As Nigerians await President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s cabinet list, a new component has emerged: the need for female equity in ministerial selections.
The delay in disclosing the ministerial list has fostered speculation, worry throughout the country, and high-level lobbying in power corridors. The list is an important step in establishing the federal government’s direction and policies.
However, the prolonged time of expectation has allowed numerous interest groups to express their concerns about the lack of gender balance in prior administrations.
Affirmative action for women is a global program that aims to eliminate historical and systematic inequities against women. While the United Nations recommended a minimum threshold of 30% participation in its charter, Nigeria’s National Gender Policy established a target of 35% inclusion of women in governance.
However, no government has yet met the 35% affirmative action criteria for women since the NGP’s inception in 2006.
Affirmative action policies have been established in several nations throughout the world to redress gender disparities in political representation. Rwanda, which has one of the highest percentages of female lawmakers in the world, and other European countries that have set gender quotas for political appointments are two examples. These experiences inspire and provide vital lessons for Nigeria’s attempts to increase women’s participation in governance.
Women’s rights organizations and activists have long fought for more female representation in political and leadership positions. They contend that women’s underrepresentation not only impedes gender equality, but also limits the potential contributions of talented and capable women in decision-making processes.
The Gist House recalls that in 2020, a coalition of nine women’s organizations – Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Vision Spring Initiative (VSI), Yiaga Africa, 100 Women Lobby Group, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) – took a more
And on April 6, 2022, the women’s coalition won their lawsuit against the government. The court concurred in the historic judgement by Justice Donatus Okorowo that the failure to execute the NGP on the 35% Affirmative Action on the appointment of women to political offices was a violation of women’s fundamental rights.
The Federal High Court decision was met with jubilation by women’s rights groups across the country; however, the elation was short-lived, as the Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Abubakar Malami, moved against the order and appealed it to the Appeal Court.
However, one year later, no date has been set for the matter to be heard at the Appeal Court, according to the Gist House.
However, the appearance of President Tinubu’s administration and the wait for his ministerial list has rekindled calls for 35% Affirmative Action to be implemented.
The Gist House notes that during his campaign, President Tinubu vowed to give women up to 40% of political posts. However, only two of his eight special advisers are women, accounting for 25% of the total; similarly, only three women made the list of 20 aides, accounting for around 15%.
With the low number of women appointed thus far, many stakeholders are questioning President Tinubu’s commitment to implementing affirmative action. However, there are still hopes and aspirations once the cabinet list is revealed.
While many people prefer to wait for the list, The Gist House has learned that intensive lobbying is taking place, with women’s organisations planning to send delegations to meet with President Tinubu over the ministerial list.
According to the Gist House, a recent symposium on affirmative action and gender equality presented an opportunity for women to make a stronger case for President Tinubu’s administration to make a significant difference.
“So far, I am not happy with women’s representation,” Adewunmi Ononuga, Deputy Chief Whip House of Representatives, remarked at the conference.
“However, because all of the appointments have not been completed, I will not say that women have been shortchanged.” And several organisations have been meeting with the President and First Lady in the corridors to ensure that our aspirations are not shattered.
“We can’t start early enough; we have to keep going with our lobbying.” We absolutely need to put on our shoes and skirts and lobby in order to meet the 35% affirmative action target. Lobbying is one path to take, rather than attempting to coerce the FG,” she noted.
President Tinubu’s appointment, according to Mufuliat Fijabi, CEO of the NWTF, one of the civil society organizations that sued the government, does not inspire hope for women’s involvement in governance.
“I am deeply concerned by President Tinubu’s initial slate of appointments.” Women would lobby in previous regimes and still fall short of the 35% target. Women’s inclusion is more than simply a platitude.
“It’s about Nigerian governance.” It is also about ensuring that growth is moving in the correct way and that the country is on the right track in terms of gender equality and balance.
“So I’m particularly concerned, but I’m hoping that this government will be different by not only fulfilling its campaign promise but also upholding the Federal High Court’s decision on the NGP.”
Amina Agbaje, National President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), also spoke out, expressing her disappointment with the former attorney-general’s attitude on the April 6th decision.
She questioned why anyone would want to oppose women’s rights in Nigeria and asked President Tinubu to follow the ruling and reject previous administration’s efforts to appeal it.
“We need to involve the president’s wife in this fight to enforce national gender policy, particularly the 35% Affirmative Action for women in appointments.” We must act as a women’s alliance and seek an audience with the First Lady, who will also bring us to the president to brief him on the upcoming appeal.
“As a result, women must be able to speak with one voice, and the issue of unity is critical.” We can’t afford to be singing these discordant songs right now. We have faith in Mr. President’s ability and political determination to achieve the 35% that we seek as women. This is because we saw how he supported his wife and other ladies throughout his tenure as governor of Lagos,” Agbaje noted.
Another gender equality supporter, Mr Saka Azimazi, former Deputy Director of the National Human Rights Commission, believes affirmative action should be a right for women rather than a debate.
“We shouldn’t be begging anyone for this because we are demanding that justice and fairness be taken into account when putting people in positions of power.” There are two methods to become a member of government: via election or by appointment. And, certainly, women did not fare well in the election, but government appointments provide another way for them to enter leadership,” he said.
Azimazi said that if affirmative action is not implemented, Nigeria will suffer greatly.
“We need women’s representation because the population distribution in Nigeria is split 50-50 between men and women in every area.” It indicates that excluding women from specific sections of the economy or decision-making deprives us of roughly half of our labor, intellectual property, and influence. This is intolerable.
“It is critical that women have strong representation because there is a certain perspective that women can only provide during key decision-making,” he explained.
Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) Programme Director Zainab Abdulrasheed stated that all hands must be on deck.
She claimed that enacting the 35% affirmative legislation will result in a more inclusive administration that addresses the challenges of marginalized and excluded voices.
“We are dealing with a patriarchal society in which discrimination based on various social norms and values has affected how governance has been run over time.” And if affirmative action is enacted, it will have a significant impact on women.
“In other developing countries, such as Rwanda, women make up up to 51.25% of the government.” This should be a challenge for Nigeria, because being known as the “giant of Africa” should be more than just a title. We should be able to serve as an example of excellent governance for other African countries to follow.
“There are many qualified women in all sectors who can make meaningful contributions in very important and critical sectors like education, which is critical to the sustainability of our nation, because you can see what’s going on with brain drain in various sectors of the country.”
“Affirmative Action should not be limited to the federal level; we must also consider the grassroots and state levels.” It is important to have all perspectives heard.
“We require inclusive governance on social, economic, and political levels.” Having it means our country will have a holistic and durable leadership process,” Abdulrasheed explained.