Profiling 2019 Female Aspirants: Why political space dwindles for Nigerian women

Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.
Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.

During the precolonial era, women, traditionally, were allowed to participate in government and hold major roles in markets in parts of South-eastern Nigeria dominated by Igbos.

Indirect rule system was rife there.

Women also had the privilege of participating in political movements due to the fact that they were married to ‘elites’.

The British saw these practices as “a manifestation of chaos and disorder”. While they considered the political institutions headed by Igbo men, the British ignored those of the women, effectively shutting them out from political power. The British believed that this patriarchal and masculine order would establish a moral order but they met a brick wall.

In November and December 1929, a series of protests, riots and demonstrations took place in Igbo and Ibibio-speaking areas of South-eastern Nigeria.

“The women’s war of 1929: Gender and violence in Colonial Nigeria” written by three scholars: Mark Matera; Misty L. Bastian and Susan Kingsley Kent provided an insight on what led to the historic event. Known in colonial archives as the “Aba women’s riot,” this event marked a turning point in the story of British colonial rule.

Thousands of Igbo women organised a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in the region, causing one of the most serious challenges to British rule in the history of the colony. It took the government months to suppress the riot which became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.

Specifics that led to the war were heightened prices of imported goods and lower prices set for exports.

The final straw came when “warrant chiefs” were instructed by colonial leaders to count the number of women. The women concluded this would lead to their taxation as the same procedure had been done in the past in the process of taxing men.

They went after establishments as well as houses and compounds of notorious warrant chiefs and court messengers. They demanded the caps of corrupt warrant chiefs. They released prisoners. The women outwardly pursued any visible signs of colonial domination and exploitation.

As a result, taxation of women was halted and based on recommendations by women, the most corrupt and exploitative warrant chiefs were ‘de-caped’ and removed from office. Women were also appointed to serve in newly constituted Native Courts and began to hold positions in public affairs with the power of helping to select new chiefs.

This is regarded a landmark for women in the political history of Nigeria by many scholars and a glimpse of the collective power of women in achieving social justice.

However, long after the British rule, women’s presence in the political space have continued to dwindle, records show.

Background

In the 19 years of Nigeria’s recent democracy, no woman has emerged president, vice president or even an elected governor.

Dame Virginia Etiaba, the first female governor in Nigeria’s history from November 2006 to February 2007 in Anambra state did not win the seat at the polls. She assumed the position after the previous governor, Peter Obi, was impeached by the state legislature for alleged gross misconduct. She transferred her powers back to Mr Obi three months later when an appeal court nullified the impeachment.

In elective positions in Nigeria since 1999, a Fact Sheet by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) shows that women have not reached 15 per cent representation. Out of the 109 Senate seats, women occupied three in 1999, four in 2003, nine in 2007, and seven in 2011 and 2015.

Out of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives, women represented 12 in 1999, 21 in 2003, 25 in 2007, 26 in 2011 and 22 in 2015.

In the current dispensation which ushered in President Muhammadu Buhari, there are only six female deputy governors and seven senators (the highest height women have attained in politics). This is as the country’s population figure by the National Population Commission (NPC) in April was pegged at 193 million with 51 per cent males and 49 per cent females.

The gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Taraba State, Aisha Alhassan, would have made history in the 2015 general elections as the first woman to emerge successfully as governor; but she lost at the polls just as others like her who have tried in the past.

Religion and culture are some of the major constraints generally holding women back in politics, political analysts say.

These constraints were reechoed by Ndi Kato who has declared her intentions to run for office in the forthcoming 2019 general elections. The 28-year-old woman will be seeking a seat in the Kaduna State House of Assembly, to represent Jema’a Constituency. Her region has never been represented by a woman in both state, federal and Senate houses.

“I think its culture, the culture that says women belong in certain places and do not belong in others. The culture that generally keeps women out of the discussions and the belief that we should be submissive. This is why women have low representation in politics,” Ms Kato said in a recent interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

Concerned that the odds will still stack up against women in the 2019 general elections, the CDD partners PREMIUM TIMES to bring to fore the prospects, challenges and breakthroughs of female aspirants before and after next year’s polls.

The objective of the one-year project is to profile female political aspirants before the 2019 general elections; analyse how they fared in campaigns, primaries and the polls so as to stimulate conversations around women’s dwindling political participation in Nigeria.

“The media plays an important role in shaping election discourse and is thus an important ally in promoting women’s political participation. However, the way the media often portray women in politics militate against the involvement of many women in politics,” said CDD director, Idayat Hassan.

Ms Hassan said while financing is a challenge in terms of the media coverage women receive during electioneering, as the price of airtime is often beyond the reach of women, “more important are stories or images often peddled of women creating negative stereotypes.

“The lack of quality media coverage does have a negative impact on the advancement of women in politics. To correct this anomaly, CDD partners with PREMIUM TIMES to highlight some of the challenges women face in political participation to audience who may not understand same, but importantly to profile women pre, during and after elections.


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