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2023: Still a long journey for women in southeast region

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Outcomes of party primaries by political parties in the Southeast to elect flag bearers in the 2023 general elections shows that it’s still not time for the women folk, despite the acclaimed 35 per cent affirmative action.

 

In April this year, the Federal High Court, Abuja lent credence to the 35percent affirmative action when it ordered its implementation.  Erroneously, however, many, especially women had thought that the victory would enhance their participation in elective offices in the 2023 general elections.

 

As contained in the National Gender Policy 2006, sections 42, 147 (3) and 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and article 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights approved by the federal executive council in 2006; 35 per cent of public offices should be reserved for women.

 

Delivering the judgment supporting implementation of affirmative action in a suit filed by a non-governmental organisation, Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Justice Donatus Okorowo agreed with the provisions, insisting that the Federal Government had the obligation to implement the 35 percent affirmative action. He accused previous administrations of failing in the responsibility.

 

The Judge further held that 35 percent affirmative action, which entails appointive positions for women to ensure inclusivity, must not be merely on paper, especially with Nigeria being a signatory to international treaties on women’s rights and inclusion.

 

Despite his ruling, however, it does not appear that the political system has transformed to give women fair participation in elective and appointive positions. Going by the results that emanated from the primaries of the political parties for the general elections shows there is still much to be done to give women their fair place.

 

In the Southeast, the outcomes indicated that the policy is still a far cry from implementation. It clearly shows great neglect of the women folk as well as sends signals that it would take time to be implemented.

Except in Abia State where Dr Ngozika Johnson Ogbuneke won the ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to contest the governorship seat, no other party in the zone gave its ticket for the position to a woman in the region. Ogbuneke, in fact, was said to have won the ticket because the party is not very competitive in the state.

 

Sources said she could not have triumphed in the dominant political parties like the PDP and APC in the region, which ensured that their tickets are reserved for their male counterparts.

 

An investigation by The - showed that in Ebonyi State, Mrs Agom Eze, appears to be the only woman still standing as no others who ventured into the race had backed out of given up. Even at that, she would need to sweat it out in court to become a contestant in the senatorial election. This is because Agom Eze, the contestant for the Ebonyi south senatorial ticket on the platform of APC had lost the primary election to Chief Austin Umahi; the younger brother to the state governor, Dave Umahi.

However, when Dave lost in the presidential primary of the APC, Austin had withdrawn to pave way for him to clinch the senatorial ticket of the area, instead of allowing the runner up to become the candidate.

 

Agom Eze, who was dissatisfied with development, has now resorted to the court where she is now seeking the nod to be declared the senatorial candidate of the party had emerged the runner-up in the first primary election.

 

Although the party had gone into a fresh primary after Austin’s withdrawal, Agom Eze declined to participate in the guise that there is nothing wrong with the primary conducted by the party where she emerged runner-up. Umahi however, won the repeat primary.  Agom Eze’s fate now hangs with the court to decide whether she would contest the senatorial election or not.

 

Aside from Agom Eze’s contentious senatorial ticket, no other female aspirant secured tickets to contest in any other elective position in the state.

 

Anambra’s case is, however, different. At least three women are contesting the senatorial election. While the wife of the immediate past governor, Ebelechukwu Obiano secured the ticket of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for Anambra north; the incumbent senator for the area, Stella Oduah retained the ticket of the PDP and Uche Ekwunife has that for Anambra Central, PDP safely wrapped. Linda Ikpeazu also secured PDP’s ticket for Onitsha’s north and south federal constituency, among others.

 

But the scenario in Enugu State has not changed, despite efforts by some women to enhance their participation in the processes at the beginning of the elective year. The women had come into the 2023 political process with a lot of promise that they should be given more elective opportunities. This was on the premise that more than 20 years into the current democratic experience, the male counterparts have dominated the political space, adding that the inability of the women folds to participate in the electoral process had affected the development and entrenchment of democracy.

 

To ensure they gave potency to the quest and realization of the effort in the state, the women had come under a group christened Women Support Women (WSW), which they relied on to advance advocacy and awareness.

 

The coordinator of the group, Mrs Onyinye Mammah, who had explained the idea behind their coming together, stated that it was to mobilise support for women in elective offices to come 2023.

 

She had disclosed during one of their briefings that they would use the group to sensitize and pressure opinion and government leaders on the need to allow more women into elective offices, saying the voices of women must be heard in the scheme of things.

 

Mammah insisted that the group would escalate the consciousness of the ruling class, the political parties and their leaders and rely on the numerical strength of the women in the state and elsewhere to buy into the argument that could lead to more women getting into elective offices.

“This is also in line with the affirmative action which the government of Nigeria has signed into law to give 35% elective offices to women. Unfortunately, here in Enugu, there are only four women in the State House of Assembly which has 24 members. There is a Deputy Governor, to which we are grateful.  But all the National Assembly seats for the state are occupied by males.

“This is the mantra that we want to change in 2023. We want a situation where at least 10 women will be elected to the House of Assembly in the state. We feel serious that the gender imbalance is part of the problem we are faced as a society. Let the women be given the opportunity to exercise their intellect in the management of the affairs of our dear state”, she said.

During one of their engagements with the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the women had in addition to increasing their representation at the State House of Assembly urged him to influence the party to retain a female as deputy governor as well as representations at the National Assembly.

Mamah had told the governor that the network, which consists of about 130 women-led organisations, would be interested in the inclusion and policy formulation, stressing that the women had the capacity to provide solutions to the nation’s challenges.

“Today, we are speaking with a formidable voice to support women we believe have proved their worth at work place, women who we believe will change stereotypes of the system.

“We are supporting women who qualify on merit to challenge their male counterparts. We want to have women in the three zones holding strategic positions.  Women Support Women is apolitical, it is non-partisan, it is women driven and we are supporting credible women”, she said.

Apparently, with the sensitization, no fewer than 22 women had obtained the expression of interest and nomination forms of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alone in the state to participate in the primary. Other political parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) also had their tickets being contested by the women for various seats.

At the conclusion of the primaries, however, no woman emerged in any of the political parties as a governorship candidate. Except in the APC where Princess Ada Ogbu picked the senatorial ticket for Enugu East senatorial zone, other positions went to the males.

Mammah, who spoke with the - after the primary of the political parties, however, expressed satisfaction that the consciousness had begun, stressing however that there was a need to sustain it if the women must achieve their political dreams.

 

“I can tell you that the number of women contesting in the election has drastically reduced. No woman got a ticket for the House of Representatives in PDP; four women got tickets for the House of Assembly in PDP. The only woman we have now standing for the position of Deputy Governor is in APGA, Princess Edith Ugwuanyi, who is also a member of Women Support Women. There is Obiagulu Ugwu in the Labour Party and Amaka Pat in the African Democratic Congress (ADC), for the House of Assembly. There is Princess Ada Ogbu for the Senate seat for Enugu East. There may be others who have not come out clear”, she said

She had further vouched for the competence, character and eligibility of those that have shown interest, just as she lamented that the political space was still not in favour of women anywhere in the country. She had called for a change of mind to make politics more accommodating.

In an interview with The -, a lawyer and leader of Initiative for Women Emancipation (IWE), Chidinma Chibuko, stated that women who have continued to occupy public offices through elections have done so with so much difficulty.

“Meetings are held at night when they know that the affected women will not participate. We have situations where even when the woman has been able to scale the hurdle, the level of attack that follows to pull her down becomes unimaginable. We have continued to advocate for inclusion to enable us to contribute to our quota. The system has not allowed it and has continued to favour the male counterparts,” she said.

She explained that the situation was worse in the Southeast. She however attributed it to the dominance of one party system in the zone, stressing that, “the length of time the PDP has occupied office in the zone affected women and politics. This is because there was no credible alternative. They allocate offices as they wished and there is nothing anyone can do. The much the women had done those previous years was to clap hands and sing songs during rallies. They will make them female leaders and that is the only benefit. I believe however that this situation will change with time, especially as we intensify campaigns on the need for inclusion.”

Looking at the number of women that picked tickets to contest in the 2023 general elections in the zone, she stated that the development offers little or no hope, stressing that “our women are still relegated as none members in the zone.”

“If the strength of the political parties is anything to go by, what it means is that in states that are PDP inclined, it will be difficult for any other party to pull through with a woman in other states. So it is almost as good as gaining nothing from the process. I was told that several women purchased forms in Enugu before the primary, but the way the exercise went denied them the opportunity. One thing I can tell you is that it has always been difficult for any woman who fails in the primary in this zone to try again. It is a challenge that we must try to overcome. In our various conferences and workshops, I keep encouraging them not to give up. But you know where there is no funding and assurance from the ruling party, it becomes difficult. That is why I am happy that we are getting to the point of having alternative political parties that can challenge the ruling parties. With that, it will brighten chances for our women”, she stated.

On her own however, an Activist, Mrs Christabel Nwaiwu, stated that the way the primary of the political parties have gone in the zone showed that contributions of the women meant nothing to the policy planners. She added that the violence that often follows the political process has continued to discourage women, pointing out that “in the recent primaries held for tickets of parties, I can tell you that some women who purchased forms were not allowed into the venue”.

“If we must change the system, we must stick together. We must agree to support women. I have a feeling that we are greater in number but how many of us vote for women during elections? Let women love themselves and be ready to support one another. It is sad that people out of selfish desires have continued to do odd things to ensure that women do come close to elective offices. This is where those who are making and implementing our laws should look into with a view to allowing equal opportunities for all”, she added.

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