Male Nation: Number shows how Nigeria discriminates against women in political leadership

WHEN Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala name was finally announced as World Trade Organisation Director-General, congratulatory messages started to flood her timeline on Twitter, especially from Nigerians of all groups. A Twitter account owner then said, if NOI had contested for the Nigerian president, she probably would not have got a winning vote. The young lady stated the obvious. In Nigeria, political leadership position is often the preserve of menfolk, as data of the public office holders have shown.

Though the Federal Government endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals which partly aims at achieving women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in public life, the country is yet to commit to the global agenda.

Currently, there are 43 ministers in President Buhari cabinet, but only seven of them are women despite a reminder of Nigeria’s commitment to affirmative action signed in Beijing in 1995. In his first term, women were six out of 36 ministers. So, for every six men, there is only one woman in Buhari cabinet.

The few women in the current administration are Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen; Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor; Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Maryam katagum; Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Faruk; Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki and Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory, Ramatu Tijani.

Infographics by Samson Samuel

Among the 109 members in the Senate, only seven are women. The gap is even wider in the House of Representatives. There are 360 lawmakers in the lower chamber, women and men representatives are 12 and 348 respectively. The ratio was the same in 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule.

Therefore, only 4 per cent of the lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly are women.

The gender imbalance is reflected just as deeply across the Nigerian political parties.

In 2019, when 91 parties were registered for election only six women were appointed as party chairpersons, while 83 men were party leaders. They were Dr. Sarah Nnadzwa Jubril of Progressive Liberation Party; Chika Ibeneme, Mass Action Joint Alliance; Atuedide Eunice Uche, National Interest Party Segun Sango, Socialist Party of Nigeria;  Bilikisu Gambari of Action Congress and Dr. Joy Ada Onyesoh.

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Men also dominated other high offices of the various political parties, including those that promised gender equality. For example, 23 women were appointed as National Financial Secretaries, as against 53 men; eight women were National Legal Advisers as against 69 men; nine women were National Secretaries as against 78 men and 25 women were National Treasurers as against 55 men.

In total, 83 per cent of men occupied leadership position across all political parties compared to women who held only 17 per cent.

February last year,  INEC delisted 74 political parties leaving only 18 registered parties.  Now, the total of women appointed to the party hierarchy is 13, while 71 men occupy the rest of the leadership posts, representing 15 to 85 per cent respectively.

Infographics by Damilola Ojetunde

This is in contrast with the 30 per cent affirmative action endorsed by Nigeria at the Beijing Conference 26 years ago, and the 35 percent minimum threshold of representation for women, recommended 15 years ago by the National Gender Policy (NGP).

Similarly, Nigeria is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as the CEDAW. Nigeria signed the treaty in April 1984 and ratified it the following year.

Despite these written commitments, women still are under-represented in various spheres of national life.

Blessing Obidiegwu, Head of the Gender Division for the Independent National Electoral Commission, attributed these problems to “patriarchy, violence in elections and economic situation.” She made this statement during a training programme organised by UN Women ahead of 2019 election.

Truly, about 80 per cent of all Nigerian states had at least one violent incident related to the election in 2015, according to Council on Foreign Relation which documents data on electoral violence in Nigeria. So, a combination of violence, male domination and unfavourable economic condition partly create an obstacle for women participation in politics.

The huge disparity between the representation of men and women in Nigeria’s public office could only mean a “systemic bias against equity,” said Abiodun Baiyewu, the Country Director at Global Rights Nigeria.

“The structures are stacked against women and their participation from every side.  As long as 50 per cent of our population are not active participants in the leadership of our country, then we are clearly not a democratic nation,” she added.

Comparing Nigeria with other African countries, indeed, shows that the country is still far away from destination on its democratic journey. For example, the Rwanda Constitution establishes that women should be granted at least 30 per cent of posts in decision-making bodies and the Senate.  While 24 seats out of 80 (30 per cent) are reserved for women in the National Assembly, 20 per cent of district councillor seats are reserved for women. And there are legal sanctions for non-compliance. The women representation in parliament now has gone above 50 per cent.

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In South Africa, the Municipal Structures Act specifies that parties should seek to ensure that 50 per cent of candidates at the local level are women, but no penalties are imposed. The African National Congress, the ruling party, has a 30 per cent quota for women and a 50 per cent quota for women on party lists at the local level.



    In Tanzania, the Constitution establishes at least 20 per cent of women representation but no more than 30 per cent of special seats for women in parliament. 75 out of 319 seats in parliament were special seats for women, and 25 per cent of seats must be held by women at the local level.

    Nigeria’s neighbour, Ghana adopted an affirmative action proposal to reserve 40 per cent of positions in decision-making bodies for women.

    The exclusion of women in Nigeria’s public life is a deep concern for someone like Hajia Saudatu Mahdi, MFR, Secretary General Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA). She railed at tokenism that has come to define women political participation and inclusion in leadership. Notwithstanding, she promised to continue promoting policy and social changes that award equal opportunity at all level for women.

    It however remains uncertain whether efforts of gender activists like her could have made women such as Okonjo-Iweala become president of the largest black nation in spite of her credential and competence.

    Ajibola Amzat, Managing Editor at The ICIR. He can be reached via [email protected]
    and @ajibolaamzat on Twitter.

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