Women and Political Participation in Nigeria

Women and Political Participation in Nigeria
Dare Arowolo
Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University
Akungba akoko, ondo state, Nigeria
E-mail: dreo2005@yahoo.com
Tel: +2348035774375
Folorunso S. Aluko
Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University ILE-IFE, Nigeria
E-mail: funsoaluko@gmail.com
Tel: +2348060961718
The low level of political participation of women is becoming alarming and disturbing. This
hampers women from contributing their quota to the development of Nigeria. Empirical
observations have shown that women in position of responsibilities are noted to be hardworking
and firm in their decision. The aim of the study, therefore, was to find out the specific factors
responsible for the low level of political participation of women. In achieving this, the study
generated both primary and secondary data. 300 questionnaires were administered on the ratio
50:50 basis for both men and women. The study discovered that the major inhibiting factors were
sedentary in nature rather than the issue of money politics, violence, thuggery, etc which were
considered by women respondents as secondary.
Keywords: Distribution, Influence, Observations, Participation, Politics, Power,
Resources, Women.
The essence of political participation in any society, either civilised or primitive, is to seek control of
power, acquisition of power and dispensing power to organise society, harness and distribute resources
and to influence decision making in line with organised or individual interests (Arowolo and Abe,
All groups (including those of women) seek to influence the dispensation of power in line with
their articulated interests as a fundamental motive of political participation. Women, in their gradual
consciousness of state of mind also, in recent times, increasingly seek power equation and distribution
and redistribution of resources in their favour. Although, careful observations have indicated that the
involvement of women in Nigerian politics is largely noticeable at the level of voting and latent
support, Adeniyi (2003:353) has identified violence and other forms of electoral conflicts perpetrated
and perpetuated by men and male youths as the major barriers confronting and inhibiting women active
participation in Nigerian politics
Arguments are on the increase on the specific role women should play in the society. Opinions
are divided on whether the role of women is predominantly in the home fronts or women can also
engage in other socio-economic and political activities like their male counterparts. It is, however,
believed that while the natural relationship between mother and her child may compel and confine her
to sedentary activities, it is also important that such mother should contribute her quota to the
development of her family and that of her society at large. The focus of this paper is the aspect of
participation of women in societal activities that relate primarily to politics.
European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 14, Number 4 (2010)
Political participation, as one of the tenets of democracy, is found to be liberal and
unrestrictive. Subscribing to this, Okolie (2004:53) perceives political participation as “freedom of
expression, association, right to free flow of communication, right to influence decision process and
the right to social justice, health services, better working condition and opportunity for franchise”.
Political participation is one of the key ingredients of democracy in its real sense. Taking the
conceptualisation of democracy by Larry Diamond (1989: xvi) into cognisance, democracy provides
the equal opportunity platform for political participation and fairness in such competition, thus:
a system of government that meets three essential conditions: meaningful and extensive
competition among individuals and groups, especially political parties, for all effective
positions of government power, at regular intervals and excluding the use of force; a
highly inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies, at
least through regular and fair election, such that no major (adult) social group is
excluded; and a level of civil and political liberties, freedom to form and join
organizations sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation.
In a similar perspective, Onyeoziri (1989:6) conceptualises four indicative domains of
democracy which include: “the domain of individual and group rights and freedoms; the domain of
popular and equal participation in collective decision; the domain of accountability of government to
mass publics and constituent minorities; and the domain of the application of the principles of equal
citizenship in all spheres of life- social, economic and political.
The running theme of these definitions is that any claim to democratic regime or state must
essentially embrace a high degree of competitive choice, openness, enjoyment of civil and political
liberties and popular participation that embraces all groups of the society, one that is not segregationist
or discriminatory. The conceptual underpinnings of the definitions are freedom and equal opportunity
for political participation that democracy avails both men and women. If democracy does not
ordinarily discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or sex, then restrictions experienced in Africa,
nay, Nigeria suggests a level of artificiality and man-made imposition.
Twentieth century industrial capitalism, however, ushered in secularisation of politics and the
legitimisation of universal civil rights (Nda, 2003:329). Women began to form themselves into groups
in consciousness of the wave and potency of globalisation and industrial capitalism that inevitably
moved towards loosening the socio-economic and political shackles of women and attempted to hasten
the pace and tempo of institutionalisation of equal rights for all. Women now, to varying degrees
depending on the levels of modernisation and technological development in different societies,
participate in education, economic activities and the political processes with little or no formalised
On the basis of the above, the paper is predicated on the following assumptions:
1. That the low level of political participation of women in Nigeria is a function of the
biological affinity and natural bond between a woman and her child such that women
deliberately restrict themselves to domestic activities in order to oversee welfare of their
children and coordinate their home affairs;
2. That flowing from above, husbands/fathers capitalise on this sedentary acceptance of
domestic responsibilities by women/wives to further restrict and confine women to home
fronts and assume the role of bread winner in most cases in rural areas, a position that
clearly defines the dominant role of men in the families;
For the purpose of explicit analysis, the paper is divided into five parts. Part one consists of
introduction, part two focuses on the factors that mitigate and militate against women in politics. Part
three dwells on women and political participation in Nigeria. Part four comprises data analysis and
presentation. Part five concludes the study.
European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 14, Number 4 (2010)
Factors Militating Against Active Women Participation in Nigerian Politics
Observation and empirical evidence point to and reveal that a number of factors have facilitated or
contributed to the second fiddle role women are playing in political activities in Nigeria. Some of these
factors are identified as a function of natural status of women, while others are man-made deliberately
designed by their male counterparts to further confine women to sedentary activities. These factors
include, but not limited to, the following:
Cultural Practices
A number of barriers are imposed on women active participation in politics by cultural practices.
Nigerian society is permeated by patriarchy whereby women are expected to conform to and confine
themselves to male dominance and female subservience. Women are seen to belong to the home, be
incapable of making sound decisions and it is unbecoming of women to expose themselves in public
for political activities such as campaign rallies. Men often find it incredible and impracticable to see
their participating in politics. (Iloh and Ikenna, 2009:124; Nda, 2003: 336).
Violence, Thuggery and Intimidation
Other impediments preventing women from actively participating in politics and governance are:
patriarchal dominance in political parties, godfatherism, indigeneship, intra-party rigging, political
violence, thuggery and high level of intimidation (INEC, 2006:5).
Nature of Political Party Formation
At the level of political party formation, it is usually in form of club and informal meetings initiated by
male friends and business partners. Other members of the society, including women, are contacted for
membership at a much later stage when party structures are already put in place. So, women are
naturally excluded from the formation stage of political parties thus denying them of benefits accruing
to foundation membership.
Inadequacy of Willing and Educated Women
Some women in Nigeria naturally subject themselves to domestic activities and the need to prevent
broken homes. This inevitably reduces the number of qualified and willing women for both appointive
and elective positions.
High Cost of Election
Although this equally affects men but the rate at which it affects women is more pronounced in
Nigeria. The high cost of financing political parties and campaigns is a big obstacle to women. The
minimum cost of gubernatorial election could go as high as 200 million naira. How many women can
mobilise such huge amount of money and how many men can mobilise such amount of money for
women? Which political party would nominate a woman for that post considering her very small
contribution to party finance and formation? (Nda, 2003:338).
The Issue of Indegeneity
This is another major barrier that militates against active women participation in politics. Women who
are married outside their constituencies of birth (but who contest elections in their marriage
constituencies) are usually regarded as non-indigenes by the people from that constituency (at least by
birth). This is a worse case if the woman is married from entirely different ethnic group. Such a woman
will be regarded as being over ambitious and may be prevented or discouraged