Underscoring strength of women in 2023 elections
Over the years, Nigeria’s political space has been male dominated despite women constituting a powerful electorate with millions of votes during elections.
At the just concluded Osun State governorship election that produced Senator Ademola Adeleke as winner, women voters constituted 52.76 per cent, while men had 47.24 per cent.
In the 2019 general election, women accounted for about 47.14 per cent (39,598,645 million) of the 84,004.084 million registered voters nationwide.
While the data on collected Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) for the 2019 elections was not broken down along gender lines, available 2015 presidential election voter turnout data shows that housewives were the third highest group out of the nine groups that voted.
In 2015, 3,667,076 housewives voted in the presidential election, placing next to students (4,480,708) and civil servants (4,628,433).
Similarly, housewives rank third on the list of registered voters by group in the 2019 election. They represent 14.10 per cent of the total registered voters by group, next to farmers/fishers (16.23 per cent) and students (26.57 per cent). This figure does not include the millions of women across the various other groups.
Sadly, during campaigns, the public discourse excluded serious and sustained engagement of women’s concerns except for the usual promises to “take care of our” women by politicians and their agents.
Also, spouses of presidential and governorship candidates are left with the responsibility of reaching out to the women, a task considered non-critical to campaign success.
You begin to wonder how parties chasing after votes could be dismissive of women with millions of potential votes.
In one of its stakeholder’s meetings, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) kicked against what it described as marginalisation of women in the political space, imploring political parties to give preference to the female gender during their primaries.
It underscored the need for women to break the barriers of being just aspirants to contestants, while advising women to be conscious of the electoral strength they possess, given their population.
The commission argued that the active participation of women in politics would strengthen the nation’s democratic process, pointing out that the electoral umpire had begun the process of gender inclusiveness by creating a specific department to achieve the goal.
Meanwhile, four years after a group of female parliamentarians visited President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 with a request that he considered choosing a female vice presidential candidate ahead of the 2019 presidential election, which yielded no result, a group of women in the All Progressives Congress (APC) is insisting that the position of vice president to the party’s presidential candidate should be reserved for a woman.
Hajiya Zainab Ibrahim, leader of the women, had raised the need for the selection of a woman as running mate to Bola Tinubu. She said: “We have the competence to occupy the vice-presidential seat and we have officially made requests to the relevant quarters to that effect and are only waiting for the response.
“We requested top-to-bottom arrangements in the allocation of tickets for elective positions for Nigerian women. We should be considered for the deputy governorship seat, National Assembly and even the vice presidential ticket.”
There had also been calls for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, to consider a woman as his running mate.
Senator Binta Garba was earlier projected to serve as running mate to Tinubu before he chose Senator Kashim Shettima.
Garba, a politician from the North East and also a Christian, won elections in both Kaduna and Adamawa states.
Senator Garba said she is ready and qualified to be the running mate to Tinubu. She stated that her ambition is to become the vice president of the country and if the time is now, she is ready to do the job, even as she said the APC should give the ticket to a woman.
“Tinubu, who is the party’s candidate is a Muslim from the Southwest, definitely the vice president will come from the three geopolitical zones in the North. The issue of a man-man ticket or male dominated environment when it comes to politics needs to be addressed.
“The sentiment of religion and ethnic groups, which we cannot run away from, has been a focal point of discussion. Even the constitution says for you to have your Ministers, it must have a federal colouration or federal character. If we are to build on that, then we must find someone within Northern Nigeria who will be fit to assist the President in bringing out the votes to win the forthcoming election.
“We are talking about National politics and the women cannot be neglected and the youths cannot be neglected because at the end of the day, either way it swings, definitely the women are the one to make the resolution.”
She stressed that both men and women are considered same in the Constitution. Both genders have something to bring to the table in terms of development and progress to the country.
Garba noted that a lot of things that have to be put in order require the capacity of both genders. “Before the present administration came onboard, we had the issue of insecurity, unemployment and infrastructural activities had gone down. The standard of education was nothing to write about and the health sector had collapsed. Obviously, anybody who becomes the president and his vice will not go there to chew gum. It’s not going to be business as usual, as there are urgent matters that require attention. Nigerians need to have a new Nigeria with a new focus that will bring about better life to the people. Every Nigerian is thinking ‘do we have a hope,’ definitely we do.”
On her part, a human rights lawyer, Uju Okeke, stated that the Constitution indicates that Nigerians, both men and women, are to enjoy equal advantages and privileges in all spheres of life.
“Nigerian people gave themselves a Constitution, which is the grundnorm, the foundation upon which all other laws are built. The extant one-1999 Constitution (as amended) makes this clear in section 1 wherein it emphatically stated that the Constitution is supreme and its provisions binding on all persons and authorities. It further states that Nigeria can only be governed in line with it and voids any inconsistent law.
“The preamble, which begins with ‘we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…’ has been said to mean all Nigerians whether male or female. As if to clear all doubts, section 42, which is on nondiscrimination lists a plethora of ground- particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion.”
Okeke, who is also the Executive Director, Centre for Mmadu on Human Rights (C4M) noted that this follows that Nigerian men and women are to enjoy equal advantages and privileges in all spheres of life as any violation flies in the face of the Constitution and must be struck down.
She said that one of the rights guaranteed to Nigerians is that of political participation, which simply means that any qualified Nigerian can join a political party, vote for candidate of choice as well as stand as a candidate in the election.
“It established INEC as the Electoral Management Body (EMB), while authorising the National Assembly to make electoral laws, in line with which it made the recent Electoral Act of 2022.”
She noted that despite the Constitution and the Act, women’s participation in election particularly as it concerns representation remains poor, saying that this is very worrisome considering their numerical strength, which is almost as much as men.
“INEC is empowered to issue regulations, guidelines, or manuals for the carrying on of its functions. Recognising gender equality as stipulated in the Constitution, women’s empowerment as human rights, internationally and regionally recognised and historic disadvantage of women fueled by patriarchy, it came up with INEC Gender Policy (IGP).”
She said one of the policy goals of IGP is political party gender equity, “unfortunately INEC is yet to be seen to be doing this, apparent in the fact that no political party presented a female presidential candidate or even vice.
“This flies in the face of section 15 on political objectives, which prohibits discrimination on a plethora of grounds similar to those in section 42 and insists on fostering a feeling of belonging and involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”
“It is, therefore, time for Nigerians to arise and demand that all the political parties present at the least, a female vice presidential candidate for the upcoming 2023 elections in conformity with the true spirit of our Constitution.”
Executive Director, Initiative for Women and Girls Right Advancement (IWOGRA), Nkechi Obiagbaoso-Udegbunam emphasised the need to empower women and give them an orientation that they can achieve anything they want including being the President.
“They have been made to believe that they cannot compete with men. If women can be made to understand that they can have equal chances with the men, it will go a long way. Another issue is that women don’t like supporting women in politics. The general public should be sensitised to see the need to support every woman. We can make it like a national campaign, asking every party to bring out a woman.”
She called for campaigns to pressure parties’ candidates to ensure women are picked as their running mates, saying that this will go a long way to include women in political spaces.
“Finance is also one of the issues that is restraining women from achieving their political goals. The costs of obtaining these political office forms have always posed a challenge for female politicians. This should be addressed.
“Tinubu and Obi should consider women as their running mates. If they consider women, they are already telling the public that they are gender sensitive. This will give women inclusion and a high chance in the scheme of things.
If they bring out a woman as a runner it means the woman has lots of chances. But if you bring a man as running mate, you’re automatically saying women are not capable of running political offices.
“When it comes to campaigns they go to the women, so why won’t they bring out a woman to be running mate.”
Also, the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) has urged candidates of parties to select female running mates to enhance effective female participation in governance.