Before Women Boycott 2019 Elections



Nigerian women who are not impressed by a marginal reference to women participation in politics in Nigeria the other day by President Muhammadu Buhari at the United Nations are threatening to boycott the 2019 general elections. And so the women who would like the leadership of the country and the political parties to stop using them as mere statistics would like the leaders to walk their talks at home by integrating them into the governance system. They deserve some attention now!

In the light of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) N0.3 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No.5, which are aimed at achieving gender equality and women empowerment, President Muhammadu Buhari‘s speech at the recent UN Assembly merely drummed support for the inclusion of women in politics in Nigeria when in fact, women are clearly being relegated in his government.

Currently, the women are mobilising and drawing attention to their claim that they have been markedly marginalised in this administration. A global review of Nigerian political arena shows only five per cent average involvement of women in law making. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) database as at December 2017, Nigeria has only 27 women representing their constituencies at the parliament out of 469 seats available. This shows the extent of women’s involvement in lawmaking for the country; and implies that the issues, which affect women, will not receive total support from the bicameral legislature, except the few representatives lobby their colleagues aggressively.

In contrast, women representation in the parliament of Rwanda accounts for 55 per cent. This makes Rwanda the country with the highest representation of women in the parliament out of 193 countries presented on the global database.

Furthermore, available data on the number of women elected in the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 Nigerian elections show that the 2015 elections worsened the negative trend already present in 2011 with another decrease in the number of women elected.

Specifically, no woman has been elected president, vice president or governor. Moreover, even if there has been a slight increase in the number of women in the Senate (in the period between 1999-2007, there was a slight decline in 2011 and 2015 when only seven women made it to the Senate despite increase in gender advocacy among civil society organisations.)

A similar trend can be traced to the House of Representatives where seven women were elected out of the 360 seats in 1999 and 27 in 2007. However, the number of women began to decline in 2011 (25) and reached its lowest in 2015 (20).

Unlike the National Assembly, the State Houses of Assembly elections have shown instead a steady improvement. In 1999, out of the 990 members of the SHoA across Nigeria, 24 (2.4%) were women. After growing over the 2003 and the 2007 elections, women accounted for the 6.9% of SHoA members. However, in 2015, the results published by INEC show that out of the 919 seats contested, women won only 4.6%. What is more? Some states do not have a single female representative in the State Houses of Assembly.

Thus, the proportion of women elected is well below the 30% Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action target and the 35% Nigerian National Gender Policy. This regression occurred despite the fact that Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which establishes international legal obligations to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women with regard to political participation.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria has also ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Article 9:1) on the Rights of Women, which requires states and political parties to take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling national legislation and other measures.

Again, the women activists claim that they form the majority when it comes to voting, but when it comes to elective positions, they keep them aside. A gender analysis of the consolidated 2017 and 2018 nationwide continuous voters registration (CVR) exercise, show that male constitute 7,173, 863 and female constitute 5,840,306.

What is responsible for the slow progress of women in Nigerian politics? Some of the factors are the failure to promote their leadership in their own political organisations, paucity of funds available for their campaigns, patent client relationship, god-fatherism, lack of self confidence and the cultural conditioning factors that assign them a greater responsibility in family tasks: that is the issue of gender division of labour, which gave rise to the public private dichotomy and misconceptions about feminism, all stand in the way of their full participation.

Through misconceptions about feminism, motherhood and the family, it is assumed that the role of the woman ends in the ‘kitchen’ and the children.’ President Buhari during a state visit to Germany in October 2016, responded to his wife’s criticism of his presidency with the following words: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” This remark depicts the cultural stereotype placed on women in Nigeria.

Furthermore, gender discrimination in Nigerian politics is also compounded by the general news media. According to the African Media Barometer, bias against women has not completely gone away and men’s views are still favoured by media, when discussing “important” issues like politics, as news reports hardly reflect the reality of women. It argues that politics is the sector in which women’s voice is most absent as media coverage of politics is dominated by men.

In addition, historical analysis of constitutions, electoral laws and processes in Nigeria are incontrovertibly gender insensitive, tracing it from the era of the Clifford Constitution of 1922, when the first constitution in Nigeria was made to the 1999 constitution. It has been argued that all the constitutions have undisputedly discarded the aspirations and concerns of women, who represent at least one-half of the Nigerian population.

This means that women, marginally participate in governance. In the same vein, women are nowhere to be found in the country’s political party system, where political recruitment begins.

Thus, the historical imbalance created by the constitution dating back to the colonial era, where women were not in the calculus of events, may be is a militating reprisal factor because Nigeria’s pre-colonial history clearly captured the exploits of notable female political figures such as Queen Amina of Zaria, who led armies to drive out invaders from Zaria; Moremi of Ile-Ife, whose sacrifice for her people speaks to selfless leadership.

The fact that contemporary political history of Nigeria also bears testimony of prominent women leaders like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a crusader and scourge of despotic leaders who led Egba women on a protest against taxation, Margaret Ekpo, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, who championed the cause of the oppressed in the northern parts of Nigeria and Iyalode Tinubu of Lagos, further testifies to the rich contribution of women to the socio-political and economic development of Nigeria.

Based on available evidence since the return of civilian rule in 1999, the socio-political realities suggest the need for constitutional and electoral reforms in Nigeria, especially as it has to do with challenging the marginalisation of women in politics. Therefore, women organising for relevance should use their latent power and numbers as resources for addressing the factors facilitating against their marginalisation. They should draw on the Nigeria National Gender Policy (NGP), which recommends 35 per cent affirmative action and seeks an inclusive representation of women with at least 35 per cent of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively, which is yet to be fulfilled.

Women should also mobilise to promote the importance of women’s participation in politics – as voters, candidates, politicians, civil society activists, and in other roles as important, because it allows women to exercise their fundamental civil and political rights, and the integration of women into politics will strengthen democracy; which was the situation in the pre-colonial era, where most ethnic nationalities in Nigeria had political structures that allowed women participation in power and decision making.

Also, gender balanced politics is one way to build a just society devoid of discrimination, harness the full potential of all social groups, regardless of sex or circumstances, promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and protect the health, social, economic and political well-being of all citizens needed for equitable development.

So, as the 2019 general election gathers momentum, it will be a wrong strategy to boycott election over marginalisation. Therefore, women should use moral suasion, advocacy, bargaining and negotiation for power to purse internal party democracy that will entrench affirmative action in party constitutions with consequences for disobedience also entrenched, because promises that are not in the party constitution cannot be enforced.

In this regard, women should close ranks and work hard to earn respect by using their numbers with clinical efficiency. They should lobby the National Assembly for the amendment of the Electoral Act and passage of the gender equality bill into law, which are strategic interventions that will address gender imbalance in Nigerian politics; hopefully, forming the solid foundation for sustainability, instead of calling for election boycott.