Source: The Nigerian Observer
The issue of women’s participation in the political processes of societies, especially democratic ones, is one that has engaged the attention of scholars and researchers (Mcclsky, 1968, Stacey and Price, 1981, Welch 1980, Ifamose 2000 and Makinde 2000). Some studies on the role of Nigerian Women’s participation in politics have come to establish that the level has varied over time.
They argue that women in some Nigerian communities played active political role, but that things changed for the worse in the period of colonization, as they posit that colonization had negative effect on women’s participation in politics (Nina Mba, 1982, Awe, 1977, Okonjo, 1994, Ucheñdu, 1993 and Van Allen 19762). More recent assessments by scholars such as Ifamose 2000, tend to believe that there has been an improvement: in terms of women’s participation in politics, especially in the realm of voting but avers that women’s contributions in the elective arena has remained very marginal and almost negligible in terms of women that occupy elective posts in the various tiers of government. The implication of this is that they are hardly part of the decision making processes of government. In addition the number of women occupying appointive positions has also only marginally improved. It is therefore correct to assert that women are still highly marginalized in the political activities in Nigeria. We know that various explanations have and are always being advanced for this situation. (Explain).
As observed by Ifamose, there are “three classes of hypotheses which have been identified and used in explaining female gender disabilities in the area of political participation”. These, are;
(1) The situational hypothesis: Which characterizes the women’s life space as replete with confining roles of mother and homemaker which end up isolating her from easy access to important resources necessary for political action”.
(2) Structural Hypothesis: This tends to argue “that important societal institutions such as economy, education and. law assign to the female positions which cripple the women when compared with the more robust positions assigned to men.
(3) Early-differential socialization: tends to argue that there is early dichotomization of males and females in such a way that political activity is seen as a male gender role.
A critical evaluation of the above hypotheses will lead us to believe that they are no longer the major reasons why women i.n Nigeria are still obviously lagging behind in Nigeria politics. It is necessary at this point to state that while women are being relatively fairly being well patronized in political appointments the number participating in context for elective posts has remained abysmally low. Even when they do, they hardly succeed. This is ironic considering
(1) The ratio of men to women in Nigeria.
(2) The high turnout of women as voters.
So germane questions include:
(a) Why are more women not running for elective posts?
(b) Why is it that in spite of 1 and. 2 above, women don’t win more elective posts?
If we critically address the above questions then we will be better positioned for the improvement of women’s lot in Nigeria’s politics.
Some suggested points for evaluation are
(1) Weak financial base of women.
(2) Their inability to attend caucus meetings, especially at night.
(3) The role of “godfathers” who by their name are virtually all men.
(4) Religious/Religion constraints
(5) Women’s “bad belle” against fellow women.
(6) Women’s preference for positions of “first-lady” — contentment by women.
(7) Lack of grassroots mobilization of women to support women.
We want to argue that in the forthcoming elections in Nigeria and indeed beyond there should be consistent, sustained, vigorous and total commitment to tackling the above problems with a view to repositioning women for a better deal in Nigeria politics.
There is the urgent need for women to be more involved in politics not just as voters but as those voted for because if they get elected as part of an agenda of seeking to improve the lot of women, they will also help to address the dilemma Nigerian women face in times of political crises which normally come up when the political system collapses. Let us look at this issue in greater details because it will further convince women why they shouldn’t leave the political arena to men.
As we have stated above, women because of their limited and circumscribed role in Nigerian politics are hardly involved in the generation of political conflicts. As noted by many scholars, women hardly hold key positions in political parties, rather they are almost always confined to what is called “women wing” of the party. That means they are not members of the mainstream decision making arm of the parties. Furthermore, by the very nature of politicking in Nigeria, where major decisions are taken at party caucuses that tend to meet at night most women are always left out of such meetings. Consequently, when political parties take crucial decisions on policies• and methods for actualizing them, women are not there. Thus we can argue that women are not party to the decisions that sometimes generate tension and lead to political conflicts.
On the same note above, it is a truism that women hold very limited positions in government. The exalted positions in the executive, legislative and even the judicial arms of government are dominated by men.
Women are only given token appointment to create the semblance of gender sensitivity and equity. Just like in the case of the political parties, we observe that the executive arms of government and the legislative are responsible for the formulation of policies and their implementation which tend to generate tension in the system that eventually snowball into political conflicts e.g many believe that the religious cum political crisis of sharia is traceable to political decisions taken by those in government. It is also the male dominated governments that allocate resources and make appointments which again could be. mismanaged and lead to political conflicts. We will therefore be right to say that men have been the perpetrators of political conflicts in Nigeria.
At another level, we are aware that the military establishment in Nigeria has contributed a great deal to the political instability in Nigeria. The military has been responsible for coups and counter coups and we know that the disagreements and killings that eventually led to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War were all generated and executed by men. As recognized by all, the Civil War has so far been the height of political conflict in Nigeria, and this event was virtually an all male affair.
Critical analysis of religious conflicts in Nigeria have long indicated that most of them have had political undertones. Studies have also established that the major religious groups in Nigeria and indeed the world over are headed by men. Although religious riots sometimes seem spontaneous, they are usually orchestrated and planned, and of course the menfolk are behind them. It follows once again that women are excusable from these conflicts that have always led to wanton destruction of lives and properties under the guise of religion.
Finally, the political atmosphere in Nigeria has often been charged by ethnic conflicts and communal clashes. The organs for arriving at decisions that eventually lead to these conflicts are once again dominated by men. How many women are leaders of the various PCS such as the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) that have been at the centre of many crises in the South West in the last couple of years? A further question, is how many women are directly involved in the execution of plans of conflicts, by their political, ethnic or religious? Without doubt very minimal.
The kernel of our submission above therefore is that women don’t contrive, plan, or execute conflicts. More fundamentally, they are not always party to the decision making processes that result into conflicts. The true dilemma of a Nigerian woman and experience in a period of political crisis lies in the fact that she eventually bears the brunt of such conflicts whether directly or indirectly. Thus she is a victim always. What are her experiences?
The Impact of Political Conflicts on Women
The impact is usually multifarious and varied. To a large extent though, we recognize that there are grounds on which the impact on women is the same with men. Even at that, we should. remember that the men cause the problem not the women, so can we therefore say the men get what they deserve?
Like men, women do get killed in times of political conflicts. The gruesome stories of pregnant women been killed and their bellies being ripped open, made the rounds during some of the past conflicts in Nigeria. In war situation, like the Nigeria Civil War, many women and children lost their lives, even though they didn’t go to the battlefields. We all know that a bomb or bullet will not discriminate who it kills or hurts. In addition to outright death, we know that many get maimed from war, again women are victims. Worse for women they are almost always defenseless, since they are not usually armed.
Women’s properties and sources of livelihood are also usually destroyed in periods of political conflicts. It is well known that a major occupational engagement of women is commerce in Nigeria, markets and their merchandises are usually targets of those unleashing different forms of violence on society. Women’s properties are either destroyed or looted. In addition we know that no meaningful economic engagement can go on when there is a conflict, hence women’s economic engagements are greatly scuttled and contained during times of conflicts.
One animalistic weapon that man has always used in wars or conflicts from time, has been that of men or soldiers raping women. This situation has often played itself out in political conflicts in Nigeria. Why do men really rape women, especially in war? Some have argued that contrary to the seeming factor of sexual starvation, a plausible explanation could be found in the fact that since fathers and husbands cherish and hold their women dearly, inflicting sexual humiliation on the women, translates to humiliating the men. So that women and children are usually victims of sexual humiliation and exploitation. In times of political conflicts women become the bread winners for their families. With their husbands gone for war, or arrested as a result of involvement in conflicts the onus falls on the woman to take care of the family. So at times like that the women have to perform even the seeming exclusive tasks of their husbands.
A magnified nature of the above impact of political conflicts on women is the fact that women loose their fathers, husbands and sons. Thus they go through a lot of psychological trauma and some become widows and of course their children, do get killed. It is on this note that we gave the lead quotation to this piece that “Death is a hurtful thing only to those left behind and not those that die”, we have not yet been told that dead people feel pain, but those left behind always have to go through the agony, grief and vein of loosing somebody — women in most cases belong to this latter group with dead husbands or jailed ones, wives are perpetually condemned to take care of the home and their children. Thus - political conflicts adversely affects the stability of marriage and of course families.
In the final analysis the woman bears a greater brunt of political conflicts when they are unleashed on the society. Hence women have a sacred duty as mothers and those that bear a lion share of the consequences of political conflicts to work to prevent such conflicts from happening.
We want to state that we know that there is the controversial point that could arise from this our presentation. Is it really true that women have no culpability in the precipitation of political crises? This point is situated in the context of the new “First Lady” syndrome. Is it true that women force their husbands to seek for political offices because of the elevation it will give to them? At a level of analysis, this point could be right that is why we want to conclude that women in the tradition of Eve should not force their husbands to eat the forbidden fruit by encouraging them to seek political office and power at all cost. Women restrain your husbands.
All Nigerians, male and female have a responsibility to work towards halting the scourge of political conflicts and. tensions that have led to massive destruction of lives and properties in Nigeria, and we must all be seen as doing that.
Our presentation so far has tended to highlight the fact that women have had a chequered history in terms of their role in Nigerian politics. While in terms of participation in elections as voters they have faired relatively well, as well as steady improvement into appointive positions that has not been the case in terms of elective positions. Fifty years after, women have remained highly marginalized — this due to a combination of factors identified above. What is most crucial however is that concrete steps must be taken to reverse this situation in order to improve the women’s role in Nigeria’s future politics. Suggested steps include.
1. Mobilization and Sensitization — early, sustained and widespread.
2. Political parties adopting affirmative active/zoning with a view to reserving posts for women. Special concessions to women.
3. Greater networking amongst women.
4. Coming out of more women to fill the political space — there should be courageous, bold, financially strong will that should step out to campaign.
5. Reduce the influence of godfathers.
The bottom line is that there are no clear institutional strictures against women active participation of women in Nigeria’s politics but there are fundamental and underlying constraints that must be tackled.
If and when these are tackled the future will be brighter for women in Nigerian politics.