accomplished woman contributing significantly to society as did her forebears; forebears like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who was a torch-bearer of women emancipation in her generation and contributed in no small measure to the independence of Nigeria; forebears like Amina J. Mohammed, the first Nigerian Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; forebears like my darling sister Dr. Oby Ezekwesili whose immense contributions to good and transparent governance and to the cause of the girl child remain an inspiration to many a young girl. Against this backdrop, we must craft interventive solutions around two principles:
- The Principle of Equality which guarantees equality before the law as well as equal protection under the law based on the notion that neither nature nor nature’s God places the female in an inferior position to the male;
- The Principle of Affirmative Protection or Affirmative Action which posits that natural justice demands that particular attention be given to the protection and preservation of the girl child due to the historical injustices she has suffered.
In the spirit of these interventive principles, the following policy recommendations are essential for the dispensation of justice to the girl child:
- Cultural Intervention: Creative communication of a new cultural disposition that respects, protects and empowers the girl child; this would entail flipping the “Mama na boy” narrative by deploying tools of arts, entertainment and creative communication to highlight the value of the girl child; it also entails recruiting cultural icons as arrow heads in the dissemination of a more girl child friendly culture;
- Structural Intervention: It is clear that each geopolitical zone has peculiar sociocultural and socioeconomic challenges facing the girl child as it is with most aspects of our national existence. It is therefore foolhardy to run a unitary system with a one-size fits all approach to governance. The current system which incentivises underdevelopment with federal allocation does not challenge the less-developed zones to optimise their natural and human potential. The aggressive development projects embarked upon by the Ahmadu Bello-led government of the Northern Region of the pre-independence era and the early post-independence period were fuelled by the pace set by the Western and Eastern regional governments. That is the kind of competitive development that can change the state of the girl child in Nigeria.
Therefore, to restructure Nigeria is to liberate the Nigerian woman and the Nigerian girl child. It is why every woman must rise up ahead of the next elections to say “enough is enough” to the days when the place of the woman was in the kitchen and the so-called “other room”. Nigerian women and girls, particularly those aged 18 and above, in the North, South, East and West must demand commitment to a clearly defined pragmatic approach to restructuring as a precondition for voting for any candidate in the coming elections;
- Institutional Intervention: There is the need to institute a “Family Council” comprising family experts and non-governmental organisations, including children and youth organisations, as well as progressive cultural institutions. This council should be saddled with the mandate to:
- Provide family-friendly quality assurance in public policy and legislation;
- Emphasise the interests of the Nigerian girl child within the quality assurance mandate;
- Facilitate the ratification of the Child Rights Act 2003 and the broader implementation of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015.
- Constitutional Intervention: As the foundation for a girl child friendly polity, a constitutional rebirth with clearly spelt-out protective provisions for the Nigerian girl child and woman must be the guaranteed end of a genuine restructuring process;
- Leadership Intervention: A new leadership philosophy with a deliberate strategy for female inclusion is essential. Therefore, we must be deliberate in the processes by which leaders emerge in the private as well as public sectors; we must ensure that competent women are encouraged to participate in politics; it is anticipated that the adequate representation of progressive women in leadership would guarantee the protection of the rights and interests of the girl child.
Managing Adverse Side–Effects
As in the administration of medicine, we must watch out against unwanted side effects or policy slippages in the treatment of our national malady with respect to the girl child. In particular, we must watch out against the unintended neglect of the boy child. In the drive towards a just and good society, we must be guided by the understanding that every Nigerian counts; otherwise, the neglected boy child could become either the menacing husband of the future, the unequal and less developed match for the well-groomed adult female, or the mere sperm donor of a more mature single mother. That, too, cannot guarantee a just and good society.
In conclusion, I leave you with a portrait of a just and good society as encapsulated in an address titled “The Nigeria of My Dreams” which I shared on the occasion of my 60th birthday:
I say to you Nigerians, that…there shall emerge a New Nigeria… a nation where women and girls…are protected and no one is denied her due on the basis of her gender…
…I speak of the new Nigeria, a nation of peace and safety reconstructed on the altar of reconciliation and integration, where the returned Chibok girls will grow into accomplished women, and their sons and daughters will sit in the same Nigerian History class as the sons and daughters of the former Boko Haram members who once captured their parents, and both will be taught by a female professor who, as a final year student of Chibok Girls Secondary School, had almost lost all hope of completing her education or of even surviving those dark days that she spent as a captive in Sambisa Forest.
I speak of the New Nigeria where little children can walk and play safely on the streets without fear of being kidnapped…a nation where no child is denied access to quality education or health services because of the socio-economic status of their parents and where no child has to engage in labour to afford an education…
I am confident that this portrait of a just and good society engraved with the name “The New Nigeria” is a dream whose fulfilment I will see in my lifetime, and I do hope we share this conviction.
Thank you for listening, God bless you, and God bless our nation, Nigeria.
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 See John 8:1-11 (NKJV)
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 ibid (See pages 15-16)
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