The 2019 elections revealed a skewed paradigm shift towards the emergence of women in elective positions. Curiously, there was a decline in women participation prior to the 2015 elections and most recently during the 2019 general elections. The country witnessed the lowest number of women in elective positions.
Reports also revealed that a total number of 2,970 women ran for various elective positions in the recently concluded elections, while only 57 were elected, representing three per cent of the total candidates who vied for various offices. This has been blamed on a number of factors, which include socio- cultural and religious limitations, high cost of expression of interest and nomination forms, increased violence and militarisation of the political process, money politics (vote buying and selling), mandate substitution and vote substitution among several others.
This, unfortunately, points towards a more widening gender gap as against the inclusive and equal gender advocacy of pro-democracy groups. We recall that the 8th National Assembly also recorded a low turnout as only 29 women out of a total number of 469 members made it to the Assembly, representing only six per cent.
Between 1999 and 2011, the country witnessed a slight progression in the number of elected women legislators, but after the 2015 general elections, there was a drop in these numbers. Available records by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) revealed that less than 100 women had ever won elective seats in Nigeria’s parliament, as a breakdown reveals 20 women in the House of Representatives in 2015, 24 in 2011, 24 in 2007, 17 in 2003 and 12 in 1999. Yet ,it goes further to show a record of seven women in 2015 Senate, seven in 2011, nine in 2007, three in 2003 and three in 1999.
In IPU’s words, the number of women who ran for various offices was very high, the highest in the history of our democracy. However, from the high cost of nomination forms, even though some parties gave discounts, the discount was abysmal. So a lot of women could not afford the cost of the nomination and expression of interests’ forms.
It is pertinent to note that the national gender policy seeks 35 per cent women representation. The policy also directs the National Assembly to hold the executive branch to account to ensure that in the appointive positions, 35 per cent affirmative action does hold. What this entails is that the gender equal opportunity Bill must be passed by the incoming 9th Assembly.
While many have argued that Nigerian women should not expect to be given appointments on a platter, rather they should strive like their male counterparts and win, we make bold to argue that it is not as if these women cannot match their male counterparts. But we are concerned that the emotional overflow of the political process that leads to violence which by nature the womenfolk are averse to often draws them back.
This newspaper is convinced that if Nigerian women were to be exposed to a level playing field as is the case in other civilized climes and even in some African countries, such as Rwanda, they can hold their own, compete and emerge victorious.
In the prevailing circumstance, it is important that President Muhammadu Buhari sees the rationale in keeping to his campaign promise made while hosting APC youths and women at the peak of the electioneering. These promises include that more women and youths will be accommodated in his second term. This will not only ensure women’s participation in the entire process but will go a long way towards ensuring that Nigeria is perceived as truly committed to ensuring that women are carried along in the nation’s scheme of things. However, in our opinion, it will be counterproductive to the cause the women are pursuing if all they do is hanker for opportunities when some of them ought to summon the courage to take the bull by the horn. In the immediate pre and post-independence Nigerian politics, women were not scared off so easily.
This, in our considered opinion, is achievable in the present context. While it may appear a bit too presumptuous to call for a fair playing ground for Nigerian women, given the fact that their male counterparts cherish the advantages they have been enjoying and will be reluctant to let go, there is no doubt that the present administration can achieve the 35 per cent affirmative action by making deliberate effort to appoint more women into its cabinet and agencies of government.
It is on this premise that we suggest that the womenfolk must endeavour to put their right foot forward and reach out for what is theirs without negotiation. With all the sentiments around affirmative action, it is still a fact that power is not served while you wait.
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