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Women win in Costa Rica, lose in Anambra

A brave beginning Mustering the kind of iron resolve which got her elected into the House of Representatives in 2007 ahead of men who were…

A brave beginning Mustering the kind of iron resolve which got her elected into the House of Representatives in 2007 ahead of men who were stars in their own rights, Hon Uche Ekwunife joined the race to the Anambra Governorment House in Awka, a race of 24 eminent people in which she was the only woman.

She had much goodwill from her womenfolk. They tried their hardest to elect one of their own. In a particular instance, they set out in what they called one-million-woman rally, a rally which  has become a reference point as an ambitious gathering that gave her campaign a huge lift, a campaign that many still discuss in glowing terms.

Beyond the stage crusade, Mrs Ekwunife’s street campaign is widely believed to have been the most comprehensive. She was said to have visited every ward of the state, an exercise in which she reportedly had no equal among her peers.

“None of the other candidates got as deep into the grassroots, into every ward, as that woman did, not even the incumbent governor Peter Obi or any of the other supposedly big candidates like Charles Soludo and Chris Ngige,” someone who was in Anambra during the campaigns and election asserted.

Running the campaign which was led by a woman leader Chief Rita Akonobi, Ekwunife’s camp went all out in a determined fight to produce Nigeria’s first elected woman governor.


GENDER CHALLENGE

Akonobi charged during the one-million-woman rally, “Against the tide of rigged opinion polls masquerading as populist vent for some candidates, we the women of Anambra State have decided to speak with our voice and presence. We have endured bad governance enough and today have chosen to chart the way to rebirth in partnership with Iyom Mrs. Uche Ekwunife. We are inspired by Uche Ekwunife to make this bold declaration because she is one achiever who has combined the zest of youthfulness with creative wisdom to dictate the pace of politics in Anambra State. We therefore ask those who parade statistics or hug the media to either do their homework or do a rethink and surrender.”

On her part, Ekwunife enthused, “I have chosen this path because you are there for me, and now that you have spoken, we are one step home to victory. Of very special significance to me is that indifference of women to politics will be buried in Anambra State when together we organize its funeral after the February 6, 2010 election.”


Banker-turned politician

Self-confidence has worked well for Ekwunife in the past. Born on December 12, 1970, she was quick in obtaining a bachelor’s degree, then a Master’s in Accounting, and more recently a honourary doctorate degree in Philosophy. A relatively short time in the banking industry took her to the position of Area Manager with what was Standard Trust Bank (STB), now a family member of the United Bank for Africa (UBA). Uche Ekwunife who is married with children was elected in 2007 under the Peoples Democratic Party to represent the Anocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the House of Representatives.

Ekwunife had gone into the Anambra governorship election to raise her young sojourn in politics, but February 6 did not turn out to be her day. It was the incumbent governor Obi who was declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In the results INEC released, Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance ( APGA) was re-elected governor with 97,843 votes. The candidate of the Action Congress (AC), Dr Chris Ngige, came second with 60,240; while Prof. Chukwuma Soludo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came third with 59,355 votes. Dr Andy Uba of the Labour Party (LP) polled 26,106 votes to come fourth. Nicholas Ukachukwu of Hope Democratic Party (HDP) followed with 20,777 while Ekwunife polled 9,595 votes.


SERIOUS CONTENDERS

It was obvious last year when all the candidates were listed for the February 6 election that those six were the only serious ones of the pack of 24. What surprised many as results were being announced late Saturday February 6 through to the next day was Ekwunife’s poor showing. Pre-poll indications were that she would emerge tops. Coming sixth was simply not it. What happened?

All the major candidates faulted many aspects of the voting as it progressed. Obi got so angry that he refused to vote. He cried allowed and kept complaining. But it soon became clear, as counting began, that he was in the lead. That was when it started to dawn on him that everything about the election was fine!

Hon Uche Ekwunife’s party, the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) says the election was far from satisfactory.

“The level of malpractices in the Anambra election is mindboggling,” the National Secretary of the party Kabiru Musa Abdullahi alleged. He said most registered people could not vote because of deficiencies in the conduct of the election.

“It was a subversion of the people’s will,” he said, and concluded that the party chose not to make formal complaint against how the election was conducted because it was aware of the volatile nature of elections in Anambra State.


‘It’s the system that failed Uche Ekwunife’

Flawed electoral process may have affected Hon Ekwunife’s outing in Anambra State, but in general, certain factors which often come to play where women are involved impede their progress in politics and governance in Nigeria.

“To arrive at a reasonable conclusion about Ekwunife’s performance in the Anambra election, we must first address how the whole process works,” Mrs Omowumi Asubiaro-Dada, the Senior Project Officer of Agenda for Affirmative Action (GAA) told Sunday Trust.

She explained, “From what I saw on television, women in Anambra supported Honourable Uche Ekwunife. But women, like men, have divergent interests. Besides, women belong to different political parties. It could amount to demanding too much to ask women in the other 23 parties to vote for Ekwunife of the PPA just because she is a woman.”

She said late arrival of election materials and consequent late resumption of voting prevented many women from voting: “A lot was wrong in the conduct of the Anambra election. Look at how people waited for voting to start only for them not to find their names in the voter’s register. The state INEC chairman only said people with voter’s cards could vote when it was almost evening. By that time you won’t find women. They would have returned home to cook and do such other things women have to do. These are some of the dynamics that we should consider whenever we discuss the participation of women in politics in Nigeria.”

In Costa Rica, a different kettle of fish

It is something else entirely in the Central American country, Costa Rica, which has just made a woman, Laura Chinchilla, its president. Chinchilla was chosen in Costa Rica’s elections held last Sunday. A former justice minister and vice president, Ms. Chinchilla garnered 47% of the votes to outpace her campaign rivals.

The 50-year-old candidate joined thousands of supporters after results showed she had won 47%, a great showing considering that she needed no more than 40% to avoid a run-off.

Centre-left opposition candidate Otton Solis won 24% of the votes and right-wing lawyer Otto Guevara garnered 21%.

Ms Chinchilla is expected to continue the policies of President Oscar Arias from whom she will take over power when he comes to the end of his tenure in May.

She is the mother of a son and the wife of Spanish businessman Jose Maria Rico. Her political career began in the 1990s when she served as acting security minister from 1994 to 1996. Since 2002, she has been a member of parliament and in 2006 Arias named her his vice president.

Her National Liberation Party relied on her past experience as public security minister and justice minister to win voters on the issue of crime, a growing concern in the country.

Woman presidents are a common sight in her part of the world. She will follow in the footsteps of four female presidents in Latin America: in Chile, Argentina, Panama and Nicaragua. Nicaragua is in particular known to have recently started to promote positive discrimination to bring women to top political posts in the country.

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