Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
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  • Sustainable Development

Women’s political participation as crucial for sustainable development 11 Apr 2023

Women’s active participation in political decision-making in Africa is still very low despite the global clamour for equal and effective involvement of women in politics. Rwanda is the only African country with more than 50 percent share of women in parliament. The country also has the highest percentage of women in parliament worldwide.

What is more common is under-representation of women in political spaces. In sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2021 report by the World Bank, Nigeria had the lowest percentage – 4 percent – of the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. The recently concluded 2023 elections showed further reduction in the number of women who ran for elective offices compared to 2019.

Four years ago, a total of 235 women ran for Senate seats, which made up only 12 percent of a total of 1,904 candidates. For the House of Representatives, only 533 out of a total of 4,680 candidates were women – which constituted only 11 percent. Out of about 1,067 candidates who vied for governorship positions as cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 80 were females. That was only 7.5 percent women participation. Six women were presidential candidates out of 73 while 22 women out of 74 were vice-presidential candidates.

At the end of the 2019 general election, only 62 women (seven women elected into Senate, 11 into the House of Representatives, 4 women as deputy governors and 40 in 36 states House of Assembly) out of 2,970 candidates who contested for different political offices were elected – a ridiculously low 2 percent of the female candidates.

A decline from the 13 percent share of women who participated in the 2019 general election to 10 percent in 2023 is an indication that Nigeria is taking a backward slide from the attainment of equal participation of men and women in politics. This year, there was only one female candidate for president. None of the political parties presented a female candidate for the position of vice president. Out of the 419 governorship candidates, only 25 of them, or 6 percent, were women. For the senate seats, we had 92 women out of 1,101 candidates, which represents 8 percent. For the House of Representatives, 288 women were presented out of 3,122 candidates amounting to only 9 percent women participation.

Although women groups across the country and top female politicians had been agitating for about 40 percent quota for women across all registered political parties for the 2023 general elections, nothing was done practically to effect this well informed advocacy, except for some recommendations by INEC that has little or no effect on the status quo. Before the electoral cycle fully kicked in, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the government to comply with the 35 percent affirmative action for women’s participation in politics. But in March 2022, lawmakers in the National Assembly rejected a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution to make room for more women in the National and State Houses of Assembly and other related matters.

With this trend, it is necessary to serve a reminder that Nigeria is a signatory to a number of global bodies pushing for expansion of women inclusion in politics and government, including the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, which advocated for 30 percent affirmative action. The National Gender Policy also recommends 35 percent women participation in both elective and appointive positions.

The big question is: why do we still have low representation of women in Nigerian politics despite having over 49 percent female population?

One major challenge that Nigerian women face when it comes to politics and occupying decision-making positions generally is a deeply rooted patriarchal society. The belief in male supremacy or a hierarchy of male dominance, especially in leadership, continues to undermine women’s candidature. Our political parties are structured such that when selections or nominations are to be made, the question of gender comes before qualifications, experience, or competence.

Nigeria has a long history of discrimination against women that limits their ability to take up, or gain support for, top public positions. Traditionally, women are expected to be majorly involved in household caring roles as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, etc. That is why even when we manage to have a woman vying for a political position, many are quick to judge based on her relationships, marital status, and related issues instead of her ability to perform effectively in that position. Most times, these issues are not given much attention when the candidate is a male – for religious and cultural reasons.   

Nigeria has never had a female president or vice president. The wait for the first elected female governor continues after the official results of the 2023 gubernatorial elections have been announced. There has never been a female appointee to the Office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and women have only occupied about 13.7 percent of ministerial positions since 1999. The present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 appointed seven women ministers out of a total of 43 ministers, which amounted to 16 percent women representation in the cabinet.

The incoming-administration should work towards ensuring at least 35 percent women appointment to various offices based on capacity and competence. For Nigeria to achieve its long overdue development aspirations, including political stability, sustainable democracy, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, political inclusion of marginalised groups – especially women – is vital.

To attain a befitting level of development, we must get to a point where being female does not stop a capable hand from attaining public sector leadership or getting elected into top political offices. Several Nigerian women have shown competence in various sectors locally and internationally and are doing exceptionally well. For example, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – an economist and a sustainable finance expert who twice served as Minister of Finance in Nigeria – is the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organisation. Amina Mohammed – who was once a Minister of Environment in the country – has been the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations since 2017.

Women are also making quite positive marks in private sector leadership in the country. Ibukun Awosika is a business magnate and has vast leadership and advisory experience, including heading the Board of Trustees of Women in Management, Business, and Public Service. She is also a former Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria PLC. There are so many Nigerian women performing amazingly well in various sectors that could be a great addition to the political scene. The country is certainly not short of women of strong personalities and achievements. It is, therefore, imperative to put an end to gender stereotypes in Nigerian politics.

Another major limitation to the participation of women in Nigeria’s politics is high financial barriers. Women have less access to financial support and may not be able to meet up with the huge financial demands of running for top political positions in the country. In 2021, the campaign spending benchmark for presidential candidates was increased to N5 billion from N1 billion. For governorship candidates, political parties are allowed to spend up to N1 billion which is a 400 percent increase from the previous N200 million benchmark. Senatorial candidates can now raise and legally spend up to N100 million, a 150 percent increase from the previously allowed N40 million while campaign spending by candidates vying for the House of Representatives was raised from N30 million to N70 million. As much as N30 million campaign fund is allowed for candidates running for state House of Assembly, from an initial limit of N10 million.

Before having to deal with the campaign cost, candidates have to first deal with the astronomical nomination fees of their parties. For instance, the ruling APC fixed N100 million for its presidential nomination form. Aspirants for governorship, the Senate, House of Representatives, and state House of Assembly have to pay N50 million, N20 million, N10 million, and N2 million for their nomination forms, respectively. Even then, successful candidates at the party primaries are those who are able to muster funds or attract donations to curry electoral favours of the top party officials and delegates. Such candidates also have to provide more financial support for their party.

In this scenario, most women who already suffer economic disempowerment are further politically excluded, despite their sound leadership experience and their intellectual capacity. But according to the advocacy group Women Deliver, women's participation in politics helps advance gender equality and affects both the range of policy issues that get considered and the types of solutions that are proposed.

The late UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.”

Nigerian policymakers must find ways to significantly reduce the cost of electoral processes to ensure equal representation of both men and women in political positions. Our society must accord women the needed opportunities to lead politically and attain their full potentials while helping the country in the quest to achieve sustainable development.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.