analysisBy Ijeoma Mmeka
Lagos — NIGERIAN women have come a long way in the political development of the nation, starting from the colonial days.
The famous Aba women's riot of 1929 might have signposted the determination of the Nigerian women to take active part in the nation's political development. The Aba women's riot was the first organized protest by women against the imposition of tax on them by the colonial government.
After that courageous affront on the colonialists, Nigerian women began to take more active part in the nation's political activities as evident in the activities of such women leaders as Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Hajia Amina, Mrs Sarah Jibril, Major Mojisola Adekunle-Obasanjo among others. Although their presence could not be said to be enough, women in Nigeria have been making persistent strides in the political scene especially since after the women conference held in Beijing, China in 1996. Significantly the women rose resolving that 20 per cent of political offices should be allocated to women. However, that has not materialized in many countries, particularly in the developing nations.
But in Nigeria, the women are not relenting. There are nine female senators and more that 70 female members of the House of Representatives in addition to other women occupying different political positions and heading different agencies and departments.
But analysts are asking if President Umar Yar'Adua will increase the number of women in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) this time around as he prepares to reconstitute his cabinet? It was reported that not less than 20 new ministers will be appointed by the President in his imminent cabinet shake up, which has been delayed by certain factors, including budgeting imperatives.
According to analysts, some women are clamouring for more women representation in the cabinet. Apart from that, they argue that those appointed should be made substantive heads rather than being appointed minister of state in the affected ministries. This, according to them, will give them a sense of belonging.
Some public affairs analysts believe that women are deliberately being frustrated by women. They cite the use of thugs as an example, arguing that women do not really know how to organize thugs to carry out certain jobs for them. But the use of thugs is almost a compulsory action in politics by men.
But some others feel that there are signs of gradual improvement on women's participation in politics. The Regional Programme Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Mrs. Florence Butegwa, is one of them.
When asked what she felt about Nigerian women participation in politics, she had this to say "I think some progress was made in the last election as more women contested more than before."
She said it is not only all about contesting but actually making it to the end and doing a good job to satisfy the people's aspirations.
Another reason put forward by some analysts on why women are so few in politics is the issue of money. According to the former governor of Lagos state, Mrs Kofo Bucknor-Akereke, Nigerian politics has been monetized and female politicians lack the financial back-bone for victory both at the party primaries and the election proper. She said "female politicians do not have the financial capabilities to withstand either the collegiate type of primaries or the general election."
Her argument was buttressed by another female politician in Lagos state, Mrs. Wunmi Babalola-Okocha. She said "female politicians do not have money like their male counterparts to finance their campaigns and ensure adequate mobilization of the electorate to get electoral victory."
But Mrs. Bucknor-Akerele feels that money is not the only thing. There is also the structure of the leadership of the political parties. To her, there is a "lot of male chauvinism at work in the political parties which needs to be dealt with."
Others point at the issue of empowerment and enlightenment in political activities, stressing that they form one of the main points behind the poor representation of women.
It is not as if women are not allowed to run for a position but they do so with little or nor idea of how to really go about it.
Some political observers said most women in politics do not really know how to use the media to their advantage unlike their male counterparts who in turn do nothing to help enlighten this women on this issue, leading to their dismal performance in any elections. They, therefore, stressed the need for different women groups and organization to embark on this needed enlightenment and empowerment of women in politics, with a view to facilitating the fortunes of women during elections.
However some women who are actually bold enough to make it in politics go through a lot of challenges such as blackmail, mudslinging, character assassination among others. They note that although men suffer the same treatment, it is harder on the women. According to them women who make it to the top usually have to fight their way through even in the face of allegations and name-callings all in an attempt to discourage them.
But Senator Grace Bent, thinks that the problem lies with the political parties. To her, women are at the bottom level in terms of representation. According to her, "The political parties have a lot to do if they want to take the issue of female representation seriously in this country, but right now we are just paying lip service to it. All it needs is a conscious effort from the political parties because it is a shame that despite all the noise we make about helping women into government, there are only nine of them in the senate of 109 members."
Dr. Olufemi Adelakan also stated his unhappiness at the low representation of women in politics.
While commending the government of Olusegun Obasanjo for creating opportunities for women participation in politics, he described the situation as tokenism, because according to him, the participation of women is mainly limited to entertaining men at political rallies, voting for them and getting sympathetic political appointments.
Continuing, Dr. Adelakan said that until such factors as nocturnal political meetings, machonistic tendencies by men and low self-esteem on the part of the women, are sufficiently dealt with, the obstacle to women participation in politics will still remain.
Analysts argue that as Nigerians await the release the list of Yar'Adua's new ministers, people are watching if the President would help to widen the scope of participation of women in the political development of the nation.