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Is Nigeria Prepared For A Female President?

By Njideka Agbo and Urenna Ukiwe 02 September 2018   |   10:54 am

When President Muhammadu Buhari during his visit to Germany to see the Chancellor, Angela Merkel in Germany in 2016, said “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room” because he could “claim superior knowledge over her”, his statement sparked international outrage.

One thing, however, stood significantly: it brought to the fore, the ideology that is propagated in the country – that women’s access to power has to be limited.

In a nation where women make up 49.5 percent of the population, this ideology finds its root in religious dogmas, anachronistic cultural thoughts and in the colonial era were the colonial masters willed the native men to exercise power over the affairs to the detriment of women who had shown their ability for coordination.

Nigeria had until that era, seen the prowess of Queen Amina of Zaria, the warrior who subdued states in the 14th century; Queen Luwoo, the female Ooni and Queen Idia, the first Queen Mother of the ancient Benin Kingdom.

Since the colonial times till now, women who take charge of the helm of affairs, are, sometimes regarded by the society, as going against the fundamental norms of their communities.

People are thus guided by the belief that a woman has the power to influence but not make decisions. Many a man argue that a woman in a leadership position will upend power relations in the country in her favour.

Men discussing the role of women in decision-making. Photo: Frank Odoi

House of Reps member Muhammed Kazaure of Jigawa State expressed this sentiment on the floor of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.

Kazaure was of the mind that when given access to become leaders, Nigerian women are more likely to retire men and become usurpers in the corridors of power.

It was ironical that Kazaure chose March 8, a day set aside worldwide to celebrate women, to express his rather backward opinion of women. His opinion, etched in the double standard, became more ridiculous after he confessed that women gave him about 70% of the votes that made him become a lawmaker.

Kazaure’s mindset does not exist in an individual vacuum. A bill sponsored by Senator Abiodun Olujimi seeking equal opportunities for all genders was shut down by the Nigerian Senate on March 15, 2016, after only the first reading, on the account that it negated religious dogmas.

Women in authority

When Patricia Etteh was elected the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives in 2007, the thought was that the Nigerian woman may soon become the president of Africa’s biggest country. But Etteh, the highest ever ranking Nigerian woman kin governance, did not last in that position.

In October that year, she was forced to resign after accusations of spending N628 million Naira on her official residence and cars for herself and her male deputy. This was despite her never being officially indicted by the House panel set up to investigate the allegations against her. In a country where corrupt male politicians and moneybags call the shots, Etteh, in this wise, is a saint.

Speculations have it that Etteh was eased out her position because she is a woman.

Essentially, discriminations against women are already firmly rooted in young people, the Global Early Adolescent Study, a partnership between the World Health Organisation and Johns Hopkins University finds. The research was carried out in 15 countries, including Nigeria.

Such pejorative belief is also responsible for the abysmal number of women in the National Assembly. Nigeria was ranked 180 out of 193 countries for women in national parliament, with only four percent of federal lawmakers being female, according to a 2017 report by the Inter-parliamentary Union.

The effect of such belief contributes to a widening gender gap that the World Economic Forum says will take about 100 years to close.

The 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (a report on the parity gap between health, education, politics and the workplace) shows that Nigeria occupies 122 out of 144 countries. Nigeria’s highest continues to be in 2006 when it ranked 94.

While the WEF says in its report that Nigeria has made progress “towards closing its gender gaps in women’s estimated earned income, enrolment in secondary education, healthy life expectancy and wage equality for similar work,” it, however, declines in terms of political empowerment for women with Nigeria ranked 135 among the 144 countries benchmarked.

Contextualising the problems properly, Nigerian senator Stella Oduah, at the 2018 ECOWAS Gender and Election Strategic Framework conference, said that since 2015, the number of women contesting at the elections has dropped to 6.4 percent, the lowest in West Africa. Of this number, 6.1 per cent represent in State Houses of Assembly, 3.9 per cent in the House of Representatives, 7.34 per cent in the Senate and almost zero per cent in the executive arm of government.

More appalling is that no woman has won any elections at the governorship and presidential level. Aisha Alhassan’s declaration as governor-elect by a tribunal sitting was cut short by the Supreme Court’s judgment.

A Female President?

“Majority of the big people, if you need something from them, don’t go directly [to them], go to the wife [and] you will easily get what you want. So, if you give them more chance, one day they will overthrow us – Kazaure

In 2011, Sarah Jubril, a presidential aspirant under the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in the history of Nigerian politics.

On the night of the primary on January 13, 2011, her emotional plea for women to be given a fair deal fell on deaf ears.

At the end of the exercise, the only vote she had to her name was cast by her: women like her even rejected her.

Jubril is one of the very few Nigerian women that have dared to walk on a path many, including men, described as treacherous and unattractive.

“The assassinations of opponents, night meetings, money being exchanged makes politics in Nigeria unattractive for people who are decent and have some self-respect,” Remi Sonaiya, the only female presidential candidate in the 2015 general elections told Guardian Life.

“If this could be sanitised, women will venture into politics.”

Eunice-Atuejide. Photo: The Trent

Her opinion is not in isolation. Presidential aspirant, Eunice Atuejide tells Guardian Life that she receives threats almost on a daily basis since she indicated interest in becoming Nigeria’s president.

From the creation of the Nigerian state, the Nigerian political centre has seen less than 10% of women participation in politics. In 1999, three women occupied three seats at the National Assembly level, four in 2003, nine in 2007, seven in 2011 and 2015 arriving at 6.4 percent of women representation in Nigeria’s history. At the House of Representatives level, women were represented with 12 in 1999; 23 in 2003; 27 in 2007; 26 in 2011; and 20 in 2015.

Sonaiya’s bravery in 2015 was rewarded with a paltry 13, 076 votes. Before then, Mojisola Obasanjo’s attempt at challenging the status quo fetched her only 3,757.

Efforts to make women inclusive of political processes and right processes began at the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1979. Until now, it has not been domesticated in Nigeria. The year 1985, will see Nigeria go on to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, The African Charter on People’s Rights, The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo protocol) at the 1985 Beijing Platform of Action and still meet a dead end.

The failure of these led to the creation of the 35 percent affirmative action in the National Gender Policy of 2006 but that, like most policies, is lip service.

In 2015, out of the 36 ministers sworn in in 2015, six were women. They were all given junior ministers roles except for Kemi Adeosun, who is the current finance minister.

Although political parties give room for women to mobilise and lead women during the elections, attempts by a woman to vie for the presidency is often met with questions on her political history, her “unafrican” attempt to head [the home] as well as political scandals of women who have occupied political offices. Even Kazuare’s outburst against giving women an opportunity to participate was hardly questioned by female lawmakers present.

Despite People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s effort to allow women register and purchase political tickets for free in the forthcoming 2019 elections, Sonaiya, notes that women themselves are afraid of venturing the Nigerian politics because “we have built a very bad political culture”.

Now what?

Yet, the 2019 elections have seen five women indicate interest in the presidency and an increase in the number of women vying for seats in the National Assembly and Senate.

Despite this improvement in numbers and people becoming more open to the idea of a woman running, Sonaiya believes that the possibility of a woman becoming president is feasible but might take a while because the internal policies of political parties and INEC do not respect the gender policy:

“We have a lot of documents, we [Nigeria] are signatories to documents and policies..even INEC has a gender policy based on the national gender policy but nothing is being done… It is time to have legal backing for the affirmative action so that we can jumpstart the process”.

Atuejide, however, begs to differ: “I will rather be in support of a level playing ground so that everyone can bring to the table what they have to offer. I state this because the bill should not be about age or gender”.

Regardless of the difference in opinion, closing the gender gap in the political space may be more arduous in a country where the president publicly said his wife belonged in the kitchen and the “other room.”

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