Nigeria: International Women’s Day eclipsed as men win 96% of legislative seats

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Wednesday, 8 March 2023 13:31
File photo of Nigerian women queueing to vote. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Nigeria’s recently concluded federal legislative election has produced only three female senators and 13 representatives based on the results released so far. As the world marks the International Women’s Day, activists tell The Africa Report that Nigeria still has a long way to go with regards to gender equality, calling the latest legislative election “woeful and demoralising”.

Nigeria’s parliament has two chambers – the Senate that has 109 seats and the House of Representatives that has 360, a total of 469 seats. This means women will occupy roughly 3.2% of the seats in the 10th National Assembly, which will be inaugurated in June, while men will take the remaining 96%.

A supplementary poll will be held to fill 32 seats in the coming days. The Africa Report, however, notes that men are still projected to win at least 90% of these remaining seats as the frontline candidates in these elections are men.

The development is seen as a setback in the struggle for general equality which is one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the current National Assembly, women make up around 4.47% and hold no key positions in the federal legislature. They only occupy 45 out of 990 seats at state houses of assemblies across the 36 states.

Hopeless situation?

The Africa Report notes that several attempts to ensure that women are allowed better representation have hit a brick wall.

In February 2022, a bill for a constitutional amendment that would have ensured 111 extra seats for women at the National Assembly was rejected by the male-dominated legislature.

This was despite the lobbying by First Lady Aisha Buhari; Dame Pauline Tallen (minister of women affairs); Zainab Ahmed (minister of finance) and other female appointees of the president.

Three months earlier, a female lawmaker, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, had attempted to get her colleagues to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill.

In the previous assembly, [women] were less than 5%, but now we are less than 4%. It is demoralising.

The proposed law sought to mandate public institutions to ensure that a minimum of 35% of all offices, positions or appointments are reserved for women. It would also mandate public or private institutions to take appropriate measures to grant equal pay to persons of the same level of skill, competence and knowledge, regardless of gender.

The bill also stated that a widow must not be subjected to inhuman treatment and that she is also entitled to the custody of her children after the death of her husband, unless it is contrary to the welfare of the children.

Once more, however, the bill that seeks to guarantee women’s rights to equal opportunities as men was opposed by the male-dominated Senate.

In the last 20 years, the National Assembly has rejected at least 11 bills that would have ensured gender equality.

Last year, a Federal High Court in Abuja, ordered the Federal Government to enforce the National Gender Policy by allotting 35% of appointments in the public sector to women.

Nine civil society organisations filed the suit against the Nigerian government on 24 August 2020, seeking the implementation of the 35% Affirmative Action in appointments of women into public office. Rather than execute the judgement, the Federal Government has filed an appeal.

International Women’s Day

In an interview with The Africa Report, gender rights activist Ndi Kato, who runs the Dinidari Empowerment Foundation that focuses on youth and women empowerment, says the conversation for gender equality must not be a seasonal one, but must be part of the mainstream conversation.

“In the previous assembly, [women] were less than 5%, but now we are less than 4%. It is demoralising. I participated in the electoral process and I noticed that most women were not given tickets. It is actually the political party system that eliminates women from the race.

It is only when election season approaches that the conversation for women’s participation is heightened.

“It is really sad. Also, our approach to getting more women into politics is a fire brigade one. It is only when election season approaches that the conversation for women’s participation is heightened. We need a long-term plan,” she says.

Opeyemi Oriniowo, a gender rights activist, tells The Africa Report that the executive arm of government has to take the lead after which other facets of society will follow.

Oriniowo, the project lead at Nigeria Youth Futures Fund, says the incoming government of Bola Tinubu has already promised to ensure that 35% of appointments go to women.

He says this presents a key opportunity for women to press for the fulfilment of this promise, adding that once women hold key appointments, it will be easy for them to also run for elective offices.

“I think since the legislature has failed to ensure that women are given equality, the buck now stops with the executive to ensure that this is done through appointments. Already, Tinubu says in his manifesto that he will ensure women get 35%, so now is the time to hold him accountable,” he says.

Currently, Nigeria has no female governors and only two women – Senator Aisha Binani Ahmed of the All Progressives Congress in Adamawa and Beatrice Itubor of the Labour Party in Rivers State – have a realistic pathway to victory in Saturday’s governorship poll.

Overall, these elected officials are the exception to the rule – women will remain shut out of elective office until 2027.

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