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Protecting the African Woman by Blurring the Gender Lines



Oluremi Obasanjo’s ‘Bittersweet: My Life with Obasanjo’ is one of the essential African books. Not in the same breath as literary masterpieces like Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ or Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or biographical standard bearers like Soyinka’s ‘Ibadan:  The Penkelemes Years’ or Ige’s ‘Kaduna Boy’ but an important book nevertheless.

In the Nigerian climate where the dearth of books followed by a loss of first hand accounts of significant anecdotes, any contributions by those who were in the know in the early Nigeria would always be appreciated. Whilst I have a grouse with it in that it lacks depth on those issues, Mrs Obasanjo’s warts and all tale (published in November 2008) was a step forward for the African woman. Her ex husband, Olusegun Obasanjo still stands as the most powerful man in the country so her ability to stand defiantly in the face of the inevitable opposition is worthy of commendation. It’s probably the most enlightening piece of literature on the enigma that is Obasanjo.

At the time of publication, Reuben Abati wrote in ‘The Guardian’ “Bitter-Sweet is a cross between a romance tale, an autobiography, a testimonial and a kiss and tell thriller. No future biography of Obasanjo would be complete without a reading of Mrs. Oluremi Obasanjo’s Bitter-Sweet: My Life With Obasanjo.

What is that cliché again?  The one about a scorned woman? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I describe the tale as a victory for the African woman on the basis that it is the first work of note to document a disease that plagues us in this part of the world: Disrespect to women thus encapsulating the notion that they are second class citizens. It gives some insight into the psyche of the woman who gets involved with a man who grows to become powerful and wealthy whilst still at the ordinary stage of his life. It captures the evolution from a caring and anciently romantic man to an aggressive, pompous, womanizing and occasionally abusive leader.  Imagine the uproar if it came out that a Western world leader chased after a woman with a knife on the streets threatening to kill her. Even worse, imagine that woman was the mother of his children and his wife.

For so long, we have accepted the mindset that domestic violence was one of those evils which we ignored and acted like it didn’t exist. Mrs Obasanjo no saint like the rest of us, documented this evil on a significant scale.

At the risk of feeding the notion of the single story, I write this article as a letter of appreciation to the African woman. The barriers she has to fight placed in her path by the uber patriarchal African society are a great cause for worry and self searching. The very lucrative soft sell publishing industry regale us with tales of how men terrorize their wives with needless displays of masculinity in a bid to soothe their egos. That’s not all.  As the story goes, banks and their corporate siblings are also guilty for helping propagate this. They employ sexually appealing women giving them outrageous targets  and threatening to fire them if they can’t attain them whilst pairing them with the stereotypical older, wealthy man with a voracious sexual appetite. I’ll be willing to bet that their male counterparts don’t have this to contend with.

The African woman faces a lot of challenges borne by the society we live in. When women are abused and this reaches the public domain, it’s the norm to meet them with skepticism.  “You sef, what did you do that he beat you black and blue?” It’s like she should be apologetic for even having the misfortune of her husband’s hands kissing her face.

Things have gotten better. Our women have the right to vote and have been found in more influential positions, part of the legacy of the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 when South Eastern women came out en masse to protest against their patriarchal government and seek an increased stake in the governing process. They were largely successful then. 84 years later, we need to push on. Sanctions should be brought against organizations guilty of taking undue advantage of their women workers. Men guilty of domestic violence should also be punished.

Women shouldn’t be ashamed of speaking out. They should be supported and not told to “Deal with it” or “Just manage”. The outrage when the mutilated body of Titilayo Omozaje Arowolo was found with her husband currently facing legal action for it was a good thing. We shouldn’t be satisfied with that. We should push on and confine those sexist attitudes to the coffins they belong.


Oluwamayowa Idowu is a writer and essayist. The rest of his work can be found at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MayowaIdowu


  1. nems

    January 15, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Interesting article!

  2. Bea

    January 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

    This was a brilliant piece. Well done 🙂
    I think more should be done in Nigeria, and in whole Africa in this area.

    However, I’d like to add that the first paragraph which criticises her ‘literary prowes’ is not necessary. I imagine she decided to write a book chronicling her experience with Obasanjo and not necessarily for it to be on par with the other writers you mentioned, nor for it to be a ground breaking literary piece in terms of what Soyinka et al have achieved.

    Your work is titled “Protecting the African Woman by Blurring the Gender Lines” and it should be about that and not necessarily about the literary quality/ability of Oluremi Obasanjo.

    Thanks 🙂

    • St. ED!

      January 15, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Perfect response…..

  3. Leila

    January 15, 2013 at 11:17 am

    At least this is not the garbage that you wrote months ago. “Are you the Michelle to his Barack” article. Seems like Mayowa has gone back to the drawing board (finally realising the disrespect to Nigerian women, which he was guilty of, with that article) but kept some parts of his personality – the unfair and unnecessary comparison attitude. A little judgy if I may so.
    There was no need for the “not in the same breath as………………….., then you had to say oya bebe I will pat Remi on the back and say it was an important read nevertheless, like she needs your approval or validation. Oga Mayowa, I found myself rolling my eyes after that first paragraph, Mayowa has come again. Oga literary genius, I’m sure your works are of the same breath as those names you mentioned.
    If you were trying to apologise to the African woman for that drivel you wrote months ago, bebe, I as an African woman who felt judged, unfairly compared and offended with that article, accepts your apology. Hugs, hugs. Lol.

    • Sandy

      January 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Ahn ahn Leila, you need to grow some self confidence if you were so greatly offended by Olumayowa’s article and opinion. Perhaps some reflection and self validation needed?

  4. heman

    January 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

    its time women start fighting for more control of their destiny. And th fact that all the mentioned works are called classics, not everybody necessarily finds them interesting.

  5. cynthia

    January 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent Mayowa!

  6. Kesiye

    January 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Well written article. We live in a society where assertiveness is viewed as being ‘unafrican’ and being a feminist. As a woman I don’t see why any man has to put me down to inflate his ego, instead of looking inward to draw his own strength and sense of worth. I’m happy that things are changing as women are becoming more independent and more vocal about how they want and deserve to be treated, this is a quantum leap from the days of ‘that is how marriage/relationships are, just bear it’ of own mothers. It just sickens me to see how some modern day african women scoff at other women who are more vocal about their right to be treated fairly and equally, if you don’t want respect from the menfolk go and sit in the corner and allow women who have decided to demand to be treated as human beings speak out. So happy my husband is one of the new-breed of african men. He doesn’t demand or beat respect out of me he just gets it because he respects me!

  7. Southernbelle

    January 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm


  8. Bukky

    January 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for this article.Gender lines need not only to be blurred they need to be erased out of our system . That’s why it annoys me when i hear women say “it is a man’s world”, “things have always been like this”. NO!You at least need to make effort to fight against the societal norms that repress women. If we don’t speak up, we will keep being treated like a second class citizen and domestic violence will further spread its wings . I also think they need to introduce a “Gender Matters” subject/course in primary schools and secondary as well. Maybe that way,we will have a different breed of men and women in the next generation.

  9. Tunmi

    January 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Good article but…like others have said I could have done without the first paragraph. And that picture is disturbing me, the contrast with her face and hand is just weird.

    I was hoping to see something about Funmilayo Kuti since the article was toeing the line of feminism and she’s my hero 🙂

    And another thing, it would help if we stop clumping an entire continent with its varying cultures into one. How about the Nigerian woman or just the woman. Africa is a continent, let’s try to treat it like it is.

    • bukky

      January 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

      …because all African countries have similar views on how women should be treated.

    • nomad

      January 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      Interesting and curious to read more of the Obasanjo book. Not surprising that our former leader indulged in the favorite pastime of many men here.

      As an aside, I know that this article will receive a fraction of the comments that wedding posts, OAP gossip du jour and assorted flimsy but I think should be the important focus of a site like this.

  10. Ada

    January 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    so very disheartening and true. I hope I can be successful in furthering the change of mindset about women in our society

  11. Myne Whitman

    January 16, 2013 at 12:55 am

    I feel that your thesis does not say much on the title you chose, but a welcome and well articulated point you made still about gender based domestic violence and exploitation of women in work places. Our society still has a long way to go.

  12. NNENNE

    January 16, 2013 at 1:26 am

    We have really come a long way but a lot still need to done.

  13. handsignals

    January 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I agree with the poster that said Nigeria should formally introduce Gender courses and subject in primary schools. That way our sons and daughters grow up with low tolerance for gender bias. We still have a long way to go in this country though.A pertinent issue like this receives 14 comments,while posts that don’t further us as a people get 100 responses!!What a shame

  14. Richard

    January 18, 2013 at 1:19 am

    To the commenter interested in the book, if you’re based in Nigeria try the publishers, Diamond Publications. 9, James Robertson street, Surulere.

  15. doreen homely

    March 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    this is great

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