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Prof. Oladiji, Senators Binani and Olujimi: The symbolism of breaking the glass ceiling

It has been mixed-feelings for the female-folk in recent time; some issues to cheer and some others to agonize about. Only a few weeks ago, the Nigerian women carried their protests to the doorsteps of federal lawmakers, for failing to pass the bill that would have given more seats to women in elective positions, despite the advocacy by activists to that effect and the intervention of the first lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari. Somehow, the protesting women were pacified, and the protest tempo diminished and withered away, perhaps to give way for more strategies to advance the cause of women in politics.

There is however cheerful news from the exploits of women in the academia and to some extent in politics as it relates to the just concluded APC and PDP primaries. At the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Professor Adenike Temidayo Oladiji was appointed the Vice Chancellor, after initial opposition from vested interest within the university community. By this appointment, Prof Oladiji has become the first woman to be appointed vice chancellor at FUTA.

ASUU’s earlier grouse was based on(Act No 11 of 1993) as amended (2003) as it concerns VC appointment. Section 3 (b) states that “the Council shall select one candidate from among the three candidates submitted to it under subsection (3) of this section and forward his name to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces”. The two candidates were selected out of the 20 that were earlier screened. In the end, Professor Shadrach Olufemi Akindele was said to have scored 73.9 while Professor Oladiji scored 73.8. The insignificant difference didn’t stop the Governing Council from appointing her. Although, the so-called gap is virtually nothing, ASUU rejected her appointment initially, saying “the election of a predetermined preferred candidate whose overall score in the process is lower than that of the candidate who came first, throws merit overboard. Unfortunately, that cannot and will not be acceptable to us and shall not stand”.

However, ASUU later recanted even though it didn’t look like their grouse is about merit alone. As a matter of fact, it was based on the fact that Professor Olajidi is not one of their own, as their statement betrayed that line of thought: “We, concerned members of FUTA Senate, call on our respected colleague, Professor Olajidi of the University of Ilorin to remain steadfast at her duty post at UNILORIN and not attempt to come to FUTA as VC”.

This further exposed FUTA ASUU as championing the cause of their colleague(s) at FUTA than the merit of their arguments. The two universities (of Ilorin and Akure) belong to the federal government, which appoints  Governing Councils of universities that normally recommend three candidates to the President for the appointment of VCs. In other words, the FUTA Governing Council did not breach any extant laws in the appointment of Prof Olajidi.

So, from the get-go, ASUU’s criticism was based on faulty foundation of supporting their own against a supposed outsider. Besides, SSANU and NASU, two other university unions in the university threw their weight behind the new appointee. And seeing the handwriting on the wall, ASUU members, who have another grouse with the federal government and are on strike for that reason, withdrew their opposition to Professor Olajidi. It’s just as well, because you cannot fight on many fronts and hope to win all.

Olajidi, a professor of Biochemistry, who has since assumed office as VC of FUTA bagged her first degree in Biochemistry from the University of Ilorin in 1988, did her Masters and PhD in the same university, began her working career in 1992 before becoming a professor in 2011 all in the same university. Most importantly, Prof Oladiji is as qualified as they come, and as the first female VC of FUTA, she broke all  barriers from within and outside to scale through.  This calls for celebration; and for the women folk in particular, it is yet another milestone in the struggle for relevance in a patriarchal society like ours.

On the political front where traditionally, women take the back seat, the exploits of a few who are able to weather the storm and become triumphant should become examplary. In this category in the just concluded primaries of the two major political parties—PDP and APC are senators Aishatu Dahiru Binani and Abiodun Olujimi.

Aishatu Binani is a serving APC senator from Adamawa Central senatorial district; she had earlier served as a House of Representatives member representing Yola North/Yola South federal constituency. Her emergence as the governorship candidate of the APC has got tongues wagging; the media was agog with her unfamiliar feat,while women activists have been on a roller-coaster outburst of rejoicing with her. Senator Binani beat five other male aspirants including former governor of the state, Jibrilla Bindow, and the former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, a House of Representatives member, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, and others.

The serving senator floored them all, and won with 430 votes against his closest rival, Nuhu Ribadu who polled 288 votes. On a personal note, I’m not happy that Nuhu Ribadu, a very hardworking and humble gentleman lost out again, in his aspiration serve his state, but for me as woman,  Binani’s victory compensated for my emotional interest in Nuhu Ribadu.

I understand that Binani was very popular among women, and always identifies with the grassroots, plus having a deep pocket to boot. “She has always been there for the people and many of the delegates benefitted from her generosity in the past”, her Director of Media and Communication, Salihu Baba Ahmed told Daily Trust in an interview.

The symbolism of her victory should not be lost on us. Here is a Muslim woman from what critics call conservative North, pulling a surprise victory at the detriment of party stalwarts of the APC, yet she pulled all stops to coast to victory. Our hope is for her to win the general election so that she can be celebrated as the first female governor in the country from a so-called conservative environment. It is also proof that religion is not a drawback to one’s dream and aspiration as perceived by many people.

When Senator Olujimi was run out of town during the governorship primary of the PDP by the former governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose, I felt personally touched, not because I know her, but because many, like me, saw in her a potential governorship candidate. Senator Olujimi is one woman I admire from afar, because of her obvious capacity, enduring spirit and trajectory in the Senate. She comes across as a serious, committed, hardworking and determined woman, yet Fayose wouldn’t allow her be in Ekiti governorship race.

Although she has since won her Senate seat back in the primary election, with the hope that she will be returned to the Senate, history still beckons, for her to fulfil her destiny of being governor of Ekiti state someday.I admire these three women and more; women setting admirable standards, blazing the trail, and breaking the glass ceiling. They are the pathfinders;the role models we want for the girl child, just as some strong-willed women of the past shone the light for them to excel today. They have also proved the point that there is no stopping the women folk; not in the corporate world, not in the academia, and definitely not in politics.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is the Editorial Board Chair of Blueprint Newspapers.

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