The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 released the final list of presidential and national assembly candidates for the 2023 general election.
The release of the final list was pursuant to section 32(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 and item 8 of the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election. The list showed that all the 18 political parties in the country fielded candidates and their running mates for the Presidential election.
For legislative elections, 1,101 candidates are vying for 109 Senatorial seats and 3,122 candidates are contesting for House of Representatives seats, making a total of 4,223 candidates contesting for 469 legislative positions.
A breakdown according to gender showed that there is only 1 female candidate for the Presidential election, Ojei Princess Chichi, a 44 year old candidate of the APM. This represents just 2.77 per cent of the contestants.
For the senate, out of the 1,101 candidates vying for 109 Senatorial seats, 92 are women, (8.35 per cent) while 288 women are contesting for House of Representatives out of the total 3,122 contestants, representing 9.2 per cent. Cumulatively, there are 381 women among the total of 4,259 contestants for the presidency (presidential candidates and running mates) and the national Assembly seats. This represents 8.9 per cent of the contestants.
Contrastingly, in 2019 general election, among the 73 presidential candidates, six were female. For the Vice Presidential candidates, women constituted 22 or 30.1% of 73 candidates, according data in a 125-page INEC report entitled “Review of the 2019 General Election: Report of the Commission’s Retreats and Stakeholder Engagements”. Though, the six women presidential candidates withdrew with their male counterparts before the Election Day, their interests registered, as their names remained on the ballot box.
In 2019, out of the 1,904 candidates for the senatorial election, women constituted 12.3%. 235 women contested for a seat in the Senate of which seven (6.42 per cent) were elected. For the House of Representatives, 11.6% of the 4,680 candidates was women. 533 women contested, with the major parties fielding a total of 31 (15 APC and 16 PDP) candidates. However, only 11 (3.05 per cent) were elected. These statistics were captured in the fact sheet released by INEC and the Centre for Democracy and Development CDD.
Comparatively, the data showed a decline in the number of women contesting for the elective positions sampled. The question is, what must have happened? Is it an expression of women’s un-readiness or indifference to contesting these positions or that the platforms shrank for women, considering the fact that the number of political parties dropped from about 91 in 2019 to 18 in 2022? Is it lack of funds, unfavourable party structure, stereotyping, threat of election violence or that women are not competing enough?
There is no gainsaying the fact that the number of women participating in the presidential and national Assembly elections is very negligible in comparison to the Nigeria female population. According to data from the National Bureau of statistics, women form about 49.4 per cent of Nigeria’s population. As of the last general elections in 2019, women made up 47 per cent of registered voters and could be more by the time INEC must have comprehensively updated the voter register. In fact, as of the first week of July this year, INEC confirmed that it recorded a higher number of female registrants as more than 8.6 million Nigerians completed the voter registration process since the commencement of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise in June 2021.
This decline is coming against the backdrop of the pursuit of gender balance. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 advocated 30% representation for women in government, while Nigerian National Gender Policy pegged it at 35. Promises have been made to give women more slots in elective and appointive positions. Political parties have even given certain concessions to women to encourage their contest of elective positions, but the impact is yet to be felt. So, what do we do to ensure increased participation of women in elective position? Is it time for Nigeria to consider to use a legislation, perhaps, make the 35 per cent affirmative action a law, just like there is in Senegal and Kenya?