The Chronicle Gambia

The Conversation with Toyin Falola – We Must Keep Talking: Female Voices in Nigerian Politics

Ayisha Osori, Ibijoke Faborode, Nseabasi Ufot, Chiedo Nwankwor, and Ireti Bakare-Yusuf will have a vibrant conversation on women in Nigerian politics on Sunday, July 11, 2021. Expected to be rich in outstanding statements, the access to it is Here, I provide the context to one of the most important conversations that the country must-have.

When the concept of women’s rights–about equal access and opportunities for all–as known in the last century started to gain ground in Nigeria, it was a thing of beauty. In many of my recent books, I am always conscious of including women’s contributions to our history. They are just as vital to Nigeria’s history and independence struggles as their male counterparts. There have however been changes in the political landscape that have influenced the nature of women’s activism as well as the outcomes. What are the issues that currently animate the women’s movement? Is there a consensus on the direction to take to achieve their goals, or has the movement fragmented or even waned over time? Is there progress or has there been the reversal of progress previously achieved? Are Nigerian women in the political landscape better off today than in the past or not? What role has the women’s movement and women’s rights activism played in this? Is feminism still desirable? Even though I have a tentative answer, it is still important that we revisit these discussions. It is expedient that we reexamine the place, position, and aspirations of women in leadership-political participation.

To this end, I have invited five erudite and brilliant minds to engage in this topical dialogue, hoping that it is a springboard for continual discussion and change in the reality of Nigeria’s political space. Let’s take a look at these exceptional ladies:

The brilliant Nseabasi Ufot, a Nigerian living in the United States, is dedicated to and actively involved in protecting voting rights, especially for subaltern blacks in Georgia. Her zeal and energy could be seen in her successful registration of about 7,000 Georgia residents who participated in the voting process in the last United States election, earning her a spot on Time’s 100 Next for 2021.

Next is the awe-inspiring Ibijoke Faborode, the executive director and co-founder of ElectHER. Through this platform, she has been making concerted efforts towards increasing women’s participation in leadership roles through her advocacy for change in behavioral communication, interest, and commitment to community building, and the development of skills and knowledge required to be a successful leader. Also, she advocates and supports initiatives committed to providing human, social, and financial capital for women. She has contributed to the empowerment of over 1000 women with about US$10 million to support women’s ambition. Besides ElectHER, she also established The Social Change Network Africa, a non-governmental organization equally devoted to gender advocacy to achieve transformational change in the continent. She envisions an egalitarian Africa where barriers are eliminated, and the youths, especially, can take charge and contribute to good governance.

The third voice on the panel is Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor. Whenever topical matters on women surface, Nwankwor is known for her energy, commitment, knowledgeability, and relentlessness. She functions in several capacities such as being the director of SAIS’s Women Lead Program and as a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS, in addition to her professional association with the Center for Democracy and Development in Nigeria, the World Bank, Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism, Co-Impact, and Bloomberg Philanthropies among several others. Through these platforms, she has continued her advocacy for gender equality (of access and opportunity), justice, women’s active participation in politics, leadership, and several other ways women could take the mantle of leadership.

Also on the panel is a seasoned Nigerian lawyer, journalist, international development consultant, and politically savvy woman, Ayisha Osori. It would not be wrong to regard her as a women’s rights activist, given her works and promotion of women’s active participation in politics, access to economic opportunities, gender equality, and tackling gender-based violence. She is affiliated with the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Harvard, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Bank, the Department of International Development, and the National Democratic Institute. Her gender-based advocacy and continued clamor for good governance and increased women’s participation have earned her plaudits and honors on the international scene.

This cast would be incomplete without mentioning the moderator, Ireti Bakare-Yusuf, an On-Air Personality and TV Broadcaster with almost three decades of experience in management. She has also been committed to the promotion and empowerment of women in Nigeria and advocacy against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) through her NGO, NoMore234ng. Through this organization, she has led several assertive campaigns for women’s rights and getting justice for the female gender. Bakare-Yusuf has also significantly contributed to the Nollywood industry, specifically through women-themed dominant roles in creative works such as My Nina Simone Trip, HearWord-Naija Women Talk True, King of Ijudia, and Five Maids of Fadaka. With her affiliations with several broadcasting stations, Ireti has never failed to seize the opportunity to advocate for the broader feminist goal of equal opportunities for women, justice and fairness for the female gender, and many more. To further buttress her greatness in her niche, she developed the NoMore application to report and chronicle experiences of rape through the narrative of victims, who in turn get professional pro-bono services to seek redress and get justice.

These five talents will engage in intellectual discourse on women’s political participation and leadership. The emphasis on participation in political leadership is because female representation in political office has remained persistently low in Nigeria since the fourth republic, and has dwindled even more in recent years. Recent studies of the country’s electioneering process and turnout have shown that females across the country have been strategic to electoral campaigns and the success of eventual winners. This is the purpose of followership participation, but unfortunately, it is yet to translate to women’s leadership participation in the country.

For instance, not up to ten women in total have come out to contest during presidential and gubernatorial elections in Nigerian history, and even worse, none has ever won. This is in a country with an average of 49 percent women and 47 percent female registered voters between 2015 and 2019. Yet, in the same period, only 5.7 percent of elective political positions were occupied by women. This low tally further reduced to 4.17 percent in 2019, according to Premium Times. Little wonder Nigeria records 133rd in the world in representation of women in politics, and even more telling, Nigeria has the lowest female political representation in all of Africa. It is not better in the private sector as women were owners of only 20 percent of corporate enterprises and form only 12 percent of board directors in companies. Thus, it is against the backdrop of such an abysmal picture that this discussion has become a necessity and sundry questions need to be asked.

The percentage of women in active followership politics and those engaged in leadership politics is not commensurate with the potentials that women possess. This marginalization could be viewed from multiple perspectives. First, the percentage of women who contest elective positions is very few and insignificant compared to their male counterparts. Certainly, there is a connection between the low number of women who contest elections and the even lower number of women eventually elected into elective positions. The prevailing social, political and cultural, and economic atmosphere prevents many women from standing for elections. Complex legal, cultural, and political barriers are erected in women’s path that makes contemplating a political journey difficult, and should they embark on it, an arduous one. In a country where the constitution does not grant women full and complete citizenship as men, it is no surprise that other opportunities and privileges are also denied them. It is a hard but necessary task to unravel the tangled web of constraints affecting women’s ambitions.

Indeed, you would agree with me that there are many questions to be asked and uncountable answers to be proffered. The desired result is the way forward for women’s active political participation in leadership roles. This edition of the TF Interview series has been scheduled to address these issues and the way forward. The panelists, as well as the moderator, have been carefully selected to do justice to all of these. It is vital that you join us for this edition of the TF Interviews series.

Be part of an exciting and illuminating conversation on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at 5 p.m. GMT.

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