By Florence Adaeze Abuah
One major agitation that has continued to challenge the Nigerian socio/political space is the issue of gender equality and affirmative action for the empowerment and recognition of women in the occupation and distribution of political and administrative positions in the public space.
The journey of Democracy in Nigeria achieved one more important landmark in 2011 with the successful prosecution and accomplishment of the April general elections across the country. The elections which was midwifed by Professor Attahiru Jega, as the National Chairman of the Nigeria Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), was adjudged as the most credible elections in the country, by the national and international observers, since June 12, 1993 and incidentally, since the June 12 1993.
Women Issues in Nigerian Politics
It is important to place women agitation for greater recognition and political acceptance in some kind of historical perspective. The late Mrs. Mariam Babangida was arguably the first Nigerian First Lady who really brought women issues to the front burner of Nigerian soicio/political consciousness, when her husband became Head of State in 1995. Her Better Life for Rural Women pet project was a novel initiative at a time when women were clamoring for some kind of visibility in the social space and supported by her husband General Babangida, she embarked on a colorful and superbly structured campaign across the then 19 states of country, mobilizing women and given them a voice in the male dominated environment.
Her advocacy climaxed with the Beijing Women conference in which Nigerian women for the first in the history of the country participated as an independent constituency and embraced radical ideas, which helped to shape the agitation in the coming years. She also opened up the space for the wives of the military corps to set up their own organizations as a way of ensuring that women were fully mobilized in the social structure.
Mrs Mariam Abacha then came with her pet project, the Family Support Program (FSP), when her husband, the late General Sani Abacha became Head of State and although the project still championed the cause of women advocacy, but it however located them within the collective family unit which tended, by its own terms of references, to limit the role and influence of women to domestic concerns rather than the socio/political emancipation which they craved. Mrs Abacha however gave greater visibility to the Women military corps groups, ostensibly to position them for the eventuality of her husband’s foray into politics, but it was not to be.
Mrs. Titi Abubakar came with her own Women Rights Project (WRAPPER),
when her husband General Abdulsalam Abubakar became Head of State which was rather short lived as he subsequently handed over power to a civilian administration after ten months.
President Olusegun Obasanjo came on board with his now late wife Stella Obasanjo when Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 and with democracy came the full decentralization of women advocacy with every first lady in the various states setting up their own pet projects and involving the wives of council chairmen and other top women in the states and all the local government areas of their states. Most of these women later became the vanguard of the numerous women movements in the political space and women’s wing in the major political parties.
Prior to the April 2011 general elections in Nigeria, the country’s first Lady and wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan initiated a project aimed at achieved 35 percent representation for women in all the states and the federal government. The project was called the Women for Change Initiative and its main objective was to seek the consent and endorsement of all the state governors across the 36 States of the country to ensure that they grant women the benchmark of 35 percent participation and reservation in the occupation of elected offices and in their state administrative cabinets.
She then commenced a very robust tour of the entire federation to drive her campaign, advocated vigorously across the six geo-political zones, mobilizing women for her husband’s election and even invited many female aspirants to the Presidency for strategic sessions and support incentives all to ensure that the National Gender advocacy campaign should be pursued with every seriousness in order to address the lopsidedness in the gender equation in the country.
In the process, first Lady ensured that the initiative attracted vibrant advocacy especially in the political campaigns that ushered in the 2011 April polls and it eventually became a very laudable campaign, which even the President and all the governors gave their full consent, all of which contributed tremendously to the
unprecedented participation and involvement of women in the election process in 2011.
But when the elections proper were conducted and the results announced, it became clear that the campaign for women participation in politics had not yielded the much-anticipated dividends. The outcome of the polls, according to women pressure groups and gender activists, revealed that women were yet to be fully integrated into the highly charged atmosphere of partisan and elective politics.
The Way Forward For Women In Nigeria
In spite of these good tidings however, it is on the political front that women face major obstacles and will need to become more aggressive if they are to achieve increasing percentages in political recognition and representation, especially in response to the male domination of the political space which will be relinquished by mere advocacy.
The reasons for this position by men can easily be defined. For instance, men and the Nigerian society have been known to regard women in politics with some kind of disdain bordering on immorality and most men still discourage their wives from participating in elective politics for this singular reason.
Again, politics is a very expensive and time-consuming venture and most women cannot afford the huge finances required or adjust to the man-hours and unholy timings of serious political engagements. These, coupled with the fact that most male politicians are politically suspicious of capable women and view their entrant as a slight on their manhood, instead of accepting women as partners in progress, has made the environment even more discouraging for many women who would
like to get involved in partisan politics.
But it is encouraging to note that women are becoming increasingly sensitized to the dictates of the political space and the emergence of a new, young, vibrant, educated women folk who has ensured that they would continue to pursue the goals of the gender equality and affirmative action with vigor as Nigeria’s democracy continues to grow from strength to strength.
Adaeze Abuah (LSM) is a Scholar, Social Commentator and the MD, Regal Clinic, Effurun-Warri, Delta State, Nigeria.