By Afe Babalola
“The Nigeria politician views politics as a do or die affair. Due to this development, many women believe that they cannot contest in the murky waters that are Politics in Nigeria”.
Last week I began an examination of issues relating to the low level of participation of women in politics in Nigeria. I highlighted the fact, as suggested by data that the participation of women in the affairs of political parties has not transformed to real opportunities as to allow them participate effectively in the governance of the country.
Issue is not limited to Nigeria
Discrimination against women or inequality of the opportunities to engage in political activities between men and women is not new in human affairs and neither is it predominantly a Nigerian problem. In countries such as the United Kingdom and others who are today regarded as politically and economically developed, women had to fight for the most basic of rights including the right to vote. Indeed one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, Baroness Margret Thatcher stated in 1969 as follows:
“no woman in my time will be prime Minister or Foreign Secretary – not the top jobs, anyway I wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister”
The interesting bit about this quotation is not the fact that Margret Thatcher later became the Prime Minister of England but the fact that the said statement was made in light of the same prejudices and realities which existed at that time and some of which are still prevalent in Nigeria of today. However, it appears that while the world has moved away from entrenched prejudices against women in society, Nigeria appears to indulge in a seeming institutionalization of practices which debase the rights of women. Despite modernity ours is a society which celebrates the male gender and is more or less organised in a way to further accentuate the alleged inherent superiority of the male gender. Until the coming of the missionaries, a lot of cultural practices were directed towards the subjugation of the rights of women. Rather unfortunately, some of these practices persist till today in one form or the other. In Nigeria widows in certain parts of the country are still subjected to harrowing mourning or funeral rites upon the demise of their husbands. In some other parts women are denied the right to inheritance. Indeed so problematic is the issue that at a certain time women were denied the right to stand sureties by the Police for their relations who had been detained by them. A woman who dares to report a case of domestic abuse to the Police is likely to be turned back with the advice that it is a domestic problem. At the heart of the Boko Haram Insurgency and its yet unresolved kidnap of over 200 school girls is the mistaken belief that girls do not deserve to be educated. With such cultural factors it becomes easy to discern why women continue to play second fiddle on the political landscape.
Violence and attitudinal dispositions of politicians as further disincentive
Another factor which accounts for the low level of participation of women in Politics in Nigeria is the perception held by many that politics as practiced in Nigeria is a dirty game in which no woman should be involved. This perception has not been helped by the fact that elections in Nigeria have often been characterized by one form of violence or the other. The Nigeria politician views politics as a do or die affair. Due to this development, many women believe that they cannot contest in the murky waters that are Politics in Nigeria.
Closely associated to the last fact is the huge role money plays in Nigerian Politics. Due to some of the cultural factors highlighted, a female politician may not have the financial wherewithal necessary to compete against her male counterpart. Such is the role of money politics in Nigeria that it has led to the entrenchment of what is known as Godfatherism whereby a single individual owing to immense wealth is able to control a political party and often singlehandedly imposes candidates on the said party. The result is that such candidates after their election will owe their loyalty to their Godfather and not to the electorate. They will be required to show this loyalty in the form of awards of contracts to the cronies of the Godfather and appointment of his candidates into boards of statutory corporations. I believe that this development prevents women from participating in politics effectively.
It is in the light of this that I recommend the following as steps which must urgently be adopted to facilitate the increased participation of women in Nigerian politics:
1.Quotas or proportional representation – I endorse the view held by many that the possibility of adopting a quota system should be explored to bring about increased participation of women in politics. Contrary to some views this will not amount to discrimination against men. It must be noted that such quota systems already exist in various aspects of our national life. Alternatively, Political parties can be encouraged or statutorily required to make representation by women specified proportions of their candidates at elections into certain offices. If the option of encouragement is chosen such parties may be rewarded with specialized funding to aide some aspects of their activities including women empowerment.
2.Special funding for female candidates-Special grants or funding can be made available to female candidates. This will ensure that financial constraints will not be an obstacle towards the pursuit of their political aspirations.
3.Increased educational opportunities-
So as to further enlighten women on the roles they can play increased attention must be paid to the education of females. More educational opportunities must be made open to girls. Practices which curtail the opportunities of girls to education such as early marriage must be abolished and where necessary criminalized.
Events around the world and even in Nigeria make it clear that Nigeria has a lot to gain from increased participation by women in politics. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi made giant strides in their efforts to reposition their countries. The latter is noted for her decision to sell off the Presidential Fleet of Aircraft which her predecessor in office had acquired. Women have excelled in the areas in which they have been entrusted. Women such as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mrs Obi Ezekwesili and the Late Prof. Dora Akunyili became household names in Nigeria owing to their sterling performances in office. In the judiciary, women continue to play a very important role in the affairs of that very important arm of government. The first female Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Maryam Mukhtar (Rtd)took commendable steps to revamp the judiciary. Women can and should be given every opportunity to do more towards nation building.