Contesting elections in Nigeria is a daunting challenge for women. It is more overwhelming for those from the northern part of the country.
TOLUWANI ENIOLA , in this report, captures their frustration
In 2002, after over a decade of successful teaching career, Mrs. Ladi Watila, who hails from Hawul Local Government Area of Borno State, began to consider joining politics. Her motivation was the growing poverty and illiteracy in her state. Watila thought that the best way to address the problems was to represent her constituency in the federal legislature.
She felt that the men, who had been occupying political positions in the state, were not doing enough.
Armed with a bachelor and master’s degrees in Geography and Resource Management, Watila took the advice of a friend in 2003 to contest the House of Representatives election in Borno State after weighing the pros and cons.
As a woman, she knew it would not be an easy task. In Borno, only a few women dared to venture into politics.
Watila believed that the best platform to realise her dream then was through the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party which was the ruling party in the North-Eastern state at the time.
After throwing her hat into the ring, what she went through in the quest to achieve her political dream betrayed her expectations.
Watila, with a voice laden with regrets, captured her political experience thus, “What I saw was not what I expected.”
She added, “The structure of the party was too difficult for a woman to emerge as its candidate. A few women, who dared to join politics, were seen as prostitutes. As long as you are a woman and you are in politics, you are a prostitute.
“They said, ‘what are you (women) doing among men? You are supposed to be at home waiting for your suitors or cooking for your husbands.’
“Male politicians see women as their property. I eventually lost the primary election to a man, after spending so much on the campaigns and other logistics.”
Watila’s story, no doubt, is a tip of the iceberg compared to what women, who dared to venture into politics in northern part of the country, face while contesting elections.
An investigation conducted by
SUNDAY PUNCH revealed that since the return to democracy in 1999, efforts made by women across states in the country to make inroads into politics have yielded poor results.
While politics has been generally a difficult terrain for women in the country, their marginalisation is rife in the North.
Since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, women have recorded low representation at the National Assembly and in other elective positions. Although more women are now actively participating in politics, the figure of those that won their bids for political positions have been low. Many women fear the risks of the bumpy political landscape.
A report obtained by our correspondent on the Independent National Electoral Commission’s website showed that in 1999, only three women were elected to the Senate out of the total 109 members, amounting to 2.8 per cent. In the same year, only 12 women made it to the House of Representatives, usually made up of 360 members.
In 2003, the figure slightly increased to four women in the Senate and 21 women in the House of Representatives. In 2007, nine women were elected to the Senate while 26 won elections into the House of Representatives.
In 2011, only seven women were elected to the Senate while 25 won elections to the House of Representatives. In the 2015 general elections, there was a decline. Only seven women made it into the Senate while 19 women were elected into the House of Representatives.
In the 2015 general elections, there was only one female presidential candidate, Oluremi Sonaiya; a retired professor of French and Applied Linguistics.
Sarah Jubril is however the first female presidential candidate. She ran for presidency four times. Also, ex-wife of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mojisola Adekunle-Obasanjo, who founded the Masses Movement of Nigeria in 1998, contested presidency on the party’s platform in 2003 and 2007.
‘Politics is frustrating’
Out of the few women who made it to the National Assembly, the figure of women who contested and won elections in the North has been very low compared to that of the South.
Findings by our correspondent showed that apart from Kaduna State, no woman has been elected to any state House of Assembly in the North-West, which comprises Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Watila, Abdullahi and Tagwai-Aji
In Kano State, it was learnt that no woman had even been elected as a councillor or chairman of any council area. Also, no woman has also been elected to the state House of Assembly and House of Representatives. In the last election, only one woman from the North, Binta Masi Garba, of the All Progressives Congress, won election to the Senate.
Nigeria, unlike other African countries, is still backward as far as the National Gender Policy is concerned. According to the data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the percentage of women in the national parliament across the world, published on June 1, 2016, Rwanda topped the list with 63.8 per cent of its women in parliament.
In 2003, Rwanda achieved this feat when the country enacted a new constitution that stipulated that not less than 30 per cent of all legislative seats be reserved for women.
Senegal is number six on the world chart with 42.7 per cent of its women in the country’s national parliament. Nigeria recorded paltry 5.6 per cent women in the federal legislature.
Earlier in the year, the Senate rejected a bill that seeks to empower women politically and economically and grant them equal opportunities with men.
Tales of betrayal, pain
Many factors, especially cultural, have dampened the enthusiasm of women in contesting elective positions. Sharing her ordeal in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH , a female politician from Nasarawa Local Government Area of Kano State, Mrs. Amina Tagwai-Aji, said culture and religion had become major impediments to the participation of women in politics.
Tagwai-Aji said, “I was the personal assistant to the late Kudirat Abiola. I joined the Peoples Democratic Party in 1999. In 2003, I contested to represent Kano-Central in the Senate. I lost the primary.
“In the North, it is very difficult for a female to come out and contest for positions. The men are not ready to support a woman. I faced a lot of challenges during the campaigns. They said a Muslim woman was not supposed to lead. We tried to correct the misunderstanding about the role of women in politics. We told them we wanted to represent them and not to lead them. I contested against a former Military Governor of Niger State, Col. Habibu Shuaibu.
“Many Islamic leaders preached against me. There were also the threats of physical attack. They tore my campaign posters, saying they did not want a woman. The primary was not conducted; the next thing we heard was that Shuaibu had won.”
The story of Ms Indo Pantuvo, 48, a History graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is a little different.
Pantuvo, an indigene of Takun Local Government Area of Taraba State, observed that the educational imbalance in the North greatly affected her political ambition. The ABU graduate contested the House of Representatives election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2007.
On why she failed to realise her ambition, Pantuvo said, “Maybe because I was new to politics. I didn’t have anybody to support me. The fact that I was a woman also affected me. They said, ‘Where are you coming from as a woman to come and rule us?’ I contested against five men. I was the only woman in the race.
“The opposition came from the women than the men in my case. Many women were not educated. So, they saw us who were more educated than them as threats. They joined the men in making things difficult for me. They also called me a prostitute and other unprintable names. When I lost the primary, I was disappointed.”
Other women, who shared their stories with our correspondent, also highlighted the huge funds in contesting elections as a major factor why women did not bother to seek elective positions in the North. Although some political parties have waived the ticket fees for women, they said the waiver was insignificant compared to other financial hurdles involved.
For instance, Watila said, “I did not have the money they were asking for. They asked each aspirant to give each of the delegates, who will determine our political fate, N10,000 to vote for us. You have to pay for the delegates. The delegates were very many. If your an opponent gave more than you, you are schemed out of the race.
“I joined the race because I have the experience and the technical know-how. But that was not enough. One needs to have money. If one does not give the required money, one will not get the ticket. A woman is not accepted in the North. I bought exercise books and pencils, I made desks for the pupils in my constituency, yet I lost the primary.”
Buttressing Pantuvo’s claims, Mrs. Najatu Muhammad, the first woman to be elected as the President of the Ahmadu Bello University Students’ Union Government and first to be elected to the Senate in the North, told our correspondent that many women did not contest elections in the region because of “too many risks involved.”
“As a woman, before contesting an election, I had to first think of getting my children’s school fees and feeding my children. A man does not mind this challenge. This primary role affects us. But I don’t see it as an impediment; I see it as a plus.
“We don’t contest elections because there is too much risk involved. It’s so much money, so much violence. I lost my husband in this kind of violence. There are risks I cannot take as a woman because I have to take cognisance of my primary role.
“I have been threatened. I have escaped death by a whisker on few occasions. I have been beaten up at the conference centre; they tore my dress and left me only with my underwear. I have escaped assassinations on many occasions. I have undergone six surgeries because I was poisoned. It’s all because I say things as I believe.”
Mrs. Sa’adatu Abdullahi is a Fulani mother of two girls. She narrated how she was shortchanged in her quest to become the chairman of the Abuja Municipal Council.
“A particular leader of the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party asked me to contest the chairmanship position in Abuja. I did not know they just wanted to use me. They said I should paint Abuja blue; I made posters, fliers, and my name was submitted to INEC.
“After my campaign had gained momentum and when I had succeeded in winning support for the party, the same party leader called me from the campaign ground. He said my name had been withdrawn from INEC. The ticket was given to a man. I felt cheated because I had spent a lot of money. I defected to the PDP and took my supporters along.”