Barrister Zainab Marwa Abubakar is the President and Founder of Aspire Women Forum (AWF). She contested for the AMAC/Bwari Federal Constituency in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the 2019 general elections. In this interview with ENE OSANG she speaks on women participation in politics and shares her experiences in the election among others.
How would you assess women participation in politics in Nigeria especially given the experience of the 2019 general elections?
I would say there is a lack of inclusiveness and representation. The number of women in politics right now is quite abysmal. We have been clamouring for 35 per cent but we have 4.9 per cent of women in both elective and appointive positions. So, we still have a long way to go but we have started moving. We have started moving to the promised land of affirmative action.
Why do you think Nigerian women have not made expected progress towards achieving the affirmative action?
Well, I think one of the reasons is the structures of the political parties. In countries like Namibia, their political parties have gender parity of 50 per cent men, 50 per cent women in the party and that represents what you see in the society at large. If we have more women in the political parties they will push for more women in the party.
Also, I think the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill that is at the National Assembly is a very big problem but if the bill is passed into law it will do women good because all Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) will fall under that bill and it will require them to have a minimum of 35 per cent women inclusion.
You were recognised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for daring to enter the political terrain, how does that make you feel?
It feels really good. I feel humbled being recognized.
You know when you struggle and strive for an ideal, some people will think it’s utopia but all the same when you struggle and strive for it and get somewhere you feel really happy.
You contested for the House of Representative but didn’t scale through, what was the experience like and how have you been faring after the elections?
I feel good, you know when I ran for office I was eight months pregnant and the baby will be one in a few days. Although, the election was not a successful venture it was a first trial and I have learnt what I have to learn.
Also, I have unlearnt those myths I taught about politics. In all, I have really gained a lot of experience.
So, did you lose the election because you are a woman?
It was totally because am a woman or because I am young. Same thing goes as it concerns money and politics. There are so many aspects to the politics that came to play this time around. If you do some digging you will find out how the person that eventually emerged winner won.
In my constituency Amac/Bwari in FCT it was declared that there was no election but I wouldn’t say it was because of me being a woman, I would say it was a perfect storm of so many ingredients coming together.
One would have expected that as General Buba Marwa’s daughter who is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) BoT, which is the platform on which you ran for office, that you would have easily won the election?
Yes, we can’t run away from the fact that my father is the General Buba Marwa (retd.) and of course a high ranking member of the APC but that said, I do understand where that will matter if we played that card.
However, I want to tell you that based on principles of my family we did not play that card. So, I went out there and ran as any other person. I tried my best, I gave it my all but we didn’t play the card of my father being a member of APC.
So, he didn’t have much to lend to my campaign except for the fact that his resounding values passed down to me were very much extolled based on his values but not because he was a military head or a BOT member. I did very well with the name based on the values.
Most politicians believe that without a godfather one can’t win elective positions, however, you had one but you didn’t win, does it rubbish alter the perception?
Listen, I might break this table not even shake it. However, different things have different names and meaning to different people. A Godfather to you could be a mentor to me.
I don’t believe in politics without mentorship and this is one of the things keeping women down today because most of the women that get into positions of power don’t carry other women along as a matter of principles. However, I think if we must move forward, women need to actually come together, create a network of mentorship because this is what we have to do in a structured and strategized manner, not something we just do as it pleases us.
The men have done it, they have godfathers. We need godmothers and mentors to teach us the best practices in politics because these women are wealth of information carriers.
For example, I now know that Senator Binta Mase was once pregnant during an election period, if I knew what she did it would have the knowledge of how to carry myself and all of that. Like I can now share my experiences with others because I have the experience now.
But I had no knowledge about that when I was running for office. So, I went through the election period without any knowledge of how to carry myself.
So, tell us about being pregnant and contesting in an election?
I will always say I did it with ease because I am a woman and we are intrinsically strong as God has given us strength. However, at the end of my campaign I couldn’t walk 10 feet without having a contraction. So less than two weeks after the election I had to leave the country and to be delivered of the baby.
You know issues of pregnancy and bladder doesn’t go so well. I was always not uncomfortable, feeling pressed. I also always shielded my tummy with my hands you know you will go to a place and people will be everywhere and could hit you mistakenly. So, I had that protective stands all the time that it had become normal for me.
But I think as you reminded yourself that the sacrifice was for the baby, to create a better Nigeria where this baby will grow up gave me the motivation I needed during that period.
Finance is a huge challenge to women in politics; did your family fund your campaign?
Finances are an issue because there is a lot to spend money on and so you spend so much but it is not about having funders but about what you want to spend on. There is a difference.
Many politicians spend huge amounts buying cars for local government chairmen but I don’t believe in spending such money in politics. So, even if I have billions of naira I would not buy a car for a council chairman so that I would win election. I believe that this is ruining politics in Nigeria.
Money politics is a very big issue, its stopping youths, women and it’s keeping the same people in circulation and it’s all manner of bad things. So, we need to develop politics based on principles and values and shun issue of money politics.
So, do you see Nigerian women in politics barriers including that of God fatherism and money politics?
Yes, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel but we need to continue the conversation. We need a structured and well strategized mentorship program for women.
We need to be our sister’s keepers and ensure there is no more bringing down each other.
Like I said earlier, we can’t blame a woman for being petty when the system itself is a breeding ground for pettiness, but there is the need to build a system where women can be involved in governance and other leadership positions.
How do you build this system of governance?
What I mean is that we can actually open the political space through laws at the National Assembly where our bill is still lying.
On the part of political parties, they can ensure they have gender parity and be a bit equitable so things can begin to work better. I am talking about having 35 per cent of women in the main structure of political parties and in their National Working Committee (NWC) because it won’t do any harm allowing that.
We need more than just woman leader. Women can also be party chairmen and we need to take this advocacy to the grassroots, and the ward levels, to let them know that they should aspire beyond woman leader positions.
Support organisations for women politicians have been championing advocacy about aspiring higher than women leaders, how would you assess the advocacy so far?
They are doing well but it takes a lot. I would say they are trying because at the very least they are promoting and enlightening women and so enable women to know more and do more. They are doing very well but like I said it is not a simple task.
It is time for women in politics to break the norm. We need new strategies because if we keep doing the same things over and over and we continue getting same results then we need to change strategy. It means either we are not having the conversation, or we are not having the right conversations with the right people.
The conversations must continue like starting a national discourse of politics with values because the more we talk about these issues the more change is bound to come.
Northern women are known to be reserved but more women from the region are joining politics, what has changed?
What is changing is education and more enlightenment. Gone are the days when we were told to that women, particularly Muslim women were not allowed to contest for elections because of religious reasons but we are more enlightened today.
There is less of the ignorance and we have said enough is enough, we are getting really tired of the status quo and we believe if you want things to change, most of the times, you have to be the change maker. I think that’s why you are seeing this wonderful change with me and other northern sisters.
So, will you be running for office in 2023 and how are you preparing?
I keep my cards close to my chest but I would say this: we are gearing up to galvanise not only ourselves but I am bringing women through my Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Aspire Women Forum (AWF).
We would be galvanising women, creating a strong hold, enlightening them and preparing them for something, I don’t know what that is yet, but we are getting ready.
Tell us about the Aspire Women Forum, what do you do basically?
Aspire Women Forum is a female-centred NGO and our main focus is to enrich the lives of women by giving them the tools to aspire higher and equipping them with mechanism to achieve their aspiration.
We encourage women to be the best they can be by getting rid of mediocre mindset and achieving greatness. We also look at the financial inclusion of women and girls as well as motivate them to participate in politics by creating content so they don’t have to rely totally on godfathers because not everybody can have access to godfathers. So, we create content for godmothers to share their stories and for others to learn.