By Kolade Larewaju

Hajia Fatima Kehinde Okunuga, an Ijebu-born princess, was an aspirant for the House of Representatives on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, she speaks  on the exigency of women political empowerment, causes of   gender inequity and possible ways to   ameliorate the situation.

What can you say about the global in women political representation and how has Nigeria fared  in this regard? 

When 1975 was declared the International Women’s Year by the United Nations, attention on gender issues shot up and this later gave way to   the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 held in Beijing.

As we speak, many countries of the world are yielding to the cry for gender balancing as we are currently living under a record-high number of female world leaders. For much of 2014, the number of women Presidents and Heads of Government worldwide is   about 22 which is a record.

•Hajia Fatima Kehinde Okunuga

Today, many countries of the world are making efforts to bridge the gap between men and women in politics. In Africa, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf   made history as Africa’s first female president while countries like Argentina, Brazil, Germany are being ruled by women and they are making their mark. Senator Hillary Clinton is a frontliner in the America’s political landscape.

In 2006, Republican Party’s presidential candidate John McCain picked Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska as his running mate. This could be seen as the turning point in the global perspective as to the efforts being made to have women in decision making process of world nations. In South Africa and Mozambique, women hold about 30% of the seats in the   parliament. Some countries, including Burkina Fasso and Uganda, have constitutional provisions reserving seats in their legislature for women. The Rwanda example is simply unique. In spite of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda takes a lead in gender balance as women represent 49% of their national parliament. This achievement is as a result of constant lobbying of Rwandan women who contributed immensely in the   drafting of the new constitution and also secured the creation of a ministry for women’s affairs.

Though the Beijing conference of 1995 recommended 35% allocation for women in political positions, power and decision making, that has not been the case in Nigeria where women can barely boast of 5 percent. However, it must be noted that the minimal rise in gender participation in the country has been attached to appointive positions having failed to produce women in elective posts.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently reiterated his commitment to implement the cardinal policies of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in order to move the country forward. What do our women stand to benefit if this is done?

In its manifesto, the APC vowed to ensure that the rights of women are protected as enshrined in the nation’s constitution with a guarantee that women are adequately represented in government appointments and provided greater opportunities in education, job creation and economic empowerment. It also promised the promotion of the concept of reserving a minimum number of seats in the National Assembly for women. So, it is cheering news not only for the electorate but the womenfolk who have been relegated to the background in decision-making process over the years.

There is no gainsaying the fact that an increase in women representation in the government can empower women with its multiplier effects in overall development. It has been   argued and with empirical evidence too that female representatives not only advance women’s rights, but also advance the rights of children. It has been   globally recognised that empowering women and girls is the quickest way to fight both poverty and other related vices like prostitution.   According to a survey carried out in India, greater women’s representation has corresponded with a more equitable distribution of community resources, including more gender-sensitive spending on programs related to health, nutrition, and education. The saying that women are   properties of men should be discouraged in all its entirety.

Is this to say previous governments in Nigeria have only been paying lipservice to the issue of gender equity?

Kudos must be given to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar who embarked on a policy shift during his reign between June, 1998 and May, 1999.   He appointed two women in the Federal Executive Council at the onset of his regime: Chief (Mrs) Onikepo Akande (Minister for Commerce) and Dr. Laraba Gambo Abdullahi (Minister of Women Affairs). He is one leader who could have opened up more avenues for the women to raise their stakes and take active part in governance if not for the exigencies of the time.  In the Fourth Republic which started on May 29, 1999, the Nigerian political terrain witnessed an increase in the number of women political appointees, even though women did not perform well at the elections. There were 9 females in the Federal Executive Council out of the whole 44 as the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo appointed four women out of the 29 senior ministers representing 13.7% and three out of the 18 junior ministers representing 16.6%.

Without bias, the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan made some inroads by establishing some structures to enhance the empowerment of women politically and chief among these is the establishment of Political Trust Fund to provide support to women aspirants willing to participate in elections at various levels. Women’s representation during Jonathan’s regime rose from 10% in 2011 to over 33% in 2013.

Though, this may be a   sort of   increase in women participation in politics, it is still light years away from the global perspectives especially in elective posts.

In your own opinion what measures do we put in place to ensure gender balance in our polity?

Without being immodest, it is a big shame that after our fifty years of indepenence we still find ourselves in this situation. There is no constitutional preference for the women in terms of Bills at both the States and national levels to protect the welfare of women. This is a challenge to our elected women representatives to brace up, lobby and see to the formulation and passage of such Bills. There must be   consitutionally supported policies for female graduates and young school leavers in terms of automatic employment and regular stipends to cushion their inadequacies. Nigeria has more than enough resources to implement this if we are sincere. Monies lavished on wordly materials could be channelled towards improving the lives of the citizenry.

Over the years we have had   all sorts of programmes funded by wives of our leaders focusing on, among others, maternal health, women empowerment, vocational trainings etc.   They present sewing machines, hair dryers   to women and, of all things, hoes, cutlasses and commercial motorcycles to able-bodied young men and they call it empowerment! Imagine! The women legislators should not join the bandwagon of those sharing whatever is accruing to their offices alone but work in tandem with like mind legislators to advance this course. It should also be reciprocated in the States Houses of Assembly with women lawmakers standing firm in defence of the womenfolk.

A taskforce can be put in place to take the statistics of female graduates to be so empowered with proper monitoring. This is a task that must be championed by the women in the front burner of our polity now namely Hajia Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, wife of the Presient and Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice-President. They should put the wives of all the State governors and local government chairmen to task by putting up pressure on appropriate quarters to make it a reality and as a matter of urgency too.

Nigerian women should be given all the necessary support and allowed a fair share in decision-making and the governance of the country. Afterall if   all human beings are equal and women possess the same rights as men it makes common sense for them to   participate in governance and public life. My position is strongly based on the fact that if Nigeria is to experience the much needed political and economic change then we must review the discriminative political bottlenecks that deny women equal participation in governance in Nigeria.

Economic development of a nation is not gauged by the muscles on the back of the menfolk but by the quality of expertise and intelligence available for deployment in service to our fatherland. No single gender has a monopoly of knowledge. Our women have, oftentimes, received better education and managed more successful careers than the men thrust upon us as   political leaders.

Going by this, it is highly recommended that women are   accorded vantage positions for a meaningful development and this could only be achieved if they are not left out of the decision making process. A   prominent political representative in the United Kingdom,   Harriet Harman, said and I quote: “Women are central to the new breed of politicians who offer Africa the opportunity for a deeply rooted, uncorrupt democracy.”

I believe that Africa and not only Nigeria’s democracy will prosper if we have more women in politics. In other words, it will make democracy worth its definition as a government of the people by the people and for the people after all human beings are men and women and these are the people.

We cannot be the giant of Africa for nothing. We should set precedent for other African countries especially in gender equity starting from responsiveness to the plight of the girl-child moving upwardly to encouragement of the women to partake in politics and present themselves for elective positions in governance.

The reason we live in a democratic world is for equal participation of all citizens in the development of their country irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.


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