The 2015 General Elections in Nigeria has come and gone but for women in Lagos State and indeed throughout Nigeria, it will go down in history as the election that almost obliterated whatever gains they have recorded in elective positions since the beginning of this current democratic dispensation in 1999.
Women who contested in Lagos State recorded significant losses which saw the number of women at the Lagos State House of Assembly shrunk to 5 from 7 in the last House of Assembly while the number of women from Lagos in the House of Representatives reduced to1 from 3 in last National Assembly.
Despite the electoral losses, many women are still hopeful that the losses can be mitigated by having more women in appointive positions. This is more so in Lagos state where the newly elected Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode by his utterances and actions before and after the elections have committed to ensuring gender equality and particularly committing to having more women in governance.
According to Mr. Akiwunmi Ambode on February 5, 2015 during the Town Hall meeting held for Gubernatorial Candidates in Lagos State by women at Muson Centre in Lagos, he said,
“Iam more for women’s right and equality. While I was the Accountant-General, I had six women directors and two male directors. We wish to see sometimes soon, women governors and women speakers of the House of Assembly in Lagos state”
He further committed himself by saying that;
“My commitment towards women in everything I do is very personal. No girl would be denied good education. You can hold me accountable for every word that I have spoken,” (http://saharanewspost.com/2015/02/lagos-women-drill-ambode-agbaje-adeniji/)
The most auspicious time to hold the Governor accountable for every word that he has spoken is now, when he is set to appoint his cabinet and reconstitute the boards and agencies which he dissolved immediately he stepped into office as Governor.
It is very important to set the records straight and awaken the consciousness of the new Governor to the fact that history beckons on him to achieve parity for women in the governance of Lagos State.
Historical review of appointments into Lagos State Executive Council since year 1967 when Lagos State was created revealed that, women’s representation in the council has not exceeded 21% either Under military or democratic government. The situation under this current democratic dispensation is worse off as the highest so far recorded is 11% ( see figure 1, 2 and Table 1 below), a percentage way below 35% affirmative action stipulated under the Nigeria National Gender Policy (2006)
The position of the Deputy Governor remains the only position where women have had higher representation than men. Between 1979 and 2015, Lagos has had 6 female Deputy Governors compared to 3 male Deputy Governors (table 2)
In over 4 decades of the existence of Lagos State, men have been 14 times opportune to get appointed into Lagos State Executive Council than women. This is indeed a poor showing from a State acknowledged as the role model of good governance in Nigeria. It is unjust to say the least, that despite the active participation of Lagos women in politics, especially the women traders who are noted for their political mobilization and massive voting during elections, they hardly ever win elections or are given appointments in government.
Over the years, Lagos no doubt has shown considerable political will in the quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The predecessors of Governor Ambode; Governors, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola has helped to set the ball rolling by enacting and adopting gender sensitive Laws and policies such as, Child
rights Law, Paternity leave, Domestic Violence Law and gender Policy. It is time to deepen the engagement and raise the bar on behalf of women by achieving parity for women in appointive positions in Lagos State.
It will be naïve to think that securing more appointive positions for women in Lagos State under the new administration of Governor Ambode will be automatic. It will definitely take a lot of lobbying and advocacy. Women have braced up for the challenge. Lagos state Gender Advocacy Team (LASGAT) has been in the forefront of the advocacy for more women in Lagos State and have taken up the challenge.
Before the elections, LASGAT prepared the Gender and Social Inclusion Charter for candidates contesting elections in Lagos State to endorse. The charter brings to the fore the desires and voices of Lagos women, youths, people with disabilities, marginalized and socially vulnerable communities to the centre of political discourse. The charter made 7 demands referred to as” 7 Point Development Asks” by which government will be held accountable and responsive to gender equality, women’s empowerment and inclusion in Lagos state. The 5th Development ‘Asks’ in the charter calls on Lagos State government to demonstrate Political will to Gender equality and inclusive governance by establishing a system of gender mainstreaming which incorporates 35% of women in all sectors of government (https://c21stnigeria.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/gender-equality-and-social-inclusion-charter-for-lagos-state/).
A few female candidates in Lagos State endorsed the Charter at an interactive forum organized by LASGAT for female Candidates contesting in Lagos state before the elections. After, the elections, LASGAT had a consultative meeting with elected female members of the Lagos State House of Assembly to strategize for the implementation of the Charter.
To show the commitment of LASGAT in supporting the appointment of more women, a list of credible, qualified and competent women who can be appointed into various appointive positions in Lagos State was complied and the list was sent to the Governor for his attention. This was done to foreclose any excuse that qualified women are not available or that women are not interested in serving the State. It is expected that the Governor will act on this list.
Judging by the recent appointment of 10 women permanent secretary out of the 19 newly appointed permanent secretaries in Lagos State, it appeared that Governor Ambode has began to make good his promises to Lagos women and he is set to redress the injustice of the past by appointing more women into Lagos State Executive Council and Boards of Parastatals and Agencies.
The appointment of more women permanent secretaries is welcomed and celebrated but efforts to see that more women are appointed into the Lagos State Executive Council and Boards of Agencies must be intensified until it is achieved. Afterwards, advocacy efforts to put pressure on the government to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Law wherein 35% of all appointments in Lagos state is reserved for women should proceed. The Governor should know from the outset that appointment of more women is not to be a one off thing. His vision of seeing women attaining the position of Governor and Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly can only materialize if it is recognized in a written Law.
Need it be emphasized that participation of women and men in politics is very essential to ensure that their rights and issues are addressed within the framework of governance. Significantly, increasing the representation of women in politics and governance provides the avenue through which they can change discriminatory Laws, policies, programs and practices that affect them.
Consequently, Governor, Ambodes must not shy away from exercising his power as the executive Governor of Lagos State in favour of women. He is better placed now than ever to redress the historical marginalization of women in appointive positions. He must stand with the women of Lagos and live up to his electoral promises. All eyes are on him to make it right for women.
Ms Gbemisola Titilope Ngozi Akosa
Centre for 21st century Issues