Towards Increased Participation of Nigerian Women in Politics

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Hajia Kadijah Bukar Abba Ibrahim

By Bukky Osunyikanmi

Last Boxing Day, my family hosted some loved ones. Cousins, in-laws, friends and colleagues visited us on that day. Some came with their children. Even toddlers were among the children. We had fun. We ate together. We played together. We discussed together. The adults moved into the main living room to have their discussion over wine and juice. The teenagers occupied the section of the house where they enjoyed themselves playing a number of indoor games. The toddlers engaged themselves with toys in a playing room adjacent to where the adults sat.

Our discussions flowed from personal experiences and dovetailed into diverse national issues- high cost of goods, the ubiquity of sub-standard products, insecurity of lives and properties, and the deadly atrocities of Fulani herdsmen. The most crucial aspect of our deliberations focused on the last party primaries and the forth coming elections.

Typical of every political discourse, there were diverse opinions and varied political permutations. Informal political marketing commenced. The two dominant political parties, APC and PDP, took the centre stage. Majority of the guests were of the opinion that four years would not be enough for an objective appraisal of the ruling party. Corruption is being fought relentlessly by the Buhari Administration. Enormous recoveries are being made and culprits prosecuted. The social and economic benefits will become appreciably visible soon. The goodies would flow to different sectors: health, education and the economy. A large section of the gathering believed that the present government will tackle poverty decisively and create job opportunities for youths.

Few of the guests, however, wanted the change that would stop politicians from being recycled, get fresh people with new ideas into government, and have our federalism restructured. This is the Nigeria of their dream.

Then my attention moved to the toddlers in the adjacent room. I tried to see what they had been up to while we were discussing how to achieve a better Nigeria. It became clear that some of them were just learning to speak. I could see some shouting to make themselves heard. Yet, the voices were still being drowned at times by the arguments from the adults’ area. From this observation, I drew my analogy of the experience of Nigerian women in the 2018 party primaries. The suppression of women in the internal democracy of political parties certainly was a precursor of the gender bias to expect in the 2019 general elections.

In spite of all the drowning voices and age long suppression, the activities of political parties in 2018 revealed that women were already learning to speak. Beyond the few appointive positions usually given as palliatives to pacify the womenfolk, female politicians indicated strong willingness to get into elective positions. Although, some of these efforts met with stiff oppositions. For instance, disparaging comments were made to intimidate Bianca Ojukwu in her quest to contest for office. Bianca’s experience was one of the humiliations that women face in most of the political parties. Many women were frustrated from their parties and they had to join other political parties. A friend moved from PDP to ADC in order to contest the primaries. In some cases, the seats had been ceded to men who already occupied the positions or favoured by party bigwigs. For the womenfolk, 2018 showed our inner ability for perseverance. Women demonstrated their doggedness as they began to speak for both genders to hear.

Women must not give up in the fight for a better Nigeria. They must be involved through political participation. I remember how the present Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hajia Kadijah Bukar Abba Ibrahim, fought determinedly to clinch her party’s ticket to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives. She was resolute in her political ambition and she roundly defeated the man who was her initial obstacle. She performed creditably in the lower chamber and moved to the executive arm as a Minister in the current dispensation. Good lesson for all women.

Women must begin to speak and lend support to female politicians. Women must unite and move beyond inconsequential politicking. They must rise above being used as mere delegates at party congresses. They should not be satisfied as part of the crowd at political meetings or distributors of souvenirs. It is time they became actively involved in decision making. Female voices must not be drowned. Let us keep speaking for our emancipation and for the well being of our country. This is how we can achieve political inclusiveness.

Around the world, there are eminent women that we can emulate. Hillary Clinton’s formidable attempt at the American presidency is a great lesson for us. The leadership roles that Angela Merkel and Theresa May are playing in Germany and Britain respectively also serve as great inspirations. In Rwanda, women now account for 68 per cent of the national parliament. Nigerian women can achieve similar feats. Arise, Nigerian women!

*Dr. Bukky Osunyikanmi is in the Department of Political Science Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State