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Irrespective of the several platforms and advocacy groups that have promoted women’s empowerment since the post-colonial days, Nigerian women have continued to be relegated to second-class roles. Various scholars like Sen and Nussbaum have constantly presented education as a tool for empowerment and augmentation of women’s roles. However, this is not the case in Nigeria as educated women are unable to attain the height to which the concept of empowerment posits or seen at the forefront of development. This thesis examines the veracity of Martha Nussbaum’s Capability Approach by putting to the test, by means of a case-study of Nigerian women, the role of educational capability in enhancing women’s empowerment, based on a content analysis of focused in-depth interviews of 26 Nigerian women, who are considered leaders in their respective fields, the thesis argues that despite enhanced educational qualifications women are still subject to entrenched patriarchal resistance.

Chapter One


Background to the Study

Nigeria is a developing country located in West Africa with a population of 182 million (United Nations, 2015, p. 23). According to a World Bank estimate in 2015, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product was $481.1 billion (World Bank, 2016), which included $80 billion from oil revenue alone (Oyefeso, 2015). However, 110 million Nigerians lived in poverty (Vanguard, 2015). The Market Mogul posits political corruption and high government expenditure as reasons for wealth inequality and poverty in Nigeria. A report by the Sahara Reporters in 2012 ascertained that it costs Nigerians

$8.3 billion to pay the salaries of those in politics. In 2012, the federal government of Nigeria designated $7.4 billion to develop infrastructure, but only half of this was spent towards its development (Sahara Reporters cited in Oyefeso, 2015). Moreover, in 2012, Women made up half of the Nigerian population and 70 percent of the 100 million living in poverty (Fapohunda, 2012, p. 87). 

Also, women made up over 50 percent of the illiterate population compared to 38 percent of men in Nigeria as of 2007 (Fapohunda, 2012, p. 21).  In the absence of current estimates, it is difficult to capture the state of poverty women experience and the level of education of women in the subsequent years. In the different industries in Nigeria, women’s representation lags behind that of men and are underrepresented in the main sectors of the economy. For instance, women accounted for 36.5 percent compared to men’s 63.5 percent in both agriculture and forestry in 2008 (Oduwole & Fadeyi, 2013, p. 109). Women’s underrepresentation is no different in politics as Nigeria ranks 178 out of a list of 193 countries of women in parliament. This ranking is because women occupy twenty seats in the Lower House from a total of three hundred and sixty seats drawn from various constituencies in the 36 states of the federal republic. In the Upper House

(Senate), women occupy seven seats out of a total of one hundred and eight seats (InterParliamentary Union, 2016). 

From the above, it becomes evident that women’s representations in the Nigerian society linger behind that of men. The wider Nigerian society links women’s affairs to their competence in the domestic sphere, and this serves as a glass ceiling in their involvement in the public sector (Imhanlahimi & Eloebhose, 2006; Oduaran & Okukpon, 1997; Tuwor & Sossou, 2008, p. 367). With the advent of education as freedom from various forms of discrimination, development scholars like Sen and Nussbaum have recognized education to be a primary source of empowerment for women (Dreze & Sen, 2013, p. 109; Nussbaum, 2003, p. 332). In 2000, the federal government of Nigeria promoted the education of girls in accordance with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as itemized in Goal 3, which aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women through formal education and access to employment in the non-agricultural sector (Nigeria Millennium Development Goals, 2015, p. 5). Nigeria recorded success in the enrollment of girls in primary schools, where there was an increase in the ratio of girls to boys in basic education, with an end-point status of 94 percent in 2013. However, this increase was not evident in secondary and tertiary levels of formal education. Also, the end-point status of the proportion of women in wage employment was 7.7 percent. The percentage of seats held by women in the national parliament was at 5.11 percent in 2015 in contrast with Nigeria’s MDGs expected target of 35 percent. As a result, the Nigerian government stated that the goal to empower women was not met (ibid. p. 5). At this juncture, it is important to question if educating women is enough to lead to their empowerment in Nigeria given the glass ceiling created by patriarchy. We need to consider this in light of the fact that Sen and Nussbaum’s Capability Approach, which is the theoretical framework of this thesis, as well as the UN’s MDGs, both, value women’s education and its corresponding link with employment, better health indicators, empowerment and the upward mobility of women (Dreze & Sen, 2013, p. 108-109;

Nussbaum, 2003, p. 339-340; Nigeria Millennium Development Goals, 2015, p. 6). Drawing on these views, can women’s education be powerful enough to dent patriarchy in Nigeria? 

This study therefore; attempts to respond to this question by examining the link between women’s education and development in Nigeria with respect to Nussbaum’s Capability Approach and women’s empowerment. Through an analysis of educated women, the study attempts to explore the influence of education on the upward mobility of women in the public domain and bring to light what obstacles they face on their journey to the top.

Posing the Problem

Women’s roles in different spheres of life were given distinct recognition in precolonial Nigeria (Aina, 1993, p. 6). They were actively involved in agriculture, industry, politics, education and health, among others, but this was interrupted with the advent of colonialism (Van Allen, 1972, p. 165). Education in this era was in the form of apprenticeship which transmitted vocational skills such as basket weaving, mat making, wood carving, and the like for both men and women to ensure self-subsistence. However, British colonialism stifled the pre-colonial social structures and relegated the roles of women and their education to knowledge about maintaining the domestic sphere, thus creating a second-class status for them (Dike, 2009, p. 133; Nzegwu cited in Nussbaum

& Glover, 1995, p. 445). With the upsurge of poverty in post-colonial Nigeria, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was introduced in 1986, allegedly to improve public welfare through the implementation of macroeconomic solutions. These comprised the deregulation of key sectors of the economy, reduction in government spending, privatisation and commercialisation of public enterprises, devaluation of the naira, curtailment of deficit financing, cuts in the funds allocated to education, withdrawal of subsidies on petroleum products, health-care, education, public utilities, and so forth (Obasi, 1997). According to Aina (1993), SAP failed to meet this objective, as it placed emphasis on macroeconomic issues and disregarded “the reality of life at the microeconomic or village level where the rural producers are mostly women” (p. 7). SAP policies like the deregulation of key sectors of the economy and devaluation of the currency led to an increase in unemployment as a result of the closure and reduction of staff in many local industries. Access to education was limited to a privileged few due to hikes in the cost of education, which in turn, left women at a disadvantage because of the societal perception of women playing second fiddle to men (Obasi, 1997). For these reasons, SAP is regarded as being gender biased and did not lessen women’s marginalization, but resulted in the feminization of poverty (Aina, 1993, p. 7; Soetan,

1999, p. 117).

 In the face of the above criticism, the World Bank and IMF rephrased the SAP as the allegedly more humane “Poverty Reduction Strategy,” by introducing the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals in 2000 (MDGs) (Seshamani, 2005, p. 2; Cammack, 2009, p. 42). The MDGs had three of its eight goals aimed at the well-being of women, their reproductive roles and empowerment through education and employment in the non-agricultural sectors. Specifically, Goal 3, Goal 4, and Goal 5 (Nigeria

Millennium Development Goals, 2015, p. 1; Ajuzie, Okoye & Mohammed, 2012, p. 347).  Aside from the goals above, Nigeria’s 2015 MDGs endpoint report, revealed that goal 6, combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other major diseases, was mostly targeted towards women. This argument is made because results of the study on the knowledge of HIV/AIDS were solely derived from women concerning mother-to-child endangerment and well-being (Nigeria Millennium Development Goals, 2015, p. 5). These goals that mostly focus on women’s reproductive health have to a large extent portrayed women as agents of development in Nigeria. Scholars such as Fehling, Nelson and Venkatapuram (2013) argue that a focus on maternal health fails to give a full picture of women’s reproductive health and health complication resulting from childbirth (p. 1114). As a result, the link between women’s reproductive health and development is dubious as it only focuses on what women can do for development in terms of population control and better health indicators, and not what development can do for women in terms of better wellbeing and empowerment for them. Be that as it may, the existing link between women’s reproductive health and development has led to the production of periodical government documents like the Nigeria Demographic and Health Surveys, which establishes further links between women’s education, employment and improvement in their roles as reproductive agents (Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, 2003, p. 53, 77, 80, 111, 118). However, this portrayal of women as agents of development has not changed the narrative of women as second-class citizens in Nigeria (Fapohunda, 2012, p. 20-23). To this end, Boserup (1970) argues that focusing on reproductive health cannot in itself allow education to thrive as a tool to augment women’s status. Rather, it allows for the continuous use of women as vessels of development to achieve population control and poverty reduction (Boserup 1970, cited in Beneria & Sen, 1981, p. 298). This argument does not present the previously mentioned links as unsound but gives reasons why it cannot help in changing the perception of women as inferior citizens. Hence, this thesis tries to go beyond these arguments that restrict the role of education to promoting some other goals. On the other hand, this thesis tries to examine the impact it has in resisting overarching patriarchal structures that prevent women’s empowerment and upward mobility in Nigeria. 

 Research Questions

This study poses two fundamental research questions. First: To what extent can

Nussbaum’s Capability Approach be conclusive of women’s empowerment in Nigeria?

Second: How can women’s education contribute to development in Nigeria?

Significance of Study

This study is important as it serves as a stepping stone because it adds to, and deepens the scholarship of development and policy that portray educated women as agents of development only to further other goals, rather than women’s empowerment.

Through the analysis of stories of Nigerian women, who would be considered ‘influential’ in their respective fields as well as society, at large. I examine their own perception of empowerment for women. Also, the study aims to offer recommendations for a more beneficial approach to present educated women as agents of development, so as to engender a more collaborative effort between men and women in the development process of Nigeria.

Thesis Statement

Various development scholars have presented women as agents of development, given the positive co-relation between education and employment, reproductive health, and family prosperity, etc. (Fapohunda, 2012, p. 22; Ajuzie, Okoye & Mohammed, 2012, p. 346; Dreze & Sen, 2013, p. 109).  However, this portrayal of women has not resulted in a reversal of their roles as second-class citizens because, in a patriarchal society such as Nigeria, gender practices that create a sexual division of roles to keep women in the private sphere and restricted to selected public roles are entrenched in law, cultural practices, colonial history and ideological beliefs. Therefore, any development program or project to redistribute resources and power between men and women runs into patriarchal resistance simply because it dethrones men from the dominant role they have occupied since colonialism (Longwe, 1998, p. 21). For this reason, this study intends to reveal the extent to which education helps women overcome the burden of patriarchy in Nigeria.

Research Methodology

This study employs a qualitative case study design in analyzing several cases from a list of women in Nigeria in order to capture their voices as they speak about their lives, their successes and the influence of education in empowering them beyond the obstacles of patriarchy.

Research Design

Irrespective of the several platforms and advocacy groups that have promoted women’s empowerment since the post-colonial days, Nigeria still runs a patriarchal system that shows men at the forefront of development. The context of this study is Nigeria because it is my birthplace, and as a future development agent of Nigeria, I undertake this study in an attempt to discover what education, currently, and in the future, begets for Nigerian women. Revealing this will help in understanding why women are not also at the forefront of development and will help devise a better means of addressing the obstacles faced by women in my country. To this end, I employ the first #YWomen100 list of the most influential women in Nigeria, which was compiled by

Ynaija in partnership with Leading Ladies Africa project in 2015 (YNaija, 2015; Bella Naija, 2015; Ikeji, 2015). This list is most commonly accepted by various Nigerian websites and blogs without any contention.  

Data Collection

This research examines prominent women in Nigeria. Smith (1992) argues that prominent people such as authors or political leaders, among others, usually cannot be tested and when they can, ethical considerations would make it difficult to disclose the result. If inaccessible, Smith believes that “people must be studied indirectly or at a distance if they are to be studied at all” (p. 110; Scott & Garner 2013, p. 183); hence I am using available online interviews. Smith (1992) again argues that every day verbal materials can offer valuable ways to test perspectives of people, so I am using the Internet as a laboratory (p. 125). The primary source of data for this study was amassed from online interviews from online newspapers and magazine publications, websites, blogs, and videos, nationally and internationally. I will review a total of sixty-six interviews generated from nineteen websites, fifteen newspapers, six magazines, eighteen videos, and eight blogs. This data contains interviews of twenty-six women who I purposefully selected for this sample, and they are:

Abike Dabiri-Erewa


Adesuwa Onyenokwe

TV Presenter and Publisher

Amina Oyagbola

Head of Human Resources and Corporate Services

Betty Irabor

Columnist, Author, and Publisher

Biola Alabi

Media Expert

Bukky Karibi Whyte

Event and Public Relations Officer

Florence Ita Giwa


Folorunsho Alakija

Fashion designer, and Oil and Gas Explorer

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