A down side of this unfolding election season is the fact that there will be poor women representation in the 10th National Assembly.
Just when many thought the 2019 experience was far from commendable, 2023, clearly, is way too deplorable with regards to having a gender diverse federal parliament.
The February 25 presidential and National Assembly polls saw the emergence of only three women senators-elect in the list released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 10th Senate.
An examination of the list of the female senators-elect showed that all of them are new members of the Red Chamber, meaning that all the currently serving female senators lost their reelection bids – all of that legislative experience gone.
In the House of Representatives, the number of females will be three less than the 13 members currently in the 9th House. Out of these 13, seven are reelected. Presently, the 9th federal Assembly has 13 females in the House and seven in the Senate.
Putting it in context, out of Parliament’s 469 seats, 109 Senators, and 360 members of the House of Representatives, women only occupy 21 seats.
The transition to the 4th republic in May 29, 1999 ushered in democracy and with it a new constitution, under which the current National Gender policy was promulgated.
This policy recommends that women be represented by at least 35 per cent in both elected and appointed public service positions. One of such key offices is the National Assembly.
But that has been abysmally far-fetched as a breakdown of women representation in the federal legislative show.
According to a report by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, the situation in Nigeria is indeed deplorable when compared with other climes.
The report revealed that In 1999, there were only three women in the Senate and 13 women in the House of Representatives.
In 2003, women in the Senate increased to four while in the House the number rose to 21. 2007 recorded the peak of women representation with nine in the Senate and 27 in the House.
By 2011, it dropped to seven in the Senate and 25 in the House. In 2015 it remained at seven in the Senate but dropped to 22 in the House. In 2019, the figure remained steady at seven in the Senate but dropped drastically to 10 in the House.
This is a far cry from what obtains in other African countries as the report showed. For instance, as of December 2018, in Ethiopia where the lower house has 547 seats, women got 212 seats, while in their upper chamber women occupy 49 out of the 153 seats.
In Uganda’s single house of 459 seats women have 160 seats. In Namibia, with a 104 capacity lower chamber, women occupy 48 of them, while in the upper chamber of the 42 seats, 10 are occupied by women.
But the situation in these countries didn’t come in isolation of a deliberate effort to ensure women representation.
In 1995, no African country had elected more than 30 per cent women to its single or lower houses, but by 2015, 12 countries elected more than 30 per cent women to such legislative houses; five elected more than 40 per cent; while one (Rwanda) elected more than 60 per cent, data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) reveal.
By 2019 the percentage of women representation in Africa surpasses those of some developed regions like North America, Europe and Asia. This was largely because some African governments introduced women quotas in the cabinet in addition to the introduction of elective quotas for women.
But Nigeria, reputedly the largest democracy in Africa by way of its population is lagging way behind in women inclusivity.
In the opinion of this newspaper, the place of women in national development cannot be overemphasised. It has since become a singsong among advocates and activists for decades. Yet nothing seems to be done by political stakeholders.
The situation in the National Assembly is reflective of how the parties fared in its inclusivity for women.
According to the list of candidates fielded by the 18 registered parties for elective offices in the 2023 general elections, as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, a total of 1,524 women are contesting in the polls.
All the 18 parties fielded presidential candidates and their running mates. Out of the 36 persons in this category, there was only one female contestant, Ojei Chichi, the presidential candidate of the Allied Peoples Movement.
For National Assembly membership, 1,101 candidates vied for the 109-seat Senate and 3,122 for the 360-seat House of Representatives, meaning that a total of 4,223 candidates contested 469 legislative positions.
Out of these, 3,875 were males and 381 females, including one for presidential, 92 for Senate and 288 for House.
Meanwhile, out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, five did not field any woman as a candidate for the Senate, while one state did not field any woman as a candidate for the House of Representatives. They are Kano, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara for the Senate; and Jigawa for the House.
At the state level, there are only 124 female governorship and deputy governorship candidates, out of the 837 candidates for the election holding on Saturday.
Also, only 1,019 women will participate in the state Houses of Assembly membership election, out of the 10,231 candidates.
While a lot has been said about how to shore up the numbers, it is regrettable that it has ended as mere rhetoric. Rather than increasing, the number of female politicians in elective offices has continued to dwindle, which is a source of worry for political watchers, who decry the situation and the consequences for policy formulation and development.
Many reasons have been adduced for the decreasing number of women in elective positions, particularly in states’ Houses of Assembly. They range from finance, cultural and religious beliefs that tend to keep women down.
If the level of development of a polity is also tied to the quality of inclusivity of women, then it might be argued that the Nigerian scenario would be in for a tough ride.