BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO
Remi Sonaiya, a professor and former presidential candidate of the KOWA Party and other female politicians in Nigeria, have decried the confinement of the womenfolk to the back seat when it comes to political leadership, reducing them to mere spectators and cheerers even when they possess all the competencies to occupy the highest position in the country.
They identified night political meetings, violence, godfatherism, money politics and patriarchy as some of the factors that their male counterparts and political leaders had been using to relegate female politicians and edge them out whenever opportunities to contest for political positions surfaced.
Sonaiya and others made the observation in Osogbo while speaking at a high-level dialogue with all political parties’ chairmen in Osun State on how to improve women participation in politics in the state and the country at large. The event was organised by the Justice Development and Peace Makers’ Centre, Osogbo recently.
Delivering her keynote address on “Roles of Political Parties in Promoting Women’s Participation in Politics”, Sonaiya, the only female presidential candidate in the 2015 general elections, accused the leadership of political parties of not making politics accessible to the female gender, noting that the nation would continue to lose out in terms of democratic dividends if inclusive politics was not practised.
The former lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, said, “Political parties have a duty to make politics accessible to all. Nigeria will derive huge benefits when we practise inclusive politics. We should know that non-inclusivity is injustice because everyone deserves a place at the table. Women suffer consequences of poor governance the most. When hospitals are not well equipped, women bear the brunt when they want to give birth; when infrastructures don’t function properly, women are most affected; talk of lack of education, it makes women more vulnerable and thrown into poverty.
“But, if women are given the opportunity to attain leadership positions, Nigerians will sing a new song because many women possess immense skills and abilities and they know the exact challenges confronting the nation and how best to address them. There are direct and indirect mechanisms that prevent women from being included in politics and they should be addressed by political leaders who are virtually males.”
Querying why political meetings should be held at night, Sonaiya said, “Why the night meetings? Why the overbearing influence on money bags?
Godfatherism, their word is law in terms of politics of the state. Some of the mechanism of exclusion are that our girls are not educated.
Political parties should demand a better life and demand education for girls. We have child marriage, child labour, abduction and baby factories all over. Political parties should not be silent.
“Unfortunately, political leadership is impoverishing women. Our political parties are silent on these issues and only care about winning elections, not about having better life for Nigerians; they just want to occupy positions.”
Addressing male politicians and leaders, she said, “Political parties must take practical steps to ensure that they are determined to have women in politics and the roles women play in politics should be beyond women leaders and filling crowd. Stop using women as cheer leaders. Go after women of substance and make them candidates. Introduce quota system to ensure representation at all levels. Introduce best practices in conducting meetings.”
“Decent women don’t want night meetings. They want to be treated with respect. They don’t want violence. Why should our politics be shrouded in darkness? Why not conduct during the day? Why must we be using indecent language because we are politicians. You can’t tell us we don’t have qualified and capable women, so, start acting now,” she challenged party leaders.
Other women who spoke accused male party leaders of favouring only moneybag aspirants and making participation in politics difficult with night meetings, violence and shortchanging.
A female politician in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state narrated how party leaders prevented her from becoming councilor in her ward because she is a woman.
Responding, party chairmen identified electoral reforms that would accommodate women in politics and amendment of political parties’ constitutions as solutions to the non-inclusion challenge.
Some of them, however, said until women showed readiness to take risk by parting with money and attending night meetings, it might become difficult for them to assume leadership positions in politics.
Electoral experts at JDPMC said many opportunities had been passing the country by as a result of Nigeria’s failure to attain 35 per cent affirmative action.
“The dreams of women in Osun and Nigeria at large should not be paralysed,” the General Coordinator of JDPMC, Rev. Fr. Peter Akinkunmi, said.