Hurdles, issues ahead of Nigeria’s female representation in 2023 | Dailytrust

Hurdles, issues ahead of Nigeria’s female representation in 2023

Hurdles, issues ahead of Nigeria’s female representation in 2023
Hurdles, issues ahead of Nigeria’s female representation in 2023

A survey by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) revealed that Nigerians are not only willing to vote women into leadership positions but also believe women can make good leaders. This, however, contradicts the number of women holding political offices in the country. Daily Trust, in this report looks at the chances of Nigerian women amidst a decline in gender parity as well as the issues that can shape women’s political participation in 2023.   

Amidst a politically charged 2022, women in Nigeria are not holding back their anger since the country’s National Assembly rejected five gender equality bills among the 68 amendment bills presented for voting in the ongoing constitutional review. Even when hope was rekindled and the House of Representatives rescinded its decision on three of the five rejected bills two weeks ago, it did not appease Nigerian women groups who have continued to defy security agencies by protesting at the Assembly premises. Among the five gender bills are the affirmative action bill to ensure 35 percent positions for women, the bill on ministerial or commissioner nomination and the reserved seat bill to create additional seats for women at the Senate, House of Representatives and the states Houses of Assembly.

Coming very close to an election year and building on the momentum of Nigeria’s globally recognised women trailblazers such as the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed and the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, many gender equality advocates view the actions of Nigeria’s male-dominated National Assembly as a glint of the many iniquities and barriers mounted to scuttle the chances of women politicians ahead of 2023.  

In Nigeria’s 23 years of uninterrupted democracy, women have not ferried well. High-rate gender disparity, fuelled by patriarchy in the country’s multi-ethnic and deeply religious setting have continued to impede women from holding political leadership. 

According to UN Women, “women face several obstacles to participating in political life. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office.” 

There is no doubt that women’s political participation, not limited to their role as electorates enriches democracy and also pushes for more dividends of democracy to citizens and children across religious and ethnic lines. This is however lacking in Nigeria which has a National Assembly that portrays a picture of an unbalanced legislature that recently dimmed the light on gender-equality bills that could pave a way for more women in office. 

Where Nigeria stands on female political empowerment 

According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index which measures the extent of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival as well as political empowerment, Nigeria is far from reaching gender parity in the political empowerment gap.

The ranking and score for 153 countries show that no country has yet achieved full gender parity in political empowerment, but Nigeria ranks poorly at 146th on the political empowerment subindex list. It is also the lowest out of the 37 African countries that have made it to the list. 

Presently, there are just 21 women legislatures in both chambers of Nigeria’s 469-member National Assembly. With 13 women in its 360-member House of Representative and eight in its 109-member Senate as at March 1st 2022, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranks Nigeria at 184 out of 187 countries in the global monthly ranking of women in national parliaments. 

Coming down to the state assemblies, only Cross River State has five women in its 25-member assembly while states like Enugu, Ekiti and Ogun have four females. Ebonyi, Lagos and Bayelsa have three each and Akwa Ibom, Benue and Delta states have two female legislators each. In the north west region, only Kaduna State has a single female legislator.

This presents a rather complex scenario as a recent survey shows that many Nigerians are not only willing to vote women into leadership positions but also believe women can make good leaders. A December 2021 Briefing Paper of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) published the findings of a study which examined Nigerians’ attitudes towards both female candidacy in elections and the performance of women candidates who contested in the 2019 polls. The study revealed that 86 percent of respondents would vote a woman into public office while 85 percent think women can be good leaders.

Even though this has not translated into high number of women in elective positions, the CDD research situates the problem clearly in the lack of internal democracy among political parties as issues of godfatherism, consensus candidates continue to pose a hinderance to the political advancement of women.


What are the issues? 

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world with an almost 50/50 population of the two genders. Presently the National Populations Commissions estimates the country’s population at 215 million with women constituting 106.6 million (49.4%) and men at 109.3 million (50.6%). However, in 2021, the Programme Analyst of UN Women, Angela Muruli, ranked Nigeria as one of the lowest countries of the world when it comes to allocating elective and leadership positions to women. The UN official said, “For starters, Nigeria has almost the lowest representation for women in sub-Sahara Africa and in fact in the world. So, for the giant of Africa, it is quite worrying that half of the population are not ably represented by people who look like them in spaces of power.

This is because structural impediments for Nigerian women are multi-faceted, according to Hajiya Maryam Inna Ciroma, Nigeria’s former Minister of Women Affairs and one-time Women Leader of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). 

Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday, Ciroma explained that Nigerian men are yet to accept the women as equal citizens of the country. “If this country belongs to all of us and our opinion matters, then they should consider us as part of the population that will help in the governance of this country. But as it is, they only see us second class citizens, only when they need us to vote for them, that’s when they see a woman as important,” she said. 

Nigeria’s multiple female presidential candidate, Dr Sarah Jibril, echoes a similar position saying women are held onto higher standards politically than their male counterparts. “Women are expected to do more to prove their worth. If a woman wants to contest election, she must be exceedingly rich and even richer than the men she will be contesting against. Her character must be superlatively exemplary, they will check her home, her behaviour and social actions,” Jibril said. 

Jibril, Nigeria’s first female presidential candidate explained that financial strength has become a hinderance for women politicians, sighting example with her own failed attempts to secure the country’s number one seat. She said women sometimes fail to support their gender, a development she said was due to sheer ignorance or the lack of understanding of their responsibilities. “I didn’t have money, I couldn’t go around to lobby them, I was only speaking English about. Women need to understand who they are, their role in their society and to become better leaders and social amenities providers,” she said.

Criticising Nigeria’s patriarchal and winner takes all political posture, the Director of the CDD, Idayat Hassan, explained that with half of Nigeria’s population being women, it is unfounded to make laws or govern the society by half of the population. “How can we justify having less than five percent of the National Assembly being women? Do these men know what maternal mortality is? If we say that we have exited from being the world capital of poverty, have we exited that of child mortality?” she asked rhetorically. 

Consensus as a double edge sword 

Major political parties boast of giving women politician an edge through the waving of party nomination forms but many women politicians link these “incentives” to the ancient Greek gifts. Women politicians say consensus and zoning of political offices have often been used against women and this renders incentives such as free nomination forms useless. 

Inna Maryam Ciroma who was a recent victim of consensus when she vied for the position of PDP National Vice Chairman North says “It is working against women aspirants and against qualified candidates.”

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s a clause that says governors in the states are the leaders of the parties and when these governors come together, they share these positions through zoning and you hear them say this area should produce the national secretary and when that person comes up, the governor will now decide who he thinks should be the national secretary and it becomes a consensus.” This she said is undemocratic and is working against qualified women as well as against qualified party candidates.

“Even if it’s consensus, why can’t they look at the 35percent affirmative action for women, and bring out six women in the national comity of the party as consensus? But they go and connive and bring people that they think they can control. They are not after capacity or people that can deliver, instead, they are after people they can control,” she said. 

Patience Enotse Egwurube is the councillor representing Igumale Ward 2 in Ado Local Government Area of Benue State. She is presently the Organising Secretary of the Benue State Councillor’s Forum and says even though she had been selected as a party consensus candidate, two other male aspirants had refused to step down and instead, contested the primaries with her. “We were told to come out with a consensus candidate from our ward and my name came up but the others refused to step down, so we went into the primaries and I won,” she said. 

As the only elected female councillor in Benue South, Egwurube said money is a major stumbling block for women politicians even though the PDP had pegged her nomination form for a much lesser N50,000 against the N200,000 paid by the male aspirants. “If this is encouraged as well as setting aside some seats for women, I assure you, many women will go into politics and this will push for more women participation in Nigeria’s democratic process,” she said.  

The push for affirmative action 

Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, had in 2021 demanded for a 50 percent representation of women in leadership positions. Tallen, of the All Progressives Congress did so while submitting a memorandum to the APC Constitution Review Committee. It is not yet ascertained whether the party has infused this provision in its new constitution which is yet to be ratified. 

However, the PDP, which held onto power for 16 years had in its amended constitution in 2016 entrenched provisions for 35 percent affirmative action. Yet, this provision has been side-lined, according to Ciroma. Section 6 (5) of the PDP constitution states that the party shall support the emancipation and participation of women by encouraging their representation at all levels while section 6 (7) is emphatic that: “In nomination for Party offices, not less than 35% shall be reserved for women.” This however, has not been the case.  

Ciroma explained how the PDP constitution was tested against her in the recent convention that produced the party’s current leadership. “In the PDP constitution, we have it stated that 35 percent will be reserved for women in the party position. That rule has been there since 2016 but we’re not achieving it. It is also there in other major political parties but they will always tell you that we have our affirmative but they will not actualize or implement it,” she said. 

“This was what we attempted with the ongoing constitutional amendment,” said Idayat Hassan, given clarity to how affirmative action, when entrenched in the country’s constitution could compel political parties to adopt and implement a quota system for female candidates.

“If you look at it, the whole idea is to ensure women have 35 percent in political parties because if you do not have this, it becomes very difficult for women to have access to any office. Once you have this in the leadership of the parties, it ensures that there are enough people watching out for you at the political party level and they will be willing to present more party candidates,” she said. 

Sarah Jibril agrees with this deduction and insists President Muhammadu Buhari must play a role by voicing out the need for the legislatures to pass the bill on affirmative action. “He must come out and say it clearly that the country is a signatory to various UN charters and we must implement them. We are leaders in ECOWAS and AU and need to lead by example,” Jibril said. 

Learning from Rwanda and the way forward 

To achieve gender parity in Nigeria’s political circle, bold policies and structural changes are needed. Nigeria can learn from African countries such as Rwanda, Namibia and South Africa which have made it to the top 10 ranking of world classification of women in national parliaments, as compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). 

Rwanda presently has the world’s strongest female participation in parliament out of 193 countries, boasting a 61.3 percent of seats in the country’s lower parliamentary chamber. This achievement is largely due to the country’s 2003 constitution which set a 30 percent quota for women in elected positions. From the countries constitutions, political parties had equally adopted a quota system for female candidates. Namibia seats comfortably on the 6th position while South Africa has earned the 10th position.

Nigeria’s embarrassing position at 180th could be reversed with affirmative action and special seats for women in legislature, said Patience Enotse Egwurube who represents Igumale Ward 2 in Benue State. 

Tilting towards Egwurube’s position, the CDD research suggests that central to opening more political opportunities for women lies in the promotion of internal party democracy within major political parties as well as the establishment of 35 percent gender quotas in Nigeria’s constitution and the manifestoes of political parties. Among other recommendations, the research also suggests that any quota legislation must include provisions empowering INEC to sanction parties who do not meet the minimum requirement.

But as Nigerian women continue to strive for affirmative action and other opportunity bills for women, the country must also have a readily available supply of women politicians ready to take the bold step, former House of Assembly member representing Mashegu constituency in Niger State, Hajiya Sa’adatu Kolo, says. 

Kolo, who served in the House between 2011-2015 and made an attempt for the House of Representatives in 2019 but lost, said she had a lot of support from women and called on women politicians to mentor others. “Women are not coming out but we have to. I have been mentoring some young ladies now and I have pushed one to contest for councillor even though she lost at the general election. We are not giving up, we are still on it, there are about five women now we have mentored to contest for various Houses of Assembly positions, we will improve on the supply of competent women,” she said. 

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