The number of women elected to public offices in Nigeria did not increase after this year’s election. Instead, there was a decline to any progress made in women’s previous outings since the inception of the fourth republic, analyses by Premium Times and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) have shown.
When will women be allowed more space in government? This quest was more than ever before reinvigorated ahead of the 2019 general elections. With 91 political parties, women appeared to have a better chance. This was evident in the number of women who declared interest and eventually contested in the party primaries.
However, the outcome of the party primaries and eventually, the general elections, was rather a setback, dashing any hope raised.
A previous data from the centre prior to this year’s polls showed that women have not reached 10 per cent representation since inception of democratic rule.
How women fared
Women form 49.4 per cent of Nigeria’s population, according to data from the National Bureau of statistics. However, female political representation in the 2019 elections was negligible relative to the approximately half of the population they constitute, with 2,970 women on the electoral ballot, representing only 11.36 per cent of nominated candidates.
In the presidential race, some believed women were not really ready to contest. The turn of events, weeks to the polls, seemed to have justified that assertion.
Specifically, all six female presidential candidates stepped down even though their names still appeared on the ballot.
The withdrawal of Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former minister, who was perceived as the most vibrant female candidate, seemed most unexpected.
Apart from the 1999 election which signaled the fourth republic that saw women occupy 15 seats in the National Assembly – three in the Senate and 12 in the House of Representatives – the number of elected female lawmakers has never been this poor in any other election at the federal level.
In this year’s election, 235 women, forming 12.34 per cent of candidates, contested for a seat in the Senate of which seven (6.42 per cent) were elected. This remained constant in the 8th Senate, which also accounted for 6.42 per cent of the total number of elected senators.
The two dominant political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its main opposition, the PDP, fielded seven and 10 candidates respectively.
A female senator from Northern Nigeria, Binta Garba, is among those who lost. The minority leader of the 8th Senate, Abiodun Olujimi, also lost her re-election bid.
In the House of Representatives, 533 women contested, with the major parties fielding a total of 31 (15 APC and 16 PDP) candidates. However, only 11 (3.05 per cent) have been elected. The figures from the 8th House have thus been halved, as it had 22 female lawmakers.
At the state level, no woman was elected governor. They formed 3.07 per cent of the total candidates. Of the 275 women forming 11.40 per cent of candidates for the Deputy Governorship, four (in Enugu, Kaduna, Ogun and Rivers) were elected.
Thus, the number of female deputy governors has declined from six in the 2015-19 to four. While women have consistently held the position of deputy governor in Lagos State, the emergence of Obafemi Hamzat as deputy-governor elect marked a departure from the past.
Down from 55 female state lawmakers in the incumbent regime, our preliminary analysis shows that 40 women have been elected into the state assembly.
Why women failed?
Some young female candidates in the election who spoke Monday at a programme organised by the Centre of Legislative Engagement of YIAGA listed lack of funds, poor party structure, and ‘stereotyping’ as some of the challenges they faced.
They urged the incoming 9th National Assembly to work on the gender equality bill.
However, reasons for the poor outing for women in the 2019 elections were mostly attributed to the country’s political structure. The two major parties were accused of not allowing women ‘enough space’.
“We failed because there were very few female candidates in the two major parties,” explained Abiodun Essiet, who contested in the primary of the APC aimed at nominating its councillorship candidate for Orozo Ward of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).
Mrs Essiet, a nurse and gender activist, had hopes of becoming the first woman elected councillor in the ward. But she did not make it out of the primary, which was adjudged to be fraught with irregularities.
“The most important election is the primaries and only a handful of women scaled through in the major parties so we already knew this was going to happen,” she said.
This newspaper’s analysis few weeks after the party primaries revealed that women were not given an even playing field, especially by the major parties, which eventually led to the low number of women who emerged as party candidates.
Women and young people were either intimidated or threatened to step down or were simply screened out and replaced with their male competitors, Mrs Ezekwesili had said in an interview with Premium Times.
The former minister said dominant political parties of the (APC/PDP) elite “have entrenched a primaries system that inherently makes the emergence of women and young candidates near impossible.”
Away from party politics, other factors such as large scale election violence, threats, rigging and vote buying was said have played against women.
“I faced a lot of threat up till election day,” said Christina Eligwe-Ude, a former consultant at the United Nations who contested the APC primaries for the Orlu, Orsu and Oru East Federal Constituency in Imo State but says she was “sidelined”.
Mrs Eligwe-Ude would later leave the APC to contest under the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
“For me the experience was exhausting and depressing because it’s money politics.
“We are at the tribunal for the election to be nullified because it was initially declared inconclusive but nine days later, it became ‘conclusive’ all of a sudden and the PDP candidate was declared winner.”
Major Parties React
While Lanre Issa-Onilu, the national spokesperson of the APC, neither answered repeated calls to his phone nor responded to texts, his counterpart in the PDP did.
“I think when you look at the format of the election, generally, you will see it’s not the type women can really do well. It’s because of that format that women performed poorly,” said Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP spokesperson. “The aggression, large scale rigging, abuse of processes, vote buying, violence and other vices.”
“For the PDP, we always make conscious effort to give fair chance to women. Our party has the highest number of women elected in this year’s election…”
Of the 62 women in the overall elective positions, our preliminary analysis reveals that PDP has the highest number with 33 (53.23 per cent), followed by APC with 23 (37.10 per cent).
“We key into the affirmation plan that 35 percent of our women must be elected. We give free forms to women to encourage more participation,” the PDP official said.
“The problem is that the government of the day does not believe in the right of women because you cannot compare what is happening now with the PDP era. INEC has a duty to make sure true winners are declared but the government also has a huge responsibility to create more space for women in government.”
Meanwhile, Ebere Ifendu, president Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) was quick to counter the comment of the PDP spokesperson on free forms.
“The free forms they give to women are like Greek gifts because after that, the zoning will never favour women. PDP will always come with what they call zoning and consensus candidate in which women are never part of the discussion.
“So, what’s the point of giving me a free form and I will not still get through the primaries because of other intrigues? We are tired of their Greek gifts, if they want to support women they should give a certain percentage of sits to women.
“They only have a woman leader in their leadership position who is appointed by them. They will use their own criteria to choose so the person will be forever indebted to them.”
Women’s minimal representation has multi-dimensional implications for the democratic project in Nigeria and for the continuing quest for gender equality in Africa’s biggest economy.
The 2019 elections will be the sixth consecutive general elections since the beginning of the fourth republic in 1999.
This marks what is undoubtedly a measure of democratic progress, if only for conducting periodic elections since the return to civil rule. What remains deeply in doubt, however, is how inclusive this progress has been and, in particular, to what extent women have benefited from the democratic dividend of equality and fairness.
As gender issues and women’s political and economic empowerment take centre stage on the global arena, Nigeria appears intent on maintaining its position at the bottom of the ladder.
Nigerian women signaled their intention to make their voices heard in this year’s election, accounting for about 47.14 per cent (39,598,645 million) of the 84,004.084 million registered voters nationwide.
What issues drive these women to vote? How or who did Nigerian women vote in this election might be a question for another day. Howbeit, women’s concerns are typically regarded as non-consequential to party and electoral politics.
Sound legislation is the best way forward said Mrs Ifeandu, a lawyer. “We need to make the 35 per cent affirmative action a law. In Senegal, women first got 30 per cent through legislation before they moved for parity (50:50) which has now made the difference in that country.
“Without legislation, it will be difficult to achieve anything that is why we need to hold parties to account. They are the only platform that can make it happen for now. Currently, we are championing a course for most of these mushroom parties to be deregistered. If we have only six parties, it will go a long way.”
The female advocate said since the election is over, the next step is to pressurise the president to give women more appointments.
“The president in setting up his next cabinet should compensate women by giving them nothing less than 35 per cent positions. During campaigns, he went around talking about affirmative right action. He made open declaration supporting affirmative and we need to hold him to account.”
This project is the initiative of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in partnership with Premium Times, and supported by the Ford Foundation.