By Editor.

With the declaration of, and issuance of Certificate of Return to winners of the just concluded Parliamentary elections by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the stage is now set for membership of the 10th National Assembly (NASS), billed to be inaugurated in June, to jostle for the leadership of the apex legislature comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives.

As the battle for the leadership of the 10th NASS heats up, with contestants emphasizing the importance of forming an inclusive government on the strict basis of religion and ethnicity, an important group has been yet again relegated to the background where they are forgotten and overlooked. There is little or no consideration for women in this frantic political jostling, despite accounting for half of the population and their effective representation being a more powerful antidote to a lopsided government and, invariably, a defective democracy.

Starting with the election which turned out to be a setback for women as a group. From a representation level of about 6% in the 9th NASS, an abysmal record which placed Nigeria on the list of countries with the lowest women representation in the world, the figure has dropped drastically to 3.62%. Out of the four hundred and sixty -nine (469) seats available in both chambers: Senate, one hundred and nine (109); House of Representatives three hundred and sixty (360), only seventeen (17) women successfully clinched seats in both chambers.

The grim reality of women’s poor representation remains a challenge in the 10th NASS which has fewer women representation than the 9th NASS which itself suffered criticism on account of its grossly inequitable and low women representation.

There are those who shrug when this fact is presented. For them, it’s simply a matter of electoral viability and political gamesmanship. They reason that if women fail at navigating the thorny path to power, and are thus coming up short against their male counterparts at the polls, then the onus lies with them, not the nation or the political system, to improve their political skills and make themselves more appealing to the electorate. But this view is both jaundiced and short-sighted.

It ignores the historical and entrenched obstacles placed in the path of women that rig the game against them. Their lesser economic buoyancy coupled with

the heavy monetization of politics is a disenchantment. Patriarchal norms and beliefs preserved and promoted by cultural institutions that view power and leadership as the exclusive preserve of men. Unequal access to opportunities such as the lack of prioritization of the girl-child education due to gendered stereotype that often reduce women to domestic workers fit only for household duties.

It could be argued that our society, for the most part, resists women’s aspiration to power and ambitious women, through films and other influencers of popular culture, are portrayed in a negative light. This is not a battle that women can win by simply becoming better politicians. It is a societal problem that we must acknowledge and collectively, through deliberate policies and actions, redress.

Besides, if the goal of democracy is representation, such that all hues and shades of society are offered a chance to participate in its leadership, Nigeria cannot be said to have satisfactorily met this goal considering that half of its population is effectively locked out of its leadership. This is neither a consequence-free deficit nor a sustainable situation.

Multiple research studies have identified women’s

inconsequential presence in leadership as one of the major factors responsible for the country’s slow socio-economic growth. Essentially, when majorly male voices and concerns design policies and laws, the peculiar needs of women are neglected and their contribution to society is hampered. It is akin to a bird trying to fly with one of its wings wrapped around its body.

The Nigerian government, under the progressive leadership of the APC, has acknowledged this challenge and made efforts to address it. The approval of the National Gender Policy, which recommends 35% affirmative action for women, is one such effort. But implementation has been lacking and more can be done to modify the operations of political institutions in the country to mainstream gender as a fundamental inclusion principle.

In the immediate terms, and as it relates to the 10th NASS, the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, which enjoys a controlling majority, must take deliberate steps to lessen the negative effects of women’s poor representation in the parliament by increasing the influence of those who managed to secure seats.

In the ongoing negotiation and horse-trading for principal positions and leadership of committees, gender must deliberately be made to outweigh ethnicity and religion, with a view to offering women significant positions where they can shape legislations and influence outcomes. This is the only way to achieve a truly representative and equitable government which delivers social justice to all members of Nigerian society.

The APC’s progressive governance model should make this a goal it readily pursues. Not just as a high-minded ideal but also a practical step to increase its appeal to a powerful voting bloc.

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