A few months ago, I came across an interesting conversation on the role of women in politics, specifically if we as a nation were ready for a female governor. This conversation was apparently triggered by the announcement of a TV series called ‘The Governor’ which was to air on Ebonylife TV and had a female playing the role of The Governor of a state.
This conversation triggered a train of thoughts which I would like to share. Every election year since the return to democracy, the clamour for an elected female governor in Nigeria always comes up. Female rights activists, gender equality proponents, female celebrities and your average Jane White all lend their voices to this issue because they believe that the country and its adolescent democracy are ready for the emergence of a female governor. They do not want a ‘figurehead’ deputy-governor thrust into power by unfortunate circumstances that might have befallen the governor, but one duly elected by the populace in a free and fair election.
However, having access to leadership positions in Nigeria is not easy for millions of women taking part in elective politics as they lack the support and opportunity to compete with other male politicians. Voters also fail to understand the importance and benefits of having mixed gender in government. This has led to relatively low representation of women in all levels of government in the country compared to male leadership in the country. 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 an 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.
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 many families, parents prefer to send their sons to school, instead of their daughters, 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.
The future prospects of Nigerian women in politics are bright. Census figures show that women are almost now 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, there are now more females than males in schools.
Nigeria has over the past years elected female lawmakers at both the Federal and state level though at a relatively low and disadvantaged proportion to their male counterparts. This shows an improvement in the level of participation of women in politics, however there has never been a female governor ELECTED into that position. The only female governor Nigeria has had is Dame Virginia Etiaba, who as deputy-governor rose to the position due to the impeachment of the governor. Only recently, during the 2015 general elections, Aisha Al-Hassan also known as Mama Taraba, emerged flag-bearer for one of the political parties in the Taraba governorship race. It is generally believed that she won most of the popular votes although the appeal and supreme courts held otherwise.
With the increase in female participation in politics and an increase in the number of women that hold elected positions, it is safe to say that Nigeria and most Nigerians are getting more comfortable with women in power; and YES! WE ARE INDEED READY FOR A FEMALE GOVERNOR!