Kogi’s governor Yahaya Bello has in recent weeks seen a deluge of awards from women groups who have sought to recognize and reward him for among other strides they consider women-friendly, facilitating the nomination of women as running mates and seeing to their emergence as vice chairpersons in all the 21 local government councils of the State at recent local government election. Most notable of the groups, which have fallen heads over heels to so recognize the governor are the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) and UN-WOMEN.
Commendable as the feat of women vice chairpersons might seem on the face of it, and deserving as the awards may appear, the awards raise very salient questions as to what strategies are best suited for attaining the 35% affirmative action for equality and women participation in government in Nigeria’s democracy.
Women make up a large part of Nigeria’s population and are a driving force in Nigeria’s politics. They however comprise a negligible fraction of those who occupy political office. Many times, the few women who participate in government are appointed. Much fewer are elected. That number of women in elective positions has increasingly grown smaller through the various election cycles. Owing to cultural practices and belief systems which abhor women in position of authority, prospects for elected women are almost non-existent in many parts of Nigeria. Sadly, Kogi State is one such State. It is heartwarming when politicians like the Kogi governor leverage discretionary powers to create opportunities for women by appointing them to positions. But that is hardly the solution in this regard.
The position of vice chairman, just like that of a deputy governor or the vice president is one founding on democracy and elections. It is not one of such offices which is discretionary to a governor. It is an office to be determined by the people; by the electorate, through their votes.
The aspiration for the Nigerian woman is for a leveling of the playing grounds so she may vie for same political position as other male politicians of equal or similar credentials without being schemed out on account of her gender. In Kogi, real victory for the political woman will be the breaking of barriers and lifting of taboos which impede her chances of aspiring to certain elective political office. Tokenism will not fix that.
Work must focus on a re-engineering of the minds of the people on need to avail women in politics the same opportunities as men. Hand-me-down offices only tend to show that political participation by women are at the pleasures and magnanimity of one man. The women must also themselves be spurred to pulling themselves up their bootstraps, get into the muddy waters and fight for their slice of the power pie. It will hardly be handed free by the men.
We look to the day a woman is elected governor by the Kogi electorate. Yet a long walk but, the governor’s gesture may or may not have set the ball rolling in that regard.