Thursday, 28 May 2015

Maureen Umanah and gender renaissance

Maureen Umanah and gender renaissance

Human beings, according to sociologists, are the most viable agents of change in society. History too, is replete with records of women who have shaped the course of  civilization by inspiring the women folk for enhanced living in a competitive world.

Queen Amina of Zaria, Cleo Patra, Sappho, Boudicca, Mary Magdalene, Catherene De Medici, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale,  among others have impacted the world so much so that, hundreds of years after, they are still being celebrated.

For instance Boudicca’s charismatic leadership and braveness as the first  woman to have led an army of 100,000 people, is cerebral and unequalled in history and strategic studies.
Mother Teresa, a renowned humanitarian and Noble Peace Prize winner once enthused that:

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
In philosophical parlance, she meant that it was difficult to achieve appreciable result in virtually all aspect of social life, including leadership without  love.

This thought was shared by no mean a personality Mrs Maureen Aniekan Umanah, Managing director and Chief Executive Officer of Executive Options Media, and wife of the Akwa Ibom State commissioner for Information and Communications whose  penchant for the socio- political  development of women, particularly Abak women deserves an intellectual re-examination.

Let me at this point do justice to some very critically imperative questions in order to situate my analysis, in a perspective devoid of subjectivity. What has been the level of political participation among Abak women from 1929? Has there been any attitudinal revolution by Abak women  capable of engendering any meaningful political change? Has this revolution produced the desired impact on women of Abak?

Abak is the cradle of gender renaissance in the southern part of Nigeria. Between 1921 and  1928, Abak women were among the first group of people to challenge the obnoxious native court system and exploitative levies and taxes imposed by the  British colonialists. 

Obviously, this led to the Women war of 1929, which inadvertently revolutionized the colonial political system and established beyond doubt that colonialism was thriving on a borrowed time.

On the attainment of political independence in 1960, concerted efforts were geared towards galvanizing the women of Abak for enhanced political participation, but these efforts yielded little or no dividends for obvious reasons.

Abak women had no strong “rallying force”- someone who could provide leadership to them and launch them into the mainstream political system of the state.  That, of course, required someone who has the confidence of government, understood the dynamics of contemporary leadership and the evolving need for gender sensitivity globally.

Also, the activities of Abak women was mainly intertwined with the social function of caring for the children and the  traditional economic activities of farming, trading, and handicraft; and these counterpoised their passion and zeal  for politics.

Things however changed from the second republic (1979-1983), when Abak women began to  play increasing roles in politics, contesting for and winning elective positions. Mrs Rebecca Ekpo, Mrs Mercy Effiong Udo Ekpo among other women  won elections into the Cross River State House of Assembly and Councillorship seat in the Abak Local Government Council respectively.

Despite the prevailing gender intolerance and male chauvinism which characterized the decades of the 70s and 80s, it must be said that these women did creditably well in their respective endeavor.

The involvement of Abak women in the mainstream politics of Akwa Ibom began to experience a paradigm shift with the emergence of Mrs Maureen Umanah to political relevance and as the long- needed rallying force for Abak women in 2008.

The period  which could be described as a  golden age  for gender renaissance saw Abak women  play central roles  in the politics of Akwa Ibom.
Mrs Umana, ideologically believes that  “Abak  women can only “fight”for their rights through consistent and constructive engagement, as rights are never given on a platter of gold.

This view aligns with the thoughts of the Beijing Conference on Women (1995) christened “World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace”.

From 2008, she initiated a system of “live and let’s live” in her dealings with Abak women. She believes that the material development of the women was an inevitable imperative that can better be achieved within the political kingdom, hence her politics of inclusiveness, and constructive engagement.
Her  routine gesture of lavishing the women with gifts ranging from bags of food stuff, clothing, and financial supports  to engender their lives is not a learned attribute, but a product of her belief in the philosophy  of Communalism, which seeks to promote the importance of “being our brothers’ keeper”.

This aligns too, with the leadership philosophy of Her Excellency, Mrs Ekaete Unoma Akpabio, whom Mrs Umanah describes variously, as Eka Esit Mbom, Angel and above all, Queen of Hearts.

The emotional affinity between the duo was aptly evinced on the eve of Christmas 2014, as Mrs Umanah, took the podium: “ dear sisters, this is part of what our mother, Eka Esit Mbom gave me... when I discovered that I cannot eat all these alone, I decided to share it among you who are also her children, in the spirit of this season of love ... Her Excellency is an epitome of love, she loves me  so much, and I know she also loves the beautiful women of Abak....”

The above extract might be flagrantly conceived with levity but the mode, circumstance and tone of its presentation was novel; it conveyed the message of love and  imperative of unity, as necessary prerequisite for Women emancipation.

As the Anchor of Uyai Iban, a social organization for Akwa Ibom Women, in Abak, Mrs Maureen Umanah has redefined politics by putting  the women of Abak at the focal point of political mainstreamism in the state.

For instance, her ability to galvanize Abak women for political optimality during the 2011 and 2015 presidential and gubernatorial elections, despite the hitherto speculative  contemplations, spoke volumes of  her organizational acumen, leadership mien, community hearted-ness and oratory capacity. 
These exemplary intrinsic features magnetized the women of Abak with Mrs Umanah in the last last seven years, making pundits and analysts describe her as a “child of history”.

Functional partnership has been the cornerstone  of Mrs Umanah’s political character, and this has yielded tremendous  dividend to the women folk. Her expertise in Public Relations and Media are products of her multi- disciplinary educational background and professional trainings, and has served as an asset in her political engineering processes.

For instance, she has imparted Abak women politicians with corporate values, such as, the team-working, hard work, loyalty, truth, tenacity, honesty, confidence-building.

It is not surprising that Mrs Umanah’s humility and honesty have garnered her a quantum of goodwill among Abak Women. A litmus test came to bear during Governor Akpabio’s visit to Abak on the event that marked the ‘bringing down of the old prison walls’. As a show of appreciation to the people of Abak, the Governor announced a donation of 10 Million Naira for the women cooperative, which would be disbursed to the women to enhance their business and trade.
When it was contemplated who should superintend over the disbursement of the cooperative funds, the women of Abak were unequivocal in their choice of Mrs Maureen Umanah.

Their decision was a departure from parochial and mundane the considerations which characterize the behavioral pattern of most politicians; it was borne out of their collective belief in Mrs Umanah “Collaborative Leadership” style, which is meteoric and deserves a case study in Organizational Communication.

As the 2015 political dispensation beckons, it behoves the women, the world over, to engage in a sober reflection, on the possible ways of emulating the virtues of Mrs Maureen Umanah, bearing in mind that “doing small things with love would enhance the ongoing renaissance by Nigerian women.

Uwemedimoh Umanah, a Peace Expert, newspaper publisher and Public Affairs Analyst, writes in this piece from Uyo

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