Eight years in government: Buhari’s failed promises on gender inclusivity

As part of his campaign promises, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to implement policies that would ensure gender equality and inclusion in governance. However, eight years later, the country still records low female representation in both elective and appointive positions, including in Buhari’s own cabinet.

In February 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stood before Nigerian women in Lagos state and promised that gender issues would be mainstreamed into governance under his administration.

Buhari also stated that the National Gender Policy (NGP) of 2006, which he described as a road map for promoting rights and equality of females, would be implemented under his administration to hasten the mainstreaming of women.

The NGP was established in 2006 to enhance gender equality in political, economic and social areas of decision-making.

Gender equality is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations for its member countries, of which Nigeria is a part.

To enhance women’s representation in governance, the policy recommends that women fill up 35 per cent of appointive positions in the country for more inclusion.

“So far, there has been no political will to implement the very critical framework,” Buhari said while urging Nigerian women to vote out the then ruling party on March 19, 2015.

“We shall commit ourselves to affirmative actions, to level the playing field for women and provide them with opportunities to be part of decision-making and governance at all levels. My administration will have zero tolerance for violence against women and girls,” he said in a promise that was greeted with applause from the women who were present at the occasion.

Ten days after that event, Nigeria went to the polls, and Buhari emerged the winner of the elections.

The elections that ushered in Buhari’s government produced only 29 female lawmakers out of 469 members: seven women in the Senate and 22 in the House of Representatives.

Following his election, it took the new president about six months to appoint his cabinet members. He attributed this to a careful selection process and preached patience while at it.

Nigerian women were hopeful that the long-awaited list of cabinet members would reflect the 35 per cent affirmative action contained in the NGP, which Buhari promised to implement.

The president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, also assured Nigerian women that he would respect the 35 per cent affirmative action in his appointments

However, when Buhari released his list of 36 cabinet members in 2015, there were only six women, about 16 per cent.

The president came under severe criticism by women who threatened to vote him out of power during the next elections over his failure to keep his own promise on gender inclusion.

But despite the uproar, his actions generated, Buhari, again, reneged on his promise to implement the NGP after the 2019 elections, which gave him a second term.

Out of 43 people appointed to his cabinet, there were only seven women, another 16 per cent representation, and the number of females in the National Assembly also dropped from 29 to 18 in 2019.

Nigeria’s poor global performance

Gender inequality remains a global challenge, although adequate female representation is critical to good governance, especially in countries like Nigeria, where women comprise half the population.

Some countries across the world are making efforts to bridge the gap. However, at the current rate, gender inequality in the highest levels of government will persist for the next 130 years, according to the United Nations (UN).

Globally, Rwanda and Namibia, both African countries, stand out for being at the forefront of upholding gender inclusivity in governance and other areas, while Nigeria continues to lag.

Rwanda and Namibia, another African country, are among the top 10 countries to have narrowed the gender gap globally.

Nearly two-thirds of Rwanda’s parliamentary seats and 52 per cent of cabinet positions are held by women. In Namibia, females occupy about 44 per cent of seats in the parliament, a feat achieved in both countries through quota systems.

In 2021, Nigeria ranked 139 out of 153 countries, according to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, falling behind several other African countries like Rwanda, Namibia, and South Africa.

In 2022, only 146 countries were ranked in the Global Gender Gap Report, seven countries less than the previous year.

Although Nigeria moved up by 16 places in 2022, ranking 123rd out of the 146 countries rated, progress is still very slow.

Despite his many promises on the inclusion of women, five bills seeking to promote gender equality were rejected by the National Assembly under Buhari’s watch in 2022.

On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, 68 bills were presented before the National Assembly during a constitution amendment vote, and five of them sought to promote gender inclusion in governance and society.

These included a bill to provide special seats for women in the National Assembly, another to implement affirmative action for women in political party administration, and a bill that sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman, which already obtains for men.

The other bills sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women and create additional 111 seats in National and State Assemblies, and the inclusion of, at least 10 per cent affirmative action for women in ministerial appointments.

All five bills were rejected, leading to days of protests by Nigerian women across the country.

Some of the bills were recalled following the protests, and in the same month, Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) announced that the NGP had been reviewed and approved.

Buhari signed a presidential charge included in the document, where he, again, pledged his commitment to gender equality.

“I commit to ensuring that the provisions of this NGP are embraced by governments across sectors and at all levels to provide the much-needed social reforms that will guarantee our social contract. Only then would we be fulfilling our promises of change to every Nigerian,” Buhari noted.

He also acknowledged that no sustainable development could exist without gender parity and inclusivity.

But Nigeria has continued to perform poorly and is not even a part of the top 100 countries bridging the existing gender gap globally.

I have fulfilled my campaign promises to Nigerian women –Buhari

Notwithstanding the declining female representation in governance, Buhari, while being represented at the seventh convocation ceremony of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti state by the Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Opiah, in February 2023, claimed to have fulfilled all his campaign promises to Nigerians.

Five days after, Buhari also said that he had delivered on his promise to Nigerian women and girls.



    “This is what we promised to all Nigerians – including our women and girls when our party, the All Progressives Congress, was elected in 2015. I am proud to say that our government has delivered over the past eight years,” Buhari said.

    However, following the recently concluded 2023 general assembly elections, the number of female senators in Nigeria plunged from seven in the 9th Assembly to three senators-elect, as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

    The chances of Nigeria attaining UN SDG 5, which aims at achieving gender equality by 2030, also look unlikely.

    Set to leave office in a matter of days, Buhari’s promise to champion gender inclusivity remains unfulfilled over the course of his eight-year administration, and Nigerian women are left to continue struggling for inclusion in making decisions that affect their daily lives.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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