As Nigerians await the announcement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet and other appointments into public office, one issue that has continued to generate discussion is the representation of women in the administration. The popular view is for President Buhari to emulate his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is reputed to have given the greatest opportunities to women to express themselves, in the history of the country.
Indeed, the Jonathan administration promoted gender-mainstreaming by ensuring that not less than 30 per cent of key federal appointments went to women. Out of the 42 ministers in his administration, 13 (31 per cent) were women. He also appointed more women as ambassadors, high commissioners, heads of agencies, and special advisers, thus raising the bar of women participation in government. It is instructive to note that their appointments were based on merit and not for the sake of statistics. His regime also established gender units in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and women empowerment training programmes. All these were done in keeping with his regime’s commitment to gender equality, encapsulated in the National Gender Policy of 2006, which sets the benchmark for women in Parliament at 35 per cent.
While we acknowledge the remarkable achievement of Jonathan’s administration in appointing more women to key positions, we urge President Buhari to raise the ante for the benefit of the country. The President should be reminded that no nation desirous of achieving meaningful development can afford to allow gender imbalance in the management of its affairs. President Buhari promised inclusive governance during his electioneering campaign and Nigerians expect him to demonstrate that by allowing women to be key participants in his government. Women bring unique leadership skills to governance as demonstrated in many progressive countries and Nigeria cannot afford to navigate otherwise.
The country currently falls short of the National Gender Policy benchmark of 35 per cent minimum gender representation and other global and regional benchmarks to which the country is signatory. For instance, the current National Assembly has only 21 female legislators out of the total 469. This translates to just 4.5 per cent. This is lower than the figure for 2011 election that produced 33 legislators (7 per cent) in the National Assembly. The statistics are similar in the State Houses of Assembly which are dominated by men.
While President Buhari cannot change the current wide gender imbalance in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, we urge him to initiate or promote policies and programmes that can help increase the representation of women in governance at all levels. This is a legitimate demand because it is in line with Nigeria’s Gender Policy which provides for 35 per cent Affirmative Action for women in appointive and elective positions.
The country is also a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol, which requires member countries to ensure increased and effective representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making as well as positive action to ensure that women are represented equally at all levels with men in all electoral processes and in the political life of the countries. Although Nigeria does not have a good record of implementing protocols willingly signed, Buhari is duty bound to effect a change in line with his party’s mantra which is ‘change’.
Nigerian women who constitute over 50 per cent of the country’s population also have a responsibility to support their gender into elective and appointive positions. We cannot comprehend why women have consistently failed to utilise their large population to address the gender imbalance in government despite the intense campaign for women emancipation often championed by women. This has got to change if their campaign is to be taken seriously. While countries like Liberia and Malawi have produced female presidents and others like Rwanda and South Africa have already attained 56 and 43 per cent women representations of women in leadership, Nigeria is still struggling to attain 10 per cent.
For Nigeria to make significant progress in women’s participation in governance, therefore, it is imperative for Buhari to seek competent and qualified women for appointive positions in his government to herald the change his government preaches. The political parties should also be sensitized to promote women within their parties instead of restricting them to positions of ‘woman leader’. Parties should strive to remove the impediments to women’s election into political positions. We also advocate for the adoption of quota system for elective positions if the affirmative action for women must be effectively implemented. This will address the many challenges hindering the success of women at the polls which are deeply rooted in socio-economic, cultural and psychological factors. Nigerian women have proved their worth in various leadership roles in the past and Nigeria really needs them in government to achieve peace, progress and development.