Ms. Gloria Shoda, President of the African Women’s Council and former President of the National Council of Women’s Societies, talks to TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN about women and politics in Nigeria.
Recently, there was a report that only about six percent of women are active in Nigerian politics. Why do you think women don’t really participate in politics?
We have been talking about the low percentage of women participating in politics for a long time, and there are several reasons why the percentage is so.
First, it is the political will, which is very low in our country. We have not been able to reserve a percentage for women as other countries do. Some African countries have a percentage reserved for women, and it is mandatory for women to hold these government positions, especially political positions in their countries.
Also, it is not a level playing field because politics is practiced in Nigeria with money and power. There is also a lot of violence in our politics. It’s survival of the fittest, and you know, a lot of women are afraid of violence. They fear for their children. They fear many things that men do not care about.
So many things limit women, including our social interaction, culture, religion, and so many other things.
Our culture does not allow women to lead men. They will say: “How can a woman be in charge when there are men?” Some religions also do not allow their women to be in charge of politics. So those are the things that prevent women from participating in partisan politics.
Also, women themselves are enemies because many women get jealous when they see an aspiring and promising woman. They start giving it all kinds of names. They get jealous, pull her down, and say, “Is she the one? Why not me? She must have done this; she must have done one bad thing or another.”
Similarly, you know that many women find it hard to take criticism. Even when husbands have the leverage to allow their wives into politics, other men sometimes start telling them things like, “Your wife will soon become your boss; if she becomes governor, what will you be called? These men then chicken out and begin withdrawing their women from participating in politics.
On top of that, many political meetings are held at midnight and other odd hours of the day, and many of the political leaders are married, so many men don’t allow their wives out after midnight because of the type of names that will be attached to them if they are seen with other men at so late an hour. So many things are the reason.
You mentioned that money was part of the reason for the lower participation of women in politics. The APC gave women a 60 percent discount on presidential forms, but only one woman signed up. Why is this so?
60 percent off is still a significant savings. The APC pays N100m for the presidential form. So 60 percent of 100 million is N60m, and for the average woman in Nigeria, that’s a lot. Look what happened to the only woman who came out in the primaries. She was gagged. I’m sure she didn’t have enough money to give to the delegates. Later, she even said it herself: “Women are not ready.” That’s why I mentioned women; we are our own worst enemies.
I will give an example of what we women do even when we go to conferences. Instead of sitting around listening to lectures, they will go out to buy things and do this and that. Women have not really prepared. While the men will be seriously waiting to see the outcome of the program they came for, the women are busy shopping.
So if you look at it, you will see it. For example, let’s take the woman who came out and said that the women are not ready yet. You know, maybe someone just said, “Let’s have a woman; let’s buy her a form from her; let her be there to represent the women. You know how the godfather is in Nigeria.
Are you saying that poverty is a huge factor?
Poverty is one of the factors; prudence is another on the part of women. A woman cannot raise money. She might have N500m, she can’t get N100m for something she’s not sure she’s going to win. Women usually think seriously, and one of the things they think about is the future of their children. They don’t play, but the men can even go to the bank to borrow the money to buy the form.
So, I don’t know what you call it, maybe women don’t have the audacity to go out and give whatever it takes. I will give another example of what is happening to Natasha. She decided to give it her all, and you know what she’s up against, so that’s the problem. A lot of women don’t want to deal with that kind of thing. They don’t have the ‘liver’ to deal with those problems.
As a result, even those with money fled. We have women who have the money; They said, “I’d rather have peace than get into this wahala (trouble).” That’s all.
Recently, the leader of the PPD lamented having been marginalized, so it seems that some of these women are even fighting head-on in the positions that have been assigned to them. When do you think Nigerian women will be ready for partisan politics?
I think we will be ready when women decide to have one voice and help each other. When a woman recognizes the potential in another, she supports and pushes that person to go as far as she can.
Not when many of you are fighting for the same position or in some cases dragging some people down or smearing them because they have a position.
It is when we say: “We can identify with this one, and we know that she is good in her locality or community, and we must push her to be this or that.” That’s when we would start making progress.
We have Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, you and others are doing well even internationally. Why don’t important women like you get involved in partisan politics? Is it for fear of being dragged through the mud?
It’s not really the fear of being stained or dragged through the mud; I think everyone has their own vocation. Not all of us are politically motivated, but if we find someone who is, we can rally behind them. I’m not really interested in politics; I prefer working for an NGO, and I think it’s the same for Aisha. Ngozi is a mixture of politics and government, and he is doing very well in that space.
There are those who are fighting as hard as Biodun Olujimi; she is working and fighting just as hard as they are. Women like this should surround her and make sure she gets the position she wants.
Many times, people will say, “When she gets there, she won’t remember us; it is not about remembering us; she let her get there; let it be written that there is a woman, a woman is governor, president, vice presidents and all that.”
Let us also encourage our young women to enter politics and start at the ward level. You build, but everyone wants to start with the Assembly of the House, the House of Representatives or the Senate.
If they start at the bottom, they’ll grow, and if they start from there, they’ll probably develop the thick skin that most politicians develop.
There has been this argument that women should come together and form a political party. Do you think that will work?
No, I don’t think it works. Some women have tried this in the past, but it didn’t work. Nigeria is not only made up of women. But we can have a political party that has a higher percentage of women. They might have a case where they agree to a certain percentage of female leadership, and even after we win the election, we can negotiate to accommodate women.
What we have now is that some politicians come and promise that they will take care of women, but after they have won the elections, they forget about women because men like to take care of themselves while women are busy clapping.
Which is why we would have a female leader relegated to the backyard. Because she represents women, the female leader is supposed to sit next to the party president. It’s not just when they need to gather women for rallies that they are reminded that there is a female leader.
How can we achieve a Nigeria where women support women?
You know it’s a mentality; we’ve been saying this for a long time, saying women for women, women supporting women, and everything in between. When women get to the position where they can rally other women, they begin to trade blame. Women support women when they choose who they can hold on to.
Also, we have very few women who support other women and do so sincerely. Women in positions must begin to deliberately position other women so that they, too, make it to the top of the ladder.
In addition, we must continue to sensitize women on the need to support each other.