The battle for a legal document to promote women’s participation in governance was dealt a blow when Nigeria’s National Assembly in 2022 rejected five gender bills that were among the 68 amendment bills at the constitutional review.
This is a clear indication that affirmative action, which supports the reservation of 35 per cent of elective positions for women irrespective of political party, has suffered a major setback.
Though the minister of women affairs, Pauline Tallen, had in 2021 demanded for a 50 per cent representation of women in leadership positions, Daily Trust reports that the national average of women’s political participation remains at 6.7 per cent – far below the African regional average of 23.4 per cent, and the global average of 22.5 per cent.
In Nigeria’s 24 years of democracy, the political and governance space projects a patriarchal society, which stifles women’s political aspirations, as no woman has been elected president, vice president, or governor yet in the country.
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In the area of gender parity and women’s political participation, a 2022 Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report showed that the Nigerian Senate, in 2019 elected eight women out of 109, which represents 7.24 per cent. Out of the 360-member House of Representatives, only 13 women were elected (3.61%). These figures, according to the report, fell below the global average of 26.1 per cent of women in parliament.
Though women’s outing for elective positions reflected on the ballots has been considered low, a 2022 UN women report revealed that the outcome of elections gave even fewer females chances at governance.
Out of about 2,970 women on the electoral ballot of 2019, which represents 11 per cent, only 4.71 per cent of women got elected. This shows a decline from the 5.6 per cent recorded in 2015.
Daily Trust, however, reports that 1,553 women will be on the ballot in 2023, representing 10 per cent of the entire candidates. Following previous trends, it appears the low rate of women getting elected is likely to repeat itself in 2023. This could imply even fewer women in governance than what is currently obtainable.
A 2023 report released by the Centre for Democracy and Development, titled ‘Analysis: Female Candidature and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections’, indicated that more women seeking elective positions in Nigeria subscribed to new and smaller political parties, which gave them weaker chances of being elected for offices at the state and federal levels. This is because the dominant political parties, APC and PDP, give women less visibility and opportunities.
Speaking with Daily Trust, an associate professor of Political Sociology at the University of Abuja, Abubakar Umar Kari, described “political parties as vehicles and instruments of the domination of women.” According to Kari, this makes the chances of women in major political parties even slimmer.
He added that political parties are so monetised that women don’t get a level playing ground and referred to the little positions allotted to women by such parties as “mere tokenism.”
He noted that “to institutionalise the domination of women, some positions are allocated to them like women leaders, deputies and so on. It really does not do credit to the self-esteem of women, because they are able to achieve whatever they want to achieve; but to relegate them to such positions doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Roseline Chenge, the Benue State governorship candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP), who previously contested and lost the primary election under the APC and PDP, expressed dissatisfaction with the parties and their agenda for women’s inclusion in governance.
She noted that “Action Democratic Party had a good platform and they recognise women,” which gave her the chance to become the party’s governorship candidate for Benue in 2023.
However, the 2023 CDD report attributed the low outing of women in politics to the lack of internal democracy in the major political parties, and male dominance in the political party leadership.
Speaking about the quotas for women in the APC, a former women leader, Stella Okotete, told the Daily Trust that the new party constitution clearly gives women 35 per cent affirmative action, while acknowledging that “religion, finances and tradition, which are all man-made,” were hindrances to women.
However, amidst a low turnout of female candidates in the APC for the 2023 general elections, Okotete assured that the new constitution will solve the problem of low number of female candidates in the party.
The trend of low outing of women in “dominant” political parties is evident in the total number of female candidates that emerged according to INEC’s 2023 final list of candidates.
The list, which analysed female participation among four political parties with presidential candidates, reveals that PDP has a total of 72 female candidates, while the APC has a total of 102 female candidates contesting, with one female governorship candidate in Adamawa State. The New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) has the highest number of female candidates at 106, with Labour Party (LP) having 80.
This leaves the remaining 1,193 female candidates standing on the tickets of 14 other smaller political parties.
The PDP women leader, Stella Effah-Attoe, who spoke about her party’s past record of more women in governance, added that the PDP is currently shifting towards providing 40 per cent space for women.
Effah-Attoe said the PDP did all it could to ensure that women emerged from the various localities, adding that, “you know politics is local, and what people will end up doing in their locality is up to them.”
Despite being designated as the giant of Africa, UN Women reports that Nigeria is lagging behind countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Tunisia, Senegal, and Uganda, who have adopted constitutional backing for equal rights and opportunities that increase women’s representation in governance.
Dr Idayat Hassan, the director of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), says because women make up about half of the country’s population and top the list of voters in the country, they ought to be included in the affairs of governance.
She explained that the implication of fewer women reflected in the governance architecture would be an inability to actualise the Sustainable Development Goals. “When you have fewer women in government, development will elude you. Like I earlier mentioned, you cannot be for us without us because you don’t know these peculiarities.”
On the possible outcome of the 2023 elections as regards the number of elected women, Idayat said following the trend and figures on the ground, the 2023 election will likely give fewer women a chance at governance. “With each electoral circle, we are seeing a decrease, instead of an increase in women’s political participation,” she said.
But there are other trends that continue to mar women’s participation in politics. The 2023 CDD report lists violence, monetisation of the electoral process and godfatherism as some of the factors that deter women’s chances in politics.
Just as women in Nigeria strive for more inclusion in governance, the country must have women who will not just wait for things to happen, but ensure they make them happen, says the Niger State female governorship candidate, Khadijah Abdullahi.
Khadijah, who is contesting on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), added that, “we have been advocating for 35 per cent affirmation for women, and we do not even have the women coming out to do this.”
“I feel that a lot of women need to know that they need to be at the decision table, and men should give spaces for women on the table, but even if they don’t give you a seat at the decision table, bring your seat and sit there,” she said.