A Report That May Change Nigeria’s Political Process 

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The public presentation of a report on the 2019 general election by a non-governmental organisation, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, in partnership with the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative and with support from MacArthur Foundation, was aimed at tackling gender inequality and enhancing women’s participation in politics, writes Kemi Olaitan

While the 2019 general election may have come and gone with President Muhammadu Buhari elected for a second term and virtually all other winners already in their offices and the losers either at the appellate courts or strategising for another day, reports have continued to emerge  on various roles played by some major stakeholders before and during the elections.

It was in this direction that a non-governmental organisation, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), on Tuesday, organised a roundtable where it presented a report titled: “Women’s participation in the 2019 general elections from an accountability perspective: Kano and Oyo under spotlight”.

It was prepared by the Gender and Election Watch (GEW) of its arm, to highlight the various inhibitions faced by women in the electoral process and by extension the overall democratic process. 

Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Hajia Mufuliat Fijabi, while welcoming participants, said the report was done with the aim of examining the extent to which corruption limits or reduces women’s participation in good governance. 

She stated that the need for Gender and Election Watch (GEW) became imperative as there existed gaps in collating the core issues affecting women aspirants, candidates and female voters in the election cycles, adding that women have important roles to play in any election as they are the ones that bear more consequences, whether positive or negative.

Fijabi said, “It is routine to talk about electoral fraud, ranging from vote rigging, ballot stuffing, voting age manipulation to officials deliberately and knowingly abusing voting regulations. It is important to remember however that electoral fraud is underpinned by the same lack of answerability and enforcement as a regular occurrence in the conduct of governance. Elected officials break the law and then compound the citizens’ helplessness by corrupting the elections in which they are standing to insulate by accountability.

“These are some of the reasons why women ought to be as concerned about and mobilise against the wider corruption and lack of basic accountability at every level of governance. NWTF holds strongly that while women may not have been directly excluded from voting in elections, ‘practice of democracy’ nonetheless weakens women’s participation overall. It makes it difficult, for example, for more women to have meaningful participation in the affairs of political parties.”

On lessons from the GEW room project, she said, “Free and fair election must be supported from the sphere. The biggest obstacle to free and fair elections in Nigeria is the wanton abuse of power by political actors, in particular, called politicians. 

“When political factors are considered more important than free and fair election, the role of the umpire (INEC) is diminished. Any progress towards completely free and fair election is the mandate of INEC as the umpire in matters of elections but possible through the collective responsibility of all other stakeholders.

“It is necessary that all stakeholders – citizens, media, politicians, civil society organisations etc – scrutinize INEC on a regular basis and in so doing, make it to be accountable to citizens and not to politicians. INEC needs to make its presence felt more strongly in the political sphere. It can do this by undertaking regular public awareness campaigns both outside and during election cycles about the rights of citizens in elections and also the conduct of elections.

“The regime on campaign finance should be promoted more widely across media, civil society, NGOs, etc., in order to enhance the transparency and accountability of the electoral process. INEC should investigate as a matter administrative routine, the spending by political parties after each election to determine if they had kept within the law. And where they have not, sanctions should be immediate and publicly stated.”

The NWTF CEO added; “INEC must treat electoral offences including vote buying/voter inducement/voter suppression etc as serious crimes and prosecute offenders summarily through the courts. Electoral law should be made available to citizens in pamphlets written in English and in as many local languages as possible. Radio and television broadcast will also be vital for reaching citizens in non-English languages.

“Much of the difficulties in INEC’s electoral mandates such as getting accurate voters’ registration, security of election materials, transportation, can be addressed easily by working in statutory collaboration with state and local governments on exchange of data on population growth and movement. To ensure an inclusive electoral process, INEC has obligations to make legislative recommendations for electoral improvements that will lead to greater political participation by women. 

“INEC must renew its commitment to gender equality and women’s participation in the electoral process by following through the ‘Promoting Gender Equality in the Electoral Cycle’ recommendations by the UNDP/UN WOMEN14 and by sustaining the momentum on its political will around the INEC Gender Policy.”

On the general recommendations, Fijabi explained “Security agencies to re-strategize on how to assist the election management bodies to curb both vote trading and electoral violence. Bringing those who indulge in vote trading and bringing them to book will go a long way to de-monetize our electoral process. 

“There is a need to streamline and ensure that there is a law pegging how much each political party can charge as nomination fee. This was part of the provisions of the amended Electoral Act amended bill that President Buhari refused to assent to in 2018. Voter education is critical to discourage the electorate from selling their votes and encouraging them to shun corrupt electoral practices.

“Electoral Offences Commission (EOC) should be set up to relieve INEC of the herculean task of prosecution of electoral offenders. The recommendation for EOC and Tribunal had been made since 2008 by Justice Uwais Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform – a bill to back that proposal up had been before the 8th National Assembly, it would be heartwarming to have that bill passed and sent to the President for assent. NEC should work to make public sex distribution data of registered and actual voter per state and LGAs.”

However, the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, represented by a National Commissioner, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, in his keynote address, said activities and engagements of the 2019 general election showed high level participation of women in the electoral process as aspirants, noting however that despite the various interventions by the Commission, the women regressed in the number that won elections due to barriers. 

“The party primaries amongst others fell short of expectations as many women could not secure tickets to represent their parties. During the elections, only five out of the 73 candidates, who ran for the position of the President were women, 1,668 men and 232 women vied for the 109 senatorial seats while 4,139 men and 533 women contended for 360 seats in the House of Representatives. 

“At the end of the election, only seven women won senatorial seats and 11 were elected into the House of Representatives while four were elected as deputy governors. 

“However, other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa have laid examples to follow. For instance, 12 sub-Saharan countries elected more than 30 per cent women to legislative positions, while Rwanda reportedly has so many success stories and advancement in electing women to more than 60 per cent of its legislative positions.

“The huge efforts made by the Commission to support the participation of women in the electoral process did not succeed in addressing the decline of women’s representation in politics. This has become worrisome as women’s participation in governance and leadership is not only essential prerequisite for removing gender inequality but also the attainment of basic human rights,” he explained. 

On what the Commission did to ensure inclusive participation by women during the 2019 general election, Yakubu said, “The 2019 general election recorded the lowest number of women elected into public offices despite numerous interventions by the Commission and other key stakeholders. 

“The adoption of a gender policy by the Commission (INEC) in November, 2014 furthered the Commission’s interest and commitment to improving its approach to issues around gender by being more gender responsive.

“The Commission established a gender division to drive the process of its strategic intervention in opening the political space for participation by women. The division has been undertaking targeted, effective and comprehensive multi-dimensional approaches to addressing the dwindling fortunes of women, in terms of political participation within the electoral space. 

“The implementation of the INEC Gender Policy (IGP) since 2014 has witnessed remarkable progress within the Commission and the wider electoral process leading to the 2019 general election,” he added.

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