Addressing Nigeria’s poor women representation in governance by Mufuliat Fijabi


Women’s involvement and representation in governance in Nigeria, particularly in politics, continues to be a growing concern, as the numbers continue to shrink, whether it is for elective or appointive positions.

Women make-up about half of the entire population of the country, according to a recent report by the World Bank Group. They make-up 49.5 per cent of Nigeria’s population.

Hence, if the statistics by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is anything to go by, with Nigeria’s population pegged at 223.8 million, then, the total number of women would be 110,781,000.

With this staggering number, one would easily presume that the total numbers of women would be directly translated into the number of women holding elective and appointive positions. However, the numbers do not add up. Something is wrong with this arithmetic.

Leading up to the general elections, data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), showed that a total of 93,469,008 eligible voters registered, after the final cleanup that included the removal of double registration and underage voters. Of this number, 44,414,846 or 47.5 per cent were female voters.

Therefore, as electorates, it is encouraging to see a nearly equal participation of women compared to men. However, as candidates, the realities are still worrisome.

Since Nigeria became a democratic nation in 1999 till date, compared to men, only 157 women have been elected into the National Assembly – 38 Senators and 119 House of Representatives members. For men, a total of 2,657 have been elected into the National Assembly – 616 Senators and 2,041 House of Representatives members.

Therefore, of the total number of seats in the National Assembly, women have only occupied about 5.6 per cent in the last 23 years. In contrast, 94.4 per cent of the seats have been occupied by men within the same period.

While the extent of women representation in the National Assembly over the years is discouraging, however, this year’s figures took a deeper dive compared to the 9th National Assembly which took off in 2019.

In the 9th National Assembly, there were 8 female Senators and 13 female Members of the House of Representatives. This represents 4.5 per cent of the entire Assembly. However, in the 10th National Assembly, women occupy 3 out of 109 seats in the Senate and 17 out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives (4.7 per cent), which represents 4.2 per cent of the 469-member National Assembly.

The cumulative percentage of women in the 10th National Assembly is below 5 per cent of the total number of seats.

In fact, according to last year’s report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPC), which publishes rankings of the percentage of women in national parliaments, Nigeria was ranked 183 out of 187 countries.

However, as of May 1st this year, while the ranking for the country is yet to be concluded, Nigeria sits “uncomfortably” with the bottom five countries in terms of women representation in their respective national parliaments.

The United Nations (UN) posits that women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. “However, data show that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and that achieving gender parity in political life is far off,” the UN stated.

To fix this, local and international stakeholders and partners are unanimous on the fact that legislation holds the silver bullet.

There are a number of international treaties and pacts that Nigeria is a signatory to by association.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution in 2003 on women’s political participation stipulates that Member States, of which Nigeria is among, should take steps to monitor progress in the representation of women; develop mechanisms and training programs that encourage women to participate in the electoral process, and improve women’s capacity to cast informed votes in free and fair elections; among other recommendations.

Also, the UN Economic and Social Council resolution 1990/15 calls on governments, political parties, trade unions, and professional and other representative groups to adopt a 30 per cent minimum proportion of women in leadership positions, with a view to achieving equal representation.

Furthermore, the 1995 Beijing Declaration advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality in politics.

There is also the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which includes commitments on political and public life, and on representation.

Nigeria happens to be a signatory to most of these declarations and conventions, however, it seems to lack the political will to domesticate and implement these agreements continues to be the major bane to the country’s progress, as far as ramping up women representation in governance is concerned.

There have been a host of advocacy efforts by concerned stakeholders, including Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), legislators, and others. Efforts have been made to ensure that women are given some statutory quota in the number of seats in the National Assembly, however temporary, to increase their representation in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Special Seats Bill is one of the gender bills which aims to improve women’s representation in elective offices. Co-sponsored by the Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Rt Hon Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and over 80 legislators, the bill was defeated in the Senate and House of Representatives, as they voted against it last year. It is entitled “Bill For an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for special seats for women in the National and State Houses of Assembly; and for related matters.”

While this bill has received the commendation of many, particularly those in the women development space, some others have criticized the bill as lacking merit and having the potential to raise the cost of funding the additional seats. However, analysis by many CSOs have shown that the benefits of the bill far outweigh the perceived cost or disadvantages.

Furthermore, a coalition of nine CSOs in Nigeria have litigated the dwindling percentage of women in appointive positions through a litigation process which started after the 2019 General elections. The process culminated in victory for Nigerian women through a favorable judgement by Justice of the Federal High court Abuja in a landmark judgment delivered by Hon. Justice Donatus Okorowo on 6 April 2022. Although the judgment has been appealed by the federal government of Nigeria, the judgment remains a reference point in the advocacy for improved inclusion of women in the democratic governance of Nigeria.

The European Union, through its funded programme, the Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) continues to reiterate that there cannot be strong, effective and legitimate democratic institutions without the inclusion and participation of women.

To further back its posture on the inclusion of women in politics and governance, all six components of the EU-SDGN advocate the provision of an equitable playing field for women, either as electorates or candidates. Through two of its implementing partners, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), and ElectHER, the European Union is pushing the frontiers for more women participation and representation in governance.

The EU-SDGN component areas includes: support to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); support to the National Assembly and Judiciary; support to Political Parties; support to Media; support to Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities and support to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).