Our nation of Nigeria, though today mired internationally, near-pigeonholed by the sensationalism of the misguided Boko Haram and their torrid assaults to our Northeast, nonetheless is on the financial and social upswing. Our rate of GDP growth is at a robustly healthy 6.2%; with ever-liberalizing markets, private investment is beginning to increase in tempo, albeit measuredly. Assuredly, we foresee continued development in our role as Africa’s unabashed, wholly deserved economic steward.
One of the chief catalysts in bringing about such tangible change in Nigeria has indeed been our bevy of human capital. However and just as importantly, our dynamic economic evolution can also be safely attributed to the overdue inclusion of women in the workforce. Our nation is striving to meet and one day, exceed the mantra of Secretary Clinton’s ‘No Ceilings’ Initiative.
Yet while indeed level access and thereby the adopting of fundamental human rights for women in the workplace and girls in the classroom happened at a critical juncture in our history, such was not always the going case for Nigeria. Inequality has and remains at the root of a fragmentation that continues to threaten to divide our nation in years to come.
And yes, even today, with 170 million plus citizens, uniquely arable lands, oil wealth in abundance and intrigue from our partners within and external to the BRICS echelon, though we suggest we could no longer stand idly by and let ‘tradition’ cast a looming shadow over the potential found in women, inconsistencies remain.
Despite the strides made by, admittedly, international and sometimes indigenous organizations like my SLOK Holdings, the Nigerian workforce exhibits certain degrees of gender inequality: as an example, the highest percentage of men in the workforce is among those aged 45-49 (99.2%), compared to just 67% of women in this same age group.
Recently at a Summit in Lagos, Nigerian women, under the auspices of the Nigeria Women in Management organization, re-echoed the need for West African governments to provide level playing grounds to all aspiring individuals, irrespective of gender.
The women spoke against the backdrop of growing hostilities against the gender across the world, indeed beyond the shores of Nigeria; the continually tragic, deliberate entrapment of women from exploring or unleashing their full potentials for personal and indeed national development elsewhere in Africa.
Positively and therefore in contrast, a report in Online Nigeria noted that the steady advancement of women in contributing to the nation’s socio-economic trajectory and likewise, their progressive prominence in the national scheme of affairs have, to a large extent, made an indelible imprint on the Federal Government; from their inclusion, the FG has responded and advanced positively in many ways.
Ms. Adeola Azeez, Chairperson of Wimbiz and a Deputy Managing Director of Deutsche Bank, remarked in a recent interview the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan hosts the most female representation in its cabinet as witnessed ever before. They are accomplishing tremendous benchmarks, elevating our country through their thought leadership. Of course, one example to be mentioned is Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank Presidential candidate and a globally renowned Nigerian economist. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala draws earned admiration from Nigerians across the country, regardless of ethnicity, regional divide or chosen creed.
However and from a financial standpoint, it is disheartening that although females constitute the highest number of ‘savers’ in Nigerian banks and have developed an ingrained culture of responsibly doing so, they are often not viewed as disciplined enough to pay back a loan. This imbalance hinders entrepreneurship and it is entrepreneurship that truly drives the Nigerian economic engines.
Squandering of our blessed resources has long been a setback of Nigeria. To right this, we must continue to reform; set an example, implore and incentivize businesses to allow women to attain earned managerial statures and positions of greater professional leadership and ensure our nation is not merely the economic capital of Africa, but truly an ethical compass.