Governance, Politics and Women’s Participation in Politics: Implications for Current and Future Leadership by Nigerian Women, Part 1

I  almost decided to take a break today, just to celebrate the receipt of the advance copies of one of the two books co-edited with Olufemi Vaughan, Geoffrey Canada Professor at Bowdoin College, Maine.  The book:  Transnational Africa and Globalization.  NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  The project began many years ago.  It's great to have brought it to fruition.  The table of contents is as follows:
Chapter 1:  Transnational Africa and Globalization: Introduction; Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome & Olufemi Vaughan 
Chapter 2:  Africa, Transnationalism & Globalization: An Overview; Olufemi Vaughan 
Chapter 3:  Black Internationalism and Transnational Africa; Rod Bush 
Chapter 4:  What About the Reciprocity? Pan-Africanism and the Promise of Global Development; Mora McLean 
Chapter 5:  Transnational Africa: Un-Pledging Allegiance: The US Nation Must Make the African Connection; Melanie E.L. Bush 
Chapter 6:  Pan-Africanizing Philanthropy: Toward a Social Theory of an Emerging Sector; Jackie Copeland-Carson 
Chapter 7:  'I am the bridge between two worlds': Transnational connections among Darfurians in Maine; Lacey A. Gale 
Chapter 8:  The Changing Face of African Christianity: Reverse Mission in Transnational and Global Perspectives; Jacob K. Olupona 
Chapter 9:  Gendered Migrations: African Identities and Globalization; Anthonia C. Kalu 
Chapter 10:  A Matter of Habit: Unraveling the Teaching/Learning knot; Namulundah Florence 
Chapter 11:  Undocumented Labor Migration from Morocco to Europe: An African Perspective; Moha Ennaji

The cover image is by Stephen Adeyemi Folaranmi "We All Gathered" soil on board. 2003.
See the book at the Macmillan site in the US  Transnational Africa and Globalization, Edited By Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome and Olufemi Vaughan
and at the Palgrave site in the UK,

Copies can also be found in most bookstores and their online websites, and very soon, in many libraries.

I made the presentation below at The Women’s Summit in Obudu, October 2-6, 2007

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Women’s Studies Coordinator
Brooklyn College, CUNY

If politics is defined in the popular imagination as the art or science of determining who gets what, where, and when, or in more scholarly parlance, as “social relations involving authority and power, ” governance relates to the praxis of government.  In brief, it is about governing.  In much of its usage, the term is combined with an adjective – good, which implies that it could be done well or badly.  Good governance could then be said to be expected in a well-ordered political system.  According to Adedeji and Ayo in their book, People-Centred Democracy in Nigeria?  The Search for Alternative Systems of Governance at the Grassroots, the six principles of good governance are:

(i)                 Putting the people first;
(ii)              Insulation of local government from partisan politics;
(iii)            Preserving the coherence and organic nature of local government areas
(iv)             Strict observance of the principles of fiscal responsibility and accountability;
(v)               Encouraging and promoting innovation and inventiveness in grassroots governance; and
(vi)             Restituting the traditions of partnership in central-local relations (235).

While Adedeji and Ayo focus specifically on local government, their analysis and conclusions are applicable to governance at any level.  One just needs to replace “local government” with “government.”  Similarly, Gani Fawehinmi tells us in his article titled:  “Imperatives of good governance and the rule of law,” that governance is virtually meaningless unless it is directed at ensuring the welfare of the populace as a response to the needs of the common woman/man.  While Fawehinmi like most Nigerian scholars, uses gender biased language that favors the male dominant ethos of current Nigerian socio-political analysis, his observations are cogent, and I will take the liberty of quoting him at length:      

Good governance to the man on the street means that the affairs of state are conducted in such a manner as to give happiness and security to the people.  The expectation of the man on the street in this respect corresponds to or tallies with the constitutional requirement that the primary purpose of government is security and welfare of the people.  But there can be no welfare where:
a)      The man in the street cannot find employment.
b)      The man in the street cannot have access to good education.
c)      The man in the street is denied good health delivery system.
d)      The man in the street cannot be housed.
e)      The man in the street is denied good infrastructures (sic) (rail, road, waterway and other essential things for his business and other needs).
f)       The man in the street is thrown into darkness and there is no power for his business and other needs.
g)      The man in the street does not enjoy National Minimum Wage and when he is out of employment,
h)     The man in the street cannot have employment benefits
i)       The man in the street when he is weak as a result of old age, cannot get old age care.
j)        The man in the street is not allowed to determine who should govern him and to make those in governance accountable to him
k)     The man in the street is inhibited by no locus standi in a court of law to question other acts of mis-governance.
l)       The man in the street wants stability in the prices of petroleum products.
m)   The man in the street is not safe even in the street

The welfare of the proverbial man in the street can only be guaranteed by government that cares about employment, health, education, infrastructure, unemployment benefits, good housing, cheap and nutritious food, national minimum living wage, old age care, pension, gratuity, security of life and property, free and fair election, transparency in the conduct of affairs of state and access by all to justice in a court of law.[i]

As a long term observer of the Nigerian political system, one cannot help but see the applicability of realist analysis of international politics to Nigerian politics.  The international system is conceptualized by classical realists as an anarchical system, a self-help system where in the absence of government, states give priority to the imperative of survival.  In this system, might is right, states compete in order to at least, survive, and at best, thrive.  Cooperation is still a possibility in a realist international system, but it derives from the enlightened self-interest of the actors within the system.  This seems to be a good description of Nigerian politics.  Our politics is gladiatorial, and sometimes approaches Hobbes’ war of all against all.  Self help thrives and actors scramble to predominate, one against the other.  Good governance is left in the dust.  Perplexed citizens become cynical about the very survival of the nation. 

To quickly bring women’s participation into the mix, again, in the popular imagination, this is about increasing the numbers of women that engage the political system there are six fundamental principles of good …governance enhancing the quality of their interaction.   There are of course, a myriad of ways in which political participation can be gauged – voting and all the activities that could possibly be encompassed under the umbrella of civil society – forming and joining associations, pressure groups, lobbies, writing memoranda that challenge or laud government policy, protests, demonstrations, public enlightenment campaigns, popular mobilization, etc. 

Women’s political participation involves all of the above, but relates too to the depth and breadth of democracy in a political system.  In this presentation, I will concentrate on women’s representation in the political system as elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of government and also somewhat touch upon their appointments into official political positions.  According to Anne Philips, the arguments for women’s political participation can be grouped into four categories
(1)               Successful women politicians are role models
(2)               In order to have equity and justice between men and women, women’s numbers as elected representatives must match their share of the population.
(3)               If women are not represented, some of their interests would be overlooked in the political system.
(4)               Genuine democracy implies matching participation with representation (Bauer and Britton, 3).
In essence, it is “patently and grotesquely unfair”
(a)    If men are to monopolize representation
(b)   If the composition of representation is changed,  democracy is enhanced and increased, and
(c)    Women’s needs, interests and concerns are more adequately addressed.  There is more argumentation over whether increases in the number of elected women would create positive role models.

What difference does increased women’s political participation make?  This is the most important question at the crux of most discussions about increasing women’s participation.  There is a need to differentiate between descriptive/demographic representation, which concerns feminine presence in politics, and substantive/strategic representation, which concerns feminist activism.  Even descriptive/demographic/feminine representation is important because:

(1)    Exclusion of any group denies society of the benefits of their talents.
(2)    The unrepresented have special perspectives which if denied, impoverishes the public debate.
(3)    If they have different policy priorities, their non-inclusion is both a lack of representation and non-representativeness of the priorities of the legislature (Maitland & Taylor, 1997).   One should not make too much of the difference between descriptive and substantive representation.  The latter can be considered a continuation of the former in the move toward institutional transformation (Goetz & Hassim). 

Another crucial question:  Are there specifically women’s issues or interests?  Both of these questions have been answered in the affirmative by some scholars and experts (and we document this in the research report produced after the study on women’s political participation).  The problem with most scholarly research however is that there are few to no efforts to offer rationalizations that draw upon African indigenous thought, basically due to the tendency to believe that democracy is a Western phenomenon.  However, contrary to much of the analysis out there, not only is there robust evidence of democracy in Africa’s precolonial history, but there is also a justification for women’s political participation to be drawn from philosophies of life in many African ethnic groups where the idea of the complementarity of males and females is believed to be crucial for social harmony, well-being, and productivity.  Instead of drawing and building upon such positive examples of progressive and humanistic sociopolitical relations, we have mostly come to accept the negative portrayals of African culture as regressive and ideologically barren, and tend to
a.       Look to the West,
b.      Studiously avoid the evidentiary record of history
c.       Ignorantly accept male dominance and discrimination against women as the norm.

This accounts for the curious situation where many experts flat out reject any kind of notion that women played any important roles or wielded any power in African history.  Confronted with the evidence that some women indeed, had executive, legislative, or judicial power as part of the institutional design within their polities, the knee-jerk reaction is that these women were exceptions rather than the rule, they were aristocratic, they were not committed to women’s empowerment, women’s situations did not improve during their tenure.  Africans tend to write off their own history as irrelevant to either their present or future, and struggle, each to outdo the other, in demonizing and excoriating their forebears and kin as barbaric, ignorant and cruel.  Instead, we tend to fall over one another to study and imbibe what we perceive to be the cutting edge trends of Western civilization, conveniently forgetting that we were brutally pacified, colonized, and prior to this, enslaved and always exploited by the West, and that such exploitation continues today.  If Africa is written off as irrelevant to the mainstream of world affairs by the West, one can understand the rationale from the perspective of the West which seeks to dominate Africa by denying in the first place that it had any history prior to its contact with the West, and then, condemning its culture as barbaric and retrogressive, and finally, convincing its people through “education” and Christianization that these are immutable facts.  Once a people are convinced that they are worthless and have contributed nothing much to world advancement, colonization through physical presence and compellence through the imposition of physical privation becomes unnecessary.  They will police themselves better than you ever could.  This is how I see the situation in Africa today. 

            You must now be wondering:  why is she haranguing us?  What is the relevance of this to women’s political participation?  In brief, the relevance is that if we refuse to learn the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat it.  Specifically, we cannot make any progress, whether it is in politics in general, or in relation to women’s political participation and empowerment in particular, if we do not begin from a contextualized reading and application of our history that celebrates our worthwhile contributions while criticizing and rejecting the negative aspects.  As we also seek to draw upon the progressive elements of Western political structures and institutions, we should do so with an eye to history.  In brief, women’s political participation is not alien to indigenous African culture, neither is good governance.  A look to history demonstrates this.  To restrict ourselves to Nigeria, we have, thanks to the path-breaking work of Professor Bolanle Awe, Jadesola Akande, Nina Emma Mba and others, evidence of the institutionalized power of women in the public sphere.  The truth is that there are still examples of women rulers in Nigeria.

            The truth is that there are still women traditional rulers in contemporary Nigeria.  However, since they are traditional rulers, we tend to write them off as irrelevant, especially since they have since colonial times, been denuded of much other than ceremonial aspects of their powers, and have since that time, been subject to the power of the modern state.  As mentioned previously, many reject these examples outright as irrelevant for reasons stated before.  Are they truly irrelevant or is there anything that they could possibly contribute to our inquiry on women’s political participation?  No one can argue with the fact that compared with the modern state, traditional political institutions in Nigeria have been domesticated and made into toothless bulldogs.  Has this always been the case?  When such powers were exercised in precolonial times, were they ubiquitously or overwhelmingly punitive and unjust?  When the political structures that accompanied these institutions held sway, were they engaged in good governance?  What can we borrow from these systems, structures and institutions that could be added to the repertoire of innovations that we are so familiar with from the workshops, conferences and courses that we attend? 

As I said before, complementarity and balance are central to the ethos and philosophy of African societies.  To bring such an ethos and philosophy up to date, gender imbalance would be unacceptable.  We see elements of this in the shared leadership of males and females in some of Nigeria’s ethnic groups, in various Yoruba polities where a woman must crown the Oba, in the enduring institutions like Iyalode, where women hold and exercise power.  I want us to focus both on the exercise of power and inclusiveness.  Both of these principles imply women’s participation as well as the equitable access to positions of power.  Was there a strict insistence on parity and total equality for women in these systems?  No.  Is this a sufficient reason for us to reject them?  No.  we can begin from the principle that for there to be social balance and equity, men and women must be represented in numbers that are commensurate with their size in the general population.  Understanding and drawing upon our history in a contextualized manner means that we can

a.       refute both at home and abroad, arguments that gender sensitivity is alien to African culture.  
b.       Look at the discourse on women’s political participation as resonating with essential parts of our culture that have been lost due to the vagaries of history.
c.       Embrace both our culture and that from the West as part of what makes us all a part of a common humanity.
d.       Even learn these elements of our culture and tell the world about it in demonstration of the fact that Africa too has something worthwhile to teach the world.

[i] Gani Fawehinmi “Imperatives of good governance and the rule of law,” Being excerpts from a speech delivered by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, (SAN) at the annual luncheon/mid year meeting of the board of fellows of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, FS Politics, Financial Standard, Monday, July 2, 2007, p. 68.


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