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Ahead 2023, Lagos women set agenda for more political involvement

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Two years away from the 2023 general elections, Nigerian women have realised the need to plan ahead. They have resolved to speak out if they must attain higher percentage of political participation.
 
When Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, there was slight increase in women political participation both in elective and appointive offices, but in spite of that, the national average of participation is still far below the 30 per cent affirmative declaration or the suggested 35 per cent by the National Gender Policy (NGP) in the last 21 years of democratic governance. For instance, from 1999 to 2021, the country is yet to elect a female governor in any of the 36 states or produce a female vice president not to talk of any of the major political parties electing a woman as their national chairman.
  
To get women prepared ahead of the next general elections, some women gathered under the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos on Thursday May 6 2021 to agitate for increased participation and inclusion in elective positions across the country. The programme tagged: ‘Inclusion of APC Women in Elective Positions: Lagos State as a Pacesetter’ was convened by Jumoke Okoya-Thomas, a former member of the House of Representatives who represented Lagos Island I Federal Constituency. She is also the incumbent Women Leader in Lagos APC.

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The programme harped on the need for APC to pass into law a Bill sponsored by the incumbent Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha and 85 other members seeking to Create 111 Seats for Women in the National Assembly, which had gone through the Second Reading.
 
The bill is entitled: “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to create Additional Special Seats for Women in the Federal and States Legislative Houses; and for Related Matters, aims to generate more seats for women in the Senate and the House of Representatives and to amend Sections 48, 49, 71, 77, 91 and 117 of the Constitution.
 
Authors of the Bill stated that it would solve the problem of low representation of women in legislative chambers by providing additional seats to be contested and filled by only women in both the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly as a temporary measure to promote women’s representation.
 
The authors also noted that a review of the constitutional provision would take place after four general election cycles or every 16 years for the purpose of “retaining, increasing or abolishing the temporary measure.”
  
At present only about 18 seats are held by women in the National Assembly out of 360 House of Representatives seats and 109 Senate seats. If the Bill is successfully passed into law, it would bring the Senate to a total of 146 seats and the House of Reps to a total of 434 seats.
  
Projecting on the strength of the Bill if passed into law, former Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr. Idiat Oluranti Adebule said Nigerian women have no alternative now than to come together, irrespective of their political parties affiliation, professional and ethnic background and make themselves available for elective positions.
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She extolled the exceptional character and unique managerial skills embedded in women, saying, “Women are transformational and mentors. The purpose of our gathering today is to see how we can come together for the benefits of women, not only in Lagos but in the entire Nigeria. Our inclusion in leadership and elective positions is what we must work towards and demand for. We must present ourselves for elective positions.”
 
Adebule said she carefully chose her words because when Nigeria discussed leadership “women are always at the forefront.” According to her,  “We build the homes, we shape the children; we train the leaders in all aspects of professionalism and more. The capabilities and abilities to manage are with us. Nobody will come and call us for a leadership or elective position, we have to present ourselves and fight for it.”
  
She said it is important for women to present themselves for self-development so that when the opportunity comes, they can fit into it and also have the boldness and resources to vie for positions. “It is only when we develop ourselves that we can be assured of fielding quality, resourceful and capable women,” she said.
 
Calling the attention of women especially in Ogun and Lagos states, where local government elections have been fixed to hold soon, the former Lagos deputy governor said, “It is time to local government elections, it is the duty of our women to support women participants with their votes and funds. One of the hindrances for women inclusion in politics is finance and I want to charge our convener, Okoya-Thomas that whenever we are converging here it should be for fundraising to support our women in politics.
 
“Women are in the majority when you go out to polling booths during elections. This is a good development, which we can use to our advantage. We must mentor people. A lot of people see the position of authority as a showoff but it comes with a lot of responsibilities, which women as homebuilders are prepared for. We must be ready to listen to others because no one has it all. Women are emotionally and spiritually strong. It is not just for us to converge here but we should be an inspiration and mentors to others and support the goals of other women.”
  
In her address, Okoya-Thomas decried under-representation of women in politics. She said the country may likely not experience that development it craves as long as women are sidelined in politics. To her, “We (women) must fight for elective positions, especially as the 2023 general election is approaching.”
 
She said, “This is a topic that burns deep in my heart both as a women leader of our party and a former House of Representatives member. I am glad to have Ms. Stella Okotete, who is APC Women Representative in the Caretaker Committee that has been working hard on the amendment of the Party’s Constitution on inclusion of women appropriately and of course Onyejeocha, who is currently championing women cause at the National Assembly through her Bill.”
  
She also emphasized on the coming council elections in Lagos and Ogun, saying, “there is no better time to fight for our seats at the table than this two elections ahead of us this month. There is a saying that ‘Power is not served a la carte’ so we cannot fold our arms and expect the men to hand down elective positions to us. We are therefore imploring our able, competent women of character and integrity to rise up and take on the challenge of the election. This is of course with the support of our progressive natured party and especially our Lagos State leadership that has set an example of appointing over 35 per cent of women in the cabinet.”
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The Lagos APC women leader said it is enough of giving speeches and paper presentations. “This is not about speeches, we must remain focused on brainstorming on the practical steps to achieve 30 per cent representation in elective positions across our local and state governments. Today is about open and honest conversations regarding not only the challenges that currently hinder us, but also the opportunities that can be identified to support our (women) ambitions.”
  
In her remark, Onyejeocha said there is no enabling law that supports women’s political aspirations in Nigeria. She lamented that on several occasions it was the men, who were the majority in the National Assembly and other critical elective positions that decided on issues that concern women. If men cannot give us 35 percent out of the total number of seats at the National Assembly, we have to come together, strive and mobilise ourselves to vie for elective positions. We are speaking for the generality of women out there.
 
“As we speak, many State Assemblies in Nigeria do not have women representation. There are many women and daughters out there who are qualified but there is no enabling law that supports their aspirations. When you go outside the country, you see 30 to 40 per cent representation of women in positions of authorities but here in Nigeria, we have less than five per cent.

National women representative of APC, Okotete said: “Every woman sees others as competitors. But when we shine the light the men will have no option than to join force with us. When I came in, I didn’t meet any structure in place but I told myself that I needed to build a foundation that will take us to lead, come 2023. The only way this country can get out of this challenge is to give women a position of leadership. There was poor communication. Every woman occupying a position of authority in APC must ensure that they give opportunities to women in the party.”

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