Maximising Nigeria’s Greatest Natural Resource - by Olubunmi Aboderin

There is a lot of talk about “inclusive capitalism” and “inclusive growth” these days. That’s all well and good but in addition to these, what we need is an “inclusive government”. A government that includes capable, honest citizens based on merit irrespective of gender.

There is a positive correlation between gender equality and economic growth. Countries that do not treat women as second class citizens are more likely to prosper in a sustainable manner, and this is true regardless of the prevailing ideology or religion of that region.

Rwanda and Dubai are two classic examples. Both countries rank high in comparative regional gender equality surveys and both have experienced an upward trend in economic prowess and social development over the last 10 years and 40 years respectively. In the book, Flashes of Thought, the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, says of his government: “Our job is to provide an environment that unlocks women’s potential – one that protects their dignity and femininity, helps them create the necessary balance in their lives, and values their talents and potential. Given this environment, I am confident that women will perform nothing short of miracles.” To that end, 70 per cent of university graduates in his country are women. Eighty five per cent of his personal team are women, 65 per cent of their government employees are women and 30 per cent of the leadership positions are held by women.

Closer to home, let’s look at Rwanda. Since the genocide ended over 10 years ago, women have generally made up more than 50 per cent of their parliamentarians. Currently, approximately 63 per cent of their Members of Parliament are women. During that time, Rwanda has experienced year-on-year GDP growth. Their GDP per capita, their Gross National Income per capita, their Agricultural Production Rate and Food Production Rate have all increased steady over those years. Is this a coincidence? I think not. I once heard someone say that women are the greatest causalities of war and he might be right. This being the case, by putting capable women in leadership positions, we have a government that is less likely to make decisions that would lead to civil unrest or war. Prosperity fosters in times of peace. The absence of confusion and an orderly society foster progress. The more women we have in leadership positions, the more likely we are to have an orderly and prosperous country.

In her essay, The Economics of Exclusion, University of Oxford Business Professor, Linda Scott, illustrates in monetary terms the national benefits of adequately including women in leadership and the hidden, indirect costs of excluding them: “Taking account of the benefits of including women should encompass not just the growth possibilities, but the bigger economic impact lies in avoiding the costs associated with exclusion, such as…hunger, violence and disease.”

In some of her other works, Scott compares the Women’s Economic Opportunity data compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the National Competitiveness Index created by the World Economic Forum. Her findings show that “a country making concerted efforts to protect, support, educate, and place its women would be making similar decisions across the board to maximise its other resources.”

There are examples of gifted leaders all over the world who happen to be female such as Valerie Amos, Michaelle Jean, Ursula Burns and Condoleezza Rice. We also have our fair share of such assets here in Nigeria and in deciding who should form part of the leadership team that moves this country forward, let those who are gifted with skill, scruples, stamina and a solid track record prevail.

Overlooking women for positions in leadership would be akin to a self-inflicted brain drain. Speaking of a brain drain, Valerie Amos is originally from Guyana and Michaelle Jean was born in Haiti. Both women are doing wonders on behalf of their adoptive countries, the United Kingdom and Canada respectively. If the right environment had existed in their countries of birth, they probably would not have left and perhaps they’d be doing these wonders as emissaries of their birth countries rather than as representatives of their adoptive countries. Let us create the right environment here in Nigeria so that capable women don’t have to leave the shores of their country to find a place where their intellectual talents can be maximised and appreciated.

Who or what is a leader?

It is said that a leader is someone who improves the lives of those around him or her. People like Adepeju Jaiyeoba, the lawyer working to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates by providing kits to pregnant women in rural areas, or Mosunmola Umoru, the female farmer who empowers other farmers by helping them find a viable market for their produce.

Similarly, it is said that a leader is anyone who can serve people and make them happy. For example, Enitan Kuku who discovers Nigerian fine artists and helps them sell their artwork in the international market, or Fisayo Olowu who runs a designated learning place for children under the age of 10 living in an impoverished shanty town, or Yewande Olofinro who goes to hospital wards to help those who can’t pay their medical bills.

I also read somewhere that a leader is someone capable of creating positive change, whether at a micro level within his or her family or at a macro level serving the entire nation. People such as Ijeoma Idika-Chima, a young lady who galvanises other young people to vote, or Amina Ahmed who despite incredible odds is possibly one of Nigeria’s youngest female magistrates, or Temitayo Etomi, a manager in the Lagos State civil service, doing notable work in her state government.

It should be a priority of new administration headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, to “provide an enabling environment for women to achieve their highest potential.” That environment would be one that protects them from violence, one that does not force them to compromise their principles and one that includes them on the basis of competence.

The positive change that we would like to see from the new administration is the significant inclusion of clever, capable, conscientious and compassionate women in the leadership. Let us realise the benefits inherent in our greatest natural resource. We can create an environment that enables women to succeed or sets them up to fail. By choosing the former, the whole nation, male and female, young and old, will also move forward.

- Ms Olubunmi Aboderin is a member of the Institute of Directors