May 26, 2024

Concerns as travails of women seeking elective positions worsen

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Concerns as travails of women seeking elective positions worsen

Lovina Anthony

With the 2023 general elections over, female politicians failed to secure a good number of seats across the country.

Despite their efforts to break even, Nigerian women in politics still face the tough task of competing with their male counterparts.

Many women interested in occupying elective political positions have disturbing tales of how their efforts are frustrated.

“We were asked to pick the party nomination forms free of charge; that it was a way of encouraging women to occupy elective positions, that was what made me pick the form for a counsellor in 2011 which marked the beginning of my sorrow,” Mercy Godwin, a native of Uruan, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria narrates to our correspondent how her ordeal started in politics when she vied for the office of a councillor in Northern Uruan ward 2.

Madam Mercy popularly called “Meme” who should be in her late 50s narrated in a tremulous voice, “We (female aspirants) were later asked to pay the sum of N10,000 ($21) which I paid immediately because that was nothing to me. But the truth is that what is involved is more than giving women the free forms. We were suffocated, and discriminated against. The cost of campaigns (printing of posters, T-shirts, flyers etc) and consultations was overwhelming.

“I sold my landed properties and went ahead to get a loan from a Microfinance bank just to finance the elections because no one was willing to support me financially, I shouldered all the responsibilities alone.

“No one listened to me, neither did anyone want to know what my manifesto entailed without me first of all presenting drinks and cash, even my fellow women. I had to buy bags of rice, wrappers etc to consult them.

“I also had a problem of ‘godfather’. I did not have any godfather and I was just moving on my own thinking that I will win the election as they made me feel, anywhere I went, people were already hailing me, ‘honourable.”

Meme narrated that having spent over a million Naira just for consultations and having sleepless nights for political meetings, she did not win the elections because she was told by the men in her community that she has married outside the area and should go to her husband’s local government to vie for political office and not her father’s house.

Also, one Udeme Ekpo, who hails from Etim Ekpo said she nearly picked a nomination form of the All Progressives Congress for the 2023 elections because the cost of the form was slashed for women but when she was schooled on what was involved and other people’s experience, she had to back out as she was not getting much financial support from people.

Our correspondent reports that the turnout of women occupying elective positions at the end of every election in Nigeria since the democratic dispensation in 1999 has not been very impressive despite the critical role they play during the election process.

The low turnout, however, is not just because of their apathy to politics but has more to do with the unfavourable terrain they are left to grapple with.

Speaking with the Chairman, the Centre for Human Rights Accountability Network (CHRAN) in Akwa Ibom State, Franklyn Isong, who is also a political analyst in the state, he regretted that male politicians only seek the services of women for a token during political rallies and drop them at the end of the exercise, wait till another political year when they will be useful to them again.

According to him, “it is annoying that every campaign rally must be populated by women of different age brackets, their presence is almost indispensable, they’ve been christened ‘occasion women’, adorned with colourful uniforms and headgears singing praises during party activities.

“All the men in politics want them to grace their political outing not just because of the beauty they exude, but their voting strength and population, yet their representation in the elective capacity is nothing to write home about.”

Looking at the available records of women occupying elective or even appointive offices, the attainment of the 35% affirmative action proposed by the National Gender Policy is still a far cry in Nigeria, the 36 States inclusive.

A report by the Gender Strategy Advancement International showed that women’s political participation in Nigeria remains at 6.7% which falls below the global average of 22.5%, the African regional average of 23.4% and the West African sub-regional average of 15%.

This ranks Nigeria 181 out of 193 countries on the equality index for countries with low women representation in governance.

In the 2019 general election, women occupied a paltry 67 seats out of 1,478, with none as President, Vice President, governor or Senate president.

In the just concluded 2023 elections, out of the 109 senators-elect, only two are female and out of the 988 state Assembly seats, there are only 48 female lawmakers, representing 4.85 per cent.

In Akwa Ibom State, however, out of the 26 lawmakers-elect into the State Assembly, only four are female, which constitutes 15.4% of the population in the House, while the men are smiling home with nearly 85%.

At the National Assembly levels, that is, the Senate and House of Representative seats in the state, no female member was produced in the State, unlike in 2019 which had the incumbent senator representing Eket Senatorial district and deputy governor-elect in the state, Senator Akon Eyakenyi.

The abysmal representation of women is not unconnected with some factors.

The member representing Ukanafun state constituency in Akwa Ibom State, Hon. (Dr) Charity Ido identified finances as one of the drawbacks for females seeking elective offices in the state, adding that if a woman attempts to be close to a man, maybe for financial assistance or any form of help, people would tag her a prostitute.

She disclosed that some people will demand monetary gratification that a woman won’t be able to provide.

She said, “Campaigns are so expensive in Nigeria, women do not have money and are not financially empowered to run elections and that is a big problem.”

Meme’s story on spending huge amounts in buying drinks, wrappers, bags of rice and other items for campaigns and settlement of some groups is also geared towards the high cost of elections in the society which is a huge burden to the women.

The nomination/expression of interest form in the just concluded election was pocket-tearing for an average person as the office of the president for the All Progressives Congress was pegged at N100million ($240, 884), governorship at N50 million ($85,470), Senate at N20million ($34,188) House of Representatives N10 million ($17,094) and State Assembly at N2 million ($3,418).

For the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which is the ruling party in Akwa Ibom State, it pegged the cost of presidential form at N40 million ($68,376), governorship at N21 million ($35,897), Senate for N3.5 million ($5,982), House of Representative for N2.5 million ($4,273) State House of Assembly for N1.5 million ($2,564).

From the foregoing, a female aspirant for the House of Assembly under PDP would spend nothing less than N3.5 million ($5,982) just to run for the elections as she was entitled to get the form at a slashed rate of N750,000, while the balance would go into consultations and other logistics.

The Vice Chairman of Mkpat Enin local government of Akwa Ibom, Hon Mercy Bassey, while speaking, disclosed that some men who have the capacity to sponsor a female aspirant may be sceptical because of the fear that she will not be able to pull through owing to her gender.

On his part, Chairman, Forum of Civil Societies Organisations in the State, Dr Harry Udoh expressed worry over the way politics is being played in the state, saying that it was discouraging for women.

He noted that violence, as well as the nocturnal nature of politics, is not conducive for women to engage in.

According to him, “Imagine if women were to step out every night, they would be considered wayward.

“Politics has been so monetized; a lot of women have to depend on their spouses and not many women have the kind of money that politicians have to run for elections.

“In our political project, for you to see people, you need to buy drinks (expensive ones) goats or cows as the case may be and that is not good enough.

“This act is even excluding the people, not just women alone, but other men who have a genuine interest to serve but do not have the resources.”

However, the ceiling placed by the new Electoral Act overspending on elections had left much more to be worried about than desired.

It placed the campaign spending threshold into different categories such as Presidential election N5 billion (approximately $11 million); Governorship N1 billion ($2 million); Senate and House of Representatives N100 million ($217,000); House of Assembly N30 million ($65,000); Councillors: N5 million ($11,000).

According to Angela Nkwo, Communications Officer, Nigerian Feminist Forum, some of the provisions of the Electoral Act have placed women in a difficult position to participate in politics, even as she described such provisions as gender-based violence in a different form.

She said, “The newly approved campaign spending threshold to N5 billion for the presidential election is nothing short of gender-based violence against women in another form.”

“How many women can muster such a financial war chest after years of discrimination, violence, and lack of opportunities?” She queried.

The Chairman of CHRAN on his part noted that the lack of enabling environment has discouraged women from vying for elective offices.

He said an environment where a politician must have a godfather that will give him a push to succeed is working against women who most of the time do not have such opportunity or have boys that would engage in thuggery for them.

He said, “The environment is not friendly for women, they are seen as weaker sex and instruments used to complete figures in the mobilisation of voters, after which they are abandoned.

“The political parties are not helping matters even though they made the forms cheaper for women. The women don’t have godfathers that would give them a push, some who may want to help may be demanding for sex.

“Most political meetings are done at night and women may not be able to go through all those hurdles.

“There is a lot of intimidation, you can’t see a woman go out in hostile areas; like in 2015 Senator Helene Esuene who went to Essien Udim for her gubernatorial campaign was attacked, the thugs nearly killed her if not the efforts of the security that went with her for the campaign that whisked her away.

“How many women can withstand that? This made her not campaign in the entire district.

“Most of these godfathers administer oaths to anyone who they want to support and how many of these women are willing to take these fetish items? They are scared, that is the problem.

“Also, the problem of women is their fellow women. Even the females may not even vote for their fellow women.

“You remember Sarah Jubril had only one vote which she voted for herself while other females who were there at the presidential primary of PDP (about 4000 delegates) did not even vote for her.

“In Ebonyi State also, when Governor Dave Umahi jettisoned his presidential ambition for the President-elect during his party’s primary, he ran back to his party, APC, at the state level to pick up a senatorial ticket even though the party had already given it to a woman.

“The party turned around to employ its internal mechanism to give it to the Governor.

“The woman protested and went to court. She was chased from Abakaliki to Abuja, that is the hostile environment we are talking about.

“Look at Natasha Akpoti in Kogi State who contested against the incumbent governor.

“She was almost killed, thugs waylaid her, shot at her car, her campaigns were always marred with violence, she was almost framed up for sponsoring a known terrorist, she was gagged.

“What of Patricia Ette, she did well as a speaker up to the point the men folk ganged up against her with impeachment threats and she was finally impeached and after that, no female has ever occupied that office.

“I want to see female IGPs, female Attorney-Generals; give women the opportunity to breathe, because they have a lot to offer.

“But Akwa Ibom state is better off, at least we had and will have a female deputy governor, female deputy speaker, female commissioners, female heads of boards etc.”

In spite of all the challenges facing women in parties, some stakeholders have proffered solutions.

Speaking on this, Harry Udoh said monetization of politics should be discouraged, stressing that the spending benchmark placed by the Electoral Act is too high and should be brought down.

He said there should be the inclusion of gender quotas in the Electoral Act which would mandate political parties field women constitutionally with enshrined quotas.

Udoh also harped on the need to have a direct primary in selecting candidates and not indirect primaries which according to him gives the elite the opportunity to foist a candidate of their choice.

On his part, Isong, the Human Rights Activist said politics should be liberalised and women were given the opportunity to be State chairmen of major political parties, Senate presidents, House leaders, and Speakers.

He said there should be law reforms and better laws that would give an equal playing field to all genders, adding that a woman who picked a nomination form should not be bullied.

He recalled an incident in the state where the nude picture of one of the elected female officials was circulated online a few weeks after her victory just to cower her and force her to back out.

He said, “Our laws need reform, better laws that would give an equal playing field for all genders; if a woman is bullied, a man that is her opponent should be the number one suspect and should be disqualified immediately.

“Our laws should be amended to allow for independent candidates so that if a woman feels that she has the money, she can pick a form from INEC without going through a political party and contest because sometimes, these parties can be an obstacle.”

The Vice Chairman of Mkpat Enin, Lady Bassey on her part said there is a need for women to start supporting other women to succeed, saying that most times women in politics do not receive adequate support from fellow women.

Meanwhile, observers also said t is not just enough to slash the price of nomination/expression of interest forms for women; rather political parties should go further to sponsor the campaigns for these women so that they would not be overburdened with financial obligations.

The Chairperson, Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State, Dr Idongesit Ashameri said women should not just seek elective positions because of their gender but based on what they have to offer to the people, even as she encouraged them to leave a positive imprint in any office they occupied so as to encourage others.

“Before going to take up any elective position as a woman, have something to offer that has not been offered.

“Have a blueprint and let you be elected on the basis of your capacity and not on gender.

“If you come porous, the men folk will intimidate you. Do not ask anyone to consider you because you are a woman, rather because of what you can offer that has not been offered,” she advised

This article is part of the African Women in Media (AWiM)/Luminate Young Women in Politics Programme.

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