Nigeria: Women Participation in Politics - On a Slow March

Nigerian activist Aisha Yesufu, during the #EndSARS protest at Abuja on October 10, 2020 (file photo).
8 March 2021

In commemoration of 2021 International women's Day, Udora Orizu writes that the Federal Government should ensure inclusion of more women in leadership positions, towards attainment of the 35 percent affirmative action

Yearly on March 8, the International Women's Day is celebrated globally and this year is no different. The annual celebration is marked today, Monday March 8, with the theme, 'Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.'

The theme for this year is apt and timely as it shines the spotlight on the barriers women are often faced with numerous challenges from sexism to prejudice, stereotype, bias and discrimination, when it comes to occupying leadership positions.

Since the return of democracy to the country in 1999, there has been growing concerns over low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions.

World over, women constitute over half of the population and contribute in vital ways to societal development generally. They assume key roles, which are; mother, caretakers, educators, entrepreneurs, political activists, just to name a few. But despite that, women are still being excluded, marginalised and underrepresented in political realms and other sectors of the society, due to some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures.

Despite the barriers, women, especially young women, are in the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements for social change and we know that more inclusive leadership and representation leads to stronger democracies, better governance, and more peaceful societies. This year's International Women's Day is a rallying cry to finally fully harness the power of women's leadership to realise a more equal, more inclusive and more sustainable future.

Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as countries respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, choices that will affect the wellbeing of people and the planet for generations to come.

For instance, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments by percentage showed that out of 80 seats in Rwanda's lower house, 51 are occupied by women which represents 63.8 percent while the upper house has 10 seats for women out of 26, and this is put at 38.5 percent. In Senegal, 64 women make up 42.7 percent of the total 150 seats in the lower house; and South Africa' s lower house has 166 women out of 396 seats and 19 out of 54 in the upper house. These figures represent 41.9 and 35.2 percents respectively.

Namibia has 43 women in its lower house of 104 seats while 6 of the 26 seats in the upper house are occupied by them; this represents 41.3 and 23.1 percents respectively. In Ethiopia, 212 women are at par with their male counterparts in the lower house as their seat represent 38.3 percent of the total 546 seats while they sit majestically on 22 out of the 135 seats in the upper house, again this translates to 16.3 percent.

In Burundi, 44 out of the in 121 seats in the lower house are occupied by women, this is 36.4 percent and they have 18 out of the 43 seats in the upper house which brings the percentage to 41.9. Even Zimbabwe with the sit-tight syndrome of its president has 85 seats for women out of the 270 in the lower house while the upper house is made up of 38 women of its 80 seats. The figure here is 31.5 and 47.5 percent respectively. Cameroon has 56 women out of 180 in its lower house while they have 20 out of 100 of the seats in the upper house, a representation of 31.1 and 20 percent. Kenya has 69 women of the 350 seats in the lower house and 18 out of 68 seats in the upper house. This is 19.7 and 26.5 percents.

A place like Pakistan where women are adjudged as a group of people to be seen and not heard, has 70 women out of the 340 in the lower house while in the upper house, they occupy 19 out of the 104 seats, a percentage of 20.6 and 18.3 in all. Nigeria has 14 seats for women in the lower house out of 360 and 8 out of 109 in the upper house; these figures are sparing, 5.6 and 6.5 percents respectively. Again Cape Verde has the highest number of women in ministerial positions on the continent, with nine out of 17 ministers which represented 53 percent, South Africa, has 15 out of 36 ministers are women or 41.7 percent, Rwanda, has 11 out of 31, or 35.5 percent, are women, and Burundi, where 8 out of 23, or 34.8 percent of the total are women.

Without prejudice, many of these countries if not all cannot be compared with Nigeria on any term. Africa and indeed the world see Nigeria as giant of Africa and big brother to all. Some of these countries have also enshrined in their constitution that a certain percentage of elective positions be exclusively reserved for women, so only women occupies such seat because they alone can contest for them.

In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35% affirmative action and sought for a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively.

The National Policy of Women that was adopted in 2000 reserved 30 percent for women under the affirmative action guidelines. In 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan administration's cabinet had women occupying about 33 percent of the positions and there were calls for him to make it up to 35 percent as obtainable in some African countries.

One of the promises of the President Muhammadu Buhari during his presidential campaign was to make his cabinet gender inclusive. He boldly told Nigerians that women will make up 35 percent of his cabinet as part of his commitment to take the country to the 'Next Level'.

When the president finally rolled out the names of his ministers nearly two months after he resumed office in 2019, only seven women made the 44-member Federal Executive Council. It may be tactical to include Folashade Yemi-Esan, Head of Service, increasing the number to eight. The new appointees have since been cleared by the legislative chambers and assigned portfolios at a well-attended inauguration ceremony, held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The positions assigned to the seven women include: Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development; Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Ministry of Federal Capital Territory (State); Transportation Ministry (State); Ministry of Environment (State); Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; and Ministry of Trade and Investment (State).

Those who were appointed to individually or jointly supervise the ministries respectively are: Pauline Tallen, Zainab Ahmed, Ramatu Aliyu, Gbemisola Saraki, Sharon Ikeazor, Sadiya Farouk and Maryam Katagum.

However, the numbers did not justify the earlier promise of the President. It showed that only 16.3 percent of women are represented as against 35 percent the president promised. Inclusion of women in decision making positions in the Nigerian political system has been a contentious matter with eminent persons like Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi arguing that women should stand up and fight for what they believe is theirs.

In a widely reported statement, the former governor of Rivers State urged women "to stop begging" for their entitlement. A research carried out by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in 2017-18 reveals a declining fortune for women in position of governance. "Following the 2015 election, 9.8 percent of councillors and 3.6 percent chairpersons were female, down from 12.5 percent and 3.9 percent in 2011 and 10.2 percent and 9.9 percent in 2007 respectively. In the national parliament in 2015, 5.7 percent of seats were occupied by women.

The Independent National Electoral Commission disclosed that only 62 women out of the 2,970 who contested for different political offices in the 2019 general election were elected. A breakdown of the figure showed that while only seven women were elected into the Senate during the 2019 elections, the House of Representatives has 11 women. Four women were elected as deputy governors, 40 women were elected into the 36 state Houses of Assembly.

These revelations have been greeted with mixed reactions. Some advocates of women in politics like Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Mufuliat Fijabi expressed disappointment over the number of women on the list, saying it was preferable to have at least 35 per cent representation of women.

"Sincerely, Nigeria is not practising what we would describe as inclusive democracy because of the almost absence of women. The president failed to keep his promise to have 35 percent of women in his cabinet. Although he hasn't given reasons why he did that, in my opinion, he didn't fulfill his promise. He has only appointed a few women, which we thank him for; but he hasn't fulfilled his promise to the Nigerian people," she argued.

The issue of achieving the 35 percent affirmative action has been on the fore front for quite sometime. Back in December 2020, the female lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives stepped up the push for greater representation of women in politics and other sectors of the society.

The lawmakers who expressed their views at the a 2-day training and advocacy workshop for federal and state female lawmakers on gender responsive legislation, in Abuja, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to forward an Executive Bill to the two chambers of the National Assembly on 35 percent affirmative action.

Recall that, in July 2017, the Senate voted against a proposal to alter the Constitution to provide for 35 percent affirmative action for women in federal and state cabinets. A total of 49 of the 96 senators present during the electronic voting on the bill to further amend the 1999 Constitution supported the proposal. Despite the slight majority, however, the proposal still failed as it came short of the 73 votes required to approve the affirmative action.

In their remarks, female lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly

bemoaned frustrations from their male counterparts whenever issues affecting women were brought up for consideration during constitution amendment exercises.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu said male politicians will continue to frustrate any move to give women a special place in government without the intervention of Mr President.

She appealed to Buhari to send an Executive Bill to that effect and persuade the leadership of the National Assembly to pass it.

Also, speaking, the Deputy Chief Whip, of the House of Representatives, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, said everything must be done to guarantee the place of women in politics.

She said, "There are still too many obstacles restricting women in Nigeria. This is more prevalent and damaging in politics and governance. We keep women from participating in governance. The society suffers because of this. It often feels as if our best days are behind us. I wholeheartedly support women's participation in politics. I support and endorse moves to help women in government."

The significant impact on governance and nation-building, made by some women in Nigeria can never be overemphasized. For instance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one the eminent women in the global space. Okonjo-Iweala who served the nation as Finance Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, is now the first female and the first African Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Also Kamala Harris made history as the first female Vice President of the United States of America.

Some women who've made their mark in leadership

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The 66-year-old is the first woman, and the first African, to occupy the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She studied at Harvard 1973-76 and earned a PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981. Spent 25 years at the World Bank, rising to the No.2 position as managing director (2007-11)

During her 25 years at the World Bank, she is credited with spearheading several initiatives to assist low-income countries, in particular raising nearly $50bn in 2010 from donors for the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's fund for the poorest countries.

But it is her reform agenda in Nigeria in which she takes real pride - especially the two times she served as the country's finance minister under Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.

One of her greatest achievements was leading a team which negotiated a whopping $18bn debt write-off in 2005 for the country, helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign debt rating.

The country's debts had dated back to the early 1980s, and had ballooned to more than $35bn due to penalties and late fees during the 1990s.

Her economic reforms had a far-reaching impact and saved Nigeria at a critical period, according to prominent Nigerian economist, Bismarck Rewane.

This included de-linking the budget from the oil price, allowing the country to save money in a special account when oil prices were high.

Josephine Anenih

Josephine Anenih born in 1948 was appointed Nigerian minister of Women Affairs on 6 April 2010, when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan announced his new cabinet.

She was the chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers from 1994 to 2000, and was the first National Woman Leader of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) from 1999 to 2005. In April 2002, she said that implementation of the Sharia legal system in Kano State had ensured the promotion of women's rights as dictated by Islam.

She co-founded the Women Foundation Nigeria, an organization to help Nigerian women exchange views on global women's issues and to help empower women in politics. She is a member of the Gender Electoral and Constitutional Memoranda Committee, which aims to incorporate women's perspectives in Nigeria's Electoral Laws and reforms.

Florence Ita Giwa

Ita Giwa born in 1946 is a Nigerian politician, who was the Senator for the Cross River South Senatorial District of Cross River State.

Ita-Giwa joined politics and emerged as NRC chairman for Delta State. Thereafter, she was elected a member of the federal House of Representatives (1992-93) and was a member of the committee on devolution of power constituent assembly 1994-95.

She became involved in Bakassi affairs, and earned the nickname "Mama Bakassi". Ita-Giwa was elected Senator for the Cross River South constituency in April 1999 and was appointed to committees on Rules and Procedures, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Women, Niger Delta and Drug & Narcotics.

After leaving the senate in 2003, she joined the People's Democratic Party PDP, and became President Olusegun Obasanjo's Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters. In May 2010, there were rumors that funds were missing from the account of the Bakassi Resettlement Committee, chaired by Ita-Giwa, who asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the matter. Ita Giwa has worked against human trafficking and sex slavery.

Oby Ezekwesili

Ezekwesili is a Public Analyst/Senior Economic Advisor, Nigerian chartered accountant from Anambra state.

She was a co-founder of Transparency International, serving as one of the pioneer directors of the global anti-corruption body based in Berlin, Germany. She served as Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and later as Federal Minister of Education during the second-term presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. Subsequently, she served as the Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division from May 2007 to May 2012, later replaced by Makhtar Diop.

In March 2014, she delivered a keynote speech at the national summit of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the leading opposition party in Nigeria. She criticized the many cross-carpeting governors and urged the party to have "a conversation deeper than how you're going to chase (the ruling) PDP out of power".

In the aftermath of the nearly 300 mainly Christian girls were abducted from Chibok by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Oby used the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) advocacy group to draw global attention to the plight of all persons who have been abducted by terrorists from Nigeria's war ravaged northeast region.

Aisha Yesufu

Yesufu, the hijab wearing revolutionary, is a Nigerian socio-political activist, and co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls Movement, an advocacy group that brings attention to the abduction of over 200 girls, from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, on 14 April 2014, by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

Yesufu was among the women protestors at Nigeria's National Assembly, in the nation's capital, Abuja, on 30 April 2014.

Yesufu has also been at the forefront of the End SARS movement, which draws attention to the excesses of a controversial police unit in the Nigeria Police Force, called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). She said she would not leave the fight against End SARS protest in Nigeria for her children.

Aisha Halilu Buhari

Aisha is the First Lady of Nigeria and wife of the current President Muhammadu Buhari, who assumed office on 29 May 2015.

Aisha Buhari is a vocal advocate of women's rights and children rights, and this was a focal point during her campaign for her husband's election in 2015. Aisha has, on several occasions, emphasized the need for young girls to get primary and secondary school education before getting married, saying that she believes no girl should get married before the age of 17.

In May 2015, on the sidelines of the Global Women Conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she stressed the need for Nigerian laws that will protect the women from forced early marriages, sex trafficking and other issues Nigerian girls and women contend with. Aisha raised concerns on child sexual abuse in Nigeria, sex trafficking and the need for legislation against early marriage.

On 12 June 2015, Aisha Buhari met with some mothers of the abducted Chibok Girls on 14 April 2016, and donated proceeds from her book to parents of the Chibok girls, the Buni Yadi boys murdered in 2014, and children suffering from malnutrition.

In October 2016, Aisha Buhari said that she would not back her husband in the next election unless he got a grip on his government. He responded that she belonged in his kitchen, saying "I don't know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room."

Aisha Buhari surprised Nigerians when she made it known that her role as the wife of the president of Nigeria will be limited to whatever is constitutionally recognized, as she promised not to overstep.

Pauline Kedem Tallen

Tellen is a politician and currently serving as Women Affairs Minister. She was appointed in 2019 by President Muhammad Buhari after turning down ministerial nomination in 2015 on the grounds that she was not consulted prior to the announcement of the appointment and that she would not accept the offer for equal distribution of power among the three senatorial districts of her native state of plateau because she is from same local government as Governor Simon Lalong.

In 1999, she was appointed Minister of state for science and technology, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a minister in that capacity by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Sadiya Umar Farouk

Farouk is a Nigerian politician and the current minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development. Appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019, Farouk is by age the youngest minister in the current federal cabinet.

Uche Lilian Ekwunife

Ekwunife is a Politician and member of the 9th Nigerian Senate representing the people of Anambra Central Senatorial District of Anambra State and she is one of the most active female senators in the House.

She was elected as a representative in 2007 for Anambra's Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia constituency. She was one of 11 women elected in 2007 who were re-elected in 2011 when the lower house was nearly 95% male. Other women elected included Juliet Akano, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, Abike Dabiri, Nkiru Onyejeocha, Nnena Elendu-Ukeje, Olajumoke Okoya-Thomas, Beni Lar, Khadija Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, Elizabeth Ogbaga and Peace Uzoamaka Nnaji.

In 2015, she was elected to the Nigerian Senate. She was one of the six women elected to the 8th National Assembly. The other women were Rose Okoji Oko, Stella Oduah, Fatimat Raji Rasaki, Oluremi Tinubu and Binta Garba. She won the 2019 senatorial elections representing Anambra central Senatorial District, Nigeria.

Betty Apiafi

Apiafi is a Nigerian Politician, economist, retired banker and educationist, who was elected to the Senate for Rivers West Senatorial District in 2019.

She has also served as a House of Representatives Member for Abua/Odual- Ahoada East[4][circular reference Federal Constituency of Rivers State since 2007.

Nkeiruka Chidubem Onyejocha

Nkeiruka is a ranking lawmaker in Nigeria's Federal House of Representatives. She represents Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency of Abia State.

Onyejocha is an active member of the Nigeria federal parliament and often contributes brilliantly to debates on critical national issues in the house. She has sponsored several bills and moved motions that have improved the lives of ordinary citizens and help safeguard their rights.

In 2017 she sponsored a bill that makes emergency treatment of victims of gunshot obligatory and compulsory for hospitals without demanding or delaying treatment to first obtain police reports before commencing treatment in emergency situations.

Onyejocha was first elected in 2007 on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP then Nigeria's ruling party. She defected to All Progressives Congress, APC in 2018 after coming under intense pressure from her former party leaders to drop her ambition for a return ticket to the house. In 2019, she won her re-election bid for a fourth term in the Nigeria's Green Chamber. She is one of the longest serving members of the house.

In 2019, Onyejocha contested for the position of speaker of the male dominated Federal House of Representatives against Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State nominated for the position by their party - All Progressives Congress, APC. Onyejocha major campaign issue was to zone speakership position to her region - south-east of Nigeria for balanced distribution of key federal powers among the six geo-political zones of the country. But she stepped down less than 24 hours to the election. She's currently the deputy chief whip of the House.

Aishatu Jibril Dukku

Dukku is a politician from Gombe state. She served as Federal Minister of State for Education during the presidency of the late President Umaru Musa Yar' Adua. Since then, she served as a parliamentarian in the National Assembly. She is currently an Honourable Member of Nigerian House of Representatives representing Dukku and Nafada Federal constituency, Gombe State.

She chaired the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters and Political Parties Affairs. Aishatu focuses her legislative interest on the education of the girl child, women and youth empowerment, and poverty alleviation and skills acquisition. She is committed to the establishment of schools, skills acquisition centres, scholarship programs for the youth and other similar projects.

Tolulope Akande-Sadipe

Sadipe is a politician from Oyo State, Nigeria, who represents Oluyole Local Government Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. She is the chairman of the House Committee on Diaspora.

QUOTE 1

A research carried out by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in 2017-18 reveals a declining fortune for women in position of governance. "Following the 2015 election, 9.8 percent of councillors and 3.6 percent chairpersons were female, down from 12.5 percent and 3.9 percent in 2011 and 10.2 percent and 9.9 percent in 2007 respectively. In the national parliament in 2015, 5.7 percent of seats were occupied by women. The Independent National Electoral Commission disclosed that only 62 women out of the 2,970 who contested for different political offices in the 2019 general election were elected. A breakdown of the figure showed that while only seven women were elected into the Senate during the 2019 elections, the House of Representatives has 11 women. Four women were elected as deputy governors, 40 women were elected into the 36 state Houses of Assembly

QUOTE 2

In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35% affirmative action and sought for a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively. The National Policy of Women that was adopted in 2000 reserved 30 percent for women under the affirmative action guidelines. In 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan administration's cabinet had women occupying about 33 percent of the positions and there were calls for him to make it up to 35 percent as obtainable in some African countries. One of the promises of the President Muhammadu Buhari during his presidential campaign was to make his cabinet gender inclusive. He boldly told Nigerians that women will make up 35 percent of his cabinet as part of his commitment to take the country to the 'Next Level'.

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