Buhari’s women ministers, right step to affirmative action?




The number of women ministerial nominees cleared by the National Assembly for appointment has continued to generate discourse, especially among women. CHIZOBA OGBECHE examines the Nigerian women’s quest for actualisation of the 35% affirmative action and asks if President Muhammadu Buhari has taken the right step by including seven women in his cabinet this time around.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday, July 22, 2019, forwarded a list of 43 nominees for ministerial positions to the Senate for screening with seven of the nominees bing women, representing 16.3 per cent of the total.

They are: former minister of state for science and technology in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet, Pauline Tallen, Plateau state; immediate past minister for finance, Zainab Ahmed, Kaduna state; executive secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Sharon Ikeazor, Anambra state, and federal commissioner of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Sa’adiya Umar Farouk, Zamfara state.  Others are: former Senator Gbemi Saraki, Kwara; immediate past APC national woman leader, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, Yobe state and Nigeria’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, Maryam Katagum, Bauchi state.

While the quality of women nominated by the President has been commended, it’s a different kettle of fish when it comes to the number of women nominees. This is against the background that Nigeria as a member of the United Nations and African Union is signatory to various international instruments, treaties and conventions that emphasise that member nations eliminate gender discriminations, ensure equality and human dignity to all.

The National Gender Policy which formulated a 35% Affirmative Action (AA) in Nigeria since 2006 is recognised but sadly not practised as the structures and processes to use are not in place; hence women continue to be under-represented in the three arms of government at all levels –  national, state, and local.

The President has been criticised in some quarters for failing to fulfil his promise of 35 per cent female representation on his ministerial nominee list.

The President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation during the campaigns for the 2019 presidential election promised 35 per cent participation of women in the federal cabinet. That organisation, in a document titled ‘Next Level Roadmap,’ had promised, “To achieve 35 per cent in female appointments, more youth appointment on boards, special mentoring programme in governance with young graduates working with ministers and other senior government appointees.”

Number not enough

Reacting to the number of women on the ministerial nominee list, the president of Helpline Foundation for the Needy, an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Dr. Jumai Ahmadu, said the number was low, pointing out that though there was marginal increase in the number of women when compared to the last cabinet, women representation still fell short of global best practices and below the expectations of Nigerian women.  

Ahmadu, who is one of the conveners of Africa Women’s Conference, expressed dissatisfaction over what she described as “overbearing influence of male politicians” in Nigeria.

She, therefore, urged President Buhari to take action on existing commitments and obligations with respect to the realisation of gender equality in line with Commission on the Status of Women, CSW 62 Bureau, by appointing more women as heads of agencies and parastatal.

“While we commend President Muhammadu Buhari, for the marginal progress made by scaling-up female ministerial nominees to seven when compared to four in the last cabinet, we are still not happy with the overbearing influence of male politicians in Nigeria.

“We say this with all sense of responsibility that all the registered political parties in Nigeria fell short of our expectations. From the primaries to the general elections, women were not given the opportunity to excel.

“As one of the conveners of Africa Women’s Conference in New York and Namibia, we have stressed the urgency of eliminating structural barriers and discriminatory laws and policies, gender stereotypes and negative social norms to enable rural women and girls to respond to challenges and seize opportunities for change.

“This objective can only be achieved with the appointment of more women in key positions. Sadly, this is not the case with the ministerial list before the 9th Senate. However, we are hopeful that President Buhari will right the wrongs by appointing more women as heads of key agencies and parastatal,” she stated.

She, however, commended the Senate for the respect accorded female nominees during the screening.

We’re still far below – WIPF

Similarly, the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) expressed worry over the low representation of women.

Its president, Barrister Ebere Ifendu, while speaking in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, said the number “is low and very poor.”

Ifendu said women were not happy with the nominees’ list though the few women listed were women of character and integrity who had done well for the society.

“We are saying we have many more women that should also be part of this list considering the promise the president made to women. He said he would work with the Nigerian gender policy which is about affirmative action, so what happened to the promises he made to women,” she said.

Ifendu said there was the need for the president to fulfil that promise due to the already low number of women in elected offices after the 2019 elections.

She said 2,970 women contested elections into different positions in the 2019 general elections, but only 67 got elected across the country, adding that a breakdown of the elected members shows that no woman was elected as president, vice-president or governor while only seven were elected to the Senate.

She said 12 were elected to the House of Representatives and 44 to the state assemblies with about 11 states without a female member.

Ifedu pointed out that the Nigerian women went into the elections with high expectations, but the overall level of representation of women in politics remains cause for concern as their number continued to dwindle.

16.3% not good enough – NAWOJ

Similarly, the national president, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs Ifeyinwa Omowole, said that 16.5 per cent is not good enough.

Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, she said, “the president in his campaign promised women 35 per cent, we are asking him to do more with the board appointments and appointment of chief executives of parastatal.

“He promised 35 and gave us less than 50 per cent of what he promised. He has not lived up to his promise to women who massively supported him. However, it is not too late to send few more female names to NASS for screening and appointment as ministers.”

Buhari’s first step towards 35% – NCWD

However, for the director-general, National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), Mary Ekpere-Eta Esq, the women ministerial nominees is President Buhari’s first step to fulfilling his promise to see to 35 per cent representation for women in government as contained in the National Gender Policy.

The director-general in a press statement by media consultant to the centre, Ms Kemi Yesufu, commended the president for selecting seven women among his nominees for ministers, just as hse urged Nigerian women not to despair over 16 per cent representation in the Federal Executive Council.

According to her, there are other high-ranking positions in government through which the president can bring in more qualified women into government.

“I join other stakeholders in the push for women empowerment to thank President Buhari for nominating women for positions in his cabinet. I congratulate our sisters who are nominees and state my confidence they will perform creditably in whichever ministry they are posted.

“Mr. President announced his support for 35 percent representation for women when the office of the First Lady, the NCWD and other critical stakeholders hosted the national female aspirants’ summit last year and he has commenced with keeping his words by appointing seven outstanding women as members of his cabinet.

“I call on women to exercise patience and continue to support the president. This is because he is only starting his second term and will with time make more appointments to add to the number of female heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).”

 She further stated that, “It is safe to say that with some women already heading important agencies, along with the upcoming female ministers, as well as women who will be appointed into various important positions, Mr. President will achieve 35 per cent representation before 2023.”

Ekpere-Eta called on governors to remedy the situation by appointing women as heads of parastatal, special advisers and special assistants.

ANRP’s take

However, the Abundant Nigeria Party (ANRP) has expressed disappointment over the low number of women nominated to serve as ministers.

ANRP national spokesman Mr Sesugh Akume in a media interview said only seven women out of 43 nominees was “extremely low number and disappointing.”

According to him, the number represents approximately 16.2 per cent, which is extremely low and disappointing.

Akume said ensuring gender parity in government could foster good governance and national development as women constituted half of the nation’s population.

“The number of women in the 2019 list is lower compared to 2015 when we had six females out of 36 ministers, which is 16.67 per cent. What we should be working towards is optimum gender parity by normalising 50-50 representation across genders.

“There is a direct connection between women inclusion and participation in governance and development. The advocacy for 50-50 inclusion is not just a feminist fad or playing to the gallery.

“Studies and evidence have consistently shown that more women in decision-making positions guarantee faster movement aimed at growth and sustainability of the economy and society,” he said.

The spokesperson furthers stated that with the low number of women in the National Assembly, it was expected that President Buhari would ensure 35 per cent women’s inclusion in his cabinet to fill the gap.

“The entire Senate with 109 members has only seven females in 2015; it is the same seven in 2019, and consistently only 1 female from the entire northern Nigeria.

“What are we telling the girl-child when out of 43 cabinet members, only seven are female? Does it mean that females are not good enough, or no matter how hard they try and how good they are, it will not matter, they will always be excluded on account of their gender?

“We were hoping that this negativity and anomalies will begin to be corrected when the long-awaited ministerial list is published, unfortunately, it is not to be. We have not only failed to correct the errors of the past, we have entrenched them,” he said.

‘At least, he still considered women’

The chief executive officer, Nigeria Women Trust Fund Mufuliat Fijabi, expressed disappointment over the number of women on the list. Fijabi stated that it was preferable to have had at least 35 per cent representation of women.

She said, “So far, we’ve seen a few names of women on the list and we’re not very happy, because the number of women is not what we expected from the President.

“We would have preferred a situation whereby at least 35 per cent of the list is made up of women. We like the fact that he still considered women, but we are not happy with the number. So, we hope that there will still be room for him to ensure that we have a minimum of 35 per cent.

“Sincerely, Nigeria, as we speak today, is not practising what we would describe as inclusive democracy because of the almost absence of women.”

Speaking on Buhari’s campaign promises, she said: “Yes, I would say he has broken his promise to Nigerian women on 35 per cent affirmative action. Although he hasn’t given reasons he did that, in my opinion, he didn’t fulfil his promise. He has only appointed a few women, we thank him for that; but he hasn’t fulfilled his promise to the Nigerian people.”

 INWOAD speaks

For the president Initiative for Women Accelerated Development in Africa (INWOAD) and for president Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, Ms Evelyn Onyilo it’s an unfortunate development.

Speaking to our correspondent, she said: “We have seen the president’s ministerial nomination. We have seven women out of 43 nominees. For gender parity this is below our expectations. We would have loved to have at least 17 female ministers. 

“We claim to be the giant of Africa and here we are lagging behind in gender equality and women’s representation in politics. We want the president to have a re-think in future appointments, Nigerian women worked hard during the elections and deserve to be rewarded accordingly.”

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