9 May 2018

Nigeria: The Importance of Women in Politics (I)

Photo: African Arguments
Ayisha Osori contested a seat in the House of Representatives in 2015, she saw the challenges that women face in Nigerian politics first-hand. She lost the race, as documented in her book Love Does Not Win Elections, but the experience made her ever more convinced of the importance of having women in politics.

"A lot still needs to be done to give women more room for participation in politics. It does appear that the huge and overwhelming representation of women at most political rallies has not transformed to increased opportunities for women to contest election".

Election time is once again upon the nation with candidates already declaring their intention to vie for one office or the other. From the office of the President, to Governorship, the National and State legislatures, politicians have begun their meetings and political alignments all with a view to to electoral victory. Given this development, I consider it pertinent to draw attention to a matter that has often escaped serious discussion in the Nigerian political landscape and this is the need to provide more opportunities for women in politics in Nigeria. That this is so is evident when one considers that women in Nigeria today still suffer a lot of discrimination particularly when it comes to participation in politics. I therefore intend to examine this issue as it continues to attract much concern not only from the women folk of our great country but also from every Nigerian who is appalled by the limited opportunities afforded women to effectively participate in politics in Nigeria.

I have used the word "effectively" advisedly as it cannot be disputed that women do participate in one form or the other in politics in Nigeria. Virtually all Political Parties in Nigeria have strong women wings which are designed to coordinate and maintain the support base of each party amongst women. Women after all are universally acknowledged to constitute an important unit of any electoral or political demography. It is however sad that Political Parties seem to be content with letting women bear such titles as "Women Leader", "Deputy Women Leader", "Chief Women Organizer" etc without really affording them a real opportunity of contributing politically to the development of this Country. Sadder still is the fact, as suggested by available data, that our women due to decades of forced submission to outdated ideologies regarding the role of women in society, may have come to regard themselves as eternal followers in the political schemes of events, only to be seen and never to be heard. Happily, and I do derive enormous satisfaction from this, increasing public discourse on the role of women in politics spurred by women themselves leave no room for doubt that Nigerian Women recognize the fact that much more can be achieved from their increased participation in politics and are not prepared to seat idly by whilst waiting for such opportunities which history teaches are seldom given freely and must on the contrary be demanded and when granted be protected.

Prior to and since independence, the issue of the role of women in politics in Nigeria has continued to attract debate. At one end of the divide are strong women's rights advocates who argue that anything and everything must be done to ensure increased participation of women in politics. At the middle are those who concede that Nigerian women deserve more opportunities to participate in the governance of the country and that since political office can only be attained by participation in elections that more needs to be done to provide such opportunities. At the other extreme are those who hold the view that women have absolutely no role in politics and should be confined strictly to the home. As anachronistic as this sounds, it was expressed in 2010 by a notable figure in the South-West, who declared openly that he would never allow his wife to participate in politics. Persons who share this view often consider women as too critical and uncompromising when they occupy top positions.

Careful analysis of data

This debate is necessary when a careful analysis of data presented by the Independent National Electoral Commission is examined. In 1999, women recorded only 3% representation in contested offices. In 2003, the figure rose to 4% followed by a further improvement to 6% in 2007. However, from 1999 to date, no woman has been elected the Governor of a state in Nigeria. Whilst some women contested and won elections into the Houses of Assembly of some States, the level of representation is still very low. In 2003, there was no female member of the Houses of Assemblies in Adamawa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Oyo, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara States. This list is instructive because it shows that virtually all geo-political zones in the country are represented. With regards to the 2011 elections, the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), utilizing data provided by INEC has come up with informative analysis regarding the representation of women in politics in Nigeria. From the said data, the following have been established:

Breakdown across geopolitical zones

Only 909 females contested elections in 2011. This represents about 9.1% of the over 10,000 candidates.

The breakdown across the geopolitical zones are as follows:

South-West recorded 15.5% of the 2116 candidates in the election;

South-East recorded 11.9% of the 1611 candidates in the election;

South-South recorded 10.5% of the 1624 candidates in the election;

North-Central recorded 8.5% of 1371 candidates in the elections;

North-East recorded 4.2% of the 1187 candidates in the election;

North-West recorded 2.3% of the 2088 candidates in the election.

Across the States, the FCT had the highest number of female candidates with 24% followed by Ekiti (20.9%), Osun State (20.5%), Lagos State (17.8%), Kogi State (17.0%), and Ebonyi State (16.0%). On the contrary, Bauchi and Yobe recorded 1.1% and 0.8% respectively while Jigawa did not record a single female candidate.

Across the political parties, APGA had the highest number of female candidates representing 12.2% of the 640 candidates it fielded at the election. Labour Party, ANPP, PDP and CPC ranked next in that order with 91 women representing 11.7% of 775 candidates, 77 women representing 6.6% of 1293 candidates, 84 women representing 5.6% of 1510 candidates and 64 women representing 5.5% of 1167 candidates respectively.

The figures stated above show without equivocation that a lot still needs to be done to give women more room for participation in politics. It does appear that the huge and overwhelming representation of women at most political rallies has not transformed to increased opportunities for women to contest election.

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