Taking on the challenge to write on a relatively recent issue in the Senate, the shooting down of the Gender Equality Bill, I tried to get a fresh perspective on it. Several writers have already thrown rotten tomatoes at patriarchy and others yet have slung mud at our insensitive law makers and particularly ambitious ones have dosed both with a smattering of odious projectiles still. That’s what I get for late coming. Someone made an inventive observation, linking our backward Senate’s outlook to how regressed our industrial development is. I really had no new trick, in terms of viewpoint, to turn heads. I also considered writing a piece based on irreverent humor. Yes, of course, the Senate is right; women are not equal. Men are, taken by the mean, taller than women. And even though women usually have an advantage in weight and girth gain rates, they have conceived of a handicap called ‘Weight-watching’ and lost the equality initiative. Okay, that would earn me a bath in sewer water, which I would consider well deserved, owing to the tastelessness of the joke. The only saving grace affordable to irreverent humor is the very elusive possibility of actually achieving humor. Fail that and you are proscribed for being irreverent and getting joke lovers’ hopes up in vain.
I almost gave up on the venture, nay, adventure, but I had a counterintuitive thought: why not go read the proposed bill, see what you make of it and what you can make out of it. You see, until then, I only read the news reports and even if I didn’t make mine vocal, I’ve hurled poop at the Senate along with everyone else. Like most people around, popular media made up my mind on it.
I read the bill. And I came off with the impression that in that affair, everyone involved did less work than they should have, or only that which came easily to them, and felt so damn good about themselves.
Those who presented the bill could have done better. They could not have based the bill on very realistic considerations. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say they, without considering their social milieu, they downloaded a document from the UN website, something that may be provided as a guideline of sorts towards the road to mapping out a gender-equal society, and, with a superficial tinkering, presented to a Senate with a reputation of doing the most backassward and unprogressive things. In the main it is a reasonable document, but in fine, it may indicate that one could be punished by serving jail time for refusing to induct women in the masquerade society, preventing them from taking a chieftaincy title or permitting only sons to inherit ancestral lands. And I haven’t even started—would rather not start—on potential religious objections. We know what a hot button religion is with most Nigerians. Some articles in the document seem too idealistic (and unrealistic) for Nigeria at the moment. Fodder certainly for inspiration, maybe for aspiration; for actualization, not yet.
The Senate, on their part, used a very lame and lazy excuse to turn down a bill that if appropriately addressed, could be a milestone in the cause for gender-equality in particular and the protection of our basic human rights in general. I would like to believe that not all the articles in that proposed bill are original items, and some of the aspects have already been touched on, even if only just fundamentally, in our current constitution. That is hardly enough, though. Tradition and religion, contrary to appearance, are dynamic concepts, and always change ever so slightly to accommodate generational differences. Invoking the immutability of culture to oppose warranted change is being plain mischievous, unnecessarily retards progress and development and soon creates social conditions that soon become oppressive to the members of the social group. For us to move forward as a society has required that some of our traditions die or evolve; that has always been so for ages. Wasn’t that one of the themes of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart?
Social activists have had a field day giving the government the lip, a raspy itchy dose of it. But the government has the body language which those of us who have been offended by bigger bullies and have had no recourse but to rail abuses on may be very familiar with. I kwucha i bia metu onye i na-agwa aka. Talk all you want, no matter; until you touch who you are referring to.
Unfortunately, there is little else our activists are accustomed to do when faced with undesirable social developments. Placarding as an end to itself, it seems, is all our activists are comfortable doing. Sometimes, it feels as if there is no real desire for achieving anything with the action, only to sound out and sound pleased with oneself. At times, I can’t shake the feeling that what passes for activism is a literary festival, an essay writing competition, as show of literary excellence. At least, that is the most cherished value I derive from them—and I have to give it to them; the ones I read are master wordsmiths.
There is a vast disconnect between the man on the street with his entrenched prejudices and beliefs and the social critic who urges him to brave a vision of a better but unfamiliar tomorrow. The critic regards the average Nigerian with thinly-veiled and impatient disdain for his cultural obduracy, while the average Nigerian looks at him with hard suspicion, for his iconoclasm. This field of polarity between them has become a plush nesting ground for the politician, who knows that as long as he plays one side off against the other, he can safely conduct business as usual. But this push-pull relationship between critic and Nigerian is inevitable in our social evolution. Our social critics may need to find a way to reduce their message to its kernel, to its ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ form.
What do I recommend?
The guys, who put forward the bill for adoption, if they are serious, should review and return it to the Senate, with as much media coverage as they can get. I’m sure the response they will get will be less dismissive. I hope the process of proposing a bill is as easy as that. We aren’t going to get to Gender Equality heaven tomorrow and if we act like we expect it that soon and are unwilling to take our gains in small measures, I don’t know if that will get us anywhere soon.
The Senate should stop sending off everyone to their rooms with excuses that don’t hold water. They should buckle up. Things aren’t likely to be as easy as it used to be before. Because a lot of watchful eyes and tongues of live coal are focused on them, they have to be more deliberate and deliberative in action. Examine the proposed bill critically and at length, pick out what is less objectionable, ask for modification of others, and always have an ear for suggestions. Form a commission to oversee this evaluation (possibly headed by one of those guys who supported the bill and one who didn’t for balance) so the rest of the Senate can have all the time for their regular scheduled activities. And accept that this is a lively ongoing discussion that will be around awhile. There’s no way any right thinking person could afford to ignore the welfare of 50% of their wards or expect that he can continue thus with impunity perpetually.
Being a critic in Nigeria pays so adequately in attention, and most times this comes with none of the inconvenient and attendant sacrifice of activism. That is why most critics would just be that. And that is why most criticism would just be that, well meaning words not acted on. In fact, activism in Nigeria, except for a few cases, is seen as an activity fools engage in. Critics should take it further, saying not only what ought to be done, but taking steps to see it is done. There is a feature of the democratic system of government called pressure groups. You could influence quite a handful of Senators as a body, in a forum. Learn also the act of talking, as opposed to ranting. I’m sure Senators might be inclined to act as humans if they are talked to as persons and not barked at as dogs. You may not be expected to perform magic, but there certainly is more you can do, singly and in groups, to promote your pet causes, by going beyond mere talk to taking concerted and calculated action steps.
Also, realize that it is the duty of critics, of social visionaries, to persuade the rest of the society of the benefits of investing in their dream for the future. Even when they live with very obdurate and culturally inertia-bound people. It would be a splendid idea if the progressives could impose their will on their majority of the feet-in-the-mud people against their wish, but that runs counter to the spirit of democracy, I believe.
And if I give you the impression that I’m an exception to the norm of doing just enough to pass muster, I hasten to disabuse you of the notion. I’m just the guy who came late to the party, when everyone’s attention has been diverted to anything but newcomers, and to gain attention, climbs up the table and pisses into the punch bowl shouting, “Drink responsibly. Not for persons under 18.”
Written by The Yakadude