July 5, 2023

Affirmative action and political parties’ spokespersons

Affirmative action and political parties’ spokespersons

By Kenneth Agbonkhese
In the history of Nigeria, women have always been marginalised in both appointive and elective offices of governance. This was where the affirmative action stepped in. It aims to increase opportunities for people, who, based on gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality, are underrepresented in a particular area — educational or workplace. In the extant case, it’s about giving women equal chance in Nigerian politics. However, political parties, the primary rung of politicking, do not even lead by example in this respect. And this piece is about the party-level discrimination.

When Nigerian domesticated the affirmative action in the National Gender Policy (NGP) of 2006, 35% was the slot given women in governance. Whether or not it has ever been practised is what everyone can answer. Women still form a laughable percentage of governance at all level. Let’s use the National Assembly. Of the 479 members of 9th Assembly, only 19 were women. They fared less in the 10th — 16 women. It is some gain given how far women, backed by rights groups, have come with fighting for Affirmative Action since 2006.

On April 6, women celebrated the first anniversary of their court victory on Affirmative Action. Although there was NGP in 2006, women went to court to get legal backing for implementation. The case was first heard on December 2, 2020 at the Federal High Court Abuja and 16 months after, on April 6, 2022, the hopes of Nigerian women and the next generation of girls were given a boost.

On that date, a landmark judgement upheld and mandated the implementation of the provisions of the NGP on 35% affirmative action in appointive positions. It means this ratio is a right for them. But what do we see? You answer brings us back to what the political parties are doing. But first, are there women that have made marks? Thousands. Across sectors.

Having long clamoured for the bridging of the gap that had been apparent between men and women, the ‘weaker vessels’ have made their mark in positions that have been given them as a means to silence them, or to fulfil all righteousness, or to fill slots. We know these women that have held it down in the midst of egoistic male folk domains. Whoever does not know Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, late Dora Akunyili and Abike Dabiri-Erewa does not know anything. And only such a person would stay seated when any of these ladies entered a room.

To drive home the point: if Nigerians had accepted Okonjo-Iweala’s fiscal policies when she was in government years ago, the economy won’t be on its knees today. Akunyili cleansed the drug sub-sector like a field marshal and Dabiri-Erewa is, against the odds often stacked against her, focused on looking out for Nigerians across the globe.

The likes of these amazons are making their marks in all sectors. Pushing against every pushback and and deliberate roadblocks. Many have fallen and given up but some are still standing, while many are waiting to grab for a chance to fly. It’s begin to look like women’s efficiency is the singular threat the system abhors. Because women bring their motherly nature into perfecting, or doing their best without excuse in, whatever duties they take on. So why should political parties, the building blocks of policies, marginalising women by accident or design? Despite women’s obvious abilities, giving equal opportunities is still being discussed. Gender balance is still an issue. Look at all the political parties; the women are just holding gratuitous offices. Except one!

The African Democratic Congress (ADC) is experiencing a rebirth of sought after the near implosion that threatened it during the general elections. The party is already making a statement as a constructive opposition, wooing Nigerians with the gospel of inclusion and diversity, and already preparing for 2027 election. At the heart of this projection of a cohesive party is Mabel Oboh. If ADC’s pro-masses philosophy is taking shape in the minds of Nigerians, unlike the deodorised aroma of the other parties, it is partly due to the motherly and tenacious Mabel Oboh with a breath of fresh air. She is ADC’s National Publicity Secretary. Before then she was National Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Let’s not forget that the media are tools with which political advertising is made very effective.

The media are powerful instruments of social control and social engineering, and an instrument of promoting and preserving ideologies. The interface between parties and the people cannot be left in the hands of those whose primary objective is to compete for who shouts the loudest and defends the master best instead of projecting the whole essence of governance that the party should embody. The major political parties in Nigeria fall into this group.

Currently, the publicity of these parties are manned by, well, men. Felix Morka, is the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); Debo Ologunagba, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Obiora Ifoh, the Labour Party (LP). The list goes on. Only ADC is standing out with Mabel Oboh. She is a veteran broadcaster, holds a degree in Criminology and was the party’s 2020 governorship candidate in Edo.

For the conclusion of this matter, this kind of ADC fresh air can manifest in ministries, departments and agencies if this country respect the Affirmative Action it domesticated in 2006 and a court upheld 14 months ago. A party like ADC will continue to build on what it has started. And 2027 is not as far as many think. Meanwhile, political parties, governments and organisations must start giving the many Okonjo-Iwealas, Akunyilis, Sola David-Borhas, Abike-Dabiris, Mabel Obohs, Aisha Yusufus, Zainab Ahmeds out there a chance to clean the Aegean Stable.

Agbonkhese wrote in from Lagos