LAGOS (IPS)–Nigeria’s first female presidential aspirant, Sarah Jubril, will challenge 29 men, including incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, at the polls on April 1.
Ms. Jubril, a long-time politician, was unanimously adopted as her party’s candidate during a convention held on the weekend in Abuja, the administrative capital of Nigeria.
Ms. Jubril, who has been aiming at the presidency since 1992, is sponsored by newly registered, but less known, Progressive Action Congress (PAC).
“The wind of change is in favor of the progressives. A government of the true progressives is the answer. Therefore, this is not the time to give up, but a time to think positive towards a better tomorrow,” she said, while accepting her nomination.
‘The nomination of Ms. Jubril is a plus, at least; it will inspire women to renew their hope. But, generally speaking, I do not see her as making any impact,” said Toro Oladapo of Women in Nigeria (WIN), a non-governmental organization.
“Ms. Jubril was a presidential aspirant of the disbanded National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and came fourth (in 1992). She knows she cannot achieve her ambition of standing as a presidential candidate in big parties. Hence, she went to a party she knows she can manipulate and get a ticket easily,” Ms. Oladapo claimed.
“Nobody in the big parties, where men hold sway, would have given her the chance. It is all a joke; she knows she cannot win. It is still a man’s game in Nigeria,” said Ms. Oladapo.
But Yetunde Gandonou, of the Lagos-based National Council of Women Societies, has pledged to mobilize women to contribute “morally” and “financially” to make Ms. Jubril’s bid at the April polls a success.
“We do not want the military to come back through the backdoor to politics. We have to do something to ensure they are not back, whether as civilians or military. We are going to mobilize our womenfolk to vote for Ms. Jubril,” Ms. Gandonou said.
President Obasanjo and his main rival, Muhammadu Buhari, were both army generals and former military rulers.
Nigeria has 30 political parties, which are expected to submit their nomination lists to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), following recent primaries in which presidential candidates were chosen.
For two years, Nigeria’s big political parties–the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party and the Alliance for Democracy–have promised female members a level playing field.
They also exempted female aspirants from paying nomination fees, which range from $2,500 to $100,000 depending on the position being contested.
However, when federal government primaries were taking place, the major parties shoved aside their female aspirants, prompting accusations of alleged marginalization of female politicians.
The ploy prompted 400 Peoples’ Democratic Party female aspirants to invade Abuja on Jan. 9 to complain about their marginalization.
Chidima Ibe-Ejiogu, a parliamentary aspirant, alleges no primary was held in her constituency in eastern Nigeria where she claimed “doctored” list of voters was presented.
Ms. Ejiogu, who claims she has been a member of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party since its inception, says she was marginalized simply because she did not make the compulsory donation of $2,500 to the party.
“It is hard to believe that men, who said women should not pay fees to contest, can now turn around and frustrate them,” she says. ‘’If the PDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) wants to win the general elections in April, our grievances must be addressed.”
“Justice must be done,” another female aspirant from Lagos told President Obasanjo when the protesting women sought the intervention of the Nigerian leader.
Mr. Obasanjo pledged to support any change in the party’s constitution to provide increased opportunity for women candidates in future elections.
“What you have to do is to persuade the men folk to allow you to participate, because we are in a male-dominated society and change would not be easy,” he told the women.
Nigeria’s 360-member House of Representatives has 12 female members, while the 109-member Senate has three. Political observers and women groups argue that–going by the primaries of the various parties in which women aspirants have lost out–there might be fewer women in the national assembly, come April, in the two houses.
“Most of the women were screened out through various styles of adoption and handpicking,” said Ms. Oladapo. “A lot of women also edged out of the race because of the unfavorable policies that are introduced at the party level.”
She said the exemption of paying fees is a ploy to attract women to join political parties. Nigeria, Ms. Oladapo said, is ripe for a woman president, but the odds in the country’s politics, she warns, will make it impossible for a woman to clinch the top job.
Ms. Oladapo urged the next federal government to implement long-awaited 30 percent affirmative action through appointment of women at various levels of state and local governments.
To the chagrin of women, Nigeria has only six women–out of 42 ministers in the federal cabinet–serving under President Obasanjo.