NIGERIA WOMEN AND POLITICS; THE WAY FORWARD
By Princess Ekwi Ajide
Since the garden of Eden, women have continued to make assertive efforts to be the determiners of who gets what, when and how, which is what politics entails as defined by Harold Lasswell. Women have continued to prove they are political animals like their male counterparts even in a male dominated society like ours. Women have continued to shake themselves off of ‘the other room’ role given to them by the menfolk and fellow womenfolk (the brainwashed ones). Women have gained some good measure of success in their bid to be self-regulated, and political leaders.
Tracing women activities in Nigeria politics from the early years of our country Nigeria, in 1957 during the pre-Independence era, Nigeria witnessed a unique crop of women political activists such as Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, Mrs. Janet Mokelu and Ms. Young who were all members of the Eastern House of Assembly. The late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, though not a career politician, was a very strong force to reckon with in the politics of the old Western Region; while Hajia Gambo Sawaba waged a fierce battle for the political and cultural emancipation of women in the North. In order words, one can say that women have always played viable political roles in Nigeria in spite of all the man-induced limitations and encumbrances.
The Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida era marked a turning point in the history of women struggle in Nigeria, when the late Maryam Babangida institutionalized the office of the First Lady in 1987. She became the first working First Lady and launched the “Better Life for Rural Women” Programme.
Other women who have made impact in the country’s political arena include: Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala former Minister of Finance, who saved the nation billions of Naira as a result of her professional competence and hard working nature as a public office; Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili also set the pace in the history of Nigerian politics, while the late Professor Dora Akunyili, as the boss of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), also performed credibly; leading the fight against adulterated pharmaceutical drugs.
There are a handful of women in politics in present times that have done well and are still performing quite well. The likes of Senator Uche Ekwunife who floored the almighty ex-Senator Victor Umeh to emerge the member representing Anambra Central Senatorial Zone and the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari who has refused to be cowed by the towering height, demeanor and position of her husband but has kept her voice heard against all odds.Yet, Nigeria women are still a far cry from the Beijing clamour for equal representation of women with men in the political arena. For instance, out of the 109 senators, only 7 are women which is 6.4 percent female representation at the ninth assembly of Nigeria’s recently inaugurated Senate. Relief Web news platform reported on October 22, 2018, that UN human rights experts are urging Nigeria to take immediate steps to remedy deliberate attempts to exclude women candidates from party primary elections for seats in state and national Legislative Houses. According to the UN Human experts; “Reports of irregularities in primaries in states around Nigeria include reports of party and election officials excluding women candidates from candidate lists, denying them access to essential information regarding elections, and cancelling and rescheduling primaries, allegedly with the sole purpose of excluding women candidates.”
They continued: “’We call on the Nigerian authorities to fully investigate these allegations and to ensure that women candidates who have been unfairly or illegally excluded are given access to appropriate remedies,” “We also urge the authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that such irregularities are not present in the next phase of elections; ” the experts added.
The experts also noted that there have also been reports of widespread intimidation, blackmail and violent attacks against women candidates and their supporters; and stated: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of violence and intimidation to try to keep women out of politics,” were some calls by experts. “Perpetrators of such violence must be brought to justice.” The experts noted that Nigeria’s National Gender Policy contains a provision calling for measures to ensure that women fill 35 percent of elective and appointive political posts, but deplored that such measures had not been put into actual practice. “Ensuring women’s full and equal participation in politics and in public life is required by international human rights law. What is more, it is essential for women’s equality in all spheres of life, for making certain that their perspective is represented in law and in policy, and for achieving true democracy for all,’ the experts said.”
Women also have a role to play in facilitating the achievement of this equality in the political process by utilising every opportunity they have at elective or appointment positions to prove that they are indispensable in achieving an egalitarian society.
According to Olusola Akanni, a social critic, women also contribute to their being relegated by their male counterparts during political activities. “Save for a handful, some of the women who have been given political positions in Nigeria had abused such positions; he said. “We know how some of our womenfolk in power got entangled in scandalous stories of embezzling mind boggling amounts of money that belong to the people of the country and put in their trust,” Mr. Akanni noted “We have heard of women who assumed positions through political means but get consumed in the corruption and wanton embezzlement scandals which has entrapped the men, as it were,” he added.
However, Adaeze Clark, a seamstress and activist shared a contrary view. She insisted that there was a calculated attempt to stifle women out of politics and governance in Nigeria. “They fix serious political meetings at night when most women are attending to their matrimonial duties, the cost of running campaigns are so high that most women with capacity to hold certain political positions are scared away.” She opined that when a level playing ground is provided for both men and women by holding political meetings in the day and de-emphasising money politics, more women will have the chance at contesting for political positions.