Nigeria embraced democratic rule since 1999, but not until 2003 did she record her first female presidential candidates in Dr Sarah Jibril and Late Major Moji Obasanjo.
Jibril, however, remains the only woman to have been consistent in her quest to be Nigerian president. But even that bold move has been unsuccessful – her embarrassing single vote in the 2011 presidential elections where she squared up against the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan is all too fresh in the memory.
Since then, there has only been a smattering of women who have vied for the highest office in the land, what’s more, they have done very little to shake up the male-dominated political system.
Professor of French and KOWA Party candidate in the 2015 presidential elections, Remi Sonaiya could only pull a discouraging 13,076 representing 0.05 per cent of the over 67 million votes available.
Judging by the performance of the women who have dared to attempt to break the glass ceiling where the presidency is concerned, the forecast doesn’t look too good. Nonetheless, the recent clamour for more women in politics especially against the backdrop of gender equality and the women’s movement has begun to yield fruits.
This is evident in the already unprecedented number of women who have declared their intention to run for the office of president come February 2019. At the last count, at least four women have thrown their hats in the exclusive ring of presidential hopefuls.
National Interest Party (NIP) candidate Eunice Atuejide, Elishama Rosemary Ideh of the Alliance for a New Nigeria (ANN), Funmi Adesanya-Davies, (who’s yet to declare her political platform) and the most experienced of them, Remi Sonaiya of KOWA Party have all stepped up to be counted as the race to the office of the first citizen gathers momentum.
While four female candidates are still a far cry from what could be considered an ideal representation for women in a presidential race that already has not less than 14 men contesting, there’s no doubt that it’s an improvement from what obtained in previous elections.
There’s no gainsaying the fact that women are grossly lacking invisibility on the national scale due to poor representation where they can influence policy decisions. The stats are highly skewed in favour of the men. For instance, out of 109 senators who currently make up the 8th National Assembly, only seven are women. The irony is that women constitute more of the voting population compared to men, yet this has not translated to visibility or voice share in key electoral positions.
This challenge–a consequence of a patriarchal, male-dominated society – is partly, yet significantly responsible for the marginalisation of women in policy-making; a factor whose effect trickles down to children who are mostly in their care.
Furthermore, Nigerian women contend with a cynical society where the pervading belief remains that the female gender does not possess the grit, trickery, and even financial muscle to wade through the murky waters of Nigerian politics let alone take a successful shot at being president.
Nevertheless, as the women’s movement grows and more women become increasingly knowledgeable of their rights and the strength in their numbers, we are beginning to see a change in the apathy that the womenfolk used to have for electioneering. Besides, other African countries who cannot boast of having more than 50 million women who can come together to get one of their own in the ultimate seat of power have proven that it is not impossible to have a woman at the helm of affairs of a nation, even one as complex and as large as Nigeria.
In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected female head of state in Africa. Since then, Joyce Banda of Malawi (2012), Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic (2014), and Ameena Firdaus Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius (2015) have all replicated that feat and called the shots from the topmost post in their countries. If Nigerian women need some inspiration to be more ambitious politically, they can look up to these trailblazers of their ilk.
The journey will not be an easy one. As the paradigm in mindset shifts, and, the downtrodden masses grow increasingly wary of successive underperforming governments led by men, they just might decide to turn to the untried gender – if only as an act of rebellion.
But beyond the calls and steady advancement of women in every major field, the question many still ponder is, “Are Nigerian women really prepared for the arduous task of being president? Can they shed the toga of frailty and emotionalism they have been defined by to succeed where their male counterparts have failed?”
It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold.
NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.