2019 LSA BEST DOCTORAL THESIS IN LAGOS STUDIES AWARD: ROSEMARY OYINLOLA POPOOLA (LECTURER, COVENANT UNIVERSITY, NIGERIA)
Title of Thesis: “Advocacy and Women’s Rights in Lagos and Ogun States, Nigeria 1999-2015” Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria.
Nomination Submitted by Co-Supervisor Oluyemi Fayomi, Covenant University, Nigeria
Rosemary Popoola’s doctoral thesis is original and path breaking, not only in terms of methodological innovation and sources but in the distinctive ways she examined overlapping thematic issues in the social sciences and humanities. The thesis examines the complexities of women-centered advocacy, pointing out that women’s right promotion has been pursued at the expense of women’s right protection. The work challenges us to rethink the popular perception of Lagos as a gender-sensitive state. With massive oral evidence from respondents across gender and socio-economic backgrounds, she argues that Lagos still has a long way to go in addressing the imbalance in the distribution of social and economic capital. In this truly interdisciplinary study, she examines the effectiveness of advocacy in the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The thesis interrogates the concept of advocacy and its varying forms in Lagos and Ogun states from 1999 to 2015, a period of uninterrupted democratic rule and intense advocacy for women’s rights issues in Nigeria. The thesis draws attention to the political and socio-economic realties of women to argue that advocacy must transcend the promotion of women’s rights to include protection of women’s rights, which require more than current advocacy mechanism.
Popoola shows that advocacy is a fluid concept that has evolved from its etymological origin of just speaking out or speaking on behalf of someone, to encompass all forms of actions, efforts, and response aimed at social change. This includes advocacy through music, arts, movies and other “unconventional” methods. She argues that not only has the definition of advocacy changed but the tools, actors, and the space in which it takes place. For instance, if colonial advocacy by elite Lagos women took place in the public and involved petition writing to the colonial government, contemporary advocacy involves all of that and even more. It has maximized the gains of social media, using tweets and hashtags. Actors in colonial Lagos advocacy were educated elite women, market women, and a few male elites. Today, agents of social advocacy have expanded to include “ordinary” citizens who have used the power of social media and information technology to shape public perception towards women-centered social issues. Popoola notes that despite the liberalization of advocacy, the protest by “ordinary” citizens and elites does not produce the same result. Her thesis points out that people with significant social capital stood a great chance in influencing public and institutional opinion towards women’s disempowerment. The thesis pulls together four disparate advocacy types, namely, non-profit advocacy, policy advocacy, celebrity advocacy, and electronic advocacy in a logical manner to assess their effectiveness in shaping political and socio-economic realities of women.
Although the term “celebrity advocacy” is new in Nigeria, the action that constitutes the word is not. Elite women in colonial Lagos were advocating for women and girls using their social capital. However, the concept has expanded in Lagos being the home of the largest chunk of Nigerian celebrities and center of their activism. Popoola’s thesis makes the case for celebrity advocacy while probing the vexed questions of authenticity of celebrity, the political economy of their advocacy as well as the public perception towards their effectiveness. The thesis further examined policy advocacy in relation to women’s rights, pointing out that not only are policy dead before formulation, governmental failure buries them upon formulation.
Popoola’s thesis disturbs disciplinary boundaries. She borrows methodology and discursive language from multiple disciplines to explain the intersectionality of advocacy and women’s rights. This approach allows her to emphasize that no single discipline in the humanities and social sciences can effectively capture the unstable geography of knowledge in African feminism and women’s study. For instance, her engagement with E-advocacy within the context of Information Technology/Computer Science, allows her to uncover the ways in which technological advancement shaped public engagement. From cultural studies and geography to international law, history and sociology of everyday life, she insists that scholarship on advocacy must sit at the intersections of knowledge.
In addition to this, the thesis analyzed quantitative and qualitative data. Her qualitative sources come from interview and focus group discussion with informants, including women’s rights activists, founders of NGOs, digital rights advocates, celebrities, politicians, policy makers, and women who are active members of popular political parties in Lagos and Ogun states. These expansive sources not only enriched the work, but also bridges the gap that exist in secondary sources. She engages sophisticated method of data analysis that is not only cutting edge but one that takes advantage of empiricism, while paying attention to the human stories embedded within them.
Popoola’s thesis offers a useful template for similar study and tools for comparative research. Drawing insights from works produced in North America and Europe allow her to engage with global theoretical debate, while using data and ideas unique to Lagos to place her work in appropriate context. The thesis makes significant contribution to celebrity studies, an under-researched area in Nigeria, while emphasizing that new trends in women’s and gender studies must keep up with the transformation in the ways that stories are told and archived.