Nigerian women and many gender-based organisations were caught in an unprecedented ecstasy and overwhelming jubilation when the news of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari’s appointment as the Acting Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) hit the information highway. This appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari is different from previous appointments made by the President because Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari(ABZ) is the first female to occupy this position in Nigeria’s history. It is also a manifestation of a crowning glory of a very successful career that spans over three decades across the public and private sectors.
During Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign, many observers had asked questions of whether Buhari’s government would be sensitive to the dreams, aspirations and progress of the women in his government. This criticism became even fiercer when Buhari revealed to Nigerians that he would abolish the office of the first Lady since the constitution did not make provision for such office. In the past, Nigerians have argued that the office of the First Lady is associated with financial profligacy and the only way to put such recklessness to check is by scrapping the office. To the advocates of gender equality however, this argument is not tenable since the office can be retained without financial profligacy. Accordingly, the Office of the First Lady remains one of the most virile avenues and platforms through which the Nigerian women make their challenges, needs, grievances and aspersions known to the President.
Some critics are quick to rage by pointing to the number of women in the Lower and Upper Chambers of the National Assembly. They would recall that the 2007 to 2011 Assembly had 24 women which further increased to 27 in 2011-2015 Assembly but these numbers have gone down in the current dispensation as out of the 109 senators, there are just seven women and out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, only 14 are women. These figures however are not genuine evidences of lack of gender sensitivity as the various positions in the National Assembly are elective positions and accusing President Buhari as being responsible is like robbing Paul to pay Peter.
Even though President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to appoint major members of his cabinet, fears have gripped some women that they may be short-changed in the current dispensation. With the recent appointment of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as the Acting Chairman of one of the hottest political seats in Nigeria, some critics of the current government are already bowing their heads in shame as the appointment has become a metaphor of President Buhari’s sensitivity to gender equality. This appointment is also a proof that President Buhari recognises the potential of those women who have distinguished themselves in the service of the country and the society in their different capacities.
The appointment of Amina, no doubt, is a deserving one. It is in record that Amina is one of the few Nigerians who have worked with three Presidents. She was appointed Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo between 2004 and 2007, and posted to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where she served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Social Development and also served as Acting Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, in addition to her appointments at INEC. In 2011, she was appointed as an INEC Commissioner by former President Goodluck Jonathan making her an integral part of the team that successfully delivered two elections in 2011 and 2015, in Nigeria.
In her capacity as a National Commissioner, she supervised the Political Parties Monitoring Committee. Her efforts to achieve common grounds for engagement of political parties led to the revitalization of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) which helped to boost cohesion and consolidation of the nation’s political party system, resulting in the reduction of the number of registered parties from 63 to 28. Her consultative style and engagement with the political parties helped to reduce fractionalization and improve partnership with INEC in the run up to the 2015 elections.
Since Amina’s appointment as Acting Chairman of INEC, some interest groups have been campaigning against her without any known reason other than selfish motive. But why are they afraid of her? A blogger said that it was because she “is a strong, smart and competent woman they cannot control. They prefer someone who is corrupt and loyal to them”. One good term deserves another. As an incorruptible woman who has discharged her responsibilities in different capacities without blemish, Amina remains an Amazon to reckon with.
For those who do not know her very well, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari had many successes at the FCTA, including the overhaul and upgrade of Satellite Town hospitals of Kuje, Bwari, Abaji, Kwali, Karshi and Kubwa which are still providing access for improved maternal and child healthcare. She also oversaw the establishment of a successful concessionary Public Private Partnership of the Garki Hospital which still competes favourably with public and private healthcare providers in the FCT. Through her efforts, the FCT Drug Revolving Fund grew from N80 million to N300 million. Her monitoring background afforded an opportunity to enforce ethical practice in FCT private hospitals through active registration and inspection. Her focus on inclusiveness resulted in the establishment of two orphanages, sporting facilities and successful HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari also runs a healthcare consulting outfit when she is not performing public service. She started out her career as a young pharmacist at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi where she set up the University Clinic from scratch and has not looked back since then. She holds a degree in Pharmacy from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, in addition to executive programs at International Drug Agency Netherland, Crown Agents UK and Harvard Business School. She is a registered pharmacist and member of Pharmacists Society of Nigeria as well as a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management.
Amina is from Kazaure in Jigawa State and still plays an active role in community development. Her Father Hussaini Adamu was the Emir of Kazaure. In his early career he was an educationist and independence era civil servant that devoted his life to education and education policy. He was a champion for girl-child education and instilled a passion for public service in Amina and her siblings at an early age.
Amina Zakari is also a successful domestic engineer raising five children as a widow. She attributes her success to the blessing of God, support of an extended family system and a country that rewards hard work, dedication and commitment to duty.
In this era of a new Nigeria, it is certain that President Buhari is conscious of the fact that the change mantra will become a mirage without engaging women in the important sectors of the economy, such as health, education, power, agriculture, security, good governance, and other areas of national development. Amina’s appointment is therefore an evidence of a renewed commitment of the President to fulfil one of his promises of ensuring that gender is mainstreamed in all key sectors of Nigerian economy; a promise he made on March 19, 2015 during a town hall meeting with professional women in Lagos. Nigerian women will be happier if Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari is made a substantive Chairman of INEC, a move that would further bolster Buhari’s gender sensitivity.