an appraisal of the visible Feminist Visions in Kaine Agary’s Yellow-yellow and Irene Salami-Agunloye’s Idia: The Warrior Queen of Benin
This research work examines the feminist visions of Nigerian female writers by discussing the role of women in the socio-economic development of Nigeria using the works of Kaine Agary and Irene Salami-Ogunloye respectively. The aim of the research is to bring to the fore the immeasurable contributions of women to their society especially in the Niger delta. The methodology adopted is content and textual analyses. The study reveals that Agary portrays the environmental degradations of the Niger delta through the portrayal of strong female characters that struggle to rise above their unfavourable environment in the characters of Zilayefa, Sisi and Lolo. She also portrays the socio-economic challenges bedeviling the Niger Delta region in a bid to bring lasting solutions to it. Similarly, Irene Salami explores the strong roles played by Idia, the warrior queen who helped to conquer Old Benin Empire from external aggressions and ruled it with an iron hand to the point that Benin became an empire to reckon with, thanks to her feminine dexterity and strong will power. The research concludes that the place of women in society should always be recognized and their contributions must never go unnoticed.
1.1 Background to the Study
Although women play very significant roles in various spheres of Nigeria’s development, their contributions to the growth of the country are, often, not acknowledged or encouraged. For instance, the role of women in the development of the Niger delta region of Nigeria, where the wealth of the country is being generated, has received little or no attention over the years even though they are actively involved in the developmental activities of the region. Certain challenges still face their efforts and make them seem insignificant to this region.
The Niger delta part of the country is the region that lays the golden egg in terms of providing the country’s wealth, yet it is faced with socio-economic and political challenges that affect not only the area physically but also its people where women formed the majority with their children by threatening peace and security to life. To reduce the level of poverty and restore peace in the Niger delta, several efforts and initiatives are now geared towards the development of the Niger Delta region. The question is, are women, who constitute a larger percentage of the population of the region, key actors in the developmental process and, if so, what impact are they making? Poverty, evidently, has a stronger impact on women and places several difficult obstacles in the path of their progress and their impact on society. It, therefore, becomes mandatory to empower women for a faster progress in the reduction of poverty. How, then, are women being empowered to make a change in the Niger Delta? The answers to these questions are very relevant, considering the fact that there is growing evidence that although women are very proactive and participate actively in the socio-economic sphere of the region, their participation in state and nation-building is often unrecognized, unacknowledged, undervalued, unappreciated, and their successes often unrecorded and unrewarded. This stems from the ignorant perception (despite the gains of feminism and consciousness-raising) that women do not have much to offer in the public and political domain. However, as Helen Chukwuma observes, there can be no “meaningful and substantial development of Nigeria as a nation, indeed of any nation, without women… no nation can progress if half of her population is left behind, neglected…the missing link on the plane of human resources is the female factor…” (4).
The significant place of the woman in the home and family cannot be disputed. Man may be the head of the family, but the woman is definitely its heart and lifeline. Without the woman, the family and, subsequently, the larger society, cannot function properly. Dora Chizea supports this notion with the following view of women:[women are] the building blocks upon which the foundations of happy homes and families are built…The family, no doubt, is the unit on which communities are built. And the nation itself is built by communities. It follows, therefore, that if the building blocks, the mothers are poor, ignorant and unmotivated, the nation is likely to be poor, ignorant and unmotivated. For, how can a nation rise above the collective ignorance of its mothers? (10)
The roles of the woman in the family are diverse and as intriguing as the woman herself: wife, partner, confidant, mother, nurturer, provider, teacher, friend, counsellor, as well as the emotional and spiritual anchor. She is one who instils in her family, especially the children, moral and ethical standards, and does everything possible to ensure they are educated. She is also their number one advocate, critic and encourager. She works diligently to support her husband in ensuring and sustaining the welfare, health and stability of the family day in day out. Sometimes, she is a single parent who plays the role of man and woman, father and mother; this, however, does not hinder her efforts to give of her best to her family. She also plays numerous significant roles outside the dynamics of the nuclear family. These efforts on the home front, though sometimes invisible to the public eye, sustain the welfare, health and stability of the region and, inevitably, its progress and development. Unfortunately, due to gender inequality, the family is often a domain where many women are socially restricted, economically exploited, emotionally degraded and rendered politically passive and poor. This limits not only the woman but her entire family and community who would have benefitted from her resources. The following observation by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) places this issue in perspective: “[women’s poverty] results in deprivation in their own lives and losses for the broader society and economy, as women’s productivity is well-known as one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism” (“Women and Poverty”). Should women’s subjugation in the family and society be totally eradicated and their power to create, nurture and transform fully and effectively harnessed, there is no limit to what women can contribute to the growth and transformation of the Niger Delta.
Without doubt, women of the Niger Delta have made giant strides in the area of education, one of the most powerful avenues through which women can be armed with knowledge, skills, the confidence required to be proactive, the capability to change the power-dynamics and relations in their environment and contribute actively to the developmental process in the region. Among the women academics who have made great impact and still contribute their quota to the growth of the educational sector of the Niger Delta is Grace Alele-Williams (Professor of Mathematics, the first female Vice Chancellor of a Nigerian university), an academic of great repute. Her membership of, and contributions to several educational committees and boards, has left an indelible mark on the educational sector and the development of education in the region and nation as a whole. Today, tertiary institutions and the youths still benefit greatly from her zeal, candour and efforts. Among many other female academics who have followed in her footsteps, to name a few, are Bene Willie-Abbey (Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry and toxicology); Shirley Yul-Ifode (Professor of Basic and Applied Phonetics/Phonology); and Ini I. Uko (Professor of English). These women do not only play active roles in the development of the tertiary institutions where they impact young minds and develop human capital, but also serve the region in several other capacities, socio-economically and politically.
Seasoned female administrators, among them Victoria Aba Tekena, Matilda Nnodim, Dorcas Otto, Efua Koroye, Bridget Nzimiro and many others in the region work hand in hand with women in academics to create avenues and opportunities, and equip the Niger Delta with the vital “manpower” required for the development of the various sectors of the region.