In the build-up of the 2019 general elections, there were fears that the number of women elected into public offices may not increase significantly.
The outcome of the elections justified the fears.
Analyses that were done prior to previous elections also predicted low representation for women, which were also justified by the results.
Since 1999 when Nigeria transitioned from military rule to democratic rule, women are yet to occupy up to 50 per cent of elective positions. This is despite the fact that the voting population of both men and women are almost equal.
One factor that was, however, consistent before, during and after the last general elections, is the clamour for better representation of women in the political space and public offices.
Following the outcome of the elections, there were hopes that the future will be better for women.
These hopes were dashed overtime by events ranging from ministerial appointments to appointments as heads of agencies and now the electoral process in the build-up of the Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections.
The elections which are scheduled to take place on September 19 and October 10 respectively, have witnessed very poor women representation in the entire process – from the different committees to the aspirants and final candidates.
It is the same scenario in the two major political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has since announced the dates for the elections and political parties as well as players involved, have begun preparations.
These preparations include the setting up of screening, appeal, campaign committees, among others.
With a major focus on the activities of the APC and the PDP so far, PREMIUM TIMES reviews the representation of women in the whole process.
Right from the first committees that were set up, the marginalisation of women was glaring. In fact, the 13-member caretaker committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari has 12 men and one woman.
Ahead of the Edo election: For the screening committee, the party appointed six men and one woman; while the appeal committee has five men and no woman. The national campaign council has 49 members of which three are women.
No fewer than six aspirants were screened for this election, including the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, before he defected to the PDP. All six aspirants were men. Three of the men were cleared and contested in the primaries after which Osagie Ize-Iyamu merged the candidate.
Ahead of the Ondo election: For the screening committee, nine men and two women were selected; while the appeal committee has eight men and one woman. The election committee has nine members, of which just two are women and the election appeal committee also has nine members comprising eight men and one woman.
12 aspirants were screened and cleared for the election including the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu. Of the 12, only one woman can be found.
The primary election is slated for July 20.
For the Edo elections: The party set up a screening committee comprising three men and two women; while the primary committee comprises four men and one woman.
The appeal committee has eight male members. At least four male aspirants indicated interest including the governor, Mr Obaseki. He became the flag bearer after other aspirants stepped down for him.
For Ondo elections: The screening committee comprises three men and two women; while the appeal committee consists of two men and a woman.
Nine male aspirants indicated interest in the governorship position. Of the nine, two were disqualified.
The composition of these committees shows PDP had a slightly better representation for women that the APC. It is, however, it is almost impossible to find a woman heading any committee.
The APC the price for its nomination form for women and physically challenged by 50 per cent.
A provisional list of nominated candidates released by INEC shows 14 political parties will be participating in the Edo elections. Of the 14 candidates, only one is a woman – Ebun Tracy of the New Nigeria Peoples Party.
The electoral body also said 17 of the 18 registered political parties notified INEC of their intention to conduct party primaries for the Ondo State governorship election fixed for October 10, 2020.
In a country where women make up to ideally 49 per cent of the population, one would expect the percentage of women in public offices to be almost (if not equal) to the percentage of men in such offices but that is not the case in Nigeria.
Despite the high percentage of the population, only six per cent of federal legislative positions are occupied by women.
Past administrations have been dominated by males and the same with the office of the vice president although there have been female aspirants who contest for such offices in general elections but eventually lose to their male counterparts.
Also, no female governor has been elected into office since the beginning of the fourth republic. The deputy governorship is the highest executive level position women have held since 1999.
For the office of the deputy governor, only one woman was elected into office in 1999; in 2003, the female deputy governors became two and in 2007, the number grew to six.
With the review of women representation in the coming governorship elections, many wonder if there will be hope for Nigerian women.
Why the gap?
Some of the factors affecting female political participation and representation in Nigeria, according to Centre for Development and Democracy (CDD), include funding, awareness, culture, religion, party system and structure, among others.
The importance of having enough funds when vying for a public office, even if it is an appointive position, cannot be overemphasised.
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Many Nigerian women who desire such positions often suffer setbacks because they could not adhere to the financial obligations required – not forgetting the ‘godfather’ syndrome which exists in Nigeria’s system of governance.
Many also believe that women who come out to contest for political offices only do so to “test the waters.”
It is safe to say this belief was cemented in the minds of many Nigerians when former female presidential candidate, Oby Ezekwesili, stepped down after announcing her intentions and participating in a major presidential debate.
Ndi Kato, gender and human rights activist, said one of the reasons for the poor representation of women is that the men do not take women seriously. This is even as she faulted the PDP for ignoring women and youth in electoral processes.
“They just don’t take women seriously enough. PDP is the worst culprit here. There are hardly any youths in the sector. Youth, women, hardly any.
“It means that these people have created a system that just doesn’t include women and sees us as purely ornamental. If a party doesn’t take you serious enough in a process as serious as elections and other electoral processes, it means they don’t care what you have to say or do. They don’t care about your participation.
“They don’t think that your vote carries any power. They don’t see beyond numbers. They feel ‘yes, the women will go where we tell them to go. So there’s no need’.”
She said electoral reform can help with this and the implementation of 35 per cent affirmative action inside political parties.
“These political parties are the decision-making place. Anything constituted by a political party must have 35 per cent women. No matter the committee or group or sector. And it should go to the grassroots too,” she said.
A House of Representatives candidate in the 2019 general elections, Lois Auta, mentioned ‘interest’ as the major reason for poor representation.
She described it as sad and wondered why the number decreases after every election.
The men, she said, ”always want to be at the level of decision-making. They always want to be at the top, in charge and in control of the political affairs of the federal, state and local government councils. And this is because their voices are dominant”.
Ms Auta, who is also an activist for people with disability, also noted the lack of support and mentor-mentee relationship among women.
Narrating her experience during the campaign, Ms Auta said many people tried to discourage her.
“…They will say ‘you are a woman with disability, you don’t have money, you are not from here’ and there was the issue of religion too. Many people called in on radio shows and asked me to drop out of the contest but I was not discouraged.
“Women do not support women. We can make this happen through mentorship. Women need to restrategise. We really need to come up with ideas that will ensure women participation in the decision-making processes. Be it quota system reservation or affirmative action.”
Many have said the establishment and recognition of smaller parties will boost the participation of women in politics. Others have also called for an electoral reform that will ensure the 35 per cent affirmative action is achieved.
In the meantime, the clamour for better representation of women in the political space will continue until changes are made.