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

 Continued from January 26 blog

Respect for good governance is not alien to Africans.  This is also demonstrable historically.  Again, I will use the example of the Yoruba who were so intolerant of tyranny and absolutism that they called upon tyrants to commit suicide by presenting any such ruler with a calabash into which his/her head is expected to be placed in short order.  This is of course, extreme and inhumane, but it may be boiled down to the essential philosophy of rejecting tyranny and absolutism, and thus, refashioned and re-cast as a fundamental commitment to good governance-the rule of law, due process, etc., and made a fundamental part of our emergent democracy instead of the current situation when we speak democracy and act tyranny, or on the other hand, we import any and everything that is faddish from the outside, with no consideration fo rmaking such institutions acceptable and understandable to our people.  Many of our leaders, female or male, fail to realize that they must act in ways that enable them to capture the imagination of the people, that they must sell themselves to the people instead of acting in subversion of the system by buying votes, rigging elections, stealing ballot boxes and using thugs to maim, intimidate and kill their opposition.

            Beginning with the premise that a constitution need not be written to exist, it is also obvious that many African peoples had constitutional rule before colonialism and in contradistinction with the present order where most people have no idea what the constitution says about ANYTHING, those unwritten constitutions were better known and understood by the people governed under those political systems.  Does this call for equitable balance between men and women imply that once we have a good constitution, a critical mass of women in politics, respect for the rule of law and property rights, due process and the like, we have a nirvana on earth?  Of course not.  The rest of my talk will focus on the implications of meaningful women’s participation for good governance in Nigeria.  But first, how do we get more women into office? 

There have been many policy and numerous mechanisms and methods taught and otherwise disseminated.  According to experts, a mixture of proportional-type representation and quotas (that may be temporary) have worked in other countries, including some in Africa.  Given these challenges, the recommendations on tactics for women’s agency include public action, affirmative action in legislative bodies, political party and electoral system reforms, action by women’s organization, the establishment of alliances, consultation with role models and targeting young women. [i]  Discussing the use of role models as a strategy, the argument is that the mass media plays a particularly crucial role.  There should be practical and constant discourse by woman leaders and women’s lobbies and the news media to draw attention to women’s leadership as well as to ensure that there are news reports on programs and initiatives to address gender imbalance.[ii]  Some electoral systems are believed to be more amenable to enabling women’s inclusion in the candidate lists that political parties draw up, and also enhance the possibility of electing women.  Nordic countries and other African countries that have had significant increases in the number of elected women to the legislature depend on proportional representation[iii] rather than a first past the post type electoral system, as found in Nigeria.

Affirmative Action is enshrined in the constitution of some countries, and combined with methods that ensure that for each male candidate, a female candidate is also presented by a political party (zebra strategy in South Africa and 50-50 strategy in some other countries).  Uganda, Norway, India, and Seychelles are just a few of he countries that have used the Affirmative Action strategy, and all attest to its effectiveness in guaranteeing an increase in the number of elected women.  The chapter on gender justice in Nigeria’s constitution recommended the achievement of a minimum of 30% of all political appointments, as advocated in the Beijing Platform for Action in order to redress the gender imbalances in the political systems of states members.[iv] 

The desire to accomplish this goal of increased women’s political participation has made both proportional representation and quotas attractive and popular.  There is nothing wrong in this.  However, do increased numbers of women change the tone, nature, and character of politics?  Not necessarily.  If we observe that past instances of women’s participation in governance did not benefit women as a group, we should be clear that this is not due to anything pernicious about African culture but may be attributed to  the isolated existence of these women in male dominant political structures.  Indeed, some scholars base the recommendation of a 50/50 or 30% affirmative action strategy on this situation, and give as rationale for their recommendations, the need for a critical mass of women in politics, a situation that they expect to generate changes in policymaking and implementation in developing countries where elected women represent women’s interests (Thomars, 91, Byrne, 97).

The Research on Women’s Political Participation in the 2007 Elections

In our research report, we observe the following conclusions by scholars of women’s participation in politics:  For Lovenduski and Pippa Norris, women parliamentarians in the UK are believed to introduce a new set of values “to issues affecting women’s equality in the workplace, home, and public sphere” (4).

Diane Sainsbury considers that since 45% of MPs in Sweden are women, there has been a redefinition of women’s issues “as a demand for gender equality,” leading to the transformation of women’s issues from small, special minority issues to “major party issues.”  Therefore, there are now changed conditions for substantive women’s representation.
Gendered demand for increased democracy produces the strategic conversion of political women from a small minority within each party to majority of citizens.  This is a potential boon for better representation (4).

Shettima tells us that it is quite possible for women to be politically enfranchised and for them to still suffer de facto disfranchisement through the use of unfair qualifying conditions, discriminatory administrative rules, and through the mobilization of bias – where by virtue of the ability to set the agenda, men monopolize power and exclude women from decision-making. 

Bearing in mind the scholarly analysis above, it becomes important to answer the following questions: 
  • What does women’s political participation mean?
  • What happened in the precolonial period with regard to women’s political participation?
  • What happened in the postcolonial period? A diachronic analysis of six phases in Nigeria’s political history:
For ease of analysis, it is necessary to divide Nigerian history into the following phases.  However, this cannot be done right now. 
  1. 1950s to 1966 – Nigeria’s first republic and budding political participation in Western democratic institutions:  Nationalism and the struggle for inclusion.
  2. 1966-1979 – Military rule
  3. 1979-1983 – 2nd republic
  4. 1983-2000 – Military rule
  5. 2000-2007 – 3rd republic
  6. 2003: first post-authoritarian election
  7. 2007:  second post-authoritarian election + first civilian-to-civilian transition  

The point of drawing upon Nigeria’s precolonial history as done previously is to underline and foreground Nigerian women’s political participation as a historical and well-documented fact.  This being said:  it is important to stress that colonialism created a radical break in the sense that whatever political and social advantages women had under the old order were either eroded or totally eliminated.  Let me hasten to say that men were by no means better off, since they too were otherized, excluded from power and emasculated.  The process of gaining the rights of citizenship under the new “modern” political system was attended by the sweat, blood and tears of those that defied the new overlords.  As Frantz Fanon astutely put it:  the colonial world was a Manichaean world, and while its Janus-faced state turned its kind, gentle and humane face to the white colonial minority, its harsh, brutal and punitive face was inclined toward the colonized African majority.  Worse still, this was constructed as a “civilizing mission” and it is a marker of its success that the great majority of us postcolonial Nigerians are still firm believers in the superiority of the West.  We crave all things western – the clothes, language, education, culture, religion, name it…
As Ngugi wa Thiong’o put it, our minds have been colonized.  Once again, Fanon is relevant.  He told us that the colonial condition is a “Nervous Condition”.  We still manifest elements of that selfsame nervousness today.  We have little self confidence, no pride in our rich culture, no understanding of our place in history.  Let me once again, quote Fanon – “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”  What is the mission of this generation of Nigerians?  What is the mission of this group of women leaders?  What grand narrative have we constructed to give meaning to our existence?  To what end?  Now let us switch gears again.  We ought to celebrate.  As flawed as it is in its original design, Nigeria is now 47 years old.  This is not a minor achievement.  In three years, we’ll be fifty years old as a nation.  As we celebrate, we should also ponder – what do we have to show for the 47 years?  What have we contributed that will stand the test of time?  How will posterity remember us? 
NDI and WRAPA undertook a study of women’s political participation in Nigeria.  Our findings constitute part of the situation as seen by women from 12 states, two from each geopolitical zone.  In the first place, the report demonstrates that even in the difficult days of colonialism, Nigerian women forced the colonial state to reckon with them.  The Aba women’s war is legendary, although many of us still use the colonial language and call it the “Aba riots”.  The women in Abeokuta wre mobilized by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti to fight against the combined forces of Alake Ademola and British colonial government.  These women essentially demanded inclusion and participation where there was none. 
It is less well known that after the Abeokuta women’s Union was founded, again, by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, a Nigerian Women’s Union was created which made the following proclamation:  This assembly shall be known as the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies [FNWS], where the voice of all Nigerian women will be heard and known”  Mrs. Ransome Kuti and Mrs. Margaret Ekpo were part of the 400 women (who represented Nigerian women’s organizations in 15 provinces) who participated in a “parliamentary” conference in 1953.  the significance of this goes back to my previous statement that those who do not learn the lesson of history are doomed to repeat it.  I also find the saying relevant that history often replays itself, once as tragedy, and then as farce.  Although the NWU claimed to be non-political, it expressed distinctly political goals. 
(1)   Achievement of the franchise for women.
(2)   The abolition of electoral colleges
(3)   The allocation of a definite proportion of representation to women with women being allowed to nominate their own representatives on the local council, which should not be headed by traditional rulers.[v]

In 1952, Elizabeth Adekogbe founded the Women’s Movement in Ibadan.  Nigerian women also participated in most of the indigenous pressure groups and political parties formed in the nationalist era: the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Action Group, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM).  Prior to this, Nigerian women formed western-style political pressure groups early in the 1900s.  Indigenous women’s groups such as the Lagos Women’s Market Association, led by Madam Alimotu Pelewura, preceded these western-style institutions. 

The Lagos Women’s League, which was founded in 1901, and led by Mrs. Charlotte Obasa, was an example of the modern pressure groups.  Their trailblazing efforts were developed in the 1940s when under the leadership of Mrs. Kofoworola Abayomi; the Nigerian Women’s Party was formed (on May 11, 1944).  The formation of the Nigerian Women’s Party in 1944 was a reaction to women’s marginalization in the male dominated political parties, which for Mrs. Oyinkan Abayomi others, had demonstrated that they were not interested in women’s issues and allowed for no women in their leadership.[vi]  Similarly, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in 1949, and the organization became the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) later that year.
 If we are determined to learn the lessons of history, we would know the goals and objectives of these women’s organizations intimately, so that at the very least, we would not thing that we are reinventing the wheel, and we can calmly and deliberately build upon the legacies of those who went before us.  The larger lesson here, I think, is that we should always insist on our rights, as I am happy that many of the women here gathered have done.  When we insist on our rights, we should not only do so gently, but loudly and contentiously if need be.  I like Frederick Douglass’ saying:  that power is never conceded.  As women interested in political power, we must always bear this in mind. 

How does one struggle loudly and contentiously for the inclusion of women in this day and age?  In the first place, by insisting on government, political party and society’s commitment to creating a critical mass of women in elected and appointive positions.  Negotiations, memorializing and demonstrations should be undertaken to accomplish this agenda-setting initiative.  If anything should galvanize and unite the women of Nigeria and compel them to cross party, ethnic, religious and class lines to fight for a common cause, this is as good an issue as one can find.  However, once we demand increased participation, what do we do with it?  The question of whether or not elected women represent women and promote women’s interests is not a frivolous one.  If women legislators purport to represent women, is this unfair to the male members of their constituencies?  What policies devolve from this representation that positively impacts upon women as they live their lives?  What is the impact of women in politics upon the poor and marginalized, whom I do not have to tell you are the majority of Nigerians?  What relationship exists between women’s activist organizations and elected and appointed women?  What commitment has either group demonstrated to the well-being of Nigerians? 

The point I am making here is that if indeed women politicians and appointed officials want to claim that they are different from our run of the mill politicians in Nigeria they must proactively set an agenda that reinforces such a political stance.  This is important for many reasons.  In the first place, many ordinary Nigerians are cynical and skeptical when it comes to government of any branch.  They have experienced many atrocities and have come to expect more of the same, whether it be from women or men.  How do we inspire such people to once again, have confidence in the government?  To women already engaged in politics, I say:  to the extent that we have had and still have women of honor and valor who have contributed so much to our politics, their trailblazing efforts should not have been in vain.  They should have women dedicated to living by their example.
 We should quickly go back to Adedeji and Ayo’s six principles of good governance: 
1.      Putting the people first/ENGENDERING POPULAR PARTICIPATION
If the people came first, they would not be “marginalized, alienated, and excluded.  The vulnerable and the impoverished, the uprooted and the ravaged, women, children and youth, the disabled and the aged, the poor and the urban poor …[would not be] treated as the ‘invisible’ informal sector,” that is:  they would not be considered “economically and politically invisible, [since] a divided society where the less fortunate… are hurt, damaged, and discounted by public policies which jettison social justice and sacrifice the common good cannot lay claim to being a true democracy.”  As well, government is totally meaningless if it’s not “rooted in the tradition and culture of the society so as to ensure community empowerment and development (2).

2.      Insulation of the bureaucracy from partisan politics;
In essence, this is a call for rational decision making that derives from making decisions based on the merit of given options, and with some thought to the development of the nation, rather than based on personal or sectional gain.  It goes without saying then that the bureaucracy must be composed of “educated, [experienced], knowledgeable and skilled personnel.”  Integrity, dedication, transparency, and accountability are also important (238).  As legislators, women must insist on the very highest standards for recruitment of personnel into all levels of the executive branch.  Since they demand the best from others, it goes without saying that they too must be excellent in all respects.

3.      Preserving the coherence and organic nature of local government areas;
The design of the political structure is fundamentally important, and there is need to pay attention to “the tradition, culture and community solidarity of local government areas.  The rationale for this is to better ground our democracy and ensure that they are rationally designed, efficient, and are served by committed and dedicated personnel.  This would reduce the apathetic response of the populace to politics as well as reduce conflict.  

4.      Strict observance of the principles of fiscal responsibility and accountability;
Internal generation of revenues are a crucial aspect of this requirement.  Also, there should be no place for corruption and graft in governance

5.      Encouraging and promoting innovation and inventiveness in grassroots governance;
In a federal system, there is no need for total uniformity.  Instead, we should take seriously the motto:  “unity in diversity” and also realize that “governance begins at the community, village or town level (239).  Development through the formulation of plans, mobilization and allocation of resources; and representation, accountability and empowerment – meaning that the right (authorized) persons must take decisions, and they must do so in a transparent, rational manner, and by following due process.  The participation of the people is also a crucial requirement, thus, the traditions and culture are very important grounding or foundational elements to effective governance that includes the grassroots.   Since traditions and cultures may vary, there should be room for diversity.  This fosters innovation and inventiveness (243-244).

6.      Restituting the traditions of partnership in governance. 
The focus here is to create a connection between the people and their government by considering the challenges of development and nation building as a collective effort to which all can contribute (246).  There is no use in a system where the state apparatus is suspended above society and disconnected from it.  People should be able to bring their hopes, aspirations and dreams to the attention of the government, and the government owes them the duty of responding in a rational, effective manner. 

Finally, it is clear from the individual and collective experience of those here gathered that leadership is extraordinarily difficult but greatly rewarding.  This being the case, Nigerian women must engage past and present creatively and imaginatively to inform their struggle to gain power from a political system that is not necessarily committed to their advancement into meaningful public leadership positions.  They must realize that without serving the common person, women and men included, they are not realizing the promise of good governance in our move toward democratization in Nigeria.

Resolution by 400 “parliamentarians” representing Nigerian women’s organizations in 15 provinces at a 2-day conference organized by the Nigerian Women’s Union in Abeokuta (August 5-7, 1953).[vii]

[i] Lina Hamadeh- Banerjee and Paul OQuist, pp. 4-13
[ii] ibid, p. 13
[iii] Karam, op cit., p. 23.
[iv] Jadesola Akande “Affirmative Action: Theory and Practices in Nigeria” in Affirmative Action Strategies: Perspectives and Lessons from Around the Globe. CIRDDOC Nigeria 2003, p. 47.
[v] Ibid, p. 101
[vi] Margaret Strobel, African Women Signs, vol. 8 number 1, (Autumn 1982, pp. 109-131; Cheryl Johnson Odim
[vii] Cheryl Johnson-Odim, Nina Emma Mba, For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria, p. 101.


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