Dynamics of participatory governance, implication for young women in Nigeria

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Happiness Ogbuehi, a mentee of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) is the winner of the 2017 #MyBoldSteps Young Women Essay Competition. In this piece she gives a young woman’s perspective of governance in Nigeria which won her the first position amongst over 500 others who participated in the essay.

It has been established that the development of any country requires the participation both men and women. There is global recognition that gender equality in political participation is a fundamental aspect of modern democratic governance. There have been a gross gender gap between men and women most especially in political representation, economic management and leadership. Sustainable democratic government relies upon the participation of all citizens in determining through elections and political processes, who govern them.

It also depends upon the equality of all citizens under the law (Sodaro, 2001:247, Anifowose, 2004:205).
According to the report of the 2006 Census, women constitute 48.78% of the national population, yet this numerical strength of women does not automatically translate to increase in women’s participation in political activities in the country (Kukah, 2003:163; Abdu, 2003; Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition Shadow Report, 2008).

The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by virtue of section 40 states that:
Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests…
Section 42of the same constitution states further that:

Any citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person be subjected to any form of discrimination.
From the foregoing, there is nothing in the constitution, which excludes the participation of women in politics in Nigeria. Hence, there is need to seek ways on how to engender a balance in the political affairs of the Nigeria state.

Pre-colonial era
Politically, in the pre-colonial era, Nigeria women were an integral part of the political set up of their communities. For instance, in pre-colonial Bornu, women played active roles in the administration of the state, complementing the roles played by male counterparts. Also, women played significant role in the political history of ancient Zaria which was founded in the first half of the 16th century by a woman called Queen Bakwa Turuku later succeeded by her daughter Queen Amina. Also in the ancient Yoruba land, where Oba ruled with the assistance of a number of women referred to as female traditional chiefs. The significant role played by prominent women such as Moremi of Ife, Emotan of Benin and Omu Okwei of Ossomari, cannot be ignored.

The Colonial period (1950) affected women adversely as they were denied the franchise. It was also in the 1950s that women in southern Nigeria were given franchise though the women’s wings of political parties possessed very little relevance. (Kolawale et al, 2013).
In post-colonial period (1960), women began to play very active roles, however women were still denied the franchise even after independence until 1979 that is the return of civilian government. As a result of this denial, prominent female politicians like Hajia Gambo Sawaba in the North could not vote and be voted for.

Though the Second Republic (1979-1983) saw a little more participation of women in politics.
The Military rule (1983) with the advent of Buhari, the first formal quota system was introduced by the Federal Government as regards the appointment of women into governance. With the directions that at least one female must be appointed as a member of the Executive Council in every state in which all states complied. There was, however, no female minister, as well as no female member of the defunct Supreme Military Council or the later Armed Forces Ruling Council.

Third republic (1990) saw few women emerge as councilors and only one woman emerged as Chairperson of a Local Government Council in the western part of the country and during the gubernatorial elections, no female governor emerged in any of the states. Only two female Deputy Governors emerged namely: Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu of Lagos sate and Mrs. Cecilia Ekpenyoong of Cross River state.

In the senatorial election held in 1992, Mrs. Kofo Bucknor Akerele was the only woman who won a seat in the senate while very few women won election into the House of Representatives. President Babangida’s Transitional Council appointed two women in January 1993. In the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan, two female ministers were appointed into the cabinet. General Abacha administration also had a number of female ministers at various times in his cabinet. During the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (June 9, 1998-May 29, 1999), there were two women in the Federal Executive Council.

The return of democracy in May 29, 1999 gave hope for a new dawn in the struggle for more participation of women in Nigeria politics. Democracy is about fair representation of all interest groups in the society and the low representation of women is a violation of the principle of democracy. Despite all efforts put in place, we are yet to meet the 30% and 35% affirmation as contained in Beijing platform for action and National Gender Policy respectively.

Four males have dominated the seat since the return of democracy in 1999 namely: President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), President Umaru Yaradua (2007-2010), President Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2011; 2011-2015) and President Muhammadu Buhari (at present).
Since the return of democracy in 1999. The Senate and House of Representative have been dominated by males which can be seen in the various elective positions (1999-2015) in the table below.

• Obnoxious socio-cultural practices such as widowhood practices, female genital mutilation, restrictive religious practices and other subjugating tendencies.
• Stereotypical constraints against women in striving to attain political and organizational leadership roles to the top.
• The traditional role of the women and the girl-child on carrying out household chores which often leaves them with little or no time for formal education and self-development.
• Patriarchal settings in African family societies.
• High rate of maternity mortality.
vi.    Non-extension of equal rights to all citizens especially women.

• Reducing extreme poverty and economic empowerment of women.
• Eliminating employment discriminatory practices against women and addressing labour issues affecting women.
• Empowerment of women in politics.
• Constitutional provisions.
• Greater enrolment of girls into educational institutions.
• Increasing women access to control over and benefit from basic assets such as land, water, forest resources and capital.
• Creating awareness of women’s rights.
• Questioning gender stereotypes.

Several efforts have been made to address the low representation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria; among such efforts are the establishment of Women Politics Empowerment Office and Nigerian Women Trust Funds, Women Lobby Group. Other efforts include the institution of an INEC gender policy, the national multi stakeholder dialogue; the initiation of several interventions to actualize affirmative action and the convening of the Nigeria Women Strategy Conference.

These efforts will improve increase the support of key stakeholders on measures to increase representation of women in decision making and further to improve awareness of new advocacy tools among stakeholders to support the campaign for increased representation of women in decision making in Nigeria.
By increasing women’s representation in the governance, it can help foster development not only by advancing women rights but also the rights of children. In national legislatures, there is  notable trend of women advancing gender and family friendly legislation. This advocacy has been seen in countries ranging from France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, to South African, Rwanda and Egypt. A number of studies from both industrialized and developed countries indicate that women in local government tend to advance social issues.

For instance in India greater women’s representation has corresponded with a more equitable distribution of community resources, including more gender-sensitive spending on programs related to health, nutrition, and education. The involvement of women in political activities underscores this correct assertion:
“Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women perspective in all levels of decision making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved”.

Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women perspective in all levels of decision making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved

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