Nigerian Women and the Political Glass Ceiling in Party Management

By Ugo Ben-Nwauzor
There is no doubt that there are few successful and succeeding women in the predominantly male dominated Nigerian political profession. However, success in this context should be defined as actually running the ministries, the MDAs, the legislatures, the States or the country and more especially the political parties that offer the platforms to candidates to aspire into elective and appointive offices. I mean the “juicy” good positions that carry power and influence.
During the last political dispensation, there were 9 female ministers in the federal cabinet. Certainly women never had it that good; thanks to President Jonathan and kudos to the then First lady, Patience. However, this sounds good until you remember there were 42 ministers and women ran only three of the 27  ministries  (Aviation, Finance and Petroleum), that was mere 2.5 percent, while the rest 6 were regarded as Junior Ministers.
And then there were fifteen women in the National Assembly. Fifteen seems applause worthy unless you count all 450 seats in both the House and Senate. That means women held only 3.3% of the National Assembly positions while being more than 50 percent of the voting population of Nigeria.
On the issue of leadership positions in the national assembly, women have been practically nonexistent for the past seventeen years of unbroken democracy, except Hon. Mulikat Akande Adeola as Majority House Leader in the 7th session and the celebrated Hon. Patricia Etteh who was unanimously elected in June, 2007 as the Speaker during the 6th Assembly. The latter’s tenure was however short-lived as she was forced to resign barely 5 months after. Many still believe that she was not well treated and accepted by her male colleagues because of her gender.
The present political dispensation has also seen President Buhari embrace democratic tenets that give room for female participation in his government with the appointment of 5 female ministers; Kemi Adeosun (Minister of Finance), Amina Mohammed (Environment), Senator Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan (Women Affairs), Aisha Abubakar (Minster of State, Trade/Industry & Investment) and Hajia Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed (Minister of Budget & National Planning), however this figure shows a decline from  a 21.42%  women representation during Jonathan’s administration to 13.89 % in the current dispensation.
At the States, there are 5 female deputy governors and Nigerians had thought that maybe in the nation’s history we may be having a female executive governor in Taraba state if Senator Aisha J Al-Hassan had wonher electoral petition at the Supreme Court. That means, the Nigerian women may still need another shot in 2019 in an attempt to break the glass ceiling into a State’s House.
The 8th National Assembly has only seen a slight improvement in women representation with 8 senators and 15 members of House of Representatives, still a dismal 5.1%.
There is no doubt that the leadership of the political platforms through which candidates are presented for elective positions has a significant and critical role for what these statistics are.
It is therefore imperative to examine the leadership composition of the 2 major political parties; PDP and APC.
While APC has one woman, PDP has two women in their National Executive Committees. When you consider that APC has 20 members and PDP 35, those numbers are just a 3 to 5 %in each party. It’s also safe to say that there is no one female in a high level position other than the post of “WOMEN LEADER”.
At the subcommittee levels, there are women scattered through the organizations usually in fund raising akin to similar positions reserved by the banks for their female associates apparently to lay the “golden eggs”.
Interestingly, even the position of the Treasurer which has come to be a traditional role for women in most socio-cultural organizations have been hijacked by the men in our major political parties. While PDP seems not to trust a woman as a treasurer with Bala Buhari as its National Treasurer, similarly the APC has Alh. Bala Mohammed Gwagwarwa in charge of its treasury.
Furthermore, none of the 3 major political parties that control at least a State i.e. APC, APGA and PDP has a woman as a national leader, party chairperson, secretary, vice chairperson, PRO etc. The women are relegated from the most visible, most influential and most powerful positions. Therefore, it can be concluded that women playing active roles in these parties are working for their cause but not leading them.
Now, what are the primary causes of the political industry glass ceiling for women in Nigeria?
The singular most common factor that many women have children means that they are not available for party meetings24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Ninety-five percent of those party related meetings are held at the dead of the nights, “when it is dark, sometimes raining and the dogs are barking”. Therefore they lose that edge to their male competitors. There is no doubt it is a societal issue that children hurt women in the workplace more than men, not just in politics.
The notion of men being able to work late nights with no adverse effects to their family because the wife will always handle it is archaic and certainly need to change. Women in every profession will remain trapped beneath the glass until their husbands work out strategies that give them the flexibility not to be encumbered by the so called traditional role of a woman.
Secondly, being a party chairperson or secretary requires a killer instinct and majority of women shy away from being that aggressive, fear being labelled  an ‘iron lady” or a “Margaret Thatcher” which prevent them from making the tough decisions and rising to the top positions. I believe that women need to move past this intimidation tactic.
Furthermore, politics as practiced in Nigeria and some other countries is a dirty game; a do-or-die affair and not for the lily-liver hearted, therefore many women have a cold attitude towards politics and governance. However, it will do them good to be more involved, get enlightened on topical national issues and possibly “bulldoze” their ways to the front of national media cameras to express their views on national discussions.
One good starting point could be to start or co-start or get actively involved in an NGO that focuses on gender issues, environmental issues or get visibly involved in their professional associations. The media will eventually sought to hear their stories, a most needed public referral to the political parties’ leaders.
Secondly, the advent of technology such as social media has given both men and women a level playing field to let their voices to be heard. Their voices can be amplified from their bedrooms, kitchens, offices etc. That is the beauty of social media like Facebook, twitter etc. Linda Ikeji’s voice can vibrate through the entire country from the comfort of her kitchen, and when the male politicians come calling, she can determine the time and venue of the next political meeting.
Therefore, the solution to breaking the glass ceiling requires effort on the parts of the women, their spouses and the current leaderships of the political parties. The political parties must support women. Besides giving them free nomination forms, they must go further in helping them succeed at the primaries and the real contest. The women should go beyond serving as colorful entertainers during political rallies to actually determining the entertainers to be hired.
Women need to get over the stigma of being aggressive and close the deal and men need to allow their women to explore a little. In the US a case in mind is how Bill Clinton has supported his wife, Hilary in her political career, first as a Senator of New York and later as a strong contender for the Democratic Party Presidential ticket and today all polls indicate she might be making history as the first woman president of the most powerful nation on earth. In Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, APC national leader;Alh. Abdulkhadir Kure,former governor of Niger State and Chief Ufot Ekatteh, former Secretary to the Federal government are good examples of husbands who have supported their wives politically to become senators. If these men can do it, I believe that more husbands and more men can provide their shoulders for our women politicians.
Finally, the major parties must do the needful, by involving more women in the national executive committees. If a woman can be a successful minister, she can also be a successful party chairperson, or secretary or PRO. And hopefully our politics will be more humane, less aggressive, less threatening and less intimidating.
Maybe if the two major political parties could have a woman PRO, just maybe, Nigerians may witness a less over heated political system caused by caustic press releases that get churned out by past and present male ones.
Therefore, as PDP prepares for its next national convention next month in Port Harcourt and APC later in the year, it is time they began to critically evaluate the value women bring to leadership in modern political parties.
––Ugo Ben-Nwauzor (PhD) is an analyst at AsoGates Strategies, a US & Nigerian Public Affairs consulting firm. Tel: 615-5878203.


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