In praise of Otiko’s refusal to bend

I was not expecting to be impressed by the ministerial nominee for Gender, Children and Social Protection. I was still annoyed with her for refusing to condemn Kennedy Agyapong when he accused the Electoral Commissioner, Charlotte Osei of trading sex for her position. Sexist, misogynistic and distasteful comments, and the Women’s Organiser of the NPP, the top women’s advocate in the party, called for investigations instead of condemning him. There was nothing Otiko Afisa Djaba could say or do at the vetting committee that would impress me.

Sure enough, when that subject came up, she waffled. I would have completely tuned out, had Suhuyini Alhassan not demanded an apology for her comments on former President John Mahama. The mind-blowing exchange went like this: Suhuyini Alhassan: “You labelled the former President as having the heart of the devil. You also described the former President as violent and an embarrassment to the Northern Region. Do you accept that your statement was unfortunate and unpalatable? Will you now apologise to the former President and to Ghana for such unsavoury comments?” Otiko Djaba: “The President is my brother, and I spoke from my convictions. I made the statements that I made as a wake-up call for him.”

Often, women are coerced to backtrack on their beliefs, views and decisions through subtle bullying. It was refreshing to hear Otiko defend her comments. She did not yield even when the Minority leader, Haruna Iddrisu and Okudzeto Ablakwa joined Suhuyini in the attempt to extract an apology from her.

The three women who appeared before the Appointments Committee before Otiko were mellow and deferential in the face of subtle bullying and sexist commentary. When someone on the panel made cracks about the Attorney General, Gloria Akufo’s physique, she smiled and let it pass.

But try as hard as the three men did, Otiko Afisa Djaba would not apologise for her comments. Every inane question thrown her way was met with a response that said she would not brook bullies. When Okudzeto Ablakwa asked her how the airwaves could be rid of insults, she gave the perfect riposte: “We must expunge babies with sharp teeth from our system.”

I jumped with joy and clapped at her response. How dare Okudzeto Ablakwa ask such a question? As if we did not watch him actively campaign for the freedom of the three men who threatened judges with murder and rape. As if he was not among the group of young NDC members the founder of the party once described as ‘babies with sharp teeth’ for their vicious insolence on the radio.

Predictably the Minority wants Otiko’s nomination suspended. Their leader Haruna Iddrisu said the Minority was “uncomfortable with the nominee’s attitude and temperament. The Minority would like us to believe their angst about Otiko is fueled by their excellent morals, love for Ghana and respect for women.

They lie. They are driven by their sexist and misogynistic views of women. They’re hurt because Otiko refused to indulge them by even performing the faux-submissive moves to soothe their bruised egos. In which country is one’s relationship with their mother a sign of competence? But Haruna launched into a sermon about Otiko’s respectful mother in Tamale as though, she’s a five a year old still under the care of her mother. He does not even grant Otiko the agency over her decisions. And for this, and other sins, she shouldn’t be approved.

Moralistic and sexist bullshit! Perhaps male MPs should be asked about the state of their marriages? Maybe they should be asked to declare the number of children they have outside their monogamous marriages? They should be asked to state the last time they spoke to their wives? One’s attitude towards their marital vows reflects their values after all.

Wa Central MP, Rashid Pelpuo claims Otiko did not show humility or ‘motherliness’ as though being humble and maternal is a measure of one’s ability to implement sound policies. The Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mubarak compared her to the nominee for the Communications Ministry, Ursula Owusu Ekuful who was very friendly at her vetting.

But let’s face it, no MP in their right senses will cross Ursula Owusu with foolish questions. She has already established herself as a no-nonsense woman who knows how to fight. We’ve heard her eviscerate men, including the former president before. The reason the minority members were kind to her was that they’ve learnt not to poke the bear.

They lie when they say Otiko shouldn’t be approved because she insulted the former president and did not complete national service. That excuse would have worked if they had not led the house to accept Oti Bless who threatened judges with death and murder on the radio. He, too, had not completed national service when they championed his approval. Haruna and many men, perhaps some within the majority are hurt because Otiko looked them in the eye and challenged them. They know being warm, humble and maternal are not signs of competence. If they do, then why would a bunch of friendly, humble, paternal human beings preside over the mess that was SADA?

There are no written rules for women in politics, but every Ghanaian woman is taught from as early as age five that to avoid confrontation, one must defer to the man even if he is daft. Men are granted the agency to be seen and heard, but woe onto the opinionated woman whose opinions make men uncomfortable. Woe onto women in politics who refuse to be docile, women who insist on their right, women who refuse to bend over for men.

The sanctions are harsh for women like Otiko who refuse to subordinate their views and humanity for men’s comfort. It explains why Ghana’s 275-seater Parliament has only 35 women. The number of women in politics is low, will remain low if powerful men are allowed to subject women to sexist standards. Otiko must be applauded for standing up to these men and for showing one does not have to cower every time sexists gather.


11 thoughts on “In praise of Otiko’s refusal to bend”
  1. I too was dismayed that Otiko spoke up for Ken Agyapong in the past. However, I was also impressed with how she stood by her convictions and refused to back down. She’s shown through this vetting that she’s a great model for Ghanaian women: strong, confident and not easily bullied by sexist men.

    My whole life I’ve dealt with this covert and overt sexism. No matter your accomplishments, men of any age feel it’s their right to infantilize you by insisting you behave like a nice little girl who knows her place. Once you reach a certain age, they insist that you behave in a maternal way so they can feel less threatened around you. In the office, you have to take everyone’s lunch orders and serve them. At professional meetings, you have to deal with the refreshment. There’re countless examples of how this plays out day after day.

    It’s refreshing to see women fight back against this.

    1. If your convictions are that the former president is incompetent, corrupt, insensitive to the plight of the Ghanaian etc. that’s all well and good and certainly within your democratic rights but when you start using words like evil hearted and wicked for a man who was your president that’s just wrong. I just can’t comprehend how you are able to relate this to ‘sexism’ at all. Where is the bullying here? What do you understand by vetting? Unless you are telling us that what she said about the former president during the campaign was fine and our leaders should go on using such harsh words against each other, I can’t see how she deserves any applause whatsoever. For me, what would have been refreshing is to see women fight back against comments like Kennedy Agyapong’s against the EC chair as well as comments like that of Otikos Djaba’s of the former president.

      1. And I can’t just comprehend how words like evil and wicked couldn’t be used in any context for a president. She was speaking about him in the context of supervising the SADA. The president isn’t a god, he should be criticized and that is what Otiko. And harsh words are alright and okay, our leaders are free to call each out when they fail like John Mahama did. Women are not mandated to fight Otiko, she didn’t offend anyone besides the egos of men who feel a woman shouldn’t have the courage to say what she did.

        1. I’m just perplexed by all the contradictions in your statements. Harsh words are okay when they are in critique of a man, the former president in this case, yet the probing from Suhuyini, Haruna and Ablakwa, obviously stemming from their critique of her apparent misbehavior, are ‘sexist’? How does that work? As far as I can remember, they were quite polite in asking? But of course, she had to prove she’s not weak by jumping on the offensive because “weaklings can’t hold public office”.

  2. What you are applauding is Otiko’s arrogance and rudeness. If it was wrong for her to call for investigation into the Sex for job allegation it can’t be right for her to insist that she said that out of conviction. Because that inuendo was directed at a party you detest you were happy she stood her grounds. Thats no different from the so-called babies with sharp teeth statement she referred to at her vetting. If Ghanaians detest arrogance of government appointees Otiko is already showing signs of it and we live to see how well she will perform in that ministry. You have to learn to be objective. What is bad is bad irrespective of who it is directed at.

    1. You confuse boldness with arrogance and so do a lot of Ghanaians.we are contempt with Yesa massa and that’s why there is so much rot around us

  3. I just think right is right and wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter who did it. I am just as disgusted at Kennedy Agyapong’s remarks about the EC chair as I am about Otikos Djaba’s remarks about the former president and i equally detest some of the statements by politicians accross the political divide. Anyone who’s capable of insulting their President so unapologetically and stand their ground even at a vetting, man or woman, needs to be condemned and they do not deserve to be minister. Diplomacy is an essential part of leadership and a slip of tongue is all it takes to destroy a nation. Don’t you think there is a bit of double standard in your stance, if on one hand you condemn her for not standing up for another woman who was being a victim of a ‘sexist’ accusation yet you applaud her for warding of a ‘sexist attack’ by exhibiting the same behaviour as the person you think she should have condemned in the first place? Do you believe that if a man in her shoes had exhibited the same character he would not be condemned to the same degree?

    1. Perhaps you need to explore why you think there is a double standard here. You need to explore why you insist on describing her comments as insulting despite her explanation? And even if they were insults, so what? Public office isn’t for weaklings.

      1. Oh I see, public office isn’t for weaklings? So why complain then if, in your opinion, she was being ‘bulied’ in the same way as, in my opinion, her male counterparts. You seem to be the one who actually thinks she’s a ‘weaker’ sex and as such deserves praise for being able to stand up to her male ‘aggressors’. Would you be so full of praise if this was a man we were talking about? And by the way, I don’t think admitting when one is wrong is a sign of weakness and there is room for everyone in public office, women, men, the strong, the week, the rich, the poor, everyone. That’s true diversity. Do you get what I mean by double standards?

      2. There is a difference between insults and criticism. If you describe an action or ommission of someone as incompetent that is criticism but describing someone as having a heart of the devil is an insult. You cannot explain away insults and justify it. If its wrong it is wrong and apologising for a wrong is not a sign of weakness. I am sure if someone calls you stupid, idiot and foolish you will not be applauding that person so why will you applauding it if its directed at someone else just because you loathe that person? I get your drift that women in Ghanaian culture are required to be submissive but the best way to deal with it is not to be insulting.

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