At an event in Abuja on October 10th, 2022, President Buhari made an announcement that would make you mistake him for a feminist.
The president directed the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, to brainstorm on possible constitutional and legal changes that would create a level playing field for Nigerian women in politics and governance.
On the surface, Buhari’s call might get Nigerian women excited about inclusion. But history has shown that the president’s action is just another one of those political moves intended to use and dump voters — in this case, Nigerian women. We’ll explain.
The president made his remarks when his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), inaugurated its Women Presidential Campaign Committee. This special committee of over 900 high-profile women is separate from the central campaign committee for the party’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.
Buhari’s directive was a clear ploy to get those women to spread the gospel that his government is pro-women and will remain so if they vote for the party in 2023. But there’s enough paper trail that shows it’s nothing but shameless pandering.
A blast from the past
In March 2022, Nigerian lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate voted on five women-centric bills. The bills proposed to:
1. Create 111 exclusive seats for women in the National Assembly and 108 exclusive seats in the 36 state legislative chambers.
2. Allow foreign husbands of Nigerian women to become citizens by registration.
3. Fill 35% of executive committee positions of political parties with women.
4. Allow a woman to automatically become an indigene of her husband’s state after five years of marriage.
5. Fill at least 10% of federal and state cabinets with women.
All the proposals failed in either one or both chambers.
In fact, lawmakers in the House of Representatives gleefully jumped for joy after denying Nigerian women fundamental rights. Buhari’s APC controls both chambers of the National Assembly.
Nigerian women and the 2023 elections
4,223 candidates will contest for 469 seats in the National Assembly in the 2023 elections, but only 380 (9%) are women.
It’s the statistic that ensures the dismal representation of women in elective office won’t improve after the elections. And decisions like the ones the National Assembly lawmakers made in March keep women out of the picture in the places that matter. But they’re a very cherished voting bloc that usually receives empty promises when it’s time for elections.
Who’ll save Nigerian women from exploitation?
The truth is that Buhari’s charge to his officials is nothing but another case of pandering to Nigerian women. He’s well aware that the National Assembly, controlled by his party, has thrown gender inclusivity in government into the bin. Even Buhari himself promised women would make up at least 35% of his second-term cabinet, only to end up with 16% after his election.
Nigerian women are one of the most active groups during elections, which is normal because they make up half of the country. But the reality of their population isn’t represented in the make-up of Nigeria’s elective or appointive offices. It’s important that before women cast their votes in 2023, they’re confident they’re voting for people that truly have their best interests at heart.
The exploitation of the women voting bloc didn’t start with Buhari, but it’s time for Nigerian women to demand better with their votes. They’re valuable for more than just elections.