Non-involvement of women in democratic governance has been a recurrent phenomena in the historical trajectories of the political entity called Nigeria despite their numerical advantage and the massive participation in the electoral process. BLESSING BATURE writes on the need for a change.
As 2019 general election approaches, the need for an appraisal of the role of women in governance and decision-making processes becomes imperative, making recourse to the historical trajectories of the entity called Nigeria. It can be decently argued that the non-involvement of women in public decision-making in contemporary Nigeria has its roots in the colonial experience which arguably secluded women and disempowered them, thereby overturning a feat already achieved in the pre-colonial days.
Therefore, to speak of emancipation is to admit that some forms of disempowerment, deprivation, seclusion and marginalization have been dominantly experienced. For instance, women founded cities, led migrations and even conquered kingdoms, prominent of which was the Abia women riot of 1929, where they organised a massive revolt against the British-led colonial government over women inclusion in politics and interestingly despite the fact that men did not give them any support, they won.
Of course, in the organisation of various traditional governments in the pre-colonial era, women held powerful positions and thus had voice in the political life of their societies. In the Yoruba system of government for instance, the Iyalode, a title of the leader of women groups, was a member of Council of State down to 1914.
Women have actually proved their strength and competence in the society in all spheres even in male dominated professions but women involvement in public decision making processes in the emergent Fourth Republic in Nigeria has been characterized by low representation. Instructively, women have particularly demanded the implementation of affirmative actions towards the integration of at least 35% of women in all elective positions and in fulfillment of United Nations agenda for gender mainstreaming Women political empowerment and development as enshrined in Nigeria’s National Gender Policy should be adopted. It is useful to mention that globally, women representation has increased from 13% to 18% (Igbuzor, 2014:77).
The 2006 census puts Nigerian women at about half the population of the entire country (Channels TV, 2012 August 2). Despite this numerical advantage and the massive participation in voting, less than 20% of political offices are held by women. For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Nigerian situations seem to defy the political theory that political power derives from political participation because women participate fully in elections in Nigeria but without full representation , rather they have about the lowest representation of 5.9% in the national legislature when compared to most other African countries.
For example, Uganda has 34.6%, South Africa (43.2%), Ethiopia (27.7%), Cameroun (20%), Niger (12.3%) and DR Congo (8.0%) (Daily Times, May 18, 2012). For Nigeria women, particularly in areas of political representation in governance the percentage is 7%, the lowest in the world (Vanguard Newspaper, January 21, 2013). Women representation in Nigeria politics has, over the years, been less than encouraging. This poses a challenge and narrows the chances of getting more women in decision-making structures.
With this development, experts and gender activists have continuously advocated the active participation of women in governance for the good of society. The result of the 2015 general elections in the country has however, not shown improved women representation in elective positions in the country. It should be noted that out of the fourteen candidates that contested for the seat of the president, the only woman amongst the contenders came out in the twelveth position. Just as men have always dominated the National Assembly, the 2015 election result did not present a different picture in the number of women who represent their constituencies .
However, many Nigerians saw in the audacious candidacy the possibility of real change and a clear departure from what the country experienced so far as a nation.
By any standard, however, women participate in politics as voters, party supporters and usually attend political rallies in large number. Some even run for top political offices (the example of Sarah Jibril and Professor Oluremi Sonaya of the KOWA Party who contested for the office of President with Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari respectively and Hon. Mulikat who unsuccessfully (albeit robustly) vied for the seat of Speaker, House of representative is apt in direction.
The gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Taraba state, Aisha Jumai Al-Hassan, would have made history in the 2015 gubernatorial election as the first woman to scale the hurdles of electioneering campaign and break the jinx that has befuddled Nigerian women over the years from emerging successful at the polls as governors, but for the outcome of the election which was not in her favour in the gubernatorial election.
“Mama Taraba” as she is fondly called, almost made it but then, the near success syndrome that has been the lot of many Nigerian women in politics cut short her joy. Her expectations were high that she would emerge successful considering the direction of some results earlier reeled out by INEC. But suddenly, the result of the election was declared inconclusive and then, a re-run that finally dashed her hope when the PDP candidate was declared winner.
The national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, in a statement during the International Women’s Day, reinvigorated the hope of women in elective positions when he said: “I see a country where women participate in the highest level of politics, since we have failed as men over the years in our respective governance. One day, we shall have a woman as President, I apologise to women on behalf of men who had been saddled with state responsibility over the years and failed to deliver on their mandates.”
Secondus charged women to ensure that only the ‘people’s government’ get into power in the 2019 general elections.
The president of National Council for Women Societies (NCWS), Mrs. Gloria Shoda, has always been in active gear to infuse women into elective offices in the country, saying the struggle for women emancipation must continue even as she urges women to take advantage of the party’s constitution provision that makes interest form for any elective office free for women.
“Women should be courageous enough to contest for any elective office ranging from counsellorship to presidency.” Shoda added that it is not going to be business as usual, Nigerian women would vote only for gender-friendly political parties in the 2019 elections. “Women will be mobilised to vote only for parties that have made concrete effort to allow women occupy strategic positions in their party structure, elective offices and political appointment”.
Shoda who spoke during a summit which themed: “Increasing Women Participation in Politics and Democratic Governance in Nigeria,’’ said they will seek to address the continued marginalisation and poor representation of women. She said that the council demands for a better representation of women in the Nigeria democratic space are as follows: “Politicians and political parties that seek the votes of women in the upcoming elections should begin their commitment through women empowerment.
“We are asking that all elective office holders and political office holders should as a matter of urgency restructure their cabinets to allow for increased women representation.
“All political parties, relevant government agencies and international donors should partner with the Council to raise a Trust Fund to support women interested in contesting for elective office in forthcoming elections,’’ she said.
Shoda also called on all past and present female political office holders and elected representatives to encourage female aspirants irrespective of their political parties by providing professional mentorship, endorsement and mobilisation.
Adding that NCWS in conjunction with Reclaim Godly Values Foundation and other relevant agencies would create an advocacy, information and advice center across the country to provide civic education to enlighten women on their rights as it relates to voter education, the outcome of 2015 general elections in Nigeria and the appointments that followed into top government positions showed a sharp decline in the performance of women in the electoral process.
“This is very troubling given the general swell and campaign for popular participation by women that preceded the election.
“Indeed the decline in the number of elected female politicians represented a significant manifestation of female political disempowerment,’’ she said.
Shoda said that since the return of democracy, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained at 6.7 per cent in elective and appointed positions, this was below the Global average of 22.5 per cent, Africa regional average of 23.4 per cent and West Africa Regional average of 15 per cent.
Shoda said that of the 36 ministerial appointments by the present administration, only six are women, representing 16.7 per cent.
She said that in the National Assembly, women constitute 5.6 per cent of members of the House of Representatives and 6.5 per cent of the Senate.
This, Shoda said was clearly unacceptable and called for the need for an urgent improvement in women participation in electoral processes.