BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
“Breaking news! Nigeria gets first elected female governor: Hajia Aisha Jumai Alhassan, a serving Senator and former Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice, Taraba State, and candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, is set to be declared the elected governor of the state following election results collated so far. Hajia Alhassan is leading her main opponent, Darius Ishaku, a former minister, by a wide margin …she would make history as the first elected governor in Nigeria.”
Had the stars aligned last Saturday, history would have been made with presumed non-egalitarian northern Nigeria producing Nigeria’s first elected female governor.
Unfortunately, Aisha’s main opponent was said to have overtaken her until the polls eventually ended inconclusive, with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, slating a run-off in some parts of the state for April 25. Maybe history will this time around be made!
Prior to that strong showing from the North, though a woman was trying for the first time in that region, it actually was not quite clear how despera
tely Nigerians wanted a structural change in the Boys’ Club (Governors’ Forum) despite significant increase in the number of female deputy governors since 1990, when Lateefa Okunnu was Deputy Governor of Lagos State.
Fondly called Mama Taraba, Aisha’s victory would have been a major consolation for women, who had suffered an unprecedented setback in this year’s general elections.
In the 29 states where governorship elections held, the representation of women seeking the office of governor and deputy governor stood at 87 (22.9 percent) out of the 380 candidates running for the positions. Worse still, that pathetic percentage was made up of candidates from less known political parties, amounting to no significant increase in women’s representation.
Anyway, the final result is story for another day.
In the contest for Senatorial seats, 122 women out of 747 candidates, representing 16 percent, were cleared by INEC to run. However, only eight of them eventually won elections to the upper chamber. That makes it 101 men against eight women in the next Senate.
In the lower chamber of parliament, the situation was not any better as 267 women, out of a total of 1,774 candidates, ran for seats at the House of Representatives. This is just 15 percent.
For the womenfolk, this is heartbreaking as the 2011 elections had already robbed them of the many gains of 2007.
It was against this background that the tense nail-biting wait for INEC’s declaration of Aisha as the elected governor of Taraba State became tangible across the country. The social media and news platforms only served to raise it to fever pitch: “This is the real change, this is the real change!” many chanted joyously with photos of Aisha becoming display/profile pictures. It had nothing to do with political affiliations.
Some mischief makers were, however, quick to recall that Virgy Etiaba had been governor in November 2006, when the then Governor Peter Obi was impeached. Somebody must remind them that Etiaba was never elected.
And talking about female governors, the United States of America has had 35.
Governor vs Deputy
Are women supposed to be grateful for the bread and butter opportunity to serve as Deputy Governors and not dare to aspire to be governors?
Director, Centre for Gender and Development Studies, Ado-Ekiti State University, Professor (Mrs) Olabisi Aina, gave a quick answer.
She said: “The office of the governor is where decisions are made. The deputy governor is only a supporter of the principal officer (the governor).
“When one is a deputy governor, it’s as if he or she is not in government because he or she is never invited to places where core decisions are taken.
“Every governor has priorities and for a female governor, those priorities are more likely to be people-oriented. Forget about the errors of women who have failed in key positions in the past.
“A woman chosen on merit is a different piece altogether. That’s why the process of nomination of candidate, for both men and women, needs to be reviewed by political parties.”
An executive of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Mrs Phil Nneji, also feels women are not good for only spare tyre roles (deputy governorship).
She says: “With women in governorship positions, we will be inching toward having a woman president like we presently have in three African countries.
“Generally, you can see Nigerians are suffering in the midst of plenty because of corruption. But a woman who knows are onions cannot be that corrupt when in such a delicate position, knowing that the most vulnerable in any society are women and children,” the legal practitioner added.
Anyway, April 25 is seven days away. Nigerians are waiting keenly to see if electing a capable hand into Taraba’s government house, irrespective of gender, is part of “the real change.”