The primaries of the political parties may have been conducted and concluded but the ripples and dusts generated by the exercise held from August 18 to October 7, 2018 have yet to settle. Today, I have decided to chronicle the thoughts of women themselves on the highly disputed exercise.
In a series of tweets on October 7, 2018, the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, described the party primaries thus: “It is disheartening to note that some aspirants used their hard earned money to purchase nomination forms, got screened, cleared and campaigned vigorously yet found their names omitted on Election Day. These forms were bought at exorbitant prices. Many others contested and yet had their results delayed. Fully knowing that AUTOMATIC tickets have been given to other people. The All Progressives Congress, being a party whose cardinal principle is change and headed by a comrade/activist whose main concern is for the common man, yet, such impunity could take place under his watch. Given this development, one will not hesitate to DISSOCIATE oneself from such unfairness, be neutral and speak for the voiceless. It is important for the populace to rise against impunity and for voters to demand from aspirants to be committed to the provision of basic amenities such as:
- Potable drinking water
- Basic health care ( Primary Health Care centers)
- Education within conducive & appropriate learning environments.
Let us vote wisely !!!!
LONG LIVE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!”
It wasn’t only the President’s wife who was bitter. Nigeria Women Trust Fund under the leadership of Mufuliat Fijabi on October 8, 2018 issued a press statement wherein the group observed thus: “A lot of mixed feelings have trailed the conduct of the primaries. Gender and Election Watch observed the pattern of participation by both men and women as voters and as aspirants and have deep concerns and reservation about the conduct of the primaries as quite a number of the women aspirants were faced with intimidation, harassment and threats to their persons and properties in their aspirations into various positions. The primaries were also not truly reflective of democratic principles of fairness as some of the women were asked to step down under threats and intimidation for candidates who had not been part of the process before. The intensity with which voters who participated in the primaries were induced and very well-reported by the media was quite undemocratic. This is not just a threat to women who are the most vulnerable but men as well.”
The Founder of Women Radio 91.7 FM, the first and only radio station wholly promoting women interest in Nigeria, Toun Okewale Sonaiya, on October 18, 2018, described the party primaries in these words: “The just concluded political party primaries are one of sadness caused by the non-fulfilment of democracy to Nigerian women. Our women were intimidated, violated, harassed and disenfranchised by the system that should protect them. This is against the outcomes of interventions by several stakeholders.”
In a paper entitled, “The pains of Nigerian Women at the 2018 Primary Elections”, delivered at the 5th Women & Girls Summit organised by the Office of the wife of the president t and National Council for Women Development in Abuja, Sonaiya observed further that “a number of women won their primaries and were asked to step down for other candidates. Some were not allowed to take part in the primaries after purchasing forms. Some others had favoured candidates imposed on them. There are wide- spread indicators of lack of fairness to women aspirants, intimidation and outright disenfranchisement. Although some men faced challenges during these primaries, Women suffered more and we worry that again the primaries are pointers to the fact that the percentage of elected women may drop after 2019 elections.”
In the opening paragraph of this article, I took excerpt from the protesting APC women of Edo State led by the party’s State Organising Secretary, Aisosa Amadasun. According to the women group, the controversial primaries conducted by the NWC “without recourse to equity, justice and fair play” exposed the APC as “a party of hawks, swallowing chickens as its prey.” The women noted that female aspirants across the state were not only subjected to harrowing experiences, by being charged exorbitant fees for the collection of the nomination forms, but also screened out, even when they were “eminently qualified.” The group lamented that about 10 women from the three senatorial districts were denied tickets by the national leadership of the APC, in spite of their sacrifices.
Just last Friday, November 2, 2018, Ms Ebere Ifendu, President, Women in Politics Forum, observed thus: “When we look back at the last primaries, we will discover that the number of women candidates at the National Assembly is small even though we have 91 political parties. This is not good for us as women; I want Nigeria to walk the talk as we have agreed to have more women in politics. The major problem is not with the women, we have women of capacity, integrity and competence but what we are saying is a level-playing field for all’’.
It is very disheartening and unfortunate that women’s political fortunes have continued to dwindle over the years. We have a 2006 National Gender Policy which proposes 35 per cent affirmative action for women in elective and appointive positions. The 1999 Constitution, as amended in Section 42, talks about right to freedom from discrimination. Yet, women, like youths and Persons with Disabilities which constitute other vulnerable groups, are blatantly being marginalised. There is no gainsaying that today, over-commercialisation of politics, electoral violence, lack of internal party democracy, harmful cultural practices and patriarchy constitute some of the barriers women are faced with in realising their political ambition.
Well, lamentation will not improve the political fortunes of Nigerian female politicians. They need to organise and place a charter of demands on political parties that aim to get their support in 2019. Constitution amendment is needed to guarantee at least minimum of 35 per cent affirmative action. As I observed in my Ugandan 2016 eyewitness account on this page on February 24, 2016, there is a need for legalised affirmative action for women in the country. “Article 78 of the Ugandan Constitution requires the parliament to have one woman representative for every district or city. The constitution also makes provision for special interest groups by giving them quota seats in the parliament. They are the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (the military), which has 10 reserved seats in parliament; the youths, workers and persons with disabilities who have five reserved seats each. Of these seats, one of them is reserved for women and in the case of the UPDF, which has 10, two is reserved for women.”
Women’s political fortunes will fare better under a Proportional Representation electoral system. While that may be long in coming, women should support the few who have got the tickets of their respective political parties to emerge victorious in the next general election. Also, women need to synergise to support candidates who will respect the 35 per cent affirmative action in appointive positions after May 29, 2019 inauguration.