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Low females’ participation in Nigerian politics

Low females’ participation in Nigerian politics

By Mary Agidi
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Every March 8 is a day set aside by the United Nations, UN, to celebrate womanhood. This observance goes by the title International Women’s Day, IWD. Some countries observe the day by declaring a public holiday, while some use it to protest against manipulation of women in the society by the male factor.

Nigeria is not excluded from the comity of countries that celebrate the day. Mostly, wives of some states governors do organise get-togethers for women which are normally preceded by rallies. The day has rather been turned to a merry making event at the expense of numerous challenges confronting womenfolk.

The theme of this year’s celebration “Balance for Better” is apt and needs rumination.

In which aspect of life has Nigerian women enjoyed gender balance? Going down the memory lane, in the political space in Nigeria, the percentage of elected female representatives keeps decreasing. Women are under-represented.

Considering the 2019 elections in Nigeria, AllAfrica reports has it that women aspirants suffered great setback in securing tickets under the two major political parties, APC and PDP.

The Nigerian Senate has 109 seats, while the House of Representatives has 360 seats comprising representatives from each state and zone of the country. Only seven females are in the eighth Senate, while women occupy just 20 seats in the eighth House of Representatives.

Surprisingly, after the 2019 general elections, the same indices of females have been elected to the Ninth Senate.

Coming to Ondo State, the data obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission office in Akure by this writer, shows that out of 41 senatorial candidates in the state only four females secured tickets and none was voted in. Also, out of the 96 House of Representatives contestants for the nine federal constituencies that made up the state, only 11 were females and none was also voted in.

INEC statistics shows that out of the 317 House of Assembly contestants that represented different political parties in the state, only 37 were female contestants. Two out of them are from the ruling APC party while the rest contested under the platform of less-popular parties.

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Luck however smiled at the two female contestants under APC and they won the election as the ruling party clears 23 out of the 26 House of Assembly seats in the state. Therefore, in both the National Assembly, comprising the Senate and House of Representatives, and the State Assembly, Ondo female lawmakers are just two.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) bemoaned this development, saying women deserved a better deal.

The Senior Communications Officer of the centre, Mr. Armsfree Ajanaku, said that the centre closely followed the primary process and saw that women candidates continued to face structural and cultural hurdles which inhibited their participation in the political process.

He therefore described it as a setback for women representation.

Mrs Yinka Odedele, the Executive Director of Gender Equality and Girl Child Development Foundation attributed partriachy as one of the factors causing under-representation of women in Nigeria political system.

She craved for a conducive environment for women to be actively involved without intimidation by the menfolk, and also for women to support their fellow woman contestant.

“Yes, we are women; the man is always the head, accepted. But the head cannot survive without the neck, and the Lord has created us as helpmates. There is no society that can survive without the participation of the women folks, so it should be an all round involvement, we should be given our participatory role and be included”, she said.

Reacting to this development, a Senatorial candidate in the just concluded 2019 National Assembly election under the platform of Zenith Labour Party, ZLP, in Ondo State, Mrs. Simi Akindele-Odunmbaku said politics is very demanding in terms of funding; therefore many women cannot meet up.

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Her words: “They believe women in politics are not responsible and lots of responsible women tend to run away from it. And they feel that when you speak out and speak for yourself, you are not submissive, they stereotype you and this drive some women back”.

In order for Nigerian women not to be totally sidelined in policy making, Odunmbaku advocated education, awareness, motivation, and unity of purpose among women.

“When we have more women involved, we can take better decision on matters relating to us. We need that gender balance and the 50/50 sort of things that allow equal representation”, she added.

Also speaking, Mrs Jumoke Ajasin-Anifowose who had competed with men for governorship primaries more than once under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress was pessimistic that women might never have headway in Nigerian politics. She expressed disappointment in the attitude of women towards their fellow woman contestant, even in party’s internal affairs.

She also lamented the marginalisation of women in politics by men, noting that if younger generations of women wish to overcome this challenge, there is a need for unity and cooperation among them.

Contributing, Chief (Mrs) Olamide Falana, a gubernatorial candidate in 2015 under the platform of Democratic People’s Party, DPP, attributed the setback to the non-challant attitude of the political leadership to gender issues.

She said, “This is what we get if we have political leadership that doesn’t see gender as part of the political negotiation. There are countries in the world that have achieved gender equity. When you have every member of the society who are involved, and feel connected, that society will definitely develop at a high rate.”

“There are problems which solution may be with women, but they will not talk because they are not involved in the governance.”

According to her, a society where a segment is being cut off from leadership and participation can never be balanced.

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 “We must not keep quiet, this is the time for us to raise our voices and insist that things must get better for us in Nigeria”, she urged.

Falana therefore called on political leaders in the country not to see women as mere voters, but as individuals who can contribute meaningfully to the political development of the nation.

Dr. Myles Munroe crowned it all by saying, “if the nations of the world had understood God’s purposes for women and men, they would have realised that the spirit of equal rights that demands equality from men was never intended by God, because He has already made men and women equal. Men and women are equal that is not for a Senate or a congress or a cabinet or a parliament to decide”.

He continued, “Even so, countries such as America and Sweden have recently elevated the status of women through legislative acts, achieving a certain amount of societal change. After a difficult struggle, the woman, who was once mainly thought of as a “baby-bearer”, “property”, “servant-slave-maid”, and someone who did the work men considered beneath them now participates to some degree in both civic and political affairs. Although, we can say that there has been some improvement, in most societies, women are still suffering the prejudice of the male against the female, and this bias continues to degrade women. Men’s hearts cannot be changed by legislation”.

His last paragraph reveals the situation in Nigeria, and since the heart of men cannot be changed by legislation, the onus now lies on Nigerian women to rise against this political marginalisation as was done by American women in 1960s in reaction to James Brown song which says “We are in a man’s world”. Thousands of women marched in front of the White House in Washington D. C. with big banners and placards and this led to the enactment of the equal rights amendment bill.

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