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1. Even though an increasing number of women are providing leadership for blue chip companies, the majority of women in Nigeria engage only minimally in economic development or politics.
2. Empowering women economically affects the way women perceive themselves and the way they are perceived by the community, giving them the local support necessary to enter into politics.
3. Key efforts to change the level of women’s engagement in Nigerian economic development and elections include the creation of advocacy groups, town hall meetings for women, and skills development centers and cooperatives, particularly in agriculture.
“Politics is too serious a business to be left in the hands of politicians.” – Charles de Gaulle
If Charles de Gaulle were alive, he would offer a revised version of his oft-quoted maxim for Nigeria: “Politics is too serious a business to be left solely in the hands of men.” In Nigeria, politics is presumed to be a man’s turf, where No Woman Needs Apply (NWNA) – an unspoken slogan reminiscent of the discrimination against Irish nationals in 19th century Britain. This unwritten rule is one that only a small percentage of the female population has defied successfully. Democracy presupposes a pluralistic system that is all-inclusive. It is ironic that women are systematically excluded from participating in the process, in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Consider the following telling statistics: during the last Nigerian general elections held in April 2007, there were a total of 1,200 women aspirants to 1,532 offices. 660 of these women won their primaries. Of the 660 candidates who contested elections for various posts, 93 finally emerged as winners: six deputy governors, nine senators, 27 national representatives, and 52 in various state Houses of Assembly. Even though this represents a significant increase in female participation in the political process, it is still a far cry from the aspirations of women the world over for full participation.
Female Participation: Then and Now
Despite being a patriarchal society, Nigeria has a rich history of women breaking out of the mold to participate in politics. Our pre-colonial history is replete with the exploits of Queen Amina of Zaria, who led armies to drive out invaders from Zaria, and Moremi of Ile-Ife, whose sacrifice for her people speaks to selfless leadership that we are so bereft of these days. Our recent past speaks of prominent women leaders like Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, a crusader and the scourge of despotic leaders, who led Egba women on a protest against taxation; Margaret Ekpo, a prominent civil rights activist; and Hajia Gambo Sawaba, who championed the cause of the oppressed in northern Nigeria. Iyalode Tinubu of Lagos exemplifies the rich participation of women on the economic scene.
The legacies of these women are at risk of extinction. Even though an increasing number of women are finding their way into boardrooms and providing leadership for blue chip companies, the majority of women in Nigeria offer only minimal participation in economic development or politics. Female participation in decision-making is still a far cry from the Rwandan experience, where the economy rode to recovery on the backs of women. It is instructive to know that in some parts of the country, women were not allowed to participate until 1976, 16 years after Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain. There are nagging fears that the exclusion of women might continue indefinitely.
By Adedotun Eyinade
The author, Adedotun Eyinade, earned a Bachelor of science degree in Microbiology at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-ife, Nigeria. His interests include new media, women rights, democracy, public speaking, literature and the environment. He divides his time between a 9-5 job as a management consultant with a professional services firm and volunteering for a progressive political movement in Nigeria. Eyinade aspires to write non-fiction professionally. He co-founded an online book club, pulpfactionclub.com. He lives and works in Lagos.
This essay was a winner in the Center for International Private Enterprise's (CIPE) 2010 International Youth Essay Contest. For more information on the essay contest and to read the rest of the winning essays please visit www.cipe.org/essay