There is a new element to the conversation as Nigerians wait in anticipation for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s choice of ministers: the need for gender equity in ministerial selections.
The wait for the ministerial list has increased rumors, fear across the nation, and high-level lobbying in the halls of power. The list represents an important stage in determining the federal government’s course and policies.
But the prolonged period of expectation has also given other interest groups a chance to express their worries about the lack of gender balance in prior administrations.
Affirmative action for women is a policy that has been established all around the world to address systemic and historical discrimination against women. Nigeria’s National Gender Policy set a standard of 35% inclusion of women in governance, while the United Nations’ charter advocated a minimum level of 30% participation.
However, no administration has yet achieved the 35% criteria for affirmative action for women since the NGP’s inception in 2006.
Many countries worldwide have implemented affirmative action measures to address gender imbalances in political representation. Examples include Rwanda, which boasts one of the highest percentages of female parliamentarians globally, and several European nations that have established gender quotas for political appointments. These experiences serve as an inspiration and provide valuable lessons for Nigeria’s efforts in fostering women’s participation in governance.
Over the years, women’s rights organisations and activists have long advocated for greater female representation in political and leadership roles. They argue that the underrepresentation of women not only hinders gender equality but also diminishes the potential contributions of talented and capable women in decision-making processes.
Webteam@ipledge2nigeria recalls that in 2020, a coalition of nine women organisations – Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD- West Africa), Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Vision Spring Initiative (VSI), Yiaga Africa, 100 Women Lobby Group, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) took a more forceful approach when they sued the ex-President Mohammadu Buhari administration to compel his government to implement the affirmative action.
And on the 6th of April 2022, the coalition of women won their suit against the government. In the landmark ruling made by Justice Donatus Okorowo, the court agreed that the non-implementation of the NGP on the 35% Affirmative Action on the appointment of women into political positions was a breach of women’s fundamental rights.
That judgement at the Federal High Court was greeted with huge euphoria among women’s rights groups all over the country; however, the joy was cut short, as the Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Abubakar Malami, moved against the ruling, and took the matter to the Appeal Court.
But one year later, no date has been fixed for the case yet to be heard at the Appeal Court
However, the emergence of President Tinubu’s administration and the wait for his ministerial list has reignited calls for the adoption of 35% Affirmative Action.
It was earlier reported recalls that in the heat of his campaign, President Tinubu promised to allot up to 40% of political appointments to women. But out of eight special advisers he has made, only two are women, which is 25%, also out of 20 aides only three women made it to the list, which represents about a meagre 15%.
With this low number of women in the appointments made so far, many stakeholders are now second-guessing President Tinubu’s certainty in his promise to implement affirmative action. However, there are still expectations and optimism as they await the unveiling of the ministerial list.
But while many choose to anticipate the list, We gathered that intense lobbying is taking place as women groups have set plans to send delegations that would meet President Tinubu over the ministerial list.
And it was earlier reported that a recent conference on affirmative action and gender equality provided an avenue for the women to make further push for the President Tinubu government to make a remarkable difference.
“So far, I am not happy with women’s representation,” Adewunmi Ononuga, Deputy Chief Whip House of Representatives said during the conference.
“But I won’t say that women have been shortchanged yet because all the appointments have not been finished. And a lot of groups have been engaging with the President and the First Lady in the corridors with regards to making sure that our hopes are not dashed.
“We can’t start early enough; we have to keep going on with regard to lobbying. We really have to put on our shoes and our skirts and lobby with regards to hitting the 35% affirmative action. Lobbying is a route to follow, and not necessarily trying to compel the FG,” she added.
For Mufuliat Fijabi, the CEO of the NWTF, one of the civil society organisations that took the government to court, President Tinubu’s appointment so far does not inspire hope for women’s participation in governance.
“I am very worried by President Tinubu’s first set of appointments. In past governments, women would lobby and still not achieve the 35% benchmark. Asking for women’s inclusion is not just lip service.
“It’s about the governance of Nigeria. It’s also about having development grow in the right direction and having a purposeful path towards ensuring that gender equality and balance are maintained in the country.
“So I’m particularly concerned, but I hope this particular government will be different by ensuring that it not only fulfils its campaign promise but also upholds the judgement of the Federal High Court on the NGP.”
Also speaking, Amina Agbaje, National President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) expressed her dismay at the stance of the former attorney-general, Abubakar Malami on the April 6th judgement.
She wondered why anyone would want to stand against the rights of women in Nigeria, and urged President Tinubu to obey the judgement and discard efforts by the past administration to appeal against it.
“There is a need for us to involve the wife of the president in this struggle for the enforcement of the national gender policy, particularly the 35% Affirmative Action for women in appointments. We must move as a coalition of women and immediately seek an audience with the First Lady, who will also lead us to the president so that we can brief him on the pending appeal.
“So women must be able to speak with one voice and the issue of unity is very important. We cannot afford to be singing these discordant tunes at this moment. We have believed in the abilities and the political will of Mr President to get up to the 35% that we are looking for as women. This is because we have seen how he has supported his wife, and other women when he was governor of Lagos,” Agbaje added.
Another gender equality advocate, Mr Saka Azimazi, former Deputy Director of the National Human Rights Commission, insists the implementation of affirmative action shouldn’t be a matter of debate; rather it should be a right of women.
“We shouldn’t be begging anyone for this, because we are demanding that justice and fairness be considered when putting people in government. There are two ways to get into government, either by election or by appointment. And clearly, women have lost out in the election, but then government appointments are another avenue for them to come into leadership”, he said.
Azimazi argued that Nigeria has a lot to lose if affirmative action keeps being neglected.
“We need to have women representation because if you look at population distribution in Nigeria, it is split 50-50 in every area between men or women. It implies that if women are not included in certain areas of the economy or decision-making, we are depriving ourselves of about 50% of our workforce, intellectual property, and power. This is unacceptable.
“So it is crucial that women have strong representation because there is a certain perspective that can only be provided by women during key decision-making,” he said.
Zainab Abdulrasheed, Programme Direction of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) disclosed that all hands must be on deck.
She stated that implementing the 35% affirmative act will lead to a more inclusive government where the issues of the marginalised and excluded voices are brought forth.
“We’re faced with a patriarchal society where over time we see that discrimination from various social norms and values has affected how governance has been run. And if affirmative action is implemented, it will mean a lot for women.
“In other developing countries like Rwanda, they have up to 51.25% of women in government. This should be a challenge to Nigeria because being the giant of Africa should not just be by name. We should be able to exemplify good governance for other African countries to emulate.
“There are lots of qualified women in all sectors who can contribute meaningfully in very vital and crucial sectors like education, which is vital to the sustainability of our nation, because you can see what’s going on with brain drain in various sectors of the country.
“Affirmative Action should not be at the federal level alone, we need to look down to the grassroots and the state level too. It is about having all voices on board.
“What we need is socially, economically, and politically inclusive governance. Having that will mean we’ll have a holistic and sustainable leadership process going on in our country,” Abdulrasheed said.