The number of women elected to public offices in Nigeria may not increase significantly after this year’s election, analyses by PREMIUM TIMES and women rights activists have shown.
This newspaper’s analysis show that in the 29 states where gubernatorial elections would hold this year, the representation of women seeking the office of governor and deputy governor stands at 87 out of the 380 candidates (22.9 per cent) running for the positions.
In the contest for Senatorial seats, 122 women out of 747 candidates, representing 16 per cent, have been cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission to run in the March 28 election.
The number is not better in the contest for the lower chamber of parliament. Two hundred and sixty seven women out of a total 1774 candidate are running for seats at the House of Representatives, representing 15 per cent.
At a Twitter conference organised by The Nigerian Women Trust Fund, and supported by the Department for International Development (DFID) and Voices4Change, Ayisha Osori, the Chief Executive Officer of the Fund, painted the picture even more vividly.
Ms. Osori was one of four panellists at the conference themed, “2014 Primaries: What the Numbers tell us,” which sought to “analyse the performance of women in the 2014 party primaries with an eye on the 2015 general elections and what this entails for women’s political participation in Nigeria”.
In her analysis, she indicated that the North Central geo-political zone has 43 and 20 women who emerged after the primaries to contest for seats in the House of Representatives and Senate respectively.
The North East, which has the lowest number of women candidates from the geographical zones, has 16 women for the House of Representatives and eight for Senate, while the North West has 24 women for the House of Representatives and nine for the Senate.
The South East, with the highest number of female candidates, has 84 for the House of Representatives and 29 for Senate.
The South West has 66 women running for seats at the House of Representative and 34 for the Senate, while the South South boasts 36 for the House of Representatives and 21 for the Senate.
In her analysis by political parties, Ms. Osori said the Mega Progressive Peoples Party has the highest number of women vying for seats, with 30 women contesting for the House of Representatives and 16 for Senate.
Labour Party has the least numbers; 15 for House of Representatives and seven for Senate.
While the Peoples Democratic Party has 19 women for the House of Representatives and seven for Senate, the All Progressives Congress has 26 women for the House of Representatives and seven for the Senate.
In all of these, Enugu State has 34 women contesting for seats in the National Assembly, the highest of all the states.
Edo, Katsina, Taraba and Kano states, on the other hand have the lowest numbers with one woman from each state.
Ms. Osori summarises the concern of many gender advocates thus: “At the end of the day – if we have only an average of 15 per cent (National Assembly) contesting, then we are sure to fall below 35 per cent.”
Nigerian women have not had it smooth in terms of representation in top public offices. At present, in the Senate, none of the principal officers is a woman, and only eight of the 109 Senators are women.
The House of Representatives has only one female principal officer. However, only 24 (7 per cent) of the 362 members are women.
These figures are in contrast with the situation in countries such as Rwanda, where women make up 61 of 106 parliamentarians (58 per cent), and Senegal where women occupy 65 of the 150 parliamentary seats (43 per cent).
In Nigeria’s 36 states,, there is no female governor, and the country does not appear ready to have a woman as president, although a woman is running for that office this year.
All of these realities exist despite the National Gender Policy’s promise to support women to occupy 35 per cent of elective positions in Nigeria.
The problems hindering women from actively seeking elective offices range from the high costs of contesting elections to cultural ideologies and inferiority complex, activists say.
However, Remi Sonaiya, KOWA’s presidential candidate, who was also a panellist at the twitter conference said, “Women should begin to seek elective positions more; not just appointments.”
She added that, “With each woman that rises beyond those limitations, many more get encouraged.”
Amy Oyekunle, the Executive Director of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), said for women to remain relevant in parties, there is need to “advocate for greater representation at the party levels, support women through actively identifying, training and building capacity to lead, contest, and advocate for issues, and also create affirmative action like quotas to enable them contest”.
Ms Osori of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund argued along the same line..
She also called for support for the legalisation of independent candidacy in Nigeria.
“Independent candidacy is also another way to go,” Ms. Osori said. “(It) frees women ( and men) from the tyranny of major political parties.”