#YNaijaEssays: Where are the women in Nigerian politics?

There is no easy way to say this, the reality of present-day Nigeria is this; there are only a handful of women in policy-making positions today, and a good percentage of those women have their positions and independence compromised by their affiliation to several high powered men within the Nigerian political sphere. The future of “Women in Politics” looks awfully dim. However, as predicted by resource-based models of political participation, a significant increase in women’s access to education and an increase in the involvement of women in professional and business environments have invariably led to increasing rates of women entering into the political sphere and wielding significant political influence either as elected officials or lay citizenry.

The British Council Gender in Nigeria report (2012) said that the participation of women in governance and politics is of strategic importance not only for women empowerment but because it has wider benefits and impact in the larger society. Traditionally sidelined demographics are ably represented when they have more people in the circles of decision making.

Nigeria has made several efforts to ensure the participation of women who are sometimes described as ‘others’ to participate in governance issues through the adoption and creation of some institutions that will catalyze the full participation of women in governance. However, the question remains: “Are these institutions and agencies really and fully implementing the charters and treaties to its convincing conclusion?”

In the elective positions in Nigeria since 1999, no gain arguing that women have not attained 10 percent representation. In 2011, Sarah Jubril, the only woman that contested for the post of the president in Nigeria under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) did not survive the primary election – she had only one vote, her own obviously.

We have a gender exclusive system in our governance process, where women cannot make concrete decisions as they are excluded in the decision-making process. We have yet to implement to its fullest the charters and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory. This problem is better imagined than witnessed in rural areas, where culture and tradition has its own effect in the participation of women in governance. Individual participation and involvement in governance to make a difference is more or less seen as an abnormality.

For clarity, out of 109 members in the Nigerian Senate, women were 7 in 1999, 4 in 2003, 9 in 2007, 7 in 2011, 7 in 2015. The female senators in this current senatorial regime are Stella Oduah (Anambra North), Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), Rose Oko (Cross River North) and Fatimat Raji-Rasaki (Ekiti Central). Others are Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), Binta Garba (Adamawa North) and Monsurat Jumoke Sunmonu (Oyo Central).

Nothing significant can be said of Stella Oduah, apart from the fact that she is a former Minister of Aviation; deployed on July 4, 2011, but was, however, relieved of her duties as Minister of Aviation on February 12, 2014 due to allegations of corruption.

On February 23, 2017, it was reported that the accounts of four companies traced to her were frozen over alleged indebtedness of $16.4 million and N100.4 million by the Federal High Court in Lagos. She has been involved in numerous controversies ranging from highly inflated purchase of BMW bullet-proof cars without following due process, as well as allegations that she lied about how she obtained an MBA degree from St Paul’s College, Lawrenceville, Virginia, USA.

Uche Ekwunife, who had a career in banking, contested for a seat in the Senate twice and eventually won the third time when she switched to another political party. She was later ousted by the Court of Appeal in Enugu on December 6, 2015, and her seat declared vacant.

A former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh, insisted that he won the then March 28, 2015, Anambra Central Senatorial election and that Ekwunife, only used security agents to rig the election in her favour.

Ekwunife was unable to get her former political parties backing for the bye-election for her former seat and has supposedly remained “bitter”, according to Umeh.

Abiodun Christine Olujimi, the Deputy Minority Whip, started out as a journalist, working with the Nigerian Tribune, Nigerian Posts and Telecommunication, Nigerian Television Authority, and DBN Television. But that was not her desired career.

She joined her husband in politics in 1997 as the National Publicity Secretary of the now extinct National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN).

In 2002, she joined the PDP, attaining several political heights in Ekiti, contesting for the Senatorial seat in 2015 and won.

The only remarkable ‘legislation’ she is known for is a slap she received from a National Assembly staff. And maybe when she accused President Muhammadu Buhari of losing grip over his government. Olujimi, accused a certain ‘cabal’ of running the Buhari administration.

Out of all these female Senators, the one every politically-inclined Nigerian will always mention is Oluremi Tinubu – the wife of the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Oluremi became the First Lady of Lagos when her husband was elected governor. We might sleep on the argument that her husband’s influence in Nigeria’s political space and not her resilience led to her victory as the senator representing Central Senatorial seat in 2011; because she was not obviously ‘installed’.

Oluremi has, however, made sure that while her position might be the source of dissent, her achievements aren’t. She instituted an Annual Spelling Bee competition to raise educational standards; an Alternative High School for Girls to help young girls who dropped out of school due to early pregnancy, to complete their high school education, among others.

Some of her sponsored bills include: to provide Social Security for Elderly Citizens; seek the Amendment of the Labour Act, to enhance employment opportunities for women, but all how have these upset the status quo?

Rose Oko, described by Leadership Newspaper, as the Lioness of Cross River North, transitioned into politics in 1999 when she helped introduce the PDP to Cross River. In 2007, she ran as a gubernatorial candidate for Cross River but lost to the PDP candidate. In the same year, she re-enlisted as a member of the PDP and in the 2011 democratic elections contested to represent her constituency in the Federal House of Representatives and won. And unless there is a counter-argument, Oko is also a bench warmer in the red chamber.

POLITICS IS A THING WOMEN ONLY MANAGE WITH BRUTE FORCE

Nigeria’s nascent democracy (as many are quick to cite) is 19 years old and is yet to produce a Female President or Vice President. Apart from a few women who have made attempts to blaze the trail, not much can be said of a female presidential candidate as a serious contender (at least to the citizenry) in any of the five election circles that the country has experienced since 1999.

Sarah Jibril was Nigeria’s first and most popular female presidential candidate both at the primaries and main elections. She is also the only woman to run for the presidency in the Third and Fourth Republics. Although Jibril’s quest for public office began in 1983, when she contested to be a senator in Kwara, after which she served as Commissioner for Social Development, Youth and Sport in her home state as well as various sporting positions within and outside the state, she has however contested to be president on four separate occasions. Having contested to be president in the 1992 Presidential Primaries of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), where she placed fourth but won the presidential nomination for Kwara. In what is deemed as her most daring attempt in 4 elections, she became a member of the Progressive Action Congress in 2003, making her the first woman to represent a registered party and be a presidential candidate, she polled 157,560 votes to emerge 6th in the race.

She returned to the PDP to vie for the party’s ticket, where she lost in the 2007 and most notably the 2011 primary elections securing a single vote (a vote she apparently casted for herself at the primary election).

Mrs. Jubril while reflecting on the single vote avowed that the single vote will continue to haunt the conscience of the womenfolk and the entire nation. She is quoted to have said “That vote was of me, by me and for me. That vote has been seriously pricking the conscience of women, Nigerians, PDP Board of Trustees, and the political class. I thank God for not allowing any other vote to cause confusion. I sympathise with the ignorance of the women which is till now affecting the conscience of women in Nigeria.”

She was subsequently appointed Special Adviser on Ethics and Values to the President.

Mojisola Adekunle-Obasanjo, a retired Major of the Nigerian army founded the Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN) in 1998 and ran against her ex-husband, President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 under her party – the MMN, sealing her a place in history among the first women to be on the ballot in a Presidential election in Nigeria. Despite her coming least based on the results released (20th of 20 candidates), she went on to run a second time as the only female contender for the 2007 presidential elections.

Mojisola once more emerged as the candidate (of the 18 candidates of parties that ran) with the least votes, polling a paltry 4,309 votes. She died after a brief illness in June 2009 in Lagos.

Then there is of course, Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya. Being the only woman to have declared interest in running for the presidency with no prior affiliations to a major political party. Professor Sonaiya started her political sojourn in 2010 when she voluntarily retired from her position as Professor of French Language and Applied Linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and subsequently became the National Public Relations Officer of KOWA party, the same party she secured her presidential nomination in 2015. While she put up a good spirit and effort during the electioneering campaigns, she performed poorly at the main election, polling 13,076 votes to finish 12th of the 14 candidates that ran for the office.

Remi Sonaiya’s case appears peculiar owing to what reformers term as a welcomed fresh voice to the polity especially because she doesn’t represent the typical politician and like other women, she decries the exclusion of women from the development drive in Nigeria with a belief that not only have women not done enough of cheerleading, the process should not be left to men in an intervention she says “is premised on the lack of substantial results from the men-dominated policy sector.”

Having declared intention to run in the 2019 polls, she is likely to retain the presidential nomination of KOWA party (a party that acts as a sounding board for disgruntled citizens and has been informally dubbed “the party of the youth” or “the social media party”) and improve on her 2015 performance by garnering the support of more women especially with the huge cry for a credible alternative to the dominant parties.

Although many believe that Sonaiya who has been a loud advocate for drastic change and the radical overhaul of the country’s socio-political culture indeed has a lot to offer because she is altruistic and loves the country, a lesson or two from Ayisha Osori’s book “Love Does Not Win Elections” comes to mind.

Ayisha Osori is a Nigerian lawyer and journalist who in 2014 left the PDP for the APC in an attempt to contest the Federal House of Representatives seat for the AMAC/Bwari constituency in Abuja.

In general, we all await to see what women will do differently to make a statement in 2019 besides relying on the impression that they should be given a chance to promote gender equality.

A SAVVIER GENERATION MIGHT BE RISING

It has been reported that during Nigeria’s 2015 general elections, “only 11 percent were youth candidates for the Senate, 10 percent for governorship, 18 percent for the House of Representatives, 29 percent for the State Houses of Assembly election, with almost half of that number not qualified to run for the election based on the age criteria in the Constitution.” This resulted in a huge clamour for youth representation at all levels in our national politics. The Not Too Young To Run movement took their campaign to the streets, state houses of Assembly and Aso Rock pressuring the government to reevaluate the age stipulations for public office in the Nigerian constitution and rewriting it to allow younger people contest. They succeeded in getting twenty-four out of thirty-six states to pass the bill, thereby meeting the requirement of a two-third majority for a constitutional amendment.

But the Not Too Young To Run movement doesn’t exactly directly address the bias against women in politics. According to the Global Gender Gap index data of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Nigeria ranked 135th out of 144 countries. According to Business day online analysis, “the index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial and parliamentary positions. Based on the data, Nigeria declined to 0.052 in 2017, from 0.097 in 2016, representing a 46.4 percent drop.” 0.00 means imparity and 1.00 means parity.

At a recent seminar organised by the European Union, Senator Binta Garba representing Adamawa North Constituency said “I do not encourage applause when I am introduced as the only female senator from the 19 Northern States. Having only one woman from 57 elected legislators in an entire region is nothing to applaud.”

However, while the bulk of Nigeria’s youth bemoan the absence of youth inclusion and female participation in politics, Rinsola Abiola, Benedicta Ndi Kato and Maryam Laushi are a few women who’ve opted to distinguish themselves from the constituency of armchair critics and actually change the narrative.

Maryam Luashi is a 27-year-old from Gombi, Adamawa who holds forth as the National Publicity Secretary of the Modern Democratic Party, the only political party led by a twenty-seven-year-old – Prince Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi. She is a pioneer member of the Not Too Young To Run group and a youth and gender activist.

Rinsola Abiola is the daughter of the popular Nigerian politician Moshood Kashimawa Olawale Abiola. You could argue that Rinsola’s political path was pretty much laid out for her, but Rinsola would beg to differ. “Her greatest aspiration”, she says, “is to be part of the people who gave their all to make Nigeria a better place”. Driven by “justice, honesty, reciprocity” and passionate about youth and female inclusion in politics, Rinsola’s desire to practice what she preaches was all the push she needed to set out into politics.

In 2013, she served as the Public Relations Officer for the APC Youth Forum, a youth support group of the APC. She is the youngest member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Board of Trustees, the co-founder and Acting President of the APC Young Women’s Forum and works as a legislative assistant to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. Using her platforms on social media, Rinsola seizes every opportunity to urge Nigerians to discard old-age patriarchal notions of what women should do and be in this century.

Benedicta Ndi Kato is a member of the PDP, an activist, the Coordinator of Public Communication of the Middle Belt Forum, a Board Member of Young Women In Politics Forum Nigeria and a social worker.

Taking advantage of the power of social media, Benedicta garnered massive influence during the Southern Kaduna crisis that saw villages being wiped out by herdsmen. An indigene of Kaduna, Ndi Kato was quite vocal on Twitter about the atrocities taking place, and soon enough scored a couple of television appearances to shed more light on the controversy.

However, minority troubles are not Benedicta’s only passion. The 28-year-old woman is also driven by youth (especially female youth) in politics. With the passage of the Not Too Young To Run bill in 24 states, Benedicta has finally thrown her hat into the ring.

On the 20th of February, Benedicta declared her intention to run for office. Under the banner of the PDP. She will be seeking a seat in the Kaduna State House of Assembly, to represent Jema’a Constituency. She’s pretty much running her campaign on social media and soliciting donations online.

Through their outreaches, public appearances, and yes, Twitter rants, these young women give hope that the tide will turn for women in Nigeria.

SO WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR WOMEN IN POLITICS?

Even though women do not have the same opportunities as men in the Nigerian political space, some of those who held positions have done exceptionally well. Statistics show that women’s overall political representation and participation in government is less than 7%. Some women have distinguished themselves, proving that when given the opportunity women will excel in positions of power. Nigeria’s first female Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an example of such excellence.

As the Minister of Finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Okonjo-Iweala led negotiations that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt to the Paris Club of Creditors. A debt of $18 billion was also cancelled due to the expert negotiations of Iweala’s team. In 2003, she created “The Excess Crude Account”, where revenues above the benchmark oil price were saved. The creation of the account helped reduce macroeconomic volatility.

Her efforts to ensure transparency in governance led to the introduction of many practices still being used by the government of the day. As doubts over the monthly allocations to states increased, Okonjo-Iweala introduced the publishing of each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government in newspapers. The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which she created with the support of the World Bank and the IMF, eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the Nigerian government about $1.25 billion as at 2014. Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poors in 2006.

When in 2011 she was appointed Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Nigerians were confident about economic stability and they were not wrong. She created the Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme (YouWIN) which supported entrepreneurs and created thousands of jobs. The programme was evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective programmes of its kind globally. After 24 years, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) carried out a rebasing exercise, after which Nigeria emerged as the largest economy in Africa.

Her stellar performances under both governments opened doors for international appointments. After her first term as Minister, she returned to the World Bank as a Managing Director in December 2007. In September 2015, she was appointed at Lazard as Senior Advisor and in January 2016 she was appointed Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

Another woman who succeeded and left an indelible footprint in the Nigerian polity is Obiageli Ezekwesili. Ezekwesili held the position of Pioneer head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, where she earned the nickname “Madam Due Process”. She led a team to sanitise public procurement or contracting at the Federal level in Nigeria.S he was known for always insisting that everything goes through due process. As Minister of Solid Minerals, Ezekwesili helped Nigeria gain the status of a credible mining investment destination. She also opened the sector to private participation.

As education minister, Ezekwesili introduced public-private partnership models for education service delivery and also the Innovation and Vocational Enterprise Institutions initiatives. Her programme “Adopt-A-School” led to massive philanthropy from corporations, community groups and individuals. She was announced as Vice-President for the Africa Region for the World Bank starting on 1 May 2007. Ezekwesili has also been at the forefront for the rescue of the kidnapped Chibok girls through the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Former Minister of Environment, Amina J. Mohammed was one of the few performing in the Buhari administration before leaving for the United Nations. Mohammed brought about the unprecedented 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She was also Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals, a position she held for six years while serving three Presidents.

Mohammed’s performance earned her a recall to the United Nations as Deputy Secretary-General, after previously serving as the Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

One of the most outstanding public office holders in the history of the country is Professor Dora Akunyili. Akunyili was appointed the Director-General of the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), at a time when the distribution of fake and substandard drugs were at its peak. Many Nigerians died as a result of killer drugs in circulation. In 2001 when she was appointed DG, the circulation of substandard drugs reduced to the barest minimum. Her success with the agency was recognised globally, as foreign agencies started trooping to the country to understudy NAFDAC.

In 2008, she became the Minister of Information and Communications and anchored the Re-branding Nigeria Project driven by the slogan, Nigeria Good People, Great Nation. The project was aimed at addressing Nigeria’s negative image both at home and abroad. She later contested for a seat in the Senate but was defeated at the elections. She is reported to have the highest number of awards by any Nigerian, both living or dead.

These women are a proof that Nigeria needs more female representation in its political circle, who should be given equal opportunities as men.

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