Election cycles and Nigerian women (3): Speaking with one voice, By Tayo Agunbiade

Election cycles and Nigerian women (3): Speaking with one voice, By Tayo Agunbiade

It is time for women to mobilise across party lines and vote in from amongst their cohorts.

In real terms, we have the numbers to vote-in women contestants into the national and state legislatures, en bloc. But we must first switch our allegiances from political parties to ourselves and mobilise across party lines. We must take a stand that if a political party does not submit women’s names on its list of candidates and provide them with all the support to ensure they win, it risks losing the election, because women will not vote for such party.

In the last two articles, gender-disaggregated data was employed to highlight women’s historic and contemporary participation in elections in Nigeria. This final piece will analyse women’s participation in the last two general elections held in the country in 2015 and 2019.

For the 2015 elections, a total of 746 candidates vied for seats in the Senate, out of which 128 were women, while for the House of Representatives, of 1,772 candidates, 270 were women. Overall, 398 women stood in these parliamentary elections, but only 29 won seats: Seven women in the Senate and 22 in the House of Representatives.

In 2019, 232 women contested for seats in the Senate out of a total of 1,083 candidates and 532 women, out of 4,548 candidates, vied for seats in the House of Representatives. In all, 764 women contested in the elections to the National Assembly, almost double the number in 2015. However, the results were dismal. A total of 21 women won seats in the 469-member legislature: Eight in the Senate and 13 women in the House of Representatives. Indeed, this translated into a drop in the total number of women occupying seats in the National Assembly from 29 in 2015 to 21 in 2019 i.e. from 6 per cent to 4 per cent.

A further breakdown of the data shows that in comparison with 2015, although there was an increase by 31 per cent in the number of women contestants for seats to the National Assembly in 2019, yet more women won in 2015, albeit marginally.  

As such, which states are more favourably disposed to electing the handful of women into the national parliament, than others? In 2015, only six of 36 States, namely: Anambra, Adamawa, Cross River, Ekiti (two), Lagos and Oyo, elected women senators; while 14 states, namely: Abia (two), Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Baylesa, Borno, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Gombe (two), Kwara, Lagos, Osun, Plateau and Rivers, elected women into the House of Representatives.  

In the 2019 elections, only seven states, namely: Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra (two), Ekiti, Lagos, Plateau, and Rivers, elected women senators; and 13 states, namely: Abia, Anambra, Benue, Borno, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers and Yobe, put women in the House of Representatives. For both election cycles, only four States have women in both the upper and lower chambers: Anambra, Ekiti, Plateau and Rivers. 

Another interesting point is that in 2020, there were two by-elections to fill vacant seats in the Senate in the Cross River North Senatorial District and Plateau South Senatorial District. One of the seats up for re-election, previously occupied by late Senator Rose Oko of Cross River State, was won by a male contestant; while in Plateau State, a professor of French, Mrs Nora Daduut won the vacant seat of the late Ignatius Lonjan. However, Senator Daduut will not seek re-election in the forthcoming elections in 2023.

Over the years, commentators and feminists have placed the blame firmly on several factors ranging from the nature of Nigeria’s politics and the element of money, absence of a legal framework and the socialisation/ gendered cultural beliefs about women’s and men’s roles in the public space.

Overall, an increase in the participation of women in the last elections did not alter the gender balance in the nation’s 469-member parliament. This leaves Nigeria with one of the lowest rate of women in parliament in Africa, with the numbers in steady decline since the 2011 elections.

As the data clearly shows, more women candidates will not guarantee more seats being won by them, thus we need to look beyond the figures and see what barriers hinder women from winning elections.

Over the years, commentators and feminists have placed the blame firmly on several factors ranging from the nature of Nigeria’s politics and the element of money, absence of a legal framework and the socialisation/ gendered cultural beliefs about women’s and men’s roles in the public space.  

The element of money in party politics in Nigeria cannot be overlooked. It corrupts and influences the political system. But can this be curtailed? The provisions in the Electoral Act 2022, which replaced the Electoral Act 2010 to “regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in FCT,” seeks to address campaign finance, amongst numerous other election-related issues.  

Sections 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90 of the Act lists, amongst other provisions, offences in relation to the finances of a political party; the period to be covered in the annual statement; the power to limit contributions to a political party; and limitations on the election expenses of political parties, etc. For example, audited annual reports, election contributions and election expenses (this includes for the primaries) must be submitted at specific times after the elections.

Also Section 88 (2) states that “the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential election shall not exceed N5,000,000,000″, while the maximum election expenses to be incurred by candidates in respect of governorship, Senate and House of Representatives should not exceed N1 billion, N100 million and N70 million respectively.

A flaw in this section on campaign finance may be that the Act says “candidates” instead of political parties and this creates some ambiguity over who will be held responsible for any breach of the law. Afterall, candidates do not run on their own, but represent political parties. Overall, the entire Electoral Act says nothing that favours female citizens.

But could there be redemption from within Nigeria’s hierarchical and patriarchal political party system?  Where all else has failed, could the answer lie in the application of voluntary quotas by the political parties? This temporary special mechanism is known to work and has boosted women’s representation in legislative institutions in Europe, Latin America and United Kingdom.

In recent times, there have been women-friendly legislation in the National Assembly to address the systemic discrimination embedded in society, such as trado-cultural beliefs that women should not participate in public decision-making and governance. However, all have met with stiff resistance from the male-dominated upper and lower chambers. For example, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, which seeks to address, amongst other things, the under-representation of women in the legislative institution, has so far not been successful.  Proposals on legislated candidate quotas, as well as reserved seats for women, have also failed. The Constitutional Review Exercise in March rejected five gender-related Bills. As a result, faith in any constitutional review and legal framework is fast dwindling.   

But could there be redemption from within Nigeria’s hierarchical and patriarchal political party system?  Where all else has failed, could the answer lie in the application of voluntary quotas by the political parties? This temporary special mechanism is known to work and has boosted women’s representation in legislative institutions in Europe, Latin America and United Kingdom. Closer to home, this kind of quota system has significantly altered parliamentary landscapes in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique, etc.

In South Africa, the African National Congress has perfected its voluntary party quota system and women form significant representation in its parliament.

Here in Nigeria, women form 49.5 per cent of the estimated 211 million population share. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), during the last elections, we numbered 39,598,645 out of 84,004,084 registered voters i.e. 46.7 per cent.

In real terms, we have the numbers to vote-in women contestants into the national and state legislatures, en bloc. But we must first switch our allegiances from political parties to ourselves and mobilise across party lines. We must take a stand that if a political party does not submit women’s names on its list of candidates and provide them with all the support to ensure they win, it risks losing the election because women will not vote for such party. In other words, it is time for women to mobilise across party lines and vote in from amongst their cohorts.

As things stand today, money politics and party affiliation are stumbling blocks to women’s candidacy and electoral win into the state and national legislative houses.

Let us resolutely speak with one voice in order to alter Nigeria’s parliamentary map. Therein may be the answer to election cycles and Nigerian women.

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