Quality Vs. Quantity - Global and Local Responses Towards Increasing Women’s Political Participation: Nigeria’s 2015 Elections

This paper was presented at the Women Advocates' Research and Documentation Center (WARDC) & Voices for Change (V4C) THEMATIC DIALOGUE ON NIGERIA'S 2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND THE FUTURE OF WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

Chesterfield Hotel, Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome
Professor of Political Science
Leonard & Claire Tow Professor, 2015/2016
Brooklyn College, CUNY
Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow
Department of Political Science
University of Ibadan

This paper is excerpted from Okome, Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké & Afia Serwaa Zakiya, eds. Women’s Political Participation in Nigeria: 2007 General Elections. Ibadan, Nigeria: Bookbuilders, 2013; and "Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth." Discussion Paper presented at 9th CHOGM, in Bridgetown, Barbados. June 2, 2010.  It was updated with information garnered from research inclusive of media reports of Nigeria’s 2015 elections.

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”
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). 

Introduction: The issue/problem

Two decades after the Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action it is still necessary to assess the Nigerian political landscape in terms of women’s political participation, that is: their participation in governance, measured through women’s representation, decision making, empowerment, and the achievement of equitable conditions for women. Women’s accomplishments in political representation and participation, and their influence in public policy and governance should be highlighted by exploring factors that enable women’s political empowerment and gender equity in Nigeria. These factors include Nigeria’s constitutional provisions and national policies. The Nigerian constitution affords women full de jure rights as citizens; discrimination against women is unlawful, and women have full access to the political sphere. However, de jure rights are not always matched by de facto conditions of women’s lives. Thus the creation and implementation of national policies specific to women and their advancement in governance remain important objectives (Okome, Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth 2010).

It is generally agreed that women’s political participation in politics is desirable.  However, scholars differ on recommendations on what efforts are ideal, as well as on whether the efforts should be made to increase the numbers of women in politics or to recruit women who are guaranteed to be the most skilled, effective, and widely believed to contribute to the advancement of gender equity and women’s equality.  In addition, scholars and analysts differ over whether or not Nigerian women have always participated actively in the country’s politics.  For some, despite the difficulties encountered during the colonial era, women’s political activism was directed at recovering some of the administrative and political powers that were denied them (Mba 1982).

Much has been written on the need to increase women’s political participation, with scholars arguing that more effective and efficient participation by women in governance requires a critical mass in the number of elected and appointed women in office. Countries that have attained such critical mass demonstrate that constitutional amendments that legalize quotas for women are effective (Jain 1996).  Such countries have met and sometimes exceeded the 30% MDG and Beijing Platform of Action goals. Parties can also embrace such quotas.  For example, “The Panchayat Raj Act in India reserves 33% of the three-tiered panchayats (village council, council of cluster villages and the district council) for women.  Today there are close to one million elected women leaders at the village level.  A recent assessment revealed that corruption has gone down and transparency has greatly increased because of women's participation in the panchayats.” Also, “In 1994, South Africa ranked 141st in the world in the percentage of legislative seats held by women.  After the African National Congress enacted a 30% quota for female candidates, South Africa jumped to 13th place in 2004 with women elected to 32.8% of its lower parliamentary seats” (IWDC 2008). If majority of women who enter governance are activists recruited from civil society organizations, they bring perspectives, skills and activism (for gender justice, poverty and inequality eradication) from that arena into public institutions (Jain 1996, 2).

Despite the laudable gains in women’s political participation worldwide, many challenges remain. This becomes clear when we consider that by May 2012, the Interparliamentary Union statistics indicated that:
        Only 19.8% of parliamentary seats worldwide are occupied by women.
Moreover, there is great regional variation in the averages of the percentage of women in national parliament:

        Nordic countries - 42%
        Americas - 22.8%
        Europe (excluding Nordic countries) – 21.2%
        Asia - 18.4%
        Sub-Saharan Africa – 19.8%
        Pacific - 12.4%
        Arab states – 14.7% (IPU, Women in National Parliaments 2012).

Not only is there considerable room for improvement when it comes to the numbers, research also shows that quantitative gains are not necessarily met by qualitative changes regarding the broader agenda of positive social, economic and political change in women’s lives (Goetz 2008). For this reason, enhancing the qualitative gains from women’s political participation means that elected women and women political appointees should be committed to gender equality; among other things, they should be good at building coalitions for positive change to empower women, including pushing for budgets that are both gender responsive and adequate (Women 2010); they should have the right skill sets for successfully incorporating their agenda in both policy making and implementation;   they should have access to seasoned mentors throughout their tenure in public service; and they should also be connected with the women’s movement in their countries and internationally so that there is better coordination between demand and supply of gender equality. Since the burden of domestic responsibilities may prevent many talented women from participating or doing so effectively, public policy that supports women in meeting these responsibilities such as affordable and reliable, high quality childcare, and meeting times that are conducive to work-life balance are advisable. Further, there should be a pipeline that ensures that a constant flow of women are trained and prepared for such service. Finally, the social and cultural constraints that persist and militate against women’s political participation must be eliminated if their numerical gains in representation are to make any appreciable difference (Okome, Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth 2010).

Hypotheses/alternative explanations 

Factors identified as preventing women’s participation include:

v  Cultural barriers
v  Religion
v  Lack of internal democracy within parties
v  Lack of resources, particularly money and social capital
v  Violence and intimidation
v  Poor quality of political institutions

Suggested remedies include those based on the following rationale:

v  Where women’s movements are strong and democratization relatively meaningful, women stand to benefit more.  Where the contrary applies, they don’t.  This means that the nature of democracy affects women’s capacities to promote their interests effectively within the political system, and the extent to which women are able to enjoy the rights of citizenship.

v  Where organized women can draw on an existing political discourse, gender ideologies and the existence of broader socio political movements that they can ally with, the possibility of success in pushing the women’s agenda is higher.  The inability of women to participate as full equals with men in broad based democracy impedes the level of success as do divisions along racial, ethnic, religious, and class lines.

v  The existence of a well-functioning state women’s policy machinery enhances the chances for women’s rights through viable and effective institutional machinery enhances the chances for women’s rights through a viable and effective institutional framework.  The Nigerian women’s policy machineries do not fit the bill (441-443).

The Argument

The problem is the paradox of plenitude of women’s social, economic, and political participation combined with profound loss of visibility and prominence particularly in the public political sphere, where there are gross deficits in women’s political participation, both quantitatively and qualitatively, i.e. in terms of numbers and effectiveness,  inequitable distribution of power and persistence of male dominance, systematic and systemic disenfranchisement of women, danger of cynical acceptance of male dominance as the norm, strong perception that women who succeed in politics are mere tokens, and the general subversion of democracy. Women are also judged more harshly than men, and are held to sometimes unattainably high standards.  A combination of these factors cause and perpetuate low levels of women’s political participation.  Given the existence of a 35 percent benchmark established by Nigeria’s Gender Policy, and the 30 percent Beijing and MDG recommendations that Nigeria agrees to, in order to correct the enduring problem of marginal representation of elected women in Nigeria’s federal and state legislatures, tried and true remedies garnered from the experience of other African countries that have met and even in some cases, exceeded the Beijing and MDG goals should be adopted.  They include:

v  A quota legislation for 35 percent women representation in the legislature as well as in the cabinet.
v  Political Parties’ commitment to internal democracy
v  Women politicians’ commitment to building a pipeline that increases the pool of potential candidates for office
v  Mentoring the pool of potential candidates
v  Increasing women’s access to funding to facilitate capacity to run elections
v  Public civic education and consciousness raising to convince Nigerians that gender equity and robust women’s participation in politics is a positive thing that would benefit the entire country and its political system.

Given the importance of majoritarian norms in democracies, I believe the numbers are important based on the rationale that it is more likely that women would enjoy the full rights of citizenship on an equal footing with men and gender equity would be more easily attainable if there is a critical mass of women in governance.  The numbers would ensure that women, who constitute at least half of the population would be represented to a degree commensurate with their proportional size in the population.  This point is made by Akiyode Afolabi and Arogundade:

Women’s aspiration to participate in governance is premised on the following ground; that women in Nigeria represent half of the population and hence should be allowed a fair share in decision-making and the governance of the country. Secondly that all human beings are equal and women possess the same rights as men to participate in governance and public life.  The right to democratic governance is an entitlement conferred upon all citizens by law (Akiyode-Afolabi and Arogundade 2003).

Equity and women’s equality would be more attainable if women representatives are supported by an active national women’s movement that is also connected with ordinary women in the society, and is representative of their interests; and if the women in politics are persuaded that women’s rights are human rights, and protecting such interests would be beneficial to the entire society.  

Without a critical mass of women in governance, they cannot possibly influence and change the political system.  Professor Jadesola Akande went to the heart of the matter when she said:

Politics is where power is and that is where women must be. Nothing will change unless and until women have the necessary number to make a difference. The time to start planning is now. This is the time to start improving the political relevance of women (Akande 2003).

Also emphasizing the importance of attending to the interests of women, and foregrounding their robust involvement and participation in governance, Kofi Annan while he was the Secretary General of the United Nations said:

Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role… When women are fully involved, the benefits are immediate – families are healthier and better fed and their income, savings and investments go up.  And what is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of whole countries. (Okome and Zakiya 2013).

The advocacy of women’s key role in governance and the imperative that their political participation must be a central part of any democracy by Prof. Akande, Kofi Annan, as well as Akiyode Afolabi is reinforced by the following exhortation:

This century’s experience shows that until women as women achieve numbers in legislatures for nearer parity, all advances in politics, public life and in passing laws of especial importance to the majority gender must be viewed as extremely fragile and easily reversible. Without women at the helm, women’s interests and needs will continue to lose out. (IPU, Towards Partnership Between Men and Women in Politics 1997), p. 9).

To underline the importance of numbers, and to give us a sense of the challenge that Nigerian women must surmount, Nigeria ranks 129th out of 140 states in the IPU’s ranking of women in national parliaments. Rwanda is number 1, and the top 10 in Africa are the following (listed in order of their worldwide ranking):  

IPU Ranking of Women in national Parliaments top 10 African Countries & Nigeria
Worldwide Ranking
South Africa
 (IPU 2015)

I also argue for the importance of ensuring the highest quality of political participation by women.  However, it is often unclear whether the call for quality is about women conforming to social expectations of purity, or it is about effectiveness and efficiency in public office.  Aspersions about their immorality are often cast against women in politics in Nigeria, causing many women to eschew political participation in order to prevent their good name from being sullied.  This is a mark of enduring bias against women, an attempt to discipline and domesticate them by scaring them from being politically engaged.  It is also symbolic of attempts to hold women to standards that men are not expected to meet.  It characterizes discrimination against women.  Regrettably, many women also employ such rationale and apply them to fellow women.  I do not find it useful or rational to require that women be angelic in disposition to be politically engaged.  I don’t think it’s attainable or even desirable to expect women to be different from men in politics.   Women are as human as men, and being produced by the same society, having to function in the same political system, and desiring success in that system, which is for the time being, male dominant, women would tend to manifest characteristics perceived to be useful to men in their quest to be relevant in the political system (Narwaz 2010)

The high quality of their political participation is important for both women and men.  This for me means working assiduously toward economic and social development that improves the quality of life, standard of living and human security of citizens served by public officials.  Marginalized groups—the poor, women, differently abled and other disadvantaged minorities should be privileged in designs for change by the political system.  There is no point to increasing women’s political participation if they are not primed and equipped to contribute to such change.  This for me is what we should seek in requiring that there must be high quality of women’s and men’s political participation.

Nigerian Democratization and Women’s Political Participation: A Brief look at our History

For scholars who study democratization and political transitions, the success of the second post-authoritarian elections (which in Nigeria occurred in 2003) point to the possible durability and consolidation of the transition to democratic politics.  The third set of elections (2007), were even more significant because they marked the end of two constitutionally limited terms for one civilian administration and a civilian-to-civilian transition.  The 2011 and 2015 elections also contributed to the increased consolidation of democracy.  The latter was particularly significant because there was a peaceful change from the 15 year incumbency of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the take-over of All Progressives Congress (APC).  These developments could also be taken to signify Nigeria’s movement toward the maturation of democracy.  However, for Nigerian women’s rights activists who have consistently struggled for equity and  meaningful participation by women as hallmarks of democracy, these elections remain a test of the extent to which women are able to exercise the right to participate in politics, not just as voters, but also as government and party officials, candidates in the elections, and legislators.  Judged using these expectations, Nigeria has fallen short of full democracy due to enduring marginalization of women in its political system.

Concerning political appointments, and focusing exclusively on the percentage of women political appointees, one might be optimistic.  Some have lauded the Jonathan administration for its conformity with the Beijing and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 30 percent benchmark of women in national cabinets, given that 31-33 percent of the Ministers appointed by the Jonathan administration were women (Akor 2015, Ajayi and Ogbu 2011). In contrast, the Obasanjo administration had 9 women Ministers, while the Yar’Adua Administration had 7 (Ajayi and Ogbu 2011).  Given that it has not announced its Ministerial list, it remains to be seen whether the Buhari administration will exceed the Jonathan administration’s percentage of women Ministers. 

A note of caution: We can also consider the extent to which the increase in women’s appointment contributed to increased well-being and enhanced citizenship rights for women.

From the IPU evidence and what we already know, it is incontrovertible that the percentage of Nigerian women elected into office remains abysmally poor.  Idika Ogunye collected and analyzed diachronic (historical) statistics for Nigerian women’s participation in politics.  She demonstrates that in the democratic transition process of the early 1990s, only 27 (2.3 percent) of 1172 legislators in the various states’ House of Assembly were women. Only one woman was elected Senator in the Second and Third Republics. Women did not fare better in the political parties’ executive committees; 3.99 percent of the executive committee members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and 4.32 percent of those of the National Republican Convention (NRC) were women. Only two to three women were appointed as cabinet members during the period. 

The trend continued in the 1997 local government elections when less than 1 percent of the elected chairpersons were women.  Less than 1 percent of the members of the House of Representatives (in 1998) were women. In the first term of the Obasanjo civilian administration (1999-2003), women represented only 3 out of 108 senators, 12 out of 360 members of the House of Representatives, one out of 774 Local Government Chairpersons, and one deputy governor out of 36.  This very marginal presence of women in positions of authority is better appreciated if considered against the fact that women constitute about half of Nigeria’s population, and more than half of its voters (27 out of 47 million in 1999) (Okome and Zakiya 2013).

This appalling situation of marginalization of women in Nigerian politics is reflected in all post 1999 elections.  For example, the seventh National Assembly had 27 women, of which eight were re-elected into the current 8th Assembly.  In addition, a Daily Trust post-election article reported that “in 2003, women made up only three percent of elected officials, in 2007 they made seven percent and in 2011 they made up about five percent” (Akor 2015).

Clearly, the 2015 elections were no exception to the trend of marginal women’s presence in Nigeria’s federal legislature.  Ene Ede, Gender Advisor, Search for Common Ground Nigeria said, 

Only one female presidential candidate contested the 2015 elections; four Female vice-presidential, one main governorship contender and five deputy governorships; and 15 percent of … [contestants for]  774 House of Representatives and 17 percent of 747 Senate seats [were women]  (Akor 2015).

The sole Presidential candidate, Professor Remi Sonaiya, was one of fourteen, and she was in the 12th position at the conclusion of voting (Uzoanya and Awodipe 2015).  The hopes that the sole female gubernatorial candidate, Senator Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan of Taraba State would be elected were not realized. Mrs Blessing Obidiegwu, Deputy Director of the Gender Division of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported that:

14 females (5.6%) were elected into the House of Representatives and eight women won as senators in the recent National Assembly election. …. only 14 females out of 360 lawmakers. ….The incoming senate is also going to have only eight women out of 109 senators (6.5%) (Akor 2015, IPU 2015).

Historically, Nigerian women have been shown to participate in governance since the pre-colonial period.  Some were rulers; others were public officials with institutionalized offices and powers in their communities and realms.   The position of women in society was clear.   Ibibio women for example, had the Iban Isong organization, which protected and extended women’s political, economic and social privileges.   Many women’s organizations continued to thrive under colonialism.  However, political rights were denied both men and women, and as incremental rights were granted to men, women became increasingly excluded and marginalized. 

The imposition of colonialism and its structural consolidation generated some powerful resistance, some memorable ones spearheaded by women, who resented the erosion of their powers and the imposition of unacceptable draconian measures such as taxation without representation and illegitimate rulers who refused to be responsive to their people’s needs.  Notable among these was Ogu Umuwanyi, waged by Ibo and Ibibio women which culminated in the 1929 Aba women’s war.   Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and the Abeokuta Women’s Union also confronted an insensitive Alake who was widely believed to be a colonial stooge.  In a categorical denial of women’s rights, the British left them out as they undertook gradual political reforms such as elections and constitutions.  Women could neither vote nor contest elections.  Thus, Ityavyar was right in saying:  “one would not be far from right to suggest that colonialism is the midwife of the political marginalization of women in Africa”.

Nationalist struggles continued during the relaxation of some of the draconian conditions that marked the end of colonialism and the inception of western forms of democratic governance, but did not yield much gain for women in the higher echelons of public office and political power structure.  This tradition continues today and has become the watershed characteristic that is used in most analysis to define Nigerian women’s political participation and power.  For most others, the marginalization and oppression of Nigerian women in indigenous society continued unabated until the present.  

Apologists could well make a claim that there were no women in military or the top echelons of the civil service, but there was neither sensitivity to the need for policies that ensured that women could aspire to rise to these positions through training, mentorship and sponsorship for requisite higher education.  None of the military Governors appointed by General Gowon was a woman.  The Federal Executive Cabinet was composed of 11 civilians and 14 members of the Armed Forces and Police.  Not one was a woman.  This blatant disregard for women was most unwarranted because there were numerous Nigerian women professionals in Law, Medicine, and higher education, who had advanced degrees and requisite experience and could have been recruited for the positions seemingly reserved for men.  There was a similar absence of women in the cabinets of state military governments, but a few had one token woman.  

In his first iteration as the primary decision maker in Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo maintained the male dominant strategies of colonial and previous postcolonial governments in Nigeria.  Women were also prevented from participating in determining the rules under which the country would operate in the proposed post-military era.  This decision was met with complaints and agitation.  The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), a body of 50 “wise men” who were selected for their qualifications, experience, and on the basis of ensuring equitable representation from the 19 States in existence at the time. Unfortunately, although it was well past the middle of the 20th century, (1978), not one Nigerian woman was included.

While women in Southern Nigeria got the franchise in the 1954, along with all Nigerian men, women in Northern Nigeria were still not allowed to vote or be voted for until Obasanjo’s military regime, through a decree approved the Universal franchise for women in 1976.  While the women in the south had been enfranchised for over 29 years before their sisters in the North, the deliberate denial of the franchise to Northern Nigerian women was not uncontested.  One very significant example is the case of Hajia Gambo Sawaba, who was a tireless, tenacious and relentless champion for the rights of the poor, marginalized and excluded.  She fought valiantly for women’s rights, including the franchise.  Just because of her participation in politics, government officials labeled Sawaba a prostitute.  She was beaten, jailed more than 17 times, and was once expelled from the city of Kano by the Emir of Kano.  This onerous experience means that she holds the record as the most frequently jailed Nigerian woman, who was jailed purely because of her involvement in politics.  

During the Abacha years (1994-98) Nigeria experienced the most brutal dictatorship in its history, and the dictator had plans to succeed himself as an elected civilian head of state.  In the same period, the State and Federal Commissions for Women were converted into Federal and State Ministries of Women Affairs.  Theoretically, the new policy was designed to enhance the participation of women in decision-making.  Many women participated in the Abacha transition.  After the 1998 elections, which were held before Abacha died, twenty (20) women became members of the 360-strong Federal House of Representatives, while nine (9) women became Senators out of a total of 109.   Upon Abacha’s death, the elections were revoked.  Women were not as successful in the succeeding elections organized by General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1999.

Both historical and contemporary evidence show that Nigerian women do participate actively in our country's politics at all levels and in all kinds of capacities--as voters, members of the political parties, mobilizers for these parties, and to a lesser extent, as political appointees, and as candidates for elective office.  Concerning the last two categories of participation, there have been slim pickings for Nigerian women.  Nigeria is a patriarchal society where the marginalization of women is widely accepted as the norm, thus tacitly legitimating weak representation of women in elective and appointed public political office.  In addition, the major religions with significant adherents in the country concur with the presumed cultural barriers to women’s public exercise of power.  Consequently, everyday practices by the political class put formidable barriers in women’s way that retard participation. The Nigerian political system is also very riotous.  It has faced the challenges of authoritarianism and consequent long years of military rule, as well as a civil war, and the enduring legacies of these historical experiences.  Considerable barriers to the deepening of democracy are manifest.  Thus, it is conventional that when elections approach, there are fears of political violence, rigging, intimidation and machinations that work to the advantage of powerful men, while majority of women are disadvantaged.


Nigerian Elections: Enduring Challenges

It is widely acknowledged both domestically and internationally that Nigerian elections still struggle to fulfill the free and fair norms in accordance with long standing international practice.  The 2003, 2007, and 2011 elections were accompanied by rampant rigging, abuse of power, threats, aggression, mismanagement, illegality, impunity and gross infringements on the rights of citizens.  A major difference between the 2003 and 2007 elections is that the earlier one appears to have been a practice run for even more dastardly deeds during the later iteration.  According to a report by the Stakeholder Democracy Network, the 2007 elections were methodically eroded, and the process failed to comply with minimum standards of democracy.   They were characterized by gross malpractices, including rampant irregularities in: 

v  The opening and closing of polls
v  Collation and announcement of results
v  The prevalence of order and the rule of law
v  Autonomy of the Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Electoral Commissions.

Key trends observed in the Niger Delta that are generalizable to the rest of the country include: 

For the Gubernatorial and State Assembly Elections:  14th April

v  Delayed distribution of election materials and/or accreditation of officials
v  Delayed opening of polls
v  Irregular and/or incomplete election materials
v  Harassment of election observers and/or voters
v  Electoral violence
v  Implausible results and lack of access to collation

For the Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives Elections, on April 21st:

v  Postponement of elections
v  Delayed opening of polls
v  Irregular and//or incomplete election materials
v  Voter disillusionment
v  Harassment of election observers and/or voters
v  Interference in the electoral process
v  Election violence
v  Implausible results and lack of access to collation (Okome and Zakiya 2013).  

Similar challenges were experienced in 2011 and to a lesser extent in 2015, where the INEC under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega, was able to impose significant observance of the rules that made the elections more credible, freer and fairer than others since 1999.  Nigeria should have had the 2015 general elections on February 14.  This was the 5th general election since 1999, and the mere fact that there have been successive elections symbolize the movement of democracy toward consolidation.  It is also noteworthy that the Presidential elections brought about a peaceful change in government from the 15 year dominance of the PDP to the take-over of the APC.  Unlike previous administrations, the Jonathan administration was not able to enforce its hold on power through the sheer power of the incumbency.  We’ll probably all agree that the elections were quite eventful.  There was considerable rascality and mudslinging on the part of many candidates who tried to delegitimize those against whom they were competing by all means possible.  There was violence in some regions, and some people even lost their lives.  On the eve of the elections, the Jonathan administration abruptly imposed a 6 week postponement, justifying its puzzling action by a never before expressed passionate desire to fight Boko Haram.  The move smacked of deep, cynical manipulation of the plight of Nigerian citizens as part of the electioneering strategies of the ruling party.  However, astute analysts and scholars of Nigerian politics attribute the disorderly and untidy postponement to a fear that the long reign of the PDP over Nigeria (15 years since 1999) was threatened by the Buhari-Osinbajo APC team.

The 2015 bellwether election eventually took place on March 28 (Presidential and National Assembly) and April 11 (State Assembly and Gubernatorial) crashed the "tried and true" incumbent expectations of winning votes through straightforward material inducements for vote-type transactions, which are described as "stomach infrastructure" politics.  The President elect had run for all elections since 1999, when Nigeria made its 4th attempt since independence to embrace democracy once again.  Nigerian women who are interested in running for office should take a leaf from his book—a testament to tenacity, learning from past mistakes, and building coalitions that generate success after much failure.  Also, the winner's war chest was minuscule compared with the loser's.  It is also important to realize that winning coalitions may come with considerable baggage.  President Buhari’s winning coalition also has some troubling elements, including its hastily assembled nature, and some political elites who were unethical, even kleptocratic while in office.  Does the president elect has the capacity to hold them in check?   However, would he have won without those "masterminds" and their resources, including their considerable strategic cunning abilities?  Politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows.

Nigerian women are negatively impacted by the intimidation and other abuses that permeate the electoral process, a factor that can be directly linked to the minuscule increase in the percentage of women in elected office, and the inability of Nigeria to join the fold of African countries that have successfully met the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as they pertain to women’s participation.  Over the course of the five elections thus far, some women have scaled through and taken office in the federal and state legislature.  Evidence from the 2007 elections show that these were women who belonged to the incumbent party in the states where they contested, and those who had the support of the party leadership.  However, the overwhelming majority of women were sidelined, intimidated, browbeaten, vilified and otherwise prevented from contesting elections.  Where they went forward and contested, they were strong-armed into withdrawing, often in favor of male candidates supported by the male dominant party leadership.  

In order to properly evaluate the nature and extent of women’s political power and participation in general, one should consider the degree to which the issues identified as important by women’s rights activists became part of political party platforms and the extent to which women participated as voters, party leaders/officials, and candidates.  This can be done through the culling of news media accounts; accessing information from INEC; from the records of electoral tribunals; petitions made by women who lodge complaints about flawed elections (primaries and general), interviews of officials in Nigeria’s political parties and most importantly, through interviews of women candidates, aspirants, and women’s rights activist and organizations.  This can help to determine the nature, form, and extent of women’s political power in contemporary Nigeria, and to build a database that would give sound explanation and analysis of women’s political participation to inform the actions of the national assembly women legislators seeking corrective legal redress to identified barriers to gender equity in politics, gender and human rights activist, academics, and others interested in advancing women’s political power and leadership in Nigeria.

The importance of accurate memory and interpretation of history.

It is well-documented that women were equal participants in the nationalist and liberation struggles in most African countries, including Nigeria. Also, while colonialism eroded a significant amount of women’s formal political power, drawing upon their precolonial bases of power, women in most African countries asserted their rights, sometimes even succeeding in extending such rights, even in the weakened indigenous political structures and institutions.   Multi-religious constituencies then were possible with existing parties.

Nigerian women formed western-style political pressure groups early in the 1900s.  However, 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 and others, had demonstrated that they were not interested in women’s issues and allowed for no women in their leadership.   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.  Both the AWU and NWU involved a combination of educated women with women traders.  The AWU used this coalition to challenge the combined powers of Alake Ademola and the British colonial government for compelling women to pay taxes.  The AWU mobilized, supported, and joined the women in public disobedience campaigns that culminated in the temporary abdication of the Alake.

Between 1948 and 1949, branches of the Union were formed in Ijebu Ode, Ijebu Remo, Ilaro, Egbado area, Benin, Ibadan, Calabar, and Aba.  Mrs. Margaret Ekpo had founded the Aba Women’s Association earlier, and was inspired to join the NWU after Funmilayo Ransome Kuti’s visit in 1949.  Similarly, Janet Okala, G.I. Okoye, and Madam Peter Okoye had founded the Enugu Women’s Association in 1945.  The organization’s name was changed to the Nigerian Women’s Union, Enugu branch in honor of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti’s visit on December 18, 1949, in the aftermath of a fatal violent attack by colonial police against striking miners in Enugu.   By 1950, there were branches of the Union in Enugu, Aba, Ijebu Ode, Ikare, and Onitsha.  Between 1950 and 1953, there were branches in Zaria, Kaduna, Jos, Kano, Jebba, Kafanchan, Funtua, Ilorin, Ekiti, Ilesha, Ado Ekiti, Asaba, and Abakaliki.  The organization was conceived as a federation with autonomous branches.  Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was the national President as well as the President of the Abeokuta branch.  Mrs. Ekpo was National Secretary and she presided over the Aba branch.  The political objectives of the Union were:

(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. 

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).

Recommendations/Way forward

Many women attribute their interest in politics to the desire to help their people.  Others express the same sentiment and say that they would like to give something back, or that based on their reputation as community activists, they were recruited by their people and urged to become involved in politics.   Those who won the elections looked forward eagerly to engaging the political system as their people’s representatives, and were confident that they would make a difference.  Those that lost through what they believed were machinations, rigging, intimidation, and other unfair practices largely said that they were disillusioned with politics and the political process, but some were determined to fight for the mandate that they claimed was snatched away from them.  There was a perception that the political system had failed Nigerians and was in need of committed and dedicated politicians, and that the contributions of women politicians would help to begin the process of political renewal. A few women were also offered inducements that convinced them to abandon their quest for elected office in favor of political appointments.  They largely expressed satisfaction and some maintained that they would run for office at a future time.  The women who challenged their loss in electoral tribunals expressed feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction with being sidelined.  Many felt abandoned and discouraged, but were resolute in their stand.
Given these challenges, the recommendations on tactics for women’s agency include:
v    Public action in support of increased women’s participation,
v    Affirmative action in legislative bodies,
v    Political party and electoral system reforms,
v    Action by women’s organization,
v    The establishment of alliances, between women legislators, women’s organizations and women in appointive positions,
v    Consultation with role models and
v    Targeting young women for mentorship and grooming for political office.  
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 women 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.   At the September 2006 NDI/NASS conference, Roundtable 1: “Increasing Women’s Leadership through Political Participation in African Parliaments” made the following recommendations:
v    Women need to network at all levels, including African women parliamentarians networking and sharing their experiences at all levels
v    To hold a Women’s Summit

The Women’s Summit was held but it has not generated any appreciable increase in the percentage of elected women, although there’s been an uptick in the percentage of women political appointees. This means that there must be relentless coalition building, organizing, advocacy, lobbying, a sophisticated media strategy and work to build a robust and powerful women’s movement that would facilitate the development of a network of women politicians, activists and those in appointive positions, causing a routinization of women’s issues and also the creation of a platform for governance skills building.

Evidence from countries where Women's political participation has met and exceeded Beijing benchmark 

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 rather than a first past the post type electoral system, as found in Nigeria.  The legislative agenda for the Women’s caucus of the NASS should therefore include the sponsorship of a proportional representation bill.

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 the 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 percent 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.  Panel Session 2 at the September 2006 conference “Gender Dimensions to Contemporary Politics, Decision-Making and Power in Nigeria” recommended the following:  “We advocate for quotas as a stepping stone to parity (50/50).”   The Women’s Caucus of the National Assembly should bear this recommendation in mind and plan to propose an affirmative action bill.

The assumption that tradition is irrevocably wedded to the past is wrong.  The assumption that African tradition is a priori, the zone of women’s marginalization and oppression should be interrogated rather than accepted as a given.  The opposite assumption that modernity is the zone of liberation also must be unpacked.  That women had the opportunity to participate in the public sphere and wield power within the family prior to Africa’s colonization is to say that such zones of power should be considered as opening up the possibility that arguments and struggles for African women’s inclusion in the public sphere and in the exercise of power within the family do not have to be based on imported ideologies.  Members of the Women’s Caucus of the National Assembly should fund and support educational initiatives that seek strategies that research and disseminate findings on integrated progressive traditional and modern approaches to promote and enhance women’s power.

Modernity is not an unproblematic phenomenon.  It could either be oppressive or liberating.  It could marginalize as well as centralize.  Participation in the global system could be made more possible or made easier through the mediating power of traditions that validate, empower, and centralize the African woman.  The duty of the scholar as gbénàgbénà and gbénugbénu (carver and skilled orator) is to use the right tools to create the right meaning as well as accurate interpretation and explication.
What ought to be done to improve the lot of Nigerian and African women in the continent’s democratic political systems?  There are two possible options for those who want change: legal changes that are combined with public education campaigns aimed at achieving slow and steady erosion of the male dominant social, economic, political, cultural and religious practices that discriminate against women, or a revolution: an abrupt, radical, break with the past.  Revolutions tend to be bloody, disruptive and destabilizing, and any change is difficult to accomplish.  Women have a desire to participate in formal politics, but they are in essence, swimming upstream, being prevented from taking most of the positions of power in the political system; lacking a women’s movement that is well organized.  Men cannot be expected to rally to the women’s cause because they gain immensely from their control of the political system. The most likely development is slow, incremental change through legislation, public information campaigns that educate about why affirmative action may be beneficial, even to men, who are after all, not immune to discrimination.  The recommendation for the Women’s Caucus of the National Assembly is that they should redouble their efforts to propose legal changes and fund public education campaigns in support of increasing women’s political participation and salience.
In working toward the desired change, first there must be the acknowledgement that women are both similar and different.  Race, class, and ethnicity, as well as other aspects of a woman’s identity, including religion and age, insert differences and provide possibilities for the assertion of sameness based on common socio-economic locations.  The differences need not preclude the formation of coalitions, and sameness must not be assumed as making automatic unity for common purposive action possible.  Instead, organizing must be done to build coalitions that cross national, class, gender, religious, ethnic and other boundaries.   The Women’s Caucus of the National Assembly should engage in domestic and international networks that constitute coalitions for positive change, engaged in consistent efforts to legislate, educate, inform and mobilize support for affirmative action and women’s empowerment.



v  Connecting Procedures and Outcomes

Connect women's representation with effective participation and consequent gender equality.  This can be done by staring the reality of women’s marginalization in politics in the face, suggesting solutions and connecting procedures and outcomes.
Increased women's participation is crucial.  It is hard to look at Nigeria and claim that progress is being made, and that by merely striving, women would successfully challenge the status quo of male dominance and the presumed inferiority and unsuitability of women for political office.  Thus, it is imperative that serious recommendations be made for women's political participation that might begin with the demand for enacting the international conventions and legal instruments on women's rights into which Nigeria has entered. 
Next, there is a need for the institutionalization of 50-50 quotas both within the political parties when they present candidates for political office, and in the entrenchment of this provision in the constitution.  It is equally imperative that the demand for radical change in Nigerian politics should continue.  The essence of recounting Yoruba history above, and of bringing attention to some of the historical initiatives by Nigerian women in this report, is to point out the absurdity of the subversion and delegitimation of systems that gave better opportunities for women's representation in favor of a presumably democratic system that does not allow for women to be considered serious contenders and/or occupants for political office.  The need for gender equity is urgent and glaring.  To subvert gender equity in favor of the status quo amounts to support for a patently undemocratic system and patriarchal state that is bent to be regressive rather than progressive.  It is also a bald-faced insult to Nigerian women. 
          Despite the desire by many commentators to insist that a few women caught behaving as badly as the men is an indicator that women should not be given positions of responsibility, the truth is that such women actually demonstrate that they are good students of the deeply corrupted male dominant political system in Nigeria.  This is not to excuse such bad behavior, poor judgment, ignorance, and abuse of office, but to caution both anti- and pro-women's rights activists.  The former have no confidence in women as leaders, the latter talk about women's exceptionalism in the areas of nurture, honesty, peacemaking, alliance-formation.  Some women can indeed be exceptional leaders.  Luckily, Nigeria and the world's past history demonstrate this unequivocally.  There is also ample evidence of women's venality and irresponsibility.  In spite of this reality, women are citizens and must be given equal access to power.  It is incumbent on women to rally and mobilize to promote this cause, and to do so in spite of the ethnic, religious, class and other sectional divisions that are a part of Nigeria's peculiar historical experience and contemporary reality. 
          We must look to other African countries that have successfully increased the numbers of women in public office and legislatures.  However, we must do so with the idea that it is possible to improve on these experiences.  One key factor that contributed to the success in most of the African countries is that there was serious organizing for change.  Most of these countries could be said to have built sustainable and progressive women's movements, and Nigeria needs to do likewise.  Nigerian and African women also need to take Nigerian and African culture seriously as objects of careful scrutiny and study.  Such research should be geared in the first place, at excavating and rehabilitating those aspects of our culture that honor women and histories of women who attained leadership position in their communities and their contributions to society from the pile of delegitimized detritus to which they have been confined due to our colonial experience.  Secondly, we need to engage in serious research of African women's leadership and political participation in contemporary times.  This and the historical research would serve the function of documenting women's history.  It will also demonstrate that women's leadership is not a newfangled invention but part of historical lessons of the past that give contemporary society "the chance to consider the right and wrong of human judgment even though the deeds were done long ago" [xiii]. 
Representation is key, thus, it is necessary in the first place, to not trivialize representation by defining it merely as women gaining access to public power.  Instead, it should be extended to cover structural inequality [xiv].  The challenge of ensuring that women who are elected to representative positions are accountable to constituencies that demand gender equity, that there are healthy working relations between them and national machineries that enable them to collaborate with the women's movement to push for progressive policymaking in the interest of gender equity or "access to decisionmaking in order to advance a project of eliminating gender hierarchies of power."[xv]  They must merge quantitative representation by women with qualitative representation that is demonstrably effective.  Thus, they must:
v  Laws that advance women’s interests
v  Transparency
v  Accountability
v  Relentless networking, lobbying for advancement of women’s interests, advocacy on women’s issues as required for fairness, equity and social justice.
v  Collaboration and alliances with men that convince them to work towards gender parity.
v  Compromise vs winner take all, work hard, and be approachable. 

v  Conditions that allow women to participate in decision-making where it opportunities to change the rules to benefit women exist.

v    All organizations, associations and institutions – political, social and economic to deliberately and systematically advocate to implement women’s participation at all levels – affirmative action.
v    Formation of Women’s advocacy groups in the NGO sector that collaborate with Women legislators, Women’s Legislative Caucuses and Women’s Ministries.
v  Young women and girls.  Africans have traditionally learned by doing, and the mark of a great leader is the ability to inspire, encourage and motivate others.
v  Young men and boys to support gender parity.   
v  That power is never conceded and leadership is extraordinarily difficult but greatly rewarding.  This being the case, Nigerian women must engage the 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 and transform their gains into meaningful public leadership positions. 

Today, despite the weight of Nigeria’s post-colonial history, one of the encouraging signs in the Nigerian political terrain is the emergence and efflorescence of civil society organizations among which women’s organizations, women’s activist organizations, and women’s studies scholars are in the vanguard.  Another encouraging sign is the large number of women candidates relative to past elections.
The impediments to women’s participation in politics include the lack of consideration for women’s issues, violation of party rules and plans for affirmative action, weak political institutions, the use of zoning and other gerrymandering strategies to prevent women from attaining political office, the pervasiveness of an “old boys’ club”, supported by rich and powerful men dubbed “godfathers”, collusion to engage in corrupt practices, the construction of religious and cultural prohibitions against women’s public role in governance, lack of financial capacity, power politics, the use of strong arm strategies, intimidation and violence, machinations within political parties, the construction of gender to forbid women’s active participation in politics, and women’s acceptance of the status quo, structural collusion and smear campaigns that ruin the reputation of women who dare to participate.
Professor Jadesola Akande identifies ten benefits of Affirmative Action for women:

1.     Ensure greater participation of women in politics and governance in terms of numbers.
2.     Enhance women’s effective participation in politics and governance in terms of quality.
3.     Cultivate the political culture of women voting for women
4.     Cultivate the political culture of men voting for women.
5.     Cultivate the political culture of men getting used to and accepting woman leaders.
6.     Promote greater accommodation and consideration of women’s views in decision making.
7.     Promote personal and collective development of women.
8.     Build the political, social and economic capacities of women over times.
9.     Inspire and motivate girl-children and youths in general to aspire to greater heights
10.  Entrench true and enduring democracy; promote public accountability and good governance, which will ultimately lead to sustainable human development (Akande 2003).


The Rwanda case, and by extension, the cases of similar countries that have had substantial increase in women's participation in political decisionmaking, indicate that we have to think of more than numbers. The numbers should be seen as a beginning point among the objectives for women’s equal representation because numbers alone do not guarantee meaningful gender equality and equity. Such representation must be achieved, but there is much more to be done. The political and ideological stance of the women elected and appointed into positions of power are also important considerations. There must be connectedness between women parliamentarians/cabinet members/women's machineries and the women's movement (trans-class; trans regional; trans religious women's NGOs and CSOs), and with political parties as well as men and boys, which allows for the women's movement to demand equitable policies and insist on their implementation, and the parliamentarians/cabinet members/women's machineries supply these political goods by pushing the agenda for gender equality across the board.


Political party structures;  Women’s styles of leadership; Coalition for positive change with Men and Boys; The challenges of the capitalist system.
          The political skill and will of parliamentarians/cabinet members/women's machineries are important. They must be good at proposing change through legislation, negotiating, building coalitions, building peace, and other important objectives that contribute to gender equality. They must be comfortable with being leaders, as well as committed to the struggle for gender equality in the long term. The women's movement also has to draw up a "gender agenda". They must push this agenda in the political, social and economic spheres; they must be tireless advocates for the agenda (Okome, Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth 2010).
          The extent to which gender equality is achieved depends on the condition and circumstances of the majority of women, and not the affluent/powerful minority. Gender equality has become a shared goal for all humanity.  It is a fundamental human right that is guaranteed in the UN Charter as well as other international conventions and declarations such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and Millennium Development Goals also affirm the international community to gender equality.  It is also clear that if humanity wants to demonstrate genuine commitment to the social and economic advancement of women, it must not only make rhetorical statements on interest in women’s empowerment but device strategies that ensure equal access by women and men, to power, decisionmaking and economic resources (Williams 2003). Alliances with men and boys to change gender relations in everyday life go a long way toward achieving equality and equity. As well, political economy is essential to a full understanding of the impediments to gender equality as well as giving a roadmap for positive change. While there has been tremendous expansion in the world’s economy as a consequence of globalization, it is also well documented that globalization has uneven distributional consequences that produce either wealth or poverty to some regions, sectors and genders.  This for Amartya Sen is why inclusive globalization is imperative.  For him, development does not amount to much if we do not put people first (Sen 1999).  This is the crux of the gender and trade discourse--that we figure out how to share potential gains from globalization between men and women, in an equitable manner.  Beyond material equity, we must also have respect for human dignity and realize the equal worth of all humans (Okome, Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth 2010)


Despite the formidable challenges, a determination to accomplish gender equality does yield benefits, as evidenced by increases in some Commonwealth countries in terms of increased percentages of women participants in national legislatures. Despite the reversals in some countries, these increases should motivate countries that are lagging behind to do better. NGOs and CSOs as well as multilateral agencies are key participants in the struggle. The strategies devised must necessarily consider the intricate connections between social, political and economic structures and women’s empowerment on all fronts to take equal part in making decisions that will foster human wellbeing. This cannot be done without appropriate budgetary allocations in local, national and international budgets (Okome, Beyond the Numbers: Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth 2010).


        Quotas remain important, but are just the beginning.  They are necessary but not sufficient for achievement of gender equality in governance.
        Where women’s movements are strong and democratization relatively meaningful, women stand to benefit more. Where the contrary applies, they don’t. Thus, the nature of democracy affects women’s capacities to promote their interests effectively within the political system, and their enjoyment of the rights of citizenship.
        Where organized women can draw on existing political discourse, gender ideologies and broader socio political movements that they can ally with, the possibility of success in pushing the women’s agenda is higher. The inability of women to participate as full equals with men in broad based democracy impedes the level of success as do racial, ethnic and class divisions.
        Where there is a well-functioning state women’s policy machinery to enhance women’s rights through viable and effective institutional mechanisms promoting and guaranteeing women’s rights by mainstreaming gender through a sound institutional framework. Many women’s policy machineries do not fit the bill.
        Where Gender Responsive Budgeting is used as a strategy to document government priorities and shows gaps in gender equity and equality.
        Where social and cultural constraints against women’s political participation are eliminated. In essence, this is a long term struggle.

Numbers are important as a symbol of equitable, just representation.  However, those striving for such representation must of necessity go beyond the numbers and motivate their representatives to work for them toward guaranteeing effective representation in the political system.  It’s an uphill task, but it’s possible.


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