It’s the International Women’s Day. March 8 of every year is set aside to celebrate the exploits of women in various sectors of society. The day also provides an opportunity to have honest conversations about the barriers holding women back in their quest to attain positions of authority.
Speaking of positions of authority, the low number of women in elected offices in Nigeria suggests the Nigerian political space is not favourable to women. While Nigerian women have made gains over the years, the gains are gradually eroding.
Nothing paints this gloomy picture better than the recently concluded national assembly elections. The election returned only three female senators—a sharp decrease compared to the number of women in the ninth national assembly. The sharp decrease continues a trend of backwardness in the number of elected senators.
The seventh national assembly (2011-2015) comprised eight female senators. The eighth national assembly (2015-2019) witnessed a slight decrease in that number as only seven senators were elected. The ninth national assembly (2019-2023) ushered in slight progress in terms of the number of elected senators. Eight senators were elected to sit in the upper legislative chamber in 2019.
Unfortunately, the number returned to seven following the demise of Rose Oko, the senator for Cross River North, in March 2020. As of the time of writing this story, there were seven serving female senators in the Nigerian senate.
2023 senatorial election
People who expected the number to grow in 2023 were left disappointed as only three women won their senatorial bids for the tenth assembly (2023-2027). The three female senators-elect are Ipalibo Banigo (Rivers West), Idiat Adebule (Lagos West), and Ireti Kingibe (FCT).
Interestingly, all three women are new members; they have never been in the Senate. None of all current female senators will return to the Senate when a new session commences in June 2023.
What happened to the seven senators in the ninth assembly?
Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos) is retiring from the Senate after her husband, Bola Tinubu, won the race to be Nigeria’s president. Stella Oduah (Anambra), Uche Ekwunife (Anambra), and Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti) lost their reelection battles. As for Senator Betty Apiafi (Rivers), she did not win her party’s nomination to return to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senators Aishatu Dahiru (Adamawa) and Eyakenyi Akon (Akwa Ibom) are vying to be their states’ next governor and deputy governor, respectively, in the March 11 governorship election.
The erosion of women’s gains in politics
The reduction in the number of elected senators is a pointer to the erosion of women’s gains in the Nigerian political space. Efforts to enhance women’s participation have sadly not paid off.
Despite the chance for Nigeria to have its first elected female governor on Saturday, decreased women’s participation in elective politics is a concerning trend that requires utmost attention of stakeholders.
Challenges and solutions to low women’s participation in politics
Curiously, women saturate grassroots politics, but they always seem to be alienated when it comes to getting elected to political offices. Observers have often blamed women’s disinterest in politics on misogynistic attacks that they face when they dare contest in elections. These attacks have discouraged more women from seeking elective offices.
In October 2022, Senator Apiafi (Rivers West), the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs, revealed that she received death threats from unknown persons and fellow politicians, who called her on the phone to intimidate her ahead of the forthcoming elections in 2023.
Senator Apiafi told journalists that insecurity and the country’s poor economy pose the greatest hurdles to the women running for elective offices. She was and is still right.
Nathasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, the PDP candidate for the Kogi Central Senatorial District election, often alleged that Governor Yahaya Bello harassed her and her supporters with political thugs. A few days before her election on February 25, the governor hired caterpillars to excavate the roads leading to communities in Akpoti-Uduaghan’s senatorial district, making them inaccessible for vehicles.
Although Bello claimed that the government took action to prevent terrorists from gaining access to the communities, the senatorial hopeful said the governor was trying to disenfranchise voters in her stronghold. She narrowly lost the election to her opponent, the governor’s preferred candidate.
Despite the threats that face women who dare seek political offices in Nigeria, Senator Apiafi counselled them not to give up on their dreams but to persist in building a solid base at the grassroots, especially with the womenfolk.
“Women are the ones who come out to vote on election day. I have experienced it several times. On election day, they are the ones you can rely on. They are not scared of anything. I’ve seen it,” she said.
Truly, women need the support of fellow women at the grassroots to make gains in this challenging political space. The federal and state governments also have a responsibility to make the political space safe for all aspirants who have the dream of serving their communities. The governments must match their annual fancy statements to celebrate International Women’s Day with actions.
The Nigerian woman is undoubtedly brilliant, strong, and resilient; her dreams are never too big to achieve. Therefore, she must be fully unleashed. Happy International Women’s Day to all Nigerian women from Eko Hot Blog.
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