Nigeria women have continued to express concerns over low representation at all tiers of government even as the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) moves to forestall impediments to women’s political growth. ENE OSANG writes
It’s been argued that no nation can develop without proper female empowerment policies going beyond platitudes and token gestures; hence Nigeria’s economic growth has remained on slow motion.
According to gender expert Ayo Akinfe, “When about 50 per cent of our population is female; it is crystal clear that until and unless we address gender matter, we will effectively be working with one hand tied behind our backs.
“Forget all these platitudes and cosmetic changes; what we need is real empowerment. The last time Nigeria did anything radical in this regard was when the General Gowon-led administration passed a decree instructing that every state in the federation would have one federal government college and one federal government girls’ college. It was an unprecedented step aimed at eliminating illiteracy among girls.”
As a result, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), which core values include addressing a range of issues which concerns women, ahead of the 2023 general elections, is taking deliberate and intentional measures to close existing gender gaps particularly to ensure political parity, fairness and equity in government at all levels.
One of such moves was the consultative meeting on developing a gender roadmap for political parties it convened last week, which brought together female politicians especially candidates at the last elections, political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), gender experts, and other stakeholders to discuss way forward in politics for women.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) NWTF, Ms. Mufuliat Fijabi, in her welcome address said the roadmap for political parties was put in place as a response to the low representation of women in politics in Nigeria.
“The roadmap will be developed by political parties to practice the theories in the parties’ constitution on gender which are rarely implemented,” she explained.
Fijabi maintained that the lack of level playing field, money politics and lack of relevant supportive constitutional provisions were key barriers to women’s political participation.
She said the long years of patriarchy has also affected the level of unity amongst women because of the erroneous belief that only men can be leaders and women cannot be part of decision making processes.
“Women should come together and network strongly ahead of all elections in Nigeria. Men should also support women to mainstream inclusion in the Democratic process,” she urged.
Women unity imperative
Speaking during the panel discussion, the former Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Iyom Josephine Anenih, stressed the need for women to unite if they must make any meaningful progress.
Anenih regretted that women’s story of not supporting each other has not changed 50 years after, saying there was the need for them to have one strong voice and group so they can be taken seriously.
“Women achieve more when they work together as a group. Women should be courageous to take action just like women in the past because every achievement from the past till now has always been when we work together,” she stressed.
“For 50 years women’s story of not supporting each other did not change. We formed a movement called women for women but unfortunately it has not achieved desired results because other women have formed many other groups too,” she added.
… Competence too
Also speaking during the panel, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Women Leader, Hajiya Salamatu Baiwa Umar, emphasised the need for women to equip themselves competently and have good character so they can represent women adequately.
“Character definition is very important, women in politics should have self esteem, and unite with other women so they can learn from each other and move forward.
“Women should also collaborate in sincerity, and the several women groups should synergise to have one strong national voice because the more women groups keep multiplying people won’t take us seriously. We should come under one umbrella and have one indivisible voice,” she urged.
Similarly, the Women Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hajiya Maria Waziri, lauded the call for parties to develop a roadmap, while stressing the political parties could come up with a bill within the party that will ensure women inclusion.
“Political parties should ensure that not only women leader position makes women part of executive but other positions too because that is where decisions are taken and in every party a lone voice cannot make any impact.
“As a woman leader you cannot do anything without support but if the parties will agree and enshrine in their constitution positions that can be voted for by only women or a consensus candidate more women will come on board,” she said.
Hajiya Waziri added that, “If women are members of party executives and other governance positions resources will be well managed and Nigeria will be better for all.”
Need for women in strategic party positions
Speaking on the “Role of Key Stakeholders in Developing Roadmap for Political Parties” the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Election and Party Monitoring, Prof. Anthonia Simbine, charged each political party at the national level to direct its state executives to ensure that particular number of positions are for women.
She urged women to also insist that their political parties have women candidates at strategic positions, adding that media should project impacts of women when they get to positions to encourage other women to join politics.
“It is important for political parties to put on the gender lenses to enable them operate a proportional representation. The commission is prepared to do anything within the law encourage the inclusion of women but we are limited in terms of nominations that are presented by political parties,” she said.
Creating saner society with women in governace
Meanwhile, the National Chairman of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) Yusuf Dantanle, harped the need for more women to be in governance, saying this will enable a saner society.
“Having women in positions would reduce criminality, corruption because they are more careful, prudent and will reduce thuggery and killings in the system because they do not have the heart for violence.
“I urge more women to participate because men have failed, we support women but they are scared of taking what belongs to them. My party and some others give women free forms to encourage them but women must support each other for this to truly work,” he stressed.
Strengthening women participation
The NWTF harped on the need for accountability in democracy, lamenting that the kind of democracy practised in Nigeria weakens women’s political participation.
Participants were unanimous that it makes it difficult for more women to have meaningful participation in the affairs of political parties. As a result, women’s participation across policy making platforms is considerably diminished if not non-existent in real terms.
Ending money politics
On her part, a senatorial aspirant in the 2019 general elections from the North-west region, Dr. Bilkisu Magoro, condemned totally the money politics system that plays out during elections, stating that most elections in Nigeria is money based and not good for democracy.
Magoro said there was the need to create more awareness within women to enable them understand and participate in politics, adding that women too must build themselves to the level that people can trust them to vote for them.
“President Mohammadu Buhari when he started campaign did not have money but the people believed in him and wanted him to be their president so they came out en mass to campaign and vote for him.
“We as women need to build that kind of platform, build trust amongst ourselves and people in our community so they can see that we can actually represent them. This might be difficult but it is a gradual process,” she said.
“We should also choose proactive women leaders that can make statement for women. A woman leader who cannot deliver a woman in her constituency or within her geo political zone should be kicked out. Money politics would always be there but women themselves must desire the position to be able to slug it out with the men,” she added.