Almost eight months after the conduct of the 2023 general elections, the many flaws, lost opportunities and challenges, which characterized the processes and outcomes continue to attract the critical scrutiny of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
One of such recent inquest took the form of a two-day post-election conference jointly organized by UN Women, in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Women in Politics Forum.
After the rousing rendition of the national anthem and the women’s anthem, many of the women groups gathered sought to strike an optimistic note by celebrating the number of women voters who came out to take part in the elections, just as they heaped encomiums on women described as “sheroes,” who defied societal barriers to run as candidates in the elections.
As such, the valiant roles of women like Senator Natasha Akpoti, representing Kogi Central Senatorial District, who fought electoral impunity to a standstill through the courts, thereby raising the number of women Senators from three to four in the 10th National Assembly, inspired very fervent discussions about the need to give women the level playing field to participate in the electoral process, not only as voters, but also as candidates, security and poll officials.
Notwithstanding these stories of courage, resilience and determination on the part of women who defied the odds to participate in the 2023 elections, as the conversation went on, the discouraging and dispiriting reality of the abysmally low number of women elected soon stirred further passionate rally cries about the need to address the challenge.
Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Director, Idayat Hassan, who was represented by Elections Manager, Mr. Chibuike Mgbeahuruike reflected on this concern in her good will message. She said while there was a nominal increase in the number of women who dared to step into the political arena, the statistics tell a story of persistent imbalance.
She said: “A mere 10% in the overall participation of women candidates paints a grim picture of the enduring challenges they face in gaining a foothold in the political landscape. Despite the tireless efforts of women candidates, the victories achieved remain disproportionately modest.”
According to her, a disappointing three women managed to secure seats at the senate, with a fourth successful in the appeal process, exposing the glaring gaps in representation.
“The frustration lies not in the lack of capable and committed women leaders, but in the systemic barriers that continue to obstruct their path to meaningful political influence. Equally infuriating is the fact that women who dared to contest in closely contested races faced disproportionate challenges.
“Women who, despite displaying commendable resilience, were met with insurmountable obstacles and unfair treatment. This injustice further underscores the urgent need for systemic changes to level the playing field.”
The CDD Director was also of the view that while these women champions focused on critical issues such as education, healthcare, gender equality, their lack of substantive progress in terms of having the level playing field to contest and win elections, is alarming.
Hassan described as disheartening, the fact that the genuine efforts of women are overshadowed by the persistent unwillingness of the political landscape to embrace and champion their causes.
In the spirit of not merely agonizing, but also organizing to bring about real change in the quality of women participations, stakeholders at the event called for deliberate and strategic action to promote the inclusivity of women in the political climate in Nigeria.
This action they say will not only increase the number of women holding leadership and decision making position in politics but will also serve as a catalyst to address the age long marginalization of women in Nigerian politics and governance.
For Beatrice Eyong, UN Women Country Representative, reflecting on the issues in the 2023 polls as they concern women will be the starting point to further reinforce commitment to ensure equal participation and representation of women in the forthcoming 2027 general elections.
She noted that despite data from the independent National Electoral Commission showing that women accounted for 47.5% of the 93.5 million registered voters in the 2023 General elections, only 10.1% of the political candidates are women while only 4% were elected into the National Assemblies and 5% in the State Assembly. Eyong stressed that these statistics are clear indication that there is still a long way to travel to bridge the gender inequality gap in the Nigerian political terrain.
In terms of some of the practical recommendations put forward to address the gender gap in politics and governance, Dr. Otive Igbuzor called for constitutional quota for women. He said countries like Rwanda, which have brought more women into the political and governance spaces, relied on constitutional quotas.
Another practical recommendation was given by Chair of the Women in Politics Forum, Ebere Ifendu who called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to compel political parties to ensure there is the inclusion of women in their candidates list. She referred to the example of Sierra Leone, where the electoral commission insisted that parties should field specific number of female candidates before their lists could be accepted. Nonetheless, participants stressed the importance of the gender equality bills which were rejected by the National Assembly.
The point was strongly canvassed that alongside 35% affirmation, which has been upheld by a court of law, the gender bills will play a pivotal role in addressing the exclusion of women from politics and governance.
The two-day post-election conference brought together a diverse range of stakeholders including Senator representing the FCT, Ireti Kingibe, Head of Cooperation, Canada Mission in Nigeria Djifa Ahado, Dayo Laniyi Benjamins Mandate Secetary Women Affairs FCT, CEO Women Radio Toun Okewale, Chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Alhaji Sani Yabagi, and the Country Director of International Foundation of Electoral System (IFES) Seray and other distinguished guests.
The participants noted that a mandatory constitutional quota is the way to go in ensuring that women are not left behind in leadership and governance.