Monday, 7 March 2011

Nigerian women in politics



NIGERIAN WOMEN IN POLITICS

Politics can be said to be the act of making public choice and making decisions on behalf of people through the medium of the State and its apparatus. It is accepted that for development of society woman, who make up a larger proportion of the population, should not be left out because there is no doubt that both men and woman can equally contribute to the development and growth of society. There is abundant historical evidence that African womanhave for long been playing crucial roles in the political life of their countries. Many great women of have helped in shaping African society and political evolution. 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF SOME WOMEN IN POLITICS
Long before British colonial administration and the struggle for independence, some women in the parts of the territory later designated Nigeria played political roles in Nigeria . There are well-documented accounts of women’s roles in pre-colonial Nigeria. For instance the IGALA was said to have been founded by a women named EBELE EJAUNU. In IJESHA in Yoruba land, five of the thirty-eight OWA (kings) had been women. Prominent among Northern Kings or Queens was Queen AMINA of KATSINA who in the 15th century extended her influence as far as NUPE. The role of UMU ADA in the East and Niger Delta as civil society organizers, were very significant. These groups had control of markets and ensured that standards were followed. In Bonny, Queen KAMBASSA of Bonny was perhaps the only female AMANYANABO of Bonny. The rise of Mrs. OLUFUMILAYO RANSOME KUTI, as an Icon in the Nigeria political arena can probably be attributed to her early incursion into western Education. And was showcased to some extent in the recent musical Fela where her political influence was very apparent. Also Mrs Margaret Ekpo contributed significantly to the politics of the Colonial period and she worked for equal enjoyment of civil rights for Nigerians in the colonial era where Europeans accorded themselves priority status. In 1957 during the pre-independence era of Nigeria, a couple of women political activists such as, Mrs. Janet Mokelu and Ms. Young were members of the Eastern House of Assembly. The late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, though not a full-fledged politician, was a very strong force to reckon with in the politics of the Western Region. And Hajia Gambo Sawaba waged a fierce battle for the political and cultural emancipation of women in the North.
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN IN POLITICS IN NIGERIA
In the run up to the 2007 election, a former Federal Minister Iyabo Anishulowo had to defect from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Ogun State after accusing leaders of the party at the State and National levels of seeking improper relations with her before being allowed to stand for election on the party’s platform.
Olufunke Adedoyin, a former minister of state on Youth Development, at an event organized by the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ogun State chapter, stated that women “must begin to build war chests, which we can deploy to advance our own agenda and we must be ready to support party activities and fund women who are actively seeking political office”.
There is, no doubt, a need for Nigerian women to stand up and be counted. As Ms Adedoyin rightly observed, despite statistics showing that women and the youth represent more than 70 to 80 per cent of committed voters in every election, “women have ended up holding the short end of the stick when the elections are concluded and political offices and political patronage are being dispensed”. It is therefore clear that women must themselves take charge of their affairs and become the defenders and promoters of their own cause.
On the issue of independent candidacy which Ms. Adedoyin proffered as a solution to the overwhelming male domination women have been subjected to in the past, it remains to be seen how this is going to further the cause of women in politics. The idea of independent candidacy has been , to date , rejected as a political option in Nigeria. An alternative option is perhaps for women to concentrate on political education for women and convince them to use their numerical strength and influence to change their fortune in politics. Women need to stand up and claim their rights.
Nigerian women have encountered a number of problems while venturing into politics. There is large scale discrimination from the men folk, both in voting for candidates and in allocating political offices. There are sometimes also cultural problems and difficulties shown by religious, cultural and ethnic influences and the belief in the superiority and dominance of men.
More often than not in practical terms and situations, men usually constitute a larger percentage of the party membership and this tends to affect women when it comes to selecting or electing candidates for elections. Since men are usually the majority in the political party setup, they tend to dominate the party hierarchy and structure and are therefore at an advantage in influencing the party's internal politics. Women usually constitute a smaller percentage of political party membership because of the social, cultural and religious attitudes of different Nigerian societies which most often tend to relegate women to the background. As a result, only very few men, even among the educated, allow their wives to come out and participate in politics. Politics is considered a dangerous and dirty game. This is largely due to the way it is played.
Another problem facing womenfolk in Nigeria generally is the lack of adequate education. Women constitute a larger percentage of the illiterate group or poorly educated segment of the society in Nigeria. However it should be stated that this tends to be more the case in some parts of North East and North West Nigeria where the influence of Islam is stronger on cultural life.
Lack of adequate finance is a crucial hindrance to effective female participation in politics in Nigeria. This is in itself an indictment on the naira politics in Nigeria. A large portion of the Nigerian female population is not as financially strong as their male counterparts. Family responsibilities and childbearing also hinder women from participating effectively in partisan political activities. During a sizeable part of their adult lives, most women are involved not only in child bearing, but also in child rearing and much of the time they may have wished to devote to politics is taken up by their maternal challenges and obligations.
POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS IN POLITICS.
The future prospects of Nigerian women in politics appear to be much brighter. The 1991 census figures show that women are almost now numerically at par with men. Moreover, some of the obstacles highlighted above are already being removed. For example, the number of educated women in Nigeria has increased over the years and many women are already willing and able to participate effectively in politics at various levels. The number of girls admitted into schools, Colleges, Polytechnics and Universities has increased phenomenally. In some states in the eastern part of Nigeria (e.g. Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra), there are now more females than males in schools.
On the 13th of June, 1985, the Federal Government signed and ratified the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Subsequently, the Federal Government began to initiate policies and programmes aimed at improving the lives of women. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also guarantees non discrimination of women.
The role and prominence of women have been advanced with projects like the Better Life Programme (in the era of Mrs. Maryam Babangida as Nigeria's First Lady), the Family Support Programme (FSP), in the era of Mrs Mariam Abacha, the establishment of the National Commission for Women also in Mrs, Babangida's era and later the Ministry of Women Affairs, and the increasing positive role of Nigeria's present First Ladies at both National and State levels to promote the roles of women.

HOW WOMEN HAVE FARED IN ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
In 1999, records indicate that there were only 12 women elected into the State Assemblies as against 978 males. Also only three women out of 109 senators were elected into the Senate in the same year under review, while 13 women were equally elected into the House of Representatives as against 347 men. Senator Kofo Bucknor Akerele was the deputy Governor of Lagos State. More women participated in the 2003 elections.
In the State Assemblies, in 2003 there was a slight increase as only 39 women were elected as against 951 men. But only 6.1 percent (21 women) were elected into the both House of Representatives. This was against 339 men that found their way into the House of Representatives and 3.7 percent (4 women) were elected in to the Senate, against 105 male’s senators. Even in appointment into offices, records from 1999 show that 833 persons were appointed with 86 of them women, representing only 11.9 percent.
As for the 2007 elections, the figures as collated from the database of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is still based on the number of candidates. The records showed that a total 7160 candidates (both men and women) contested in the April elections. Of this number, only 628 women participated. Out of the twenty five candidates that participated for the office of the President, only one was a woman, while five women contested for the office of the Vice President. 474 candidates contested for the gubernatorial elections in the thirty-six states of the federation and 14 women contested for the office of governor. 21 contested for the office of deputy governor, 799 contested for the senate, with only 59 women candidates, 2342 candidates contested for the House of Representatives, with 150 women candidates while 5647 contested for the State Assemblies with 358 women. From the records , there are nine female senators out of 109 senators and 27 women in the House of Representatives of 360 members. There are now five female deputy governors in Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti and Plateau States (Chief Mrs Bada of Osun State has gone by virtue of the Election Tribunal judgment) There are fifty-four female members of the State Assemblies. The former Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Inna Maryam Ciroma in her May 2007 Ministerial Press Briefing stated that Nigerian women are still the underdogs of Nigerian Politics. She said that after several years of military rule in Nigeria and eight of democratic governance that female participation in politics was still inconsequential, despite their numerical strength.

WHAT ARE THE FACTORS MILITATING AGAINST WOMEN IN POLITICS.
The National Policy on Women in Nigeria in line with the Beijing Agenda adopted that 30 percent of the seats for women in both elective and appointed offices be reserved for women. This is advocating a policy of positive discrimination. The rationale for the policy as regards appointed office is perhaps stronger than the argument regarding elective office.
Winnie Byanyima, the UNDP Director for Gender Team/Bureau for Development Policy in an interview said that the participation of women in politics is a key process for democracy. But the records so far are not encouraging. The factors responsible for poor female participation in politics include: Money politics -This is one of the banes of women’s participation in politics. And women find it more difficult to raise such sums of money. Electoral Violence - This is the very cankerworm that is destroying Nigeria's electoral system. Issues of sexual discrimination and harassments still pervade the electoral system as regards obtaining the party ticket and also for elections proper. Cultural issues which sometimes sup port the subjugation of women over men. The case of Gbemi Saraki is on point where it has been suggested that for religious reasons she can not win the Gubernatorial seat in Kwara State because she is a women and will not be voted for by some sections of the male moslem vote due to cultural and religious reasons..

THE WAY FORWARD.
The fuller participation of women in politics will improve the democratic fabric in Nigeria.But equally important if for Women to be very active in fighting against corruption and bribery in elections. Women should be at the forefront in calling for electoral reforms to restrict the use of money in elections. There should be a massive voter education and mobilisation to ensure that voters reject money process and embrace free and fair elections as component parts of democracy. Women and equally men must refuse to sell or trade their vote for money.
Women’s voices should be heard in the National Assembly and they should address the moral delinquency in the society, condemn corruption and set agendas that the majority of Nigerians will embrace and support. It is by showcasing female legislators and politicians and creating an environment where people vote on issues and performance that we will see greater female participation in the political process.
Many Non- Governmental Organisations like the National Action Committee on Women in Politics (NACWIP) should be involved in the campaign and championing of women’s participation in politics. NAWIP and other NGOs should be at the forefront in ensuring the implementation of provisions and statues, which Nigeria has signed as regards the implementation of women participation in politics. It should be part of any progressive Government policy that the 30 percent quota should be compulsory for Government as regards appointment of women to posts in Government. This will ensure a proportional representation of interests in Government and most importantly there are sufficient numbers of women satisfactorily qualified. The PDP Government and other parties should also introduce a minimum quota that females in the party should constitute at least 10% of elective office holders.
Because of the circumstances of women not easily meeting the resources needed for elections, some countries like Tanzania and Rwanda have advocated special seats should be reserved for women. In the case of Nigeria with six identifiable geo political zones, and because the election of members of the National Assembly and State House of Assembly are regulated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic such a procedure would not, in our view, be possible unless the Constitution was amended. And the change with the current composition of the Assembly would be challenging. It would be better strategy that parties come up with party policy on the need to increase female participation in politics and that a minimum of 10% of the elective offices should intially be filled by and with women. Legislation should also be passed by the National Assembly for the implementation of all the conventions concerning women to which Nigeria is a signatory.

ROLE OF WOMEN IN POLITICS TODAY.
Over the years women have always played political roles in Nigeria in spite of all the limitations and encumbrances, but have been relegated to the background in issues of the overall development especially in the developing nations like Nigeria.
This is borne out of the sentimental attachment on feminine gender. Today, women are participating more actively in political issues than ever before as a result of political re-awakening and awareness. A fair amount of men are still predisposed to the notion that decision making is exclusively for the men folk while women are to be instructed on what to do. This idea of seeing the women playing the number two role at homes appears to be playing itself out in the political life of the people. And this ought not to be so with regards to the ever dynamic nature of things globally where women have been for long playing prominent roles in political affairs.
There are also good role models for women in Nigeria in the person of people like Ngozi Iweala the former minister of finance who performed ably and Professor Dora Akunyili, the NAFDAC boss who also performed credibly; leading the fight against adulterated pharmaceutical drugs. Using her record as a good public servant she later served in Government as a minister and is now seeking elective office as a senator in Anambra State.
Today, many countries of the world are making efforts to bridge the gap between men and women in politics. But in Nigeria the representation of women in Government even though it has improved slightly is still unsatisfactory. There is no doubt that women have plenty of potential and there are many ways that they can contribute meaningfully to the development of their country. The Nigerian government should work towards achieving gender equality in democratic governance by the creation of new policies as regards the appointment of women into Government. This is probably the easiest way to improve women’s participation in politics.
The research department of the Tolani Animashaun Campaign Organisation prepared the paper and Tolani Animashaun initiated the initiative and was involved in the process as the topic “Women in Politics” is close to her heart.

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