Speech Delivered by Prince Rotimi Agunsoye in Celebration of 2015 International Women’s Day

Display of PVC by Girls who are voting for the First Time in Lagos state
Display of PVC by Girls who are voting for the First Time in Lagos state
Vote for Gender Equality in 2015 Elections
Vote for Gender Equality in 2015 Elections

SPEECH DELIVERED BY PRINCE ROTIMI AGUNSOYE AT THE CENTER FOR 21ST CENTURY ISSUES ORGANISED INTERNATIONAL WOMENS’ DAY CELEBRATION ON SUNDAY 8TH FEBRUARY 2015, AT RIGHTS HOUSE, 43, ADENIYI JONES, IKEJA, LAGOS.

All Protocols Duly Observed.

I am glad to be invited to deliver my views on How to Make it Happen For Women in Politics in Nigeria and helping them realise their God-given potentials politically and everywise in our society. This event is no doubt topical, taking into perspective, events presently taking place in our country. It is my belief that at the end of the paper, we would have been able to share, gain and be ready to implement some of the opinions dealt with by the presentation. Thereby providing the needed encouragement to our womenfolk across board in Nigeria. The topic: Make It Happen For Women In Politics In Nigeria is undoubtedly apt and direct for this event.

From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.

Women face several obstacles to participating in political life. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office. Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

As the 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on women’s political participation  notes, “Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women.” Individual women have overcome these obstacles with great acclaim, and often to the benefit of society at large. But for women as a whole, the playing field needs to be level, opening opportunities for all.

Over the years, women participation in Nigeria politics has been appalling they were not recognized in the Nigeria politics. The men tend adhered strictly to the popular saying that the position of women ends in the kitchen or in household. Women were so neglected in the sense that they were often regarded as weak gender in decision making as well as implementation. The issue has been that women had never been given the opportunity to partake in politics in Nigeria. But things have changed, and my paper here intends to highlight the positivity of such a change, outline factors that had militated against women participation in politics in Nigeria.

Since the emergence of politics in Nigeria women had never had their own share of the quota. This problem was traced back to the olden days, when our fathers preferred to train the boys instead of both sexes.

Our parents then were gender specific, and that culminated to the abuse and neglect of women till date. But that was then and for now, things are taking a new look, thanks to the increasing number of women in schools these days; little wonder Prof. Eyisi (2006) of the Department of English Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka once said “behind any successful man, there is a strong woman” that woman has come out to voice their minds by saying that women are the bedrock of all the achievements men folk have recorded over the years.

Women cannot fold their arms and watch men roll over them like rags ready to be disposed off. People should now know that women with their procreation role as the mother of all nations deserve some respect. People should not argue that the weak nature of women cannot match men in politics or the modern labour sector to women to equate them with men is an over protection or a negative change in women status quo.

The wind of change is particularly explosive because women in Nigeria have resolved not to fold their hands and watch the men folks overrun them. They believe they have the golden tools such as tenderness, massive strength, moderating influence, endurance prudence and above all, exclusive partnership with their spouses and children as to enable them achieve their political objectives.

Also, over the years women have been relegated to the background in issues of the overall development especially in the developing nations like Nigeria. This is borne out of the sentimental attachment on feminine gender. Historical evidences are available to prove that the Nigerian women have for long been playing crucial role in political life of the country, and this has contributed in no small measure in shaping the political system of the nation. For development of any kind to be successful, a vantage position should be accorded the women, as they constitute larger proportion of the population. In this regard, they should not be left out in the issues of decision making that bothers even on their lives as a people.

Today, women are participating more actively in political issues than ever before as a result of political re-awakening and awareness. More often than not, they are besieged with challenges of which discrimination is more rife. Majority of the men more on chauvinistic disposition are preoccupied with the notion that decision making is exclusively for the men folk while women are to be instructed on what to do. This idea of seeing the women playing the number two role at homes has come to play itself out in the political life of the people. And this ought not to be so with regards to the ever dynamic nature of things globally as women are now seeing in other communities as avant-garde in developed nations. It is surprising that the same mindset of yester years is still what is obtained in our country.

Despite the difficulties faced by women in politics, they continue with their political ambition, contributing enormously to the political and national development in their own way as the challenges militating against them are not present, although Nigeria is yet to have a female president.  Women over the years could be said to have recorded some measure of appreciable political achievement in other political fields of endeavours, meeting their political objectives with limited support and resources at their disposal.

In 1957 during the pre-independence era of Nigeria, a couple of women political activists such as, Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, Mrs. Janet Mokelu and Ms. Young were members of the Eastern House of Assembly.  The late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, though not a full-fledged politician, was a very strong force to reckon with in the politics of the Western Region.  And Hajia Gambo Sawaba waged a fierce battle for the political and cultural emancipation of women in the North. One can say that women have always played viable political roles in Nigeria in spite of all the limitations and encumbrances.

The Babangida era marked a turning point in the history of women struggle in Nigeria, when Maryam Babangida institutionalized the office of the first lady in 1987. She became the first working First Lady and launched the “Better Life for Rural Women” program. Other women who have made impact in the country’s political scene include, Mrs. Obi Ezekwesili also laid a land mark in the history of governance in Nigeria. Prof. Dora Akunyili, the late former NAFDAC boss also performed credibly; leading the fight against adulterated pharmaceutical drugs, her name can never be forgotten in the annals of history.  There are myriads of women in politics even presently that have done very well and are still performing excellently well.

Liberia’s head of state Ellen Johnson Sir-leaf has made history as Africa’s first female president. In the United States, Senator Hillary Clinton has made a positive impact in America’s politics. Also the Republican Party’s presidential candidate John McCain picked a woman – Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska as his running mate for the U.S election. This could be seen as the strong factor women constitute in the political parlance of any nation.

Today, many countries of the world are making efforts to bridge the gap between men and women in politics. But in Nigerian the representation of women in Government even though has improved than before is still very low compared to what obtains in other nations of the world, particularly in the developed nations. For instance, the representation of women in 2003 (four years into our on-going 16 years Democratic experience) was poor only 3 women made it to 109 members senate house, while 21 were elected in 360 members lower house of representatives. As it were, the number of serving female Ministers is still very few.

There is no doubt that women have some potentials and rights to contribute meaningfully to the development of their country. Therefore, the Nigerian government should work towards achieving gender equality in democratic governance, increase women participation and access to politics. It must be realized that the role of women as home makers cannot be down played in that it equally has an extended impact on their responsibility in service, the women touch anywhere cannot be matched.

Argument in Favour of Nigerian Women Participation in Nigerian Politics

According to Aderiye (2009)”Women and politics he said” in Nigeria today, the exemplary roles and relevance of women public administrators and quality governance have been clearly demonstrated.

Nigerian women should be allowed a place in our politics because they have led the country out of her pariah status once again. The likes of Mrs. Abigail Ukpabi who championed the constituent assembly in the outlawing of discriminating provisions to include protection from sex discrimination, the likes of Dr. Oby Ezekwesli (madam due process) have demonstrated the ability of women as catalyst for total change from the unacceptable. These women earlier mentioned are embodiment of probity, in own body polity. They worked as a team to remove Nigeria from her pariah status. Their God endowed wisdom has directed the course of economy, legislation and good governance of this country.

According to Matynia (1995)” Women movement in global perspective, Amritsa, West view press, said “Women are led by moral examples to preserve their countries entity and values.” Women have proved their ability to lead with foresight to foresee and forestall inevitable problems that can arise now and in future. She foresees a situation where some country’s president or vice president will be women in the near future. She can see the hope of ` raising positive society in the negative world despite the wide gap between men and women in public offices.

Mr. Adebunmi (2004) “The realistic position of women in Nigeria politics,” said “That the best in life comes in small packages. Rome was not built in a day and of course the journey of one million miles starts in a step. Women today in Africa and Nigeria in particular are grateful to God, the federal government, the state and local governments for president recognition of women folk especially the 7 in appointive positions”.

Position of women in Nigerian Politics:

That women are politically oppressed by their male counterparts in Nigeria is not in doubt. In Nigeria politics, the issue has always been that a woman politician still has natural roles as a wife, mother, daughter and mother or daughter in-law here in Nigeria.

However, in ancient times, Nigerian women had excelled in the field of politics and decision making. She is replete with outstanding women like Queen Amina of Zaria, The Omu of Onitsha, Madame Tinubu of Lagos, Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Kuti, Mrs Bolarinwa of Action group and the likes. These materials commanded vast resources and wielded political leadership. They probably did more than the men folk.

Research has further stated that:

(1) Equally qualified men and women are unequally evaluated when applying for jobs or position.

(2) Women are often discriminated against by those making decision on hiring, promotion and salary (Rosen and Jardee 1974).

(3) Women are under-represented in professional, political and managerial positions in Nigeria though there were a little improvement between 2005 to date.

(4) Glazies (1976) and Wallace (1978) observed that women populate corporations but they rarely run them.

(5) A variety of field report and personal observations show that women are conspicuously absent, though there are few at the upper or managerial levels in industrial and governmental organizations especially in politics.

(6) At family levels, men are to be the heads and controller of women and production. Generally speaking all the above resulted into major gaps between reality and the universally acceptable women right appalling that the few female leaders often experience high dependence on men of authority that appointed them. They sometime face double marginalization from both the men and women themselves who see them as sacred, different or privileged: Therefore the position of women in politics in Nigeria is still inadequate.

Factors That Still Militate Against Women participating in Nigeria politics.

The transformation of nations throughout history has in most cases been brought about by the type of leadership; male or female. Leadership is a serious determination of development in any society. The need to understand its role is crucial and of course devoid of feminist sentiments. It is a statement of factor that there are a lot of discriminations against women folk for reasons of beliefs, attitudes, norms, men’s selfishness, or lack of respect for right of women. This has resulted to the wide gap between men and women in all spheres of life. The militating factors are as follows:

(1) Home Challenges:

It must be emphasized that no matter the career of a woman, her penury, the care of her home and children should be done with pride and joy. Women in politics are wives and mothers and in fulfilling these various roles, they are likely to be faced with the problems of balancing the interest in the home front with, that of their political life. In doing this, the consent of the spouse is a condition for the woman politician’s success.

Naturally, a pregnant women or a nursing mother may not be too effective in politics so also the aged, it must be emphasized too that sleeping away from home occasionally on political trips or passing the night or a nights in place other than with ones husband or children could be very challenging especially for young mothers.

The truth of the matters is that men cherish the food and companionship of their wives. Therefore a negative suspicion or disagreement of the husband at any stage of a women in politics could spell doom of that career or ambition however determined.

(2) Building a Trust Based Home:

Women politicians in Nigeria are expected to maintain public decorum as not to give her family bad names and to avoid gossips about her at all time. After wards politics is not synonymous with irresponsibility or flirting. More importantly, unnecessary outing must be avoided and the opinion of the husband must be honoured in the choice of political associates or god fathers.

(3) The Nigerian chauvinistic tradition: It is sad to note that even in this 21st century , the Nigerian society still have strong belief in some negative traditions as:-

(a) That it is an abomination for women to claim equality with men, especially in a decision making programme such as politics or wanting to head a man under any circumstance. It’s a taboo.

(b) Women cannot own or inherit properties such as land, even though most of Nigeria’s subsistent farming is done by the women; it is no exaggeration to claim that Nigeria has more women farmers than men.

(c) A woman does not take a separate or opposing decision apart from her spouse’s.

(d) Traditionally, a male child (even the least born) is assured to be superior to his mother who is a female.

(e) The idea of women in politics is a rude agenda in Nigeria and an abomination to most men. No wonder the naturally stiff opposition from even educated men politicians to women. It would take only God’s intervention to change such men’s attitude towards women’s participation.

(4) Women Poor Economic Base (Poverty).

It is true that over 90% of women live below the poverty line in Nigeria. While most educated ones are not rich, the rich ones are also sometimes uneducated or are not politically inclined.

This disadvantage cannot allow the women to match Naira for Naira in Nigeria’s monetized politics. This is a major social disadvantage for women in politics in Nigeria and unfortunately too. Only few educated women are active in politics. This challenge has to be taken up by NGOS. This illiterate is a society misfit not only in politics, irrespective of active party participations.

However, the official introduction and recognition of the place and role of women in governance in Nigeria had, it is a credit to General. Babangida’s Military Administration in 1987. This ensured the active participation of women in the process of governance. This was amidst various criticisms.

It is no doubt that the military creation of first ladyship gradually gradated into Association of wives of presidents, Governors and chairpersons, they often come together to initiate other programmes in continuation of women Empowerment programmes such as:

(a) Better life programme (BLP) for rural women.

(b) Family support programme (FSP)

(c) Child Care Trust Fund

(d) Various Association of market women, women of traditional chiefs, women local industrialists, women farmers Association now women in Agriculture, Association of women professional Lawyers, women journalists women politicians and the likes.

These programmes timely responded to the United Nations Global call for women emancipation and integrations.

The concept of chairperson is a design of civilian rule of women integration into governance at all level, which definitely has become a necessity to balance the shortage of women in key positions.

It is true that the idea of women in politics is a rude agenda in Nigeria and an abomination to most men. No wonder the naturally stiff opposition from even educated men politicians to women. The foregoing in essence has come to emphasize the need for a complete re-orientation of the entire social norms and practices in order to achieve greater development for the nation.

We must do a progressive and positive appraisal of our women folk especially in the new democratic dispensation that is fast unfolding in the country. Without this, Nigeria cannot attain the desired political progress that all the developed countries have attained. We must accept that women are active agents of political progress and development.

Thus we must do everything possible to help enhance our women’s political leadership potentials, since the task of nation building is not gender exclusive.

Other Challenges:

Nigerian women have encountered a number of problems while venturing into politics. There is large scale discrimination from the men folk, both in voting for candidates and in allocating political offices. More often than not, men constitute a larger percentage of the party membership and this tends to affect women when it comes to selecting or electing candidates for elections. Since men are usually the majority in the political party setup, they tend to dominate the party hierarchy and are therefore at advantage in influencing the party’s internal politics.

Women usually constitute a smaller percentage of political party membership because of the social, cultural and religious attitudes of different Nigerian societies which most often tend to relegate women to the background. As a result, only very few men, even among the educated, allow their wives to come out and participate in politics. In Northern Nigeria, for instance, an important factor inhibiting women’s participation is the purdah system (i.e. house seclusion of women).

Another problem facing women is lack of adequate education. Women constitute a larger percentage of the illiterate group in Nigeria. This could be attributed to the fact that in most families, parents prefer to send their sons to school, instead of their daughters whom they feel would eventually get married and thus get incorporated into another family. Thus, a larger percentage of the girls remain uneducated and unexposed.

Lack of adequate finance is a crucial hindrance to effective female participation in politics in Nigeria. A large portion of the Nigerian female population is not as financially strong as their male counterparts. Family responsibilities and childbearing also hinder women from participating effectively in partisan political activities. During a sizeable part of their adult lives, most women are involved not only in child bearing, but also in child rearing. Thus, much of the time they may have wished to devote to politics is taken up by their maternal challenges and obligations.

MY PLANS TO PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT.

Personally, having looked at the myriads of challenges militating against the womenfolk, I hope to support every efforts that may help to improve the chances of Nigerian Women at all levels towards developing more interest in politics and taking their rightful place in our political system. This will go a long way in influencing them to promote their well-being and encourage their colleagues in choosing the path of participating in government. I will support the womenfolk with all legislative means once elected into the Hallowed Chamber.

THE FUTURE OF THE WOMEN GENDER

The future prospects of Nigerian women in politics are bright. The 1991 census figures show that women are almost numerically at par with men. Moreover, some of the obstacles highlighted above are already being removed. For example, the number of educated women in Nigeria has increased over the years. Many members of this new class are willing and able to participate effectively in politics at various levels. The number of girls admitted into schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities has increased phenomenally. In some states in the eastern part of Nigeria (e.g. Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra), there are now more females than males in schools.

In the northern part of Nigeria, a quiet but significant social revolution is now taking place among women. It may not be very long before education reaches the corridors of the purdahs. Even nomadic men, women and their children (including females) are now receiving education which is invariably a source of political, economic and social power.

Recommendation

Women need a co-operative effort to subdue all the prejudices of men not only in politics, but also in all spheres of human endeavour. Ironically, it is sad to listen to derogatory comments of some women on their fellow women folk even before men. And very disappointing too, the few women in position seldom feel the need to help other less privileged women.

The adverse effects of women not participating in politics of the Nation’s economy, and the society which are immediate recipient of these anomalies cannot be underrated and so the following recommendations are being proffered:-

Women should be self-confident, complement, and versed in electoral practices and procedures at all times. They should be current on key political parliamentary issues.

They should be skilled in delivering positive campaign messages. Develop appropriate lobbying skills and improved public speaking skills, have flexible and unassuming tracts, i.e listen more and talk less. Shun pride in action and dressings remain diligent and focused, refined and cautious.

Globally relevant most especially in the 21st century information and communication technologies. Above all an appropriate legislation is recommended for statutory establishment of the offices of first ladies/chairpersons at federal, state and local government levels. Reasonable financial votes should be attached to the so-established offices to cater for particularly women in politics, in addition to the ministry of women Affair. Though these first ladies/Chairpersons have crucial role to play in orientating, mobilizing and conscietising the women folk, there is need to avoid contradiction or duplication of role between them and Ministry of women Affairs. Their programmes must not be self-seeking; it should be formulated on the basis of collective responsibility of achieving desired goals for women of all races.

Above all women should demonstrate convincingly that programmes being pursued by the first ladies and other women organizations are in the best interest of the women and men, rather than whimsical imposition of narrow ideas.

Thanks and God Bless us all.

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