By Dr. Joel Ademisoye
Gender difference and preference for a male politician in Nigerian politics is part of our ways of life, while 62 years after the country’s independence on October 1, 1960, the country has no appropriate solutions to the endemic and perennial problem of gender disparity in the Nigerian politics. Many Nigerians consider the preferential treatment given to the men in the Nigerian politics as one of the enduring contemporary political absurdities in today’s Nigeria. The troubling question is, whether men and women are equal in the field of the Nigerian politics? I am sure that if Mrs. Funmilayo Ransom -Kuti, one of the foremost Nigerian Nationalist leaders and women in the Nigerian politics, is aware of the existing gender disparity in the country’s politics, in the 4th Republic, she would be turning in her grave.
It is sad to say that the Nigerian women aren’t enjoying a lot of comparable political participation and rights as their peers in other democratic countries in the world. Whereas women constitute about 50 percent of the Nigerian population, yet they are a scarce commodities in the country’s political space, leadership positions or as holders of national or statewide elected political offices across the country such as governor, senator, etc. Why the political discrimination against women and their neglect in the Nigerian politics? One of the many factors that could be advanced for this discrimination practice against women in politics is the use of an orthodox stereotype reasoning, rationale and explanation that women aren’t fit for politics, because politics is meant for men. In this frame of thinking in the Nigerian society, men are considered and seen as superior to women in the field of the Nigerian politics. After all, the field of politics is tough, rough and rugged, the orthodox thinking goes. Therefore, only men have the energy, financial capacity and capability to take part and be participants in the Rambo environment of the Nigerian politics. Unequivocally, this is a dominant orthodoxy in the Nigerian politics of today, whether you like it or not. Hence, the behavior of the men in the field of Nigerian politics characterized by impunity, recklessness and corruption, is a reflection of the underlying orthodox thinking of a male dominance in the Nigerian political culture of the country.
Enough is enough of the perjury thoughts that women are good to be in the kitchen not in politics! The current practice of male dominance in the Nigerian politics needs to give way to a paradigm shift involving the inclusion of women in the country’s politics, especially at the leadership level. The status quo needs to change! There is the urgent need to ushering in a level plain field for men and women in the Nigerian politics. In many other countries in the world, the historic barriers between men and women in politics have been erased over time. The challenges of the gender disparity in the Nigerian politics needs to be focused on and addressed with the bold government intervention. It is interesting that many women have reached and attained the position of leadership in political parties and recorded nationwide political positions across the globe- the former prime minister of India, the current Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, the President of New Zealand, just to mention a few examples.
For instance, in the United State, there are sitting women state governors in the country. Why not in Nigeria? Nigeria can learn the lessons of women’s free political franchise and active women participation in their countries’ politics around the globe. In my view, women like men are capable and good political leaders if given the political opportunity to serve the country- Nigeria. Women’s political rights and freedom is the prevailing tendency in many countries in the world, but facilitated by the bold action and appropriate policies of the federal government in those countries. Therefore, a strong enforcement of the Nigerian political laws on the books that guarantees the rights of women to participate in politics is warranted. There is a need for a further government action to close the gaps between men and women in the Nigerian political space being manipulated by the political party to continue to promote a political environment, which supports the male dominated politics in Nigeria.
But, in Nigeria, the political environment is quite different from many other countries, because women are still facing barriers from the powerful and influential men, who decide the fate of women in the context of the Nigerian politics. The story of the First Lady of Ondo State and Senatorial candidate for Imo State in the National Assembly, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, who revealed that she suffered a frustration in seeking an elected political office in 2007 in the hands of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The experience of frustration by the First Lady of Ondo State in the hands of a male president of Nigeria is a tip of the iceberg and a reflection of the existing barriers that the Nigerian women are facing in the field of Nigerian politics (Source: Chidiebube Okeoma, “How Obasanjo frustrated my senatorial ambition in 2007- Ondo gov’s wife, Betty” Sunday PUNCH, May 15, 2022, P9.).
This story is revealing about the dominant and strong role played by men in influencing the political selection process of a political party in Nigeria. This is a political ordeal that women, who are seeking a political office in Nigeria are exposed to and go through in the hands of the hegemonic men, who are in control of the party apparatus, machinery and at the helm of the party’s decision making structure, particularly at the National Working Committee (NWC) level of operations. How many Nigerian women are serving members of the NWC or holding the powerful position of the chairman of the NWC of any political party in the country? The frustration of Mrs. Akeredolu might have presented a tactical strategy and opportunity for the former president to stall her candidacy or to force her to withdraw from the senatorial contest in 2007.
Let me also mention that the heavy financial costs of sponsoring a political candidate for an elected office and funding of the political campaigns is a barrier to women’s effective participation in the Nigerian politics. Let alone, contesting for any political office in the elections. Imagine the recent announcement of the sale of presidential forms at a whopping N100 million by the APC and N40 million by the PDP Political Parties respectively. Similarly, in APC the nomination form for a state governor is N50 million. I likened the commercialization of the political forms to the sale of Gold, which is a highly valued commodity at the market. Realistically speaking, how many of the Nigerian women can afford to purchase the presidential and governorship nomination forms in the both parties? I think that there is only one woman presidential candidate among the 28 candidates in the APC Party.
Arguably, both parties have built a financial wall to separate the men and women in vying for any political office in APC and PDP Parties. I think these expensive presidential and governor’s forms provide a political strategy or a control mechanism for promoting the interest and preference for a male presidential or governorship aspirants for the 2023 presidential election circle. Without any doubt, the prohibitive price of the forms is skewed in the favor of men, who are members of the ruling elites in Nigeria, with the deep pockets. This financial burden imposed on the women is unnecessary, because it is limiting their capacity to effectively participate in the contests for the political leadership positions at the levels of presidential, governorship, senatorial and House of Representatives in the country. This political strategy may help to explain why there are few women holding the leadership positions or playing the leadership role in both the APC and PDP political parties.
But, 15 years later, the political culture in Nigeria is gradually being transformed with Mrs. Akeredolu contesting for the Senatorial position in Imo State in Nigeria. This incremental transformation in the country’s political culture is attributable to the activism of women’s political leadership like Mrs. Anyanwu-Akeredolu in Ondo State and other Advocacy groups for the women’s rights of participation in the Nigerian politics across the country. For instance, in Ondo State, as the First Lady, she used her position to educate and influence to mobilize, organized and encouraged the womenfolks to participate in politics and even run for the elected political offices in the Sunshine State. Thus, her husband, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN, gave her a listening ear to the issues of women in politics and made a concerted efforts at recruiting and appointing a seizable number of capable women into the Akeredolu administration in the state. Today, Ondo State is a shining example on the hill as a breeding ground for women in politics, a paradigm shift in the Nigerian politics, where the male dominance syndrome in the country’s politics is being weakened and transformed into a more progressive, open and accommodating to women taking active part in politics and holding a prominent political positions at the cabinet and senior special assistance levels to the governor. Arguably, the old political culture in Ondo State is changing and it is yielding way to a new political order, political behavior and appreciation of women for their capacity, knowledge and skills in the political realm of the state, Nigeria in general. More importantly, they make immense contributions to political discourse and the resolutions of community development challenges in the state.
I must also add that the shift in the political tradition and practice in Ondo State is also influenced by the phenomenon of globalization, because of the women’s exposure to and educational benefits derived from the political activities and interactions with their peer groups in the foreign countries like the United States, European and African countries, that are made possible through access to the modern technology of communication via the internet, the attendance of international conferences on women’s political issues and social media effects on the local women in Ondo State. Hopefully, going forward, the problem of gender disparity in the Nigerian politics is being critically examined, positively focused on and the outcome is encouraging for the better with many more women joining politics, seeking elected political offices and taking a leadership role in the major political parties in the country. This is the story of the First Lady of Ondo State, this is her song too! It is imperative that the Nigerian politics is an embodiment and a reflection of emancipation of the country’s women with a full participation and rights to hold offices or be voted for in its political process and election.
I think the lingering imperfections in the Nigerian politics concerning the women’s rights to full participation in the country’s politics can be corrected or removed through the amendments to the Nigerian constitution by the National Assembly. The action taken by the National Assembly to amend the constitution to remove the political discrimination against women and the social injustice done to women would be adding an immense value to the nascent Nigerian presidential democracy. Thus, by allowing the Nigerian women their appropriate role in the country’s political system, we might be introducing their innovative wisdom and good management skills in solving the current multitude of state crisis (insecurity, kidnappings, banditry, economic decline, massive unemployment, poverty, corruption, high inflation, the erosion of the value of the Naira, epileptic power supply, heavy dependency on the importation of fuel and food from the foreign countries, poor and dysfunctional governance, etc.) rocking the nation under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. I believe that if given the opportunity, there are many Nigerian women, who are eminently qualified to provide a good governance for the Nigerian people and excellent political leadership for the local, state and federal governments in Nigeria.