In 2023, Nigerian women in politics, like Aisha Binani, Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi, and Natasha Akpoti, carried high hopes for election wins but faced significant setbacks. The detailed events surrounding these setbacks highlight the ongoing challenges and limited success rates for women in Nigeria’s political landscape.
2023 saw high hopes for Nigerian women in politics, with promising candidates like Aisha Binani for Adamawa State governorship, presidential aspirant Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi, and Natasha Akpoti for Kogi Central District senatorial position. These women, widely favoured in the election cycle, represented a beacon of hope despite the ongoing decline in women’s political participation since 1999.
But unfortunately for Nigerian women, their hopes were dashed yet again, and things took a different turn.
Binani lost the elections, as she could not secure 90% of the Adamawa votes in the supplementary election as opposed to the incumbent governor, Ahmadu Finitri. This was after a premature declaration of Binani as the winner of the elections and, subsequently, an inconclusive result for the March 18 gubernatorial elections.
Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi’s presidential bid was cut short as her party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), disqualified her, citing limited experience. And Natasha Akpoti went through 10 gruelling months of challenging the win of incumbent Kogi state governor Yahaya Bello in court before she was vindicated, despite coming in third in the elections.
These instances underscore a stark reality: Nigerian women face daunting odds in the political arena, not just in elections but throughout the system. Let’s delve into the data to understand the extent of this underrepresentation.
What the numbers show us about the underrepresentation of Nigerian women in politics
Let’s first consider the highest office in the land. In the 64 years since Nigeria’s founding, we have yet to see a woman ascend to the role of president, prime minister, or military ruler. This starkly contrasts neighbouring Liberia, where Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a woman, broke this barrier and successfully led the country as president for 12 years, from January 2006 to January 2018.
For governorship, only two women have served in this capacity, but under peculiar circumstances: Dame Virginia Etiaba for a few months in Anambra, following incumbent Governor Peter Obi’s temporary impeachment in November 2006, and Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe as acting governor of Kaduna, with incumbent Governor Nasir El-Rufai taking leave from office after testing positive for COVID-19 in March 2020.
In the National Assembly (NASS), the representation of women falls alarmingly below 5%. This represents a notable decrease from the preceding Ninth Assembly, where only 21 women out of 469 members were elected, now further reduced to 17. Additionally, the stagnation in advancing gender laws within the NASS further exacerbates this issue of underrepresentation. In 2022, the assembly rejected five pivotal gender equality bills, including the bill for 35% representation at the state and federal levels.
The underrepresentation of women in these three key positions of power made Nigeria the lowest-ranked African country in the World’s Economic Forum 2022 Gender Gap Index (141 out of 146).
This prompts us to explore the reasons behind the challenges faced by Nigerian women in politics. Three major factors contribute to this: limited financial resources, geographical constraints, and insufficient experience in the political arena.
Poor financial capacity
For many Nigerian women in politics, a crucial part of the problem is the lack of financial capacity to fund an election campaign. The costs of nomination forms to get into the race are incredibly bizarre, especially for members of major political parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). There could be discounts or waivers for other posts, like legislative or even gubernatorial elections, but never for president.
Take, for instance, a party like the APC. As a rule of thumb, any presidential candidate, man or woman, would need to fill out an Expression of Interest (EOI) form worth N30 million. However, there are reductions in entrance costs for female aspirants, cutting the overall fee for legislative aspirants by 90 percent. It was recorded that only one woman out of over 40 million members in the APC could purchase the form. Consequently, many women opt to represent smaller political parties, where the fees for presidential and legislative candidacies are significantly lower, with some parties even waiving these fees entirely. However, their likelihood of winning an election is often minimal, primarily due to these smaller parties’ lower visibility and lesser prominence.
Female candidates often face the challenge of displaying significant financial strength to back their campaigns. Additionally, they find themselves in a position where bribing party delegates during pre-primary elections is a common practice to secure their support.
“If about half of the population can’t make ends meet and you ask people to pay as high as 100 million naira (about US$240,000) for expression of interest and nomination forms, you have disenfranchised them…The need for money also makes it worse for women. Only a small percentage of women in Nigeria are in a position to find the kind of money required to participate”
– Ayo Olukotun (The Conversation, 2022)
Lack of experience
“Experience is the best teacher” isn’t just a cliche – it is also a fundamental rule in the game of politics. Many women aspirants are political newcomers who lack years of political capital and connections and, thus, quickly exit competitive politics.
The 2022 primary elections can be used as a case study. All seven women aspirants had no previous record of serving in public or political office, and only one made it to the presidential ballot under the APM. The APM had no record of existence before 2019 and no representation in state or federal offices.
Historically, women who have shown resilience and determination in the face of adversity often achieve success in their political pursuits. This success is not just a stroke of luck; these women typically possess significant political experience. For instance, Natasha Akpoti, who ran for the Kogi Central District Senate in 2023, and Uche Ekunife, a senator from Anambra State who secured a seat in the House of Representatives following two unsuccessful attempts at governorship in 2007, exemplify this trend of experienced women triumphing in politics.
“If women are not in politics, then they cannot raise money, and if they cannot raise money, then they cannot be in politics,”
– Ayisha Osori (Aljazeera, 2023)
Women’s representation across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones varies, with southern states performing significantly better than northern states. The overall representation of women candidates who ran for federal legislative offices in 2023 was 9 percent of about 4,200 candidates representing all eighteen parties. This percentage of representation varied by region and by type of election.
The poorest-performing region for women’s candidature was the North West, with women candidates representing just 3 percent of all candidates running for seats in the National Assembly. The South East represented the highest proportion of female candidates, at 13 percent, for federal legislative positions. In general, southern states appeared more accessible to women candidates, with an average of 12 percent representation compared to the average of 5 percent in northern states.
The contrast between women’s representation in Nigeria’s most populous states, Kano and Lagos, also speaks volumes. Both states have millions of registered voters and can, therefore, have significant implications for national election outcomes.
According to INEC, 3.3 million people were registered to vote in Kano, and 3.8 million were recorded in Lagos for the 2023 elections. In 2015, Kano helped seal President Muhammadu Buhari’s election victory. Kano had a 2 percent women’s candidacy, compared to Lagos’s 16 percent representation. Kano had no women running for Senate. This staggering disparity further highlights the significant differences for female candidates across regions.
The price we pay for excluding Nigerian women in politics
This uneven playing field between women and men comes at a significant economic cost, as it hampers productivity and weighs on growth. A recent IMF staff study finds that barriers to women entering the labour force—think of tax distortions, discrimination, and social and cultural factors—are costlier than suggested by previous research, and the benefits from closing gender gaps are even larger than thought before.
– IMF, 2018
The exclusion of women from political decision-making processes has profound economic implications for Nigeria. Research consistently shows that diverse teams, including gender diversity, contribute to better decision-making and improved economic outcomes. When women are involved in policymaking, a broader range of perspectives is considered, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions.
Furthermore, investing in women’s political participation is an investment in the nation’s human capital. By neglecting half the population’s talents, skills, and perspectives, Nigeria is missing out on the potential for innovative and transformative policies to drive sustainable economic development.
Gender discrimination, starting in childhood, continues to rob children of their childhoods and limit their chances – disproportionately affecting the world’s girls. A girl is far more likely to be denied her rights, kept from school, forced to marry and subjected to violence – her voice is undervalued, if it’s heard at all. This assault on childhood also deprives nations of the energy and talent they need to progress. At the current rate of change, it will take over 200 years to achieve gender equality, and that’s just in the U.S.
Social Justice and empowerment
Beyond economic considerations, the exclusion of women from politics perpetuates social inequalities. In a nation as diverse as Nigeria, representative governance is vital to ensuring that the needs and concerns of all citizens are taken into account. Without adequate female representation, the experiences and struggles faced by Nigerian women, such as gender violence, women’s empowerment and gender inequality, may be overlooked in the policymaking process.
The scarcity of women in political roles casts a discouraging shadow over young girls nationwide. Growing up without seeing female role models in leadership positions can dampen their aspirations and discourage them from chasing their own dreams of success and leadership. Increasing women’s representation in politics provides equal opportunities and empowers future generations of Nigerian women to believe in their capabilities and aspire to leadership roles.
In developing countries, including Nigeria, efforts to improve women’s conditions through education and health policies face limitations due to societal norms, laws, and traditions. Despite various government measures and programs like Youwin, Sure-p, and Trader money, these initiatives have often been inadequate or unsuccessful in supporting women entrepreneurs and enterprise development. Scholars argue that a more effective approach requires incorporating gendered perspectives into policy-making and ensuring that policies are not gender-blind. This approach, which includes feminist theories in entrepreneurship policies, can lead to more equitable and impactful outcomes for both men and women in developing economies.
Health and education policies
The underrepresentation of Nigerian women in Nigerian politics directly affects the formulation of policies related to health and education. Issues such as maternal health, family planning, and girls’ education may not receive the attention they deserve without a diverse and inclusive decision-making body. Studies show that when women are actively involved in policymaking, there is a greater focus on social issues that directly impact women and children.
For instance, in states with higher female representation, there is a greater likelihood of implementing policies prioritising maternal health services and girls’ education. The link between women in politics and improved outcomes in health and education underscores the urgency of addressing the gender gap in Nigerian political representation.
Political participation as a catalyst for development
The exclusion of women from Nigerian politics hampers social justice and slows the nation’s overall development. A diverse and representative political landscape fosters innovation, accountability, and responsiveness to the needs of the entire population. Without the active participation of women in decision-making, Nigeria risks perpetuating systemic challenges that hinder progress.
Addressing the underrepresentation of women in Nigerian politics is not just a matter of gender equality; it is a strategic move towards national development. The statistics speak volumes, revealing a significant gap that needs urgent attention. By embracing inclusivity and actively promoting women’s participation in politics, Nigeria can possess a wealth of untapped potential, fostering a more just, equitable, and prosperous future for all.
It’s time to bridge the gender gap in Nigerian politics, not just for the sake of women but for the greater good of the nation as a whole.
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