By Josephine Agbonkhese
Since the return of democracy in 1999, from the office of the president, to governorship, the national and state legislatures, the gross under-representation and in fact, steady decline of women in elective offices, have remained a source of concern. Statistics will perhaps explain this better.
Representation of women in elective offices
At the National Assembly, out of the 109 seats in the Senate, women only got three in 1999; four in 2003; nine in 2007; seven in 2011 and still seven in the 2015 general elections, which represents a paltry 6.4 per cent. At the House of Representatives, out of 360 seats, women had 12 in 1999; 23 in 2003; 27 in 2007; 26 in 2011; and 22 in 2015; also a paltry 6.11 per cent.
No female has won a governorship election in Nigeria since independence. However, in 1999, there was one female out of 36 deputy governors. This increased to two in 2003 and six in 2007. The number declined to three in 2007, but increased to six in 2015. This feat in deputy governorship has however been widely criticized as less-enviable by many who believe it is typically earned by riding on the backs of men.
Most overwhelming also is that all across the states House of Assemblies where laws concerning both men and women in the country are made, the number of women representatives is mostly in single digit. In fact, in some states, there isn’t a single woman. Currently, out of the 990 legislative seats at the state houses of assembly, women occupy only 51, representing 5.2%.
Thus, it was a miracle when, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, the first-ever female speaker of the Federal House of Representatives was elected in 2007 in person of Mrs Patricia Olubunmi Etteh. A few Speakers of state Houses of Assembly had emerged before her though, and even after; the first being the Benue State House of Assembly which shattered the men-only speakership club with the election of Margaret Icheen as Speaker. Till date, the election of any woman as Speaker has remained a major celebration among womenfolk.
Thus, when with the successful end of the tenure of Hon. (Mrs.) Uche Nwaebili as Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly on June 9, 2015, the state elected another woman, Hon. (Mrs) Rita Maduagwu, as Speaker, making her the third female Speaker in the state since 2003 when Hon. (Mrs) Eucharia Azodo emerged its first female Speaker, the move was greeted with huge applause.
Remarkably, Maduagwu currently stands as the only female speaker throughout the 36 state Houses of Assemblies in the federation. It is therefore not a mystery why a failed attempt at impeaching her, made by some members of the assembly on November 13th, has continued to generate mixed concerns.
According to reports, on that fateful Tuesday, following a motion moved by a member of the house, Hon.Ikem Uzoezi, 20 of the 30 members of the legislature had tried to remove the Speaker when they individually signed an impeachment document. Uzoezie, who was then elected Speaker could, however, not mount the saddle because the clerk of the House, Mr. Pius Udo, hurriedly removed the mace and refused to swear him in. The plot was however foiled by some top officials from the executive arm who stormed the assembly.
While some quarters perceive the move to be another manifestation of sexism in politics, others say it is totally devoid of gender colourations and is purely political.
No established impeachable offence against her—Rights activist
For Lagos-based women’s rights activist, Mrs Ada Agina-Ude, Executive Director, Gender & Development Action, GADA, who hails also from Anambra State, Maduagwu’s treatment by her colleagues has more to do with what her party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA has become.
“Personally, I don’t think Maduagwu’s issue is a gender issue. It is not only in Anambra that Speakers are troubled. It’s happening in Akwa-Ibom and a couple of other states currently. We were thinking APGA had become a way of life and a symbol of integrity as far as Nigerian politics is concerned but the recently held primary election ahead of the 2019 elections proved otherwise and that is the cause of this whole problem,” said Agina-Ude who claimed to have been an APGA supporter since the emergence of the party.
She went on: “Unfortunately, at the last primaries, so many issues came up. In fact, the primaries were so monetized with very high fees for expression of interest to the extent that at the end of the day, the highest bidders were favoured. There were a lot of other complaints about the primaries. I still don’t know why and how they maneuvered Bianca Ojukwu out of the Senate she aspired for, for example.
“The lawmakers who were disappointed about the primaries are the cause of the crisis now rocking the state assembly. From my investigation, these lawmakers want to impeach the governor whom they feel should have given them return tickets and if they can remove the speaker, they will impeach the governor successfully. Uzoezi, the arrowhead of the impeachment, also lost out at the primaries. Some reports have it that the speaker herself failed at the primaries too. But so many of them were mysteriously given return tickets in spite of their defeat. In fact, APGA has become an embarrassment.”
Agina-Ude who was however sympathetic towards Maduagwu’s plight, admitted that there was no known impeachable offence against the female lawmaker till date.
“I however think it does not speak well of them to want to impeach a woman who is currently the only female Speaker in the country without any impeachable offence to hold against her. There are impeachable offences and I have actually not heard of such for now concerning her. When they come up with such offences instead of the allegations of “high-handedness” they are talking about, then I will understand.”
Maduagwu has to go— Anambra lawmaker
Hon (Mrs) Philomena Okeke, a member of the state assembly representing Nnewi South Local Government, where Maduagwu hails from, also reportedly attributed the crisis in the assembly to the manipulated primaries.
“Most of us have been members of APGA from the beginning and we also helped our party to win the last governorship election. But during the primaries, they extorted money from us and nominated the highest bidder.”
“Rita Maduagwu did not win her primary election. She lost and later they changed everything and gave her ticket. Similar things happened to most members of the Assembly and now they are fighting back. We the aggrieved aspirants are in support of the impeachment. If the powers that be insist that Rita should remain, that would be the end of APGA in Anambra State.
“It is important to note that Governor Willie Obiano is a hard working governor and we do not have anything against him. We are 25 in number that signed the impeachment on November 13th, 2018, and Maduagwu has to go due to gross incompetence. We have bills and motions that have not been looked into including executive and private member bills and motions. Since the inception of Maduagwu as Speaker of the Assembly, the House has remained comatose,” she explained.