Today as the world celebrates women, we celebrate courageous female presidential aspirants and candidates who have defined what it means to be a woman seeking elective offices in a male-dominated society.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission in September 2022 published the final names of the presidential candidates for the 2023 General Elections, only one woman made the list. Out of the 18 candidates, only Princess Chichi Ojei of the Allied People’s Movement was on the ballot as a female presidential candidate.
She managed to pull 25,000 votes in the race despite stiff pressure from her partymen to collapse her structure for the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
This sad realistic slim representation of women in Nigeria leaves this writer with the thought if the Suffragette movement started in the 19th century to advocate for women’s right to vote and run for political office has had much of an impact, especially in Nigeria.
Despite granting women the right to vote and participate in politics in 1954, Nigeria has failed to produce a female president to date. The just concluded February 25th, 2023 Presidential Elections further showed the lacuna in women’s representation and voice in national politics.
Roles Of Women in Nigeria’s Politics
The role of women in Nigerian politics has evolved significantly over the years. Of the 200 million citizens in Nigeria, half of the population are women and only a tiny fraction of the remaining half get the chance to be elected into public offices in spite of women’s role in the electioneering period.
One of the significant roles women play in Nigerian politics is as voters. Women constitute a significant portion of the voting population in Nigeria and have the power to influence the outcome of elections. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness among Nigerian women of their role in the electoral process, and they have become more active in mobilizing themselves and other women to participate in elections.
While Nigerian women have made progress in political representation, they still face significant challenges in breaking through the gender bias and cultural stereotypes that have historically prevented women from taking active roles in politics. However, Nigerian women have continued to play a vital role in the political landscape of the country, both as voters and as political leaders.
Despite these efforts, women in Nigerian politics still face significant challenges, including cultural stereotypes, gender bias, and limited access to resources and funding. However, there is growing recognition of the importance of women’s political participation in Nigeria, and efforts are being made to promote women’s rights and increase women’s representation in government.
While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in achieving gender equality and increasing women’s representation in government. It is crucial to continue to advocate for women’s rights, promote gender equality, and support women’s political participation to ensure a more inclusive and equitable Nigerian society.
How Women Have Changed the Political Dynamics in Nigeria
The political dynamics of women’s participation and the right to vote and be voted for took a drastic turn in 1992 when Sarah Jubril throw her heart in the ring to run for presidency under Social Democratic Party, failed at the primaries but decided to recontest again in 1998 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party but lost to Olusegun Obasanjo.
In spite of the failure, Jubril went ahead to defect to Progressive Action Congress in 2003, to become the first woman to represent a registered party and be a presidential candidate where she lost the elections to Obasanjo.
Jubril’s bold entrance to national politics paved the way for women like Prof. Oluremi Sonaiya, Mojisola Obasanjo, Ebiti Ndok, Oby Ezekwesili, Angela Johnson, Olufunmilayo Adesanya-Davies, Eunice Atuejide, Rabia Yasai Hassan Cengiz, and Maina Maimuna Kyari and other women.
These women in spite of all known patriarchal, cultural, and societal beliefs that put women in subordinate positions and men as leaders have thrived in their individual capacities to show character, integrity, strength, competence, and courage.
Nigerian women have continued to aspire for more political positions not minding the outrageous and heavily funded structure put in place by parties. From the nomination process to buying of the form, and funding the campaigns, the high level of corruption has made it difficult for more women, to run successful political campaigns without engaging in corrupt practices. The political campaigns itself is expensive, and women may struggle to raise the necessary funds, but these challenges haven’t deterred more women from aspiring for political offices.
Honoring Nigeria’s Women Presidential Aspirants/Candidates
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day today, it is essential to reflect on the journey of these women in politics in Nigeria. From the suffragette movement to present-day presidential aspirants, Nigerian women have come a long way in their quest for equal representation in politics.
In 2019, Nigeria held its general elections, and only 4 out of 73 presidential candidates were women.
In 2022, during the build-up to the General elections, only seven women declared intention to run for the presidency despite a waiver given to female aspirants on nomination forms. The seven women who declared their intention to run were – Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi, Uju Ohanenye, Carol Nwosu, Ibinabo Joy Dokubo, Patience Key, Olivia Diana Teriela, and Angela Johnson. In the end, only one woman, Princess Chichi Ojei made it past the party nomination to run for the presidency against 17 male candidates.
This number is discouraging, considering that women make up half of the population in Nigeria. Despite the low representation, these women dared to dream, breaking barriers and stereotypes to compete in what is traditionally seen as a male-dominated field.
Today, as the world over marks International Women’s Day 2023 with the theme – DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. We celebrate women politicians in Nigeria who have used their voices to inspire and called for gender equality in our country.
Despite the many challenges they face, these women have proven that they are equally capable of leading and making positive changes in the country. They have used their voices to advocate for equal representation of women in politics and create a more enabling environment for women by taking up leadership positions.
- SARAH JUBRIL
Dr. Sarah Jubril is one name that will remain on the map of women politicians who have paved the way for female representation in politics. The Kwara State-born politician shook the entire political landscape of the country when she declared intentions to run for presidency immediately after the military rule in 1992 under the platform of the Social Democratic Party but lost in the nomination process. The move made her the first woman to aspire for presidency in Nigeria.
Not deterred by her earlier loss, Jubril gave the run another shot in 1998 but lost the party’s ticket to Olusegun Obasanjo.
In 2003, she left the Peoples Democratic Party, to now-defunct Progressive Action Congress where she was chosen as the party’s presidential candidate in the elections. Sarah’s name on the ballot made her the first woman to win a party’s presidential nomination and equally run for office in Nigeria. She scored 157,560 votes in that elections, the highest any woman ha ever scored in Nigeria during elections.
In 2011, she joined the PDP and declared to run for the office of presidency again but lost to Former President, Goodluck Jonathan where she managed to garner only one vote out of 500 delegates in the party primaries in Abuja.
When President Jonathan resumed office, he appointed Jubril as Special Adviser on Ethics and Values. She also held briefly as Chairman, Justice Must Prevail Party, established in 2017.
In one of her interviews with the Sun, Sarah had said, ‘’ I didn’t come into politics to get popular. I came into politics with the mind of warring against the evils, and inhumanness I found when I came back from my study abroad.
Despite not achieving her dream of becoming president, Sarah will continue to remain a name reckoned with women’s liberation, courage, and character.
- OBY EZEKWESILI
Another woman who has shown great character, courage, and charisma in women’s politics is Oby Ezekwesili. Ezekwesili, a former Minister for Education, and advocate for transparency and good governance also threw her heart in the ring when she declared to run for the office of president in 2019 on the platform of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.
The co-founder of the BRING BACK OUR GIRLS MOVEMENT had made her intentions known at an event marking Nigeria’s 58th anniversary through Pastor Tunde Bakare. She had promised to lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty in her manifesto. But, on January 24th, 2019, she withdrew from the race and cited divergent values/visions with her party.
The umpire, INEC had told her it was late to withdraw from the race as ballot materials had been printed with party logos. She was however commended for taking the step to end the APCPDP rule in Nigeria by Fela Durotoye.
On February 4, 2019, she held a press conference in NICON Luxury Hall, Abuja where she spoke about her tedious political journey and stepped down.
When she published her campaign finances on February 7, it was discovered she had spent about 48 million naira between October 1, 2018, and February 2, 2019. On 7 February 2019, Ezekwesili published her campaign finances. The report shows she spent 48 million Naira between 1 October 2018 and 2 February 2019
Oby Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian Minister of Education and one of the four female presidential candidates in 2019. She is known for her advocacy for transparency and good governance, as well as her work on education and anti-corruption campaigns. Despite her unsuccessful bid, Ezekwesili’s campaign inspired many Nigerian women to aspire to higher political offices.
Despite stepping down, she went on to score 7,223 votes.
- MOJISOLA OBASANJO
Mojisola Adekunle-Obasanjo is another woman who has shattered the glass ceiling in Nigeria. The former Major in the Nigerian Army founded the Masses Movement of Nigeria in 1998 which she later ran on the platform for the presidency in 2003. She pulled a total number of 157,000 votes which was equivalent to 0.40% of the approved votes.
In 2007, Mojisola, who was once married to Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1991 -1998 was the sole female presidential contender for the elections. She pulled 4,309 votes in the elections.
She later died on June, 4th 2009 at her daughter’s residence in Ikoyi, Lagos State after a brief illness.
- UJU OHANEYE
Uju Ohaneye is another trailblazing woman who surprised everyone when she joined the race for the presidency in the 2023 election.
The philanthropist and legal practitioner joined the presidential race on the platform of the All Progressives Congress after purchasing the Expression of Interest and Nomination Form.
The Anambra-born businesswoman and mother when she declared for the office of presidency despite being a novice in politics had said that the country needs the touch of a mother to help ameliorate the hardship in the country. She however didn’t make it past the party nomination.
- CAROL NWOSU
Dr. Carol is another courageous woman who threw herself into the 2023 presidential race.
She had in March, 22 declared to join the race for the most coveted seat in the country under African Action Congress.
Announcing her intention, Nwosu who is the President of the Voice for Senior Citizens of Nigeria at the Symposium Hall of the Nigerian National Merit Award House, Abuja, said, ‘’I will put serious checks and balances in place to promote accountability, entrench the rule of law, nurture political parties to grow, promote transparent and credible elections, and growth in democracy.’’
She didn’t make it to the poll despite all her effort and lofty promises.
- KHADIJAH OKUNNU-LAMIDI
Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi is another woman, young, fierce, intelligent, and courageous woman who first declared to run for Presidency on the platform of the Social Democratic Party in the 2023 general elections.
With all of Khadijah’s wealth of experience and dexterity, she was screened out by a party during the party screening.
In the recommendation letter from the Screening panel, Khadijah was advised to aspire for other lesser offices like LGA Chairman or National Assembly positions. The panel had said, ‘’she is not presidential material in Nigeria context. She is advised to go down to other positions. If the party wins the presidency, she has demonstrated potential to hold any cabinet office.’’
- OLUREMI SONAIYA
Professor Oluremi Sonaiya, a retired French Language lecturer joined the 2015 presidential on the platform of KOWA Party, making her one of Nigeria’s foremost female presidential candidates.
Prof. Remi in her campaign had promised to focus on creating jobs, education, and security as well as change the governance status in the country.
Prof. Remi in the election who was the only female presidential candidate out of the 14 candidates, scored 13, 076 votes.
- IBINABO JOY DOKUBO
Ibinabo is another woman who also joined the race for the 2023 presidential elections on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. She was the first female presidential aspirant in the APC.
During her declaration, Ibinabo had said, she will work to improve the legacy of President Buhari will prioritizing education.
‘’I will build on the infrastructural development being witnessed by my party, the APC. I will ensure that once these roads are constructed, they are regularly maintained to avoid total collapse. Also, as regards the rail construction, I will make sure we link up rail lines to all the six geo-political zones to reduce the burden of moving heavy trucks by the roads instead of the rail.
- PATIENCE KEY
Like other strong women in the political landscape, Patience Key joined the presidential race under the Peoples Redemption Party for the 2023 Presidential elections.
In her campaign promise, she said her administration will run on a three-point agenda of Peace, Equity, and Wealth if elected into office.
- OLIVIA DIANA TERIELA
Diana was one of the few women who bought party nomination forms to run for president.
She declared to run for president last year and went ahead to buy the PDP Nomination and Expression of Interest Form which was subsidized for women at the cost of 6 million naira.
She could win the party nomination.
- ANGELA JOHNSON
Unlike other women who saw the need to lead. For Angela, God told her to join the race and assured her of victory. She joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance Party Nomination but couldn’t scale through.
Angela who runs the UK-based Compassion Ministry, had said the men elected into leadership position have failed the country and that despite being elected to serve ended up making the people serve them.
She said, ‘’ I am being led by God to restore the hope of millions of Nigerians, who have become hopeless in the Nigerian Project.’’
- EBITI NDOK
In 2011, Ebiti Onoyom Ndok-Jegede threw herself into the Presidential elections and ran on the platform of the United National Party for Development, a party she once served as National Chairman.
She had pulled a total vote of 98,262 in the elections.
- OLUFUNMILAYO ADESANYA
Professor Funmilayo is another strong woman that dared the odd to contest for presidency.
She joined the race in 2019 on the platform of the Mass Action Joint Alliance, MAJA and scored 2,651 votes. She had promised to return Nigeria to the path of glory, growth and development.
- EUNICE ATUEJIDE
Eunice Atuejide was one of the vocal female presidential aspirants that contested the 2019 presidential elections.
Eunice had rode on the platform of National Interest Party, a party she formed alongside her fellow legal colleagues. She scored 2,248 votes in the elections.
- RABIA YASIA HASSAN CENGIZ
Rabia Cengiz joined the 2019 presidential race like other bold women on the platform of the National Action Council but decided to step down and support Buhari in the elections.
When asked why she stepped down, she said she was throwing her weight behind Buhari’s re-election because he had done well and deserves a second term. She however scored 2,279 votes in the election.
- ELISHAMA IDEH
Another woman who has dared to break the glass ceiling in Nigerian politics is Dr. Elishama Ideh, who contested for the presidency in the 2019 elections on the platform of the Alliance for a New Nigeria (ANN) party.
Ideh’s campaign focused on promoting sustainable economic growth, job creation, and addressing security challenges in the country. She was also committed to improving the lives of Nigerian women and children.