Natural topics for discussion today, for a perceptive analyst, are ordinarily predictable. From the gang-up by President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly, as well as the governors to sell Nigeria’s national assets, to the president’s ferrying of literally the whole of his family members, as well as about a hundred aides and officials to the United Nations summit in the United States of America, a columnist will surely have a field day. If you now place these anglings for national assets side by side Aliko Dangote, Bukola Saraki and other national barons’ thirst for our sumptuous national assets, in spite of their having literally purchased our national existence already and the presidency’s ostensible collusion with these prospective buyers, a columnist cannot but have a field day.
However, the columnist doesn’t want to walk through this barren field today. It is apparent that treading this path would be a wild goose chase as the sale is a done deal already. Is it Yakubu Dogara on whose neck a budget padding chain is hanging who will oppose the sale? Is it Saraki, whose hemlock has been concocted, preparatory to having him swallow it? So, this week, this writer intends to walk another route that is harmless, productive and perhaps of more enduring colour. It is an analysis of a book that he had the privilege of reading, pre-launch. It is the work of highly revered historian, Bolanle Awe. Entitled Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons, it is the most recent work of the octogenarian.
A 161-page work written in fluid and engaging prose, the book dwells on a list of unfavourable prejudices against women in the world that some women encountered and surmounted. History, religion, culture, language, etc over the centuries, were skewed in her disfavour. The history, for instance, was his story and never her story. In the developing world, for instance, culture and religion were her major snares, with grossly skewed foundations that were basically woven together to put her down. These cobbled together a mindset that makes the female gender inferior to her male counterpart. We all know that from creation, women have struggled against the machinations of an environment which sees them as second class and appendages to their male counterpart.
Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons gives its reader a window into the uncommon strides of 34 women chosen by Professor Awe as subjects of this new book and by that, women in general. Its crispness of tone and coffee table reading inviting layout, interspersed with artistic imageries of the Amazons, also make it reader friendly and unputdownable. It affords the reader an opportunity to see how long-held but wrong beliefs, cultures and practices have held down women who could have liberated the clime long before now.
In all, 33 women were showcased in the volume. They are Nana Asmau, the legendary poet; Hajiya Fatima Lolo, pioneer female musician; Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti; Wuraola Adepeju Esan, educationist/politician; Lady Kofoworola Aina Ademola, foremost Oxford graduate; Margaret John Ekpo, foremost politician and pioneer parliamentarian; Irene Modupelola Thomas, renowned medical practitioner; Folayegbe Akintunde-Ighodalo, First Lady Permanent Secretary; Ladi Kwali, world acclaimed potter; Adetowun Ogunsheye, pacesetter in education; Mabel Segun; Flora Nwapa Nwakuche; Folake Solanke, first lady SAN; Grace Alele Williams, scholar; Bolanle Awe; Gambo Sawaba;Francesca Yetunde Emmanuel; Oyinade Olurin; Batile Alake, pioneer and Queen of Waka music; Bola Kuforiji-Olubi; Oluwatoyin Olusola Olakunrin; Jadesola Akande; Aisha Bridget Lemu; Aderonke Kale, first Lady Army General; Aloma Mariam Mukhtar; Joy Ogwu; Hansine Napwanijo Donli; Zaynab Alkali, novelist and feminist; Folorunso Alakija; Onyeka Onwenu; Bilikisu Yusuf, first woman newspaper editor; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Chioma Ajunwa and Chimamanda Adichie.
It is against these age-old prejudices and discrimination that the book, Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons, is coming on the shelf. It comes with the admittance that, though Nigerian polity, culture and history are ranged against women, they have managed under this rigid profiling to emerge as icons and colonisers of their societal limitations. In a collection of essays that holds the dual purpose of a recorder of history and a fillip for would-be women icons who are yet held down by the gruff of culture and time-worn beliefs, Bolanle Awe, professor of history, retired Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan and former commissioner in the then Western Region, a woman renowned to be a voice for womanhood through her incessant interventions in issues of our contemporary society, relives the conquest of womanhood.
Nigerian Women Pioneers and Icons is a chronicle of Nigerian women whose lives and achievements have distinguished as outstanding individuals who have made notable contributions to the development of Nigeria. As pioneers who attained leadership positions in their chosen fields of human endeavour in spite of erected male gender-made roadblocks, they are potential role models for young Nigerian women in this byzantine jungle of a highly patriarchal Nigerian society.
In the book, the reader is given an unprecedented insight into the quality lives of the pioneers, their environmental and existential limitations that almost conspired to put them down and their victories over these militating circumstances. More fundamentally is the corrosive contributions of the male gender in the conspiracy to limit them, fuelled by an incandescent history, culture, language and custom.
But the drawback of the book is its inability to accommodate much more pioneering women. Amazons like Efunroye Tinubu, who was Iyalode of Egba and Lagos, the first Yoruba most distinguished entrepreneur, whose businesses traversed Badagry, Egba and Lagos and who owned Igbobi which was her kolanut plantation, is not on the list. How come Alhaja Humoani Alaga, who, in 1964, founded the famous Isababatudeen Grammar School after her masculine stand up to Premier S. L. Akintola on the need for Moslem girls to have their own school since they were being discriminated against at St. Annes in Ibadan didn’t make the list? How come the name of Alhaja Humoani Alade, Ibadan entrepreneur and textile trader, isn’t on the list? Where are Alhaja Aminotu Abiodun, current Iyalode of Ibadanland, building contractor who built so many military barracks in the 1960s and 70s; Madam Janet Alatede Aboderin, foremost Ibadan entrepreneur, mother of Olu Aboderin and Mama Bisoye Tejuoso on the list?
These however cannot diminish the elan of the writer and the nugget that the book surely is.