By: Naomi Ndifon
On February 25th 2023, in what was arguably the most anticipated and fiercely competitive elections since the end of the military regime, Nigerians voted en masse for the President, Vice President, and members of its 10th National Assembly. Although preceded by hope, the polls were marked by reports of voter intimidation, voter disenfranchisement, vote rigging and electoral fraud. With a total of 8,794,726 votes, 70-year-old Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was declared the victor of the 2023 Presidential elections, defying demands from the two main opposition parties for an election re-run and the immediate resignation of INEC chairman. Currently, there is a Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal headed by the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who aims to prove evidence of election fraud and thereby nullify the election of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria has a bicameral system. The National Assembly is divided into the Senate, which seats 109 members and the House of Representatives, 360 members. The President, also known as the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR), is the Chief of State and Head of Government and may serve two four-year terms. Under the Nigerian Constitution, for an individual to be declared President, the candidate must receive the majority of the votes and garner 25 % of the votes in at least 24 of the 36 states of the country.
Although there are no specific constitutional provisions to encourage women’s political participation Sections 15(2) and 42 of the Constitution prohibit discrimination in all areas against any person based on gender and other factors. Nigeria has no legislative quota or reserved seats for women. In 2022, the Reserved Seat Bill which hoped to guarantee a minimum female representation of 25.3% in the Senate, 17% in the House of Representatives, and 11 % across all state assemblies, was one of the five gender bills rejected by the parliament.
Women’s Political Participation
In the 2019 parliamentary elections, 8 women (7.34%) out of 109 members) were elected to the Nigerian Senate, and 14 (3.61%) out of 360 members to the House of Representatives. Following the 2023 polls, the number of women elected to the two houses of parliament dropped. 3 (2.75%) out of the 109 seats in the Senate are held by women, and 14 (3.89%) out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives.
There were 93.5 million registered voters in Nigeria’s 2023 elections; 49.1 million (52.5%) were men and 44.4 million (47.5%) were women.
In the 2023 elections, one woman entered and remained in the race for Nigeria’s highest position. The 44-year-old Princess Chichi Ojei, who contested under the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), was the sole female candidate out of the 18 candidates running for President. Of the 1,100 senatorial candidates in the parliamentary elections, 92 were women. Likewise, out of the 3,114 House of Representatives candidates, 286 were women. It represents less than 20% of women contesting for positions in both chambers of the National Assembly.
Only three of the 92 women who ran for the Senate in the February 2023 elections were successful. They are Ireti Kingibe of the Labour Party (LP) from the FCT, Idiat Adebule of All Progressives Congress (APC) from Lagos West District, and Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Rivers West District. Likewise, only 15 of the 286 female candidates for House of Representatives seats were declared winners by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Before entering Nigeria's political scene, Ireti Kingibe had a long career in civil engineering. She became the first female senator of the city in 20 years following her landslide victory in the Federal Capital Territory Senate seat. Ireti served as an Adviser to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Chairman in the late 90s before beginning her race for senator in 2003. Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, Senator-Elect of the Rivers West District in the 10th National Assembly, was the first female Deputy Governor in Rivers State, South-South Nigeria. Asides from being a medical doctor, she has also served in politics since 1994 in multiple capacities, notably as a Permanent Secretary in the Rivers State Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Public Health Adviser of the Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria and Project Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Similarly, after a successful career as an educationist, Dr Idiat Adebule, the current Senator-elect for Lagos West, served in Lagos State's education ministry before she was appointed the Deputy Governor of Lagos State in 2015.
The 2006 National Gender Policy aimed to increase women’s representation at all political levels by demanding the government and the national electoral commission adopt party quotas and other affirmative action measures. Among the goals was to attain at least 30% representation of women in governance at the national and state levels. In 2021, the Policy was revised for another five-year mark (2021-2026). The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP), adopted in 2015 and domesticated in 34 out of 36 states of the country, is the primary law that explicitly protects women and girls from violence. Under the VAPP Act, rape, spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision or genital mutilation, abandonment of children, and harmful traditional practices are punishable by law.
Following Nigeria’s 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC was elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Women’s representation in Nigeria’s National Assembly drops to an all-time low as they occupy 3 out of 109 seats (2.8%) in the Senate and 14 out of 360 seats (3.89%) in the House of Representatives.
Nigeria is home to the largest and youngest population in Africa. Women comprise almost half of Nigeria’s population and workforce, yet their participation and representation in political and public life remains low. While the government did little to encourage greater female participation, non-governmental organisations led by women, such as ElectHer and Diatom Impact, provided financial support for women running in the 2023 elections. Other organisations, such as the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) and Women In Politics Forum (WIPF), continue pushing for electoral quotas and affirmative action for women in politics. Nonetheless, there is an urgent need for the incoming government to address the critical gender disparity in Nigeria’s political scene.
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union