KAMALA HARRIS MAKES HISTORY: INSPIRATION FOR NIGERIAN WOMEN

KAMALA HARRIS MAKES HISTORY: INSPIRATION FOR NIGERIAN WOMEN

Kamala Harris made history on Tuesday 20th January 2021, when she became the first woman vice-president in the United States. That same day, a photo gallery went viral on social media. It was a historical image which showed the portraits of the past forty-eight white male vice-presidents. It underscored the significance of Harris’s rise to America’s second highest decision-making position, after two hundred and fifty years of democracy. It offers inspiration to Nigeria where women despite forming 49.5% of the estimated 200 million (Source: National Bureau of Statistics), still have a marginal choice in the decision-making processes country. In my interview on Saturday 16th January 2021 on OGTV’s Morning Splash to promote my e-book ‘Emerging from the Margins: Women’s Experiences in Colonial and Contemporary Nigerian History,’ I stressed that Nigerian women are not an interest group and we should not be treated as one. An interest group is a subsection of a whole. As half of the population , we hardly qualify to be described and treated as a sub-section of the population. The foundational history of women’s marginalisation in Nigeria’s public affairs, lies in the design of electoral process from 1922, when the principle of elective representation was first introduced by the British colonial administrators. Exclusion was built into electoral politics and representation at the onset. Evidence of this is clear from the early election rules and regulations. A paragraph in my book quotes from a public notice published on 1st October, 1927:Every male person who is a British subject or a native of the Protectorate of Nigeria, who is of the age of twenty one years or upwards and has been ordinarily resident for twelve months immediately preceding the date of registration in the Municipal area and was, during the calendar year immediately preceding, in possession of a gross annual income of not less than one hundred pounds, shall be entitled to be registered as an Elector…. Although we have come a long way those years and women eventually gained the right to vote and stand in elections, still Nigeria in comparison to her neighbours in the West African sub-region, records the lowest number of women in parliament, not to talk about the rankings in the global gender database. In the Executive arm of government, Nigerian women suffer a similar fate. No woman has been elected a state governor or president, while a handful have won seats as chief executives in local government elections. Very few women have been nominated to the post of vice-president, alongside a male presidential candidate.However the state level, the post of deputy-governor favours women. At the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, several states adopted an informal twinning process of nominating female candidates as the running mate of the gubernatorial candidate. Over the years, ten out of thirty-six states which produced women deputy -governors through this political process are Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Anambra, Plateau, Ekiti, Osun, Rivers, Enugu and Kaduna. In recent times, this concept of twinning has been rolled back on the altar of politics and the number of female deputy governors has reduced gradually.Today, only four states namely: Ogun, Rivers, Enugu and Kaduna continue the practice. Majority of the states have never had a female deputy –governor. Nigerian women deserve much more than the uncertainty of the twinning process which is vulnerable to the whims of male politicians. Hope lies in legislation and constitutional reforms. This works in many countries including Rwanda, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Guinea, Mali etc. There is currently an important piece of legislation awaiting action in the Senate. Sponsored by Senator Biodun Christine Olujimi, it seeks amongst other things to introduce measures into Nigeria’s political space to boost female participation, representation and presence in shaping policy.

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