A female politician in Borno State who defeated four men, including an incumbent, for a House of Representatives ticket says she faced harassment and assaults, including beating and teargas by the police to emerge victorious.
Zainab Gimba’s ordeal vividly captures the typical plight women with interest in active politics pass through in the male-dominated Nigerian political space.
The situation is even worse for women in a nearly 100 per cent patriarchal society like Borno State where few women get elected into public offices.
In 2015, only one woman, Asabe Bashir, got elected into office as member of the House of Representatives from Borno State. She became only the third woman ever elected into either the state or National Assembly since the creation of Borno State in 1976.
Even Mrs Bashir, who currently represents Gwoza, Damboa, Chibok federal constituency, has lost her her bid for reelection as she was defeated at the primary on Sunday.
Mrs Gimba is the only woman who won at the primaries, although about a dozen women indicated interest in various positions in the just concluded party primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Borno.
But her victory came with bitter experiences, she said. According to Mrs Gimba, she was beaten up, bruised, tear-gassed and went three days without sleep.
Mrs Gimba is one of the longest serving commissioners in the state, serving since 2011.
When she declared her intention to run for the seat of Bama, Ngala, Kala-Balge federal constituency, she never imagined the tall hurdles she faced to defeat an incumbent even though he was long written off as a non-performing federal legislator.
Mamman-Nur Sheriff, a younger brother to former governor of the state, Ali Sheriff, is the incumbent occupant of the coveted seat.
But when delegates filed out to vote Thursday last week, the stakes became high for all the four other contestants, with Mrs Gimba the only woman among them.
The rumour mill was alive that the APC establishment in the state was keen on returning Mr. Sheriff at all cost. But the delegates who had made up their minds queued behind the former commissioner.
On Thursday night, the APC electoral panel suspended voting and declared the primary inconclusive with Mrs Gimba in clear lead.
Reasons for suspension of the voting was the invasion of the venue by police officers who did not only freely use sticks and gun buts on the adamant delegates but also physically assaulted Mrs Gimba who fell down resisting attacks on her supporters.
Delegates were ordered back the next day for the continuation of the election, which did not hold until late in the night as officials of the party with vested interest in ensuring the process was rigged continued to frustrate her chance.
After lights were switched off on Friday night at the Elkanemi Sports Centre, the venue of the primary, the election was again shifted to Saturday.
On Saturday night, while delegates who became more sympathetic to the embattled female aspirant continued to cast their votes for her, a gang of political thugs invaded the venue and began to attack her supporters.
Police officers freely used tear gas and Mrs Gimba was among those who suffered from the peppery substance.
Mrs Gimba defied the pains. She still did not run, as she continued to beg her supporters who had not voted not to panic or flee the venue.
At the end of the day, after over 72 hours of resilience, Mrs Gimba overcame the vested interest to emerge victorious in what could be described the longest of all primaries held in the state.
According to results announced by the chairman of the electoral panel, Ahmad EL-Marzuq, Mrs Gimba polled 604 votes to defeat her main rival, Mr. Sheriff, who got 317 votes.
Three other male contenders scored, 19, three and two votes.
According to her, it took that long, from Thursday to Saturday night, because some persons did not want her to win the ticket.
The female politician alleged that the state government in collusion with party officials used the police to attempt rigging her out of the contest.
“I thought the contest was supposed to be a family affair of the APC but suddenly we began to see police being brought in and they began to beat everyone up, including me,” said Mrs. Gimba.
“Not minding my being a female, the policemen beat me up with stick and I even fell down as I was trying to evade the attack.
“They did that because they know I was winning, which was against the directives from above that I must not be allowed to win the primaries.
“I got it on a good authority that some of the local party officials from the three local governments that make up my constituency were given instruction that I must not win, and they should do whatever it takes for the incumbent, Mamman-Nur, to win the ticket and retain his seat as the member representing our constituency.
“I learnt from reliable sources that Honorable Mamman Nur had pleaded not to be humiliated at the primaries, using family ties and other relationship to beg.
“For God sake, this is about the people of a whole constituency and not the personal and family affairs of individuals. I know we are popular and I don’t need to rig or manoeuvre things to win; I know I can beat him hands down in a free and fair contest.”
She said the party officials made several attempts to force delegates to vote against her but to no avail.
“Some of our delegates were threatened with sack from local government services, others were warned of losing their executive membership of the party at the local government level should they vote for me.
“When they saw how adamant the delegates were, they then began snatching ballot papers from the hands of the delegates and writing the names of my opponent. If a delegate comes forward to vote, they will just snatch the ballot paper and begin to write the name of my opponent.
“It was that point they now directed the police, led by one popular officer, to start beating us up. And the police officer, whom I know personally, assaulted me directly.
“On the the night of Saturday, the police freely used the tear gas which affected all of us.
“I have never been directly teargassed all my life; and I got my first experience on my election day.”
Mrs Gimba told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that she dedicated her victory to all women in the state, and to the resilient delegates “who stood against all harassment and resisted temptations to ensure that a woman is given her due rights in active politics.
“Events of the past few days have further strengthened my commitment to always be grateful to Almighty Allah in all situation I find myself.
“There is no doubt that in the final analysis democracy has prevailed and the delegates of our great party, APC, have overwhelmingly appreciated the sincerity of our sacrifice and elected me as their flag-bearer for 2019.
“I also thank our leader in the state, His Excellency Governor Kashim Shettima, whose fatherly disposition has helped to stabilise the various conflicting interests within the party.”
To the delegates, Mrs Gimba said “the victory at the primaries is just a major first phase, and the bigger battle comes ahead.”
The plight of the female politician has made her famous in the state capital as her battle with the male chauvinists turned her into an instant heroine.
Mrs Gimba, a former lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, holds a PhD in Philosophy, Public Administration and Policy. She joined active politics in 2011 when she was appointed commissioner for poverty alleviation and youth empowerment. She was later transferred to the ministry of water resources where she served until last month when the state cabinet was dissolved.