While we try to have conversations over the lack of gender parity in Nigerian politics, it is apposite at this time to look at the impact of the military incursion into Nigerian politics.
The political history of Nigeria since independence has not been remarkably different in terms of gender and even minority exclusion in governance.
There has been in a very queer order, the monopoly of the political space by the ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ which looked at closely whether during military or democratic eras seem to have been an exclusive of the ‘powerful’.
If Nigeria must make progress, there must be a deliberate, objective and balanced march towards sanitizing the political space not just to include women but to in the words of Pat Utomi, a professor of political economy and management expert who has experienced both the corporate and political fields in Nigeria and seen firsthand the values of lack of what he calls real ‘representative democracy’ given the apt analysis of the book on ‘Representative Bureaucracy’.
Prof. Utomi recalls that since 1993, all elections in Nigeria had been flawed with various degrees of malpractices and since a few people control the levers of violence, they have owned the political space. In fact he traces the tragedy of the Nigerian political space to those he refers to as the ‘Class of 1966’ in reference to the military boys that introduced coup-plotting in Nigeria and have for the better part of Nigeria’s political history determined who gets what in the political space.
He remembers that the personality of an M.K.O Abiola even with his personal flaws won the 1993 election based on his own merit and an electoral system that was fairly transparent.
An Abiola came with his personal empathetic and compassionate credentials. Utomi feels that we lost the democratic touch with the military incursions.
Nigeria since 1998 has been seized by the military mentality of self-preservation and looking back, one could see that an Ekwueme narrowly missed being president but for the grey areas where the military felt he might not really protect their interests so one of their own, former President Obasanjo was an easy choice.
In the mindset of those captors, women are not naturally central to strong thinking even though they can be around for the nominal and possibly other gender-assigned roles.
That mentality sort of drifted into the public consciousness and so there has been no real elections since 1999. It then depends on the ‘powerful’ people saying, “put that one here or there” and so logically they put their cronies who help them do deals and of course the women were no options here.
This of course affected the colour of Nigerian politics since 1999. We have reached a point where Nigeria lags behind other smaller African countries in the practice of gender inclusive democracy.
Another factor in the lack of gender parity in Nigerian politics can be traced to lack of ideologically-driven political parties. With the wobbly political party system that is so fluid that politicians oscillate repeatedly between political parties purely based on political expediencies.
In the past the political parties pre and immediately after independence had defined ideological leanings flawed as most of them might have been then.
There were some sense of value and equity given the rise of women like Margaret Ekpo, Gambo Sawaba, Funmilayo Rasome Kuti and other women at the time. They were all allowed to flourish based on uniform ideological principles.
Today, party politics seems mainly transactional. Of course in transactional party politics, there are always the victims whose fundamental participatory rights are sure to be abused, the women, the youths, the minorities etc.
To Prof. Utomi, if the parties are inclusively well structure, there ought to be mentorship programs even in universities through which young adults, women other youths are groomed for a progressive political life which then prepares them for future political participation after graduation and they equally begin to grow and contribute to the political parties. This happens in UK and the USA.
We actually do not have political parties, rather, we have ‘election machines’ an instrument merely to grab power. In Nigeria, the political parties are so fluid that supposed members can flow in and out of multiple parties in a very opportunistic manner.
So looking back to 1998 Nigeria, women seem substantially locked out of the chaotic political party system. Ironically, women form the highest voting bloc and contrary to popular belief, illiteracy does not blur the awareness of the rural women given what he experienced in 2007 on his presidential campaign trail.
He had met a market woman at Dugbe market in Ibadan and she was so moved by his concern and wondered how a whole presidential candidate could come knocking to introduce himself and his programmes when even ward councilors from her word had never done that.
She donated five hundred naira to him and prayed for his political success. That spoke volumes and debunks the idea that rural women are politically naïve.
He feels that while he concedes that the few women in politics are operating amidst a lot of challenges given that the group challenge often affects their will to perform, one can also not jettison the absence of the will and courage to stand up to push certain change of mindset.
Courage is what gave the world a Mandela, a Martin Luther King, a Rosa Parks and all the major change-drivers in world politics in ways that can make the leadership evolution processes inclusively democratic.
However, Professor Utomi believes all hopes are not lost but women must be willing to look back at the women in history that have broken the glass ceiling.
Rwanda has achieved that. Federal character is a representative bureaucracy so Nigeria must be ready to embrace representative democracy that embraces women and the minorities.
Women are not stupid but just powerless and they are abused and taken advantage of. Any organized political structure must be inclusive to be seen as fair and productive.
The National President, Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ify Omowale insists that women are concerned about the disparity and have been talking and will continue to talk about it and NAWOJ as a body has started to take actions especially as it concerns catching girls young.
The association started the “Speak Out and Speak Right” programme through which state chapters get to primary and secondary schools to encourage young girls to start to participate in leadership programmes like class captains and school prefects given that the processes at those levels are mainly democratic and free of manipulation.
They equally encourage schools to introduce political platforms that are inclusive like debates and leadership positions for all children.
To the association, catching the younger ones early enough for a better political expressiveness would be a good background to women political empowerment. She believes that women must not continue to wait for any magic wand to be wave them into inclusiveness.
Women must start to register with political parties and learn the ropes. It is not a shared booty, the men grow through the ranks from the ward to the highest level. In politics there is what is called in local parlance, “bag carrying” which is a metaphor for a seeming apprenticeship where you grow from bottom and under tutelage for higher offices.
Women must stop playing what she calls, “Election Politics” which sees them jump out during elections at times when the men must be already seated at the table in terms of doing all the groundwork.
Women must get involved in the planning of political parties and demand executive positions instead of being comfortable with the tokenism of ‘women leader’. Let women go for the highest political party posts because in a democracy it is a game of numbers and not gender.
Let women take a definite decision to be part of the party structure, flawed as it is given that women have to work a hundred times harder than the men.
The men work for their achievements. The average appointees or candidates very often work for it. Women have to be strategic. Women must not be satisfied with dancing and clapping for men. Women must walk up the ladder.
You can’t sit at home during the years preceding elections then cry marginalization when you come late in the day to seek tickets for elections. Be sure to start with the men for a race that is a marathon not a relay.
Party politics needs full involvement and women must be ready to even change the grooming structure that empowers the male child to feel leadership is a given.
The socializing at home by women at home must begin to change for the better. The Round Table Conversation is for a pervasive kind of effort that is very inclusive of all groups of the population. Good governance is a rain that falls on every roof just like bad governance.
It is a fact that countries with better gender parity in politics and the economy are higher on the development index than those who are not. The rule is not to lower the bar for any gender but to make sure that the leadership evolution processes are done on a level playing field where merit and not gender matters.
On the other hand, women must stand up and do the needful. The history of politics and power has never documented power being given on a platter except in monarchies.
The fact is that women have to change strategies given the emerging political dynamics not only in Nigeria but on a global scale. There was a time women were not allowed to vote, today women are not only voting, they are being voted for and the countries under the leadership of women have development and growth to show for that.