On the 18th of March 2023, Nigerians gathered at polling stations across the country to participate in the state elections. State elections used to be largely uneventful in Nigeria. They had little to no impact outside the states where the elections were held, and save for a few ‘troubled’ states, they largely came and went without very little interest. But things were very different this election cycle, and there are many reasons for that.
GEN-Z COMES OF AGE
One explanation being touted for the sudden interest in state politics in Nigeria that for the first time since Nigeria returned to democracy, there has been a tangible shift in voting blocs. The Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) recorded that the number of registered voters increased to 93 million, with 9 million new voters registering to vote. It was the first time that young voters ( 37 million aged 18 – 34) edged past middle aged voters ( 33 million 35 – 49) to become the largest voting bloc by age. A significant percentage of both demographics were first time female voters, who could significantly sway the elections.
The second was the emergence of a new opposition party with a charismatic leader and enough momentum to upset many already established precedents. The presidential elections used to be the arena where parties battled to install leaders who could introduce the ideologies that inform how the country is governed, because the President could implement laws and decrees that could be enforced nationwide.
But that tussle for ideological supremacy spread to state elections, as a new generation of Nigerian voters disrupted the established order for governorship and state elections and took a keen interest in governance at the state level. These young voters were distrustful of Nigeria’s two major political parties, The APC and PDP, and saw the new party, the Labour Party as a viable alternative. The momentum of the Labour Party was driven mainly by younger voters who had put their collective support behind the new party and were pushing for better representation for women and minorities.
WHY DOES THE STATE MATTER?
The state elections are an important part of the governance structure in Nigeria. The country operates on the principles of federalism, which separates government into two distinct cadres; a ‘federal’ government which governs the country as a whole and state governments who govern locally. Each arm has specific functions; the national government focuses on issues of national sovereignty, security and unity, the state government protects the interests of homogenized groups within its geopolitical borders, and local governments replicate the state’s functions at the community level.
The office of the president and vice president is a position decided by the entire country and as such the issue of equitable female representation, which directly affects only 47% of eligible voters, isn’t considered an urgent priority. Instead, the presidency is decided over issues that directly affect all citizens, such as inflation, insecurity and foreign policy.
State government elections present a more manageable hurdle. The utility of representation is more tangible at the state level, as many of taxable collectives are female led and female centric. Women can exert influence, pushing for one of the double digit seats in representing each local government at the state house of assembly as opposed to the meagre 6 seats representing large constituencies at the national level. It also greatly improves the prospects of a party if they have female representation at the governorship ballot.
This matters because a lot of the laws passed at the presidency and the senate cannot be enforced at scale, they must be ‘domesticated’ by state governments, a process that includes creating local agencies to implement at the state and local government levels. A state government that is resistant to ideas that improve the lives of women will frustrate federal policies and deny women in their states access to resources.
Female representation at the state level is abysmal. In Nigeria’s 62 years of independence, only one woman, Dame Virgy Ngozi Etiaba, has served in any capacity as a governor.
Co-incidentally, she was originally voted into office as the running mate of former Anambra state governor and Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi, who at the time won his election under the APGA party ticket. She was then persuaded to step in as interim governor after Peter Obi was impeached by the Anambra state house of assembly in 2006. During her short time in office, she domesticated the Child’s Rights Act, providing much needed protection against exploitation for children long before other states adopted similar laws.
Seventeen years later Dame Etiaba’s short but memorable run as governor, how receptive have political parties become to women candidates?
We’ll let the numbers tell us.
ARE WE READY FOR A FEMALE GOVERNOR?
The Governorship positions have historically only gone to men. There has never been a female governor elected by consensus in an election. The 2023 elections will unfortunately continue that trend.
Only 24 out of the 418 candidates contesting for governorship positions are women. This accounts for less than 5% of all candidates. Only one of these candidates, Aishatu Ahmed Dahiru of Adamawa, who ran under a major political party (the APC), came close to winning her election. Less fortunate was Beatrice Itubo of the Labour Party, who was considered a strong contender, but lost the elections in an exercise that was largely criticised following allegations of rigging and voter suppression.
HOW ABOUT MORE DEPUTY GOVERNORS?
Following the 2019 elections, 4 female deputy governors were sworn into office, Ipalibo Banigo of Rivers, Hadiza Balarabe of Kaduna, Cecelia Ezeilo of Enugu, Noimot Salako-Oyedele of Ogun State, representing 11% of available positions. The 98 women running for deputy governorship positions across the 18 political parties did so to change that statistic.
Despite the fact that the majority of women who ran alongside male candidates were chosen as a way to appeal to female voters, these 98 women still account for less than ¼ of contesting candidates (23.3%). There was no party contesting in the 2023 elections is fielding an all female governorship/deputy governorship ticket, another sorely missed opportunity.
But there has been progress. Following the elections, 6 female deputy governors were democratically elected and awaiting inauguration. This means 1/6th of every state has a female representative at the state government level.
THE STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY IS WHERE THE BATTLE FOR FEMALE REPRESENTATION REALLY HAPPENED
998 state house of assembly seats distributed across Nigeria’s 36 states were contested for during the 2023 elections.
The State House of Assemblies perform the dual function of passing laws that will govern how the state is run and the power to hold the state governor and his cabinet accountable. They can and have routinely challenged executive power at the state level and regulated how the state government handles the economy, public policy and resources and taxation.
1206 of 10,231 candidates running for one of the 998 house of assembly seats in Nigeria’s 36 states are women, accounting for 10% of the total number of candidates contesting in the elections. Of the 1206 female candidates, only 8% are running representing the major political parties, (63 from the APC and 44 from the PDP).
Of the 1206 women that contested, only 48 women were democratically elected into office. This represents 3.9% of the total women who contested and 0.46% of the total number of candidates who contested irrespective of gender. These numbers are so meagre that these women must work doubly hard to have their presence felt in the lives of their constituents.
HOW PROGRESSIVE ARE NIGERIAN POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE 2023 STATE ELECTIONS
From the numbers above, we get a fairly accurate estimate of how poorly women have fared against men in politics in 2023 state elections, and how much further we must go to get full representation for women. But that isn’t the whole picture.
Political parties feel pressure to conform to widely held Nigerian views on gender and equality, but they are also expected to model behaviour that challenges archaic views and introduces progressive ground-breaking ideas.
The state governments control revenue generated at the Federal level through the FAAC, and can choose to adopt or reject laws proposed at the federal level, such as the much contested Violence Against Protected Persons Act (VAPP), and Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill (GEO Bill). The parties who control these governments decide if these bills get passed into law and implemented and how the state’s resources are utilised.
So it is important that progressive change start from within the party structure. After all, the whole point of a political party is that they are able to offer something different from the status quo.
All the 18 Nigerian political parties have been vocal about the contributions women bring to politics, but the numbers will tell us how much they believe their own rhetoric.
This is how the political parties fared on female representation at the polls.
Most representation (General) : Action Alliance
With 2 governorship candidates, 8 deputy governor candidates and 116 state House of Assembly candidates, Action Alliance (AA) was the most progressive party at the 2023 state elections.
Fielding 10% of the total female candidates who contested in the state elections, Action Alliance might be the party to join for women looking to make a difference in politics.
Least Representation (General): Action Congress
With only 4 deputy governorship candidates, and 14 state house of assembly candidates, Action Congress sent a clear message where their priorities lie when it comes to female representation.
Most representation (Deputy Governor): African Democratic Congress (ADC) + African Democratic Party (ADP)
The ADC and the ADP tie for most representation, with each fielding an impressive 9 deputy governorship candidates in 2023 state elections
Least representation (Deputy Governor): All Progressives Congress.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) ties the Young Progressives Party (YPP) for least representation in the deputy governorship race, with two candidates each. But the APCs’ legacy as a major political party and the ruling party makes its lack of representation difficult to excuse.
Least Representation (Governor): People’s Democratic Party
Of the two parties who do not field a single female governorship candidate in the 2023 elections (AAC + PDP), the more egregious offender would be the People’s Democratic Party. Given its position as a founding political party in Nigeria’s democracy, and the country’s main opposition party with many prominent female party members, the lack of representation for governorship candidates cannot be excused.
What happened to all the women in the PDP primaries?
A NEW GENERATION OF WOMEN STEP UP TO BE COUNTED
Despite the abysmal state of female representation in Nigerian politics when assessed by gender distribution and then by adoption at the party level, not all is bad.
A closer look at the data suggests that much needed change is brewing, particularly among Nigeria’s young and vibrant young adult populations. While less than 10% of all contesting candidates were women, and even fewer were running under the banner of a major political party, over all, more women are contesting in this election than any prior Nigerian electoral cycle.
Women of all ages are taking an active interest in politics and getting involved at much younger ages than we have ever seen before. Women aged 36 – 40, and 25 – 30 represented a collective 38% of the candidates contesting for elections. (20.6% and 17.4% respectively). To have young women contribute ⅕ of all female contestants sends a strong message about how late Gen-z and late millennial populations really feel about the lack of diversity in governance.
Women aged 41 – 45 were the third largest bloc of contestants with 15.9%. These are the Gen-xers, most of whom came of age during the NADECO protests and the 1993 elections.
Women ages 31 – 35 and 46 – 50 had near identical representation at 12%. Women within these age brackets are either starting families and advancing in their careers or transitioning their children into adulthood and entering into managerial positions. Without proper support it would be incredibly difficult for them to manage their personal responsibilities and the demands of running for office.
Women aged 51 – 55 represented 9.4% of the candidates and women aged 56 – 70 only represented 10% of the candidates (6.9% for 56 – 60, 3% 61 – 65 and 0.43% for women aged 66 – 70). Together they drew less than total number of women running for office aged 35 – 40.
It is a worrying trend that older women had such low levels of representation in the 2023 elections, but even that information only makes sense when contextualised. The Nigerian life expectancy limit is 58, 3 years below the age brackets covering women 61 and above. The fact that poor and lower classes women are deliberately excluded from prominent positions in Nigerian political parties also contributed to this phenomenon.
In all, the data suggests that the ascension of a new generation of female politicians is happening, but also that very few older women are able to sustain their political careers well into their 60’s. These women be carried along in the electoral process, as they are disproportionately affected by poor public policy.
There is an opportunity for women across the country to make a statement by voting female and voting younger during the governorship elections. Any successful bids pushes us closer to equity in representation at the state and local government levels, and a base of influence to shape the public policy that will affect the quality of life women will be able to access in the coming 4 years.
We hope that women make the right choices.