For the records: An Open Letter to a Great Man on International Women’s Day, 2023
Dear Professor Attahiru Jega,
It is a joy to address this year’s International Women’s Day open letter to you in this election year for Nigeria. As your junior colleague, I have watched you build and leave legacies over the years, in your roles as a member of the Uwais panel on electoral reform, as Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Chairperson of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and as a political scientist, writer and researcher. I have been awed by the respect the world, your peers and everyday Nigerian citizens have for you. I am even more awed by how level-headed you have remained through all the affirmations. Perhaps, the greater lesson you have given us is the ability to expand the space inclusively with calm, prudence, critical thought, and wit. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s gender policy is a case in point.
In 2014 you brought innovation to INEC when the Commission introduced the INEC Gender Policy and its implementation framework in response to the Nigeria National Gender Policy (2006), which calls on all state and non-state players to promote gender through institutional practices and policies. I was honored to be part of the team that crafted that policy, working with colleagues on the INEC, development partner and civil society ends. You presented the policy during the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence in 2014 because you believed that “no country records success in economic development and progress without creating an enabling environment for women” and you pledged to ensure inclusive political parties.
You must be proud and grateful, Prof, because few individuals – academics or not, excel when given the charge of public policy management and process engineering on a massive scale and with vast implications for national cohesion as you were tasked. By excel, I mean the ability to keep faith with the trust of the office, to deliver effectively on the terms of assignment and to use resources judiciously and render account while keeping integrity intact. Those who do, bring hope that it can be done. They bring new meaning to stewardship and become iconized and alive in the people’s imagination. It is the kind of inspiration we need but hardly find. As an authority in democratization, you have given this resource so well and with such ease.
You continue to be your quintessential self, doing your duty wherever it finds you, without drama. I do not know anyone who can wear a babban riga or agbada and still come off looking as intellectual and humble as you do. That deep innate dignity and focus is the key that allows you to cross seeming divides with such grace.
You shocked many when you left office as the election Umpire and joined a political party. Some people thought you had gone rogue: How does the umpire become partisan? But on reflection, it couldn’t be denied that you had concluded that umpire role with distinction. Also, sitting in that chair for five long years and two major national elections later, something about how change can happen must have become clearer to you. Again, it was not just any political party or one of the socalled ‘big parties’ that you joined, but one rooted in its pro-poor and egalitarian philosophy. Your decision to join the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) reminded me that we must engage, and even as some of us seek to work from the outside, some of us must do so from the inside and on a platform where we can be heard, where we have shared values with co-travelers.
Each time the women’s movement debates this idea of a political party centring women’s aspirations, we allow ourselves to be held back by legal lacunae we have not even confronted yet – namely that it is illegal to form a women’s party. But who says we need to have a women’s party? Forming and naming a party such and such will not make it into an equitable and inclusive gender-responsive space. It is the values imbued in it and the egalitarian philosophy of those who band within a party that count.
You remain mindful of your duty as a citizen and a political actor. You have employed Twitter to reach minds and remind the young and all of us of home truths:
‘If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain, We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate’.
‘’We have to remain incurable optimists about the future of our country’’
‘’To those of us who are Teachers, the time has come that our business will not just be to teach, but to get good people involved in Politics. Otherwise, we cannot get the visionary Leaders that can lead the country to be able to compete globally’’.
All is well said. You remain a study of how to give power to truth. Your reputation of ‘administering’ a special brand of ‘jega’mycine to rein in certain political pawns and purveyors of dissonance continues to resonate.
Prof Jega, you remain true gold, true Polaris, in your constancy. May you continue to find joy in service? Happy International Women’s Day. May every day be women’s day, someday.
# DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality
March 8, 2023
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