Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nigerian Women and National Development

Nigeria is a blessed country. One of her many natural endowments is the human capital. About half of the population is made up of female gender many of whom are of ‘timber and calibre’ having distinguished themselves in their chosen careers. In politics, women form the bulk of the electorates and campaign mobilizers. Unfortunately, when it comes to elective and appointive positions, they are never given serious considerations. There are several policies, protocols and conventions that have been put in place to address and redress the age-long marginalisation against women in politics. However, many of them are observed in breach.

The fulfilment of Nigeria to the principles of gender equity and equality in all spheres of national life remains a far cry decades after the United Nations (UN) declaration of the year 1975 as the International Year of the Woman, and 1975-1985 as the decade of the woman. The UN had adopted the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, but this was ratified in Nigeria in 1985. Nigeria’s commitment was further buttressed by the much acclaimed Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 in which the country fully participated in drafting and adopting alongside most nations of the world. Other instruments that Nigeria has been a signatory to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Even the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 42 guarantees right to freedom from discrimination.

UNIFEM now known as UN Women in a joint project with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) titled “Promoting women’s participation and access to politics and leadership in Nigeria towards and beyond 2007 summarized key issues affecting Nigerian women in politics thus: “There are many reasons why women are not involved in and are often dissuaded from entering into politics. For one, they are primarily viewed as, and expected to be the caregivers, a prescribed role that can both limit their options for employment and participation in public life. Negative stereotypes are attached to women's participation in politics. In addition, female politicians are often discriminated against and are generally not taken seriously because it is believed that they cannot perform on the same level as men, i.e. that they do not have what it takes to be a politician. The majority of women entering politics are further disadvantaged due to financial constraints. Obtaining a nomination as a political candidate requires investment of substantial amounts of money, which many women do not have and often cannot raise due to the fact that political sponsors or supporters do not perceive women as "good" candidates to back. The threat of violence is also a major concern. Women entering into politics are often subjected to psychological and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their character and morals. Additionally, the rigging of elections and cancellation of party primaries also serve to dissuade women from entering into politics. The double burden of poverty and lack of education also affect women's participation in civic life and the political process.”

Any wonder the gains of women in the 2007 elections was reversed in 2011 as there are now seven elected female senators from upward of eight (after the annulment of the election of Senator Joy Emordi) while there are now about seventeen female members of the House of Representatives from twenty-five or thereabout in 2007. In many of the State House of Assemblies there is no single elected female House member. This is sad, especially considering the enormous input women made into the success and credibility of the 2011 elections. Apart from being a significant part of the electorates, many of them join partisan politics and contested for party nominations. Among those who registered voters and conduct the elections (INEC‘s ad hoc and permanent staffs) women were many. They, likewise, were part of the party agents, observer groups, journalists, and security agents that create the enabling environment for the polls. Women were also among victims of the pre and post election crises.

Women have been soliciting for 35 per cent representation in elective and appointive positions. This is not mere verbal expression. There is a federal government National Gender Policy that backs this up. Having lost out at the April polls, the only redemptive option for government at all levels; be it federal, state or local is to honour this policy agreement with Nigerian women. There are several ways this could be done. With the inauguration of the president, governors, national as well as state parliaments over, it is hoped that President Goodluck Jonathan would honour his solemn promise to women to give them 35 per cent appointment. For a start, he should appoint a female Chief of Staff and engage minimum of 15 female ministers in his about-to-be-formed 42 member cabinet. Our honourable president should also mainstream same 35 per cent female appointment in the selection of his aides, ambassadorial positions, board chairpersons, permanent secretaries and heads of agencies. The president has done well by appointing 8 female ministers in his dissolved cabinet and increased the number of female justices of the Supreme Court to three. We only need him to do better.

State governors should also replicate the above recommendations in the formation of their cabinet and other appointments at the state level. The re-appointment of Mrs. Ifeoma Jane Nwobodo, as Chief of Staff and Mrs. Eunice Ugwu as accountant general of Enugu State by Governor Sullivan Chime is exemplary and commendable. At the National Assembly, with the election of Senate President and his deputy as well as Speaker and his deputy over without a woman; it is important that women should be elected and nominated into other positions such as the principal officers and chairpersons of standing committees of the national parliament. The election on Friday, 10 June 2011 of Hon. Monsurat Jumoke Sumonu, the only female member of Oyo State House of Assembly, as the Speaker is heart-warming.

It was also cheering news that Mrs. Chinwe Nwaebili of Ogbaru Constituency of Anambra State was elected Speaker at the inaugural sitting of the State House of Assembly on Monday, 13 June 2011 while a female deputy speaker was elected in the Adamawa State House of Assembly. It is hoped that State House of Assemblies will elect and appoint women in their Assemblies among the principal officers and committee chairpersons. As elections into the 774 Local Government Councils come up across the 36 states, party executives and members must encourage and support women politicians to be elected as chairpersons and councillors. Political parties too must ensure the emergence of 35 per cent women in their various decision making organs. A true national development is unachievable without women.