The Feasibility of a Female Governor of Edo State, or a Female President of Nigeria
By Tinyan Otuomagie
We cannot expect girls who grow up in communities where leadership always has a male face, to suddenly understand that they can be leaders too. Anonymous
I will attempt to be in my best behavior, as I approach the topic of the feasibility of a female governor in Edo State, because it is clearly an important issue that needs to be discussed. As tempting as it might be, for me to be flippant or cynical, I know that doing so just might destroy my chances of ever become a governor, when I have the ambition, and why would I want to add more barriers to the already existing one of being a “WOMAN”.
Progress towards having a female governor of Edo State is about fairness and equity, which entails shifts toward a new equilibrium, where Edo women have access to more endowment, more economic opportunities, and more ways to exercise their agency and where this arrangement becomes the dominant order.
The Nigerian society is changing and women have made some gains in the political realm since our Nation’s Independence, however, progress has been slow, especially in Edo State. I make this assertion because; we made history in 1979, when we produced the first female Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Franca Afegbua, who represented the old Bendel State, during the second republic from 1979-1983, was from Bendel North Senatorial District. If we as a State can produce the first female senator, I would have expected that our progress, in the area of women in high leadership positions, would have taken the country by storm. However, that has not been the case.
From 1983, we saw no action on the female front, when it came to elective positions, until 1999, with the emergence of Hon Esohe Jacobs and Elizabeth Ighodaro, as members of the State House of assembly. In 2003, we had Hon Daisy Danjuma as Senator from Edo South, and currently, we have Hon Elizabeth Ativie, who is serving her second term as a member of the Edo State House of assembly and of course now, we have Hon Omosede Igbinadion at the federal house of representative.
In many parts of Nigeria, specifically Edo State, women are able to choose their own course in life, women have ascended to high power leadership positions in numerous fields, such as business, and law, and however, we still see a lack of equal representation in politics. Women make up 50% of the population and yet hold only a small percentage of seats in the state. Currently, the number of Edo women in elective positions, do not accurately reflect Edo State population. And in Nigeria as a whole, the data below is also not very encouraging.
Women and Political/Decision-Making Political Positions, 1999 in Nigeria. Out of a total of 11,197 available positions in 1999, women occupied 190 seats, which represents 1.9 percent. Source: United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2000
Women in Decision-Making Political Positions (Elected and Appointed), 2003 in Nigeria
Of a total of about 8,745 positions (both elective and appointive) available in 2003, women occupied 355, representing 4.3 percent which is slightly higher than that of 1999. Source: Udodinma Okoronkwo-Chukwu, 2013
Women in Decision-Making Political Positions (Elected and Appointed), 2007 in Nigeria
In 2007, a total of 8,750 positions were available out of which women occupied 368, representing about 6 percent with a slight increase when compared to 1999 and 2003, respectively. Regrettably, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Olubunmi Folake Etteh inaugurated in June 2007 was ousted in October 2007 (5 months later) owing to house renovation scandal worth 628 million Naira. Thereafter, the male folks took back the seat till date. Source: United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2009, Osazuwa A.O and Osayi F.O 2016
Women in Decision-Making Political Position (Elected and Appointed), 2011 in Nigeria
In 2011, women occupied 117 positions out of available 1608, representing 1.8 percent.
Source: Udodinma Okoronkwo-Chukwu, 2013; INEC
Women in Decision-Making Political Position (Elected and Appointed), 2015 in Nigeria
Senate seats available 109, men occupied 101 and women 8
House of representative seats available 360, men occupied 346 and women 14
Deputy Governor – 36 states, men occupy 31 and women 5
Cabinet Ministers – 39 positions, men occupy 33 and women 6.
Source: Osazuwa A.O and Osayi F.O 2016
With the above numbers, it is very clear that to have a female governor in Edo state; we need more women in leadership positions, simply because there are few of them. Increasing the number of women leaders, will improve the chances of one or two breaking through the glass ceiling and possibly becoming governor. The fact that we do not have more women leaders, is not primarily by choice but by circumstances, mechanism, practices and attitudes that systematically prevent them from taking up high leadership positions.
The common ones are that ‘Women are not interested in politics’ is a statement often heard, when the status quo, where men hold dominance at the helm of affairs, is challenged. Yet, it is the women who make up a large number of the voters that bring about change. However, women’s participation and votes does not necessarily translate to the effective creation and implementation of policies relevant to the cause of women.
Even when women do participate in politics, it is usually on the sidelines, as cheerleaders for men occupying positions of power and making the decisions on all issues. Women are usually called upon to cook, sing, dance and tie a particular colour head scarf to political rallies and other gatherings. They are actively involved in the preparations leading to the moments that truly matters, yet they remain on the fringes, sometimes never knowing or understanding the proceedings of political meetings and gatherings, where key decisions are made, thus, women are still greatly limited to fulfilling tasks that fit the traditional gender roles which, I believe is part of why this topic is important, to attempt to understand the low political participation of women and present possible solutions on the way forward.
Women are smart and have qualities that are needed to successfully occupy the office of the governor; however, we must choose a woman who can stay the course. As women, we should not just support anything in a skirt or rapper. When we find a woman occupying a position, usually through appointment, we collectively rejoice because we believe that a gain for one is a gain for all. This is so, because of the assumption that the more women we have in these spaces, the better chances we will have of addressing issues that affect women’s lives at the policy level. However, the reality has shown us different, with tokenism being the order of the day, and women in these positions usually subscribe to the views and voices of their male counterparts, who are in the majority. And if not, they are ‘yes women’ to the views of their political parties, as opposed to the many women, who supported them to get to that position, if they were elected.
The removal of the mask of women, after they have secured their positions, on the backs of other women, in the name of sisterhood, often creates disappointments and discouragements for other women and young girls, whom have had visions of one day occupying high level leadership or political positions.
Participation in electoral processes involves much more than just voting. Political participation derives from the freedom to speak out, assemble and associate; the ability to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and the opportunity to register as a candidate, to campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government.
Political participation extends beyond parties. Women can also become involved in certain aspects of the electoral process through independent actions, particularly at the local level and by joining civil society organizations, women’s networks, non-governmental organizations, and the media can all provide avenues for women’s political participation.
In Edo State, men and women have an equal right to participate fully in all aspects of the political process. In practice, however, it is often harder for women to exercise this right because there are often formidable obstacles to women’s active participation in politics
Political parties are among the most important institutions affecting women’s political participation. Currently, the leadership of most political parties directs the roles of women within the party, thus a key determinant of their prospects for political empowerment, particularly at the state level, where women are often expected to trade their bodies for a bowl of portage.
Politics has traditionally been a male domain that many women have found unwelcoming or even hostile. In our society, traditional and patriarchal values remain strong and they frown on women entering politics. In addition to dealing with unfavorable cultural views, women are often more likely than men to face practical barriers to entering politics, including financial resources, lower levels of education, less access to information, greater family responsibilities, and a deprivation of rights that has left them with fewer opportunities to acquire political experience. With the exception of the close relatives of male politicians, Edo women generally lack the political networks necessary for electoral success
1. Encourage women and young ladies to run for office by asking them!
Women need to be recruited in order to run for State and Federal positions. In order to reach the women who would make strong political leaders and close the gap in high level political participation, this recruitment should start early. Young ladies need to hear from parents, teachers, and other individuals close to them that they have the skills to become great political leaders. The idea that they can be elected to the highest office of the land should be something that is equally instilled as often in young women as it is in young men.
2. Get young women prepared by having them attend political trainings.
Women’s organizations need to help with demystifying running for office, for political newcomers and train women to pursue elective office. Young women need to be introduced to a variety of fields in the political sphere and encourage them to pursue leadership in politics.
3. Expose young women to civic leadership in their communities.
In order for young women to aspire to be political leaders, they first need to see women that have been successful in pursuing careers as elected officials. It is the responsibility of our schools and families to take young ladies to town hall meetings, political debates, and participate in other opportunities where they can visibly see women leaders in the political realm.
It is with the visibility of these strong leaders that our young women will start to envision a new option for their future. It is also by interacting with these women that possible mentoring relationships, which are critical to being successful as a politician, can be developed. Mentoring should not be just a young lady following a woman around, carrying her bag, fanning and cleaning the sweat off her head; it needs to be less self-serving and more self-sacrificial on the part of the mentor.
A deliberate action needs to be taken by all stakeholders, including women themselves, to create a path for advancement. As a society, we need to get rid of our conscious and unconscious bias against women, become more flexible in order to wholly inclusive and make leadership from the grassroots up, more gender balanced, and maybe then, we will usher in our first female governor of Edo state. As for female president of Nigeria, well, we will discuss that on a later date, as Nigeria is a complex country ruled and governed by religious and traditional laws and given the fact that a woman – Sarah Jibril, aspired to run for president in 2011 and only received one vote, mmmm, I wonder whose vote that was… .
Gender & Development Consultant
Phone: +234 (0) 8051921711 or (0) 7042397698
Skype ID: tinyanotuomagie