Remarks by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult, during the Women for Women Community Zoom Webinar Session, At 6:00 p.m. Thursday 15 October 2020
Across the globe, women make up majority of the World’s poorest and least educated. Nowhere is this reality and demographics most stark, than in Africa and in Nigeria, where gender disparity is egregiously pronounced in political and leadership positions. There has been an obvious gender inequality in the political space. While globally women do not have the corresponding representations in political offices, even in the old and established democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, comparatively, the participation of Nigerian women in politics remains quite abysmal. Thus in Nigeria gender mainstreaming and gender parity seems more like badly overworked clichés.
In Nigeria gender imbalance is real, but more so in politics and elective offices. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that women do not play a very active role in Nigerian politics. This however, does not mean that women have not made remarkable contributions to Nigerian politics. Many women in Nigeria have made impressive contributions in the political arena and some continue to do so. We can think of Magaret Ekpo, Mrs Funmi Ransome Kuti and others. Today my State, Anambra, has two female senators. Yet, Nigerian women suffer from two existential wounds: disenfranchisement of hereditary property rights and orchestrated exclusion from politics. Both are morally and institutional wrong; both have left scars and needs to be redressed.
Confronting a curious paradox
We face a paradox. While participation in politics is voluntary, for most Nigerian women participation is involuntary. Circumstances beyond their control make it so. For instance, there is a stark dichotomy between a woman’s right to bear children for her husband, including heirs and her political aspirations; yet the same woman cannot run for public office in her state of marriage. Most return to their state of origin to realize their political aspirations. We are witnesses to female judges being sidelined from assuming the position of Chief Judge, simply on account of not being from a state by birth and not being an indigene. This is a matter best addressed by a two-track policy change; we need to scrap “State of Origin” as an administrative fiat and in its place, introduce a “Residency law”. Such a policy shift will not just benefit women, but every Nigerian.
Since our focus is Southern Nigeria, I will look closer to home. The first southeastern commissioner, Flora Nwapa was appointed in 1970 in the then East Central State during the Gowon Administration. It then took several years before more women were appointed into the political space. A good example is the case of late Prof. Mrs Dora Akunyili, whose father so much believed in her capabilities right from childhood and encouraged her to be the best she could, by excluding her from home and kitchen activities. We all know her achievements in Nigeria and as a southeastern woman. Yet again, today in Nigeria, women are generally sidelined from holding political offices; and even appointive professional positions earned by merit or seniority are under attack.
It’s noteworthy, but sad, that since independence in 1960, through the Second Republic (1979-1983), and the return to participatory democracy in Nigeria in 1999, and indeed till date, not a single female has been popularly elected governor in any of the thirty-six states. In the 2019 general elections, “out of the 1,067 candidates cleared by Independent Electoral Comission (INEC) to participate in the governorship elections, only 80 (7.5%) were females…[and] 35 of them are from the north, while 45 are from the southern part of Nigeria.” Unsurprisingly, none of the women won.
Exclusion of women from this politics, and how to vanquish it, is something I’m proud to say we have studied closely in my consultancy firm, and in July 2019, published our report (Vanquishing Gender Imbalance in Nigerian Politics), in which we made broad policy recommendations. I am involved because I have several sisters and two daughters, who can hold their own in their career choices. When I ran for governor in Anambra 2017, my running mate was a woman. It bears asking then, what the geneses of political exclusion are. Four factors –culture, religion, education, governance and policy—are key contributors to marginalization of women in politics. We can also add lack of political will to the list.
It’s most ironical that women make up 52% of the voting population in Nigeria, yet cannot rally to elect their fellow women into public offices. Part of the challenge is anecdotal. The nature of politics played in Nigeria discourages women from participating actively. Power connections, political manipulations, financial patronage are preferred over merit. But then again, most women in politics often forget they are women and start acting and behaving like men. This can put off followers, supporters and aspirants.
While most women organizations in Nigeria continue to push for constitutional provisions that allows for better representation by allocating 35% affirmative action for women at the federal level and 20% at the state level, we are confronted by stark reversals. Indeed, the gains made during the Jonathan administration on women representation appears lost. The reason is that we continue to fail to incentivize women sufficiently, even as we recognize them as bedrocks of our families. Variables and causative factors responsible for such imbalance are multi-dimensional, but as I mentioned earlier, these are traceable to culture, religion, education, and governance.
Exclusion of women in southern Nigeria hinges mainly on culture
In southern Nigeria, which is our focus today, general societal bias, culture and tradition continue to result in many life-long scars. Culture is a predominant factor. Male counterparts are always preferred from childhood. Female children are often intimidated -explicitly or implicitly – into assuming subsidiary roles in the family; females are only allowed to play the ‘female role’. When a family has only female children, it is believed that they are bereft of children. Even some women with good educational background who venture into politics and public life, are subjected to lots of trauma via hubris by their male counterparts, and at times, even by their own husbands. Besides being women leaders, no Nigerian woman has chaired a major Nigerian political party.
In the indigenous rural areas, the role of the woman is still perceived to be in the kitchen or that proverbial “other room.” Hence those consigned to upholding Family Life values – as the keepers of home, kitchen and baby making hardly aspire to politics. Finally, politics Nigeria is capital intensive, as such financial strength is critical in effective political participation. Women are expected to play the mothering role at home, while the men are the breadwinners. Since culturally women are not really expected to earn money -even where the reality proves to be the opposite- it means they have limited resources for politics. In truth, also, women would rather dedicate their hard-earned resources to family upkeep than fritter it away on politics.
Excluding women from politics has discernible implications. Largely, they are unable to advance women’s rights in areas such as violence against women, healthcare services, family policy, gender and income parity; support budget in health and education; contribute to promoting democratic dividends; undertake advocacy measures aimed at citizen’s social welfare needs and quality of life; and help in promoting peace and security and conflict resolution.
The way forward
In 2012, a UK Department of International Development (DFID) stated that “Women are Nigeria’s hidden resource.” That finding has not changed. As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected head of state in an Africa country rightly reminds us, we need an innovative and flexible approach to women’s inclusion, not just in peace mediation, but in politics, governance and nation-building. In her words, “We need to promote the kind of equality we know brings balanced development and peace.”
We need to acknowledge that our world and nation would be better, if we evolved and gave women more prominent roles in politics and as change agents. As such, the beginning of female orientation towards active politics should start in early childhood years, well before age 16. If the girl-child is constantly reminded that she could achieve as much as she aspires to and desires in the society; then she begins to believe in the infinite possibilities of her efforts.
From our study, we were of the view that “vanquishing the persisting imbalance in Nigerian politics requires a dual track approach consisting of governmental statutory actions, as well as proactive constructive engagement by all the registered Nigerian parties.” It is one thing to have a national gender policy; it’s another thing altogether to have it fully domesticated and implemented. Nonetheless, it would be up to the women to do the heavy lifting in terms of advocacy and demands; I’m certain they will find willing allies among the men folk. [End]
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.