by / Thursday, 28 September 2017 / Published in Blog, Latest posts, speeches



It is my pleasure to welcome the Chairman and Members of the Women in Parliament Committee from both States and the National Assembly as well as all leaders of political parties, women groups, media practitioners and women occupying positions from all over the country to another wonderful Summit. I must appreciate the fact that this Summit has been sustained for the past Six years.

2. This year’s Summit with the theme: “2019 and Beyond: Women and National Development” is timely especially as the 2019 General Elections are round the corner, hence the need to take stock, review achievements and failures made so far, re-strategise and reposition women towards increased participation and representation in 2019.

3. Currently, the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly has shown gender sensitivity and commitment to the empowerment of our women. Our Legislative Agenda strictly captures gender equality issues as one of priority legislations. Several legislations have been enacted by the Parliament to support women at all levels. The House of Representatives created two different Committees to handle women issues. These are House Committee on Women Affairs and House Committee on Women in Parliament.

4. Going down memory lane, women have played important roles at various stages of Nigeria’s political development. In the pre-colonial period, the exploits of women such as Queen Bakwa Turuku and her daughter Queen Amina in the ancient city of Zaria is legendary. In Southern Nigeria, Obas ruled in Yourbaland with female Chiefs and produced such prominent women as Moremi of Ife, Emotan of Benin, Omu Okwei of Ossomari.

Under colonialism, although denied of franchise, Nigerian women also made their mark politically. We had Chief (Mrs.) Olufunmilayo Ransom Kuti (Western House of Chiefs); Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo & Janet Mokelu (Eastern House of Chiefs); who were all appointed as a result of their stature and contributions.

In the Post-colonial period or the 1st Republic, many women also made it to parliament. In 1960, Mrs. Wuraola Esan from Western Nigeria became the first female member of the Federal Parliament. In 1961, Chief (Mrs) Margaret Ekpo, become a member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly till 1966. Mrs. Janet N. Mokelu and Miss Ekpo A. Young also became members of the Eastern House of Assembly having won elections. In northern Nigeria, however, women were still denied franchise even after independence until 1979. As a result of this denial, prominent female politicians like Hajia Gambo Sawaba in the North could not vote or be voted for.

In the Second Republic (1979-1983), women participation in politics increased slightly. A few Nigerian women won elections into the House of Representatives at the national level and also few women won elections into State Houses of Assembly respectively. In 1983, Ms Franca Afegbua became the only woman Senator.
In December 1983, with the advent of Buhari led military rule, the first formal quota system was introduced by the Federal Government as regards the appointment of women into governance. Gen Buhari directed all the State Governors to appoint at least one woman into the State Executive Council. There was, however, no female minister ironically, as well as no female member of the defunct Supreme Military Council or the later Armed Forces Ruling Council. In the Third Republic, only two female Deputy Governors emerged, namely: Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu of Lagos State and Mrs. Cecilia Ekpenyong of Cross River State. In 1992, Mrs. Kofo Bucknor Akerele was the only woman who won a seat in the Senate.

In the elective positions for the Executive branch in Nigeria since 1999 women have not faired very well. There has been no female President or Vice President. In 2011, only one woman contested primaries for the post of the President of Nigeria under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and she scored exactly one vote regardless of the fact that women constituted more than 35 percent of the delegates. We have not had an elected female Governor in Nigeria either.

10. In the legislature, the reality is not less appalling. According to Mrs Oloyede Olayemi of the National Bureau of Statistics, “The Senate has been dominated by males. In 1999 there were only 3 women out of the 109 members representing 2.8 per cent of the members of the Senate. In 2007 the number increased to 8 (7.3 per cent). However, there was a decrease from 8 women members in 2007 to 7 in 2011 which is 6.4 per cent and 8 (7.3 per cent) in 2015.”

“In 1999, the number of women in the House of Representatives was 12 out of 360 members which was about 3.3 per cent but increased to 21 (5.8 per cent) in 2003. It was 26 (7.2 per cent) in 2011, in 2015 the number of women in the House of representatives decrease to 23 (6.4 per cent) out of 360 members”. These are indeed very depressing figures.

The Problems and challenges facing women participation in politics in Nigeria in spite of modest strides are deep rooted. They include the patriarchal nature of our traditional society; stigmatization of women politicians by a largely ignorant society; political thuggery, violence; financial capacity; religious and cultural stereotyping and bottlenecks; educational disadvantage; meeting schedules of political activities are in most cases not convenient for women to attend especially married women etc.

How do we involve more women in Governance and especially in parliamentary representation? Could this be achieved by giving women a quota for representation? Or should it evolve in the ordinary course of politicking.

It is estimated that women form more than half of the population of Nigeria with immense voting power. The 4th World Conference on Women, in Beijing, 1995 advocated 30% affirmative action. In Nigeria, the National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35% for both elective and appointive public service positions. In the just concluded Constitution Alteration exercise, in the wisdom of the leadership of the Constitution Review Committee, affirmative action of 35% was recommended for women representation in Parliament. The House of Representatives mustered the required 2/3 votes and passed it, but it failed in the Senate.

Some other African countries seem to be fairing better on this issue. In Rwanda, more than 50% of members of parliament are women. How was this achieved? The Rwandan Constitution reserves 24 out of 80 (30%) seats exclusively for women in the Chamber of Deputies. However, the electorate of Rwanda have consistently surpassed the Constitutional prescription and voted over 50% of women as members. This is because Rwanda placed women inclusion, empowerment, gender equality and participation in politics as a cardinal part of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country after the Rwandan genocide where over 1 million people perished. It has proved critical to social and economic progress of Rwanda.

Does Nigeria have something to learn from the Rwandan example? Because of deep-seated cultural attitudes, it may be difficult to reach consensus on affirmative action for elective offices in Nigeria at this point in time. It is however, easier to achieve this affirmative action through executive action. This would require the buy in of political parties and elected officials particularly the President with a singular determination to achieving this. In Nigeria, the political parties have made efforts to remove the requirement of financial contributions or fees for clearance of women to contest various elective offices. What then stops the political parties from affirmative action for women for appointive offices when they win power? We must be prepared to rid ourselves of this pretensions.

The political will must be found by political actors before this can be achieved. Political education on the importance of women in politics should also be stepped up as a deliberate priority for advocates. We should not market this issue just as women empowerment the way we are doing. We must make effort to show that active involvement of women in politics would lead to rapid social and economic progress of the whole nation. Indeed according to Winnie Byanyima, Director of the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Team: “We have overwhelming evidence from almost all developing regions of the world that investment in women make better economics. Also it was William Golding who once said, “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.” This is because, a man leads with his mind while a women leads with her heart.

Women have paid their dues in Nigeria tempered by years of struggle for economic, social and political emancipation. They have borne the pains of this struggle with grace just like a woman in travails. Our strong women know how to endure these pains that only strong men can heal. Why is success still seems far flung? To my mind, that is the case because we Nigerian men are too weak and insecure. Anywhere in the world where women fall, it has always been due to lack of strength in men. Must we continue to crush our women in order to continue feeling powerful? Nigerian men must grow up knowing that we are the ones to make possible what our women are struggling for not the women themselves although women must never give up the fight or struggle until victory is won.

Before I conclude, permit me to use this opportunity to urge our women to be committed at all levels to further support legislations, declarations and actions that will promote gender equality in particular and the implementation of all policies and recommendations reached in this regard. I am convinced that the amazons and array of personalities at this annual summit, will come up with strategies to balance the decline in the number of women in Parliaments in order to give women more political power in the fulfillment of their rights. I understand that in the present National Assembly, women have about 23 members out of the 469 members which is a decline from the 7th Assembly with a total of 32 women members. This is unacceptable. The situation I am informed is even worse at State Houses of Assembly.

In conclusion, permit me to charge you to brace up for the fight ahead. No longer should our women suffer any form of discrimination or gender bias. No longer should we allow traditional practices, culture, religious practices, educational backwardness, timidity, shackle our women or prevent them from reaching the highest political office in the land or the highest position in business, industry or in the professions. Let us work to ensure that The House of Representatives will be on the side of the people and women in the just quest for the enthronement of an enlightened egalitarian society.

It remains for me to perform the simple task of not just wishing you all fruitful and effective deliberations but to now formally declare this Conference open.

May God bless you all and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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