A LECTURE PRESENTED BY DR. APOKI CHARLES ON THE OCCASION OF THE CELEBRATION OF WOMEN’S DAY BY TOTAL E&P, PORT-HARCOURT ON 8TH MARCH, 2021
THEME : CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE
‘To choose’ is to take preferential decisions to act in the midst of several options.
‘To challenge’ means to validate, or re-evaluate an idea, a concept, or decision; it means to question a perception, idea, or status quo. It also means to contest and to contend with issues and persons, in a bid to achieve set objectives.
The purpose of this year’s theme is not to set women against men and society.
It must be stated upfront that the world has changed from a global village to a global street. No nation can afford to be left behind in the development of a social justice system for her citizens.
I have postulated previously in this forum and several fora that any developed society—or that is willing to develop—is like a table that stands on four legs. Two legs are for the female gender, and the other two are for the male gender. For the table to be stable and balanced, the two sets of legs should be equally strong. If the female legs are underdeveloped or weak, nothing placed on the table will remain.
I must emphasize that there is a slight distinction I want to make here. In marriage, there is an organogram, where the husband is the head and leader, and the wife should be submissive to the husband. But a developed wife makes the load on the head and shoulders of a husband easier to carry.
I can testify to that in my family and marriage, though I am newly married. I have been married for just 36 years. But outside the matrimonial sphere, any woman you see, must be given her rights as a citizen, and should be accorded the respect due to her office and position.
I must speedingly add that even though our families and churches celebrate marriages, the government regulates and legislates over marriages, so you cannot violate the rights of your wife and expect not to be challenged. The same applies for wives too.
As a medical doctor, an ordained clergyman, and a social scientist, I have found out that when it comes to issues relating to the infringement of the rights of women, the male folks hardly speak out. In under-developing nations, religion has been used to tactfully oppress women by selective orthodoxy, instead of orthopraxy.
Therefore, I will base my theoretical framework from a case study, where a group of women chose to challenge a longstanding doctrine or practice.
In the Book of Numbers 27, from Verse 1, the five daughters of Zelophehad chose to challenge an injustice about inheritance laws in Israel. Their father had died and there was the very likely chance of losing their father’s inheritance and, consequently, the loss or disappearance of their father’s name. The unprecedented choice to challenge this issue got to Moses, but Moses referred the case to God. Jehovah ruled that their demand was legitimate. A precedent was set. If the five women had kept quiet and had not chosen to challenge the old long culture and normal practice, even God would not have acted.
My late mother-in-law challenged such an age-long cultural practice when her late father’s properties were bequitted to a young boy, who was an only son, who had not been around when my mother-in-law was solely responsible for the welfare of her father. The king ruled that my late mother-in-law had a legitimate case, and a large portion of the land of her late father was shared to her.
My wife is a beneficiary of that choice to challenge an old traditional practice. Part of what my wife benefited from, is where we are building a very beautiful school, valued at about 20 Million Naira currently.
The choice to challenge—just like the case of Zelophehad’s daughters that involved Moses, the priest, and Jehovah—is a collective and collaborative effort by women, men, religious organisations, and governments at all levels, to challenge anything that is against the development of womanhood.
It is a choice we have to make on behalf of our mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and women in general.
I will now illustrate with some women who chose to challenge issues, perceptions, and catastrophes in their lives.
1. Choose to challenge family decisions on behalf of your girl child
A widow sat quietly during a family meeting over what will be done about the estate of her late husband.
After everything was shared, excluding herself, she asked what would happen to her daughter, who was in Class 1 in secondary school.
The family spokesman said that they don’t train females in their family. He said if you train the girl child, it would be to the benefit of the husband.
The huge woman stood up and asked for the cost of the school fees. When they told her, she told them she would pay.
Today that girl has nearly completed the biggest building ever built by a native in that community and also manages a big school in Ughelli.
That girl is my wife.
She and her mother chose to challenge that family philosophy.
2. Choose to challenge yourself on behalf of your children
A woman lost her husband, sometime around 1985/86, when I was the medical officer of health at Aba Local Government Area.
She found out that she had children to train and bills to pay.
One day, she dressed up early in the morning and went to the motor park with the Peugeot 504 Station Wagon of her late husband and asked to be ‘loaded’—to carry passengers—to Enugu.
The men were very challenged and always gave her preferential loading reserved for top officers of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. Even the policemen on the highway treated her with respect, and some passengers preferred her careful driving. She was able to take care of her financial responsibilities until help came her way.
3. Choose to challenge tragedy
Joni Eareckson Tada had a tragic swimming accident when she misjudged the depth of a portion of the Chesapeake Bay and fractured her neck. She became paralyzed from the neck down.
During rehabilitation, she thought of suicide because of depression. She even doubted God.
But she chose to challenge her situation.
She decided to learn how to paint with her mouth, and she was selling her paintings. She decided to go to University also.
She got married to Mr. Tada, who does ministry with her. She has written several books (she writes with her mouth) and acted in a film. She sang a song that was nominated for a Grammy but was disqualified because her husband helped to push up her weak diaphragm.
She was in the presidential council for disabled people.
She co-sponsored a bill for disabled people.
Her radio program is aired in several nations of the world.
She has won several awards globally.
She chose to challenge her disability.
Thank God for a purposeful husband who chose to help her challenge her challenges.
4. Choose to challenge disaster
More than 20 years ago, there was a massive flood in Mozambique, and a woman, Carolina Chirindza, decided to climb a tree with her pregnancy. She clung to tree branches for more than four days, and then went into labour. Her mother-in-law was just underneath her to prevent the baby from falling into flood waters that had crocodiles in it.
The flood killed a lot of people, but she self-delivered herself on top of a tree. A helicopter rescued her and her baby, Rosita Mabuiango. Her rescue was transmitted live on CNN.
She became a global celebrity overnight.
She was made ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary by president Chissano then. She was to go to the UN to solicit for funds on behalf of the people of Mozambique.
A few years back, another woman, Amélia, a single mother, delivered on top of a mango tree with her two year old son in Mozambique, during storms and flooding. When asked about her experience, she said the experience was very, very painful, but she had no choice but to climb the tree. She also said, “A lot of people lost everything in the floods, but I gained something.” She chose to fight tragedy in desperate times.
5. Choose to Challenge your mistakes.
A young Salvation Army girl, 15 years of age, got pregnant for a 55-year-old widower.
She was disfellowshipped, but she prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, I was to be an international evangelist, but I can’t preach that message anymore. But Lord, give me a baby girl that would preach the message I was to preach”.
God answered her prayer and she delivered Aimee Semple McPherson.
Aimee lost her first husband, and had two other divorces. But she was a lover of God, and signs and wonders followed her ministry. At one time then, she had the biggest church auditorium. Despite her challenges in marriage and background, she became the founder of the FourSquare Gospel Church, one of the biggest denominations globally.
6. Choose to challenge opposition to a noble idea
Malala Yousafzai grew up in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan, where the Taliban had banned girls from schools. However, her father chose to challenge that, and Malala admired her father’s social advocacy on schooling rights for the girl child. Her father subsequently opened a chain of schools.
When Malala was 17 years old and was returning from an examination with another girl, a gunman shot her in the head. She was subsequently treated in England. She recovered and continued her social advocacy and the right for girls to go to school.
She eventually won the Nobel prize—the youngest to ever win it.
At one time, the then prime minister said she was the most popular person in Pakistan.
She has since graduated from University in the UK. Her advocacy work has earned her several awards globally.
I remember her reply to Christiane Amanpour when asked if she was afraid. She said, “They can only shoot a body, they cannot shoot my dreams”. “They shot me because they wanted to tell me that, ‘we want to kill you and to stop you campaigning’, but they made the biggest mistake: they injured me, and they told me through that attack, that even death is supporting me, even death does not want to kill me.” Powerful and challenging words from a girl.
7. Choose to challenge issues, stereotypes. Dare to dream, and dare to challenge a bully.
Kamala Harris, the current vice-president of the United States of America, is the first woman of African American descent and first woman of Asian American descent to occupy the office of the vice president. She is the highest female political office holder in the United States of America today.
Her history of advocacy is legendary. Apart from being the first black woman to hold several positions and even becoming a Senator, she had, in the past, challenged several legal and legislative issues that she won and that led to changes in the lives of several Americans.
She married late in life and has no children of her own, though she has two grown-up stepchildren, who call her ‘Momala’.
The most exciting part of her that got me screaming out of my room was during the vice presidential debate with vice president Mike Pence, vice president to Former president, Donald Trump. There was a point when Kamala Harris was speaking and Pence, the then-vice-president interrupted her. She confidently turned to Mike Pence, and said, “Mr Vice President, I am speaking”.
She reminds me of when God introduced Himself to Moses as I am that I am.
She made Pence to know that she was an entity beyond gender. She introduced herself to the American electorate and the world that she is fit for the office and is presidential material too.
Her husband recently resigned his job to effectively play the role of the second gentleman.
8. Choose to challenge normalcy
Angela Markel is the German Chancellor. She has served her country with an impeccable record of competence, integrity, prudence, and calmness.
She is an accomplished scientist and a chemist. Her first marriage failed, but she remarried a physicist.
She has no children of her own by mutual agreement with her husband. She lives in the same apartment like ordinary citizens of Germany with her husband. She has no female domestic staff.
She does the house chores with her husband. She was asked who washes their clothes. She said that she arranges them and the husband operates the washing machine at night.
When they asked her why she wears nearly the same clothes, she said she was a public servant, not a model.
After 18 years in office, she decided to step down from her leadership of the Christian Democratic Union, her political party.
The German people decided to celebrate her by coming to their balconies to simultaneously clap for her for 6 minutes.
What an honour! What a challenge to women! What a challenge to any male successor.
She was called the Lady of Europe, and was described as more than six thousand men—the most powerful woman on Earth.
9. Choose to Challenge your fellow women
The ascendancy of Professor Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, from Nigeria to the Director General of the World Trade Organization, as the first woman, an African, and a Nigerian, is what I decided to reserve for the last illustration.
That she is extremely brilliant is well-known. That she is competent and globally recognized is known even to those who don’t like her. That she can stand and challenge any person on earth on global economic issues is known from Dakar to Davos.
But her most challenging choice is her decision to be proud of her national identity.
She still holds a Nigerian citizenship. She wears Nigerian prints to all her public appearances.
Do you know how much Nigeria will make if all our office wears are made of Nigerian prints including our bankers, teachers, and school uniforms? Our textile mills will be revitalised. The growing of cotton will become profitable again.
Do you know how much we will save from weavons, which amounts to a multi-billion Naira industry and a multi-billion Dollar business among black women?
Her headscarf started trending; it became a challenge online. No bone straight hair or Brazilian weavon.
She has retained her colour.
Do you know how much Nigeria and the world will save from skin-lightening creams and soaps and the resultant kidney diseases for both men and women?
She still speaks like a Nigerian. Her parents schooled overseas and are both professors of Economics. She schooled in Harvard, but no airs.
She is still married to her husband, who has chosen to challenge other husbands to stay in the background and choose to challenge your wife to succeed.
All hands must be on deck to make sure that our daughters shall be like pillars carved to adorn palaces. A symbolism of beauty, strength, and royalty.
God bless our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and all women globally.
Whatever brings you down will scatter the table. We choose to stand by you to overcome your challenges.