Friday, February 11, 2011


The marginalization of Nigerian women in political affairs and decision making is as old as Nigerian society and actually predates the advent of colonialism in Southern and Northern Nigeria. Indeed pre and post colonial traditional cultures and European culture were deeply rooted in patriarchy. The normative systems they independently produced were male-biased and dominated. The marginalization of women was also evident in all other spheres of life such as the family, economic, social, labour and other relationships. It is widely believed that the marginalization of women in political participation and decision making processes has been responsible for the exclusion of the interests of women in governance and development paradigms. 

For the 2011 Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) presidential election primary, Mrs Sarah Jibril was the only female presidential aspirant amongst the three presidential aspirants; Abubakar Atiku and the incumbent president being the other two. That the incumbent president floored the other two aspirants is perhaps not news and not surprising given the power of incumbency and the nature of Nigeria’s politics.  The outcome of PDP’s primaries especially with regards to the single vote cast for Mrs Sarah Jibril reaffirms the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society and our body politics. It is also a reminder of an urgent need for all stakeholders to address the immediate and remote causes of Sarah Jubril’s poor performance.  No doubt, there were quite a number of female delegates at the PDP’s presidential primaries. What agitates one’s mind is why none of them voted for Mrs Sarah Jibril? Or could it have been that one of them voted for her and she forgot to vote for herself which is most improbable in this case?  A critical mind would also ask why the Honourable Minister for Women Affairs did not vote for Mrs Sarah Jubril assuming that she was a delegate and was at the convention. If she was and she did vote, then your guess would be as good as mine.  It is pertinent to ask how the Ministry of Women Affairs can truly assist women to increase their chances of representation when it fails to work towards their nomination at the parties’ primaries. It is not enough to provide funds for women who won primaries for their political campaign as support should actually start at the party’s primaries.

Some persons are of the opinion that Mrs Sarah Jubril’s poor outing could be attributed to the fact that she did not campaign at all as the tabloids only featured President Jonathan and Atiku Abubakar, and as such the delegates might not have known that she was contesting. Consequently, the delegates must have made up their minds on whom to vote for before being aware that she was contesting. Whilst this could be a possibility, however, this reasoning may be incorrect because Mrs Sarah Jubril is a veteran presidential aspirant and should understand that she ought to campaign and woo delegates to herself at the primaries. However, if the view that she did not campaign is correct, one should not lose sight of its financial implications for Mrs Sarah Jubril as the aspirants are not similarly situated. Prima facie, she is most likely to be economically disadvantaged amongst the three aspirants.  It is also pertinent to ask if she could muster the financial muscles of the other two aspirants. This reinforces the feminization of poverty especially in the context of Nigeria’s political climate. Given the politics of money that pervade our political landscape, would Mrs Jubril have been able to outwit the other two aspirants? Your guess is as good as mine.  To paraphrase Williams Shakespeare, the fault is not in Mrs Sarah Jubril, but in a political and party system that places value on money and not programmes or agenda or manifestoes of aspirants. It is also politics of god-fatherism. The accusations and counter accusations by the campaign organizations of the other two aspirants, should ordinarily question the suitability of the candidates which should have given the delegates the choice of voting for a less controversial candidate. This was not so.  

The outcome of PDP’s presidential primaries questions one of the strategies for achieving the fifth objective of the National Gender Policy, which is mainstreaming gender into party politics at all levels, Federal, State and Local Government Areas.  Given this strategy, does it mean that PDP honoured the fifth strategy more in breach than in its observance or does it mean that even the card carrying members of PDP and the entire delegates are not aware that emphasis is now on inlcusivity of women into party politics? Are the women delegates also not supportive of their own kind and by implication sold out on efforts geared towards women’s political participation and representation in decision-making?. Doesn’t the outcome frustrate efforts also made by NGOs and donor agencies in ensuring that women count and participate in the entire political process?.

The performance of Mrs Sarah Jubril indicates that we do not have a monitoring mechanism  in place to ensure that parties put in place structures geared towards mainstreaming gender into party politics.  It brings to mind the fact that the policy strategies remain a mere academic exercise, as they have not been used to develop and implement a viable action plan.  Politically focused women NGOs should re-strategise in ensuring women’s political participation. Efforts should be made to involve stakeholders in designing and implementing programmes that would de-emphasise money politics at every level.  Activities of NGOs should extend to political parties as well.  The process might be slow, but it is doable and achievable.  As an immediate step, politically focused women NGOs in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs should examine issues arising from the poor performance of Mrs Sarah Jubril at the PDP’s presidential primaries and the performance of other women aspirants at the primaries of other parties for other elective positions. This exercise must include the women aspirants themselves as their experiences would provide a road map towards strategies that could be developed to address the immediate and root causes of poor performance at political parties primaries by women. Lessons can also be learnt from female aspirants who scaled through parties’ primaries. This is crucial given the discriminatory return of male aspirants by some parties for second term elections whilst female aspirants are dropped to be replaced by another woman.  Given our patriarchal structures, affirmative action must be put in place even at the party level to ensure that the outcome is met. This can be achieved by waiver of nomination form fees for female aspirants and by aggressive campaign to deconstruct the mindset of politicians and de-emphasising politics of money bags. There is a need to legislate and monitor the source of funding of political campaigns of aspirants.
Shortly after Dr Goodluck Jonathan assumed office as the President, the First Lady Dame (Dr) Chief Patience Jonathan launched the Women for Change Initiative which had as its focus mobilization of women towards the 2011 general elections. It encouraged women to contest for elective offices.  The extent to which the initiative partnered with political parties to ensure that female aspirants win the primaries in respect of the elective offices in their various parties leaves room for differing opinions given the outcome of PDP’s presidential primaries held on January 20, 2011. The outcome of PDP’s presidential primaries truly makes mockery of the Women for Change Initiative. PDP’s presidential primaries was a litmus test of the true motive of the First Lady’s pet project. The question that comes to mind is whether the Women for Change Initiative was aimed at getting women to vote or whether it was aimed at encouraging women to seek for elective positions?  If the latter then PDP’s presidential primaries is an indicator of the charade embarked upon by the First Lady. 

I congratulate Mrs Sarah Jubril for aspiring and venturing into a political space seen as the exclusive preserve of men.  What Mrs Sarah Jubril has started will certainly not end with her. I am confident that there are a lot of competent women who will consolidate on the doggedness of Mrs Sarah Jubril and emerge winner of the presidential elections after the order of Barak Obama in the United States. Just as nobody gave Obama any chance of winning the Democratic Party’s primaries in the United States, let alone becoming the president of America, a woman will contest and win the presidential elections in Nigeria sooner than expected. It is gratifying to note that Liberia, a sister West African country produced the first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Africa at the end of the civil war in Liberia. We certainly do have qualified women to vie for the coveted office of the president in terms of suitability, intellect and experience in governance. 

Favour Omoye Irabor
Tel: 07068459019; 08191608433

1 comment:

  1. I guess the onus lies on the women to prove critics wrong. If none of the women could cast their votes for Sarah Jubril at the PDP Presidential primaries, who then will? The First Lady and Minister of Women Affairs should have led by example. There is still more advocacy work to be done on women in 'high places' who pay lip service to all NGOs have laboured or been labouring for.


Tell us your opinion