By Onyinye Okonkwo
Nigeria, as a country that can be described as largely patriarchal, is still very much behind when it comes to equality between men and women. This disparity can be clearly seen in the political class in our country of which, studies have shown, women only make up 15% or even less. There is a largely accepted belief thatwomen have no place in politics or any leadership position.Although it is no longer as bad as it used to be, I believe there is stillroom for improvement.
President Muhammad Buhari once said that “my wife belongs to the kitchen and the other room”. Bad as it may sound; this represents the opinion of more over 60% of Nigerians (both men and women) about the role and the place of a woman in the society.
Nigeria transitioned from military to democratic rule in 1999 andless than 50 women have occupied elective positions at the same time all over of the country, across all levels of government.
There is very obvious reluctance on the part of men who largely control the power to give women the same opportunity that men are given to contest for political positions and, in the rare case when a woman works her way into a position, she often meets a hostile working environment, mostly from men who resent having to answer to a woman they make it difficult for her to be effective and productive.
Sometimes, if the woman in question isn’t dancing to their tune, they do everything possible to ensure she isfrustrated into resignation or framed and then impeached like in the case of Patricia Etteh, the first woman to ever become the speaker of the House of Representatives, Etteh was accused of misappropriation of funds itwas then alleged that she spent a whopping 626 million naira in redecoration of her official residence an accusation which eventually led to her resignation merely five months after assuming the seat of the speaker of the house of Representatives. She was later vindicated and cleared of all wrong by the same house in 2011.
Just last week, the Anambra state house of assembly attempted to impeach the present speaker of the house Mrs. Rita Maduagwu, the fourth such attempt since she assumed that position. This time, the attempt was on the grounds of alleged misappropriation of funds, financial complicity, incompetence and gross abuse of office. This issue is yet to be resolved and we can’t say for sure if she is guilty of the alleged charges or not. But one cannot help but wonder what she may have done that made the lawmakers want her out so badly that made them attempt another impeachment just months before the 2019 election which may see her possibly not re-elected.
Whatever their reasons may be, it seems really personal, as though they have an axe to grind with her or wants to ensure she is “disgraced” or forcefully removed from office to “teach her a lesson”. This is just a conjecture on my own part, of course. You may be wondering what my point is and what allegations of corruption have to do with being a woman.
Well, I used the Anambra state speaker to buttress my point that there is less tolerance for women in politics and positions of power compared to that for men. Most men feel awkward having to work under a woman and every little thing she does could be misinterpreted as pride by ego-driven men and such feelings can grow to resentment and may become a need to “humble her”.
Nigerian male law makers from the highest to lowest levels have been caught with evidence in acts of corruption and misconduct but they are allowed to serve out their term in office and most times the allegations are swept under the rug like in the case of Dino Melaye and so many others too numerous to mention.
The reason is obvious; men are more likely to side with a man than with a woman and are less likely to take some actions from a fellow man as an insult. Sometimes, it feels as though there is some sort of conspiracy, aimed at suppressing women and keeping them from aspiring to certain positions.
Currently, there are only sevenwomen in the senate out of 109 total members and 15 women in the house of representative out of 252 total members. Is this encouraging? Why are the numbers so low? Is it really that women have no interest in politics? Or is it more like they are not being given the opportunity to even contest as they are often forcefully edged out or asked to step down for a male to run instead(this happened to an aspiring house of reps member in the north).
I am aware that a good number of women bought forms and declared interest for different positions, but, like I said earlier, women are being shut out from wielding political power. But I strongly believe that women are learning the tricks of the game and are gearing up to take power by any means necessary in tandem with the popular saying that most men are always quick to quote whenever the issue of the conspiracy to keep women out of power comes up “power is never given, it is often taken and most times by force”.
Well, I am certain that the next generation of women who are getting into politics have been watching and learning. This generation of women will not be intimidated into resigning or make it easy for you to impeach them (like the Anambra state speaker, Rita Maduagwu is not making it easy for her detractors). if this generation of women has learnt anything from observing the women in politics before them, it is that you, as the woman, will most likely get thrown under the bus or used as the sacrificial lamb when there are issues. So, you must come prepared to fight.
Politics, at the end of the day, is a game and a dirty one at that. If you can’t afford to roll in the mud regardless of your gender or defend yourself from attacks, then you will get eaten by the bigger animals in the jungle.
As the 2019 elections draw closer, I look forward to seeing more women get into the race for different positions and also winning. I also look forward to these women being givenequal playing fields like their male counterparts. Having that in mind, winning is preceded by a winning mindset and these women who plan to contest and win must come with a mindset of victory. Don’t expect sympathy votes; come armed with your action plans and be prepared to put in the necessary amount of work and, even if you don’t win in this election, you will gain very useful experience that will make you better equipped to win in the next elections.