Compiled by Mr Lazarus M.A, Miss Jerum Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Oobulu Esq.
Women are an integral part of the political process anywhere in the world including Nigeria and Benue State. Comprising of over 49% of the population of the Country, Women are a force in both number and impact in Nigeria. They have made remarkable contributions in all areas of our National life as exemplified by amazons like Dr. Dora Akunyili, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mrs. Obi Ezekwesili, Prof. Grace Alele Williams etc. Closer home, women like Chief Elizabeth Ivase, Dr. Enyantu Ifene, Hon. Margaret Icheen etc. have contributed immensely in shaping the socio-political ecosystem in Benue State. Despite these recorded achievements, election of Women into key political positions remains at a very low level in the State. The 2018/19 general elections have not changed the narrative. In fact, things are getting worse going by the performance and conduct of the last primary elections in terms of Women participation.
All general elections are preceded by a primary election which throws up candidates for different positions across the contesting political parties. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, party primaries were held, across political parties, between mid-September and first week of October 2018. However, a plethora of complaints show that the exercise left much to be desired in terms of Women participation especially in Benue State. Though there was a good turnout of women vying for office, few were able to clinch their party tickets. The State Governorship primaries featured no female aspirant this time, not on any party platform.
The National Assembly elections particularly, did not favor Women. For example, the Senatorial Primary Elections produced 1 female from Zone A of the State while the House of Representatives had about 5 candidates across all the political parties, of this number, only 1 was nominated as at the time of writing this report. These women and their constituencies are as follows:
Dorothy Mato – Vandeikya – APC – House of Representative
Mimi Orubibi – Kwande – APC – Senate
Other female aspirants lost out not because of lack of capacity but largely due to the age long discrimination against Women in party politics. For example, in the Kwande/ Ushongo Federal Constituency elections under the All Progressives Congress (APC), the only female candidate that was chosen by consensus vote due to the inconclusiveness of the elections owing to violence was substituted by the party big wigs because owing to gender considerations. That same situation obtained in Otukpo Federal Constituency Primary elections under the Peoples Democratic Party. The female candidate that was the choice of the delegates was supplanted by a male candidate that was the choice of Party chieftains at the top.
Female Aspirants to the State Assembly fared no better. Under some political parties, no election took place. The few that did were characterized by irregularities such as vote buying, violence, intimidation, hijacking and supplanting of party delegates, etc. In all these irregularities, Women were the worst hit. At the end of the day, only about 3 Women emerged as flag bearers for the State Assembly elections across the over 90 registered political parties that participated in the primary elections in Benue State and across Nigeria.
In view of the above therefore, one can say that, the 2019 general elections do not favor Women Human Rights judging from the precedents associated with the primaries. One strong point that resonates loudly is that Women Politicians are still being considered second class and subservient to their male colleagues. This is disappointing and sad because women are not being given the encouragement, opportunity and responsibility they deserve by their male counterparts. This is the situation even as global conversations and actions are again tilted towards Women Human Rights. The much-acclaimed affirmative action which cedes 35% of positions to Women of which Nigeria is a signatory to has been sidelined, to say the least. This is true in that so many of these women willingly came forth as party card carriers, showed interest to contest but were not nominated mostly based on gender issues.
Given the above scenario, therefore, we recommend the following:
That all Women Politicians who feel discriminated against and hard done by their parties at the just concluded primaries can challenge the status quo in Courts of law
That political party structures should review their policies towards female politicians and begin to see them as equal partners in progress instead of just making up party numbers
That the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should increase its monitoring of political Party primaries to protect vulnerable candidates, especially women
That Media and Civil Society should intensify their reportage and advocacy on Women Human rights with focus on the electoral process.
In conclusion one can truly state that the issue of Women Rights and political participation, rather than improve, seem to be waning. It’s been the same story since the inception of democracy in Nigeria in 1999. Despite their best efforts, very few women have been able to secure key elected posts in the country. According to LA research report on the last General Elections (2015), there was neither compliance with local, regional and international instruments aimed at promoting and protecting women’s rights and development nor an increase of women participation in the electoral process in comparison with the just concluded primary elections.
We believe that if women are carried along, they can act for themselves and influence development policies, actively participate in the political process and attempt to minimize factors in the justice system which negatively impact them.