The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Tuesday affirmed Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan as the winner of the 25 February senatorial election in Kogi Central District, upholding the judgement of the election petition tribunal which voided the declaration of Abubakar Ohere of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by INEC as the winner of the poll.
The appellate court’s ruling brought a triumphant conclusion to an Amazon’s struggle of more than four years to represent her constituents and Nigerian women at the upper chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly. Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan was sworn in by the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, two days later on Thursday.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had returned 52,132 votes for Mr Ohere and 51,763 votes for Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan, who ran as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But she disputed the returns and filed a petition at the tribunal, which she won.
Her final victory at the Court of Appeal is a big win not just for her political party, the PDP, but also for Nigerian women in politics, who recorded losses in the 2023 elections.
The lawyer and social entrepreneur has had a rough political career since she started with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 2018. Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan ran against incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC in the off-season 2019 governorship election of Kogi State. Had she won that election, she would have become the first woman to be elected governor in Nigeria.
Before her, Aisha Alhassan, popularly called Mama Taraba, came closest to achieving the feat when she lost to incumbent Governor Darius Ishiaku Taraba State in 2015.
Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan and the SDP had challenged Governor Bello’s victory despite coming third in the 2019 poll, alleging over-voting, thuggery, voter intimidation, massive thumb printing of ballot papers and other electoral infractions.
She alleged that security officials watched and did nothing while political thugs verbally and physically assaulted her on election day. However, the election tribunal, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court found no merit in her petition.
A day before the 2023 senatorial election, the Kogi State government excavated portions of the road to the PDP candidate’s village. Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan said the government wanted to stop electoral officials from reaching the community but Mr Bello said the was cut off to keep away hoodlums that he said were using the route.
“I will say the entire election in Kogi Central is a sham, I find it quite barbaric and undemocratic… I will pretty much say 90 per cent of the polling units had no elections but surprisingly results came out of them,” Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan said while rejecting the return of Mr Ohere as the winner.
During an interview on Channels TV’s Politics Today, on Tuesday, Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan accused Mr Bello of plotting to kill her while rejecting Mr Bello’s congratulatory message over her victory at the court.
“This is not politics. You don’t endanger people and set out to kill people; you destroy properties; you don’t frustrate the electoral process just because you want your candidate to win and call it the beauty of democracy,” she said.
Win for Nigerian women
Looking forward in the Channels TV interview, Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan promised to show that Nigerian women can lead because there are intelligent and capable women in the country.
“Our people want good representation and they voted for it. I am out to prove to Nigerians that women folk are intelligent,” she added.
She added that she aims to bring transformational leadership and economic development to the Kogi Central senatorial district through oversight functions and connecting with various ministries.
“I want to be remembered as a bold and reformative leader,” she said in the interview.
While women make up 49 per cent of Nigeria’s population, their representation in politics is low. According to data from INEC, 92 women ran for the Senate in 2023 and 286 for the House of Representatives. However, only eight of them made it to the Senate, while 15 others won seats in the lower chamber.
Story of determination
Gender experts and human rights activists have described Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan’s senatorial election triumph as a major win for women in politics.
Bunmi Dipo-Salami, the Executive Director of BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, said her success was the result of her determination, resilience and strategy.
She said: “Senator Akpoti’s success at the poll and the court is music to my ears. It’s a story of standing up to power, speaking to power, and working with your local community to get not just their votes, but their absolute support and belief in you.
“With what we have seen with Natasha, I’m encouraging every female politician never to give up and also be able to stand on their own feet.
“The newest female member of the Senate embodies the saying that power is not served a la carte. So realising that I am sure that she would use that to map out a strategy and to ensure that her people are represented no matter what.”
Similarly, Ndi Kato, a human rights activist and one of the spokespersons for the Labour Party, said she was proud of Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan’s resilience.
“Natasha is a fighter. This battle didn’t start today nor did it start with this election. It goes to show how hard and how long female politicians have to battle for positions they are qualified for even when their people back them,” she said.
“I’m super proud of her and looking forward to her stellar contributions on the floor of the Senate.”
Struggles of Kogi women
Mrs Dipo-Salami said Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan’s win is for all Nigerian women, especially the politicians among them.
“I know that women suffer a lot. If people start telling their stories you would marvel at what is happening within that sector. We had a training workshop last week and if you listen to female politicians you’ll wonder how they are still able to stand tall even with all the adversity they face,” she said.
Mrs Dipo-Salami said people are scared to be politicians in Kogi, citing an incident when a woman was burnt to death in 2019 during that year’s governorship election as an example of the grave risks associated with politics in the north-central Nigerian state.
“But Natasha didn’t give up and she knew that power is not served a la carte. So congratulations. We wish her a successful tenure and we pray that this position, her win is sustainable, and sustained,” she said.
More about Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan
Born 9 December 1979, Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan is from Okene Local Government Area of Kogi State but grew up in Ajaokuta where her father practised Medicine.
The second of four children, she was the only daughter of a Nigerian father and a Ukrainian mother.
According to the information on her official website, she attended Christ the King Nursery and Primary School, Okene, Kogi State, and Federal Government College. Idoani, Ondo State. She proceeded to study Law at the University of Abuja and the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2005.
After leaving the Nigerian Law School, she worked with a law firm, Brass NLG, for three years (2007-2010).
She also has an MBA in Oil and Gas Management from the University of Dundee.
In March 2018, she came into the limelight after she presented an investigative report to the National Assembly.
The report highlighted the corrupt practices at the Ajaokuta Steel Mill and revealed how government funds were embezzled and misappropriated since the establishment of the steel company.
Made further famous by her advocacy for the revitalisation of the steel company, she first ran for the Senate in the 2019 general election under the SDP. In the election, Yakubu Oseni of the APC beat her by polling 76,120 to her 48,336. She beat the incumbent senator, Ahmed Ogembe of the Peoples Democratic Party of the third position with 19,359 votes.
Outside politics, Mrs Akpoti-Uduaghan founded the Builders Hub Impact Investment Programme (BHIIP), an entrepreneurship innovation.
She is married and has three children.
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