'Without Women, Nothing Can Succeed': Yoruba Women in the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), Nigeria

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article examines the role of women in the politics of the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), a militant ethno-nationalist movement of the Yoruba people in south-west Nigeria. Women's inclusion in the organizational structure and their typical roles within the OPC, the article suggests, expand the political agency of women but at the same time ensure that their contributions are contained within the OPC's overall politics. Women play important roles within the OPC, primarily by enabling and supporting the vigilante activities of male OPC members. In the provision of this support, women overwhelmingly draw on the knowledge and powers associated with typically female life experiences. As a result, women's interests are represented within the overall agenda of the OPC, but on the basis of complementary rather than egalitarian gender roles.

RESUME

Cet article examine le role des femmes dans la politique de I'OPC (Oodua People's Congress), mouvement ethnonationaliste militant du peuple Yoruba, dans le Sud-Ouest du Nigeria. Il suggere que l'inclusion des femmes dans la structure organisationnelle et leurs roles typiques au sein de I'OPC etendent l'action politique des femmes mais, dans le meme temps, font en sorte que leurs contributions sont contenues dans la politique generale de I'OPC. Les femmes jouent des roles importants au sein de I'OPC, principalement en facilitant et en soutenant les activites de vigilantisme des membres masculins de I'OPC. Dans l'exercice de ce soutien, les femmes mettent surtout a profit un savoir et des pouvoirs associes a des experiences de vie typiquement feminines. C'est pourquoi les interets des femmes sont representes dans le programme general de I'OPC, mais sur la base de roles de genre complementaires plutot qu'egalitaires.

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In many African states, vigilante activities have increased conspicuously over recent decades. In Nigeria, vigilantism expanded in response to the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s, the military oppression of the 1990s and the 'godfather politics' (1) of the post-1999 civilian government. Today, vigilante groups have established themselves ubiquitously within Nigeria's public and political sphere, where they engage both with the definition and provision of security provided by the state (Buur and Jensen 2004) and with a wide range of political, economic, social and moral concerns related to the protection of communities. Although gender is rarely foregrounded in vigilantes' understanding of community security, they frequently draw both on wider political debates and economic concerns (Meagher 2007) and on local trajectories of social control (Leach 2004) which affect gender relations, and women's participation in the political sphere, in a number of ways.

Because Nigerian vigilante groups are either constituted by men or dominated by male members, the expansion of vigilante activities has been understood as a potential threat to women. Posel (2004: 233-5) has suggested that the dominance of men and the general increase in everyday violence associated with the rise of vigilante groups potentially intimidate women and exclude them from parts of the political process. But women have also taken leadership roles and supported vigilante groups, especially when such groups were aiming to redefine the boundaries of the moral community through recourse to traditional (2) authority and seniority (Oomen 2004). Where vigilante movements have engaged with violent state oppression, women have sometimes even taken a leading role in the organization and staging of protest action, because their active participation conveyed much stronger moral outrage than that of men (Ukeje 2004).

In this article I provide an additional perspective and argue that the participation of women in vigilantism potentially empowers them, but that it also reinforces complementary gender roles. My research focuses on women in the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), (3) a movement that emerged in the mid-1990s as one of many pro-democracy groups and local organizations protesting the self-perpetuation of military rule in Nigeria. …