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Gender advocates divided over Aisha Buhari’s call for female deputies

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
30 April 2022   |   2:44 am
Gender advocates in the country are divided over the recent statement by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, calling on male presidential and governorship aspirants to choose women
Aisha Buhari

[FILES] Aisha Buhari PHOTO: Facebook/ Aisha Buhari

Gender advocates in the country are divided over the recent statement by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, calling on male presidential and governorship aspirants to choose women as their running mates in the 2023 general election.

While some saw the call as a step towards achieving gender equality and 35 per cent affirmative action, others said it was demeaning for women to be relegated to the second fiddle when they can be at the forefront of the contest.

Speaking with The Guardian, Co-convener of Feminist Womanifesto group and founding Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, described the First Lady’s call as one made out of frustration and desperation to ensure that the highly patriarchal society become sensitive to women.

“While her call undermines the desire of women to lead, it’s an appeal for sensitivity. Gender parity is a democratic right that should not be compromised. Nigeria is part of the body of nations that agreed to this principle. The elections are around the corner; it’s time for political parties to open the space to ensure that women have the same shot as them or take positive steps to ensure their participation,” she said.

Akiyode-Afolabi noted that a woman like Nkoyo Toyo, a former ambassador, was aspiring to be a governor in her state, while other women like Lola Okunu and Dorothy Akenova, among others, were vying for the seat of the president.

“I am not sure they will be happy with this clamour for deputies because they believe that they are the best for the job and don’t want to be deputies,” she said.

For the President of the Women in Politics Forum, Ebere Ifendu, the First Lady did the right thing.

“We have always advocated for twinning. It means that where a man is a lead candidate he should have a woman as a running mate, same as when a woman is a lead candidate. We have experienced this with some governors.

“Her call is timely from a concerned heart to ensure we achieve more women in governance. This is a call that will give us a breakthrough to have a female vice president. The cost of nomination forms and campaign finance is too high and it has excluded women from the presidential race, especially from the two major parties. I endorse her call and hope that this will be achieved,” she said.

On her part, Executive Director, Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), Hansatu Adegbite, said: “I believe that the First Lady made that comment in good fate with the intention of encouraging political parties to consider giving Nigerian women an opportunity to run successfully and increase the number of women that would be given actual tickets to run.”

“Unfortunately, some women running for key positions as main candidates have mixed feelings about this, because they perceived it to mean that the First Lady felt that they could not win the ticket as the primary candidate except in a deputised role, which I personally believe was not her true reasoning. While I understand where each party is coming from, I also recognise the fact that it is important to collectively support one another as women irrespective of the position being vied for.”

Adegbite added that it was time to move beyond assumptions, perceptions and misconceptions to run, vote and win in diverse ways to deliver the country from the pangs of deep despair.

“We can only achieve that through collaboration and an unflinching focus,” she said.

Also speaking, the founder and Executive Director of HEIR Women Development, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi, stressed that the First Lady was using her position to lend her voice to calls for the inclusion of women in the political space.

“While I applaud her consistency in using her voice, the reality in political parties doesn’t give women the opportunity to be chosen. However, it will be a great move if any contestant picks a woman. I would have asked for the push for more women to be governors.

“Although one would hope it plays a significant role, I just think the political parties are well aware of the abysmal numbers and have seen the peaceful campaigns across the women’s month in March,” she said.

Ola-Olaniyi added that the 35 per cent affirmative action should have been implemented, but said women needed to get a court order for its ratification.

“My opinion is that the platforms of leadership know what’s ideal and that is to include women in leadership. If and when it’s done is a totally different conversation to have. The writing on the wall for 2023 seems like the ink on the pen is drying up already,” she noted.

Founder, Women Aid Collective and the West African Women’s Rights Coalition, Prof. Joy Ezeilo added, “I think her intervention may not really gain influence from political permutations and the attitude of our political class and political parties. Notwithstanding, I salute and appreciate her courage and solidarity with women’s struggle for greater representation in elective posts.”