A Civil Society Organisation, Emerge Women, has kicked against a commendation letter that was written to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State in Northern Nigeria.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) had presented the commendation letter and demanded a courtesy visit to Bello to celebrate his zeal in appointing women into political offices.
However, in a statement on Friday, Emerge Women said the appointment of 21 women as deputy chairpersons of all the 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State was not enough reason to commend the governor.
The organisation noted that Nigerian laws provide that Local Government Chairmen and their deputies are elected and not appointed.
Emerge Women stated that the action of UN women negates the work being done to ensure that elections at the LG level are credible.
“This is one of the issues we have with the UN Women’s letter – we cannot be advocating for credible elections at the LG level and be simultaneously commending a governor who is stifling that process,” the statement signed by the organisation’s President, Mary Ikoku; National Coordinator, Hajia Rukaiya Bello, and eight other executives said.
“For us, the act is illegal and therefore the UN Women’s letter is an endorsement of an illegality. The appointment of deputy LG Chairpersons rather than supporting them in running successfully in free and fair elections weakens the agenda on gender mainstreaming into leadership and decision-making positions. It also subverts democracy. We ask the UN Women, is expediency now better than insistence on the rule of law?
“Albeit, the commendation is premised on the need to encourage the governor on his appointments of women into political office, this cannot be done in disregard of the larger context of the governor’s actions and inactions.
“Moreover, if that is the compelling reason for the commendation of the governor, it is on record that Rivers State has a woman as her Deputy Governor, female Commissioners, female state assembly member, female Senator, Female Appointees, 1 LGA Chairperson and 22 LGA Vice Chairpersons. To be clear, these women appointments have been in place for many years in Rivers State yet we have not read that UN Women commended the Governor of that state.”
The CSO, which noted that other organisations working hard to promote women political participation are yet to receive commendation, accused UN Women of bias.
“We are now left deeply concerned as to why the recent appointment of Kogi women as LG Vice Chairpersons will attract such a commendation,” it said.
“We have many organizations and women working extremely hard in the country to promote women political participation from institutional perspective, but none is yet to receive commendation from UN Women. Under these curious circumstance, It will be difficult to see the UN Women in Nigeria as unbiased.”
Emerge Women also wondered why the UN group would honour a governor whose election led to the death of Mrs. Salome Abuh, a woman leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Mrs. Abuh was burnt to death after the 2019 governorship election in the state.
The CSO also cited the case of a governorship candidate, Natasha Akpoti, who was harassed during the electioneering process.
“To be clear, the Kogi Governor’s election took the life of a Woman- Mrs. Salome Acheju Abuh, a PDP Woman Leader who was burnt alive to death in her house after elections in Kogi State,” the organisation said.
“Another woman in the person of Natasha Akpoti was viciously attacked and violated for seeking election as Governor of Kogi State.
“The Kogi Governor’s Commissioner allegedly raped a young woman in the presence of her 3-year-old son without the Governor reprimanding him. In fact he is still a commissioner in Kogi State! There are many other human rights infringements on women in that State which we cannot recount here.”
Emerge Women further alleged that the UN Women office did not issue any statement to condemn the incidents or seek justice for the affected women.
“In all these, the UN Women office in Nigeria never issued a press release to condemn these sad events nor offered a statement seeking justice for the women,” it said.
“We believe the UN Women’s commendation is faulty, questionable and unfortunate given the atrocities committed against women under the watch of the incumbent Governor of Kogi State.
“So long as activists set the bar low, nothing substantive will be accomplished. We cannot say we stand for gender rights and then go out to praise those who brazenly and publicly violate the rights and lives of women.”
The CSO stated that commending people like Bello does significant and irreparable damage to the struggle for gender equality, equity and justice.
Emerge Women, therefore, demanded that the UN Women office withdraw the “ill-advised” commendation letter to the governor.
“We therefore, expect the UN Women office in Nigeria to reconsider this ill-advised idea of commending the Kogi State Governor,” the organisation said.
“We call on all women and right groups in the country and globally to join us in calling on Mrs. Comfort Lamptey, the UN Women Representative in Nigeria to kindly consider withdrawing the Letter of Commendation to Kogi State Governor and a cancellation of the planned visit as a mark of respect for all the women who were victims of political violence and injustice in the last Kogi State Governorship Elections. An injustice to one woman, should be seen as injustice to all.”