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Roadblocks against women

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 12, 2017 in Monrovia shows Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.<br />Liberia’s ex-president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has won the Mo Ibrahim prize for African Leadership on February 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO


Since Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the first elected leader, women have come to the realisation that it is possible for them to break the male dominance in the high leadership sector.

Women such as Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May of Britain, Angela Merkel of Germany, Ameenah Guib-Fakini of Mauritius and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, to mention but a few have risen to the pinnacle of political power in their countries. The number still remains negligible because women have had formidable roadblocks placed on their path to the top by men and society generally. In Nigeria, there seems to be a sharp yearning now for participation by youths and women at the apex of political decision-making. So far five women, very well educated, are entering the ring having been smitten by the bug of presidential politics. They believe that apart from the magnetic pull of their femininity, their ideas and their multi-tasking ability will see them through to the Aso Villa in Abuja.

That is the height of optimism. But those who have been in the tough trenches of presidential politics think that the women simply want to improve their curriculum vitae, or to shore up their visibility for some inferior appointive or elective office. Others think they just want to get their fair share of available publicity at this time in the hope that their stock in life will rise. It may be uncharitable to say that the women are unserious about their pursuit or that they have no idea of what they are up against. The truth is that even though women are more in number from our often disputed population figures they have not been able to put one of their own in Aso Villa or even in any government house as an elected governor.

There is a high degree of male chauvinism which is reflected in high preference for male children, male children as next of kin, discrimination against women generally when it comes to selection for high office. This deep discrimination leaves women so prostate that they have to canvass at every forum for the granting of some 35 per cent of available high political positions to women. This is tokenism but even this is not easily available in some of the States of the Federation. These women who are essentially politically celibate are entering the big game circuit from the top based largely on optimism but optimism is often grounded in false logic.

No one is going to give women a presidential ticket simply because they are women. Women and men are competitors for power. It is not a gender affair. It is simply a power affair, the struggle for power, the ability to grab that awesome conglomerate of power residing in the Nigerian presidency by grinding the streets. Men and women are gobbling that power with their eyes; they are salivating and seeking to grab it by whatever means available. Every contestant is power-hungry and the women must be as hungry for it as the men if not hungrier. But being power-hungry is not sufficient as a ladder to the throne. They need much more.

Men are in charge of each political party’s structure and the structure is organised systematically to exclude outsiders. Women are considered outsiders. Political party meetings or caucuses are organized in the dead of the night or wee hours of the morning. Whether that arrangement is done to exclude women or not, I do not know but it discourages many decent women from venturing out late and staying out till late. It is basically during these dark hours that conspiratorial agreements are reached, plots plotted and schemes fashioned out. It is a Mafioso type of arrangement whereby the men carve out nondescript offices or roles for women, as small as their lipstick wallets. When the women punch the floor with their pencil-heeled shoes, the noise alerts the conspirators and the meeting comes to a conspiratorial halt.

So far there are five women angling for Buhari’s job. They are Professor Oluremi Sonaiya, Dr. Elishama Ideh, Barrister Eunice Atuejide, Professor Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies and Princess Oyenike Roberts. All of them are well accomplished persons.

Looking at the five women who have so far indicated interest in the big league I see no known billionaire among them. And Nigerian politics is a money guzzling enterprise. But you can say that no politician uses only his own resources for campaigns and elections. They also benefit from the generosity of donors. But donors are wisely picky. They donate money to only those candidates that appear to have high electability prospects. In that wise, it is often the two or three biggest parties that benefit from this gambling exercise. Since the women who are now aspiring do not fall into the category of the big game potential winners, the chances of their benefitting from the generosity of the political gamblers are very slim. If their chances of raising big money for campaigns are slim, their chances of success in the elections are even slimmer.

Several of the men aspiring to be president are travelling to various States, consulting State Governors and former Presidents, I am yet to see any of the women on this type of road show. Their activities seem to be restricted to the news media only but it would be premature to describe their effort as lacklustre.

In 2015, Candidate Muhammadu Buhari, as he then was, appeared in campaign venues in various regions in attires depicting his affinity with the culture of those people. In Igbo land, he wore their traditional attire with fierce-looking lions displaying their fangs. These lions apparently ate up the Igbo votes and left very few for Buhari. After the elections, President Buhari had the unpleasant duty of having to decide whether to whip or woo the Igbos. He chose the former which has not earned him plaudits from the Igbo intelligentsia or hoi-polloi.

In the campaign brochure, Buhari also appeared in a nice black dinner suit with a matching bow tie. It sat well on him because of his height and his potless belly. That suit has vanished perhaps only to reappear when he takes his 2019 show on the road. The attire drama is part of the commodification of politics today or the building of a politician into a brand.

The women just as the men will need, for success, political talent, natural charm, the gift of persuasion and a demonstrable ability for problem-solving. They will also need to turn their ferminity into a near masculine toughness that Nigerians would like to see in a leader that will grapple with gut-wrenching problems. What will the women wear? A pair of jeans and T-shirt which will depict a degree of toughness. Or a long dress that can cover their shins as well as sweep the floor like a vacuum cleaner? Or a hip-hugging jacket and low waist trousers or some colour-happy floral print that will show self-confidence and innovativeness.

These dresses are simply symbolic and may make the men to caress them with their eyes but they will add nothing to the votes cast. I suspect that the Buhari handlers wanted, by their choice of clothes he wore in the 2015 campaign to make him look like an elegant civilian, civil and refined and approachable. This was to be a stark contrast to the stern, no-nonsense mien of the military dictator of 1984. This new wardrobe, they thought, would fit perfectly the image of a born-again democrat which his minders wanted to sell to the voters.

On the contrary, the women must display toughness even in their ferminity to assure Nigerians that they can cope, if elected, with the daunting problems that face Nigeria today. The 2019 elections will not be about what clothes the contestants wear but what quality of solutions they are proffering for the intimidating problems that Buhari has been struggling with in the last three years or so.


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