Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Nigeria’s democratic culture is characterized by assassinations, lawlessness, illegalities, rigging, oppression, manipulation, marginalization and violence. Other issues are male dominated party executives, labeling, money politics, and innumerable social, cultural and religious factors. These constitute barriers to women aspiring and contesting for elective positions in Nigeria. In the 2011 general elections an increased number of Nigerian women defied the odds, stepped into the murky waters, aspired and contested for party’s primaries; many lost and only few emerged as candidates and fewer of them emerged as winners. The number and percentage of women who were successful at the polls in 2011 was less than the figures in 2007 and 2003.

There was only 1 female presidential candidate in the person of Mrs Ebiti Ndok of the United National Party for Development. It is doubtful if she eventually voted given issues she had with the administration of justice system. It should be noted that Sarah Jubril was a presidential aspirant under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). She lost at the party’s primaries. For a review of Sarah Jubril’s performance visit http://baobabwomen.blogspot.com/2011/02/womens-political-participation.html; http://www.learningpartnership.org/blog/2011/03/politics-sarah-jibril/.  There were 4 female vice-presidential candidates although at the time of writing this article the writer was unable to verify if their parties also adopted President Goodluck Jonathan as a consensus candidate, suffice it to say none of the big 4 political parties had a female vice-presidential candidate.

Whereas there were 36 governorship seats in the Federation, there were 348 governorship candidates with just 13 (2.98%) being women who were all casualties at the polls. It appears some parties agreed to adopt female deputy governorship candidates as there was generally an increase in the number of governorship candidates that had women as their deputy. At least four parties in Lagos State chose women to contest as deputy governors.  In 1999, only Lagos State had a female deputy governor in the person of Mrs Kofoworola Bucknor although she was later removed and replaced by Femi Pedro, a man.  In 2003 the number of deputy female governors increased to 2 (5.5%), it increased to 6(16.6%) in 2007. In 2011 there is only 1 female deputy governor in the person of Mrs Adejoke Orelope Adefulire of Lagos State who contested under the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).  

Out of the 109 Senators that emerged, only 7 (6.4%) are women. In 2007 there were 9(8.25%) female senators; in 2003 there were 6(5.50%) female senators whilst in 1999 there were only 3(2.75%) female senators. Female performance in the House of Representatives election was no less different from that of the Senate. Out of the 360 available seats women won only 19 (5.27%). This is an abysmal drop in the light of the success recorded in 2007, 2003 and 1999 where the figures were respectively 27(7.5%), 21(5.8%) and 12(3.3%), an arithmetic progression which was not sustained in 2011.

The 2011 general elections could be described as the year of “the mighty fallen”. There was indeed the whittling down of the influence of political god fathers as their candidates performed woefully at the elections. Nevertheless, it does appear that patriarchy, religion, vote buying, ethical issues, party intrigues and absence of internal democracy of political  parties constituted underlining reasons for the poor performance of women at the polls in addition to awareness by the electorate that they have the final say on who should represent them through their ballots. The fate of Senators Gbemisola Saraki and Iyabo Obasanjo Bello  who respectively contested for governorship and senatorial elections in Kwara and Ogun States typify the genre. 

Popularity of the candidates also determined the outcome of elections and not necessarily the platform the female candidates contested election. This was the case in the senatorial election in Anambra State, a traditional stronghold of APGA where Prof Dora Akunyili of APGA lost to her strongest opponent Dr. Chris Ngige of ACN who has an incomparable profound charisma.

Vote buying which was alleged by some voters may have influenced the voting pattern of some people.  Vote buying has implications for female candidates as many of them are not similarly situated economically with their male competitors and therefore, would not be able woe voters with money.

The performance of women at the just concluded 2011 general elections calls for sober reflection and an urgent need to re-strategize for the 2015 general elections. There is urgent need for internal democracy in the political parties to whittle down male dominated party executives. There should also be examination/assessment of parties’ primaries with a view to formulating and implementing reforms that will support a more level playing field.

The establishment of a Women’s Political Institute where parties and all female aspirants and candidates would be equipped with relevant skills that underpin the positions should be desired. The outcome would inform necessary remedial steps aspirants should take to address gaps to reposition them for exigency of electoral campaigns and elective office. 

The challenges ahead will truly test the motive of the first lady’s pet project – Women for Change Initiative. Will it take a recess now that President Goodluck Jonathan has won or will it start preparing women for 2015 general elections? The short term goal of getting women to participate in 2011 general elections may have been achieved although the writer of this article does not credit the Women for Change Initiative for the increased participation of women at the general elections. This is against the backdrop that women’s groups and other individuals have been on this campaign for a longer time and have been stating 30% or something higher.  The BAOBAB led Nigerian CEDAW Coalition Shadow Report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women during its consideration of Nigeria’s 6th country periodic report in July 2008 can attest to this. Also, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights (BAOBAB) has been working over the years to ensure comprehensive political education (not just voter education) and hopefully creating a space for experienced female politicians to mentor younger women interested in vying for political positions in future. Of course, the first lady lends her voice to a worthy cause and she deserves to be commended for pegging it at 35%. 

In the light of the foregoing, this article calls for a stakeholders’ meeting to review the participation and performance of women at the just concluded 2011 general elections with a view to chartering a fruitful course for women’s participation in future elections in Nigeria. Nigerian women need more than economic empowerment for success at the polls or largesse of the first lady. Political violence hinders women’s chances at the polls and in political participation.  Institutional defects that marginalize women must be addressed.

Favour Omoye Irabor
blessedi2002@yahoo.com; firabor@baobabwomen.org


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