Writing or the experience that leads to it is as much a purgatory venture for the writer as it is for prospective readers. Amina Salihu’s “A new kind of dance,” presents this kind of eureka moment for the writer, even though she had worked with women for years before the events that inspired this testament.
“A new kind of dance” Subtitled as: “Lessons learnt working with women in Northern Nigeria (Notes from the 2011 elections)” is the documentation of the Hajia Salihu’s personal trajectory from the spouse of a politician seeking the support of local women for the actualisation of a senatorial ambition into what became advocacy for the collocation of the political and economic circumstances of women in the Kaduna North Senatorial District of Kaduna State.
Before letting us into her first-hand account of the activities of women of the Kaduna North Senatorial District of Kaduna State where her husband, Salihu Mohammed Lukman was senatorial candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria(CAN) in the 2011 elections, we encounter a telling foreword by former Minister for Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih.
Anenih, acknowledging the credentials of the author draws attention to the urgent need for Nigerian women to begin to see a relationship between their participation in politics and their socio-economic welfare.
She reminds us of the notorious fact that women have been the cannon fodder in elections for years even if they have never associated their participation with the improvement in their wellbeing.
She reels out some statistics to back this claim: Nigeria has the lowest rate of entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa; only 7.2 percent of their number own the land they farm on; only 15 percent of women have bank accounts; an average of 144 women die from pregnancy and childbirth related complications every day in Nigeria; more than 2/3 of girls of 15-19 year old girls in Northern Nigeria cannot read or write while the number of women in elective positions is not commensurate with the participation of women during elections. Yet, women are at least 50 percent of the population of Nigeria!
The former minister then points out the foolhardiness of ignoring 50% of a country’s population, noting that ensuring gender balance should now be seen as smart economics.
The author thereafter goes on to, in seven well-structured chapters; take us through the gamut of events with a solicitous start but ends up as a massive initiative setting women on the path to political and economic consciousness.
The title: “A new kind of Dance” is a subtle rejection of the hitherto well known engagement of a body of women in the entertainment of political figures during political campaigns. This new dance is one in which women will no longer serve at the pleasure of politicians who bring money and provisions to procure their votes at four year intervals.
This book, which is innovatively published in English and Hausa, is a manual for everyone who desires to work with women of northern extradition in politics because it peeps into the minutest requirements for successful engagements.
For example, in Chapter 2 which is titled “Building a campaign with women,” the author recommends that aspirants must start from the roots by talking to the gatekeepers in their own lairs and enlist their endorsement.”
You should establish a distinct identity for your campaign, recognise the protocols of the environment you are dealing with(which in the case of Northern Kaduna include: going with a team of respected women and dressing appropriately, choosing the right language and expressions, include acknowledging the importance of saying salaams, which means peace be unto you and is acceptable to both Muslim and Christian women in these communities, preparing to learn from the women especially as it concerns their needs and finally, acknowledging the importance of “prayers as a shield”
While making rounds during the campaign, the author documents how alongside her team, she came across the multifarious deprivations of women and pledged to come back to work towards alleviating the situation regardless of the outcome of the elections.
The women complained about how women and children suffer from post-electoral violence and lacked capital growth for their businesses, jobs for their children after schooling, access to educational sponsorship, access to portable water, health services that have good personnel and medication as well as housing for Islamic schools. Salihu got to work with the women speaking to them about the need for economics and politics to go together and going ahead to walk the talk.
Before the 2011 elections, two events were quickly organised to set the women in motion for the journey ahead. One was a health talk in January and the other, a formal event to mark that years, International Women’s Day. The author describes this event as an awakening of sorts with one elderly woman expressing surprise at the reality that women were so “important that the world set aside a day to celebrate” them.
Recognising that poverty, not just of the pocket but of access and ideas plagued women of this area, possibly more than any of other set of people in the country, this social worker promised to return with measurable solutions to the problems of the people and prepare them towards not just participating but making the right decisions in t future elections.
And return she did. With support from African Women Development Fund, Salihu and her team at the People and Passion Consult (Pe-pa) launched back into the eight local governments of Kaduna North Senatorial District leading women into the future.
She explains in Chapter four that although each of the local governments had well established cooperatives, there was a need to establish cross-district cooperation and this led to the emergence of the umbrella body known as Tsintsiya Kaduna North District. The group is precursory to the All Progressive Congress (APC) in adopting the imagery of the broom as significant of the effect of unity amongst the women of the area. The group agreed, to among other things help expand the influence of women in the district while Pe-pa pledged to raise funds and give grants to these women for economic empowerment. These cooperative groups have since then supported their members with credit from between N50, 000 and N100, 000. The organisation is also poised to reverse the knowledge gap that has restrained women of the area from active participation in politics.
Chapter six of the book aptly titled “The voices” testifies to the effectiveness of these efforts as six of the cooperatives share their testimonies. One of them, the Garuje Women attests as follows: I will like to salute the People and Passion team for their foresight and thoughtfulness in enabling us reflect on the past and think towards the future and even more importantly linking politics and economic. Amina promised to return after the elections to work with women and so they have fulfilled their pledge. They have shown us that truly politics van be different and better in Nigeria”
This is the same sentiment you find in Hajia Saudatu Mahdi’s foreword where she thanks the author for her meticulously “proposing and highlighting on the strategies needed towards sharpening our politics and democracy.”
That the author swings between the English and Hausa languages in the English edition of the book and goes ahead to release a Hausa version pari pasu is a further indication of her desire not just to give women in the country fish but to train them in the act of fishing, a lifetime opportunity to take their destinies and that of their generations in their hands.
Thank goodness the world’s leading democracy is currently not querying the qualification of women to be President as Hillary Clinton gallantly moves towards making history but then, you ask yourself why has it taken the Americans over two hundred years to contemplate this feat? Why?
President Barack Obama recognized in the widely circulated op-ed that, there’s still a lot of work we need to do to improve the prospects of women and girls here and around the world.”
Taking those baby steps is what Aminat Salihu advocates in her book. Encouraging participation is a step towards ultimate victory and this book lead women in that direction.