As the 2023 general elections inches closer Nigerian women are bracing up for better performance at the polls. In this report ENE OSHABA examines the impact of the amended Electoral Act on the ambition of women in the upcoming elections.
Every election season Nigerian women, like their male counterparts, seek to occupy political positions and also work towards active political participation, but achieving this height has remained a difficult nut to crack. Regrettably, the number of women representatives in government has continued to dwindle rather than swell.
From the time Sarah Jibrin vied for the presidential position and got only one vote till date the results have not really been impressive.
Speaking on the plight of women in politics, the President of Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Barr. Ebere Ifendu, said women have explored several strategies to ensure an increase in the number of women representatives at all levels of government, regretting however that not progress have been achieved.
“Women, especially politicians have tried every means of changing the status quo to enable more women take up leadership positions in all levels of government but the results have not been very encouraging but we are not deterred and we will keep trying and hoping for the best.
“We discovered that the laws and policies on elections is a huge challenge for women both at grassroots and national levels and that is why we are advocating for amendment of some of these laws to enable women make meaningful progress,” she said.
Amended Electoral Act
The Bill for an Act to repeal the electoral Act No 5, 2020, as amended and enact the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act 2021 remains the most important document before the 9th National Assembly recently.
Women advocates have argued that the passage of the Electoral Act will serve as a reassurance that the National Assembly was prepared to play her role in the entire process of salvaging the country.
This call for the amended Electoral Act to be passed has been ongoing for a while now and gaining more momentum especially as the election year draws nearer.
However, many women advocate have expressed displeasure at some of the provisions of the amended Act, alleging that some of the clauses included were not in favour of women.
In this vein, a statement from the ministry of women affairs noted: “The Electoral Bill 2021, which aims to repeal the Electoral Act No 6 2010 and re-enact a new Act, was set to be passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. “However, the alleged final copy of the Bill has been manipulated and is at variance with the approved version of the Bill which represents citizens’ demands.”
The statement, which was signed by over 50 organisations and individuals who are members of the Feminist Womanifesto Group, noted some key provisions of the Bill which they described as particularly worrying.
“The prohibition of electronic transmission of results (Section 50(2)); the removal of INEC’s power to review results declared under duress or in contravention of electoral laws and guidelines (Section 65) are worrying.
“Also the drastic increase in the limits for campaign expenses from N1 billion to N15 billion for President; N2 million to N5 billion for Governors; N40 million to N1.5 billion for Senate, N30 million to N500 million for House of Representatives, and N10 million to N50 million for House of Assemblies (Section 88); have the potential to undermine transparency and fairness in elections,” the statement further noted.
“This affects women disproportionately for two main reasons: Women rarely get the tickets for the ‘big parties’ and often their hope lies with the smaller parties. Women typically have less financial resources than their male counterparts.
“Regarding the issue of women relying on smaller parties, the 2019 general elections provide a good illustration as there was an increase in the number of women candidates compared to 2015, but a decrease in the number of women who actually got elected,” the statement added.
CDD insists on original provision
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has made case for the original provisions of the Electoral Act 2021 be reinstated.
The centre in a recent statement noted that, “One reason for this discrepancy is that many of the women candidates were contesting on the platform of smaller parties, which meant that they had less chances of winning.”
The report added that increasing fairness and transparency in elections would reduce the disadvantage that larger parties have over smaller parties, and help to level the playing field.
“In turn, this should have an indirect effect on improving women’s chances of winning elections. In order to improve the political representation of women, we therefore demand that the original provisions of the Electoral Act 2021 be reinstated,” the centre stressed.
If the Bill scales through, expectations are that it would help women achieve their much desired positions in the polity as regards leadership, however, more lobbying still needed to be done to make the bill scale through.
Speaking to Blueprint weekend, the Executive Director of Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Afolabi Akiyode, said there was need for more collaboration with women within and outside parliament to plan on ways to achieve this aim.
“The electoral law has not really addressed the issues but the constitution review has with issues such as indigeneship, having gender in the federal character, and affirmative action.
“The Chairperson, Senate Committee of Women Affairs has a role to play to be able to bring women together to push for demands either for the electoral law or construction law.
“Women have suffered a lot with issues of indigeneship and so when they want to contest for elections people ask where you are from, whether from your husband’s state or your own state and it makes it difficult for women to contest for elections.
“Also the issue of Affirmative action because the number of women representatives is reducing by the day and we need more women representatives so when the bill scale through it will really favour women, because we need more active voices of women ” she assured.
Limiting clauses’ll box women
For the Secretary, Young Women in Politics Forum (YWIPF), Abuja Chapter, Mary Musa, if there are clauses that won’t favour women that have been included in the Bill it will affect the struggle for gender equality which has been ongoing for a long time.
“Such limiting clauses will box women into a corner and inhibit their ambitions and needs to be reviewed.
“That is not what we want because the electoral Act should give power to politics and electoral processes and if such clauses are included this will affect the output of women’s ambition come 2023 and so they need to be expunged so that women can have a level playing ground.”
Campaign margin increase as hindrance
Similarly, the WIPF President has said that if the Electoral Act was not amended in the right way and the clauses are allowed to stand it will affect women negatively.
“We have always cried out over campaign funds and challenges of finance to support women’s political participation and then they are increasing the margin of cost for one to canvass for votes it is going to be a huge hindrance for women,” she said.
“We agree there is so many conspiracies against us but we also understand that legislation is the only way we can come out of this. Before now we have submitted a proposal to the national assembly for the constitution to be amended and in that proposal we stressed the need for the electoral Act to be passed alongside other strategic bills which if achieved will enable more women representatives.
“This is why we are starting early to strategize towards women’s participation in the 2023 election. We are hoping that in 2023 we would get the first female elected governor and if such clauses are allowed we may not achieve this aim,” she stressed.
Also, the Coordinator YWIPF, who is also the PDP Female Youth Coordinator in Benue state, Member Adiguve, has maintained that the Electoral Act could take women back, adding that the it won’t address the fear of activities of hoodlums snatching ballot boxers, tempering and manipulation of electoral results when results are transmitted manually.
“The attempt to tamper with the Electoral Act to remove electronic transmission of result is therefore a malicious and unpatriotic act aimed to emasculate our electoral system, undermine our democracy and destabilise our dear country, and such cannot be condoned or justified under any guise whatsoever.”
Insisting that the implication of the Act would be like going two steps forward and 10 backwards, she said: “The Nigerian Women are saying no and we have joined our voices with Nigerians rejecting the move to outlaw the electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act. This will take women back.”