Globally, the role of women in politics has been hampered greatly over the years due to male dominance in politics. The numbers of women participating in politics has been greatly outnumbered especially in developing countries in Africa.
This is particularly so because of patriarchal nature of most African societies where women are left to play the second-fiddle through certain cultural sentiments. As a result, there has been a persistent call by women, scholars, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and various international organizations to take action and remove obstacles limiting women’s entry into politics as women’s participation in the political field is imperative for a lasting development in any human society.
There have been agitations from various international and national organizations for government of several countries to implement international instruments aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of women. More importantly within the discourse of the Nigerian society and it’s political terrain, there has been little or no space for the involvement of women in politics, as it has been a normal belief that the place of the woman is within the family, as she has no other function outside the family sphere as her responsibility is majorly centered on home keeping and child upbringing. This among many other factors has limited the role of the women in areas where key issues of national importance are being discussed. This perception of the women has also created the unjust behavior of most parents to give preferential in the treatment of their girl child in comparison with the male child as they believed that the male child is more important than the female child and in the light of this certain privileges are often extended to the male child which the girl child do not get to enjoy.
Women’s Political Participation in Nigeria: Historical Exploration
Historically, in pre-colonial Nigeria to some extent, equality prevailed and this enabled women to play leadership role in various capacities. In traditional societies, political power was diffused, not concentrated in one single individual or level of authority. Women occupied important roles in the traditional political life and in their different regions; they were actively engaged in politics and held decision-making roles in the governmental institution in their respective regions . The extent of women’s participation in the public sphere in the pre- colonial Nigeria however, depended very much on how their particular society was organized, whether in the form of monarchy like the Yoruba kingdom or as republican like the Igbo tribes . In Yoruba land, women held political offices like Iyalode, Iyaloja, Iyalaje. The change of government from the Hausa aristocracy to the Fulani/Muslim hegemony however, totally excluded women from the public sphere. After the reign of Amina in the pre-Islamic past of Zaria, there was no woman who sat in the court of any Hausa ruler
The pre-colonial period in Nigeria, despite being a patriarchal society in some regions, has a rich history that is marked with the contributions of women to politics , it is rather surprising to see a Nigerian society where the place of the woman is undermined especially in political affairs of our immediate society and nation at large.
According to the statistics provided by the women in Parliaments: World classification, 2019, as of the 2015 election, Nigeria had 20 women out of 359 in its lower house (5.6%) and 7 out of 109 in the upper house (6.4%) and also following the 2019 elections, women make up 7.3% of the Nigerian Senate and 3.1% of the House of Representatives. No Women State Governor.
Furthermore, the world Economic Forum (2018) .Global Gender Gap report measures political empowerment in terms of the ratios of women to men in ministerial and parliamentary positions, as well as number of years as head of state over the last fifty years. Out of a total of 149 countries, Nigeria is ranked in the 139th position of countries where women are politically empowered.
Constitution and the Place of Women in Nigeria Politics
The right to democratic governance is an entitlement conferred on all citizens by law. The Nigerian 1999 constitution (as amended) spells-out this privilege very clearly in section 40 viz: Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests: provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that commission does not accord recognition(FRN,1999).
Similarly, section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) stated interalia that: A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person be subjected to any form of discrimination. The above excerpts shows that any man or women can proceed to court to seek redress if he or she’s right to franchise is being violated and that the constitution in its entirety prohibits discriminations of any kind on the basis of sex or otherwise.
Furthermore, section 77 of the Constitution states that:(1) subject to the provisions of this constitution, every senatorial district or federal constituency established in accordance with the provisions of this part of this chapter shall return a member who shall be directly elected to the senate or the House of Representatives in such manner as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly, (2) Every citizen in Nigeria, who has attained the age of eighteen years residing in Nigeria at the time of the registration of voters for the purposes of election to the legislative house, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election(FRN,1999).
By implication of the stated constitutional law above, every Nigerian irrespective of gender is free to be involved in the political affairs of the nation. There is no room or provision for gender inequality or subjugation. It stipulates that either the gender male or female everyone has every right to vote and be voted for. Thus in the light of this facts what reasons can be adduced to why the political participation of women in Politics in Nigeria is on the low.
- Laws– One of the major reasons why the role of the women in politics has been on the low in Nigeria is as a result of the inability of the Nigerian laws to implement laws that will boost female participation in politics. While the Nigerian constitution recognizes and advocates gender equality, it needs to do more to promote and ensure that laws that will improve gender equality in Nigeria are put in place.
- Political parties have done little to effectively encourage women stranding for office– While many of our political parties in Nigeria has always advocated the place and equality of women while presenting their manifestos during election periods, they do so little when elected into the various offices their aspirants vie for.
- The high cost of Politics likely prevents many women from contesting– this is a very obvious case in the Nigeria political play. Many women politician are often left at the disadvantage over the high cost of running for political posts. The buying of nomination forms and interest form are always on the high which discourages many of them from committing themselves to the process.
- Female candidates are often disadvantaged and even disqualified by rules and cultural norms surrounding marriage and indigene ship– many a times when women are married , they become stateless. Their state of origin asserts that she has adopted her husband state while her husband state refuses to recognize her as an indigene.
- Negative attitude to women in leadership persist across the country– there is a common feeling among men who believe that women in leadership position will undermine their authority. These are the position of some men who are considered to be traditionalist that is men who still believe that the place of the woman is best left within the four walls of the kitchen
- Female candidates in Nigeria often suffer from lack of media Coverage. Unlike their male counterpart, most female politician does not get enough media coverage from our media houses. This is because most media houses are always fixed on covering the campaign of serious candidates and they a times think that the female candidates are just there to make up numbers and add nothing more so as a result of this, they dedicate their resources to covering the big guns
- Attitudes to women in politics vary across the country for a variety of religious, cultural, economic and educational reasons. While women were enfranchised in the south and western part of the country, the story is different in the northern part as most men believe that for some cultural or religious reasons.
- Family constraints– this is another major reason why the woman is often repressed and refused to participate in politics. In many cultures, the wife must seek the permission of the husband before she can decide to embark on any other venture outside the home. This is another feature of patriarchy in Nigeria. Adding to this the question of who takes care of the children comes into play and based on the traditional belief that it is the place and duty of the woman to take care of the children, it becomes near impossible for her to venture into any political affairs or venture.
- Female Politician are often subjected to threat, violence or hate speech– Violence is a major feature of the Nigerian political scene, every election year in Nigeria is always characterized with various cases of violence ranging from killing to destruction of properties, kidnaps ,blackmail etc. this ugly feature is a turn off to many women as it often discourages them from participating in politics especially when they do not have a strong back up or when they are from a minor political party which are in most cases limited in terms of rendering to their female politicians the security they need to undergo the process. Also in the cases whereby the woman has a strong support and electoral base, oppositions might choose to go dirty by bringing up bad and negative stories about them which in some cases are untrue but aimed to destroy them and their homes. The woman in a bid to not only protect herself from the bad media aimed at her often in most cases drop out from the race or not even choose to partake in it at all
- The Workings of parties are geared towards men and patriarchal patronage system– the rules of engagement at the nomination stage are defined and organized around male norms and values. While the exorbitant fees attached to getting nomination form poses a great problem for most women, the hassle of getting the support of the party’s elders is another problem to be faced by them as most party elders will prefer to give the party tickets to their fellow men or even subject the woman candidate to rigorous and ridiculous demand and processes.
In the face of all these aforementioned reason which makes the success and advocacy for women in politics hard to achieve, however a lot needs to be done to push our women to the forefront of Nigerian politics in order for them to contribute their quota to the development of the nation and also inspire the coming generation of women to aspire and aim for greatness. This can be achieved through the following as listed below
- Changing the Cultural Norm– culture has proven to be a major block in the fight against gender inequality in Nigeria and other part of Africa. Predominantly many cultural belief still hold the notion that the place of the woman is exclusively in the kitchen and by implication she has nothing to do with politics or anything that will take her outside her home and away from the sight of her husband. It is the belief that politics is synonymous to power, thus allowing women to participate in politics will give her power which may turn her against the husband. This cultural feature must be altered else it might be hard winning the battle against this ugly narrative. Our culture must be made to pass through a refined process where its bad elements are purged and humans are treated based on equality and fairness
- Empowerment Programs– Many women has been incapacitated and this has altered their mentality and orientation. Many of them have been programmed to think that they are second class human who has no place in the society, but that they must play second fiddle to their husband. Many of them have no job of their own but constantly depend on their husband for living. If this must stop there must be a huge drive through empowerment programs which must be aimed to not only give them a sense of independence and freedom but also set them free from their obnoxious thoughts which makes them think that they are to be hidden behind the curtails and must never step into the light. This mostly applicable to women in the rural areas where orientation like this are common they must be taught ways through which they can make living and that their lives actually matters. That they are not only home builders but also nation builders
- Education– The Education of the girl child has a long way to go in the fight against inequality. When a girl child is educated, a generation stands to benefit from this. The girl child must be given an equal right to go to school as the boy child. Some culture belief that once a girl child is married she has recorded the most she can get from life. This is actually wrong, there is more to the life of a girl child, learning to her should be more than informal where she is just taught how to cook, wash and build her future home. She has the right to receive formal education. When this is done her mind is opened to a world of possibilities where her existence is not just defined by who she marries alone or by the children that she gives birth to
- Legislative Acts– the Nigerian law must continue to protect the right and place of the woman. Our legislative bodies must begin to put in place laws that will not only ensure that women are not exploited or abuse, it must ensure that they are given equal opportunity as the man. It must ensure that a reasonable quota of political post or positions are given to the women
- Meritocracy – the Nigerian society must be built based on merit and not on sentiments or preference for one over the other. It must be a society where everyone has equal chance to be whatever they want to be provided that it is within the purview of the law. Either male or female, rich or poor, connected or not connected, if you are qualified then you stand the chance to acquire or possess anything be it material or abstract