By ESTHER ONYEGBULA
Comfort Idika-Ogunye, is a gender activist, social analyst and the Executive Director, Female Leadership Forum (FLF). A professional lawyer who was called to the bar in 1999, she was the first female National president of National Association of Nigeria Students (NASS).
In this chat, she talks about how the average Nigerian woman has fared so far in politics in the last 52 years of Nigeria’s independence, factors limiting women’s participation in politics, and why women need to re-strategize and start mobilizing towards 2015 general election.
Recently we celebrated our 52 years of independence how has Nigerian women fared in politics?
I am very sad and disturbed that we have not achieved much in the past 52 years. On my own assessment of how far we have gone in 50 years of independence, I will say we have gone some way but not very far in the area of women’s participation in politics and in governance.
With Nigerian women’s 7% participation in governance, our participation is quite low, compared with some other countries. It is said that Nigeria has included among one of the worst countries that women can live in. We must improve on some of this indicators and benchmarks.
There has been this clamour for 35% affirmative action for women both in appointive and elective position. In the process of reworking our constitution, we hope to see affirmative action that is entrenched and guarantee for women. Our women will have specific quotas and once women can have that, it means that we are giving them some kind of push that will encourage them to actually move into the public space. Without doing that it means that women will still continue to struggle against all the patriarchal hinges we have in our political culture and practice.
In the next couple of years what do you expect from this administration?
We hope to see more commitment to women’s drive for empowerment and political inclusion. We want to see more women involved in politics and governance. We want to see more girls get good education. We want to see Medicare for women. We want to see a well managed maternal and child care delivery system in this country, from the primary health institutions to the secondary and tertiary.
We also want to see better security, because security of life is very fundamental. There is no security anywhere. Women thrive and live better in a secure environment. With people been displaced by flood, and the whole issues around terrorism, women and children are becoming more vulnerable.
Do you think this is another window of opportunity for our leaders to address all this issues?
Nigeria at 52 has opened a new vista for Nigeria to take itself very seriously and for our leaders to address the whole issue of deficit in governance. We are very worried about the issue surrounding corruption. We want to see leaders who are more accountable. Nigeria is making so much from oil but we are not seeing its positive impact on our lives.
Why should poverty increase? Why are more people falling into the poverty margin? Dividends of good governance is when more people come out of poverty, people traveling on motor able roads, regular supply of electricity, good and safe water, employment for youths. In the absence of these it means that government is not making impact.
Is education still hindering women from actively participating in politics?
In some parts of the country, female enrollment in school is still very low, while in others, the record is high. We hope this will be sustained. The appalling mass failure in WAEC, GCE and NECO is an issue begging to be addressed urgently. What is the use of having people in school when they cannot pass basic examination?
What are the limiting factors affecting women?
Our political system is patriarchal in nature, and most of the parties are established by men who merely tolerate the women. Also a lot of the women do not have the financial capacity to operate in most of these political parties, because our political system has been highly monetized.
Culture and religion are also limiting factors, as most times, they emphasis that women should be seen and not heard; a lot of them often translate this role into the political arena. Democracy is about all, and should be an all inclusive process and everyone should be able to have a say in the democratic culture which creates an avenue for self expression.
Would adequate women representation in politics have any effect or make any difference in the polity?
Women participation in Nigeria politics is an issue of great importance. The intention of most women to participate in politics is basically to support their female folk, this is their substantive responsibility. We need to give the women a chance to show their worth. Only a woman understands how a woman feels. Let’s support all women in politics to help them overcome their challenges.
With 2015 fast approaching what would you advise women with political ambition to do?
They need to begin underground work like mobilization. We should not go and sit down and wait till six months to the elections in 2015 before we begin to mobilize. We need to know the political parties that are strong enough to get our votes as women and what favourable women related policies are entrenched in their parties’ constitutions.
How did your journey into becoming an activist begin?
I have always been an activist right from school and I see politics as a compelling necessity, a terrain that is not strange. Right now I am strategizing how to get involved into active politics so that I will be able play more marginal role. I am working towards 2015. My focus is on grass root politics. I am more interested in working within the party structures.
What is female leadership forum all about?
It was founded in 1996 when I was elected President National Association of Nigerian Students. During my tenure as president, I found out that only a few girls where interested or involved in campus politics. Some of them didn’t like the nature of campus politics because of the language, and numerous aluta activities like going to address rallies.
It was then I realized what we needed was a platform. That was what motivated me to establish the FLF in1996. Then we brought a few girls who were interested in campus politics, encouraged them, build them, and enhance their leadership skills. Ten years down the road Female leadership forum transformed into a full fledged non governmental organization that is committed to leadership development for young women.