Nigerian Women, Rise against Corruption – By Rasheedat Adunni Okoduwa, mni

It is that time of the year again when issues affecting women occupy centre-stage in the global community at least for twenty-four hours.  8th March of every year is designated by the United Nations as the International Women’s Day.  It is a day for celebrating achievements of women across socio-cultural, economic and political spheres, while rallying action for accelerating specific gender-related milestones. The day is celebrated with a theme which captures the issues that will be discussed, analysed and acted upon all year long.

The theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter. It focuses on achieving a more gender-balanced world, running the gamut of gender-balanced governments, organisations, access to wealth-creating opportunities etc. It is a clarion call for equity across board.

Inequity is driven by a myriad of factors, of which corruption is a major one. Corruption is a universal phenomenon and a major obstacle to development and economic growth. While it affects all social classes and groups, women  are among the most affected.  Corruption undermines efforts towards gender equality and is a barrier for women to gain full access to their civic, legal, social and economic rights. For example, women bear the brunt of health care deficits that usually result in high infant and maternal mortality, physical exertion from lack of social amenities such as potable water, forced sexual acts in exchange for access to employment and other economic opportunities, human trafficking, limited prospects for political participation etc.  In all of these, the question is whether women are part of the problem or solution?  

Although evidence is inconclusive on whether women are less corrupt than men, the general perception is that more men engage in corrupt practices than women. Notwithstanding this assumption, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has investigated and charged to court cases of alleged corruption perpetrated by women at different levels of organizational hierarchy.  There is the case of the seizure of sixty-one (61) properties from a female employee of an organization as proceeds of corruption as well as instances of quite a number of women who have been convicted for corrupt and fraudulent practices.   

Corruption also features at the informal economic sector where it is not uncommon to find traders, particularly the female ones who indulge in the dishonest practice of selling adulterated products or serving clients half measures of commodities. Women are also accused of being the reason the men are corrupt for incessantly demanding for material indulgences beyond the legitimate incomes of their men.

In spite of the foregoing, it is incontrovertible that women are a key part of the solution to corruption for the very important role they play in society.  In their role as mothers and caregivers, women are the pivot of sustainable societal values. In a country like Nigeria where corruption is still pretty endemic, there will be a lot to gain in the anti-corruption crusade if women refocus attention to inculcating positive values in children by the right teaching and example. By so doing, the intervention of ICPC in Nigeria’s educational sector tagged National Values Curriculum for use at the Basic and Post-Basic (Primary and Secondary) levels of education would have a much greater chance of success. 

 Women can also do a lot for the anti-corruption crusade if they come together to take a stand against corruption in society. They can bring change into the system by demanding accountability at every level of governance and insisting on things being done right. History tells us of Nigerian women who, before the age of social activism as we know it now, brought changes into the socio-political landscape by sheer force of determination. Of reference here are the women of Aba of the famous Aba Riots in the days of colonialism and Amazons like Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, Mrs Margaret Ekpo etc.

Civil society organisations are a good vehicle for working such social change. ICPC coordinates the activities of non-governmental and civil society organisations working in the anti-corruption domain under its National Anti-corruption Coalition and it is heartwarming to note that quite a number of these organisations are led by women.  These NGOs can intensify efforts at demanding inclusiveness in political arrangements and they can train women, especially at the grassroots to understand and participate in the budgetary process at the local level from planning, implementation, reporting and oversight to ensure that the budget adequately reflects the community needs and is implemented accordingly. 

There is a lot that still needs to be done in the context of achieving gender balance and furthering women’s rights. Empowerment for women can only be truly achieved from an understanding of the complex relationship between corruption and gender equality issues and in recognizing that efforts that are targeted at promoting women’s rights must take cognizance of strategies to fight corruption. ICPC engages with diverse women groups, professional and grassroots alike, in disseminating its anti-corruption message to the citizenry and enjoining collective action against corruption. The 2019 International Women’s Day provides yet another opportunity for the Commission to rally Nigerian women to the battle.  Together, we can accelerate achieving gender balance if we work in concert to combat corruption.