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2019: Why women population in governance is declining

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By Okechukwu Onuegbu 



There is no doubt that women constitute a significance per centage of the world population. In Nigeria, specifically, available record obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2016, the Nigeria population was estimated at 193 million of which women constituted 49.2 per cent and men 50.8 per cent. Unofficial reports also indicate that women always dominate the voter population.

It is also worth mentioning that women have intimidating populations at almost all the public and private institutions though records show leadership disparity in those institutions as women are led by men of same or even less academic qualifications.

This is contrary to the Beijing Declaration adopted at the Fourth World Conference in 1995 on Women, where every participating government, including Nigeria, agreed “to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of humanity,” and the National Gender Policy (NGP) which guides institutions, including political parties on inclusion of women in politics and decision making.”

In spite of this, women participation in government has continue to decline rather to grow in the country. In the 2007 general elections, only one woman contested for the office of the President, 33.9% for governorship positions, 13.5% for senate, 15.6% for House of Representatives, and 15.8% for Houses of Assembly but at the end, only about 7.5 per cent occupied key leadership positions in the country.

In the 2011 general elections, official records released by the INEC indicates that a total of 809 women emerged as candidates of different political parties against 692 who were candidates during the 2007 elections. But when results of that election came out, women’s representation at national level reverted from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.1% in 2011. Thus, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, allotted 33 percent of his cabinet to women.

In 2015, women participation decreased to seven in Senate (6.4 percent) and 19 in House of Representatives (5.2 per cent) and further decreased to 19 per cent in the 2015 cabinet of President Buhari. For instance, National Judicial Council reports (2011 – 2016), disclosed that 29.38% of judges were female while 70.62 percent were male.

Also, from 1999 to 2015, State House of Assembly members across the nation had 5.29 per cent female and 94.71 per cent male, while females in local government area administration from 1999–2015 were 9% per cent against 91 per cent male, whereas councillors had 5.9 per cent female and 94.1 per cent male nationwide.

In all, from 1960 till date, no woman has been a vice president, president, senate president, deputy senate president or governor (except Dame Virgy Etiaba, former deputy governor of Anambra State who occupied that seat by default from November 2006 to February 2007 while her boss, Peter Obi was impeached in office). Similarly, only Patricia Etteh has served as Speaker House of Representatives for just five months because of a N628m contract scandal.


Only in some states like Anambra State that women have held some important political offices. The outgoing State House of Assembly Speaker is a woman, Rt. Hon. Rita Maduagwu. Maduagwu succeeded Rt. Hon. Chinwe Nwaebili, who was the second female Speaker of legislative chamber in Anambra State. The first was Rt. Hon. Eucharia Anazodo, the current member representing Aguata federal constituency at green chamber. Even the current Acting Chief Judge is a woman.


Recent research findings by Department for International Development (DFID) show that only 71 Nigerian women are in leadership positions in the country as against 4000 available political offices. The report enumerated these offices to include political and non-political appointments.

In view of all these, groups like Idikacho Women in Governance (IWIG), a non-governmental organisation emerged and played roles of educating the women, enlightening the public and advocacy in the Southeast geopolitical zone on the need to support women political emancipation especially in the just-concluded elections.

Prof. Mercy Anigbogu, the founder of I-WIG, had argued that women were agents for societal growth, thus, giving them voice would help in addressing issues like domestic violence, anti-societal acts, immorality etc.

Statistics from the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) Gender Election Watch (GEW) room indicates that, in the build-up to 2019 general election, female presidential candidates increased from one in 2015 to six in 2019 and that out of 1,848 candidates for senatorial positions, 233 were females compared to 2015 when there were 128 females out of 746 candidates.

There were 569 females and 4,066 males unlike in 2015 which had 270 females out of 1,772 candidates.

They singled out high-quota female contestants at the House of Representatives to include Lagos (71), Imo (41), Anambra (34), Osun (30) and Rivers (27).

But at the end of the political party primaries, only few women made it as flag bearers especially on the popular political parties like PDP, APC and APGA. In Anambra State, specifically, out of 3 senatorial seats only PDP filed two female Senatorial candidates, while APC and APGA filed men respectively. At House of Representative poll, out of 11 seats for grab, PDP had three women candidates, while APGA and APC had one each. Again, out of 30 seats at Anambra State House of Assembly, APGA and APC filed two female candidates, while PDP had one.

Unfortunately, at the end of March 23 National Assembly and 9th March, 2019 States House of Assembly elections, only 6 women won senatorial election made to be occupied by 109 persons, while 11 women secured seats at the green chamber which comprises 360 seats. Also, at the State House of Assembly elections, only few states elected women legislators. Like in the five South East States, three women won in Enugu 24 members-State Assembly, three females won at the 13-member Ebonyi State Assembly, Anambra State Assembly has one member elect out of 30 against five they had in 2015, Imo state with her 27 seats managed to elect one woman (according to results declared so far due to pending rerun at some constituencies), and Abia State with her 24 has only men.

Thus, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) joint international observer delegation, in their post 2019 general election briefing at Abuja, regretted that the percentage of women candidates for governor and deputy governor increased slightly this year from 6 and 17 percent respectively in 2015 to 8 and 26 percent.

According to the International Republican Institute IRI Regional Director for Africa, John Tomaszewski, in their post 2019 general election briefing at Abuja, “there were very few women in winning positions on the tickets fielded by major political parties for the gubernatorial and state house of assembly polls. Of the 276 women running for deputy governor, only five were candidates from the All Progressive Party (APC) or People’s Democratic Party (PDP). As for the case for the February 23 national elections, the vast majority of women candidates for state-level elections ran on the tickets of newly created parties, with little prospect of winning elected office.”

Ways forward

Tomaszewski suggested that the way forward is for the masses to push for enactment of gender and equal opportunities bill which has been lying before the National Assembly since 2010, arguing, “Despite being Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria has the lowest representation of women in national legislative office of any country in the continent, and this representation will likely fall below five percent following the February 23 National Assembly vote. This is not a record to be proud of.

“The Nigerian government should expedite the adoption of comprehensive electoral reforms in order to lay the groundwork for an improved electoral framework. Government should implement fully and expeditiously the recommendations of the Nigerian-led reform initiatives such as the reports from the Uwais commission (2008) and the Nnamani committee (2007), and create appropriate institutions to oversee political parties.”

In the same vein, a female contestant at the Abuja Area Council poll, Rahamat Abdullahi, while lamenting that she was the only one woman that came out of the 56 wards in the FCT, charged that “Men should sit down and assess the way they are treating us politically. We should be given a chance to lead because we have proven that in this country women can lead and many women who have been given leadership positions are doing exceptionally well.”

To the deputy national coordinator of Women Situation Room Nigeria, Philomena Henry, political parties have to consider the demands of women mostly as contained in the gender policy and the incoming administration should negotiate with women to appoint more women this time around.

Henry’s postulations was in line with the late President Umar Yar’Adua’s political philosophy which led him to promise women 30 percent of his political appointment while he was elected in 2007 (less than the 35 per cent in the National Gender Policy), although an assessment conducted by ActionAid, a nongovernmental organisation, after one year indicated that women appointment was only 11 per cent). Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan did the same thing during his tenure by appointing women into 33% of his cabinet.

But to Anigbogu, the outcome of the general election called for sober reflection. She said it worth jubilating in Anambra state where two women, Uche Ekwunife and Stella Odua of PDP cleared two out of three senate seats in the state, just as Lynda Ikpeazu of PDP won a federal house of representative seat out of 11 available in the state.

“Women were edged out starting from the party primary elections. The election was surprising and shocking event. We were intimidated. Anambra State was the only state where women enjoyed conducive political environment. Our members reported ballot snatching and money inducements as some of the reasons women lost at some states. Women don’t have financial muscle. But we are yet to understand why a sitting Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly was voted out. Men are no longer happy with our political emancipation,” she added.

Anigbogu, however, implored men to be supportive women in election, while asking women to explore their advantage of number in terms of voting to vote in women in future elections.

She also encouraged women politicians to leverage on Stella Odua’s political selling point which according to her, was empowerment of people, and been closer to the grassroot.

On her part, Pastor Mrs Ifeoma Chukwuma, the regional team leader, Partnership for Engagement Reform and Learning (PERL) funded by Department for International Development (DFID), advised women not to be perturbed over the latest political development, but to keep pushing for participation in governance and accountability of leaders through advocacy and others.

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