Saturday, February 3, 2018

Nigeria: The Decline Of Female Politicians

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
Through their numerous feats in different spheres of human endeavour, many a woman has vitiated the wrongheaded diatribe of the iconoclastic German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that “when a woman has scholarly inclinations there is something wrong with her sexuality.”
Clearly, women could justifiably declaim against Nietzsche’s notion of woman as God’s second mistake. But it is not unlikely that Nietzsche’s opinion would have enjoyed a fair measure of validity if he had had the Nigerian woman in mind and declared that she suffers an unhinged sexuality as long as she has political inclinations. Nietzsche’s postulation could even be much more valid in a place like Saudi Arabia where women only secured the right to vote in just about three years ago.
But we are not unaware of the giant strides women have recorded in politics in other climes since John Stuart Mill in the 18th century deployed his intellectual resources to canvass the then unpopular equality of the sexes and condemned the subjection of women. Here we are reminded of the fact that the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have been bestridden by great female political leaders as presidents or prime ministers.

These include Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Angela Merkel of Germany, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and coming home to Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. We need to also include Hillary Clinton who missed the United States presidency by a hair’s breadth. 

Although Nigeria is missing from that long list, we must acknowledge that in the struggle for development through political power, it is not one long dark night that is not illumined by the female presence in the affairs of humanity in these climes. Yes, in the past, the Nigerian woman was robustly represented in the struggle for development by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Gambo Sawaba and Margaret Ekpo. But the tragedy is that the Nigerian woman has failed to build on this glorious past of struggle. Thus, what is clear is that the female politician in Nigeria has suffered a great decline.

We tend not to remember female politicians like Sarah Jubril who sought the presidency at a time since the advent of democracy in 1999 because of the dilettantism that blurs their participation in politics at the top level. They were neither consistent nor did other women continue from where they stopped. Hence, the current top political space is denuded of women.
Yet, in no other time do women appear to be more needed in the top political space than now. This is because of the notion that women could season the nation that is choking under the carapace of carnage and starvation inflicted by the failure of male politicians. There is the thinking that a female president would not have allowed the Chibok girls to be kept for so long; she would have deployed all the nation’s resources to rescue them. 

Again, can we imagine a female president brooking the killing of pregnant women and others by herdsmen in a bid for territorial control? She would have displayed the rage and resolve of a woman whose child has been prised from her bosom – the kind of resolve that would propel her to rescue the child not minding any peril and even amid her stark nakedness.

But where are the women? For instance, where are the women in the so-called cabal that is in charge of the President Muhammadu Buhari government? And even though some women have been identified as the people behind the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, they did not derive the power ascribed to them by virtue of their elective positions. 

The absence of women from the top political space is underscored by the fact that what we hear of is only godfatherism. There is no godmotherism that shores up minions as successors in political offices. This lack of godmotherism could be seen in the formation of a third force by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. If the idea of a third force were mooted by a woman, would it not throw up women to vie for top political offices in the 2019 election? 

Yes, women have broken the glass ceiling in the academic and corporate worlds. They have not only become top managers in the academic and corporate worlds, they have built businesses where they are leaders of men. Yes, there are still patriarchal barriers to be broken by women. But they no longer whine like Virginia Woolf for “a room of one’s own.” For now, they have the power to determine how far they can go in life. But they are unable to bring this zest in the academic and corporate worlds to conquer the political space. They demur at the notion that violence characterises politics in this part of the world. Here, it is the people with the greatest propensity to maim and kill and not those with the brightest ideas that rule the political space. Yet, this is the more reason the women are needed in politics. We must make an allowance for the possibility that their presence has the potential to overtime rid politics of violence. 

Instead of women being excited by this prospect, they would rather spend their time on Telemundo. They would rather be debauched and demeaned on Big Brother and be preoccupied with Facebook and Instagram. They cannot be found in organisations that determine the political direction of the nation. 

How many women leaders are in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, Urhobo Progress Union, Ijaw National Congress and other such groups? Why are all the leaders of these regional bodies men? It is thus not surprising that since these groups are led by men, when it comes to supporting those to occupy political offices, they easily rally round men only.
And since men are at the helm of politics, women cannot effectively resolve issues that affect their wellbeing. For instance, if women had occupied positions of much political influence would they not ensure that sexual harassment in educational institutions attracts the toughest sanctions? Would they not protect the girl child by stopping child marriage and female genital mutilation and encourage her education?

But after allowing men to dominate the political space, women would now wake up and inflict on men their jeremiads about marginalisation. Then there would be a recourse to an affirmative action that would require that they should be given a percentage of political offices. But since these offices are not earned, they could only be leftovers from the men. 

Thus, though there are women lawmakers and deputy governors, they cannot be said to hold so much political power that they could use to improve their lot. Even before the campaigns for the 2019 election open, we can see that some men are ready to contest. 

By engaging in national discourse, they try to convince the citizens that they are the right people for the top national jobs. But how many women have shown their interest in the presidency so early? How many of them are intervening forcefully in national issues? Now, when it comes to the election, some of them would show up as if by an affirmative action the men would just yield the political space for them to grasp the presidency.

Women must not be discouraged by the fact that some of them like a former Minister of Petroleum Diezani Alison-Madueke are considered not to have executed their national assignments unimpeachably. They must draw strength from the fact that even though male politicians have often failed, they have not stopped seeking to dominate the political space. 

It is not enough that women enjoy the right to vote. They should exercise the more important right of being voted for. There lies the solidification of their other rights and attainments in many a field where men trail behind them. They must take cognisance of the fact that their absence from the political process is fraught with the danger of the glass ceiling that they have already broken in different spheres of life being replaced by men who exercise political authority.
*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of The Guardian

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