World Pulse

NIGERIA: How I Lost an Election and Still Won

Louisa Eikhomun
Posted July 8, 2015 from Nigeria

“Political participation for women has been a mystery, and it must be demystified.

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Louisaono | Nigeria

I come from an African community in the south of Nigeria—a community where women are seen merely as useful: We are wives, we are caregivers, we reproduce. Girls are a delight because they are diligent in domestic chores. They are married off with bounties from in-laws.

In politics, our roles are distinctly defined. We are allowed to vote, but since my homeland’s independence in 1960, no woman in my community Ugboha has ever ventured to seek elective post at any level or in any political party. Of course, we have what it takes, but we have been conditioned to accept that political office is not for us.

In 2012, I began the “Esan Women Movement” with the aim of breaking cultural barriers to women’s full political participation. I called for equal opportunity for women to vote, but also to run for office. While mobilizing, sensitizing, and motivating women around their political rights and freedoms, I knew it was important to involve men. But they laughed and mocked the idea, claiming that women cannot lead men in politics. I also approached young girls to contest as ward counselors, but they all declined for fear of their fathers, fear of their brothers, and fear of violence. They all cited the fact that “no woman has ever sought elective post before.”

Last year, as Nigeria’s 2015 general elections drew near, I tried to motivate women to believe in themselves and their ability to participate in politics. The responses were the same: No woman believed she could do it.

And then, I had a huge realization that altered the course of my life. I realized I was one of these women. What was stopping me from contesting? Political participation for women has been a mystery, and it must be demystified. And so, I began to consult with women’s groups and my political party on my interest in contesting for the Edo State House of Assembly. It was a tall ambition coming from a woman who had yet to cut her teeth in politics—a woman coming from the patriarchal culture of the Esan tribe. I knew it would be a battle, but I was hardly prepared for the opposition I received.

I was mocked, plotted against, threatened, called all sort of names. Women were told to avoid me, with the threat of being sent packing from their matrimonial homes. I exhausted my savings, my energy, and my good looks.

I began to borrow from my mother's rural cooperative. I did all that was required by the electoral body. I was interviewed and cleared for the primaries. I was challenged during the interview for contesting. I almost backed down, but each time I remembered that no woman in my community has ever ventured into the political space to lead. I encouraged myself each day to get to the end.

After each speech, men would rise to shake my hand and express that they wished I were a man, as I would have been their choice. In confidence, political leaders told me they knew I could represent their people but their hands were tied, as I was a woman. Women wanted a change and saw me as that change. But in Nigeria, husbands watch their wives and daughters at the polling unit and monitor their votes.

The night of the primaries, various people approached me asking me to step down or be put to shame. I received even more threats. By morning, all my followers disappeared. At the end of the primaries, of the 300 votes cast, I only got one vote. Yes, one vote—but it was the most celebrated vote of all. I became an instant reference point.

Today, I celebrate my singular vote for all it represents. As a woman from my ward Ugboha in Esan South East Local Government, Edo State, I finally broke the yoke of non-female participation in elective positions. I demystified political participation in elective politics for women. And today, I am able to motivate women and girls through my experience.

Men honor me now. They secretly say their wives should work with me. Everywhere I go, I am accorded respect—even by those who threatened me to step down. I did not make it from aspirant to candidate, but I made it for the women of my community: I won for all women. I won because women can now participate in politics in my community despite the odds.


About this story
This story was written for the World Pulse and No CeilingsPath to Participation Initiative. With this initiative, we crowdsourced stories from World Pulse's global community to helpturn theNo Ceilings: The Full Participation Reportinto a blueprint for action on the ground.Click hereto browse through the126 submissions we received from over 30 countries.

Comments 12

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Alfia Johnson
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

What a beautiful and inspiring story!  I look forward to hearing more about how women are progressing in Edo State and recognizing their right to be heard and represented politically.

Louisa Eikhomun
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

Dear Alfia,

thanks for your comment. Edo State is still traditional and under the mornachy of the Oba of Benin. Since this transition to democracy, we have had only one woman in the parliament and being there for the third time running, was recently made a deputy majority leader even when she qualifies to be a speaker of the house. This is the present situation but we hope to see changes in the nearest future.

lauren5848
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

Dear Louisa,

You have such an amazing story and your strength is so admirable. I agree that increasing women's political participation (in the United States too) is vital to creating a governing body that represents all people. Thank you so much for your bravery and your inspiring story.

Best,

Lauren

Louisa Eikhomun
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

Dear Lauren, I am glad to share my story to inspire other women.

Carolyn Seaman
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

Hi Louisa,

This is indeed an inspiring story. I reckon with your story because I have quite some research experience studying women's political participation in Nigeria's electoral field and I have heard a number of dramatic experiences like yours. However, we keep encouraging women to engage the political arena and this charge must continue to go out as only then will Nigeria grow into seeing more and more women on the political front.

In a DFID-funded research study, "Election Her-Stories" published in 2011, I interviewed and shared the political experience of Hon. Ruby Benjamin - the only female candidate in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. She had a very dramatic experience manouevring opposition from her male counterparts and even from women (like you experienced too). She also had to face threats of violence, name-calling, lack of funds and other challenging experiences. Similarly, a UNIFEM-funded research study "Documenting Women's Political Experiences in Nigeria's 2007 General Elections" also had me interviewing and sharing the political experience of Ms. Alice Ukoko - the Labour Party Gubernatorial candidate for Delta State who was systematically schemed out of the political race in addition to threats of violence and other similar experiences you shared extensively in your story.

While you are not alone in these experiences, I hope that you are increasingly networking with other female political aspirants to share experiences and lessons learnt. More importantly, I hope that you have personally emerged from this experience a stronger political individual. And I look out for you in the 2019 Elections along with other women who must have been inspired by your experience. You are a winner indeed!

Keep heading for the top sister!

Carolyn Seaman

Girls Voices 

Abuja-Nigeria

https://www.facebook.com/girlsvoices

Louisa Eikhomun
Jul 13, 2015
Jul 13, 2015

Dear Carolyn, so glad to know you are familiar with these discrimination against women in politics. My experience has made me a better mentor to women and girls on political participation. The challenges are myraid and only determination, resilience and confidence will empower a woman in the face of threats to remain standing. Thank you

Ariane Assumani
Jul 20, 2015
Jul 20, 2015

Félicitation madame Louisaono  pour cette grande innitiative aujourd'hui je te connais acause de ce que tu a fait on ne né pas Leader mais on le devient c'est toujours la force,le courage et le savoire et vouloire qu'on réalise de grandes chose nous vous remercions beaucoup.  

Louisa Eikhomun
Jul 20, 2015
Jul 20, 2015

Merci Arianemoza.

Thank you so much.

muhorakeye esperance
Jul 20, 2015
Jul 20, 2015

courage pour votre initiative vous etes exemplaire des autre femmes de nigeria  jesperque pour les moment les femmes ont les droit d'etre elue par les gouvernement nigeria

Louisa Eikhomun
Jul 20, 2015
Jul 20, 2015

Merci Muhorakeye Esperance. I am glad to receive your comment.

otahelp
Jul 29, 2015
Jul 29, 2015

wa oh my dear louisa it was really a victory for all of us. there are so many barriers and obstacles in the path of women participating and winning election in nigeria. if you check and look around we still do not have the number of participation and representation we need for our voices to be heard but we will not give up.

kudos for all your effort. you dared them and of course, you won and we won too. will like to work with you on the participation of women in politics in nigeria when i have a laid down course of events.

2019 is almost here and we have not taking off on the campaign. 2015 election is gone we need to work towards 2019.

i have your contacts now but as soon as something comes up, i will definitely call on you.

so let your spirit not be dampened, God will see you through the rough ride.

Louisa Eikhomun
Oct 17, 2015
Oct 17, 2015

Dear Otahelp,

Thanks for your comment and sorry for my belated response.

I lost my father in July and have been in grief.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards