BRIEF REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO OF KOGI STATE AT THE AWARD CEREMONY IN HIS HONOUR AS MOST GENDER SENSITIVE GOVERNOR IN NIGERIA AND HE-FOR-SHE AMBASSADOR BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN SOCIETIES (NCWS) HELD AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE, LOKOJA ON SATURDAY 16TH JANUARY, 2021
Women are powerful, and I speak from experience when I say happy is the man who finds himself under the influence of good women at every season of his life. I have been fortunate to be one of such men and I take pride in describing myself as a product of the combined love, strength and sacrifice of many wonderful women.
From birth up till March 15, 2020 my irreplaceable mother, Hajiya Hauwa’u Bello, dedicated her life to raising me and my siblings after her husband and our father, Alhaji Bello Ipemida Ochi died relatively early. I was her last and still a tiny child at the time of her great loss, yet her iron will and hands forged all of us into individuals who are successful and useful to society today.
Although mama is no longer physically with us on earth, her life, values and lessons will continue to guide me to the end of my days. May her lovely soul continue to rest in peace.
In like manner, the women of my family have been a compass for me. The matriarch of my home, Hajia Amina Bello, the first lady of Kogi State, Her Excellency, Hajiya Rashidat Bello and my other wives, all of them equally beloved, my dear daughters and my sisters are all in the forefront of shaping my private and public conduct. The first lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Hajiya Aisha Buhari is one of my accountability figures as a Governor and a politician. I never want her to hear anything about me or the Administration I oversee which is inconsistent with good governance and humanity.
Then, of course, I am surrounded by women of impeccable character in my Cabinet, among my appointees, in the civil service and outside government whose expectations I can never disappoint. Women like Dr. Mrs. Folashade Arike Ayoade, the Margaret Thatcher of Kogi State and our 2-time Secretary to the Government, Deaconess Deborah Ogunmola the Head of Service, also a two-timer and others too numerous to mention do not have to speak for me to know that they will be hurt beyond words if we ever deviate from our Oath of Office to engage in anything inimical to the overall best interests of our people.
The point then is that the influence of good women is a strong asset to any man, especially to those like me who are in leadership and have a passion to do right by those they lead. Today, and by this honour, the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) has further thrust upon me the great expectations and aspirations of Nigerian women, both at home and abroad.
When the NCWS, the apex and most credible umbrella of women societies in the country comes together to bestow upon me the unprecedented honour of ‘THE MOST GENDER SENSITIVE GOVERNOR IN NIGERIA’ and simultaneously decorates me as the HE-FOR-SHE GOODWILL AMBASSADOR FOR NIGERIAN WOMEN, I am humbled, challenged and encouraged at the same time.
Necessity is now firmly laid on me to walk worthy of the distinctive ideals for which the NCWS is known. How can I do anything henceforth but what will make these my mothers, my sisters and my daughters proud of me? I am duty bound to respect them, to protect them and to fight for the advancement of their interests.
True, nothing is by chance. Everyone knows that long before these honours came my way tonight, I have been deliberate in empowering women with sensitive and strategic positioning within the governance structure of Kogi State. Let me state it clearly too that one major reason I have surrounded myself with women of substance in and out of government is because the women themselves have a tendency to perform when given the opportunity. Broadly speaking, they have never let me down.
Kogi State is microcosmic of Nigeria and we have all the diversities of tongue and faith along with all the age-old African problems associated with patriarchy and paternalism facing every other part of the country. Yet, right from the moment I was sworn into office for my first term in 2016, I made a determination to be a unifier, a bridge-builder and advocate of gender equity, elimination of gender-based violence, issues of maternal and newborn health, as well as the rights of the girl child.
Apart from the 35% affirmative action threshold which we have always surpassed since we took Office, Goal Number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have remained our guide in our dealings with the womenfolk. We are focused primarily on the 3 primary targets of that Goal. First, we have largely ended all forms of discrimination against women and girls in Kogi State. Secondly, we are working to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. Thirdly, we are doing our best to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriages, early and forced marriages and such abhorrent cultural practices as female genital and facial mutilation.
Some people suggest that all we need to do is to create a level playing field and the women can compete as well as the men. It is not as simple as that. No matter how much you rebuke it, the cock, by his natural advantages, will always have more access to food and other opportunities than the rest of the poultry. Anyone interested in true equity in the compound must occasionally cage the cock so the hens and the chicks can enjoy some liberty and personal progress.
It took us political will and dexterity to shield the women in Kogi State and ensure they reach where they are today. I believe the fastest way to achieve the Goals and Targets of the SDGs relative to females is to empower as many women as possible thereby enabling them to stand up for themselves and other women and girls. And if we have to restrict some of the men from certain areas to do so, no problems.
On December 12, 2020 I led my party to the elections with a mandate to ensure that all the Vice Chairmen and Council Leaders in all the 21 Local Government Areas of Kogi State are women. Simply put, we made those positions off limits to men in the APC. We achieved that objective. Those 42 women join a minimum of three other women who we also presented and supported to emerge Councilors in each of the 21 Local Government Areas. This means that at the grassroots level we have at least 105 women in elective offices in the state.
At the State Level, the Secretary to the Kogi State Government of the State and the Head of Service are women. I am the only Governor with a female Aide de Camp (ADC) in Nigeria today. Until not too long ago I was also the only Governor with a female Chief Press Secretary in the country. Some even say across Africa and around the world.
Beside those I have enumerated above, there are, at the state level, more than 70 other women in positions of high authority ranging from one commissioner, several Directors General, Managing Directors, Chairpersons of Board, Commissions and Agencies. Some are Commissioner, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Personal Assistants, and Special Assistants, etc.
You can boldly take the message to the rest of the world that the New Direction Administration of Governor Yahaya Bello in Kogi State has far exceeded the 35% affirmative action for women. By the way, Kogi State was one of only 4 states invited to the 72nd UN General Assembly in 2017 as identified success stories in the SDGs, so we know what we are talking about. Kogi State is a recognised and will continue to be recognised as a pacesetter in gender inclusiveness.
Let me also use this opportunity to mobilise and sensitise our women across the country that membership of a political party, the APC, is what gave us the opportunity to do all that we have enumerated. On the 25th of January, 2021, the APC is reopening membership registration and validation and I urge our Women to go out en masse and register themselves and their family members. I assure you that I will remain your advocate, to always speak for you and ensure you get your due in this country.
I thank you all for this recognition and today’s award presentation and decoration ceremony. I solemnly undertake to do even more to advance the cause of our womenfolk – in my present capacity as the Governor of Kogi State and in any future capacity in which it may please the Almighty God to empower me to serve.
Thank you and God bless.
Governor of Kogi State