Because As A Strong Woman Your Well Being Is Never Your Priority

Moscow2 0726
Shining teeth in Moscow 2006

Being queer is empowering me to step away from hyper sexualised gender narratives.  Narratives that normalise or problematise hyper sexual relationship between the men and women. When I am neither a man or woman I can look at myself like a Person demand to be treated like a Person.  After the feminist republik,  the accountability summit and naming myself queer I began to see my personal situation in a whole different light. 

Hitherto I’ve been focusing on my unfair dismissal from Oxfam. I neglected to pursue that Oxfam might be liable in tortious negligence or under personal injury law or even human rights law. Like a deer caught in headlights I stared straight ahead. The first time I learnt that I may have had a personal injury claim was in July 2013 and I was told at the time it was two weeks away from the statute of limitation. It still did not click.

The legal issue between me and Oxfam should have been for personal injury and breach of duty of care. Not unfair dismissal. I didn’t want the job back anyway and I didn’t want another job in the sector. I admit I was seduced by the comfort of a generous salary. In low wage nations employment is not attractive to people like me. We innovate and entrepreneur. IAO’s changed all that. They compete for the best and brightest. And in the local context pay outrageous salaries. Its easy to be seduced. (But what they pay us is nothing compared to what they pay Old White Men that come to Africa claiming to be experts. I met one who received EUR10,000 per month. Late sixties. Asian wife in mid 20s. Or African wife late teens. They ARE a catch. But I digress. More later.)

It was fortuitous I attended the accountability meeting. I don’t go out much anymore. I’ve become reclusive. I almost didn’t notice how much I’ve changed. I’ve been struggling with insomnia, flashbacks, depression, self doubt, anxiety, loss of confidence, guilt and shame.  Atrocities are being committed across Nigeria and no one is being held accountable. Because there are no consequences for bad behaviour. People do not learn from words they learn from experience. Killings are not the only atrocities. Sexual assault and rape are atrocities too.  

As the revelations against Oxfam and the Aid sector piled up, culminating in the IDC Report released on 31 July 2018,  the scale, the audacity and the sheer disregard for women’s well being including my own overwhelmed me. IAOs were scrambling to cover their ass, regulators were scrambling to show that they are alive, state departments were scrambling to show they were taking care of tax payers money.  Winnie grovelled. Goldring obfuscated. Dame Stocking dithered.  The media scrambled to eke out the news cycle. Reporters and producers called me from all over the world. 

Even the Daily Mail got in touch and offered to ghost write my story. Back in October after The Times article came out and Oxfam reacted so blandly I joked they would react more vigorously when The Sun or The Daily Mail carried their story of misdeeds. Little did I know.  I turned the Daily Mail down. I read The Daily Mail about once a month to catch up on the social life of the rich and famous. I call it My Guilty Pleasure. I could immediately imagine what the headlines might be. 

The Times headline was difficult enough. “Lesley Agams: Oxfam official pushed me on to hotel bed and grabbed my belt.” I was mortified when I read that. This is after all a global publication. I know its what happened and what I said but it still came as a shock. In my wildest dreams I did not expect that the first time my name appears in global headlines it would be like that.  The thought that I could go down in history as Lesley Agams the woman who an Oxfam official tried to rape was distressing. And it would’ve been on the front-page if not for Catalonia. Thank goddess for Catalonia!

I pushed my feelings aside and focused on my desire for justice and accountability. This was an opportunity for justice, I told myself. This was an opportunity to hold Oxfam GB accountable. This was an opportunity for me and for the other women I was sure were silently and passively experiencing the same thing to get justice. This was an opportunity to change how the entire sector treats its female employees.  

Before I agreed to work with The Times on the October story I did my research. I studied their audience.  When the media requests came pouring in after the Haiti scandal broke I adopted a similar strategy. What audience did I want to reach? I settled for BBC’s Newsnight but was rather disappointed to be asked at the end of my interview whether people should still give aid. Its not about Aid. Its about People. Like me. See us. 

A couple people noticed the strain I was obviously under during the interview and reached out to support and sympathise with me. (Thank you for caring. You know who you are. I love you.) The Newsnight story ended with a statement from Samuel Musa insisting my dismissal was for ‘other reasons’. Does that mean I deserve to get raped?Does it even matter why I was dismissed?    

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 12.58.30

You can see the full Newsnight segment here. Trigger warning. It triggers me watching it.

Meanwhile I was being asked to retell my story again and again. Being more self aware of my well being I decided to tell it one time last time and gave a 30 min interview to Mercy Abang a Nigerian journalist.  You may have seen it or not. It got 172 views on YouTube. Ask me. What was my target audience? I met Mercy when Amy Costello at Tiny Sparks interviewed me for a podcast on sexual harassment on the sector in October 2017. The interview with Mercy was for the record.  I wanted to tell my own story, my own way. She was the only one that promised not to cut it for soundbites. 

After the October 2017 Times publication Mark Goldring, Winnie Byanyima and Penny Lawrence continued to defend Oxfam’s 2010 decision to dismiss me and insisted that due care had been taken in the investigation of the sexual assault after they were made aware of it. Their own records did not support this assertion and members of their own staff pointed this out to them. My personnel file which I obtained through a subject access request in December 2017 had vital records missing.

When in November 2017 Mark Goldring first wrote to me, I asked for an independent review of my case and to be allowed to exercise of my right to select an investigator. He  wrote back to me sometime after 6 December 2017 denying my request and claiming he had personally reviewed my case and stood by both the dismissal and the investigation of the sexual assault. His apology was buried somewhere at the end of the email. It was so nonchalant and dismissive I was deeply offended.

I managed to get through the holidays. I experienced depression and anxiety attacks. I lost appetite. I lost weight. I had difficulty sleeping. I had difficulty with focus and concentration. Then in February 2018 the story about Oxfam in Haiti broke. Sean O’Neill sent me a message to alert me.  Oxfam responded robustly this time. It was like watching your bully get bullied.  But there were more insinuations about my performance and further justification of my dismissal in 2010. They made no more mention of the attempted rape. Then Dame Barbara came on television and tried to excuse her terrible handling of the Haiti scandal. Her sanctimonious chirping about respect for women and women’s rights after her handling of my 2012 appeal made me livid. I was angry. I had a meltdown on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 15.59.47

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 13.10.31

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 13.08.59

 

Then I fell really sick. I had to contact my therapist in the U.K. Soon after that l emailed the wonderful supportive people that I met since October 2017 telling them I had to step back for my health. It was taking its toll. I don’t know if they understood. I heard some disappointment here and there but I had to prioritise my self care. At that point nothing else mattered. I just knew I needed to step away and soothe myself back to health. 

Well I feel stronger now. Clearer. More focused. Angrier. But my anger is white hot and like Leslie Jamison’s and Audre Lordes’ a tool now. Things are different. I’m not alone. We are many, staff and beneficiaries. Oxfam knew what was going on and deliberately, cynically and opportunistically chose to ignore our safety and well being.

We spoke about it at the feminist republik; the dangers of this epithet of strong woman we so readily accept and use to dismiss and let others use to dismiss our pain and need for attention and healing. Till it becomes a epitaph. Because you know. We’re women. We’re African women. We can’t afford to have a breakdown. Life as we know it will collapse. The very fibre of community and society will disintegrate. Families will unravel. And all hell will break loose. Look around. All hell is breaking loose already. And not just in Africa. Look at what’s happening in America and Europe. We are witnessing the systematic dismantling of a liberal democracy and a rise in fascism.

The strong woman trope is a scam.  Once you accept it you let people off the hook. You absorb their abuse, their thoughtlessness, their patronising rhetoric and melodramatic promises of reform instead  holding them accountable. 

I’m not doing strong woman anymore. My well being and health are too precious. I manage my stress levels very carefully now. I could relate with the experience described in Hope’s Letter. It made me ask how did it happen? Oxfam sent me for a mandatory  health test before making me a job offer. All was well. Less than two months later I was diagnosed with a stress related auto-immune condition. That’s how toxic the working environment was. First of all there was way too much sexism. The few women there were support staff. Not program staff and not decision makers.  I wanted to quit after just two weeks. But you know what they say – winners don’t quit. Don’t believe cliches. 

 

I was deeply resented at the Nigeria office and I wrote to Samuel Musa on numerous occasions about the gendered problems I was having with staff. We held several mediation meetings. It was a war. On so many levels. One day I found a huge mangled rat on the threshold of my office. It meant nothing to me till I mentioned it to a religious Nigerian colleague. I remember thinking to myself – seriously? Could it be that bad? By the time I was dismissed I decided to resolve the problem myself or leave and informed the regional management team. I didn’t expect to be dismissed. I thought there were rules. The Oxfam rules which I had been introduced to as soon as I signed the doted line on my employment contract. Anyway, I did achieve something I’m really proud of before I was dismissed. I cleaned up  the accounts department. The acting CD before me had systematically dismantled it. The new accounts staff  were proud to work with me and still came to me for advice on handling ethical situations long after I left Oxfam.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 16.19.31

My dismissal does not matter as much as my well being. I feel better already acknowledging it. Its a big step for me to acknowledge my need for self care. It feels revolutionary to be prioritising my well being. It’s my right. Its my responsibility. It is my duty.  It can be hard for a ‘strong African woman’ to admit to injury and a need for support. In a dog eat dog world, physical or mental injury can make one feel very vulnerable. As an social rights activist it can also make one feel very guilty.

“Honour your anger,” Martin Knops said to me. He could have helped me deal with my injury first. When I went to him in August 2010 after the assault I was looking for help to recover from the trauma of my experience not a push to go to Human Resources.

Like John Oliver the host of ‘last Week Tonight’ said on his segment on sexual harassment in the workplace.

“HR exists to protect the Organisation  from liability not necessarily to seek justice on an employees behalf.”

I wrote to Martin Knops again in July 2013 literally begging him for help – 

“I have been struggling since the incident physically and emotionally. I am confused, I am still angry and I need help.  I would like appeal to you as a doctor, I appeal to your humanity, I appeal to your conscience and to your compassion. Please help me.”

He did not respond.  There was no human in the humanitarian.

Honour your loss, Tony Robbins would say. And then tell yourself a different story.  

So I did you know. 

Let’s Press For Progress on Prosecuting SEA in the Aid Sector

 

In the past few weeks there has been significant outcry and comment on the activities of international development agencies in countries where they work spreading aid and apparently disease and immorality. Their crimes against women have been exposed for all to see. Their crimes in Haiti, in Chad, in South Sudan, in Syria. Even crimes  sexual exploitation and abuse crimes committed by international agencies in the United Kingdom.

In the ensuing hand wringing and apologies we have heard again and again – from DIFD, from the Charity Commission, from Penny Mordaunt and even form the UN how they are learning and working to make it better. How they are improving safe guarding and whistle blowing procedures and mechanisms and how they are supporting and helping the women that have been abused and exploited by agents of these organisations.

I am yet to hear of one single woman that has been helped. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been supported. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been rehabilitated or restored. I am yet to hear of one single predator facing criminal, civil  or even long term professional consequences. All I have heard is how the agencies are ‘improving’ and ‘learning’ and how deeply and truly sorry they are. How much they regret the impact of the abuse on the abused.

Femi Oke raised this issue in her insightful video on the Haitian women that were raped by UN staff and left with children they can scarce afford to care for. She asked the UN Under Secretary General why its taking so long to actually give these women justice. And I would like to ask everyone all over the world that is piously and opportunistically claiming they stand with the victims why is it taking so long? You believe her? So what?

Everyone says they cannot turn back time and undo the sins and crimes of the past. Everyone seems to claim that all they can do is ‘prevent.’ I would like to know how well attempts at prevention have worked so far. Have we prevented war crimes? We have been talking and writing about it since 1945. Have we been able to prevent famine and poverty? After decades of fighting both? Have we been able to prevent disease and death? Murder? Rape? Corruption? Greed? Crime?

I laud the efforts at prevention but I do declare that prevention has not yet prevented anything.

There is only one way to deal with crimes. And sexual assault and rape and domestic violence and all the other crimes of violence against women and men too. And that is to punish the perpetrators, the violent, the criminals. There must be consequences for bad behaviour. And the bad behaviour has to be identified correctly because right now the only people that seem to be suffering the consequences of SEA are the women who are the victims.

Of course the prospect of punishing men for sexual assault sexual crimes and sexual harassment seems like a daunting one. Which man will escape punishment? Which man will not be implicated? Because men (and the women that enable them) seem to believe that there are few men that would be found innocent. I do not believe this. I believe that there are many men in the world that are not predatory in their sexual and social behaviour.

Ban Ki Moon, Winnie Binyanyima, Mark Goldberg, Caroline Thompson, Barbara Stocking have all come out and made grovelling public apologies and expressed how bad they feel about the ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse in the international development sector. But nothing has changed. The first reports of SEA in aid organisations may have emerged as early as 2008. I raised the alarm in 2010. Helen Evans raised the alarm in 2014. We are now in 2018 and some people are still ‘learning’ and ‘improving.’  Whether you take that from 2008 or 2014 that is enough time to get a first degree, a graduate degree or even a PhD. What are they still learning pray tell me?

Jane Holl Lute that was appointed to coordinate and strengthen the UN response to SEA went on record to say ‘that for the women of the world this is an ever present danger. there is no where women are safe, there is no family, no church, no school, no organisation, no work place.”

I say that is a woman that gave up before she even started. I reject her premise. There ARE places and spaces where women are safe. And we create them. Femi Oke asked her an important question – why are there so few cases that actually get to court? Ms. Lute’s response – I don’t know the answer to that.

I do. There is no real political will to actually get any cases before the courts. And if any case were to make it before the court the same organisations now extolling their regret would pay very expensive lawyers to discredit and tear apart the women that dared to complain. Save the Children have already sent lawyers to shut down media that report on their crimes. Oxfam’s PR machine has moved forward extolling the great work they purportedly do now that the initial outrage has subsided.

Its all hypocrisy. Its all platitudes and fancy grammar. Just because some clever people have mastered the speakese of gender equality does not make them gender complaint. That was the very problem that I tried to highlight at Oxfam when I was their country director in Nigeria in the aftermath of my assault and even before.

A male program manager actually suggested that I ‘tease’ him when issuing instructions instead of just telling him what to do. You know – why don’t you smile a little first, some sugar with the medicine. He actually used that word. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist when I reported it. One of the deputy regional directors was a complete rake. He did not see that his constant sexually charged comments were NOT gender friendly. And when I tried to point it out to them what I got was outrage – and denial. After all – one of them said to me – I ensure that at least 50% of my beneficiaries are women. Now with hindsight I am again struck by how sinister that sounds. Did insisting that more beneficiaries of the aid Oxfam and other organisations were handing out unintentionally make women more vulnerable?

My abuser at Oxfam in his response to my accusation of sexual assault said in his defence when asked why he didn’t respond to my email demanding an apology and a promise to desist from further SEA that ‘she wanted to use her gender against me’ echoing an earlier petition by one of my male program officers who wrote to the regional office that I ‘wanted to dominate my environment.’ I’m still trying to understand exactly what they meant. Surely these are leadership qualities that were being very cynically used against me.  And only a problem because I am a woman. Which male executive would be reported for trying to dominate his environment?

I wish I can say that I am impressed by the measures the UN, DFID, Oxfam, Save the Children, the  UK’s Charity Commission et al are taking to ‘prevent’ SEA. I am not. And you shouldn’t be either. They are just saying what they need to say to ensure that the money keeps rolling in and that their lifestyle and their power stays intact. If that means grovelling for the media and the public so be it.

I’ll be impressed when they actually prosecute or punish someone, and I don’t mean just dismiss them or let them resign and move on to other organisations. I mean real consequences, like the kind that the victims and whistle blowers have had to suffer. Loss of income, bullying, loss of status and respect, and credibility. I’m pretty certain that Penny Lawrence has already received her first consultancy contract from Oxfam or one of their friends. They won’t let let lose her house through failure to pay her mortgage or her children lose their education opportunities. They will reward her for making a ‘sacrifice to the cause.’  And the cause is Big Money. And Power.

For everyone $1 that flows into ‘poor countries’ from ‘rich countries’ $24 flow from these same poor countries to the rich. The aid industry was is worth $130BILLION a year but the net outflows to the rich countries of the south is over $1 TRILLION. Like Russell Brand so eloquently put it ‘the neutral governing and regulating bodies are in fact the administrative henchmen of a system of globalisation that is based on the exploitation of poorer countries.’

We really need to rethink aid. For most of my time working in development I avoided the debates around foreign aid. I avoided them because it would have been hypocritical of me as an employee and hence a beneficiary of foreign aid to criticise aid. It created too much cognitive dissonance. And I really thought I could change the system from the inside. I thought they would listen to me as a national and as an expert on her environment. Did they? Of course not.

I left Ashoka not only because they didn’t pay me enough for the kind of hours they expected me to keep but also because they really didn’t want to promote appropriate development. Oxfam offered more money. Now I know why. Its how they keep everyone compliant. Notice that during most of the scandal only a handful of former employees dared to come forward and say anything against the aid cartel in Africa? Who wants to lose a well paid job or consultancy on a continent that isn’t creating jobs and isn’t paying a living wage for most jobs? Mostly the aid agencies just exploit our bleeding hearts. We’re just the foot soldiers that do their dirty work while they divide the spoils. And like we all know, foot soldiers are not supposed to question the capo or the boss. I did a lot of that. Not sorry.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. Give money to humanitarian causes or not give money. Work for humanitarian causes or not work for them. Go to Africa or any other country you think is less privileged than yours and build a school or a hospital or not. Support the left or support the right. Those are individual and personal choices. Do whatever makes you feel good.

I feel pretty good. I brought attention to the SEA of female staff working for BINGOs in Africa. Don’t worry, they’ll get around to that eventually. All its going to take is just one more whistle blower to prove their hypocrisy even in the wake of the scandals of the past 6 months. Right now they’re prioritising SEA of beneficiaries and not employees because the legal liability is less onerous. It won’t be long now. Abusers abuse. They cant help themselves. And somewhere out  there, there is another woman just like me who won’t keep quite.

Happy International Women’s Day.

 

DXvx5hCXkAINZ_y
Art by Favianna Rodriguez, US artist/activist of Latina and Afro-Peruvian roots

Armed Forces Remembrance Day: We Need To Talk About Biafra

It was Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Nigeria yesterday. Our big brass and the politricksions went and laid wreaths for unknown soldiers. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had speedily passed legislation for the payment of veterans entitlements instead of creating entitlements of themselves instead?

Let’s look at this Armed Forces Remembrance Day anyway. It started out as a commemoration of the soldiers that fought in the First World War in which Nigerian and African soldiers fought and died with the rest of the global community. Whether they went voluntarily or not is irrelevant if you ask me. They represented.

Then Obasanjo, that wily fox, went and changed it to commemorate the ‘surrender of Biafra troops’ effectively ensuring that the end of Civil War itself is not specifically commemorated or the events discussed. And discussions about the civil was and Biafra are drowned out in a natural outpouring of communal patriotism and and nationalism. To speak about the Civil War and Biafra on such a day would seem sacrilegious as Femi Kani Kayode no doubt learnt.

Of keen interest to me is the change in the tone of the media. Since the administration of Obansanjo the military has mostly been under fire from the media for their human rights violations. Amnesty International kept up a relentless stream of reports and Nigeria was unable to buy arms under some United States act that they invoke on a need to basis.

Now we are talking about the sacrifices that the soldiers are making and there is absolutely no single credible media report about the situation in the militarised zones of the north east, south south and south east. Has our military reformed over night as if by magic? But I thought Buhari keeps them busy chasing cattle rustlers and training in animal farming techniques in Argentina. It is a public relations victory?

I suggest to activists in the Niger Delta to consider the use of drones to capture footage. The activists at Standing Rock, the Native American protest against encroachment on tribal lands used drones to record footage that showed the real picture to the world. Watch the video. The drone pilot said he is completely self taught by the way.

Why do we need to talk about Biafra and why do our rulers want us to forget it? Because we need to heal the physic wounds that continue to haunt nation building in Nigeria. And to heal those wounds we need to listen to each other and accommodate each others points of view – and then find common ground to agree on. Instead what happens is every time the topic is raised there is a still a winner and vanquished mentality – the one saying “You tried to exterminate us, we do not feel safe” and the other saying “You lost the war, deal with it.” Even Chinua Achebe’s account was vilified and divided the national debate. Neither is productive.

The patriarchal old men that have been making decisions about Nigeria’s future learnt well the lessons of the jungle. Control information, only write down stuff in an elaborate code, control access to the code and who can read it. The masses will forget.

The old were revered as living encyclopaedia’s. Imagine what it must have been like when life expectancy was even lower and even fewer made it to old age. All that remains in the common memory is the idea of an injustice inflicted once upon a time, brought out and dusted off by old men (and young) when they need to whip up the crowd.

In the era of new media its tricky to pull off a scam like that. And video IS the new frontier for credible news delivered via the world wide web. It becomes both a record and an account and dilutes the influence and power of those wily old men that would keep their subjects ignorant and malleable. It would be great to see some female leadership too.

 

While, it is appropriate to remember and support our troops, those gone and those risking their lives, media coverage needs to be balanced and consistent to keep the government institutions on their toes and to keep citizens informed. We need to ask questions and investigate their allegations. And we need to whole heartedly celebrate the end of the Civil War and stop making it about the ‘defeat’ of Biafra and sweeping it under the carpet.

The men of the Nigerian Army sure do need our support right now. They’re spread pretty thin – north east,north central, south south, south east, cattle rearing, oil & gas security, Liberia and about to go off to Gambia. And they face formidable foes. Lets keep praying my praying brethren that trouble doesn’t erupt in the north west and south west.

Sadly, stories coming from the front lines seem to suggest they maybe as inadequately cared for as ever. Even in the military Nigerian women  are left to pick up the slack.

 

 

 

 

Are You Required to Produce Husband’s Consent For Passports?

The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt decided you did not when they gave this judgement in 2009 in Dr. Priye Iyalla_Amadi vs The Director General of the Nigeria Immigration Service.

I think the NIS said they appealed the matter. I wonder where they are on it so far. Can’t find anything about the status. Whats the composition of the appeals court and the supreme court? Just thinking out loud.

The defendants did not really dispute the facts adduced by the plaintiff in their counter_affidavit but sought to justify the requirement of a letter of consent from the husband of a married woman who wants to be issued a Nigerian passport on the basis that Nigerian married women are classified alongside with minors by the government as persons who require consent from the head of the family. NIS argued that the requirement for consent was put in place to perpetuate the authority of the man over his wife, no matter the status she had attained in society. It also stated that the requirement was set to avoid unnecessary breakdown of marriage institution in the country.

Its important to pursue legal precedents expanding women’s rights all  the way to the Supreme Court. And those cases should attract support from women, women’s groups and women’s funds.  If you have any current information about this case could you drop an update for me? Or steer me towards someone who knows? I’d appreciate it.

 

 

Nyanya: Two Years Later. While We Talk About The Chibok Girls What Became Of The Survivors?

I’ve been looking for one mention of the tragedy ‪#‎Nyanya‬ on 14/4/2014

The National Mirror is the only Nigerian or foreign paper that carried a headline remembering the incident that happened exactly two years ago today. And just a couple of tweets.

On the other hand ‪#‎BringBackOurGirls‬ has received extensive coverage and extensive support.

In the aftermath of the Nyanya bombing hundreds of Nigerians donated time, money, food items and other forms of assistance to the injured.

I remember meeting a young Illorin lady in her 20’s with a baby on her at National Hospital. She was trying to get the body of her husband released so she could take him home for burial. He was a driver. I still wonder how she is coping with her two children.

i met so many hurt and traumatised Nigerians, male and female in the hospital beds. The mother of the only baby involved in the blast had shattered two legs. She called me about a year ago. She is healed and can walk now.

I keep in touch with some of them. I hired one of the survivors as my driver when her recovered.

Let us not forget those who lost their lives, those who lost their livelihoods and those that lost their quality of life on April 14, 2014.

I would like to thank Olufunke Baruwa, Zakari Momodu, Emeka Odita, George Blankson Theodora Eromobor Charles Chizor Onuba Uche Anyanwu Maya Edukere Opuama Pamela Baride Ayi Osori Obi Asika and a host of others that reached out to help us.

We started a Facebook group and registered with the local government so that we could help out more. Then as more Nigerians and institutions became involved and more attention was directed at the growing IDP problem we moved on with our lives.

Its kinda sad to see that no one remembered them today.

Zakari, Theodora – who has those phone numbers? Let’s call these people up and ask them how they’re doing.

Yohanna who I hired as a driver recently lost his job when my contract ended and needs a new one real fast. He has a young wife and a baby.

Who’s in?

P.S – Its good to know that the perpetrators are being prosecuted but its kinda frustrating to see that two years later they are still submitting evidence. This should have been a priority case if for no other reason to assure ALL Nigerians that bad behaviour WILL have consequences.

What can we do my legal luminaries?

Now That You Are Finally The Oga Madam At the Top

A few years ago you finally realized you weren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur after your umpteenth venture crashed and you went bankrupt again.  So you dusted off your certificates, updated your CV with exaggerated achievements and applied for a real job like your mama and everybody else had been telling you to do since you graduated. After all middle age was approaching and you still didn’t have a house, a retirement fund or health insurance

After a few months and numerous soul crushing rejections by people that failed to see your brilliant genius you eventually landed a lower level job than you felt you deserved in an industry whose philosophy you don’t even respect but hey, it was a paying job. You couldn’t continue living on the dwindling good will of family and friends anymore.

You doggedly endured the soul numbing life of a worker bee, you never called in sick, you came to work on time, worked late, answered all your emails, attended boring departmental  meetings, sucked up to the boss and generally kept your nose clean. Once in a while you even managed to impress the boss and the board. Finally five years later, just when you were giving up your hard work is rewarded and you are promoted to a senior management position and become an oga madam at the top.

Google Images
Google Images

Well done.  You’ve been validated, your knowledge, your genius, your skill has been noticed and you are finally given the position you deserved in the first place. You can now boast to family and friends about your responsibilities and preen in the trust that has been placed in you. All those nay sayers that called you a good for nothing ditherer when you were being an artist will have to swallow their words and respect you. After all this is a credible organization you work for not some hick town one man show.

Well now that you are an oga madam at the top and no longer a lowly worker bee, I’m here to tell you how to live the rest of your life because I just love to give unsolicited advice. You see you cannot continue to live like you did before , when you came home after everyone has had their dinner and ate your reheated portion hunched over your laptop dealing with late emails and ignoring your SO who was trying to tell you about his day.

Google Images
Google Images

You can relax now and ask your new PA to deal with the emails and have a proper conversation with the people at home like you used once upon a time when you first met. You can wake up at 5am in the morning as usual and make guilt free love to your SO and discuss the kids, the mortgage, your plans for the day or whatever it is you want to discuss after sex early in the morning instead of jumping out of bed and heading for the laptop to check what email came in overnight.

There is no competition in the office to see who does more work after office hours. You don’t get paid over time and you work for an organization that can’t fire you anyway without a lengthy and complicated due process so unless you have fucked up pretty badly they won’t. Relax and enjoy your new position, enjoy your renewed love life and the loving companionship you have denied yourself all these years.

Picture: Forbes Magazine
Picture: Forbes Magazine

You can go to the office late once in a while, you can even skip that boring meeting, you now have a pool of eager young things at your beck and call waiting to climb the corporate ladder just like you did that you can delegate to attend and speak on your behalf.  They may not get it right every time but they need to learn and you need to learn to delegate. That’s what leaders do you know. You can finally close early and go for a candle lit dinner with your SO or take him for a long leisurely lunch  and now you can afford to.

Just think of all the other good things that you can afford now that you have become oga madam at the top with the new salary that goes with it. You can afford to go on a cruise for two or a vacation to the Bahamas or to buy a two-seater sports convertible.   I guess you could also decide to move into a bigger flat or get a bigger mortgage or you could decide to send junior to that new expensive British curriculum boarding school.  But hey, what’s the fun in that?

Your little flat is comfy, easy to care for, and in a great location and junior is already in a an expensive day school, and these things already swallowed your little salary before anyway leaving you with little for leisure, romance, hobbies or R&R.  Now you have become oga madam at the top thank your personal ‘chi’ and the Universe and enjoy it. It was not given to you only to take on more responsibilities than you had before. It was given to you so you could enjoy more life too.

Google Images
Google Images

Don’t deceive yourself that you will enjoy the world and all the things you missing out on right now when you are retired. You will be living on a pension, you will be old and tired and you may not have the energy mental or physical to start a new business or hustle for extra income. Hustle and start- ups are for the young and able.  And don’t deceive yourself into thinking that the children need an expensive education to succeed or that they will be grateful.  Children nowadays are very unreliable.

If your reason for the continuing the grind at the office to the exclusion of a life is anxiety that your enemies are waiting for you to slip up then the appropriate place to put your energy is prayer and fasting or frequent visits to the babalawo, depending on your beliefs. No matter how good you are if your enemies want to get you they will, your hard work will not save you. Even Forbes magazine says so. And if the boss doesn’t like you, you will never get ahead, as any woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment can tell you.

Photo: Forbes
Photo: Forbes

It won’t matter that you are the only one that submits projects on time,  that you always exceed your targets, that you regularly save the office money by exposing fraud, double invoicing and inflated contracts, that you come in early and are the last one to leave at the end of the day.  If you got enemies and the boss is one of them you will be tolerated only for a season before the hammer comes down on you at the first opportunity and you will loss the job and any chances for a good reference.

You got this job because you worked hard and paid your dues already.  Relax, expand your life with a healthy work life balance and be a good management role model. Make the trip to the top seem worth it to the rest of slogging womanhood.

Report Abuse Button on Twitter Campaign?

This landed in my inbox today

Add a Report Abuse Button to Tweets

I wish I could have a button in real life that would make abuse go away. While I get the arguments for this button I’ve heard some critics say the button itself will end up abused. When I meet someone abusive on Twitter I report, block and move on

Of course I have not experienced as much twitter abuse as Caroline Criado-Perez did so I won’t be too quick to say how I would respond if I had numerous strangers threatening to rape me or whether I would still think existing protocols are adequate.

Still I don’t know, I’m not convinced. Can anyone help me here for or against?

Nigerian Women in Politics – When Is It Okay to Play the Gender Card?

A story at ThisDayLiveDotCom headlined the ‘Agony of a Woman in Politics’ caught my attention this morning about Zainab Adeniji’s experience in Nigerian politics.  After reading the story several times I’m still unsure how it has anything to do with women in politics except for being the story of a woman in politics. Unless of course there is more that wasn’t reported or she just didn’t say.

The experience Adeniji recounted had nothing to do with gender. So she was asked to pay off the local PDP chair. So was her male counterpart and he did. So she used private funds, all rookie politicians have to. Her experience is typical of Nigerian politicians and politics. Corruption is not gender exclusive or selective. Her claims that men disregard women are nothing new and do not relate to her experience. Unless, like I said already, there is something more to tell.

Quite honestly I was expecting something more salacious than she dished when she said “they warned me not to go to the press.” She didn’t tell me anything new about party politics or Naija. She’s not even the first to tell about payoffs by candidates at the local and state level. We know payoffs go on all the way up to the national primaries.

It seemed to me like she is just a bitter politician crying over sour grapes that now wants to court our sympathy because she is a woman even while she admits she’s not the only one the party treated badly. The reporter tells us she is a widow, her husband was murdered, her children are grown up, and she now needs a permanent healing rest (why does that sound like death?). So what?

Adeniji uprooted herself from her life as a global consulting mental health nurse and came to Nigeria looking for a job without first ascertaining if there were jobs in her sector. There is no demand for drug addict heath care services yet. We’re not so rich yet that we are willing to spend too much good money on drug addicts lady.

Like many repats I guess she thought she could come and ‘create jobs’.  Their idea of creating jobs seems to be lobbying ministers and functionaries, who they bedazzle with flash presentations and fancy language, for  unsustainable ‘projects’ and ‘schemes’ costing millions that sound good on paper but have little if any chance of rooting in the local market place.  I wouldn’t trust Adeniji with my vote.

So the PDP has screwed her over. I sympathize with her as a person and not in this case as I woman. Then again not too much. She invested in a risky business. She lost. So did a whole lot of others men and women. But I take exception to the suggestion that because she is a woman, a mother and a widow whose husband was murdered she deserves special treatment.

That’s not the kind of level playing field Nigerian women in politics need; it just reinforces old gender stereotypes and fuels the Gender Wars. And the Nigerian women’s movement needs to pay attention. We can’t let men, women or the media misuse, abuse or devalue women and gender politics like this.

 

533348_481062288611199_727496733_n

Nigeria’s Women Move Forward: Congratulations to Oby Nwankwo and Alooma Mariam Muhktar

Progress maybe slow but like someone said if you follow one course you will eventually achieve success.

The past week has seen the nomination  of Nigeria’s first female Chief Justice of Nigeria and the election of our own Oby Nwankwo in the UN CEDAW committee.

Justice Muhktar is not just the first female justice of the Supreme Court, she is a fearless advocate for truth and justice as evidenced by her dissenting judgement during the SC’s decision on Yardua and Buhari in 2008.

Justice Mukhtar alongside Justices George Oguntade (now retired) and Walter Onnoghen, ruled against the late Yar’Adua  and insisted that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2006 in the election that produced him in 2007. Today, her stand is widely acclaimed in legal circles and the academia.

She has been described as true patriot and a woman of the highest integrity.

I have had the pleasure to work with Oby Nwankwo since 2003. She is a foremost advocate for domestic violence victims in Nigeria, a field she committed to after a personal tragedy that took her sisters life.

Nwankwo holds a Masters degree in Criminal Law and served in the Anambra State Judiciary as a Magistrate for 23 years, voluntarily retired from the Judiciary in 2004 and has been in the forefront of the campaign for the respect for women’s rights, gender equality and good governance.

I would like to congratulate both our sisters for their tireless commitment to the cause of truth and justice in Nigeria and for the inevitable recognition of their hard work and sterling knowledge and expertise in their fields. I am especially proud that both of them are learned colleagues.

I recently launched the Women’s Legal Defence Trust Fund and I am confident that the elevation of our sisters to  these two positions is an incredible boost to our plans to develop a body of case law for women’s rights in Nigeria.

I am sure that I speak for all Nigerian women when I say that we are right here with you and behind you to carry on the good work.  I look forward to working with you both for our country and for the women of our country.

Justice Alooma Marian Muhktar
Ms. Oby Nwankwo

May Day, Workers Day, Nigerian Women in the Workplace

Its the 1st of May 2012 and female workers in Nigeria still lack on the job protection from sexual harassment and victimisation. What a great day to blog about it. May day is also a distress signal at sea. Nigeria women workers sure do seem to be at sea. Are their May Day’s being drowned out by more dominant and privileged voices?

Where is the female Nigerian worker? What’s her story? What are her primary concerns? Are her concerns represented and addressed in a broader male dominated labour agenda?

What were my concerns as a female worker? Child care. Protection from sexual harassment and victimisation. Equal pay. Equitable access to capacity building and professional development opportunities. I’m no longer a worker but I am still affected.

Meanwhile, my role is changing from a worker to an employer of labour. What should I do to protect my female workers? What am I required to do by law, statute and policy? Paid maternity leave. Breast feeding breaks. Sick leave to care for dependants. What else?

I’m not required to have a sexual harassment policy or grievance procedures. I’m not required to educate my staff about what behaviour is allowed and what type is not allowed or what is considered ‘sexual harassment’. As a small business owner can I afford the investment of time and money?

When I was a working single mother I marvelled at the women who claimed great success at juggling domestic and work responsibilities. How did they do it? Their stories were the stories of privileged Nigerian women. Are they relevant to or tell the stories of the bank worker, the low rank civil servant, the poorly paid private sector secretarial and clerical staff?

I fear much of the narrative of the women’s movement in Nigeria has been dominated by privileged Nigerian women who have an uncanny resemblance in their attitude towards their less privileged sisters to the ‘white saviours’ they so vocally and passionately criticise.

Our campaigns focus on the most dramatic problems and stories. Widowhood practices. FGM. VVF. Child marriage. Girl education. HIV/AIDS, VAW. Domestic violence.

We fight for the right to participate in political, economic and social affairs yet we seem to be less vocal on behalf of the female workers who are participating and who are vulnerable and under served in an already challenging environment.

I’ve been watching the local TV channels most of the day (an excruciating experience BTW) and while there are a few May Day and worker stories non of them are about women workers.

There was no statement by any women’s labour groups. No press conference, no announcement, no demands, not a whimper. Does this mean they have nothing to say? And nothing to celebrate?

The campaign for the domestication of the Africa Union Women’s Protocol is supposed to provide the a new framework for action but what action can be taken by women’s organized labour groups to improve working conditions and protection for women now?

Female bank workers speak of a litany of unfair labour practices that include unreasonable work conditions to restrictions on when they can get married and have children. Female civil servants speak of sexual exploitation by bosses in for promotions and training opportunities.
Female secretaries and junior cadre workers in the private sector have come to accept sexual demands from male bosses and small business owners as normal. In the citizen sector stories of expatriate bosses taking advantage of weak and non existent local sexual harassment and exploitation laws to wrongfully dismiss local female workers hired under Nigerian law grow daily.

I’m sure the female journalists, nurses, doctors and teachers all have their own stories about the challenges of being a working woman in Nigeria. Yet no one came out with any sort of statement or declaration or strategy for action on May Day, Workers Day. And no ‘women’s leader’ came out to speak for them (unless I missed something in which case tell me about it quick).

Women’s leaders seem to only speak out when there is a political or welfare issue that affects women. Even though exactly how it affects women is not always really well articulated.

For example during the Occupy Nigeria and Labour protests against fuel subsidy removal in January women’s leaders were visible but failed to critique how women were affected by fuel prices or by the protests.

The few women that had access to media during the protests and were able to speak represented a privileged point of view. With the exception of the Kano women, they were almost exclusively urban, salaried, professionals and rich party cheerleaders.

The women traders of the south west, south east, and south south, a significant and unique demographic were not visible. The Market Women’s Associations would appear a natural ally for women led and women focused NGOs.

They have significant social capital and resources women’s NGOs could leverage for their programs but that could mean dancing to the tune of a new master. It could mean realigning our programs with priorities of these women instead of the aid industries.

This group does not fit the preferred media profile of women showing them overwhelmed by children and poverty. They may be but that’s not the whole picture.

Nigerian women especially from the Christian south are primarily traders. The size of their trade ranges from micro-enterprises in front of their homes to organised inter and intra state trade and regional and international trade.

They’re ubiquitous at the markets, at the airports and the trade route road stops and the borders. They work real hard to meet the demands of their local market, to build capital and provide value.

Their associations are their networks and their protection, they pay dues. I’m sure they could tell us a lot about how to make their trade safer, easier and more profitable if we empower them to speak and share our spaces and platforms with them instead speaking for them.

Like Nigeria’s male leaders and the white man before them we’re looking down from the lofty heights of our well guarded privilege and doling out mercy instead of fixing the systemic problems that affect everybody equally.

Systemic problems like unfavourable labour laws and trade laws as well as domestic violence and matrimonial laws that affect both men and women irrespective of class etc but affect men and women differently.

May Day is a good time to remember all the other women that contribute to the cohesion and growth of our nation and enrich the diversity of women’s voices through their work.

May Day in a context of the African Women’s Decade takes on an even deeper significance. It is a good time for the Nigerian women’s movement to indulge in some critical self assessment, identify and name its privilege and the biases of that privilege and consider how it may be silencing other women’s voices.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.