Last week, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) convened a strategy meeting bringing together females who contested positions to share their experiences during the elections. In this piece, ENE OSANG looks at the reactions that have continued to trail the conduct of the recently concluded general elections, especially from a gender perspective.
According to the Fund, the strategy meeting was organised to record the importance for Nigeria to begin analysis from the perspective that will enhance the entire governance process. It notes that again, as it happened in 2011 and 2015, the percentage of women who won as elected representatives greatly declined.
The chief executive officer (CEO) of the Fund, Mufuliat Fijabi, said the different structural barriers, electoral violence, voter-inducement witnessed during the entire process makes it difficult for women to win elections, adding that “this automatically excludes women from the governance process.”
Fijabi notes that “currently, Nigeria is at the lowest level in terms of countries with good percentages of women in their governance process.”
She, therefore, said it was necessary the entire process be put in spot light, and stressed the fact that “women are not well represented in Nigeria governance process either as appointed or elective representative calls for urgent attention – something needs to be done.”
“There must be a political will and a deliberate effort to ensure that women are put in strategic position and as we all know, we have very brilliant intelligent women that are Nigerians who are already doing very well globally.
“It is becoming a thing of shame to us as a nation that we have women who thrive so well successfully outside of Nigeria, but they are not there in Nigeria as contributors to the governance process because they are not out on the front burner of national development.
“Voter suppression was one of the things that emerged in the field especially for some specific candidates, mostly women. The percentage of women representatives has further dropped and this is not good for us,” she said.
It is imperative to note that the 2019 general elections have come and gone, but the analysis will continue for a while, especially from the gender perspective, and how it has affected women who were bold enough to contest as candidate.
While some women were intimidated or threatened to drop out for the men, some others suffered one form of violence or the other.
It is as a result of these challenges that the Women Fund CEO is calling for more women to be considered for appointments.
Senator Mulikat Akande-Adeola who re-contested the senatorial position said the election generally was a war field.
Akande-Adeola particularly lamented that a lot of women were short-changed by the ugly trend of vote-buying by the men, adding that false rumours were widely spread by the opposition to distract voters from their preferred candidates.
“We had a lot of women who are qualified to hold political office positions and I will be glad to see some of them appointed into offices because a lot of things went wrong at the point of collation.
“Women were short-changed and I will make case for them wherever I can. I went through a battle, I was not part of vote-buying at all because I was the preferred candidate so it would never have occurred for me to buy vote.
“There were lots of issues and false rumours were spread, especially from the opposing camp. If you have skeleton in your cupboard don’t go into politics because no matter what, it will come out,” she said.
She blamed the success of vote buying on the poor economic situation of the country especially at the grassroots, saying when people are hungry they can do anything and that is why it was easy to buy votes.
Sharing her experience, the All Progressives Party (APC) female House of Assembly candidate for Umuahia South constituency in Abia state, Phina Kanu, said vote-buying was common in the state and “this disrupted the chances of women.”
“The people wanted me because in the history of my constituency, no woman has ever contested election because they don’t have the courage, but I came out and many factors are there to stop you.”
Women as own enemies
Fijabi denied the popular saying that women were their own enemies, adding that “is just a slogan coined by the men to keep women apart.”
“We heard from one of the candidates, Christina. She had both men and women ready to vote for her but they were stopped from voting her. Women are very state tic and they occupy a level when it comes to the structure of Nigeria. This is subject to contest.
“The entire structural process of Nigeria is making it difficult for women to come out as voters. Let us not see this thing as normal because gradually it is eating deeper and before it gets really bad or worse, we need to talk about it.
“We need to deal with it as a nation and remove these barriers that make life difficult for women because they are an integral part of the Nigeria society. The female candidates shared similar experiences such as intimidation, voter inducement, rigging, threats by male competitions and so on, if this is addressed more women will win elections.”
Also, denying the notion, Senator Akanbi-Adeola said the men were women’s problem, adding that “they go to any length and engage in immoral acts just to win positions.”
“The men are the ones that have the money to engage in all kinds of things. Unless you prove to me that one woman was involved in vote buying, men do all kinds of things when it comes to election.
“I had a lot of supporters who are women and are still supporting me till today. I know where I started from and I know here I am today. It is not just enough that you say you want to come out for election. You have to make the people trust you by your actions, what you think you can do for the people and how do the people view you,” she said.
Similarly, Christina Ude, who contested for the House of Representative seat under SDP for
Orlu East, Orlu and Orlu federal constituency said she had the support of women and men and many voted for her at the polls but was not declared winner.
Ude lamented that the people never wanted the opponent who was eventually declared winner nine days after when a supplementary election was to hold.
“The results of my constituency were published in the newspapers and online as at February 23 that we will have supplementary elections.
“Nine days after our results were declared inconclusive, over night, it became conclusive. They declared a winner, because nobody wants this man who is coming for a third time. I was troubled. Nobody wants him from the local government he comes from. It took a toll on me, I didn’t know what to do at that point, but headed for the court to file the case,” she said.
Judiciary to the rescue?
In most cases when candidates believed the elections were not free and fair and their mandates taken from them, the court is the next point of action even when these cases may linger on for several years.
Some of the female candidates have headed for the courts to reclaim what they call “their stolen mandate; Nigerians can only watch things unfold and hope to see their preferred candidates win such cases.”
Expressing confidence on the evidences gathered, Senator Akande-Adeola said she was hopeful for justice at the end of the day, and gave the assurance that she “can prove this beyond doubts.”
“As women, what we couldn’t get on the field, we believe we will get it from the tribunal. We believe that we will get justice from them. We have evidences to prove our case,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ude is calling on the judiciary to let justice play out, saying many women’s mandate was taken from them.
“I am expecting to be declared the winner because I have sufficient evidence that I won that election.”
Also, the CEO said though some cases are currently at the tribunal, women feel that they have not been treated well and are hoping to get justice since the judiciary is the last hope for every Nigerian.
“The police are enough to watch over the conduct of the election and not the business of the military. Military should just provide security to ensure that there is no thuggery, no ballot snatching.
“Why should any election be inconclusive if our planning is accurate? We don’t need inconclusive elections; we are just making it more expensive for the candidates. Looking at the party system, you would realise that women don’t occupy strategic position, you only have woman as women leader. We don’t have women as party leader not party secretary.
“We are not saying that the women should seat back because the clime is not favourable rather, they should take part in electoral activities because it is our right to participate in elections.
“This meeting is preparing us ahead of 2023 that in spite of all that we have missed, I think things needs to be done differently to ensure that the interest of women is protected because there are so many issues,” she said.
For Ude, vote-buying should be condemned in the strongest terms, urging voters also to stop selling their votes which she described as their conscience.
According to her, electorates have the right to choose the right leaders but had often times sold these rights for peanuts.
“Electorates shouldn’t sell their conscience; they should not be swayed through vote-buying. Don’t be swayed to vote for another person other than who you want to vote for. Believe in what you want to do. We get the leaders that we deserve in this country. We know what to do, but we choose not to do it.
“Vote-buying and voter-inducement are the main things people are complaining about. The men need to give women a chance; younger men need to be mentored. They need a role model to look up to.
“The divide and rule is often from the men. Men keep pushing the women apart. When women Organise, they always have the men coming in to put what we call asunder; that asunder is to create that gap and we must understand this to enable us move forward.”
Fijabi stressed that women deserve the necessary support to win elections and also be considered for Senate leadership positions.
“Already, women are not there in the large number, the percentage has dropped again so, women needs to occupy strategic position in the 9th assembly so that they can put the voices of women forward and make meaningful inputs into discussions going on at the national assembly.
“If they are absent in strategic positions, it means the voices of more than half of Nigeria’s population are not carried along and this is not good for us and our democracy.
“The percentage of women who won in the just-concluded election has reduced because women faced so many challenges during the elections, including electoral violence, intimidation, militarisation of electoral environment voter’s inducement and all these needs to be shunned by Nigerians.”