One of the core functions of the Ministry of Women Affairs is the promotion of the general welfare of Nigerian women and enhancing their ability to realize their full potentials in various fields of human endeavours, unfortunately, women are seen as “material” for the inner room while hundreds of them were sexually abused between 2015 to 2019.
The ministry in many ways contributed to some of the failures of the APC-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who himself made a comment that downgraded one of the roles of the ministry when he said his wife belonged to the kitchen and other room.
Mrs Aisha Al-Hassan popularly called “Mama Taraba” was the head of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development before her resignation on September 29, 2018, to contest the 2019 governorship election in Taraba state.
She’s one of the ministers that didn’t complete Buhari’s first term. Others include Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr James Ocholi (SAN) who died in an auto crash; former Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun resigned as a result of NYSC certificate scandal among others.
The Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was specifically created as a result of a push to establish institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women and women matters.
The ministry is a product of efforts established through a Decree in 1989 giving rise to the National Commission for Women, an initiative of the wife of the former first lady Late Mrs Maryam Babangida.
One of the major problems the ministry under the supervision of Mrs Al-Hassan was unable to tackle was the issue of rape.
There is insufficient data on rape in Nigeria as most of the victims hardly speak out for fear of stigmatisation.
In 2015 when Buhari’s government assumed office, a human rights lawyer, Evans Ufeli, revealed Nigeria recorded only 18 rape convictions in its legal history despite the overwhelming reported cases of sexual assaults.
“The Nigerian criminal code recommends life imprisonment for rape convicts and 14 years for attempt rape, but only 18 people have ever been convicted in Nigeria,” Premium Times quoted her as saying in November 2015.
That shows how lame, dormant, and irrelevant the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was in the last four years when Buhari inaugurated his first term cabinet and sworn in Mrs Al-Hassan as a minister to manage the affairs of the ministry.
It’s disheartening that lawyers made a damning revelation that they’re frustrated in handling cases regarding rape and abuse against Nigerian women.
It’s reported that a lawyer said that sexual abuse matters in law courts are sometimes frustrated by the government, which usually acts as the prosecution.
The ministry also failed woefully in the area of gender equality which should be its proponent. In 2015, only five women made the APC-led government cabinet as against the 35% affirmative action in elective positions as enshrined in the National Gender Policy of 2006.
Moving forward in the second term of President Buhari, Nigerians expect to see an aggressive change in a ministry that manages one of the most important ministries in any serious government.
The incoming minister of Ministry of Women Affairs whose name has not been revealed should be someone who has the capacity to promote the general welfare of grassroots women who took the pain to cast their votes for Buhari in the just concluded election.
Enough of the flamboyant charade and seminars being organised for the wives of top government officials in Abuja, women at the villages should be the beneficiaries of the programmes of the ministry.
The last four-year witnessed how Nigerian children were sexually abused and harassed without conviction of the culprit.
One of such sad incidence was the ruling of a Shariah Court in Zaria, Kaduna State, which sentenced three rapists to one-year imprisonment with an option of N7,000 fine.
The culprits gladly paid the fine and they were set free.
Nigerian women expect to see a minister that would push for a law that would sentence rapists to life imprisonment or death sentence to serve as a deterrent to those who might want to indulge in such an animalistic act.
Also, Nigerians want to see a Minister of Women Affairs that would help to build a Nigerian Society that guarantees equal access to social, economic and wealth creation opportunities to all, irrespective of gender, places premium on protection of the child, the aged and persons with disabilities; focuses attention of key operators in both private and public sectors on mainstreaming the concerns of these groups of people in national development process.
A rather alarming event that happened recently that one expected an official of the ministry of women affairs to speak against is the allegation made by some sex workers that some police officers who arrested them ended up abusing them sexually.
The next minister of Women Affairs should be someone who understands the plight of Nigerian women and can take steps that support the elimination of all social culture practices that discriminate against or are detrimental to the overall development of Women and girls.
As Buhari shop for credible cabinet members, Nigerians are looking forward to see someone that would bring aggressive change to the ministry. Someone that would end the gender disparity between men and women.