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‘We must do more to support women for elections in Nigeria’

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Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu is a former National Vice Chairman (North Central Zone) and National Women Leader of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP). She is also the National Woman Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and President, Council of African Political Parties (CAPP). In this interview with Adelowo Adebumiti, she talked about mentorship, increasing women’s participation in politics, setting up caucuses across political divide and creating a pool of experience female leaders to enrich leadership in the country.

Why are few women involved in politics in Nigeria?
Basically, I look at it this way; women need to be encouraged more. The discouragement, the bullies and the unfriendly environment of the women in the political space is not ok. In Nigeria particularly, do we have advocates of gender parity? A lot of things have to be done to put it in place. We must at this moment in time do something out of the box to support women for local elections. Many career politicians gained their first experience in governance by running for local offices. However, majority of the gender quota are only applied to national level and government’s bodies, leaving many female parliamentarians without an extensive record of governance or government service or even set of legislative skills. Implementing programmes at this level by giving women the kind of confidence required, and space to run for local offices will increase pool of experience female candidates which would eventually create avenue for quality women that would vie for national offices. These are things we must put in place.

So you think there must be efforts to groomed and mentored women at party level?
Absolutely. Supporting women for local election is one of those things. This would also reassure both potentials female candidates and even the party leaders that women could win competitive elections. In turn, veteran legislators could vie with men for open spaces. If you don’t do this, if you don’t try them, the older ones that have been in the field have been the one circulating again and again. What about grooming? What about mentorship?

Quality of leaders in the country has been of concern for so long, what do you think women can bring to the table to boost leadership in Nigeria?
I would go with diversification of the pool of female candidates. Women by nature have a unique capacity to shape lives. In legislative discussions, they can raise issues and priorities related to society’s most vulnerable members including children. Ethnicity, religion issues, developmental and even sensitive issues like ethno-religious violence we are seeing today could be debated easily when women are at the helm of affairs because we look at things differently. This is crucial not only for human rights, but for the security of the nation. In essence, the marginalise groups are represented in government. If we see things like this, society will be much stable and less likely to experience the conflicts we see today. However, this singular activity must go forward because diverse interest of female is not fully utilized because women are not fully engaged in Nigeria. That is the truth of the matter.

How can more women be engaged in politics?
This can be achieved by raising a kind of societal awareness of women leadership. When women do reach decision-making positions, especially now that there is a critical mass of female representation, their ideas and contributions are often overlooked. So you do this by educating the populace to jettison the norm that women should not be seen or heard, some kind of beliefs that women are to be kept indoor and that it is a taboo for a woman to lead. When we canvass for support and get awareness through jingles, put efforts in social media, electronic and print, this will in turn have impact on the psyche of an average Nigerian person or leader to believe in women leadership not only being a women leader, but the representation of women.

What is your advice to women in Nigeria in view of the coming general election?
There are governments, individuals or private organisations that train legislators on how to engage with the media and also how to engage in political space and not be vulnerable. The media savvy positions are important vanguard of women leadership also. Then they should also look through political parties, network with the leadership. They must also look for a woman who is like a pillar, an icon, who has stood the test of time and have the experience. Then they would discuss cross party caucuses, which should be formed irrespective of political affiliations. People Democratic Party (PDP) for 16 years have been in leadership in this country, so they have more of the women populated in leadership that have experience. So there should be cross parties or intra parties kind of caucuses which I am moving toward now.

Because when I was the national women leader of the APC, sometimes insisting on some of these things might be label as anti-party.  But now as a female leader, also having been the president of the women wing of the Council of African Political Parties, I have seen it all. I am networking across Africa especially making it more suitable now that I am the President, Council of African Political Parties. Bringing women together to form caucuses is a lot easier, but to get the buy-in of the men, we must network, push for spaces, because we can not do it all. So I think women must look out for mentorship and be mentored.

No matter the level of your education, when it comes to exposure in the political space, you must exhibit that naivety. So at this junction, you must go close to your mentor. Do not say I went, I didn’t get to see her, and she might be busy. Stick with her, get her to buy in. Get a network irrespective of tribe, religion or political parties. Women must form a common front. That is why I am happy and comfortable with the women for women moves we are seeing and I must say thank you we need more of it. And capacity building can also not be left out. Many of the above recommendations represent long-term strategies for increasing the efficacy of female politicians. However, more concrete space can be taken to immediately enhance women political leadership. And how can we do that? It has become imperative to include our female politicians in specialize training to build their capacity and knowledge around the world. Connecting them with civil society activists who are key allies in creating beneficial policies for the advancement of women’s interest must not be left behind. Women Democratic Network provide the female parliamentarians with orientation system, but most of them do not even know that, especially the new ones. So there should be radio talk and am happy you are also asking these fundamental questions because it would go a long way, especially it cultivate these women.


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