By Adewale Kupoluyi
As Nigerians gear up for the general elections, many events are unfolding that suggest that next year’s poll is likely to be the most-keenly contested in the annals of the country. As usual, it is the men that dominate the political landscape, as not many women have so far shown interest to vie for elective posts in this important exercise that is less than a year to go. This should not be so. Many challenges are facing Nigerian women and by extension, African women that tend to limit their immense abilities and potentials to contribute to national development.
These include rape, early marriage, forced labour, female genital mutilations, wicked widowhood practices, HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination, poverty and low/poor participation in politics. The 2017 National Population Commission’s statistics revealed that women constituted 49 per cent of Nigeria’s population while men formed 51 per cent. Factors militating against women’s active participation in politics are campaign of calumny, women-women marginalisation, gender-based invectives, low media reportage of representation, late entry into polls and money politics, among others.
Over the years, men have not provided unblemished leadership in many African states, leading to bad governance. An attestation to this fact is the ongoing gale of defections in Nigeria, as perpetrated mostly by men and hence, the need for a refocusing and the logical justification for why more women should assume elective positions in Nigeria. The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, recently lent his voice by decrying the low representation of women in elective positions in the country, pledging to increase their participation in the electoral process through wide advocacy, partnerships and voter education.
In 2015, only six women were appointed into the federal cabinet, seven were female senators while six female deputy governors were elected. Only one female aspirant contested for the presidency while four contested for vice-presidency, one for governorship and five vied for deputy governorship. Out of the 1,534 elective positions available at national and state levels, women only occupied about 86 while men had 1,449 in the elective positions at national and state levels, indicating that the difference between women and men’s visibility in politics was 89 per cent!
To address the many of these challenges, ‘The Million Women’ (TMW), a campaign by an emerging non-governmental organisation, seems poised to fill the vacuum by getting more Nigerian women to occupy elective posts come 2019. According to Mrs. Mary Ikoku, the founder of TMW, the “vision is to increase the talent pool of women running for offices in Nigeria by providing a platform, resources and development opportunities for aspiring female political leaders. We want to get more Nigerian women into elective and appointive leadership positions by advocating for sustainable attainment of at least 35 per cent affirmative action for women.My vision is that TMW would become the foremost organisation, leading the advocacy for greater women participation in politics and inclusion in the leadership and decision-making processes in Nigeria. The goal is pretty straightforward – to strengthen democracy and engender a sustainable future of shared peace, prosperity and development – by working to encourage greater women participation in politics and facilitating the execution of the National Gender Policy and fast-tracking the attainment of 35 per cent affirmative action for women representation in government”, she said.
In realising these goals and objectives, Ikoku said there is need for “the support of both men and women to change the mindset of most of our citizens. We hope to engage all relevant stakeholders to achieve our aim. We would be training female candidates and provide them with network that would support their running for offices. If you know any woman who is running, or who you think should run, please, tell her about ‘The Million Women’”. Before now, she had engaged in empowerment programmes that impacted the lives of the people positively such as the ‘Moms Start Business Project’, which had taken vulnerable Nigerian housewives out of poverty by providing them with training for the businesses they can do with little or zero capital, from their homes.
The ‘Moms Africa Network’ had advanced many women in career development, business capacity building and a strong network of support while the ‘Mamas Meet Up’ had partnered with the United Nations, to educate Nigerian women on issues of national development. As current affairs analyst, an advocate for good governance, social entrepreneur, programme manager with sound knowledge in the public, private and third sectors; as well as publisher of ‘Working Moms Africa Magazine’; a publication with special focus on advancing women empowerment and promoting the ideals of work-life-balance for professional women, Ikoku had served Adams Smith International, the World Bank and had deeply involved in gender equality/empowerment, education and social justice programmes for women.
Not only that, she had also been policy communication specialist to several Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies including the Federal Ministry of Information, Ministry of Finance, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme and Bureau of Public Service Reforms. From her state, Abia; she started a campaign in 2015, to lead the fight to get more women elected into office by working tirelessly to develop a top-notch training programme and in May 2018, she officially founded TMW, which she hopes would be replicated across the 36 states of Nigeria. Recently, TMW featured on the Channels Television talk show, “Seriously Speaking” that was hosted by the ace broadcaster, Mrs. Adesuwa Onyenokwe on “Why Do We Have So Few Women in Politics?” It featured two presidential candidates in the 2019 elections; Dr. (Mrs.) Elishama Ideh and Prof. (Mrs.) Remi Sonaiya, where Ikoku observed that, “when a woman mounts that position of leadership, you would see a clear difference. Look at our homes, women run the homes. They are better managers of resources, whether you like it or not. And I have had this conversation with a man who said to me: ‘look, it’s really time for women in Nigeria’”.
In my chat with Ikoku, TMW is certainly well prepared to empower women across the country, beginning with Lagos this September on the optimism that, “When more women contest elections, more women would lead, more voices would be heard, more bills passed and more challenges would be met”. The two-day intensive programme would give women aspirants the training they need to contest elections and win. It is designed for current and prospective candidates by learning from top political trainers and strategists. No doubt, equal participation of women and men in all aspects of public life, is a key principle of democracy, while women’s participation in politics is a major goal in the global development agenda, as embodied in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal No. 5.
Similarly, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1979) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) prohibit all forms of discrimination in areas of sex, status, creed or race. In view of the identified problems and the short period that is available to mobilise Nigerians before the general elections, it is hoped that all players would swing into action by ensuring that there is adequate women participation in politics and eventually, winning significantly. For now, it is time to match words with actions. That is the difference that the ‘The Million Women’ initiative could make for the transformational change that the country urgently needs. Our women must do better in 2019!