Nigeria’s estimated population of over 200 million people makes it the most populous nation in Africa. Women and girls comprise 49.32 per cent of that population. However, you are unlikely to notice this in the political life of the country which is also Africa’s largest democracy.
While women are making significant contributions to Nigerian politics, especially on election days, their representation in political and decision-making positions needs to be improved, an analysis by PREMIUM TIMES has shown.
The underrepresentation of women can be attributed to factors such as cultural stereotypes, religion and the patriarchal social structure of the country. And despite a growing call for gender equality in Nigerian politics, these factors ensure that women face difficulties in securing high positions in government.
The outcomes of the just-concluded 2023 elections in Nigeria have continued to raise concerns among political analysts and activists regarding the participation and representation of women.
Although many women submitted nominations for various political offices, only a few received the nod of their parties to run in the general election due largely to financial limitations, cultural preconceptions and socio-political marginalisation by men.
However, some of the few women who participated in the elections showed remarkable determination and resilience, defying all the odds to put up a good fight. A notable example is the presidential candidate of the Allied People’s Movement (APM), Chichi Ojei. Although she did not win, and even lost the support of her party, her participation significantly challenged traditional gender roles and stereotypes in Nigeria’s political space.
Meanwhile, statistics indicate that the number of women elected to the National Assembly in 2023 is the lowest since 2003 when 24 women were elected.
The 2007 general elections produced the highest number of women in the National Assembly with 34 elected. The second lowest number was recorded in 2011 and repeated in the 2015 elections with 29. The lowest was in 1999 with only 15 women elected.
In the 2023 National Assembly elections held on 25 February, 11 women ran for Senate seats while 35 ran for seats in the House of Representatives. At the end of the polls, the 10th National Assembly recorded 14 female members in the lower chamber and three in the upper chamber.
It is interesting to note that while seven of the 14 female representatives are returning to the House, the three senators are newcomers.
These successful 17 were among the 286 women who competed in the party primaries for the 360 House of Representative seats and the 92 who contested for the 109 Senate seats. This results in a 3.62 per cent representation for women in the 10th Assembly.
Meet 17 elected NASS members
The three women senators are Banigo Harry of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is representing Rivers West Senatorial District; Ireti Kingibe of the Labour Party who is representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) District, and Adebule Oluranti of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is representing Lagos West Senatorial District.
For the House of Representatives, they are Nnabuife Clara of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) representing Orumba North/Orumba South constituency of Anambra State; LP’s Orogbu Obiageli representing Awka North/Awka South of Anambra State; Gwacham Maureen Chime of APGA, representing Oyi/Ayamelum in Anambra State, and APC’s Regina Akume, representing Gboko/Tarka federal constituency of Benue State.
They also include Blessing Onu of the APC from Otukpo/Ohimini federal constituency of Benue State; Ibori-Suenu Erhiatake of the PDP from Ethiope East/Ethiope West federal constituency of Delta State; Fatima Talba of APC from Nangre/Potiskum constituency of Yobe State; Zainab Gimba of APC from Bama/Ngala/Kala-Balge constituency of Borno State; Beni Lar of the PDP from Langtang North/Langtang South constituency of Plateau State, and Goodhead Boma of the PDP from Akuku Toru/Asari Toru constituency of Rivers State.
The new female members of the House of Representatives include Khadija Abba-Ibrahim of the APC from the Damaturu/Gujba/Gulani/Tarmuwa constituency of Yobe State; Onuoha Odinaka of APC from Isiala Mbano/Okigwe/Onuimo constituency of Imo State; Adewunmi Onanuga of APC from Ikenne/Shagamu/Remo North constituency of Ogun State; Tolulope Sadipe of APC from Oluyele Federal constituency of Oyo State and Amadi Chigeru of PDP from the Port Harcourt II Federal Constituency seat of Rivers State.
The others are Ebikake Enemimiete of PDP from Brass/Nembe federal constituency of Bayelsa State and Kafilat Ogbara of APC from Kosefe Federal Constituency of Lagos State.
Women have historically had low participation rates in political party posts in Nigeria, whether elected or appointed. After the Beijing Declaration from the Fourth World Conference on Women, governmental and non-governmental groups have tried to boost female engagement in politics. Unfortunately, the issue of underrepresentation has remained.
According to Nigeria’s National Gender Policy, women empowerment and gender equality are fundamental human rights at the core of equitable development. Many international and regional agreements, of which Nigeria is a signatory, like the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights with the Optional Protocol on Women’s Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women all prescribe higher representation for women in politics and policy-making.
As earlier stated, the underrepresentation of women in the political space is partly caused by the patriarchal norms established in Nigerian society before colonialism. The average proportion of women in Nigeria elected and appointed to political positions is 6.7 per cent. This is much less than the global average of 22.5 per cent, the regional average for Africa of 23.4 per cent and the West African average of 15 per cent.
Despite their low representation in politics, Nigerian women have held important positions in government in recent years. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who in 2020 became the first African woman to be appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organization, was first appointed Minister of Finance in 2003 and returned to the position in 2011, which she combined as the coordinating minister of the economy under President Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2015, Amina Mohammed was appointed Minister of Environment, making her the first woman to hold that position in Nigeria.
Patricia Etteh was also elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007, although she held the position for only four months before she was removed in October of that year.
The low number of women in the 10th National Assembly is a setback for the goal of women’s political participation as captured in the Beijing Affirmative Action. The National Assembly’s failure to pass constitutional amendment bills to support Nigerian women’s demands for their due representation in the political and decision-making process makes the situation worse.
The National Assembly rejected a bill requiring affirmative action for women in political party administration in March 2022. Additionally, the lawmakers opposed the bill designating specific places for women in the national and state legislatures.
Also, a Bill for an Act to Alter the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 Constitution’s Provisions to Provide for Special Seat for Women in the National and State Houses of Assembly and Related Matters also suffered defeat.
The bill aimed to amend sections 48, 49, 71, 77, 91, and 117 of the Nigerian Constitution by adding one extra senatorial seat and two more federal seats in each state and FCT for women. It was sponsored by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), a member of the House of Representatives.
After the National Assembly rejected the gender bills, there were protests by Nigerian women groups from different socio-economic classes and backgrounds.
Even then, gender advocates have said that merely affirming gender equality in the books is not enough and that the country must address the real issues hindering women from reaching their full potential, despite existing gender laws. This underscores the urgency for social reform in gender relations.
These experts are of the opinion that Nigeria must fulfil its commitment to the 35 per cent “Affirmative Action.”
Setting agenda for new administration
Gender advocates and activists have argued that the lack of women’s representation in Nigeria’s government harms the nation’s development. They said the exclusion of women from political leadership roles denies them the opportunity to contribute to policy and decision-making processes that shape Nigeria’s future.
Setting an agenda for President Bola Tinubu’s administration, a political analyst, Jide Ojo, called for using the revised national gender policy as an anchor for each policy “by ensuring the reflection of the 35 per cent affirmative action in his appointments.”
He lamented Nigeria’s rating as one of the worst countries with poor female representation in parliament worldwide.
Mr Ojo cited the example of Uganda, where section 78 of its constitution gives affirmative action to women to have representation across all the constituencies in the country. He said there are also reserved seats for special interest groups such as the labour union, the military, the youth, and persons with disabilities.
He called for constitutional alterations in the same direction in Nigeria, charging the 10th National Assembly to consider such moves.
Hansatu Adegbite, the executive director of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), also cited the examples of Rwanda and Namibia as part of a few other African countries that have policies and laws that address the issue of low representation of women.
‘’The primary thing that has worked for them is the legal and policy framework. It is one thing to have a policy in place, it is another thing to domesticate that policy and then implement it. One of the things they have successfully done on all these different occasions is to domesticate and implement policies across,” she said.
She said in Sierra Leone, the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Act 2022, is helping to change the narrative, adding that the law empowers the electoral body to reject the list of candidates submitted by political parties that have no women representation.
‘’I will tell you that the number one thing that has worked for all the African countries that have been able to have some level of increase in women’s participation is this legal and policy framework in the area of politics, especially even starting from party politics to the general types of structures around politics. It is really about having that specific allocation based on the legal framework,” she added.
Mrs Adegbite noted that Namibia introduced the Zebra system for gender-equal politics. She said the country’s ruling party, the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), committed to filling leadership positions with a woman either as head or as deputy.
‘’For example, if you have a minister in Namibia that is a woman, her deputy must be a man. If you have another appointment that is a man, the deputy must be a woman. That was what they introduced to ensure that they had some level of equality. And because this was introduced first by the ruling party, what ended up happening was that it became a standard policy within the context of Namibia politics. So it led to an increase in the number of women in the parliament.
“Because of the Zebra system that SWAPO introduced in Namibia, it created a 50 per cent kind of structure to politics. So that is what has worked for them in politics and as of 2019, they had 44 per cent of women in the National Assembly. So that quota system has worked for them,” she said.
“Women’s inclusion in politics promotes economic growth”
Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer of Women Radio Nigeria, Toun Okewale-Sonaiya, said women’s participation in governance ensures that democracy is inclusive and representative, saying Nigeria must promote greater transparency and accountability in decision-making.
She said an inclusive government will “enhance Nigeria’s image in the international community as a progressive country, attract international support, and thrill diplomatic opportunities for Nigeria.”
‘’I feel another benefit is that it will promote economic growth because women’s inclusion in governance has direct links to many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including economic growth and poverty reduction. So by increasing the number of women in its cabinet, Nigeria will promote economic growth and development which is essential to attract international investors and donors,” Mrs Okewale-Sonaiya said.
Also speaking on the benefits of a gender-sensitive parliament, and how it can help in addressing Nigeria’s socio-economic challenges, an advocate for youth inclusion and gender equity, Rinsola Abiola, said if there are more women in parliament and other appointive positions, it will be easier for bills relating to gender issues to be passed.
She encouraged women to get into the political space rather than sitting on the sidelines.
“Research shows that when you have women being adequately represented in politics, and in government and decision-making structures, there is a lot more attention to the more people-oriented aspects of leadership,” she said “Things like education, and health get more attention and budgetary allocation because women are more sensitive to these issues. They approach things from a more humane angle as research has shown across the world”.
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