Nigeria: Favour Irabor - Money, religion & patriarchy pose problems for female politicians

Publication Date: 
September 4, 2011

It’s over four months now since the last general elections, but Nigerian women politicians and even stakeholders are yet to recuperate from the shock of its outcome. Unlike previous elections, women vied enmass for various political offices, but  few of them got in! As a response to this fall which has also translated into an abysmal reduction in the representation of women in political offices(apart from the ministerial offices), the question of ‘what went wrong?’  has continued to take centre-stage at most women gatherings. Here, women’s human rights activist, a lawyer, (Ms) Favour Irabor, Programme Officer, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, reviews the circumstances surrounding Nigerian women in politics as she calls on stakeholders to urgently begin preparations for the 2015 elections.

Some of the women who contested shared their challenges with us at Baobab. We also had a programme in which they expressed their concerns, even before the 20ll general elections.  One of the issues they pointed out was intra-party politics. This is actually about the intrigues that go on within political parties, and how they are short-changed, sexually harassed, etc. as women. The challenges are quite enormous.

The truth is, the number of women in political offices was actually experiencing an increase until the 2011 general elections. In the First Republic , we had just one female senator – the late  Chief (Mrs.)Wuraola Esan,  mother of the late former Vice-Chancellor of  Lagos State University, Prof (Mrs) Jadesola Akande. Mrs.Margaret Ekpo too won election into the House of Representatives.

In the Second Republic , we had just one female senator as well, Franca Afegbua.  Then in the 1990s when General Sani Abacha was transiting, we had the likes of Senator Florence Ita-Giwa.  We had only three Senators in 1999, and that increased to four in 2003, and to nine in 2007. But from the outcome of the 2011 elections, we now have only seven women in the senate! The number has however been increasing in the House of Representatives.

In Cross River State, for example, as at 2007, they had three women in the National Assembly. Now, they still have three but the drop in terms of the number of women in the Senate and in the House of Representatives(from three to two) is a minus.

The performance of women has actually been  very poor since the 60s. The percentage of women that have fared has always been very negligible! Some of them who even contested faced oppositions from the men. I do recall that Onyeka Onwenu lamented over the intrigues that went on in the party and how she lost in the Chairmanship election in her local government area in Imo State.

I recently did an analysis on Sarah Jubril’s performance as well, and I would categorically tell you that money, religion and patriarchy pose problems for women in politics. Patriarchy especially comes to play even in the family and place of work. Some religious heads, especially in Islamic communities, cannot fathom how they will be taking orders from a female Executive Governor! In fact, to most men, it is as if women are coming to challenge what has been the ‘exclusive reserve’ of the malefolk in politics.

In fairness, I must note that more women vied for political offices this time. But very few however won the primaries, and again, fewer won the elections.

That was the first time we had more women coming out! We had two female presidential aspirants. In Lagos State also, we had four females who aspired for Deputy Governorship.

Examining the aspirants also, it has become evident that a lot of them were from politically privileged background. Take the likes of Gbemi Saraki, Iyabo Obasanjo, Daisy Danjuma, to mention but a few.  For those without such privileged background, they had the advantage of having been in the corridor of power for a very long time.

The wife of the former Niger State governor too who contested for Senatorial election had been in the corridor of power. Remi Tinubu is another example!  So, we can see that most of these women have some kind of affiliations! But this has implications for you and me who have no affiliates! It means we cannot favourably compete at all, no matter how good we may be since we do not have what it takes to get there politically. So, you can see it’s a walk-over for many of them.

However, the most interesting thing about the election was the dynamics that came to play; it departed from the kind of politics that we were used to! We could see that not all persons won elections simply because of their parties’ influence or personal affiliates in their states. Look at Anambra State, for instance, where APGA held sway. Dora Akunyili lost to Chris Ngige! The influence of god-fatherism too wasn’t there so much, and this was obvious in the cases of Kwara and Ogun states . It appears there’s now a kind of awareness among the populace.

Daisy Danjuma too didn’t make it! I mean, all these are a pointer that the days of god-fatherism are going. They can impose somebody on the party, but the populace will determine who gets there eventually by rejecting such candidate and voting in somebody from another party who will perform!

However, it appears it is still an era of money politics because in some polling booths, party agents were giving money to voters to vote for them. This however did not really succeed in influencing the people’s choice of candidates.

The performance of women at the 2011 April polls calls for sober reflection and an urgent need to re-strategize for the 2015 general elections. There is urgent need for internal democracy in the political parties to whittle down male-dominated party executives. There should also be assessment of parties’ primaries with a view to formulating and implementing reforms that will support a more level-playing field.

The establishment of a Women’s Political Institute where parties and all female aspirants and candidates would be equipped with relevant skills that underpin the positions should be desired. The outcome would inform necessary remedial steps aspirants should take to address gaps so as to reposition them for exigency of electoral campaigns and elective offices.

The challenges ahead will truly test the motive of the first lady’s pet project – Women for Change Initiative. Will it take a recess now that President Goodluck Jonathan has won or will it start preparing women for 2015 general elections? The short term goal of getting women to participate in the 2011 general elections seems to have been achieved. However, I am not crediting the Women for Change Initiative for the increased participation of women at the general elections.

This is against the backdrop that women’s groups and other individuals have been on this campaign for a longer time and have been stating 30 percent or something higher. Also, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights (BAOBAB) has been working over the years to ensure comprehensive political education, and at the same time, creating a space for experienced female politicians to mentor younger women interested in vying for political positions in future.’

By Josephine Igbinovia