Stella Okotete: Misogyny or objective scrutiny?, By Ugoji Egbujo 


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A young man was appointed the head of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) at 36. At that age, and without many years of executive experience, his appointment could have been deemed unmerited. He assumed the position and started a digital modernisation of the agency, becoming proof that for public institutions, drive and vision were critical. It’s been about ten years since that watershed era in that institution. Were he a woman, tongues would have wagged till they marred her nomination or authority. Had he been a single mother, traducers would have thrown the cultural kitchen sink and besmirched her reputation beyond the merit of probation. Her past would have been ransacked indiscriminately and splashed on the screens, and her meteoric rise attributed to contemptuous factors other than social capital, intelligence and serendipity. 

But assuming some petitioners, as a number did in that case, lamented aloud that the appointment procedure flouted a direction of the Federal Civil Service Commission until they got the attention of the Senate. Then supposing the Senate reviewed the process and resolved that the appointment should be rescinded because the young appointee hadn’t gathered enough staleness in a dingy room in the civil service. Would such an interpretation expressed in a Senate resolution against a presidential prerogative elicit widespread insinuations of criminal wrongdoing by the young beneficiary? My guess is no. A man found precociously worthy of a high office by an adamant president wouldn’t attract derision, even if some legislators thought the president circumvented a regulation.  

Misogyny no longer parades naked as hatred or contempt for women. The days when women could neither vote nor hold property belong to the distant past. Now, misogyny has acquired sophistication and subtlety. It often masquerades as objectivity. Wherever it sets foot to dance on the political field, it pats the men on the back, and they take a bow in acknowledgement of the patriarchal hierarchical obeisance. But at the sight of ambitious women, it finds the unction to display its ferocious dance. To raise dust, to splatter mud, to demean.  

The single woman is the most vulnerable. If she is smart and upwardly mobile, she is deemed carnivorous, manipulative, and dissolute. A temptress who must be denied access to the centre stage to save humanity from immorality. Because she ought to be a depressed outcast of an order where leadership positions must be for men supported by their wives. 

Despite the foregoing, ministerial nominees and other seekers of political offices must always be thoroughly scrutinised. For too long, mediocrity has held sway and impoverished the country. Because mediocrity often comes with gluttony, the public must be vigilant. When a ruling party has an overwhelming majority in the Senate, confirmation hearings lose sobriety and become picnics. Hollow rituals are organised to fulfil the demands of the law and seduce the public into a false appreciation of legislative oversight. So the public, in such circumstances, must be doubly vigilant. And women, though hugely underrepresented, shouldn’t be exempted from intense examination. After all, some of the inept and corrupt public officers that have happened to this country are women. 

But often, with women, the standards of scrutiny are different, and connotations are mischievous. With women, it’s often difficult to know where objective scrutiny stops and where misogyny begins. A woman experiences a quick career rise; her rivals in the male-dominated environment console themselves, churning out narratives that help their injured ego. A self-inflicted patriarchal wound that must be nursed by bruising reputations with sexist backstabs. That is what it is. 

Since the ministerial nomination of Stella Okotete, executive director at NEXIM Bank, the rumour mills have been running wild. At 39, single and without a powerful godfather, Stella Okotete would attract scathing scrutiny. Some have said she didn’t attend a secondary school. But evidence shows she is an alumna of the Federal Government Girls’ College, Benin. Scrutiny that is devoid of good faith is as diabolical as witchcraft. Others have alleged that she possesses no university degree. But the certificates of a diploma in law from the Rivers State College of Arts and Science and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Diplomacy from the Benson Idahosa University, Benin, which she published, have not been refuted. Tendered certificates are naturally deemed genuine until proven otherwise. The onus rests on the complainants to approach the issuing authorities to refute them.

Sometime in 2017, a public petition informed the Senate that Stella Okotete didn’t take part in the National Youth Service. While reviewing other complaints levied against her, the Senate investigated her NYSC certificate and found it to be authentic. It then asked the petitioner to apologise. If Okotete or any other politician is suspected of having procured a certificate, then the NYSC can be notified, as it has been done in Enugu State against the governor, where the NYSC has disowned a certificate. Citizens must remain eternally sceptical of politicians. But wild and baseless allegations and such acts of calumny are objectionable because they create a cloud of cynicism that benefit corrupt politicians. 

Professor Antony Kila, in a recent television interview, described the ministerial list as the birth of a rat by an elephant. That could be a fitting description of the disappointment that the ministerial list has generated. Many commentators have argued that considering President Tinubu’s knack for picking talents, the list appears shockingly underwhelming. So an objective critic might wonder why Stella Okotete was chosen to represent Delta State. A fastidious analyst might overlook her possession of a postgraduate degree and leadership certificates from ivy league schools. But such a meticulous analysis cannot ignore the role she played as national women’s representative of the ruling party. Perhaps, were our national political parties a little better organised, nobody would have wondered why the immediate past women leader of a ruling party has been nominated to become a minister.

Yet, a rational analysis shouldn’t trivialise the experience that can be gathered as an executive director of NEXIM Bank. Having been found worthy of the position and retained by the president for six years, despite the reservations expressed in a resolution by the Senate, her performance on the job must then be evaluated to reach a balanced judgment. The Senate had said that although her appointment satisfied the provisions of the NEXIM Bank Act, it didn’t meet the provisions of a CBN circular that prescribed an 18-year prerequisite experience to be a director of any financial institution. That was the Senate’s point of disagreement with the president. But the president rejected the idea and retained her.

During her previous and subsisting tenures as Business Development Director, the bank grew its balance sheet geometrically and reduced non-performing loans drastically. The controversy around the initial appointment cannot subtract from the immense exposure and experience she has acquired on the job and the plaudits she has earned for a job well done. Having earned the trust of two consecutive presidents, she, perhaps, deserves her elevation. 

For democracy to thrive, citizens must remain perpetually sceptical of politicians and their motives. Their actions must be microscopically examined and misgivings amplified. Yet, a line has to be drawn between wanton character assassinations that especially discourage women’s participation in politics and indispensable civic watchfulness. Amongst the ministerial nominees are characters who have shown an abject lack of moral scruples and have standing indictments by the EFCC. That is disheartening. But while that disappointment is still eliciting a hysteria of finger-pointing, care must be taken not to allow misogyny to pass for objective scrutiny. 








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