Despite clamours for improvement in women participation in public life across the world, Nigeria appears to be moving in the wrong direction.
From 1999 till date, only 157 women have been elected into the 469-member National Assembly (38 senators and 119 members of the House of Representatives), compared to 2,657 men (616 senators, 2,041 reps) during the same period.
The results of the 25 February presidential and National Assembly elections have further exposed Nigeria’s failure to implement several treaties and statutes it signed, which are aimed at ensuring women’s involvement in politics.
Of the 92 women who contested for the Senate in the February elections, only three won, while out of the 286 who contested for seats in the House of Representatives, only 15 have been declared winners.
Mercy Abang, the CEO of Host Writer, said the low number of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria is directly proportional to the level of development.
She said Nigeria’s political parties are not interested in prioritising issues of women’s development, saying decisions still need to be made for women by men, even when women constitute a significant portion of the voting population.
“The Taliban government strips women and girls of fundamental freedom and rights. If you look at what is happening in Afghanistan regarding how women are seen, would you say there is a difference between the Nigerian state and her political structure?” she asked rhetorically.
Nigerian women have continued to excel in the private sector and are serving in top-level positions globally, yet featuring in public life at home remains a challenge.
UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, echoed this when he told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that Nigeria has produced so many women of excellence across the world and private sector but in public life, Nigeria lags behind most African countries.
What data says?
A total of 18 political parties fielded 380 female candidates for the National Assembly elections; 92 for the Senate and 288 for the House of Representatives.
Out of the 92 who contested for the 109 senatorial seats, representing 8.4 per cent, only three won. They are Ireti Kingibe of the Labour Party (LP) from the FCT; Idiat Adebule of All Progressives Congress (APC) from Lagos West District; and Ipalibo Harry Banigo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Rivers West District.
Only 15 of the 288 women who contested for House of Representatives’ seats also won, with eight from the APC; four from PDP, and one each from LP, APGA and YPP.
Oby Orogbu, LP; Maureen Gwacham, APGA; and Chinwe Nnabuife of YPP won their House of Representatives’ seats in Anambra State.
Ebikake Enenimiete of PDP won in Bayelsa while Blessing Onuh and Regina Akume of APC won in Benue State.
Zainab Gimba won in Borno under the APC, Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu of PDP won in Delta State; Miriam Onuoha, Ogbara Kafilat and Adewunmi Onanuga of the APC won in Imo, Lagos and Ogun states respectively.
Beni Lar and Boma Goodhead of the PDP emerged winners in Plateau and Rivers State, while Fatsuma Talba and Khadija Ibrahim of APC won their contests in Yobe State.
The only female presidential candidate, Chichi Ojei of the Allied People’s Movement, secured only 25,961 votes from the 24,025,940 total valid votes cast in the election.
According to figures from INEC, the total number of eligible voters rose by 9,464,924 or 11.3 per cent from the 84,004,084 recorded in the 2019 general elections to 93,469,008 in 2023. Of the total registered voters, 49,054,162 or 52.5 per cent are male while the remaining 44,414,846 or 47.5 per cent are female voters.
Nigeria, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Women in Politics Report 2022, ranked 184 out of 192 for women’s representation in the national parliament.
True to this ranking, there are only 21 women in the ninth National Assembly out of 469 members. At the sub-national level, data from Invictus Africa shows that there are only 45 women out of 990 state House of Assembly members; 15 of the 36 states have no female members.
The tenth assembly would most likely be worse than the previous ones given the numbers so far.
Nigeria’s place in Africa
In Africa’s 54 countries, Nigeria ranks the lowest, coming 54th with a 5.45 per cent female representation, while Rwanda ranks first with 47.95 per cent.
On the list of five worst-performing countries, Algeria came second after Nigeria with 6.20 per cent; Benin Republic, 7.40 per cent, while the Gambia and Liberia followed with 8.60 and 11.00 per cent respectively.
Senegal came second place in the overall ranking after Rwanda with 44.20 per cent; Mozambique followed with 42.60 per cent, then South Africa and Burundi with 41.60 and 39.60 per cent respectively.
Between 1999 and 2003, the House of Representatives had 12 female members who made up 3.3 per cent of the total 360 members while men made up 96.7 per cent with 348 members.
From 2003 to 2007, only 21 women were in the House of Representatives, increasing the percentage to 5.8 as men occupied 339 seats representing 94.2 percent.
Only 628 of a total of 7,160 candidates in the April 2007 elections were women, representing 8.8 per cent of the total number of candidates. There were a total of 3,141 candidates who ran for seats in the National Assembly, and only 209 (6.7 per cent) of these were women.
While there were 25 elected representatives in 2007 and 19 elected in 2011, the number of female senators rose to nine in 2007 and remained the same in 2011.
In 2019, 235 women ran for Senate seats out of a total of 1,904 candidates, while 533 women ran for House of Representatives seats out of a total of 4,680 candidates.
Before the 2023 elections, the numbers dropped to 21 women serving in the National Assembly, eight in the Senate and 13 in the House of Representatives, representing 4.47 per cent of the National Assembly membership.
Adenike Aloba is the Programme Director at Dataphyte, a media data and innovation centre. She said on every occasion of International Women’s Day, Nigerian women have little or nothing to celebrate.
Mrs Aloba said in 2022, Nigerian women suffered the rejection of relevant gender bills, and this year, “INEC, in its characteristic inability to read the room, chose the eve of 8 March (International Women’s Day) to announce that only 18 women “made the cut.”
She said the poor showing of women at the polls was not strange as “we saw it in the number of women candidates that were contesting elective positions.”
She said it was obvious that increasing women’s chances of being elected would mean increasing the number of female candidates, and as that did not happen, the outcome could be easily foretold. “So this is sad but not surprising.”
Also speaking, the Labour Party’s spokesperson, Ndi Kato, said Nigeria has taken several steps backward, saying it was clear from the onset “how the numbers did not add up.”
“I think where we are right now is terrible and I could see the signs during the elections. I thought to myself that it did not look like many women made it through the primaries… It looked like things were going to get worse, I could see the signs because as a woman who was part of the election season but was not running, I had the time to see how many women there were, especially for the major political parties. It did not look like we had that many and it was so problematic to me,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ebere Ifendu is the President of Women in Politics Forum. She said the only way forward would be to commence activities towards enhancing female participation in politics.
According to Mrs Ifendu, the political parties’ primaries were largely monetised and the processes made it difficult for women to compete.
“This is why we will continue to advocate legislations that ensure political participation of women; otherwise our male counterparts will continue to use excuses like religion and culture to undermine women’s political participation. Let me say here that Sokoto State recorded 11 female candidates in this election and for me, it is a positive testament to the work that we and other CSOs have been doing in improving women’s political participation.
“The results for the National Assembly may not seem like Nigerian women know better but we have already started preparing towards 2027 and we look forward to a positive impact.”
Mrs Aloba advised that campaigns and advocacy should not be loud only around set-apart days like International Women’s Day.
“It has to be sustained. Like I often say, we need to get much louder, much quicker and for longer. Yes, it will require significant investment but it is not impossible,” she said.
She accused the media of complicity, noting that if the media reflect the issues, then they exist and vice versa.
“Framing, gate-keeping and agenda-setting are still imported roles that the media play and the media must, as a matter of necessity, take on these roles conscientiously to tackle gender inequality,” Mrs Aloba added.
Ms Kato decried the frequent last-minute attempt by civil society and international organisations to galvanise support for women in politics.
“I think that a long-term, well-thought-out effort to get more women to participate and then to loosen the loopholes that prevent women from participating is what is key,” she advised.
For Ms Abang, women should make decisions and be part of law-making; women should lead at cabinet meetings, control resources, and lead teams on policy decisions that concern the general population.
“It should be a top-bottom and bottom-top approach to achieve development strides. The face of power needs to change for reforms to happen in Nigeria; for too long, the other gender has held it,” she said.
Ms Abang added that the only way Nigeria can flip the indexes is by flipping the coin and opening the space for more women in decision making, “and please do not tell me 35 per cent, that is 2000 and late, we are talking 50 and 60 per cent here.”
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