By Jumoke Okoya-Thomas
After 60 years of gaining independence from Britain that colonised Nigeria for several years, it is now time for Nigerians to look back with the benefit of hindsight to ruminate over where we have missed it as a nation with a view of finding solutions to the numerous problems confronting us collectively.
One important area many observers are suggesting the country should rethink and replan is the inequality between men and women in political offices and sensitive positions in the country.
It is pertinent to dwell on this important area as the nation marks Democracy Day today June 12.
This year’s edition of Democracy Day is significant as it is the first time the country is recognising June 12 as Democracy Day as a reminder of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was presumably won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola under the then Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The election was later annulled by the then head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.). The rest is now history.
However, it cannot be denied that Nigeria is still being held back by the belief that women should play the back role, while men should be in the forefront, especially in the area of governance and political offices.
It is on record that Nigeria has never had a female president, vice president and governor.
The best the nation has had, at least in the southern part of the country, are female governors, and nationally we have had female, ministers and women have occupied a few seats in both the senate and the Federal House of Representatives.
This is apart from states houses of assembly, where out of 20 or 30 members, you would find one, two or three women.
That is where they even have female members at all.
The same goes for local government chairmanship, where the disparity is better imagined than explained.
Indeed Nigeria has been recording low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions.
This has now become a growing concern to many Nigerians.
Records indicate that concerted efforts have been made by some set of people and non -governmental organizations to increase the level of participation of women in politics in line with the declaration at the fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, which advocated 30% affirmative action.
In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35% women representation in political offices and sought for a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively.
Research indicated that the under representation of women in political participation is rooted in the patriarchal practice inherent in our society, much of which were started from pre-colonial era till date.
Statistically, it has been revealed that the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained 6.7 percent in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the Global Average of 22.5 percent, Africa Regional Average of 23.4 percent and West African Sub Regional Average of 15 percent.
Recently, the National Center for Women Development embarked on the collection of a national data on involvement and participation of women in politics in Nigeria (1999 to 2015).
It should be noted that under international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to everything worldwide, most especially to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes.
One wonders why the female gender is being underated, when globally, women constitute over half of the world’s population and contribute in several ways to societal development generally.
In several societies, women play multiple roles, which are: mother, producer, home-manager, and community organizer, socio-cultural and political activists.
Just as it is in global trend, Nigerian women constitute nearly half of the population of the country.
But despite the major roles the women play with their population, they are yet to be given recognition in the society.
It is even ironical that more women vote during elections in Nigeria whereas most of the elective political offices in the country are occupied by men.
Research revealed that in Nigeria, about 51 percent of women are involved in voting during elections, but despite these, women are still under represented both in elective and appointive positions.
The reason for this is not far-fetched, we are still being controlled by some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures.
It should be noted that In Nigeria the awareness about the role of women in development of a nation came up in 1980s.
Moreso, the International Conference on women in Beijing in 1995 enhanced the effective participation of women in politics in Nigeria.
Available records indicated that overall women political representation in government of Nigeria is less than 7 percent.
The fact of the matter is that Nigeria has not attained 30 percent affirmative as prescribed by the Beijing Platform of Action.
The questions now is when are we going to have a female governor, female vice president, and female president?
Nigeria has forgotten the roles played in national development by the likes of Mrs. Olufunmilayo Kuti, Alimotu Pelewura, Margaret Ekpo, Jadesola Akande and Dorothy Njemanze to mention but a few.
It should be noted that not a few other Nigerian women have played very active roles in the development of the country.
In 1960, Mrs. Wuraola Esan from Western Nigeria became the first female member of the Federal Parliament and hwd roles there are for the records.
In 1961, Chief (Mrs) Margaret Ekpo contested and won an election, becoming a member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly till 1966, Mrs. Janet N. Mokelu and Miss Ekpo A. Young also contested elections and won, they became members of the Eastern House of Assembly.
All these women contributed immensely to the debates and development of the society in their own way.
Nigeria should make a concerted effort to join the league of countries that are giving women a chance to prove their worth. I have seen countries appoint women’s duty they are more than half of the cabinet.
For instance, with about 19.3% female representation in the House of Representatives and 23% in the Senate, the United States currently ranks 103rd in the world in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures.
At the top of that list is Rwanda, where women make up 61.3% of the lower house and 38.5% of the upper house.
In 2003, the country adopted a new constitution that reserves 30% of parliamentary seats for women and requires political parties to ensure that women hold at least 30% of elected internal positions.
France is one of 49 other countries that also have statutory quotas or reserved seats for women.
What we are advocating currently in Nigeria is that at least 40% of political positions from the federal government to state and local governments should be given to the Nigerian women.
Nigerian women have played a significant role in nation building, they have contributed their quota during campaign and election period.
Nigerian women are politically aware, they are active, they are ready, they come out enmasse during campaigns and they consider voting during elections as an important civic duty that should be given all the attention it deserves.
For the Nigerian women, it is not about the problem of lack of education, millions of Nigerian women have the requisite education that can make them discharge their duties effectively once they are given chances to occupy elective offices and if they are appointed into sensitive offices.
In the pre-colonial era, Nigerian women were an integral part of the political set up of their communities.
An instance is pre-colonial Bornu, when women played active roles in the administration of the state, supporting the roles played by male counterparts.
Also, women played a very significant role in the political history of ancient Zaria.
A woman called Queen Bakwa Turuku founded the modern city of Zaria in the first half of the 16th century.
She was succeeded as Queen by her daughter called Amina.
History had it that Queen Amina was a great and powerful warrior.
She was said to have built a high wall around Zaria in order to protect the city from invasion and extended the boundaries of her territory beyond Bauchi and she made Zaria prominent Commercial Centre.
The story is not different in ancient Yorubaland, where traditional rulers (Obas) ruled with the assistance of a number of women referred to as female traditional chiefs.
These consisted of eight titled ladies of the highest rank.
The significant role played by prominent women such as Moremi of lfe, Emotan of Benin and Omu Okwei of Ossomari, cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
History has it that Moremi and Emotan were great amazons, who displayed wonderful bravery and strength in the politics of lfe and Benin respectively, while Omu Okwei dominated the commercial scene of Ossomari in present day Delta State.
So, what has changed in the Nigerian women, the answer is nothing.
The problem the women has is that Nigerian men have taken it upon themselves to serve as the rulers, while women are pushed to the background to play a second fiddle as they are seen as “the weaker sex.”
This must stop, women too must be in the forefront, they must be treated like men and allowed to play prominent roles in the development of our country so that we can catch up with the other nations of the world. As conclusion, women should also put aside bickering and support themselves.
-Jumoke Okoya-Thomas is the Women Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State.