The alarming drop in the number of female candidates in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general election has become a source of concern to political stakeholders and observers.
Experts say the situation is slowing down gender inclusion in Nigeria’s politics, especially efforts to address the violence and patriarchy women experience in political parties over the years in Africa’s biggest economy.
Unfortunately, this situation exists despite the fact that women constitute the bulk of the voting population in Nigeria with millions.
Only one woman is listed by the INEC as a party candidate that will contest the presidential election in 2023. Chichi Ojei is of the Allied People’s Movement (APM).
In the 2019 general election, 47.14 percent (39,598,645 million), of the voting population were women and it was seen that women across all ages turned out enthusiastically to vote for their preferred candidates at all levels.
Ahead of next year’s polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recorded a higher number of female registrants compared to male after the completion of the one year exercise.
Although the number of women in elective positions in Nigeria has been on the steady decline in the last one and half decade, however, new figures released ahead of the 2023 polls, suggest that the situation has assumed an alarming proportion.
According to a new report by the United Nations Women Office in Nigeria released last week, only 10percent of candidates for the 2023 polls in Nigeria are women.
The global agency stated that only 1,553 of the total 15,307 candidates who would be participating in the 2023 general election are women.
The figure amounts to only 10.1 per cent of the total figure.
This is a little far cry from the 2019 general election, where only 13 percent (3,163) of candidates that vied for different positions were women.
In recent years, there has been a wave of optimism among some stakeholders that the situation would change this time around going into the primaries for the 2023 polls.
The optimism came amid demands by women’s groups and feminist in recent years; that women in Nigeria are subjected to inhuman treatment and not given enough space to contribute to national development.
They say that despite the invaluable contribution of women to Nigeria’s electoral process the system have not given them their fair share of reward and recognition that they deserve.
Similarly, before the parties’ primaries earlier in the year, there were agitations from women’s groups, top female politicians and civic society for a 40 per cent quota system strictly for women across the 18 accredited political parties for the 2023 general election.
They also demanded female inclusion urgently, and adoption of gender equality across all spheres in Nigeria.
The recently released data by the UN agency revealed that it was a pipe dream.
So, as gender issues and women’s political and economic empowerment take centre stage on the global arena, Nigeria appears intent on maintaining its position at the bottom of the ladder of women’s political empowerment.
Alarmed by the low number of women elected into elective positions after the 2019 general election, The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made some recommendations which it hoped would help bridge the gap, part of which has been done.
The recommendations included “Amendment of the Electoral Act to address gaps in the provisions for campaign financing to strengthen mechanisms for campaign finance monitoring and compliance;
“Immediate publication of the report on 2019 general election campaign finance monitoring; and engagement with IPAC, party leaders and relevant stakeholders to promote inclusivity and popular participation especially for women, youth and people with disabilities.”.
Chiedo Nwankwor, expert on gender studies and identity politics in Africa, said that women recognise that political parties are often the strongest obstacle they face to gaining access to political power. They have, therefore, invested much energy and efforts into trying to get party leaders to give consideration and concessions to women in the processes and structures of party politics.
According to her, “For example, women members of the All Peoples Congress (APC) have expressed their displeasure and disappointment with the APC leadership’s lack of gender-sensitivity.
Women were not given any concession in the cost of nomination forms, a whopping N45 million for presidential aspirants, N22.5 million for governorship aspirants, N7 million for Senate and N3 million for House of Representatives, effectively barring the majority of women from entering the contests.
“The PDP, on the other hand, conceded a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of nomination form to women across the board”.
UN Women Programme Manager in the country, Desmond Osemhenjie speaking on the report, noted that the current situation was worse when compared with the 3,163 female candidates that participated in the elections in 2019.
Figures released by the agency shows that only one female candidate is contesting for the position of president in next year’s election, while there is no vice-presidential candidate from the 18 political parties.
For the governorship elections, the report noted that 25 of the 419 candidates are women, while 92 of 1,101 candidates for the senate elections are women, amounting to only eight per cent.
“For the House of Representatives, 286 of 3,107 are women, while the State Houses of Assembly only 1,046 out of 10,225 candidates are only women, amounting to 10 per cent of the total figure,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the report further shows that Lagos State leads with the t highest number of female candidates for the 2023 general election.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has 102 female candidates. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has 72 female candidates.
Osemhenjie predicted that there is the likelihood that Lagos will produce a greater number of female elected members in the 2023 elections.
The UN Country Representative in Nigeria, Beatrice Eyong, urged the media to support the women in their aspirations for leadership offices in the country.
He pointed out that the reality has shown that women are almost adequately being featured by the media houses, saying there cannot be sustainable development and peace without women sitting at the table.
“Statistics have shown that nations where women are relegated have had to pay for it with poor development indices including cases of malnutrition, among other challenges.
“If women don’t sit at the table, we will never have sustainable development and sustainable peace. Therefore, we must be deliberate about our actions and efforts to empower women,” Osemhenjie said.
Tope Musowo, public policy expert, lamented that despite a drastic shift in the patriarchal culture in some African countries, Nigeria was still lacking behind.
He stressed that with the current situation, Nigeria would lack behind in those things that women are passionate about; such as health, education etc.
According to him, “We are in a patriarchal society where women are only to be seen and not heard, unfortunately, this is still the truth about Nigeria society.
“Interestingly, the trend is changing in some African countries like Rwanda, Senegal and so on. Not to talk of the Scandinavian countries where the ratio of male representation and female representation in government are equal.
“But unfortunately, we are still very far in Nigeria, the level of women participation in government is still abysmally low, it is of course a cultural and religious issue.
“The implication of this is that we will continue to rob our society of those things that women are passionate about. Women are passionate about education, health, and peace building. When you have a good number of women in the parliament, they will always push for bills relating to all these.
“Except we put into our governance gender quota backed with a legal framework, like Rwanda, we may not get there soon.”
Kayode Kehinde, gender studies expert, said the implication of the current system is that men would continue to dominate the Nigerian political system with no improvement for an inclusive democracy in the next four years.
She noted that it was obvious that Nigeria is not ready to change the status quo.
According to Kehinde, “The implication for this abysmal outcome is that for the next four years we will continue to run a system of men dominating the Nigerian political system with no improvement for an inclusive democracy.
“This also implies that we will continue to have a setback to many important agendas that speak directly to women’s and girls’ welfare in Nigeria.
“The truth is if we keep up with this same system of doing things the same way, we cannot have a different result.
“Let us ask ourselves these honest questions, have there been changes to how political parties choose their flag bearers? Have we been able to push laws that champion women’s equal representation (like the quota system, for example).
“Have we created enabling environments for women to contest for political offices, and to what extent have we improved on changing the misconception about electing women into political offices?
“If the answer to these questions remains a no, then we are indeed not ready as a country to increase women’s political representation”.