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Frozen out? Checking claims about women’s participation in Nigerian politics

After a Nigerian senator warned of the shrinking space for women in parliament, a columnist made several claims that painted a dire picture. We looked at seven.

  • In an op-ed on female participation in Nigerian politics, Nnedinso Ogaziechi of the Nkata Ndi Inyom Igbo think tank made several claims about the number of women in national and state assemblies.

  • Her claim that Rwanda has the world’s biggest female parliamentary majority, at 61.1%, is correct. Also correct are claims that Nigeria has only seven female senators out of 109, and that no woman has been elected state governor since 1999.

  • Her claims that 6.9% of the house of representatives – 22 seats – is made up of women are overstated. It’s 3.6%, or 13 seats. But Ogaziechi was incorrect to say that most state assemblies have no women at all, and that those that do have less than 5%.

In a September 2021 opinion piece highlighting women’s exclusion from high-level politics in Nigeria, Nnedinso Ogaziechi made several claims.

The op-ed’s headline quoted a warning by senate minority leader Enyinnaya Abaribe: “There will soon be no woman in the senate.” It was published in the Nation, a national newspaper. 

Ogaziechi is the spokesperson for Nkata Ndi Inyom Igbo, a think tank of women from southeast Nigeria’s Igbo community. The organisation recently held a webinar on the inclusion of women in politics.

Her claims included the number of women in the parliaments of Rwanda and Nigeria, and women’s participation in Nigeria’s state assemblies.

We fact-checked seven.

Claim

‘Rwanda presently has the global highest number of women in parliament at 61.1%.’

Verdict

Correct

Ogaziechi began by giving the example of Rwanda. At 61%, she said, the East African country had the world’s largest female majority in parliament. 

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is a Switzerland-based global organisation with 179 national parliaments as members. 

It regularly tracks female representatives in parliaments – the percentage of seats in a single chamber, or in a lower chamber, held by women. 

As of 1 January 2021 women held 61.3% of the seats in Rwanda’s parliament: the highest in the world. In comparison, as of 1 September 2021, women occupied 25.6% of the total parliamentary seats worldwide.

Cuba had the second highest share of women in parliament, at 53.4%. In third place was the United Arab Emirates, with 50%.

global women in parliament2

Claim

‘Nigeria, with a population of more than 200 million, has one of the lowest gender representations in parliament, with a paltry 6.9%.’

Verdict

Exaggerated

Nigeria’s population is an estimated 211.4 million in 2021. Its national assembly is made up of 109 senators and 360 members of the lower house of representatives.  

As mentioned above, the IPU defines “women in parliament” as the percentage of parliamentary seats in a single chamber, or in a lower chamber, held by women.  

Only 3.6% of the seats in Nigeria’s house of representatives are occupied by women. This compares poorly to sub-Saharan Africa’s average of 25%. Globally, Nigeria is ranked 184 out of 188 countries as of January 2021.

The World Bank says that without positions in parliament, it is difficult for women to influence policy. 

The United Nations’ sustainable development goals include increasing the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments.

Claim

‘A senate of 109 members [has] a paltry seven female senators.’

Verdict

Correct

Yes, only seven of the 109 seats in Nigeria’s upper house are currently held by female senators, according to the national assembly. The IPU puts it at eight, but Rose Okoji Oko, who represented Cross River North, died in March 2020.

Globally, this places Nigeria in the bottom five of 79 countries with an upper house, according to the IPU.

Claim

‘Most state houses of assembly have no women at all.’

Verdict

Incorrect

According to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission, 14 of Nigeria’s 36 state houses of assembly do not have any female members. The commission conducts elections in Nigeria.     

This means that 22 state assemblies (61%) do have female members.

Claim

In state assemblies that have female representatives, women make up less than 5% of members.

Verdict

Incorrect

The share of women in the assemblies of Ogun, Ekiti, Enugu, Ebonyi, Cross River and Bayelsa states exceeds 10%, according to the electoral commission.

In Akwa Ibom, Benue, Delta, Imo, Lagos, Ondo and Osun states, the percentage is more than 5%. 

Samson Itodo, executive director of Yiaga Africa, outlined several obstacles facing women. The Abuja-based organisation’s focus includes democratic governance and civic engagement. 

“Structurally, there is a deficiency within the Nigerian state with respect to the legal framework. The constitution is hostile towards women's political participation,” he told Africa Check. 

The constitution was not explicitly against gender discrimination in political participation, and this should be addressed, Itodo said.   

Political parties’ structure was also a challenge for women. Many parties only created room for women as a form of “tokenism”, he said.

Claim

The house of representatives, with 360 members, has only 22 women.

Verdict

Exaggerated

The house of representatives has 13 female lawmakers, according to the national assembly.

Laja Odukoya is a senior political science lecturer at the University of Lagos. He said women could not compete effectively in Nigeria because the playing ground was not level.  

Nigeria is a signatory to the 1995 United Nations’ Beijing declaration. This requires that 35% of political offices be reserved for and occupied by women. In 2011, the country’s electoral body set up a mechanism to implement it. 

Odukoya said that despite this, Nigeria’s politics continued to be male-dominated, as well as highly monetised and characterised by violence.

Claim

‘No woman in Nigeria has won a governorship seat since 1999.’

Verdict

Correct

After 16 years of military rule, Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. Since then, no woman has been elected as a state governor.

Aisha Alhassan, a one-time minister for women affairs, is among those who have come closest.

She vied for the Taraba state governorship in the 2015 general election on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress, now the ruling party. She lost to Darius Ishaku of the Peoples Democratic Party

A state election tribunal declared Alhassan the winner, but this was overturned by both the supreme and appeal courts.

Virginia Etiaba did serve as the governor of Anambra state in the southeast from November 2006 to February 2007, but only after her running mate Peter Obi was impeached as governor.

Obi was reinstated in February 2007.

‘Constitutional amendment, violence-free politics the way to go’

According to University of Lagos senior political science lecturer Laja Odukoya, it’s necessary to explain to communities why gender equality is important and how it is a key way to improve the participation of women in politics.

He told Africa Check that politics should be demonetised and its violence curbed, to level the playing field.

Samson Itodo is the executive director of Yiaga Africa, an Abuja-based organisation whose focus includes democratic governance and civic engagement.  

He said Nigeria should consider amending its constitution to reap the benefits of active female political participation. One proposal was to create more seats in the national assembly, thereby increasing the number of spaces for women in parliament. 

“As long as we continue to exclude women from public leadership, our country suffers because we lose the opportunity to tap into the energy, innovation and resilience of women,” Itodo told Africa Check.

Further Reading

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