How can women contest in an environment where electoral robbery reigns, where accrued electoral bias causes shivers running down one’s spine after memories of war and secession of 1969, which has contributed to accommodativeness in the face of disenfranchisement? A nation where the air of impunity is freely inhaled, political power is entrenched but vote not count.
Nigeria has the highest population in Africa with an estimate of 148 million inhabitants. It had a GDP of over $296 billion and huge reserves of crude oil which makes it the largest economy in Africa, leading oil exporter and 37th largest economy in the World but 54% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line. When the present Nigerian president assumed office on May 29, 2007, we gave a sigh of relief with his Seven Point Agenda; Infrastructure development, Niger Delta regional development, Food Security, Human Capital-investments in health, education, Land Reforms and home ownership, National Security and Wealth creation. Few months ago, the new Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria advised the president to reduce the agenda to two but he refused.
In an interview with the Financial Times of London BBC News, May 28, 2008, and June 23, 2008- no progress yet, Yar’Adua said his administration was still planning, in that interview a new promise: Niger Delta Summit will hold within eight weeks, Restructuring of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation will be completed in twelve months, National emergency on power will be declared soon, and next twelve months will be very very interesting for Nigerians. In another interview with The Guardian of April 29, 2009 none of the above promises had been fulfilled but he said his legacy now is rule of law.
In March 18, 2009 Economist Intelligence Unit wrote about Nigeria, the market fell from a high 65,000 points in March 2008 to about 21,000 in March 2009, the worst market collapse in the world, no clear economic strategy, this is before the global financial crisis. We have never had it so bad. It was not so in the beginning.
The sleeping ancient town of Owo, green and beautiful, is my native land. It borders Yoruba land in the West and the Bini kingdom in the South South. I grew up in the royal palace of the Generalissimo (Sashere) he was my late maternal grandfather, succeeded by one of his hundred children, my mother’s immediate brother. Growing up among these loved ones made me believe Owo was the beginning and end of the World. Life was good, moonlight tales were real not like the fabricated African mythologies available nowadays only in Literature series.
Life sprang from Owo, a name which literally means respect which is demonstrated in the cultural character of indigenous Owo.
September ushers in beautiful memories of innocent era of the ‘virgin dance’, an annual event in which young girls are heavily beaded around their waists with firm breasts left bared. It lasted for a period of two months, during the famous Igogo festival in Owo, when indigenes feast on specially prepared green grasshoppers accompanied with roasted yam. This is prepared by placing a whole tuber of yam in the fire for roasting, after which a knife is pierced directly into its bosom, then turned clockwise to make enough room to pour fried stew and sliced onions into the yam, to be returned upright to the fire for rapid boiling. This delicacy is served to all including the bare budding breasted virgins.
It was when I began to understand and get settled into this enjoyable life of love, peace and communal living, a cankerworm crawled in. Till today I cannot comprehend how it began. The root of this antagonism was money, it moved stealthily and tore into our existence. Politics of money built enmity on a foundation of love. The story is not strange, but how it is narrated may be. When monetized politics came into Nigeria, the grassroots were not spared, the traditional rulers; expected custodians of the masses became contractors to political masters. Heavily beaded kings are all well seated at entrances of Governors with their Local Purchasing Order awaiting janitors to book appointments when the reverse should be the case, if not ‘eat and die’.
If asked, I would have revealed that political leaders visit local areas simply to contact powerful herbalists but this might lead to further acrimonies. Vividly do I recollect a charm that my grandmother made for politicians, we are of the belief that there is always a big stone in an Iroko tree only if it is the Iroko tree fell by the effect of a mighty thunder, the stone found in it will now be placed inside a fiery fire for a long time may be for six hours or thereabout. She will squeeze a particular herb that draws exactly like okra in a big calabash, the hot stone will be removed from the fire directly into the slippery substance, this is given to these men to drink, when I inquired from mother the reason for drinking such a smelling, hot and slippery substance, she confided in me, “no one who drank the concoction will ever be afraid of anyone in the World when they kill a man they can sleep with the dead man”.
In my early years I have witnessed politicians drank at different times, same place same source, same calabash for the same reason. Never really understood why everyone wanted to live without their conscience, but they kept on coming into the palace.
Those meetings were held in twilight, powerful men trooping from the nation’s capital, my uncle was actively involved, arrogance reigns, his brothers became his sworn enemies, money rushing from aspirants while powerful herbalist made the palace their temporary abode, the trend visible in today’s polity. Friends turned to conspicuous enemies while relations avoided our palace like a plague. The night meetings were on politics, but then it was only referred to as ‘voting’ mother said voting is the devil’s game to exterminate the black race and because she belonged to a different political party, my uncle withdrew his support and mother became a full time farmer.
Actually I was too young to understand this riddle but I believe it was a death cast that continually reigns till this day. Utterances became devoid of affection in the once peaceful palace, the full stop to every discussion was ‘death is the end of it all’, men were ready to die for this cause, we live in perpetual fear, but I will never understand why I presumed death to be a sleeping game when everyone can always come back to share the booties; our politics was of ‘Ghana must go bag’ filled with money yet the first stanza of the National anthem was ‘Nigeria we hail thee, our own dear native land’ not so strange today that internal colonialism is sustained by a selected domination determined to remain in permanent control of the nation through rotational leadership offering nothing in return yet supported by traditional rulers, past leaders as cheerleaders.
Political superiority brought instability into our system, power was absolute; therefore diabolical power was sought to obtain, sustain and retain power. Our land became a battlefield while women and children bear the brunt of the war.
Their palace guarded day and night by our sons who are lost their lives daily to bullets of our brothers, politics killed the future and loathing became the present. Young girls became the target of dare-devil irate youths; budding breast bared for fun became sought after by empowered boys, intoxicated by drugs supplied by the powers that be. Virgin dance became history that can only be accessed through past pictures and fond memories. That was an era when sexual molestation exists only in the English dictionary.
A god that children are not allowed to participate in its worship will soon become history.
We were afraid of hooligans molesting the young girls but the reality is that things have really changed girls are molested under our ignorant noses by trusted relations. Children became endangered species or do we say poverty has pushed adults to eating the forbidden fruits? No matter how beautiful the World is no one can feed himself with the back of his hand.
On the other hand, reality of our little world changed; politics was introduced to destabilize and awaken the peaceful town, generally politics is how big is your herbalist and cash. “Eat into your pocket is the game” and the food is Nigeria! Western world will wonder about the efficacy of charms but we will not easily forget the Wild Wild West, politics became a dreaded game that women with conscience, morals and fear of God flee politics.
Electoral robbery results in unimaginable mayhem that was new to us, old women came out bare chest with their weaving tools raised, though strange, everyone ran for safety, old women burnt houses with raw eggs, fear gripped Nigerians. I have heard of wars, during moonlight tales, but in 1983 it became reality in my little haven. It was warfare in the South West; Ondo and Oyo states four industrious sons who were members of the ruling party were assassinated when expression of popular will was neglected.
The system of government operated in Nigeria is known as ‘selectical’, the path of corruption must be covered by a successor selected by the predecessor.
In 1999, only 12 women were elected into the State Assemblies 978 males, 3 women out of 109 senators, 13 women and 347 men. In 2003, 39 women were elected against 951 men, 21 women in House of Representatives, 339 men, 4 women and 105 male senators. In 2007 elections, 7,160 candidates contested, 628 women participated, presently there are 9 female,100 male Senators, House of representatives; 27 female 333 males, five female Deputy Governors 31 males, no female Governor.
Although the slogan remains; death is the end of it all! But women will work with will and will win when supported by willful well wishers. Inculcating Leadership and Accountability training for girls in High School will bring beautiful harvest into Nigeria, presently, there are three hundred Senior Advocates of Nigeria and only eight are women. Gender equality in Nigeria may not be achievable by 2015, presently there is 51% female and 61% male enrolled in schools in Nigeria, Uganda it 62% and 64 % while Kenya is 59% and 62%, bigger difference in earnings in Nigeria; 83% 2007 and 70% 2008 to male while 41% for female. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_20072008_EN_Indicator_tables.pdf
Women in politics are labeled all names to dissuade but 48% Nigerians are women, marginalizing women will rob the nation of beautiful ideas and inputs for governance. Economical, social and political empowerments will produce well rounded women who will fight corruption and bribery in elections. There should be a legislation that at least 30% quota should be made mandatory to political parties. CEDAW convention must be implemented in Nigeria; women are natural nurturers when given voices, recognition and atmosphere of peace.
Optimistically, Nigeria is of age, the problem is ours and we have the solution. Education, discussions, security and support are vital tools for prevention of politics with bitterness, sexual abuse, injustice, sexual violence and male domination of political scene, women will launch into politics if given necessary security and support. New campaign orientation targeted at the public should be ‘when voters’ cards are turned to meal ticket, we eat our future’.
In view of this, coalition of some Non Governmental Organizations, like Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, Women Advocates and Research Documentation Centre, Alliances for Africa, Women’s Optimum Development Foundation etc came up with VISION 30/11 that by next election, thirty percent electoral post will be occupied by Nigerian Women. Supporting women venturing into politics ensures that male domination of Nigeria political scene become history as we jointly create a synergy to join other politically progressive countries.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.