Months after, the sting from the dismal results of the 2019 Federal and State Houses of Assembly elections on female candidates from Edo State is still smarting. This may be especially so for stakeholders who are of the opinion that despite all efforts being made, no state in Nigeria has come close to achieving the objectives of the 2009 National Gender Policy which has provisions to ‘Increase women elected and appointed positions to 35 per cent February 16, 2019 UNwomen.org report.
For female candidates in Edo state, the zero per cent score sheet pending the outcome of the suit that has been filed by the PDP Ovia Constituency female candidate, Omosede Igbenedion (Esq) has made the gender gap much wider.
On the surface, everything appears balanced, as the two major political parties in Edo State and a host of others have Women Leaders as an integral part of the party structure.
For the People’s Democratic Party which is the main opposition party, Lindsay Sorae holds this position. In the ruling party, Betty Okoebor has held this position for a little over a year but she is not by any means new to the political terrain ‘I have been a politician for over 42 years’ she reveals ‘Based on the influence of my father and his close friend Anthony Enahoro, I started with the NPN as a teenager. At 18, I became a presiding officer’.
She is extending this influence to other women and encouraging them to fill the gender gap by seeking elective positions. This gap is glaring even in the numbers that seek for positions. A February INEC report indicates that 1668 men as against 232 women vied for 109 senatorial seats while 4,139 men and 560 women jostled for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives.
Inumundu Ereku of the APC who sought an Owan West Constituency State House of Assembly position in 2019 gives a reason for the reluctance of females vis-à-vis the small number who seek political positions ‘I have suffered humiliation both physically and spiritually. I was almost assassinated during my first attempt in the then Action Congress of Nigeria but by the next day, I was back on the field’.
Chris Arire, state chairman of the National Democratic Liberty Party whose party did not field any female candidate in the 2019 elections in Edo State infers that not all women are as brave as Inumundu ‘Women seem to be scared because of the dirty political terrain’ he states.
How dirty is the terrain? A 2019 research tracking election violence in Nigeria by Arch Harwood, the creator of the Nigerian Security Tracker puts a number to incidences that led to the term ‘dirty political terrain’. ‘In the 2015 cycle, the NST documented 106 election-related deaths. These deaths were largely concentrated in the South-West and in the Delta’.
Vivian Eweka a 2019, NPC State House of Assembly candidate has a more recent update on violence ‘I witnessed violence in this year’s (2019) election but fortunately I was not attacked’ she recalls but what directly affected her were the results at her polling unit where she lost.
However, Uwa Usonbor of the People’s Democratic Party who contested for the Urionwon/Uhionwode has a different story connected to her electoral loss ‘I won at the polls but another candidate won at INEC Office’ she alleged.
For the female political aspirants in Accord, a similar narration of a seamless pre-election process was given by the state secretary Harcourt Eboh ‘the two female candidates that were chosen from the total number of both males and females were selected by the committee through a transparent process and they got selected on the basis of their antecedents, their plans etc. The successful candidates were said to be the most eloquent and the most confident.’ however despite all the aforementioned qualities, Josephine Uzoya from Esan Constituency and Edith Usokpan were still defeated at the polls.
Tina Clark, a legal practitioner and the founder of Tina Love Foundation an NGO which provides a socio-cultural impediment that may be one of the causes of the challenges that women candidates face at the polls.
“Women have never been restricted in Nigeria. Funmilayo Ransome- Kuti is an example of a woman who has not allowed cultural, religious or even threats of violence and intimidation to stop her from running for elective office. He continued to say that “Women have their freedom under the law however in the Nigerian context the problem remains the social chains. Women enjoy the same rights as men and can run for elective office. However, cultural, religious and societal constraints present unique hurdles that they have to overcome. For instance a married woman to be described as strong, her husband is assumed to be weak. People also think that submission is general, that a woman ought to be submissive to every man but a woman is only supposed to be submissive to her husband”
One wonders if this trend of seeing women as not good enough has been extended to voting patterns even amongst women.
Golda Oribhabor-Onwuka who ran for elective office narrated how she was forced to quit the race even before she had started. “I was interested in contesting for a position in the PDP. One of the chieftains known as ‘Leader’ who passed away recently, heard me talking with confidence on issues during a meeting where he participated through a conference call. Next thing I heard was ‘tell that woman to keep quiet’ and just like that, that was the end of my ambition. I had to leave the party,” she said.
Vera Sadoh, a former councilor who was appointed to the position in a transition arrangement by the Prof Oserheimen Osunbor’s Administration (Governor of Edo State of Nigeria from 29 May 2007 to 11 November 2008, He was Removed by Court Judgment invalidating his election), also shared a similar experience that put an end to her 2011 and 2015 state assembly political aspirations ‘I had the full support of my people. From the age of 6, I have been politically conscious, listening in as my father organized NPN meetings but when people like the current state chairman of one of the main opposition parties had their own candidates, they used the party apparatus to intimidate delegates during the primaries so I ended up not getting a nomination ticket’.
However, in most of the ‘minor’ parties which did not field female candidates, the party chairmen claimed to have done their best to encourage women to participate.
One chairman who wanted his identity kept anonymous said ‘We threw it open to everybody but the women were not forthcoming. One of the women even had her form filled by a male relative who was also contesting but she never showed up. However, the women of a youth-focused party i.e. the Democratic Alternative did quite the contrary and as a result, showed up in large numbers. The party ended up fielding five female candidates who lost in the 2019 federal and state assembly elections.
From all indications, it seems like female politicians in Edo State may have to do much more than show up. Golda Orhibabor-Onwuka puts it thus ‘In politics, you need to prove yourself. You should not wait for special recognition. Work hard and get relevant’
By Omordia, Efe Alexandra