Women Group writes protest letter to UN for commending Bello

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Emerge Women, a civil society organisation, has called on the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), to withdraw its commendation for Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello for appointing 21 female deputy chairpersons in the state.

UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Comfort Lamptey, had written a letter of commendation to Bello for appointing women into political offices and requested for a visit.

In the petition addressed to the UN Women, signed by nine members, Emerge Women, frown at the fact that the UN group did not condemn the killing of the woman leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Wada Aro, Ochadamu Ward in Ofu local government area of the state, Salome Abuh, during the 2019 elections.

It asked why the UN group is commending Bello when there are “there are many other human rights infringements on women in that state”.

Emerge Women, said one of the issues they have with the commendation letter is that, “we cannot be advocating for credible elections at the LG level and be simultaneously commending a governor who is stifling that process. For us, the act is illegal and therefore the UN Women’s letter is an endorsement of an illegality.”

They also questioned why the UN group, had not commended the Rivers State Government, that has a woman as her Deputy Governor, female Commissioners, female state assembly member, female Senator, Female Appointees, 1 LGA Chairperson and 22 LGA Vice Chairpersons, who have have been active in that position for many years in Rivers State.

Emerge Women has therefore, advised the UN Women office in Nigeria to reconsider what it they called “ill-advised idea of commending the Kogi State Governor.” They also called on all women and right groups in the country and globally to join in calling on Lamptey, to consider withdrawing the Letter of Commendation to Kogi State Governor and a cancellation of the planned visit as a mark of respect for all the women who were victims of political violence and injustice in the last Kogi State.

Below is the Petition to UN Women.

RE: Letter of Commendation and Request for Courtesy Visit by Mrs Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS to HE Mr Yahaya Bello, Executive Governor of Kogi State.

Emerge Women wishes to express our grave concern over the recent commendation letter from the UN Women in Nigeria to Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello and we firmly issue this protest against the letter of commendation and request for courtesy visit to the Executive Governor of Kogi State by Mrs Comfort

Lamptey the Country Representative of UN Women to Nigeria and ECOWAS.

We understand that the reason given for the commendation is the appointment of twenty-one women as deputy chairpersons of all the 21 LGAs in Kogi State, but it is our belief that this act does not deserve commendation from UN Women. The laws in Nigeria both at federal and state levels makes provisions for the Local Government Chairmen and their deputies to be ELECTED and not APPOINTED. So, for the UN Women to celebrate these appointments, regardless of their gender, negates the work that we do to ensure that elections at the LG level are credible.

This is one of the issues we have with the UN Women’s letter – we cannot be advocating for credible elections at the LG level and be simultaneously commending a governor who is stifling that process. For us, the act is illegal and therefore the UN Women’s letter is an endorsement of an illegality. The appointment of deputy LG Chairpersons rather than supporting them in running successfully in free and fair elections weakens the agenda on gender mainstreaming into leadership and decision making positions. It also subverts democracy. We ask the UN Women, is expediency now better than insistence on the rule of law?

Albeit, the commendation is premised on the need to encourage the governor on his appointments of women into political office, this cannot be done in disregard of the larger context of the governor’s actions and inactions. Moreover, if that is the compelling reason for the commendation of the governor, it is on record that Rivers State has a woman as her Deputy Governor, female Commissioners, female state assembly member, female Senator, Female Appointees, 1 LGA Chairperson and 22 LGA Vice Chairpersons. To be clear, these women appointments have been in place for many years in Rivers State yet we have not read that UN Women commended the Governor of that state.

We are now left deeply concerned as to why the recent appointment of Kogi women as LG Vice Chairpersons will attract such a commendation. We have many organizations and women working extremely hard in the country to promote women political participation from institutional perspective, but none is yet to receive commendation from UN Women. Under these curious circumstance, It will be difficult to see the UN Women in Nigeria as unbiased. To be clear, the Kogi Governor’s election took the life of a Woman- Mrs. Salome Acheju Abuh, a PDP Woman Leader who was burnt alive to death in her house after elections in Kogi State. Another woman in the person of Natasha Akpoti was viciously attacked and violated for seeking election as Governor of Kogi State. The Kogi Governor’s Commissioner allegedly raped a young woman in the presence of her 3-year-old son without the Governor reprimanding him. In fact he is still a commissioner in Kogi State! There are many other human rights infringements on women in that State which we cannot recount here.

In all these, the UN Women office in Nigeria never issued a press release to condemn these sad events nor offered a statement seeking justice for the women. We believe the UN Women’s commendation is faulty, questionable and unfortunate given the atrocities committed against women under the watch of the incumbent Governor of Kogi State. So long as activists set the bar low, nothing substantive will be accomplished. We cannot say we stand for gender rights and then go out to praise those who brazenly and publicly violate the rights and lives of women.

We are pained that UN Women, an organisation we hold in remarkably high esteem as promoters of women rights globally and partners in progress has embarked upon this compromising and sycophantic adventure in Kogi State. UN Women can ask to meet with Kogi State officials for a discussion without demonstrating such sophistry and sycophancy. Writing such letters and making such pronouncements do significant and irreparable damage to the struggle for gender equality, equity and justice.

We therefore, expect the UN Women office in Nigeria to reconsider this ill-advised idea of commending the Kogi State Governor. We call on all women and right groups in the country and globally to join us in calling on Mrs. Comfort Lamptey, the UN Women Representative in Nigeria to kindly consider withdrawing the Letter of Commendation to Kogi State Governor and a cancellation of the planned visit as a mark of respect for all the women who were victims of political violence and injustice in the last Kogi State Governorship Elections. An injustice to one woman, should be seen as injustice to all.

We would have matched to the UN Office in Nigeria to register our protest but due to the Covid 19 situation in the Country, we have resorted to online actions starting with this release. We and other partners in progress would appreciate a response from Mrs Comfort Lamptey, the UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS regarding the issues raised in this statement. Our next line of actions will be determined by the response we get from the UN System, especially the UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS.