Monday, December 24, 2007

Globalization and the Political Economy of Higher Education in Nigeria

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Brooklyn College, CUNY
Department of Political Science

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Washington, D.C. December 5-8, 2002.
Work in progress. Please do not quote.

Most analyses of higher education in Nigeria explain the history, causes of decline and strategies for revival by focusing upon the inadequacy of government funding, the abandonment of the Universities and even Nigeria by the intelligentsia and the students that are most financially able to do so, the obvious infrastructural decay, falling academic standards, and the politicization of education. The recent negotiation of a loan between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the World Bank to revitalize Nigerian higher education must be viewed in the context not only of lost autonomy today, but as another phase in the intrusion of the phenomenon of globalization in the political economy of higher education in Nigeria.
This paper will argue that neither the history, nor the causes, nor the strategies for reviving the Nigerian higher education system will succeed without a prior articulation of autonomous strategies that are directed toward proactive and comprehensive economic planning that understands that education is one of the major linchpins in both economic and political well-being. Education is central to national interest, and cannot be solely determined by market forces. Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and funding education cannot be overemphasized.
The paper traces the origins of funding problems to the intensification of pressures from Nigeria's integration into the global political economy. The Structural Adjustment Program as well as ‘third wave' democratization were both pushed by the World Bank. Many of the problems being experienced in the higher institutions of learning today may not have started in the era of Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify. In particular, the World Bank in the 1980s recommended that countries that had high debt and serious balance of payments deficit as did Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to funding primary and technical education rather than tertiary education, which is elitist. The recommendations were made in an atmosphere of economic crisis, where the universities were the most visible sites of anti- Structural Adjustment critiques and protests. The embattled state responded in ways that generated many of today's problems.
The paper considers these problems as generating profound and seemingly intractable reverberations that have stymied both scholarship and learning in Nigerian universities. It takes the position that World Bank involvement will not only impede university autonomy, it will negatively impact Nigeria's political and economic development. While there are other alternative sources of funding Nigeria's higher education, as indicated by the blossoming of private universities in the country, it argues against the total privatization of higher education. In addition to the founding of private universities [with a rigorous certification system in place], the creation of endowment funds that support higher education by Nigerians must be encouraged. The paper concludes that matters of higher education, being defined as a critical aspect of national interest, must reflect the collective vision of advances that Nigeria wants to make in the 21st Century and how it aims to get there.
To underscore the importance of the subject of higher education in Nigeria, and to properly contextualize the problem of higher education, as not only a Nigerian issue but an African, and ultimately, a global problem, this paper begins with a lengthy quote from a speech made by United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan at the launching of an initiative to strengthen African Universities.
Universities provide the logical extension to basic education for all. The university is equally a development tool for Africa, . . . . It holds the key to something we all want and need: African answers to African problems; the capacity to address the most pressing issues both at the theoretical and practical levels.
We look to universities to develop African expertise; to enhance the analysis of African problems; to strengthen domestic institutions; to serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights; and to enable African academics to play an active role in the global community of scholars.
Key to this is bridging the digital divide. At present, less than half a per cent of all Africans have used the Internet. This lack of access to new technology leads to exclusion from the global economy as well. The digital revolution has created new opportunities for growth in every field and industry. Since the most valued resource in this revolution is intellectual capital, it is possible for developing world countries to overcome the constraint of lacking finance capital and to leapfrog long and painful stages of the road to development that others had to go through.
In the academic world, information technology must be more than a vehicle for long-distance learning and degrees. At its best, information technology will support, not supplant, Africa's own research and academic development. It should be a tool that: provides access to materials and enhances libraries; makes affordable periodicals and journals that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive; facilitates links within Africa and among African institutions as well as with the rest of the world; and finally, enables African scholars to contribute their research to the global bank of knowledge.
In other words, we should replace the digital divide with digital bridges.
But in the end, there is no substitute for good teachers, a good curriculum and good teaching materials, developed by, for and with the African communities they are intended to serve.
We must strive to renew the faculty of African universities. This is a real problem, as my friends from African universities will attest. The old generation is retiring, and many of the young generation are opting to go into business where they get the big bucks or remain abroad after their studies. We must devise strategies to attract young faculty, and build up exchange programmes with universities outside Africa, particularly those with Africans on their faculties.
As we assist Africa to develop its own bank of knowledge, we must also draw on it. African universities already play a direct role in poverty reduction programmes. Experts in economics, sociology and anthropology are training those who manage districts and projects on the ground. Others are assisting in the expansion of small- and medium-scale enterprises. The international community must make use of this valuable store of local expertise and experience.
. . . .
This is a moment in history that we should seize. By working together, we can succeed. (UN Secretary General Kofi Annan).[i]
Globalization as a phenomenon is hardly new, although more people are conscious of living in a global world today. Historically then, higher education is shaped by political, economic and social forces. It in turn, profoundly shapes the process of globalization since ideas have epistemic power, and the production of knowledge is inextricably linked with the manner in which humans understand and give meaning to their lived realities.
Globalization and Higher Education in Nigeria
We cannot date the emergence of tertiary institutions in the African continent to the relatively late emergence of the contemporary crop of higher institutions of learning in the African continent. Anyone who knows African history knows of the existence of fine higher institutions of learning in ancient Mali and Egypt. This paper restricts its comments to the tertiary institutions that were established first in the final days of colonialism, and more during the nationalist era of anti-colonial campaigns, the former to train personnel to man colonial posts, and the latter to prepare Africans to take charge of the production of knowledge, to equip them with the wherewithal to lead their various countries in different capacities, to enable them to become the vanguard in implementing the nationalist liberatory agenda.
Considered from the glorious and forward-thinking optimism of those times, it is clear that today’s tertiary institutions have come to a bad pass. All over the African continent, tertiary institutions suffer from what we see so graphically in Nigeria – massive under-funding, infrastructural decay, and the brain drain. Most analyses of higher education in Nigeria consequently explain the history, causes of decline, and strategies for revival by focusing upon the inadequacy of government funding, the abandonment of the country and universities by those scholars and students that are able to do so, the falling of academic standards, and the politicization of the universities. These analyses are both right and wrong. They are right because one would have to be blind and/or senseless not to see that today’s universities are but pale imitations, or even carcasses of yesterday’s phoenixes. They are wrong because these phenomena are themselves caused by globalization. The phenomena in turn shape our understanding and experience of globalization.
According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.[ii]
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations also sheds some light on the connection between globalization and education in Africa, as well as on the centrality of education to human life when his representative, Nitin Desai said on his behalf, at a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the Development of Science and Technology in Africa, in New York on February 9, 1999

Today, globalization is affecting all aspects of our lives, from the political, to the social, to the cultural. Only knowledge, it would seem, is not being globalized. In an age where the acquisition and advancement of knowledge is a more powerful weapon in a nation's arsenal than any missile or mine, the knowledge gap between the north and the south is widening. This trend must be reversed.[iii]

It is clear that Nigerian universities have not only lost their autonomy today, but that we are observing another manifestation of the deep and profound engagement of the African continent with the global forces of production, of governance, and of social relations.
I argue that the crisis in Nigerian higher education is caused by the manner in which Nigeria like the rest of Africa is experiencing globalization. Nigeria and the overwhelming majority of African countries are in the throes of a deep-seated economic crisis. For most African countries, this crisis began in the 1970s. Nigeria was shielded from experiencing the worst of the crisis in the 1970s because of an oil boom that itself was the outcome of the operation of global political and economic forces. The Arab-Israeli war of the 1970s made it possible for Nigeria to exponentially increase the gains from the exploitation and purveyance of what increasingly became the most important earner of foreign exchange, crude petroleum.
The irrational exuberance of Nigeria’s oil boom years led to expanded capacity to fund many more universities in a system that practiced unabashed ivory-towerism. Students were clearly being groomed by this system to take up cushy jobs as leaders in their fields and in the nation at large. The number of institutions increased with each increase that the Nigerian government made of the number of states. I must hasten to say that despite these increases, Nigeria has not, by any stretch of the imagination, met the need and demand for higher education.
Let me reiterate and extend my argument: Without the prior articulation of autonomous and coordinated strategies that are directed toward pro-active and comprehensive economic planning that understands that education is one of the major linchpins to economic, political and social well-being, there cannot be a clear understanding of the history, causes, or strategies for reviving the Nigerian higher education system. Education is central to national interest, and is too important to be left to pure market forces. Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and in funding education cannot be over-emphasized.
To say that globalization is important is also to trace the origins of funding problems in the universities to the intensification of the pressures from Nigeria’s integration into the global political economy. The Structural Adjustment Program as well as “third wave” democratization were both pushed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Many of the problems being experienced in the higher institutions of learning today may not have started in the era of Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify. In particular, the Bank in its Berg Plan (1979) did recommend that countries that fit the profile of Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to funding primary, rather than elitist tertiary education. The recommendations were made in an atmosphere of economic crisis, where the universities were the most visible sites of anti-Structural Adjustment critiques and protests. The embattled state escalated its classic tradition of repressive responses to those who opposed its policies, methods and style of administration by unleashing the military, police, and security forces on the universities. Demonstrators were shot at by security forces, as they were during the more ‘benevolent’ 1970s, critics were detained, interrogated, and forced into exile. The universities became increasingly infiltrated by undercover security agents who laid the groundwork for today’s cults. The Association of Senior Staff of the Universities was proscribed time and again under the Babangida administration and the more brutal Abacha dictatorship, as was the National Students’ Union. These punitive and repressive measures were accompanied by further centralization of the tertiary education system in a manner that followed the administrative norm during the various phases of military rule. The power of the purse was also used to humiliate, silence, and marginalize the intelligentsia.
Profound under-funding of the universities, neglect of their infrastructure, and the marginalization of the intellectuals as a crucial part of the process of state building fell right in line with the IMF’s advice that there was an imperative need for rationalization through retrenchment, removal of subsidies, attrition, imposing market values on all aspects of life by “getting the prices right,” and the World Bank’s advice that the focus on tertiary education breeds an elitism that could scarcely be afforded. Like most social services, education became a privilege rather than a right, but the conditions under which it was produced and acquired simultaneously became Darwinian. Books, journals, equipments and teaching aids became unattainable luxuries for the overwhelming majority of students and professors, many of whom were pushed by the state into the burgeoning class of the dispossessed.
Remarkably, the intellectuals did not withdraw with their tail between their legs. They produced alternatives to Structural Adjustment, maintained their critiques of irrational government policies, and argued for academic freedom, university autonomy, as well as for a rethinking of the inevitability of SAP and the un-viability of alternatives. Given the state’s intransigence, this was a dialogue of the deaf. Direct repression, the escalation of a reign of terror, the compulsion of necessity to utilize multiple survival strategies such as for the “lucky” few, doing intellectual piecework for more affluent Western colleagues, and for the majority, becoming a part of the hustling and trading culture that pervaded every aspect of Nigeria’s socioeconomic life, could not but create what today seems to be the seemingly intractable problems in higher education. Scholarship and learning were stymied. There was an exodus to greener pastures in Africa and the West, again, by those who were able.
African and Nigerian higher education was deeply assaulted by the forces of Structural Adjustment, as well as by the illiberal democratization that took place in many countries. In a dramatic turn-around, rather than advocate that higher education should be open only to the highest bidders, all of a sudden, everyone is now concerned with the dismal state of higher education in Africa. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, Carnegie Corporation, the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the US State Department, and most of the major universities in the United States have jumped on the bandwagon of strengthening higher education in Africa. The World Bank in a shameless, a-historical manner, erases its role in creating the educational morass in which we find ourselves in Africa. The state has declared a commitment to the revamping of the educational system. International philanthropic organizations have declared that education is a priority, UNESCO and many multilateral organizations have made important interventions. One wonders though, where all this help was when African intellectuals were the proverbial voices in the wilderness. It is impossible to reverse the tide of history, but Karl Marx’s observation in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is relevant to this situation. I will quote an entire paragraph.
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.[iv]
All Nigerians participate in the making of history, albeit not under conditions of their making. The question they must all ask is the following: How can they stanch the flow of the lifeblood out of the tertiary institutions? How can the heady optimism of the past and the vibrant production of knowledge that it generated be revived? Given that Nigeria is in dire developmental straits, how do we make the educational system meaningful for the agenda of national development?
Here is my humble submission: I am as scared of all the help that is being offered in the various partnership proposals than of the wanton disregard of the plight of the African Academy. World Bank and other multilateral involvement will only impose a certain vision that is informed by an externally defined agenda for tertiary education, again, because African intellectuals may not be treated as the experts that can help us find our way out of the woods. This will negatively impact on Africa’s and by implication, Nigeria’s political and economic development. It will create irresoluble problems for the social system.
There are other alternative sources of funding for strengthening higher education today, and in a way, that is a good thing. The Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations are to be applauded for their higher education initiative. They should however, proceed cautiously so as not to succumb to the pitfalls of developmentalism – a disdain for the local experts and the elevation of the foreign variety to the status of demi-Gods. There are also private universities springing up very rapidly in Nigeria and other African countries. This too is a desirable development but there must be a rigorous system of certification and institutional review. These universities must also resist the allure of totally playing to the market and the tendency to exclusively train personnel for service sector jobs.
It is necessary that endowment funds that are completely indigenous be created to fund the universities and to create the agenda for the renaissance of scholarship and the serious pursuit of the production of knowledge. It is necessary that intellectuals, professionals, and businesspeople in Nigeria and its Diaspora participate actively in these efforts.
The use of virtual technologies can also facilitate solid academic and scholarly collaborations among Nigerians in the Diaspora and at home. We all should explore and develop these linkages in order to turn the brain drain to our advantage. If the emphasis today is on Strengthening African universities, and donors are hell-bent on using foreign experts, we ought to subvert the natural desire to locate such expertise outside Africa by building the requisite social capital that puts us in the pool of candidates that engender the strengthening of the universities. I say this because many of us are familiar with the terrain of tertiary education in Africa and Nigeria, particularly those whose careers in African and Nigerian Universities were cut short by the advent and intensification of Structural Adjustment. Many African and Nigerian professors in Europe, America, and even South Africa have headed departments, and some, entire universities. Their combined experience would stand any reform initiative in good stead. Their intervention, I submit may be more desirable than those from the outside who want to remake African and Nigerian higher education in the image of western ideals that are ill-suited to the demands and challenges faced by the African continent today. In my view, African intellectuals in the Diaspora have much to learn from our colleagues at home. I submit that they ought to be allowed to take the lead in designing an agenda for strengthening the universities and in the implementation of such an agenda.
Finally, matters of higher education are a critical aspect of national interest, and of necessity, we cannot divorce higher education from primary and secondary education, which feed into the higher institutions, because “garbage in, garbage out.” If education is a crucial aspect of national interest, it must reflect the collective vision of the advances that Nigeria wants to make in the 21st century and beyond. The agenda must also incorporate a well-thought up strategy for how we aim to accomplish these goals.
No doubt, the Nigerian higher educational system has been thoroughly politicized. This is inevitable. We cannot address politicization by withdrawing from politics, but we can practice a different kind of politics. The politics must of necessity be focused not just on the domestic matters that constantly create dissension and factionalization among students and intellectuals. In Nigeria, there are problems with university autonomy from the government. Most universities are unable to sustain themselves financially, and depend overwhelmingly on the funds that are doled out by the federal and state governments. Without financial independence, any plans for autonomy would be baseless and useless. How do these universities cut themselves from the state’s apron strings? Some fees would have to be charged. These fees cannot be totally determined by market forces because the state still has an interest in ensuring that higher education is given priority ranking. In charging fees, provisions must be made for indigent students to be able to access higher education through grants, scholarships, and possibly loans. Before autonomy, the universities have to be made whole again. Infrastructural repairs and augmentation of inadequate facilities must be undertaken. Libraries must be stocked with books and journals, attempts must be made to modernize instructional technologies. Again, the role of the state is crucial. External assistance may be sought and taken, but not at the expense of the independence that is required to build a meaningful educational system that engenders the realization of Nigeria’s development goals.
The universities are also a crucial part of building expertise in various areas of need. If they are mandated to do so, and they are given the wherewithal to accomplish this goal, the dearth of expertise in the African continent would not be a perpetual matter. Also, the universities are needed to teach those who would take up the mantle of scholarship and leadership in the future. An investment in their ability to do so is an investment in the future viability of Africa. The ability to do the jobs that the universities must undertake in today’s world means that they must use contemporary tools and methods. Information technology has revolutionized teaching and learning. African and Nigerian universities must be given the tools and the requisite training to make use of these technologies. In sum, I agree with Kofi Annan. Education is a more important weapon in a nation’s arsenal than any missile or mine. It ought not to be left to pure market forces, and should not be handed over to even good friends who want to strengthen it. If African and Nigerian tertiary institutions and educational systems are to be strengthened to meet the demands of the present and future, the efforts to re-focus them must be spearheaded by indigenes at home and in the Diaspora. Among these indigenes, intellectuals are particularly able to understand the terrain and propose solutions.
[i] “Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age” Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220.

[ii] Universal Declaration of Human Rights
[iii] “Promotion Of Science, Technology Cornerstone For African Economic Progress Says Secretary-General In Address At Headquarters” Press Release SG/SM/6891 SAG/21 9 February 1999
[iv] Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

The Dividends of Democracy: An Exploration into Nigeria's Political Economy at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."
Frederick Douglass, 1857[i]

Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow,
Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . . (Bob Marley & The Wailers, Guiltiness)


The title of this paper was originally: “Nigeria: Globalization, Democratization and Development.” The title has to be modified in light of my firsthand experience with Nigeria’s political economy. As a returned immigrant scholar in Nigeria in the summer of 2001, I felt like both an insider and outsider. I observed much and recorded much of such observations. I spoke with many, and empathized with their plight in a Nigeria where economic crisis was a perpetual reality, where the ability to feed oneself and one’s family depends not on how hard you work, but on how well-connected you are, where graduating from college, even with an advanced degree, . However, I had an exit option that many of my subjects did not have. I could return to work to earn “hard currency” that gave me options that many of the people that I encountered did not have. I study Nigeria’s political economy for a living, and thus differ from many other immigrants who have an exit option. In the first place, I am a dis/relocated Nigerian who lives and works in New York City, USA. I am also a woman, a mother of two boys that accompanied me on my research trip. All three of my sisters, my mother, and approximately 99% of my huge extended family continue to live and work in Nigeria. I also had the additional benefit of seeing things from the perspective of my children. For my teenage son who was en route to his first year in college after the summer ended, this was a return to a Nigeria where he spent every summer for the first ten years of his life. Now eighteen, when we prepared to leave New York, he looked forward to going to Nigeria but also had forgotten much of what the experience was like, except that there was lots of family. He wondered how much of what he remembered would remain the same. As a young adult, he also was privy to many long conversations and arguments on Nigerian politics that I have had over the years with my fellow compatriots, some exiled, some marooned, yet others volubly and palpably glad to have “escaped” from “dead-end” Nigeria to a land where the possibilities were seemingly endless. He was familiar with dark musings about official and garden-variety armed robbery. He had heard discussions of the “Maradona” and “evil genius” of Nigerian politics, the military “president”, Babangida. He knew about the Abacha dictatorship and attempts to perpetuate both the former and latter regimes. He constantly heard about SAP. He heard complaints of people who claimed to be perpetually besieged by innumerable family members and friends that wanted financial assistance, stipends, even sponsorship for American citizenship. He knew about Nigerian drug couriers that are arrested at the various US airports for transporting heroin into the country. He also knew from reports that we heard for the six months or so before leaving that armed robbery was on the rise. This was not just a matter of hearsay, one family member had been shot in the leg while waiting for the gate to his house to be open. Just before we left, we heard that other family members were attacked by armed robbers and their house was cleaned out. One of his concerns was whether it was really safe to go to Nigeria. He took his cue from me, and decided that if it was okay by me to go, it must really be okay.
My six year old son also considered this to be a return trip. After all, he claimed, he had been in Nigeria when he was five months old. The three of us boarded the South Africa Airways plane sort of on a fact-finding mission. Each of us had different questions, but all were desirous of finding out what Nigeria was about at this point in time.
For me, the defining issue quickly became “the dividends of democracy”. Remember I’d gone to Nigeria to research the interaction between globalization and political and economic development. To properly answer the questions that were uppermost in my mind, I had to take the pulse of Nigeria’s politics and its economy. I had to determine the extent to which the global affects the local and vice versa. Indeed, turning on the television for the talk shows on politics and reading the newspapers, engaging friends and family and research subjects in discussions on current events yielded much fruit on all the concerns that were uppermost in my mind.
The news media was ubiquitous in its constant declamation on the dividends of democracy. According to various and sundry experts, these dividends were few and far between. Inflation was sky-high. The cost of living was prohibitive. Roads were bad. Access to health care was an intractable problem for most. Potable water, reliable electricity supply, even reliable assurance that one’s meager income would be regularly replenished by a paycheck as and when due was at best, an elusive proposition. Add to this the insecurity of life and limb due to the predatory activities of highly educated, but unemployed and underemployed university students or graduates, some of whom had turned to armed robbery in their desperation, some to be able to keep up with the high flying Joneses who threw money around like so much garbage or sand, and the universities that still remained more closed than they were open, the university professors who had been driven to pursue multiple means of guaranteeing their livelihood, while at the same time holding on to their day job, but performing associated tasks as though teaching and research were the less important parts of their employment. Bear in mind that the cost of loans was also prohibitively high, that urban life was hyper-crowded and chaotic, and you would begin to scratch the surface of the problems that frustrate ordinary Nigerians. When people are asked what their experience of democracy has been, they unequivocally answer that they are yet to enjoy its dividends. Were the dividends accessible, they argue, the roads would be good, all the lacks would be satisfied or fulfilled, the coming elections in 2003 would not cause anxiety about violence, dislocations, etc.
Yet, this would be an incomplete story if it is focused solely on the deprivations. The whole notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” implies that there are Joneses to keep up with, that there are some who are doing better than most, some for whom the dividends of democracy have arrived. They are the comfortable, the affluent, the creme de la creme of Nigerian society. They have either newly “arrived” nouveau riche, or they are comfortable, and have been for a few generations. Their forebears may actually have benefited from the dividends of colonialism, nationalism, past democracy, authoritarianism, or dictatorship. For these, if there is a paycheck, it is regular, guaranteed, substantial, and supported by various perquisites of office. Some of these Nigerians are the “big boys” and “big girls” that populate the new tabloids. They deal in contracts, they are power brokers. They can, like Terry Waya, throw a birthday bash to end all birthday bashes in London, England,[ii] invite over one hundred of their closest friends whose names are among the “Who’s Who” in Nigerian politics and in the business world. That the party was the event of the moment was clear while I was in Nigeria because it was covered extensively by tabloids such as the National Encomium, Ovation, and City People. It was also covered by all major news media. It even attracted the attention of President Obasanjo who was extremely critical of the high profile nature of this private celebration that seemed to have been given an official stamp due to the presence of so many of those that he dubbed the “Owambe” governors. One could see the President’s point. Many ordinary people were groaning under the weight of economic devastation and Nigeria was pushing the powers that be within the international financial system for debt forgiveness, or at least, debt relief. For many who were already cynical about giving any kind of breaks to a country that is thickly populated by “money miss roads” such as Waya, Nigeria needed no breaks, only a dose of good old common sense. In the parlance of International Political Economists, what Nigeria needs is not debt relief but technocrats with the skill to identify what the right policy mix is, and the will to implement such policies in the face of opposition by reactionary vested interests. The measures involved would probably involve purging the decision-making and policy circles of the influence of these rent seeking elites. Venal elites like Waya who have run amok would probably lose their automatic access to the corridors of powers. His foreign benefactors would be shut out/down, his “good friends” who consider him to be the man to know when you want to get things done would close up shop and get real jobs. One does not need a degree in rocket science to know that this is impossible. Many current and pending politicians are beholden to Waya and his godfathers, and they said as much in their speeches at his birthday party.
For critics/advisers/analysts who call for an injection of good sense into economic policy making, the problem and solution are clear. When you are an indebted country in the contemporary global system, your options are the following: renegotiate your debt, but be prepared to fulfill certain conditions. Do not:
· have an overvalued currency
· give any subsidies
· have extravagant social policies like full and free education at all levels, healthcare for all
· have budget deficits
· have big government
· have protectionist policies.

Instead, do
· devalue your currency
· maintain policies of fiscal and budgetary probity by balancing your budget
· operate according to rules of comparative advantage by producing and exporting the primary commodities that your advantage dictate
· cut back the size of the state by privatizing what were formerly state owned enterprises, concentrate on primary rather than tertiary education
· open your markets to imports to stimulate economic efficiency
· make your domestic economy attractive to foreign investors by removing barriers to entry like too many rules, slow decision making on pressing commercial issues, poor governance, protection of domestic producers who are not as efficient as their foreign counterparts/competitors
· establish good institutions that guarantee the rule of law, protect property rights
· decentralize government to bring it closer to the people.

For the international financial institutions and their Washington Consensus perspective, if these measures, however painful are put into place, the dividends of democracy would grow and the population would gain in the long run.

The scholars/analysts forget one basic fact -- that pain is hard to bear. Further, they forget that pain that goes on for too long is bound to yield multiple bitter fruits. Finally, they forget that the dividends of democracy can be identified by both scholars and ordinary people alike. If people find that they are unable to identify them, they become at best, restive. At worst, explosions can be expected. However, there are also serious discussions about the dividends of democracy in Nigeria that go beyond the quantifiable bread and butter issues. People want transparency in governance. They want fairness, justice, the rule of law, and institutions that protect and defend their rights. Although they want jobs, they also want a government that protects and defends their interests prior to doing likewise for multinational corporations under the impetus of creating a favorable atmosphere for foreign investment. They want a sovereign government that does not sell the heritage of future generations off for a mere “mess of pottage” as in the defense relationship with a powerful country where the said country “trains” soldiers in peacekeeping operations in return for spending about $1 million annually. Many Nigerians realize that what they must look forward to are the rules of “trickle down economics” if they are fully subscribed to the ideals of the market system as presented by the scholars/analysts that advice that market based democracy is the way to go. They reject such analysis, and act in a manner that is true to their interest in a universe where they have limited power. For each set of actors, the desirable action is different. This is why we have such an unmanageable system in Nigeria today. This paper takes this as a starting point in exploring the excitement and enigma of Nigeria at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Demands for the dividends of democracy do not emerge in a vacuum. For this reason, people feel duped when there are no dividends to be found. The politicians that won the last elections themselves set up the baseline expectations that while the Nigerian economy was in the doldrums when they took over, they would make quantifiable and progressive changes in the economic situation in Nigeria. While it is to be expected that politicians would want to sweep the pronouncements that made the expectations rational under the rug, people who believed them were quite unwilling to be duped. Therefore, through the press, they demand some reckoning. This is one reason why one of the chieftains of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was questioned by a journalist in the following vein in September 2000:

When the new administration took over power in 1999, the rate of interest for prime borrowers was between 12 and 15 per cent, it is now 30 and 35 per cent; the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 2.4 per cent, it is now negative; the naira then could be exchanged at the rate of N88 to 1 US Dollar, it is now N134 to 1 USD; inflation rate stood at 13 per cent then, it is now 26 per cent; unemployment rate then was....[iii]

Of course, the journalist was cut off by the uncomfortable politician. Nigeria is not the only place where politicians prefer such statements to be remembered only when they want to take credit for a thriving economy. Naturally, the embarrassed political chieftain responded true to type when he said the following: "... you cannot base the performance and achievement of the present government on mere numbers...."[iv]
The exchange attracted the attention of Dr. Enodien, a management consultant who is resident in Lagos. He wrote a commentary in one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers that once again brought up the question of the dividends of democracy. The aforementioned politician was seen as acting absurdly when he pointed to achievements and strides made in the area of opening up the political arena. The attribution of this much needed development to the benevolence of the government was considered unacceptable. People naturally expect the increased freedom of speech, its benefits may not be readily subject to quantification, but the expectation that such a benefit of democracy would devolve to Nigerians under today’s democratic dispensation does not preclude the expectation that the politicians would keep promises made about economic growth and visible improvements in people’s lives. The commentator asked the right question. He asked a question that is central to all the discussion about the dividends of democracy when he asserted: “But people would welcome answers from whoever is in a position to shed light on this discourse because if the performance evaluation of this or indeed any government cannot be based on a periodic scrutiny of the generated socio-economic indicators, on what basis then should its achievements be evaluated?”[v]
Reading the commentary further also gives an indication of the source of the generalized frustration that most Nigerians feel. Most ordinary people are becoming disillusioned precisely because they see with the evidence of their own senses that politicians are living “high on the hog” while they take a “may the devil take the hindmost” stance toward ordinary Nigerians whose hopes and aspirations, particularly as they relate to the enjoyment of the positive dividends of democracy are yet to be realized. Every ordinary Nigerian was disgusted when the first task that Nigerian legislators undertook was to ensure that their nests were feathered abundantly by increasing their salaries, allowances, and other perquisites of office. There is a perception that the politicians in general were totally oblivious of, and had deliberately shielded themselves from the suffering of the people. There is an additional perception that the government wants to use statistical data in a fraudulent manner that for this analyst, indicative of “the apparent abandonment of modern management technique had been responsible for the stunted development of Nigeria in the past.”
Most Nigerians have a longer memory than the politicians give them credit for. They remember that military regimes of the past act like today’s politicians, who also happen to be liberally sprinkled with old military officers, when they justify their violent take-over of government by telling the people that they undertook this extreme measure for reasons of national interest, to guarantee national survival, to clean up a polluted political arena from the corrupt legacy of the old regime, and to end the country’s economic woes. Even when people were inclined to question the military, there was a lack of the freedoms that are guaranteed and integral to democracies. Questioning the government under military rule could well be taken as tantamount to mounting a frontal attack on the state.
Dr. Enodien is partly right. The military “got away with their unverifiable claims only because some gullible Nigerians and military apologists deliberately endorsed the claims of the military without any recourse to facts and figures. . . . it is because the time-honoured and universally accepted system of evaluating the social, economic and political performance at any point in time was lacking, that the military rulers had the false sense of legitimacy. It is also because we did not use statistical data to support their claims that enabled the military not only to prolong their stay in office but also thrived under the illusion that they were performing well because they did not have to defend their achievements or lack of it by reference to authentic statistical data.” Another story in the Guardian, this time an interview by Adeleke Adeseri with “Ayodele Olowofoyeku, the financial secretary of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Osun State” reveals the persistence of the messiah complex by personalities who cast their participation in politics in the mold of rescuing the country from imminent ruin. “Olowofoyeku is the son of Chief Babatunji Olowofoyeku (SAN), former Attorney General of the Western Region in the First Republic and the first chairman of Ilesa Central Local Council.”[vi]

Q: WHAT is the deacon doing in politics?[vii]

A: Over the years, I noticed that most of us just sit down and complain about the political situation in our home towns, and the country in general. I came to realise that nobody really has a right to complain. If you know you can make a difference, offer yourself for service. Well, it is more like I was made a deacon couple of months back but I have become a born again Christian about fours [sic] years ago. My desperation to go into politics was more of divine call than anything else in the sense that I had a personal revelation that I should go and sit down and begin to look at it. Being a deacon in the church does not have anything to do with my personal ambition; it is more to see the triumph of Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Osun State.

While Olowofoyeku also explains his participation in terms of being the most qualified candidate for the job because he had practical experience, the instances that he enumerated concerned fund raising and organizing media promotion for political candidates. His statement above also clearly draws on another tendency in Nigerian politics -- people who consider themselves to be “born again” Christians present themselves as responding to their calling by a higher authority. They expect people to trust them because of their proclaimed moral superiority to others. President Obasanjo himself has used the same arguments. The form that Christianity has taken in contemporary Nigeria is that it manifests elements of multi-level salesmanship and proselytization. Many want the automatic acceptance of the goods they purvey, and ease their way into people’s consciousness and or pockets by claiming to be the bearers of one messianic message or another. Divine callings proliferate, as do revelations from a higher authority that a given individual should lead and/or prosper. Those that compete with such an individual then seem to be saboteurs against none other than the highest authority, the Almighty God. Ambition then fuses very nicely with the desires of the almighty.
To return to Enodien’s article, he fails to acknowledge that quiescence is not analogous to the recognition of authority, or the conferment of legitimacy. Most people were scared to death. Democracy is assumed to make a difference. The people are supposed to have dialogues, conversations, and other sundry communication with their government. This is precisely why the press feels entitled to ask the questions on every Nigerian mind. When politicians refuse to answer such questions because they feel that the people ought to be grateful for the ability to speak freely, they completely miss the boat on the essence of democracy and good governance. The right to speak may very well be meaningless when considered in light of not so visible restraints on the freedom of expression. Further, the politicians themselves set the baseline expectations by which they are now judged.
If we immediately juxtapose the commentary with another Olowofoyeku answer, one sees a clear example of the kind of pronouncements that make the electorate expect that the election of one politician or another would bring an experience of life more abundant to all. Ayodele Olowofoyeku aspired to be a 2003 governorship candidate in Osun State in the same issue of the Guardian, I quote extensively from the interview below: The first question asked is about the level of rancor and political conflict among politicians.[viii]

Q: If you become the chief executive, how will you prevent such wrangling?

A: You see, people are bound to have their intentions, action plans and other things. I believe in governance that will be responsive to the people. I believe that, as a governor, democracy is all about working for the people. And there is bound to be conflict, definitely, but I know that majority of the conflicts arise from the fact that lot of people feel marginalised and feel cheated because quite a number of people that have become governor seem to have forgotten that they are representatives of the people. It seems they think that because they are in governance, governance is their own ideals, and their own ideals alone. When you feel the pulse of your state, you know what the people want; what direction to take and not just to feel the impulse of few people. Democracy is about numbers, but you find out that after the election, after the election of a particular official into power, governance now becomes by few people. If only other people's ideals are sought I am sure that there will be less conflict and I know that if I come into governance, [sic] that will be approached from the time to time.[ix]

One of the ways in which one can see the influence of globalization on Nigerian politics is to consider a few paragraphs of an article that addresses the conflictual situation between former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim and Governor Sam Egwu in Ebonyi State. The Senate President and Governor are in a different faction of the People’s Democratic Party, each faction from a different zone in the state. The two men clashed over the allocation of offices, a disagreement that disintegrated to the alleged use of thugs by the Governor to intimidate the supporters of the Senate President’s faction. According to a news report by Thisday Online, the crux of the problem is the following:

In many states, dominant factions of the party perfected plans to register only their loyalists as card-carrying party members. Remember that it is only cardcarrying party members that will vote in delegates at ward congresses. A11 other levels of elections for nominations are by elected delegates. An attempt by the Ebonyi dominant faction of the PDP to play this joker ran into stormy waters owing to the vigilance of the state's Abuja group. The governor sent an army of supporters who stormed the PDP Hq in Abuja, inflicted injuries on party officials on duty and hijacked the party registration materials.[x]

The situation was serious enough that the Senate President needed police protection in order to visit his own state -- Ebonyi. Four people were killed by the police in the melee that accompanied his visit. In making a recommendation for more circumspect behavior and an increased amount of civility among the country’s politicians, the former Special Assistant to President Shehu Shagari, and current Director of the Lagos Business School, and the Chairman of the Information Technology firm, Leapfrog Venture Partners, Dr. Pat Utomi is right. There is no excuse for thuggery and the intimidation of opponents in Nigerian politics. These are some of the things that wreaked havoc with Nigerian politics in the past, even under the Shagari administration. However, in order to make his point, Utomi draws parallels between Nigeria and the US. For him, politicians

need to discover is that if they work together, and put down this petty devil called pride, they will be the greater, not the lesser for it. If they have consciences and a sense of history they should, forthwith, cease and desist from acts that take civility away from public life. Perhaps they can learn from contemporary experience in which Bill Clinton became governor, lost the next election, reclaimed the gubernatorial chair at another election, and went on to become president of the United States. All things tend to work together unto good.” I could say 'there we go again' in the manner candidate Ronald Reagan taunted the incumbent President Jimmy Carter back in 1980. But that would be a cheap shot and the future being threatened by such gross disorderly conduct is far too important to subject to cheap shots.[xi]

Utomi’s commentary points to the pervasive reach and influence of globalization on Nigeria’s politics. The personalities that are held up as examples are former presidents of the United States of America. The language used contains contemporary American slangs. However, the article follows an enduring stream in Nigerian political analysis. Nationalist politicians during the colonial era did not call for an end to colonial rule in a manner that self-confidently declared that Nigerians were deserving of being treated as citizens, and not as subjects of Britain. What differs today is that the instantaneous nature of global communication has guaranteed that all of us feel as though we are right on the scene when news is made. Thus, it is to be expected that there will be more comparisons of Nigeria to those countries that are believed to be leaders in the world today.[xii] My critique of the Utomi piece is that while he is absolutely right to condemn political violence and lack of decorum in politics, we do not necessarily need to draw upon the experience of the United States to understand that political violence is “beyond the pale.” At this point in our existence as Nigerians, we can find enough rationale that is based on indigenous philosophies that eschew violence and combat to the death when we make political or social commentary.
The Enodien article brings up another point. Under a democratic system of government, the people should be able to evaluate the performance of the government on the basis of quantifiable variables that give an indication of the changes in their life chances. This can be done in a somewhat limited way by considering the socio-economic indicators. The press is also entitled to bring the concerns of the public to the fore and to insist on public answers. To demand this is to engage in furthering the cause of democracy. It is in essence, to foster increased political openness and to also provide the public with much needed information, facts and figures that enable them to assess for themselves, the extent to which the circumstances of the country’s economic health have changed.[xiii]
The Olowofoyeku article also speaks to the issue of the nature of democracy. In answering a question about the chaotic nature of politics in Osun state as follows, Olowofoyeku rightly indicates that divergent perspectives do not necessarily point to a lack of democracy, instead, politicians ought to cultivate a greater degree of tolerance for such divergence, and a willingness to negotiate mutually acceptable solutions. Another article in the same issue of Guardian speaks to the nature of democracy thus:

This is a democracy and politicians are servants, not lords. The thriving of competing ideas and contending personalities is at the heart of the democratic process being a preferred way of governance. All is not lost in Ebonyi. We all make mistakes. Once the people and not egos move to centre stage, reconciliation and concord will follow. To persist as things are now is to beguile the nobility of the human spirit. In Ebonyi as elsewhere in the country, the weak traditions of democratic culture enthrones an "onhye ka ibe ya" – who is the greater man syndrome.[xiv]
Q: Before we go to Osun State, let us look at the South-west generally. Would you say things are normal?
A: Well, I think with the way things are really going on now, I will say that democracy is at work. Well, what I found out really is that democracy does not offer complete solution because we all have different character; we all have ideals. And we all believe that there are different solutions to the same problem. The beauty of democracy is that we all have divergent opinions and at the end of the day we come to agree on a very common solution. So, definitely, all the factionalisation you see, there is [sic] bound to be divergent opinions; it is an evidence that democracy is at work.
Q: What is you chance of winning the gubernatorial election in Osun State as the present governor and likewise his deputy may contest for the same post?
One thing to realise really is that democracy in Yorubland [sic] is not about name, it is about the character of the individual concerned. Definitely, I know that my own selling point is going to be my character, not the governmental machinery I have to use and all that. I know that we are going to have primary elections and the primary elections are going to be fair. So, at the end of the day, we are going to face each other in the primary elections. So, if I win, I know that, definitely, the deputy governor will be reliable and I know that the governor himself will support me and if either one of them wins I have always supported them and I will continue to support them as I did in the past.

The importance of the answers above cannot be overstated. Democracy does not imply the existence of a zombie-like homogeneity in all perspectives, ideas and opinions. For it to work well, all participants have to agree to give up short run gains for long-term benefits. The next question shows that the economic questions are linked inextricably with the social and political.

Q: Specifically, let us look at Osun State, there are problems on ground, but let us look at the social problems first.
A: What I noticed basically is what I have always called capital fight [sic]. We need foreign investors to come into the State. But besides the foreign capital itself, when you look at the whole scenario, it means that you need to keep the capital you have in that state, situate the state for development and also get some form of external capital. But what happens in Osun State is that the only income, apart from federal allocated revenue that comes monthly, is from taxation. We (Osun State) don't really have any other source of revenue that comes in monthly. And then the revenue for the state, the larger percentage of it, is being used to pay the salary of workers. And the funny thing about the peculiar situation in Osun State is that a larger percentage of Osun State indigenes live outside Osun State. Unless we develop a system where Osun State revenue stays in the state and foreign capital or external capital still comes to Osun State, we will not be able to improve. The plight of the people and the level of poverty will keep on increasing day by day.
Q: You must have plans to uplift Osun State, can we have some of the plans?
A: Basically, they are free health services, free education, rural integration and employment for all. But what I intend to do is to break down those four cardinal programmes. You will notice that we have not been able to achieve much in all these areas because of funding as of now. But definitely, we will improve the situation in all these four cardinal programmes. Then, another issue really is the fact that I do not believe that I have all knowledge and wisdom because it is impossible for one man to know all. I, if I get elected, will take into consideration that there are professionals and knowledgeable people in all the different aspects of life and all the different parts of the state. So, what I intend to do is to put together a very formidable team of the best intellectuals in all areas of governance and take their advice.

It is clear from the questions and answers above that both the journalist and future gubernatorial candidate are aware of the proliferation of social and economic problems and their seeming intractability. Olowofoyeku enumerates some of the economic problems – poverty, capital flight, dearth of foreign capital investment, inadequacy of revenue, and the tensions between indigeneity and residence in the generation and allocation of revenue. Like all astute politicians, he promises to give his prompt attention to these problems and to solve them as soon as he gets into office. Most Nigerians tend to look at these promises as mere ploys to get votes. They have heard it all in the past, including the promise of free education and health care, rural integration, and full employment. However, when people call for the dividends of democracy, they are expressing a hope that democratic government would prove to be more honest and accountable than the regimes of the past. It is a hope also that the pains of past mismanagement efficiency and brutality have taught politicians a lesson in commitment. Olowofoyeku is right. Technocratic recruitment is crucial. It is necessary to assemble a team of skilled and experienced bureaucrats that would identify the problems, proffer solutions and implement policies as promised. However, while technocrats may be necessary, they are not sufficient as a solution to Nigeria’s problems and cannot guarantee that Nigerians will access and enjoy the dividends of democracy.
Using the case of Ebonyi State, another article by Pat Utomi describes the situation graphically:
What is stoking the fire of madness in the states? To my mind the very first culprit is the failure of our politicians to discover the key to longevity in public life--creatively giving sacrificial service to the people. Nigerians are so easy to please and so undemanding on their leaders. Even with so much more money available to the states, many saw very little real improvements in the quality of life of citizens, except, of course, public office holders who have been buying up property abroad.
Had many of those now seeing enemies in every imaginable potential challenger spent their first two years in office in passionate quest for creative ways of growing the quality of life of the people, there would be nothing to fear. The usual excuse of 'no money' is the biggest advertisement for the inadequacy of many of our public office holders. Yes, money is very important but it pales in significance to the creative and committed mind with a passion for service to the citizen. Those who only modestly pursue such tracks no doubt will find that if it is their interest to seek re-election, they will not have much to worry about regarding challengers.
Instead, those who have given little service have staked our gubernatorial seats as birthright and disposed themselves to accumulating from the public treasury so they can match all-comers naira for naira in the quest to buy the voters conscience in a monetised process of electioneering. What about the Sam Egwu and Anyim Pius Anyim confrontation. What sadness? Sam and Anyim are big men in many senses, their physical size, what used to be large hearts, strong profession of faith etc. Somehow they have allowed pride and pretty prejudice to reduce them in Lilliputian proportions to being seen as small men. The quest to apportion blame is fruitless. Both need to recognise that they have done disservice to their own people who are the biggest losers from their inability to see profit for the people, in their working in harmony to promote the common good.[xv]

Many of the people that I interviewed also expressed a deep-seated anxiety about the level of political conflict in Nigeria. Again, the media was not only aware of such anxiety, but it explored the variety of dimensions of conflict manifested in Nigeria’s burgeoning democracy. As with Osun State, so with Ebonyi, where a conflict of gladiator-like proportions was observed.[xvi] Again, Pat Utomi described the situation as follows:

THE state of siege is palpable. Most states are now war zones. What's amiss? Governors who were off on ego trips and Owambe parties are running scared in the onset of 2003 paranoia. Any gathering of which they are not a part is seen as threats that must be disrupted by any extra legal means available. Also a problem in the heartlands of Nigeria is a zero-sum mentality in which political competition is increasingly do or die. Most tragic of the genre is the Anyim-Egwu face-off. Are we inviting a step back into a history whose end seemed to have come some time past?[xvii]

The relevance of Bob Marley’s song, “Guiltyness” cannot be overstated. “Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow, Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . .” This is a song that the political elite in today’s Nigeria should heed, particularly as Nigeria celebrates the successful negotiations of a debt relief arrangement with the Paris Club.[xviii] Such celebration may be misguided since the Paris Club and its colleagues in the international debt regime (that is: the international institutional structure created to manage debt) have a way of giving with one hand and taking with the other, and the offer of debt relief is only conditional upon the fulfillment of conditionalities that tend to favor only the creditors. How this differs from SAP remains puzzling to all but the inner circle of international finance cognoscenti.
I am sure many of Nigeria’s politicians are also familiar with the lyrics of Fela Anikulapo’s songs. People are calling for positive dividends of democracy. There is just so much that they can bear. The politicians also should remember that they promised that these dividends were at hand, but they got into office and began to practice all manner of chicanery. If they “downpress” the common people, they will surely “reap the bread of sorrow” as well as “the bread of sad tomorrow.” Democratization is a process, but it can only move forward with a great deal of commitment on the part of all concerned. Nigeria’s political class thus far has not carried its weight. It is the duty of the citizens in a democratic polity to continue to “put their feet to the fire” by demanding that the business of accountable government is given the priority of place, rather than the politics of violence, thuggery and “man pass man.”
It is exciting to embark on the journey toward democratization, particularly in a country like Nigeria where there have been so many years of authoritarianism and military dictatorship. The people that hanker after the dividends of democracy are on the right track. If authoritarianism and dictatorship are responsible for leading Nigeria down the road to ruin, democratization is expected to have the opposite, positive effect. In addition, the appetite for positive dividends of democracy is whetted by cold and calculating politicians who in an effort to gain access to the helm of the state, declare their undying devotion to serving the interests of the people, only to gain power and become oblivious unfeeling gluttons who feed fat at the trough that the public resources of Nigeria have become. This is probably why Jean Francois Bayart characterized African politics as “The Politics of the Belly,”[xix] and why Chinua Achebe identified the villain in Nigerian politics as the leadership.[xx] I see the point in Bayart and Achebe’s diagnosis. They are indeed wise men. I however hasten to caution that the problem is not just the problem of leadership, or of mere gluttony, or even that of the horse that Nigerians have beaten almost to death, “The Nigerian Character.” Rather, Nigeria’s problem is a structural one. It is a problem that arises from the manner in which the country interacts with the global political and economic systems. This is a problem that was present from the very beginning of Nigeria’s engagement with the global system – an engagement that was marked by trade, the slave trade, “the legitimate trade,” voyages of “exploration” and “discovery” of places and peoples that were aware of their own existence by various adventurers, a mad scramble, brutal “pacification” amalgamation, colonization, nationalism, independence, and now, the development of a full-fledged neo-colony where “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Look carefully at Nigeria. You’ll find that its politics much resembles that of its African neighbors, majority of Latin American and Asian countries as well as countries in the Caribbean. If one attributes the problem of these countries to the failure of leadership, what in essence we are saying is that our problems stem from a lack of character, that somehow, our collective nature differs from those of people in countries that have developed. I submit that this is a mistake. The problem is structural because the earlier developers ran amok and perpetrated exploitation of massive proportions to stoke and power the engines of their development. When they left Nigeria, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, they left neo-colonies where the color of the leadership changed, but the nature of governance remained the same. In many neo-colonies, the façade of democracy rapidly fell apart. Dictatorship, authoritarianism, and massive, colonial-type exploitation ensued. This is because the only people that can take power in political transitions tended to be those that past rulers can live with. So it was with Nigeria. The country is still paying the price today of being condemned to concentrate on its comparative advantage by
1. selling primary commodities (which may be minerals, unrefined gemstones, or agricultural commodities,)
2. depending on one or a few of such commodities for its foreign exchange and income,
3. having incremental to no economic growth because economic growth seems to be perpetually elusive,
4. having an over-centralized system of government which means that there is always a bitter struggle for political power, because this remains the best way to make money,
5. having increasing levels of social strife that may be manifested as:
a. a class war of poor against the rich
b. banditry and armed robbery
c. pervasiveness of a sex-trade industry
d. widespread corruption
e. anomie and hopelessness for those who remain oppressed like Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”[xxi]

Will there be no change in Nigeria? No. Rather, Nigeria must manipulate its comparative advantage in order to grab the benefits offered by the constantly changing global economy. This is not a task that can be achieved only with good leadership. It is not a problem that will be solved by transforming “The Nigerian Character,” whatever it is. Rather, it is a problem that will only be solved through careful, deliberate planning. The components of this planning would sound elementary and simple to most sophisticated people. I recommend that the people be given the dividends of democracy – good education, political stability, economic growth, excellent social services, etc. Are these things that will be accomplished very soon? No. Should people demand them? Yes. I also submit that the people are not stupid. If they see that the leadership does not treat public resources like a free gravy train, they would be more willing to make the sacrifices that belt-tightening entails.
What concrete things can Nigeria, Nigerians, and friends of Nigeria do? In the first place, the development of a state that takes charge of economic planning in a manner that resembles the South Korean example before it became a “Tiger” must be encouraged. However, South Korea at the time was not a democracy. Should democracy then be sacrificed at the altar of economic development? The challenge that Nigeria faces is that it is no longer acceptable to answer this question in the affirmative. Thus, the government of Nigeria must of necessity engage in strategic economic planning which may mean that some investors may need to be repelled, while others are attracted, depending on the objectives of national interest. There is also the need to combine internal and external investment as engines of economic growth, therefore, there must be as much energy devoted to making the environment attractive to domestic capital, as is lavished upon foreign investors. This does not mean that all Nigerians will automatically be better off. The majority will still be poor in the long run. Is this a cost we are willing to bear? The state must understand that it is accountable to the people, and thus, it must stop acting with impunity. It must take on the responsibility for ensuring the welfare of ordinary Nigerians, particularly in defending them against unscrupulous multinational investors who care nothing about the environment and the people, for example, the oil companies in the Niger Delta. People must have the security of having guraranteed civil and political liberties which means that groups and individuals that demand a national conference for example, are not treated like “voices in the wilderness.” When these calls are answered, they should not be answered in a cavalier manner that resembles Babangida administration-type open debate of the adoption of an IMF program. If there is no desire to belong to the polity, Nigerians will be working at cross purposes since no house divided against itself can stand. There must be the rule of law and equal protection of the laws as well as non-discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, or class. If this is combined with judicial independence and a unity of laws, or a unified legal system, there ought to be no cases as we’ve had in the North of Nigeria where women are condemned to death by stoning. Of course, there ought to be checks and balances against abuse of authority, fiscal probity, which means that public funds will not be treated as the private reserves of those in government. There also ought to be selfless leadership. Given the state of Nigeria today, this is a long shot. It is important for the government to ensure that we have secure property rights in Nigeria. However, this effort should not only be focused at guarantees for individuals, but for communities. Unfortunately, having such security does not necessary guarantee that we have equitable distribution of wealth.
Nigerian Immigrants also can play a key role as investors, advisors, technical experts, and ought to keep in close touch with Nigerian politics, and maintain close social and economic ties. When we visit, we ought not to think of ourselves as outsiders, we ought not to have an arrogant attitude that assumes that the reason why the dividends of democracy are not realized is because all Nigerians are stupid. We should endeavor to make philanthropic outreach as individuals and organizations to assist wherever we see the need. Such philanthropy should be institutionalized rather than spontaneous and haphazard. Will the government of Nigeria welcome our intervention? Not necessarily. Should we give up? No. There is no reason why Nigerians abroad should not have the right to vote. We should all support the movement to make this a reality. Immigrants in the US can also play the part of informal ambassadors that campaign for pro-Nigeria US foreign policy.
Nigeria is lucky. It is endowed with a huge population, numerous valuable natural resources, fertile land, and not too many natural disasters. With determination and coordination, these goals can be achieved. The other side of this equation is the global political and economic system. The rules of the game in the system are stacked against the powerless. Nigeria, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the powerless. These rules also must change. However, powerful people are not in the habit of handing over the reins of power to the powerless. The powerless acting alone cannot do but so much. Thus, the powerless must unite and push or force a change in the rules. What rules?
Protectionism in countries like the United States against even the modest agricultural exports of countries like Nigeria.
Reduction of the debt overhang or the forgiveness of the debt of developing countries.
The preference for free, rather than fair trade.
The proliferation of small arms, land mines and other military materiel from developed countries to developing nations.
Interference in wars among neighbors in a manner that causes escalation.
Support for dictatorial regimes for strategic reasons.

What I described sounds utopian. To achieve a new global system that respects all these conditions, the current liberal international order which supports the maintenance of the status quo should be transformed. In addition, the world would have to become a place where swords are beaten into ploughshares, a place where we’ll all promise to “study war no more.” Because the world will not change so rapidly, whatever interventions are made on the domestic front will only yield modest gains.
There is also the possibility of unintended consequences, and through sheer luck and tenacity, Nigeria may yet be transformed into a leading country both politically and economically, and this should happen sooner rather than later. If this sounds like the ramblings of a dreamer, then we should all dare to dream!


Chinua Achebe The Trouble with Nigeria Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983.
Olusegun Adeniyi “The Owambe Hall of Shame”;
Adeleke Adeseri “Why Osun Needs A New Hand” Guardian (September 9, 2001).
Jean Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. New York: Longman, 1993.
Tunji Bello, “Pius Anyim's Hypocrisy” This Day (August 19, 2002)
Tunji Bello “Terry Waya's Self Advertisement” The New Republic
Frederick Douglass, "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author in The Frederick Douglass Papers. John W. Blassingame, ed. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 204.
Timtiniko Enodien “Pray, On What Then?” Guardian (Sunday Sept. 9 2001).
Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1968.
Omoh Gabriel, “IMF Team in Nigeria, Holds Talks on Debt Relief” Vanguard Online Posted to the Web: Thursday, August 11, 2005
“Issue Number 119: Jobs, People, Events”
“Nigeria” Paris Club News (July 29, 2005)“Nigeria to get $18bn Debt Relief” BBC News
Jerry Njoku “Understanding Anyim/Egwu Feud” ThisDay Online
Isa Sanusi “Debt Relief: FG to Pay Paris Club $6bn From Excess Crude Revenue” Daily Trust, (August 10, 2005) Posted to the web August 10, 2005
Akin Taiwo “The Unknown Quantity,” stories/200508100045.html
Pat Utomi “On Decorum In Public Life” Guardian (September 9, 2001)
“The Man Terry Waya”
“Terry Waya”
“Terry Waya Photo Archives”

[i] Frederick Douglass, "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. Edited by John W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 204. from
[ii] See “Terry Waya Photo Archives” and “The Man Terry Waya” for some photographs of the birthday bash. For more information on Terry Waya, also see “Terry Waya”, For some news analysis on the birthday bash, see Olusegun Adeniyi “The Owambe Hall of Shame”; Akin Taiwo “The Unknown Quantity,” In order to get a sense of Mr. Waya’s reach as a power broker, see Samuel Famakinwa and Nneoma Ukeje-Eloagu, “Obasanjo Rejects NITEL’S New Board,” Terry Waya was one of the new members of the Board. Others were Alhaji Bello Alkali, Mr. Adeleke Oyelade, Mr. Henry Oyailo Abebe, Mrs. Halita Aliyu and Muhammed Lawan Bello. A new Board was later approved, including Waya. According to Balancing Act News Update, “The Nigerian Federal government has approved the appointment of a new Board of Directors to replace the technical board of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). The new 14-member Board, which is headed by Mark Odu also has as member, Terry Waya, a London-based Nigerian businessman.. Others on the board are Ganiyu O. Adegbuji (Managing Director), Suleiman M. Sani (Executive Director, Domestic Network Communications, NITEL), Emmanuel C. Omeara (Executive Director, Long Distance Communications, NITEL), D.O. Daramola (Executive Director, Mobile Communications, NITEL).Also appointed to the Board are Bello Alkali, Adeleke Oyelade, Garba Muhammed Noma, Henry Oyailo Abebe, Halita Aliyu, Muhammed Lawan Bello and Hassan Usman Deputy Director (Bureau of Public Enterprises).The new Board is made up of mostly members of the dissolved technical board. See For an update on the Waya “phenomenon,”see Tunji Bello “Terry Waya's Self Advertisement” The New Republic
[iii] Timtiniko Enodien “Pray, On What Then?” Guardian (Sunday Sept. 9 2001).
[iv] ibid
[v] ibid
[vi] Adeleke Adeseri “Why Osun Needs A New Hand” Guardian (September 9, 2001).
[vii] Deacon here refers to Olowofoyeku in Adeleke Adeseri, “Why Osun ..” ibid.
[viii] Note that while the Olowofoyeku article is referred to here, it is not for the purposes of singling out one individual, but to point to the ubiquity of a trend.
[ix] ibid
[x] Jerry Njoku “Understanding Anyim/Egwu Feud” ThisDay Online; also see Tunji Bello, “Pius Anyim's Hypocrisy” This Day (August 19, 2002)
[xi] Pat Utomi “On Decorum In Public Life” Guardian (September 9, 2001)
[xii] ibid
[xiii] Timiniko Enodien, “Pray On …” op cit.
[xiv] Pat Utomi, “On Decorum …” op cit
[xv] ibid
[xvi] ibid
[xvii] ibid
[xviii] “Nigeria” Paris Club News (July 29, 2005); Isa Sanusi “Debt Relief: FG to Pay Paris Club $6bn From Excess Crude Revenue” Daily Trust (August 10, 2005) Posted to the web August 10, 2005; Omoh Gabriel, “IMF Team in Nigeria, Holds Talks on Debt Relief” Vanguard Online Posted to the Web: Thursday, August 11, 2005; “Nigeria to get $18bn debt relief” BBC News
[xix] Jean Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. New York: Longman, 1993.
[xx] Chinua Achebe The Trouble with Nigeria Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983.
[xxi] Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1968.

Globalization, Feminism and Power: An African Perspective

Globalization, Feminism and Power: An African Perspective
Ibadan, Nigeria: Published by John Archers for Programme on Ethnic and Federal Studies (PEFS), 2003

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome
Brooklyn College, CUNY

Introduction: African Women, Gender, and Globalization
This is a brand new century. It is an exciting new day. In order to stimulate the flows of new and different, critical, and timely intellectual ideas, I suggest that we look both to the past and future. From the past, we can consider the record of victories won, gains made, and challenges that continue to move us to action. In the future lies the possibility of making change through the inspirational force of ideas, the mobilizational impetus of action that points out the shortcomings of the past and present, and provides worthwhile alternatives.
I have tremendous optimism for the future, but would like to point to the dangers of the unwarranted cosmopolitanism of African women scholars and activists. I bring up this issue first because numerous changes and developments are afoot in this new, global world. Neoliberalism reigns supreme. For feminist critics of neoliberalism, old gains have been eroded because the corporate elements of old feminist movements that generated inclusionary politics have been swept away, while there are no new supports for feminist struggles to advance the cause of marginalized women.
Two observations occur to me at this point. First, I question the benefits of the politics of inclusion. Second, I concur with socialist feminists that the presumed benefits of globalization do not extend to African and other third world women. For African women, this is very serious business. While the politics of inclusion produced the heady idealism of a united front of all women against the marginalization and oppression of patriarchy, the promise of unity in the face of adversary never materialized because there was a hierarchy that privileged Western women, being the controllers or conduits of funding, the published scholars whose ideas were widely disseminated worldwide, the advisors that recommended and prescribed solutions to women in other regions of the world, the dominant voice at international conferences, workshops and negotiations to whose advantage the mobilization of bias worked, since they were able to set the agenda that women from other parts of the world respond to.
The problem did not begin with this latest manifestation of globalization. It was also present in the pre-1985 period when the progressive forces in the development field talked excitedly about, and campaigned vigorously for the adoption of the New International Economic Order. The problem with the most recent incarnation of globalization is that it acts in a catalytic manner that intensifies old tensions, and produces new challenges. Although the neoliberal proponents of globalization argue that the phenomenon presents numerous possibilities of benefits to humanity, and although one can clearly see how advances in communications technology have made the world smaller, the advantages are not enjoyed equally by all people. While most have control over, and access to the latest technology, others do not have the means to purchase such technology. While technological advances have eased a lot of the tedium of modern life, they are responsible for a myriad of problems that affect the environment, and consequently, the health and well being of the consumers of technology and the labor that produces technological goods, sometimes without the financial ability to purchase and use such technology.
Indeed most African women feel the challenges of globalization in a myriad of ways. In most African countries, the idea of the welfare state is non-existent. People must fend for themselves from birth to death, with the largesse or benevolence of the extended family as the only cushion against the vagaries of an uncertain world. For these women, globalization has caused tremendous dislocations, since the opportunities that exist for them to participate are often as low paid overworked, no-benefit labor. Some neo-liberal economists contend that any job is better than no job, and that it matters little what jobs pay, as long as one is employed. However, this is often the argument of those that feel like veritable masters of the universe, who know that no such adversity can possibly be visited upon them. For those that have access to only the most menial jobs, having no choice does not mean wanting nothing better.
Globalization has also broadened the spectrum in terms of locale of employment. Those African women who are participants in the labor market could either work at home, in their country of origin, but given the dearth of foreign direct investment in most African countries, participation in the global job markets where there is better pay, and better conditions of service is increasingly, only available abroad. Regardless of geographical location, many African women must begin from the lowest rungs and claw their way up to some semblance of regular, decent employment.
When they migrate or emigrate to seek employment, African women find that the jobs that are most easily available are those that entail child or elder care, or care of the sick as home health aides, or cleaning jobs, or piece work in sweatshops. Other African women are highly qualified. When they are nurses, medical doctors, pharmacists, attorneys, university professors and the like, they are able to take professional jobs. However, when they emigrate or migrate in search of employment or of a more stable political, economic, and social system many of them often begin their first few years in the labor market by doing the same menial jobs as their less educated sisters. They only have access to the better paying jobs if they have skills that are in short supply in the country of settlement, and were recruited from their home countries with guarantees. Even in these circumstances, immigrant African women are still subjected to manipulation, coercion, even extortion by some fraudulent recruitment agencies.
Additional pressures come from the family. Women who are undocumented aliens are subjected to varying levels of overt or covert pressures by spouses and other family members. When the spouse has documentation, the dependence of his wife on his sponsorship could, and is sometimes used as a bargaining chip that keeps her in line. Disobedient/disrespectful wives are often disciplined by being denied sponsorship. Such women perform the unpaid labor that subsidizes the family’s expenses. When they take employment, they tend to work “under the table”, “off the books”, and can only find the worst paying jobs that offer no protection from employer abuse, or security for the future. Of course, some women are students, and some professionals.
Many African women students must of necessity combine schooling with part or full time employment. Some may be mothers as well. The professional women are somewhat better off financially. However, when they are mothers, they have to grapple with the challenges of how to provide decent care for their children, and how to juggle the responsibilities of professional life with those of being a parent, and sometimes spouse. When possible, some depend on family members for child care, but it is often younger or older female relatives that provide such services, often without financial remuneration. Being able to draw upon family support for child care also is a function of having family members in the country of migration/emigration. Most pay for childcare. The ability to pay determines the quality of care that the woman expects, although it does not necessarily determine the quality of childcare that is provided.
Many African women immigrants who have jobs in child/elder/sick care also have children of their own that are left without care or in sub-standard situations so that they can work. Some leave children behind in their home countries, again, in the care of female relatives. This causes much heartache for both mother and child/children, although the financial remuneration that is regularly dispatched home pays the bills and may give such children extra goodies that may not have been affordable or available if their mother was home. Some problems may also lurk in the future as children may feel emotionally and physically abandoned, and may have trouble bonding with a mother that they perceive as responsible for such abandonment when there is a reunion.
Given that majority of immigrant African women live such marginal lives, when women are brought into contact with women in their country of migration/emigration as a result of globalization, what do they share in common? What divides them? It is clear that sameness and difference characterizes the relationship between women. In this respect, race and class must be taken into consideration. For many African immigrant women, being undocumented does not block access to employment. However, it restricts the universe of opportunities, constrains choice, and affects life chances. It also subsumes African women to Western women in a hierarchy of employer to employee, supervisor to supervised, citizen to undocumented alien.
Cosmopolitanism and Hybridity
In the global world of the 21st century, hybridity is in. It has become de rigueur to claim multiple cultures and origins, to be multidimensional and multifaceted. In this bold new age when all people of good will mull over thoughts of how better to connect with the progressive trends of a new future, what of the woman question? Is there an essential woman out there that is a hybridized amalgamation of all women worldwide? If there is an essential woman, whose stories are presented as representative of this “ideal type”? Is the woman experience monolithic regardless of time and place?
Since the ethos of the age of post modern globalism is to consider the local and how it crosscuts with the global, it is worthwhile to foreground cosmopolitanism, globalization and hybridity. Cosmopolitanism implies multiple origins, being worldly, being au courant, being experienced in the ways of the world, being complex rather than simple, being all-inclusive, pervasive, being able to exist in, and affect the whole world. Globalization also implies the ability to cover a wide scope. It implies pervasiveness, inclusivity, and world-wide trends. Similarly, hybridity also carries notions of melding, mixing, and multiple origins.
The immigrant African woman actually seems to be the ultimate hybrid that stands bestride two worlds, the home country and the country of sojourn/immigration. She is bilingual or even multilingual, adept at negotiating two different worlds, cooking two different cuisines, understands two worlds. However, scholars should ask, what part of the hybrid’s multiple origins is privileged and valued? Which of the values are judged to be important? What part of the repertoire of the hybrid is considered the norm? Whichever part is privileged, normalized, believed to be important is that which really determines the hybrid. Are other points of origin, values, and behaviors expected to be subsumed in order that the hybrid might realize the full potential of this multiply determined identity? Moreover, if we are hybrids, is each and every one of us a hybrid in the same ways?
Globalization implies a coordination of the world’s political, economic, political and even social systems. It is a coming together of the world in a never-before experienced manner. Within this burgeoning new world, gender in conceptual analysis and its application and applicability to African women’s issues and experiences must be subjected to critical examination. Gender studies lay open the possibility of considering the world’s women as one single unit of analysis, and it has been deployed in this manner. It also creates the distinct opportunity of looking at the world’s women in its regions and sub regions in their particularity. The particularity of women’s experiences is especially relevant if we take seriously the contention that gender is socially constructed. Naturally, such construction, if it is to be conceptually relevant, must be understood as emerging out of the particularity of a people’s history. It ought to stand to reason then that in each and every instance, constructions of gender react to and reflect the social, political and economic realities of the cultures from which they are drawn. Why then does one see constructions of gender that seem to be made from one cookie cutter? Why the presumption of universality and essentialism? The universalization and essentialization of the woman question erases or at best, trivializes the natural multidimensionality of social, economic and political realities of entire areas of the world.
The question of whether the homogenized woman exists is not a trivial one. Taken to its logical consequence, hybridity entails having a woman that is composed of a mish-mash of influences, a woman that is neither hither nor thither, a woman who differs not whether found in a village in the Catskills region of Upstate New York, New York City, or Tokyo, or Hong Kong, or Rio de Janeiro, or Lagos, Nigeria. Such a woman is also progressive, and thus Western. The hybrid woman owes her existence to the reality that there is a Western hegemony in scholarship, funding and in the production of knowledge. In consequence, hybridity and cosmopolitanism have become the new and dominant ideologies. As this question relates to Africa, many studies are produced that do not explain very much, and Africa remains the enigma that it has always been in the Western imagination. More seriously, Africa becomes even more of a mystery when Africans favor a variety of hybridity and cosmopolitanism that erases African cultural philosophies as irrelevant to the constitution of ideals and desired values. Africa was colonized by Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, and other European countries from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. This too, was part of the globalization process. Colonization was a means to the end of extending the reach of profit-seeking capitalists countries by taking proprietary control of areas of the world from which wealth could be extracted for the benefit of the metropolitan colonizer.
Today, a new kind of colonization is underway that does not require physical control, but recognizes the power and right of capital to range through the world in a never-ending search for profit. Such exercise of power is most apparent when countries are coerced or persuaded or advised by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to integrate their economies into the world’s economic mainstream. The right of labor to similarly range for profit-making opportunities is only reserved for a privileged few who have whatever marketable skills are adjudged to be relevant to the global economy at any given moment in time. Since some countries are more powerful economically, they are able to reach in a proprietary manner into the rest of the world to pull out resources of any kind, be it commodities, human beings, or intellectual property. Since these countries are also more stable politically, economically, and socially, they have another kind of pull. Like magnets, they draw people who flee from political, economic and social uncertainty and conflict. Africa and the rest of the third world then come to resemble labor reserves from which both brain and brawn are drawn to service the hungry global economy. Women who are recruited either at home or abroad into this global economy are not incorporated on an equal footing with the women of the new metropole. They are unequal, less privileged, and more vulnerable. Those who succeed more than others because they have skills may also bear tremendous responsibilities on the home front because their extended family expects them to assist with future immigration, remittances, and accommodation when they visit.
When women meet in the global terrain, they are not meeting as equals. They are bound together by sameness and difference. To fully underscore the importance of this observation, Babalolá Olábîyí Yáì’s recommendation to scholars of African studies that they avoid the promotion of “dubious universals” as well as “intransitive discourses” that refuse to ground the concepts and ideas that are deployed in their analysis in African indigenous philosophies is particularly apposite. Yáì’s injunction is that “We Africanist scholars must humbly acknowledge the limitations of our models and methodologies. The overwhelming nature of the colonial situations and ideologies of which we all are victims – but to which through constant vigilance we must endeavor not to remain involuntary accomplices–induces us to inadvertently smuggle false issues, nonissues, and extraneous notions and concepts into the disciplines of African studies.” (Yáì, 1999). This injunction is particularly relevant to the scholars and activists that undertake gender studies. Doing good research and worthwhile advocacy involves more than good intentions. It also involves more than the deployment of the most current theories.
Being mindful of Yáì’s prescription, scholars ought to constantly ask themselves, whether the issues that they pursue so vigorously are flawed. For African scholars, the question is: are we sufficiently decolonized to engage the subject matter meaningfully? Or do we value cosmopolitanism, hybridity and unquestioned adherence to globality so much that we become blinded to the reality, choosing instead to focus on how far Africa is from a universal ideal that is utterly meaningless to the lives of the people that one purports to study. More troubling, is a universal ideal desirable in each and every case?
Many look upon Africa, and conclude that the continents is so poor, so marginalized, that its women are the most embattled, the most oppressed, the most impoverished people on earth. Being all of the above, could these same women be powerful? Particularly, given the foregrounding of my discussion with the manner in which the African women in the global economy are embattled, and given the relative absence of their faces and bodies at worldwide conferences and activist gatherings, given the relative absence of their voices in intellectual discourse, given their relative scarcity among the official power holders in their countries of origin, how could one possibly not consider them voiceless, powerless, more likely to be acted upon, than to act on their own behalf. In order to begin to challenge the pervasive cosmopolitanism that homogenizes and essentializes women’s experiences, I will explore the multiple ways in which African women exercise and deploy power, and this, despite the social, economic and political constraints that they face. Thus, I will address both constraints and possibilities that shape the actions and reactions of African women in this era of globalization.
It has become generally accepted that women are disadvantaged and discriminated against worldwide. One of the most valuable contributions of feminism as a movement is that it lays out the nature, form and extent the evidences that exist of man’s inhumanity to woman. Contemporary feminists have shown evidence of the inequities and inequalities that proliferate in all parts of the world against women (Rosaldo & Lamphere, 1974). Against this background, I ask the questions: How does one properly read and interpret the woman question in Africa? Are all African powerless? Do women have any power in African society? Under what circumstances? These questions are asked because I am a Yorùbá woman who in my personal experience, is aware that the studies that posit the automatic powerlessness of women as a group vis a vis all men do not explain my own experience or my understanding of history. Many of the studies also may indicate the existence of oppression as a very real human situation, but do not give any idea of the richness and vibrancy of life as it exists, and as I know it. Many of these studies do not also ask whether there are relations of equality between African women and their Western sisters, particularly when the forces of globalization push African out of the continent and pull them into Western countries. When African women become part of the undocumented workers, and are hired as nannies, house cleaners, home health aides, security personnel, and janitors by Western women, are they hired as full equals? Who has power in such relationships? When African and Western women professionals meet in the workplace, are they equal? Do African women become more powerful by becoming hybrids? When they are so hybridized, does any part of their multiply-determined origins predominate over others? Which one is predominant? When poor African women encounter their wealthy sisters, whether African or Western, are they meeting as equals?
To demonstrate what I mean, let me quickly make the following observations:
Awé, Johnson-Odim and Mba give us examples of women who have taken leadership roles in their societies. From these studies, it is clear that when we speak of women, we ought to specify that there are class differences among them which imply that some women are granted social, political, and economic privileges that are not open to others. These privileges are also not open to majority of men in society. Examples abound all through Africa (Awé, 1992; Johnson-Odim & Mba, 1997). If an African woman decides to claim hybridity that emphasizes Western origins, she essentially turns her back on the possibility of drawing upon the illustrious history of strength among her female predecessors. Instead, locating progress and power in the West, the history of Western women’s achievements is what she draws upon for inspiration. As a result of colonization, African culture was interpreted as a disability, the terrain of reprehensible traditions that hold women back rather than liberate them. Subsequently, to be modern was taken to mean the abandonment of the African for the culture of the Western colonizer. The worldwide spread of capitalism that has been intensified as a result of globalization also pressures Africans to further abandon whatever vestiges of their culture remain in order to better fit with the world. To the extent that this is the agenda of the hybrid, the goals are more in line with the agenda of the emergent global culture that is purveyed by capitalist businesses whose primary desire is to make profits. If hybridity were to consciously, consistently privilege all origins, and draw upon each and every tradition, it would transcend this challenge.
If we take the feminist contention that gender is socially constructed seriously, it is inevitable that constructions of gender differ from one geographical location to another. Thus, the gendering of society in Africa does not automatically take on the same form as we observe in the western world. Africa has 54 countries. Nigeria, which has the largest population, has more than 250 ethnic groups. It is to be expected that a myriad of cultural differences make the social constructions of any category more complex than in the West. Consequently, African and Africanist scholars must conduct studies that deliberately focus on each of the continent’s ethnic groups in analysis that consider the relevance and applicability of gender. No conclusions can be made on the relevance of gender to African social analysis prior to doing this initial groundwork.
Since almost the entire continent of Africa was colonized, today, one observes the combination of pre-colonial culture with elements absorbed as a result of the experience of colonization. Colonization continues today, facilitated by the neo-liberal economic ideology of integration, by the technological innovation that have eased communication, thus increasing the ability of owners of technology to have tremendous cultural influences on those who lack it, or who lack the most powerful or the most recent technology. An MTV and CNN generation is not only to be found within the borders of the Western world, but wherever people have access to satellite signals. Languages, values, consumption patterns, aesthetics, style, mannerisms, are all influenced. The promise of globalization is that such change will bring the world closer together by increasing the menu from which people can draw. However, the reality falls far short, because countries with more power in technology have an undue influence. The United States of America tends to be the biggest beneficiary. As some of the anti-globalists’ campaigns show, even Europeans fear that globalization would really come to mean the Americanization or MacDonaldization of their world. To further underline the dangers of this development, not all Americans win. Only big business wins, and the extent to which the America that is being sold to the whole world reflects the reality as Americans live it, is questionable.
Women and Power in African Society
To return to the question of women’s power in African society, and the circumstances under which they may have power, and the influence of women’s power or weakness, I make the following initial claims: Women may have power in society in the following institutions: the family, kinship group, community, ethnic group, state. In the context of African indigenous culture, instances of power would include women’s power as mothers vis a vis children, regardless of age. As wives in a polygynous family, the first wife has more power than other co-wives. As political officials, there are examples of women who are queen mothers e.g. the Edo of Nigeria, the Buganda of Uganda, the Akan of Ghana. Women can also have economic power based on their ability to own the means of production, or the ability to control the gains that they make from exchange. There are also examples of women’s ritual power. Some are priestesses, deities.
A second set of issues arise. To what extent does globalization affect the extent to which women possess, and exercise power? Given that globalization empowers the richer, more technologically and militarily strong countries at the expense of their poorer, less technologically and militarily strong counterparts, the imperialism of globalization endangers the culture of the latter while it strengthens the former. African traditions that invest women’s with the right to hold and exercise power must be recovered from the detritus of past and contemporary history. Such recovery can be construed as facilitating the improvement in our understanding of not just what the mores and ethos of African cultural traditions are, but of the restoration of the philosophies and deep meanings that underlie social practices. Scholarly responsibility entails saving from obscurity those valuable practices that define the essence of the human experience in African traditions. If such effort bears fruit, the wounds inflicted by past skewed and biased interpretations can be healed, and the values that undergird the recognition of the importance of women in society preserved. In consequence, ideals will be reestablished and values revived, and renewed.
In the effort to undertake the excavation and recovery of progressive African traditions, consider the feminist contention that women are commonly oppressed by male patriarchy. It is relevant to ask the following questions: What are the defining characteristics of femaleness and maleness, strength, and weakness? Have these characteristics remained the same over time? When did they change? The comprehensive answer to these questions can only be answered through deep, focused research in all of Africa’s regions. My analysis will focus specifically on the Yorùbá of Southern Nigeria. Among the Òyó Yorùbá, historically, seniority, and not gender was the definitive category (Oyewumi, 1997). Contemporary Yorùbá adoption of Western gender categories is a direct consequence of the incorporation of the Yorùbá into the world economy, first through trade relations, rapidly followed by the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the “legitimate trade,” European exploration, the scramble for territories in Africa by the various European powers of the late 19th century, colonization, and decolonization. The postcolonial history of the Yorùbá is necessarily deeply impacted by this historical progression from trade to decolonization. This progression also should be seen as part of the process of globalization. The most current phase of globalization continues to have a deep impact on the Yorùbá and other African ethnic groups. Despite such impact, scholarship that excavates people’s history for deep philosophical meaning will reveal a world-sense that differs from the Western.
The application of Western gender categories to Òyó Yorùbá society constitutes an erasure of the real lived experiences of people. This is because one and the same woman may be a daughter, wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and mother in law, political official. Each status can be advantageous or disadvantageous. Such advantages and disadvantages are relational because they are held vis a vis other individuals in society, who may be male or female. Women are not precluded from exercising power, even women who are materially poor.
Within the context of the Yorùbá culture, as a daughter, a woman has rights in her natal family vis a vis the wives in the family. As a matter of fact, other women who marry into this kinship group refer to her and all the “children of the house” as “oko” {husband). Women who are oko have privileges and entitlements that arise from this status. They also have rights to their family’s land; inherit from their father through the unit that is headed by a mother (in a polygynous family). As ìyàwó, this same woman has little power vis a vis her sisters in law and mother in law in her husband’s family. She gives the women in her husband’s family the respect that is due to these statuses without in any way abridging her rights and entitlements in her natal family. As first wife, a woman has more power than subsequent wives. She is no longer responsible for the drudgery of everyday chores when junior wives are married. She must be consulted in all matters including the marrying of the co-wives. As mother, a woman has remarkable power over her children, regardless of their age. She is entitled to this power by virtue of ìkúnlè abiyamo [the pains of the labor process]. As a sister, a woman has power vis a vis younger siblings. She has less power vis a vis older ones. As a mother in law, she has enormous power vis a vis her daughter in law. She can decide to use this power in a just manner, or choose to be oppressive vis a vis her daughters in law. As a grandmother, a woman is respected by all that are junior to her as having attained the heights of old age, and thus as having become wise. The Yorùbá say that such women, ti g’òkè àgbà.
While there are conditions under which women are legitimately able to exercise power, t each and everyone cannot perform identically. Personal capacity matters. Also, social and political institutions can intervene to empower or disempower individuals and groups in society. When we also consider the question of what constitutes the defining characteristics of maleness and femaleness, these characteristics may not be attached to males or females as a function of institutions assigning roles in an immutable, unchanging manner, but as part of a fluid, hegemonic process where the hegemons of the day define for everyone else what the common sense understandings of the world should be. As a result of the operation of a hegemonic process, powerful groups in society can then generate a definition of strength and weakness and the assignment of gender roles to fit the common sense understandings of the world. What those roles are for African in the pre-colonial era differ from what they came to be in the colonial era, which also differ from what we observe today. In this most recent phase of globalization, the hegemonic attempts are observable in the campaign for a worldwide women’s movement that is less interested in developing a rich, varied, and complex mosaic based on the contributions of women from all parts of the world, than in producing homogenized and hybridized women that are replicas of the Western model.
There is a tendency to use tradition and modernity interchangeably with Africa (the former) and the West (the latter). Most scholars in treating Africa as the sphere of tradition and the West as that of modernity fall into the fallacy of claiming that African societies will continuously wallow in "traditionalism." Thus, they lose the everyday sense of 'modern' as 'new' as 'contemporary' as something that each and every society undergoes without implying that any/all new evolutionary change is Western. The modern and modernity must be de-linked from the W. tern so that we can meaningfully tract changes that are homegrown, neighbors‑influenced, and/or Asia‑inspired from those that are western‑influenced. If we do not do this then we run the additional risk of conceding autonomy to the West.
To all intents and purposes, what we see in African countries today is that people, including scholars draw a dichotomizing line between modernity and tradition which affects not only practices, values, principles and behaviors that humans manifest, but also the geographical spaces that they occupy. The city under this dichotomizing scheme is modern, the village, traditional. Wearing a Yorùbá ìró and bùbá [wrap and loose top] is traditional, wearing a skirt and blouse is modern. Cooking with a gas stove, using aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans is modern; using wood in an àdògán, [wood-burning stove] clay pots, some kinds of cast iron and wooden spoons is traditional. If a woman cooks, that is tradition. If a man does, it’s modern. If a person lives in a mud hut, that’s traditional, in a concrete house with corrugated iron with galvanized steel roofing, it’s modern. A traditional woman is weakened by traditional structures. She has to cook, clean, take care of children and the old, the sick and visitors. She cannot have any perception of herself as an individual. The community defines her. She is the property of her husband, a jural minor, is likely to have had some genital surgery imposed on her, to have experienced high levels of infant mortality, to be illiterate, poor, overworked, unappreciated, and totally marginalized. A modern woman is not. (Okome, Jenda 1:1, 2001)
The question we need to ask and answer is: If the traditional woman is traditional, what makes her so? That she resides in the traditional milieu? When did tradition stop and modernity begin? Did tradition weaken people due to some intrinsic quality in tradition, while the logic of modernity is intrinsically to empower, to free the individual from parochial ties that ultimately marginalize? Most people tend to date modernity from the 15th Century contact between Africa and the West, a contact that ultimately denuded all Africans, male and female, of any meaningful power. If we think of tradition and modernity as constructs that define a moment of domination, we begin to see that what we take as “tradition” today has a strong overlay of the “modern”. What one observes in Africa then is not necessarily tradition versus modernity, but the dragging of Africans into the European-dominated world system to perform the menial tasks. The dragging in was not only the exercise of physical power but of hegemonic power where the new conquerors influenced society in a profound way to define the conquered as “savages” and themselves as the “civilized liberators”. Tradition and modernity, properly construed would include an understanding that each and every human society has the old and the new. This is true for Africa as it is for the West. In point of fact, the Yorùbá conceptualize change and the motive forces that drive it in human society as combining with continuity to constitute the norm. They speak of òlàjú (enlightenment), ìdàgbàsókè (growth), ìlosíwájú (progress/moving forward) at the same time as they use the adage: “kò s’óun titun kan l’ábé oòrùn (there’s nothing new under the sun), e jé ká seé bí wón ti nseé, k’ó le rí b’ó ti nrí” (let’s do it as they do it [as it ought to be done] so that it turns out as it is ought to). The Yorùbá also distinguish between ayé òde òní (today’s world) and ayé àtijó (the world of the past). Similar claims can be made of other African ethnic groups. Change is inevitable, and social practices are constructed and re-constructed in response to the challenges that confront a people. African peoples are not isolated from the currents of change and their societies, and culture. They ought not to be studied as such. (Okome, Jenda 1:1, 2001)
Being the conquerors in the wars of pacification that preceded the colonial occupation meant that the Europeans could define the conquered Africans as “savages”, as people who had no hope of salvation but for the benevolence of their magnanimous conquerors. Many think that this perception died out with the end of colonialism, but it is alive and well when contemporary scholars refuse to acknowledge that many pre-colonial African societies had traits that are now attributed to modernity. Those traits were not only discouraged by the Europeans who considered themselves the epitome of modernity, they were subjected to wanton destruction. The surviving societies tried to stave off the assault of by maintaining some practices, fashioning new ones to ward off the calamities that beset them. All these societies are now presented as traditional, and as manifesting the pathological traits of backwardness.
The question of whether a society can forever be frozen into a “traditional” milieu that repels change arises. Contrary to the assumption that tradition is lodged permanently in the African continent, it is more productive to consider the admixture of continuity and change, the coexistence of modernizing and traditional processes in society. It is also immensely worthwhile to consider the assumption that only from the repertoire of the Western bag of tricks can Africans learn. To the contrary, there is much that each of Africa’s ethnic groups can learn from the others. Much of this may also be modern. Through this framework, the role of African women in society can be examined.
Accompanying the gross exploitation of Africa’s human and material resources, were attempts to establish the conquerors’ hegemony such that their world view and philosophy become the new norms. Conquered people are expected to embrace the notion that their world view and philosophy are illicit, illegal, and ignorant. Whereas in African women had important roles in society, prior to colonization, these are defined out of existence. Although in their religion, the colonized had indispensable roles for women to play both as deities and priestesses, with the imposition of Christianity, such roles were defined out of existence, and sometimes even criminalized. Whereas motherhood formerly implied power, it now came to be seen as an impediment. Whereas motherhood and gainful employment were not mutually exclusive, they were soon construed as such with the unrelenting imposition of Westernization upon Africa. Although being a woman was not coterminous with being the weaker sex, this became the norm. Indeed, one of the most important institutions upon which a woman’s claim of power could be made - motherhood- became irrelevant because of the separation between the public and private spheres that was an integral part of the colonial enterprise. As actors that were restricted to the private realm, women were domesticated and subject to the discipline of those recognized as the heads of households - men.
We look now at women all over Africa and maintain that “tradition” is the problem. If we are among the more progressive, we argue that women are oppressed by patriarchy that besets them from two sources - the tradition of patriarchy and that set in motion by colonization. To make this claim depends on the extent to which we can maintain that the societies of Africa at the inception of colonization were “traditional”. To claim that they remained pristine, immutable and unchanging, conservative and reactionary in the face of centuries of countervailing influences from within and without. This is wrong because between the prehistoric age and the15th Century, history reveals evidences of continuity and change in the African continent. Thus the wholesale assumption that there is a dichotomous relationship between tradition and modernity must be nullified. Change is as much a part of the pre-colonial as it is of post-colonial Africa. However, the pace of change, and the extent to which phenomena such as urbanization and the establishment of large-scale mines and plantations generated deep shifts that were extremely dislocating can be examined as creating new dynamics. Necessarily, what these dynamics are will differ from country to country, and from community to community.
To take the various roles of African women that were heretofore identified as indicators of instances where they may be able to exercise power, as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, mothers in law, political official, owners of capital, monarchs, nobility/aristocracy, deities, religious leaders. It is necessary to focus first on the ideal, and on what is possible under the best possible scenario.
Motherhood Òrìsà bí ìyá ò sí, ìyá l’à bá sìn. [There is no deity like the mother; mothers are the ones that we ought to worship].

It is widely posited that motherhood is important in all of Africa’s societies or communities. Of course, the requirement that all women ought to be mothers may also operate in an oppressive manner to discipline those who are not able to bear children. I want to start with the ideal. Ideally, what are the powers, privileges, and entitlements that motherhood gives a woman? The Yorùbá say, Ìyá ni wúrà, baba ni jígí [Mother is gold, father is a mirror]. Mother is gold, strong, valuable, true, central to a child’s existence, wise, also self-denying. As a mother, ìkúnlè abiyamo - the kneeling position that is assumed at the moment of birth - confers privileges on a mother. Ideally, mothers ought to be respected, ought to be heeded, ought to be able to ask their offspring to transcend the limits of doing just enough. Mothers also ought to be respected by society at large. The very act of childbirth is to say the very least, one of the most difficult things that a human being undertakes in life. Prior to this, a mother carries the child in uteri for nine months, and subsequently, nurtures the child, guaranteeing not only physical survival, but moral development and the development of a social conscience.
Among the Yorùbá, motherhood confers privileges, privileges that hark back to the very foundations of society and women’s presumed roles in it. Women symbolize fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness. Women also are feared. They are believed to be capable of deploying, even of having the capacity to unleash powerful forces of darkness. Those who have studied the rituals associated with Gèlèdé ritual performances among the Ègbádò and Ìgbómìnà demonstrate the underpinning of female power and the visible demonstration of the power of women for both good and evil, the power to create and destroy, to critique social behavior and to use the power of satire to check transgressors. Gèlèdé is a display of the power of women to create new life and to undermine the very essence of society if not properly worshiped (Lawal 1996). A similar portrayal of women’s power in the spiritual realm is observable in Ifá, in the worship of Yemoja, Oya, Òsun, all very powerful female deities. They are referred to as Ìyá by all their worshipers and devotees who are both men and women. These deities are also ministered to by both men and women. Priests and priestesses who are fully initiated into the service of these òrìsà are referred to as the ìyàwó, prior to gaining the full stature of priest, When male Yorùbá priests are in this final preparatory stage, they dress in “women’s” clothing, a factor that has generated the observation among some scholars that this entails cross-dressing. Moreover, the donning of women’s clothing by such priests is regarded as a mark of transvestitism. (Matory 1994: 6‑7, 183‑215; Wescott and Morton-Williams, 1962, 25; Drewal, 1992, 121, 137, 177, 185, 190).

Women as Ìyàwó
As aya or ìyàwó [wives] who marry into an ìdílé [patrilineage] and have patrilocal residence in an agbo’lé [family compound], Yorùbá women are essentially the outsiders within the ebí [family]. One side of the equation that most analysts and scholars fail to consider is also that a male that marries into an ìdílé does not have superior rights within that ìdílé to the women in the ìdílé. As outsiders, they only participate in decision making through the agency of their wives who are part of the ìdílé. There are also social obligations that men who are outsiders to the ìdílé by virtue of being married into it must perform. To concentrate our attention on women, being an ìyàwó is the site where women’s biological reality of being sexually and anatomically female conjoins with the social reality of being women, and thus less powerful than males. As ìyàwó, a woman who marries into the ìdílé has a lower status than the oko [male and female members of the ìdílé within the ebí, a status that pays no attention to anatomical maleness, or femaleness but one that privileges membership in the ìdílé. This is why all the descendants of the ìdílé have superior rights to those who marry into it. All ìyàwó labor can be demanded by their husbands (including all members of the patriliny) and is expected to be graciously given. ìyàwó also occupy a lower status, a fact that is demonstrated by the deference shown to oko (all members of the patrilineage into which they marry). Due to the erasure of the philosophical underpinnings of Yorùbá social practices that has occurred over time, it is necessary to explain to many educated Yorùbá that the reason why mothers call their male and female children oko is an indicator of the mother’s outsider status and an affirmation of the children’s insider position vis-a-vis their own mother. Despite the intrusion of new principles and institutions over time, such relationships can be observed in contemporary Yorùbá families. When women act as oko within the ìdílé, they are often presented by scholarly observers as examples of woman’s inhumanity to woman (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1996).
Among ìyàwó, the first wife is more powerful than others by virtue of being the first- comer into the family, and thus having seniority vis a vis other ìyàwó within the family. Of course, since no family is immune to the effects of politics, there are cases in which the favorite wife threatens the supremacy of the first wife. Wives have also been known to cooperatively challenge an unjust oko, whether spouse or the members of the ìdílé. What is clear in the relations among women is that one cannot make an ad hoc assumption about the commonality of the female experience.

Women as Oko
As members of an ìdílé into which other women marry, the women are regarded as the oko [husbands], and thus have a great deal of power. They are entitled by the norms of Yorùbá society, to demand and expect the labor of the wives of the family. In return, they are expected to comport themselves with dignity, and to lawó [be open-handed or generous] toward their ìyàwó. The categorization of women members of an ìdílé as oko is not to be taken as indicating any sexual relations with the ìyàwó. Instead, it indicates that Yorùbá societies do not have the same gendering imperatives that one finds in the West. Unfortunately, since most scholars of Africa have the tendency to adopt Western categories as given, and since they apply the categories without inquiring into whether they fit, Western-style gender categorizations have become de rigueur in African scholarship.

Women’s religious and ritual powers
As deities and ritual leaders, there are no gendered differences in the social experiences of men and women. Many Yorùbá deities combine male and female properties and qualities. There are even examples of one and the same deity being designated male in certain locales within Yorùbáland and as females in others (Ìdòwú, 1962). Oya, one of the principal deities of the Yorùbá, for whom the river Niger is named Odò Oya by the Yorùbá, is reputed to have been one of the wives of Sango, the fourth monarch of the Yorùbá. Her symbols are two naked swords and buffalo horns. For Johnson, “As thunder and lightning are attributed to Sango, so tornado and violent thunderstorms, rending trees and leveling high towers and houses are attributed to Oya. They signify her displeasure.” (Johnson, 36). These are not female characteristics in a gendered world that sees women as kind and gentle, nurturing and docile. Within the Yorùbá philosophy of life, there is nothing intrinsically male and female. An anatomical male can be both gentle and ruthless and so can an anatomical female. What matters more is for such qualities to be deployed appropriately.

Women as political officials
Political power is not limited to men within Yorùbá society. Yorùbá princesses can marry commoners who may then be conferred with titles (including obaship, as Johnson claims is the case of the Olowu, son of the first born of Oduduwa (a princess) and her father’s aláwo [priest] (Johnson, 8). There are still contemporary examples of female ìjòyè [chiefs] abound. Ìyálôde, Erelú, Yèyé Oba are just a few of such female positions. Today, as with the Obaships, these positions are denuded of power, being only ceremonial vestiges of their pre-colonial manifestations. That they remain, and that the holders attract the respect and admiration of the public is an indicator of the persistence of norms and values that do not conform to a Western-delimited understanding of gender. The Òyó empire and other Yorùbá states show us evidence of the institutionalization of women’s political power into centralized political realms in a manner that demonstrate that anatomical and biological femaleness was not considered coterminous with a disadvantaged gender. Social status and power was multiply determined and whether an individual exercised power depended on scope and domain. As Ìyálôde, we have the examples of Efúnsetán Aníwúrà of Ibadan, Madam Tinubú of Abéòkúta (Awé, 1977) as powerful women of their times who exercised the power with which their office was endowed, and in the case of Efúnsetán Aníwúrà, were not averse to engaging in power struggle and participating actively in war, albeit through surrogates, as did many of their male counterparts.
In the Òyó Empire, the Ìlàrí, who were variously regarded as the keepers of the king’s head, or his body guard were both male and female. According to Johnson, “Every male Ìlàrí has a female counterpart who is called his companion. The Ìlàrí themselves by courtesy call them their “mother.” They are both created at one and the same time and they are supposed to seek each other’s interest, although there must be no intimacy between them; the female Ìlàrí being the denizens of the King’s harem; the only attention they are allowed to pay each other is to make exchange of presents at the yearly festivals.” (62). In addition, Johnson also identified “Ladies of the Palace” who included eight titled ladies, eight Priestesses, other ladies of rank, Ayaba (king’s wives). As residents in the palace, all the women were termed Ayaba, which is no indication of their being married to him. As indicated by Johnson, the highest ranked women are listed in order of importance as follows:

1. Ìyá Oba
2. Ìyá kéré
3. Ìyá-Naso
4. Ìyá-monari

5. Ìyá-fin-Ikú
6. Ìyálagbon
7. Orun-kumefun
8. Are-orite

As the king’s official mother, the Ìyá Oba acted the part of a mother and was empowered to jointly worship Òrun with the Oba and Bashòrun every September. According to Johnson, “She is the feudal head of the Bashòrun. Great deference is the due of the Ìyá Oba, but the Ìyá kéré wields more power within the palace, being in charge of the royal treasury as well as the royal insignia and all paraphernalia used on state occasions”. Being in control meant that she could prevent any state ceremony when the Oba incurred her wrath. She was also the official mother of all Ìlàrí, be they male or female. In recognition of her motherhood, they were created in her quarters (63). Ìyá kéré was also the feudal head of Ìséyìn, Ìwó and Ògbómòsó.
Among the Ìjèbú, women are members of the Òsùgbó, the same institution as the Ègbá Ògbóni, of which women are also members. In the pre-colonial era, this institution served the functions of schooling members in oratory and jurisprudence. It also functioned as the national court of appeals. It had jurisdiction over criminal cases and was mandated to execute those convicted where warranted. The Ògbóni house was also used as a state prison when necessary. Most importantly, the institution was mandated to prevent monarchical absolutism as well as mass lawlessness (Ayandele, 1966, particularly p. 170). In the new Òyó Empire, a female official of the Ògbóni represented the Aláàfin and reported back to him on the council’s deliberations. The institutional function of the Ògbóni included serving as a check against the abuse of power Òyó Mèsì.
The institution of Ìyálóde has replaced the important institutionalized women’s political positions of the pre-colonial era. Among the Ìjèbú, the Erelú serves in the same capacity. Although today’s Ìyálóde still have a great deal of power, particularly in the sphere of exchange and commerce, where market administration and adjudication are their purview, and even though we know of the famous Ìyálóde of yore like Efúnsetán Aníwúrà of Ìbàdàn, Madam Tinúbú of Abéòkúta, this position too is denuded of much of the formal powers that it had in the past. Today, the Ìyálóde is the title that denotes seniority among the female political officials in some Yoruba indigenous governance systems. In Lagos, the Ìyálóde remains an important official, being subordinate in standing only to the Oba of Lagos. The Ìyálóde also participates actively in the appointment and installation of the Oba. Among the Òndó, women have a hierarchical line of chiefs that parallels men’s chiefships. Oyewumi’s research also draws on evidence of women monarchs among the Òyó Yorùbá (Oyewumi, 1998).

Women as owners of capital and controllers of economic power
Yorùbá women have gained more recognition as holders, controllers and wielders of economic power than for any other kind of power that they exercise. Many studies point to the active participation and contribution of Yorùbá women in the economy, but also accurately decry the lack of recognition by post-colonial Nigerian governments for this contribution (Awé 1992). Curiously, active participation in the economy has also not been successfully parlayed into post-colonial political power (Awé, 1992). The same assessment can be made of women’s experiences throughout Africa, which ought to be translated into a realization of the depth of the success of the colonial project. A homogenized existence that does not reflect the pre-colonial realities now runs rampant because there is no observable difference between one African country and others (this is in spite of South Africa’s appointment of many women into political positions and the election of many female legislators. What is needed is not necessarily just more women in power, but having many women in power who have a deep understanding of the needs, goals and objectives of women (as multiple as these may be given differences in their class and regional interests). This is a difficult, but not impossible agenda that will continue to challenge us in the future

When viewed from the perspective of scholarly works on gender, we see that the gendering of society may in and of itself render women as mothers not only powerless but as marginal to social, political and economic life. The burdens of motherhood may be so heavy that a woman is never able to develop a sense of her self. She is most likely to be impoverished, most likely to be irrelevant. Constantly, we are reminded that women are the weaker sex. Wars affect them more, economic crises prostrate them, and they are the epitome of wretchedness. Statistics are deployed to confirm the reality of these depictions. I am not denying that women are burdened, I am not contesting the existence of patriarchy, and I am not saying that there are no instances of gender-based oppressions in contemporary Yorùbá society. What I claim, the assumption that will undergird this work in progress, is that women in African society exercise power in multiple ways that are difficult to acknowledge, or recognize when we use the tools that are designed to study Western societies. In order to properly study African societies, we have to as an initial condition, consider the reality that stares us in the face - African societies are different. We can learn valuable lessons on the human condition if we take them seriously. Gender is not deployed in the same manner in African societies as it is in the west. There are multiple conditions that we cannot explain with the tools of western scholarship.
I contend that if we really understand Yorùbá culture. we will find a way of conveying meaning to what is observed in a manner that does what Yáì refers to as the task of the gbénugbénu (orator/verbal carver/critic) who continues the gbénàgbénà’s (carver) job after the latter has completed carving a piece. The gbénugbénu as the orator, the one who carves language with the mouth in presenting the verbal gloss on the work of the sculptor must understand and successfully convey the meaning of concepts in a manner that captures both the spirit and letter of the philosophical intent of the people in whose culture a practice is grounded. Most Africanists neglect to be worthwhile gbénugbénu when they invent out of whole cloth, the relevance of practices that they only understand within the scope of western ideological systems of thought. Unfortunately, the desire to hybridize, to be cosmopolitan and to be global leads African scholars into the pitfall of taking these Western glosses as gospel, and contributing to their dissemination in a highly unconscious, unreflecting manner. Further, if we contrast the cross dressing claim with the fact that when Catholic and protestant priests wear robes, they are not considered as cross-dressing. In addition, when Catholic priests become the “brides of Christ” at the final moment of their initiation, and are given rings that symbolize this relationship, it is not cast as transvestitism. Why then use such characterization to describe Yorùbá ritual? In large part, this is due to scholars’ use of concepts that are meaningful in the context of their own social and historical experience. To some degree, it is also due to a lack of genuine and deep understanding of philosophical underpinnings of external phenomena.
Another very important factor to realize is that if we accept that contemporary women are commonly oppressed by patriarchy, the agency that is primarily responsible is the state. The contemporary state was not created by Africans. It is a colonial imposition. Being so imposed, it bore, to paraphrase Amina Mama, the racial hierarchy and gender politics of nineteenth century Europe as a result of which Africa was “indoctrinated into all-male European administrative systems, and the insidious paternalism of the new religious and educational systems” This “has persistently affected all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life in postcolonial African states.” (Mama, 47).
Harkening back to Yáì, what are the false issues? What are the non-issues? Which are the extraneous notions and concepts that might be/are smuggled into the studies of African women in the 21st century? Is the identification of such issues, notions and concepts counter-productive to the development of an international women’s movement? When Yáì talks about the duties of the gbénugbénu as complementing the gbénàgbénà, his injunctions ought to be taken to heart. Not to do so is to directly embrace the perils of cosmopolitanism and hybridization. The consequences for African gender scholars are dire and calamitous since they portend rootlessness, disjointed-ness and profound loss of autonomy. Although my focus in this paper is on gender studies, the problems are not limited to this area, but apply to the all disciplines under the rubric of African studies. If we do not maintain constant vigilance against unwarranted cosmopolitanism and rootless hybridization, what results is a profound lack of self-determination from the level of the individual scholar up to the level of the nation. Thus we find examples of scholars and entire countries that take up the theories, concepts and solutions that were designed to explain and solve problems in other places with historically distinct legacies and embrace them wholesale, and without much critical examination. Under the lens of those theories and concepts, everything African begins to look absurd and pathological. Under the influence of the imported solutions, African states and societies reel from one botched remedy to the next. Cosmopolitan and hybridized scholars then turn on the powerful imported lenses once again to proclaim that “tradition” is the problem.
Finally, I appeal to my fellow laborers in the fields of the academy to pose, and examine the same questions that I raised from a variety of African locations. To the extent that we do, we will produce the revolutionary, groundbreaking analysis that is possible, yet neglected thus far.

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Any prospects for #COVID19-Inspired Global Government?

Many people are hopeful that the catastrophic effects of # COVID19 would lead to the embrace of world government. Reminds me of Immanu...