By Osaruonamen Ibizugbe
They say politics is a game of numbers, yet Nigerian women’s numerical strength fails to impact the nation’s political life and decision-making structures positively. Figures from the World Bank development indicators show that women make up 49.32% of Nigeria’s population, meaning almost half of the Nigerian people are women. Despite this colossal figure, female representation in decision-making has been abysmally low since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
Women are underrepresented at the national, state, and local government councils. Some significant constraints to women’s participation in politics include general apathy to politics among women, religious and cultural biases, lack of resources, and the low membership of women in political parties, among others. Although women are gradually improving their membership in political parties, they often serve as supporters for male politicians to achieve their political ambition. Women are often discouraged from participating in the electoral process because of political malpractices and unfavourable political environments characterised by political violence against women.
A look at previous elections and women’s representation
According to a report by YIAGA Africa titled ‘’No country without women,’’ the 2019 general election was an election of numbers due to the abundance of registered voters and candidates in the election. Eighty-four million, four thousand and eighty- four (84,004 084) voters registered. Of this, thirty-nine million, five hundred and ninety- eighty thousand, six hundred and forty-five (39, 598, 645) were women representing 47.14% female voters. Twenty-three thousand, four hundred and forty-two (23,442) candidates contested in the elections. Of these, women candidates were three thousand and thirty-two (3,032), representing 12.9% of the total number of candidates in the general elections.
Recall that the Wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, had called on presidential and governorship candidates in May this year in the 2023 general election to pick women as their running mates. Meanwhile, since 1999, only six women have been deputy governors. The number of female deputy governors dropped from six in 2015 to four. While there were no women in the 1999 presidential election, two women, Mrs Sarah Jubril of the Progressive Action Congress (PAC) and Major Mojisola Adekunle Obasanjo (rtd.) of the Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), contested in 2003. In 2019 there were six female candidates – ACPN candidate Obiageli Ezekwesili, who later withdrew from the presidential race.
Run up to 2023: Women make up only 8.9% of the total candidates
Fast forward to date, the independent national electoral commission INEC recently released the list of candidates contesting the upcoming 2023 general elections. According to the list, 1,101 candidates would be jostling for 109 senatorial seats and 3,122 candidates for House of Representatives seats. Regarding gender distribution, 3,875 candidates are male, made up of 35 for Presidential and Vice Presidential, 1,008 for Senate, and 2,832 for House of Representatives.
Similarly, 381 females, 1 for the Presidential, 92 for the Senate, and 288 for the House of Representatives, are contesting. There are also 11 Persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the race. Of the 1,101 candidates vying for 109 Senatorial seats, 92 are women, representing 8.35 percent, while 288 women contest for House of Representatives out of the total 3,122 candidates. Out of the 18 political parties in the country, only the Allied People’s Movement (APM) fielded a female presidential candidate.
Compared with the 2015 and 2019 general elections statistics, female representation in the 2023 polls is believed to be the worst, despite increased agitation in the last three years for gender balance and more active female participation in politics.
However, despite the challenges women face, women’s activism and advocacy, education of women, positivity on the part of successive governments towards women empowerment, and interest of women to participate in politics are currently receiving a gust of positive energy.