Election cycles and Nigerian Women (2): Winning but no critical mass yet

Election cycles and Nigerian Women (2): Winning but no critical mass yet

The 1995 Beijing Platform of Action took centre stage and advocated space for more women in parliaments. But it did not make much of a landfall in Nigeria.

Although the past several years have seen a larger turn-out of women standing in the elections of 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019, but the results have still been dismal. It tells us that the high numbers of women candidates have not necessarily translated into bigger wins yet.

The road towards the Second Republic had a bumpy start for Nigerian women. It commenced in October 1975 with the appointment of an all-male 50-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) chaired by Chief FRA Williams. Concerns were raised about the character of the Committee, but the head of state, General Murtala Muhammed said: “Members of this Committee were selected first, on the basis of two per state, so as to obtain as wide a geographical coverage as possible and secondly, from our learned men in disciplines considered to have direct relevance to Constitution-making, namely: History, Law, Economics and other Social Sciences, especially Political Science.”

However, not long afterwards, as part of local government reforms, the Obasanjo government announced that every male and female over 18 years of age were eligible to vote and be voted for in the then forthcoming local government elections. The announcement concluded decades of advocacy for the enfranchisement of women in Northern Nigeria by political activists such as Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, her senior sister, Hajiya Ina Nusa, and the newspaper columnist, Mallama Ladi Shehu.

However, despite the edict allowing all women in the federation to participate in elections, there was an attempt to restrict women candidates and voters in some parts of Northern Nigeria. For example, the military governor of old Kaduna State, Group Captain Usman Jibrin, on Monday, August 23, 1976, made the following statement: “All adult taxpayers who produce tax receipts or statements of Pay-As-You-Earn from their employers should have the right to vote and be voted for.” This was said against the full knowledge that due to cultural practises, many women in Northern Nigeria were not in formal employment. The National Council of Women’s Societies, led by Mrs Ronke Doherty, stepped in and said: “The decision of two states that women should vote and not be voted for except they were able to produce tax receipts was unfair; a country which has human rights written into her constitution should not do such a thing.”

Still, women in several Northern states were defiant and contested for seats in the local councils and a few of them won. These included Hajia Gambo Sawaba (Zaria), Mrs C.G. Dikko, Hajiya Murjanatu (Dutsinma) and Hajia Laila Dogonyaro (Tudun Wada) in Kaduna State. Others were Hajia Shugaban Tabarau (Gwammaja, Kano State); Madam Sakura (Gongola State), and Celina M. Umoru (Gboko East), Adama Obaka (Enjema District),  Hajiya Awawo Ali (Ida Waterside), all in Benue State.

There was good news in Lagos State as well. The front page of New Nigerian of Thursday, December 30, 1976 declared that, “Seven men lose to two women.” The report narrated how Taiwo Almaroof of Ward D2 scored 597 votes, to beat four men; and Abiola Babatope of Ward L1, scored 552 votes, ahead of three men in Mushin West Local Government.

The next step towards the Second Republic was the formation of the Constituent Assembly. Under the Constituent Assembly Decree No. 50 of 1977, the Assembly was established to “Deliberate upon the draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria drawn up by the Constitution Drafting Committee appointed by the Federal Military Government.” Of the 230 members, 203 were to be elected through Electoral Colleges, while of the remaining, 20 members would be nominated by the government. Only one woman, Janet Akinrinade of Oyo State was elected into the Constituent Assembly

The PUNCH newspaper of Thursday, September 1, 1977 celebrated her electoral win with the headline: “The only woman whips three men.”  It reported that Akinrinade of Iseyin Kajola Electoral College won with 13 votes to defeat her closest rival by four votes: “Her victory is seen as a boost to the prospects of women in the electioneering battles ahead.”

To make up for the lack of women in the CDC, the Obasanjo government appointed four women into the 1978 Constituent Assembly. They were Mrs Toyin Olakunri, Mrs Faustina Kariba Braide, Mrs Jummai Jamma and Mrs Abigail Ukpabi.

Franca A. Afegbua became the first and only woman to be elected into the Senate in that period. According to the Nigerian Observer of August 23, 1983, she scored 313,900 votes to beat Bayo Akerele, a former university don and economic adviser to the Bendel State government, who scored 81,710 votes. However, due to the military intervention of December 31, 1983, the tenure of the National Assembly was abruptly brought to an end.

We know that the 1979 elections eventually took place from July 11 to August 11 and only three women – Justina Chinweudo Eze, Abiola Olubunmi Babatope and Veronica Ogechi Nnaji – won seats to the 450-member House of Representatives. From 1979 to 1983, there was no woman in the 95-member Senate.

The next elections took place in August 1983 and this time, from the earlier trio, only Abiola Babatope and Veronica Nnaji returned to the House of Representatives. Josephine Olatomi Soboyejo (Lagos), Olivia Agbajoh-Okediji (Bendel) and Hajiya Kande Balarabe (Kano) also won their elections into the lower chamber.

Franca A. Afegbua became the first and only woman to be elected into the Senate in that period. According to the Nigerian Observer of August 23, 1983, she scored 313,900 votes to beat Bayo Akerele, a former university don and economic adviser to the Bendel State government, who scored 81,710 votes. However, due to the military intervention of December 31, 1983, the tenure of the National Assembly was abruptly brought to an end.

In the 1991/92 elections to the National Assembly, Nigerian women entered the race to be part of decision-making in the Third Republic. At that time, there was a slight increase in the number of seats won by women. Thirteen became members of the 589-member House of Representatives, including Ifeoma Olive Chinwuba (Anambra); Christine Akpan (Akwa Ibom); Rebecca Apedzan and Ada Mark (Benue); Rabi Allamin (Borno); Florence Ita-Giwa (Cross River); Onaiwu E. Giwa-Osagie (Edo); Mariya Abdullahi (Katsina); Hajara L. Usman (Niger); Olabisi Abiola (Ogun); Nimola Bolade Sarunmi (Osun); Amina Mohammed Aliyu (Plateau) and Bolere Ketebu (Rivers). Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor (Lagos) became the second elected woman to the 95-member Senate.

In the 2003 elections to the National Assembly, twenty-five women got seats in the parliament. Three, namely Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki-Fowora, Iyabo Anisulowo and Daisy Danjuma became senators, while 22 other women went into the House of Representatives. They were Nkechi Nwagwu, Jessica Balonwu, Iquo Inyang-Minimah, Adzuana Aondana, Fanta B. Shehu, Temi Harriman, Mercy Alomona Isei, Uwa Patience Ogodo…

Three years later, the global whirlwind of women’s political emancipation and representation came into existence. The 1995 Beijing Platform of Action took centre stage and advocated space for more women in parliaments. But it did not make much of a landfall in Nigeria, where the electoral landscape remained overwhelmingly male.

The Fourth Republic opened in May 1999 and a total of 15 women won seats in the 469-member National Assembly. There were three in the Senate – Stella Omu (Delta), who became the chief whip; Florence Ita-Giwa (Cross River); and Khairat Abdul-Razaq (Federal Capital Territory); and 12 in the House of Representatives – Patricia O. Etteh (Osun), who became the chief whip; Omolola Abiola-Edewor and Dorcas I. Odujinrin (Lagos); Janet Ayo Adeyemi (Ondo); Lynda C. Ikpeazu (Anambra); Iquo I. Minima (Akwa Ibom); Rukayat G. Saraki (Kwara);  Patience Ogodo (Ebonyi); Mercy Almona-Isei and Temi Harriman (Delta); Florence Diya Aya and Binta Garba Koji (Kaduna).

In the 2003 elections to the National Assembly, twenty-five women got seats in the parliament. Three, namely Rukayat Gbemisola Saraki-Fowora, Iyabo Anisulowo and Daisy Danjuma became senators, while 22 other women went into the House of Representatives. They were Nkechi Nwagwu, Jessica Balonwu, Iquo Inyang-Minimah, Adzuana Aondana, Fanta B. Shehu, Temi Harriman, Mercy Alomona Isei, Uwa Patience Ogodo, Titlayo Akindahunsi, Biodun Olujimi, Ruth Jummai Ango, Binta K. Garba, Saudatu A. Sani, Bebeji Azuna, Maimunat Adaji, Omolola Abiola-Edewor, Abike Dabiri, Olajumoke Okoya-Thomas, Patricia N. Akwashiki, Patricia Etteh, Eniola Fakeye and Fatima S. Talba.

Although the past several years have seen a larger turn-out of women standing in the elections of 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019, but the results have still been dismal. It tells us that the high numbers of women candidates have not necessarily translated into bigger wins yet. This will be examined in greater detail in subsequent articles.

Orignal post written in the Premium Times

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