Thursday, November 30News That Matters

Nigeria election: Women denounce poor political representation

Half of Nigeria’s population are women, but only 4 percent were elected in the 2019 election. Will the 2023 election be any different?

Women party members and officials take the stage to speak at a rally of the ruling All Progressives Congress
Women party members and officials take the stage to speak at a rally of the ruling All Progressives Congress for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria on Feb. 13, 2019. [Ben Curtis/AP Photo]

Nigeria’s Ago-Iwoye – On June 8, 2022, the All Progressives Congress’s presidential primaries were broadcast to millions of Nigerians who were glued to their phones, televisions, and other gadgets (APC).

Then, something took place. The lone female candidate, Uju Ken Ohanenye, dropped out of the race in favor of Bola Tinubu, the ultimate victor and party national head.

The lawyer and businessman, who had previously warned media that “the touch of a woman is absent in the governance of this country,” announced on national television, “I have decided to move aside for the lifesaver who is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”

For some Nigerians, it represented a setback for women equality in the nation’s politics while also serving as a timely reminder of the numerous

According to Antoinette Lecky, a media personality based in Lagos and a former projects lead at ElectHER, a nonprofit organization working to increase the number of women in political leadership, “[Ohanenye] might have believed she was not going to win due to the financial and political limitations she would have to overcome.” “Yet, it offered her a chance to publicize herself as many people at the time were unaware of who she was.”

Women make up 50 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 210 million population. Since Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960, only one woman has held any of the top four positions in the country’s government, serving as speaker for five months in 2007. One of the lowest representation rates worldwide is found in Nigeria, where only 5% of federal parliamentarians are female.

And no woman has ever been elected governor.

Moreover, no woman has ever been chosen as governor.

Only one woman, Ojei Chichi of the Allied People’s Movement (APM), is running for president of Nigeria in the country’s February 25 presidential election. There is only one woman running for governor among the 36 states, and she is Aisha Binani of the APC from Adamawa.

Women’s political engagement in Nigeria, according to scholars and leaders of the civil society, falls short of international norms.

“There is … something sad about the idea that we haven’t had a woman governor in this country,” novelist Chimamanda Adichie said at a conference in January. “It’s wonderful that we are celebrating the possibility [of having one soon] but why has it taken so long?”

Data shows Nigerian women are barely represented in Nigerian politics [Al Jazeera]

An “ingrained patriarchal structure”

According to data from Lagos-based geopolitical risk advisory agency SBM Intelligence, only 1,524, or less than a 10th of the 15,336 candidates in the next presidential and legislative elections at the federal and state levels, are women.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a rise in the number of women serving in elected and appointed political positions, the world over. But that is not the case in Nigeria,” Leena Hoffmann, associate fellow, Africa Programme at London-based think tank Chatham House. “Cultural and societal beliefs have contributed to the poor representation of women in Nigerian politics, especially in Northern Nigeria.”

An “ingrained patriarchal structure” in Nigeria’s political landscape has led to “long-lasting layered institutionalised effects”, Lecky told Al Jazeera.

They’ve told us that women are not supposed to run for political offices so we have women who won’t dream of it. We are taught to be submissive and modest,” she said.

Experts say a motley of factors, ranging from cultural and financial hindrances to violence against women, have severely limited the ability of women to occupy many offices in the political space.

According to experts, a variety of circumstances, including violence against women and cultural and socioeconomic barriers, have severely restricted the capacity of women to hold various positions in the political sphere.

Unknown perpetrators murdered a female political figure in the northwest state of Kaduna in November. During the 2019 elections, nine incidents of violence against politically exposed women or women connected to politicians occurred.

Almost one-fifth of respondents in a survey done by the Lagos-based Stand to End Rape (STER) between October 2021 and April 2022 indicated they frequently exchange sexual favors in order to be active and direct participants in politics.

“Elections in Nigeria are monetised and transactional, and women are already socially disadvantaged considering that in Nigeria, the fastest way to be rich is to be in government,” Ayisha Osori, former head of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and author of Love Does Not Win Elections.

“If women are not in politics then they cannot raise money and if they cannot raise money, then they cannot be in politics,” Osori, who previously ran for federal parliament, added.

Bridging the gap

Several organizations, including OSIWA, ElectHER, and others, support female candidates for office by raising money and educating the public, and providing them with security.

Documentaries are used by The Agender35, an ElectHER initiative, to convey the tales of women’s political campaigns. Another one of its initiatives is a collaboration with the National Assembly to instruct young women on the procedures of being a member of parliament.

To assist women in locating emergency support services, STER has teamed up with Kasala, a mobile app for tracking and alerting in emergency situations.

Yet, in what is still a conservative society, more needs to be done as the major parties have not yet given significant tickets to women. Some advocate for the creation of gender-inclusive policies in the political parties and the parliament, with women participating in their creation.

While Nigeria’s lower house of parliament was debating constitutional amendment ideas in March 2022, it rejected three bills that would have favored women. One of the bills called for allocating 35 percent of parliamentary seats and 35 percent of positions in political party leadership to women.

The week after the rejection was announced by parliament, women-led protests in Lagos and at least three other states prompted it to reverse course within hours.

The legislation hasn’t been decided upon, but advocates claim that even if it were, there would still be much to be done to improve the status of Nigerian women.

We should all canvas for gender inclusion so everyone can have an equal and fair chance at representation,” said Lecky. “We need more communal change on how individuals feel about women’s participation.”


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