Wife of the President Aisha Buhari’s recent invitation of presidential candidates to an iftar dinner at the Presidential Villa has generated lots of reactions on whether or not the move was in order considering the Affirmative Action advocacy. ENE OSHABA writes.
Last week, Aisha Buhari invited leading presidential aspirants from various political parties to the State House Conference Centre for an iftar dinner.
The dinner, it was later discovered, was undercover for a campaign for the inclusion of women, as she used the meeting to appeal to the presidential candidates to pick women as their deputies for the upcoming election.
Some Nigerians have wondered that since women are angling for the 35 per cent Affirmative Action and it was thought that as the First Lady she should be able to get the government to implement that instead of begging.
A couple of weeks ago the Federal High Court delivered judgement in favour of Nigerian women on the litigation process on Affirmative Action, granting women all the reliefs sought. It is as a result of this that Nigerians are asking if the president’s wife strategy was in order or not.
In less than a year from now, the general elections will take place and women’s political participation has continued to be canvassed for, especially with their interest in occupying both elective and appointive positions.
According to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Mufuliat Fijabi, current discussions and lobbying do not include women’s presence even though the court judgement has enlightened more people on the discrimination against women.
She said, “Some people are coming together to pay and buy forms for their friends and colleagues and I’m hoping that it will work differently considering that there is a lot of campaigns and the judgement we just got has opened the eyes of many to see that women are discriminated against but as it is going I see a lot of discussions and lobbying going on and women are kind of excluded in these discussions.
“When I say lobbying at the level of political parties I mean lots of discussions and negotiations ongoing and women are not visible, in essence, you look at the people buying the presidential nomination forms, expression of interest forms, some people are coming together to pay for these forms, how many people who are coming together are women or, how many people are coming together to pay for female candidates?
“All of these are not good signals for our democracy and when you weigh the background you will see that it is worrisome so if you look at the body language and what is happening generally are not good signals.”
The money challenge
Fijabi also noted that money politics remains a huge challenge for women in the Nigerian political system, maintaining that the high cost of nomination forms is discriminatory and is denying good candidates who are genuinely ready to work towards a better Nigeria.
“Women and men are not of the same stock; women think deeply when spending and also don’t waste money when a woman is investing. The reasons men and women spend money are different in politics. If women invest in politics they look at it for a deep social factor that they want to engage in but men look at it from an economic and financial social factor that will influence their social status so the reasons why men invest is different,” the 100 Women Lobby Group coordinator, Felicia Onibon, said.
Aisha Buhari’s plea in order
Reacting to the argument, Fijabi, however, commended the wife of the president for having the women struggle at heart saying that the strategy was in order and in line with international best practices which is regarded as ‘twinning,’ used to intentionally enhance the inclusion of women in governance.
Fijabi added that Aisha’s move does not violate any principles just as she expressed worry that the recent judgement calling for the implementation of the 35% Affirmative Action may not be outrightly adhered to with the polity tensed up with the upcoming 2023 elections.
“Don’t link the court judgement on Affirmative Action to why she asked or didn’t ask; the judgement is based on the National Gender Policy (NGP) which says that there should be 35 per cent Affirmative Action in all public offices and if you see, the offices government have control over are the ones for appointive position but the first lady is asking for elective positions and you can use the 35percent action to ask for it but at the same time you cannot compel them to adhere to it.
“You have to plead to get them to do that, so the wife of the president asking male presidential candidates to take women as their vice presidential candidates is in order and in line with international best practices on what we call twinning to enhance women’s inclusion in democratic processes. So, I quite agree with the fact that asking them to consider female candidates as vice-presidential candidates is a request in order,” she said.
Her opinion matters
Similarly, Onibon disagreed that the president’s wife was begging, but was only taking advantage of the opportunity of the on-going campaigns to consider women for the vice presidential position.
The wife of the president has her own opinion and we cannot force our opinion on her; the same thing we all have our individual opinions. For me, women candidates for president is a good thing and I salute their courage because it has shown that the playing ground shouldn’t be left for men alone.
“I don’t think she is begging at all; everyone is getting her wrong. It’s another opportunity that women can cash on, and it is proper that if there is a presidential candidate who is a man, the vice should be a woman.
“I think Aisha Buhari was just looking for any opportunities we have for women to come on board and it’s a good one and that while we ask for 35 affirmative action and we get vice president position for instance if the leading party are able to bring forward a women as a VP that party should have an upper hand and I don’t see any wrong in that.”
Also, in her view, 2023 Presidential Aspirant Vivian Bello said the political gladiators are not ready to give women a level playing ground to run for any office, adding that the wife of the president obviously understands this and that is why she resorted to appeal to them to see the need to.
“Well, looking at it generally, I think the wife of the president resorted to that plea and rightly read the mood of political actors that the system is not yet ready to give women the chance to run on equal pedestal as the men.
“The First Lady rightly saw that many of the structures and processes in the system constitute potent barriers to Women in the Political space, whereas there is a standing court judgement cum order in favour of the 35% Affirmative Action in the country. This Judgement opens but so far, no attempt or even indication to implement.
“It has so far still purely remained only in our Law books. I think these are the sad factors that made the First Lady resort to begging for second fiddle for women,” she said.
In contrast, Hajiya Jamila Ahmadu, of the group, Concerned Women of Nigeria, in an open letter to Aisha Buhari described the invite of presidential candidates to a dinner as shocking and a mere out of place stunt.
The letter read in part, “Your Excellency, we are constrained to write this open letter to you having watched your activities as First Lady, especially those recently covered in both print and other media. Frankly speaking, we find your behaviour outrageous and annoying, especially in the light of the current state of the nation.
“The most shocking part, which prompted this open letter, was your latest stunt- the invitation (tantamount to summoning) to presidential aspirants to have Iftar with you in the Villa. On what grounds did you decide to do this? This is a sheer show of power and abuse of office; an office which by the way doesn’t even exist constitutionally.
“To educate you more, the Nigerian Constitution doesn’t make provision or guidelines for the First Lady’s role, duties or power. Though wholly unconstitutional we know that presidents and military dictators have had to devote huge budgets to servicing an office that never existed in our Constitution.
Since independence, first ladies have been interpreting the office according to their personalities, the state of the nation and the tone of the Government in power. The Nigerian public has no say in the first lady’s functions of her role since office is extra constitutional…”
The struggle continues
Women politicians have, however, been encouraged to keep struggling for their rights to occupy positions even when the odds are against them at all levels.
“My initial response was around the inclusion and exclusion of women and what is going on in terms of whether it is in order or not I can only link this to money politics which is making the electoral process more expensive in terms of people participation including both men and women, for some men as well who are interested in the political process its becoming also tension filled because not all of them who have the passion to serve can also afford N100 million that one of the parties pushed forward.
“What I’m saying in essence is that money politics is not the best for Nigeria’s democratic process. Politics is made difficult in terms of joining politics and vying for positions because it’s so expensive money politics will make democracy not truly democratic, but it would have excluded some who are genuinely out for service. It’s a wrong signal for our democracy and I don’t think it should continue like that,” she said.
Again, Onibon urged women to understand that the world of politics could be a game of chance and the woman vying for presidency could contest in real life but the women coming out should know that they have a lot of work to do especially when they are not contesting under the two major political parties.
She also called for massive orientation and advocacy to let people know that the political party under which a candidate is running should be strong on ground, saying it is only after this is achieved that anyone can ask for people’s votes.
“You have to know that the game you need to play is four times better than the game the incumbents have, which means you have to disabuse the minds of the people who already believe that APC and PDP are the only party.
“If you haven’t changed the mindset of people also there should be, because they know already that PDP and APC are birds of same feathers so to get people take this off their minds and begin to dance to another party a lot needs to be done and that requires lots of work through massive communication to tell people that the party will bring the needed change. Aspirants in APC or PDP who already know the game that the primaries are not easy and so women cannot fold their hands to say they cannot play the game. You have to spend like they do if you really want to make headway.”