What of women in the 2023 elections?

19th January 2023

Although women make up 47% of Nigeria’s 84 million voters and 49% of its 200-million-strong population, they make up only 4.17% of those elected into its government at the last elections in 2019. To put this in perspective, only 62 women were elected from the 2,970 women who ran across all offices in the election, or 11.36% of 26,145 candidates.

What makes this appalling statistic even worse is that this is a decline from 2015, where women formed 5.65% of elected officials; when this proportion is disaggregated, women held 5.6% of Senate seats and 6.4% of seats in the House of Representatives, ranking it as 180th among 190 countries around the world in terms of the proportion of women in parliament.

At Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, only 1.82% (28) of 1,533 elective offices (excluding local government offices) were won by women; when local government chair offices and councillorships are added, the proportion reduces to 1.62%. This increased to 4.2% in 2003 and rose to a peak of 6.4% in 2011 before dropping in the next two general elections to its current level. This is far below the global average of 22.5 percent, Africa’s regional average of 23.4 percent and the West African sub-regional average of 15 percent.

This very low proportion of women is not exclusive to elective offices, but also appointive ones as well: between 1999 and 2015, only 6% of local government councillors, 24% of federal judges, and an average of 17% of each type of high-level government officials and senior administrators with decision-making power were women.

So, how are the numbers looking for women going into the 2023 elections? Unfortunately, not good.

Only 1,524 of the 15, 336 candidates in the elections, slightly under 10%, are women. This number includes one presidential candidate, 92 senatorial candidates and 288 candidates for the House of Representatives. There are also 124 women running as governorship and deputy governorship candidates and 1,019 women running for state houses of assembly.

However, even in the midst of this low proportion of women running for office, it is worse in some states than in others. For example, five states – Kano, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara – did not field any woman as a candidate for the Senate while one state – Jigawa – did not field any woman as a candidate for the House of Representatives.

This is not altogether surprising as amongst these states, only Taraba and Yobe have ever elected a woman to any position. As a matter of fact, only Kaduna State among the seven North-Western states has ever elected any woman to any position since 1999.

Amid this gloom, there is a bright spot, however: for the second time since 2015, one of Nigeria’s two major parties is fielding a female governorship candidate, Senator Aisha Dahiru (popularly known as Aisha Binani), the APC governorship candidate for Adamawa. Considering that all but one of the governors in Nigeria are from the APC or the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), it means that a governorship candidate from one of these major parties is more likely to win than those from other parties.

If Senator Dahiru wins, she will be smashing this political glass ceiling, making history for herself and all Nigerian women.

It is very likely that the percentage of women elected will drop after this cycle, or at best, remain the same. No matter the outcome, it is important to restart the national conversation on how to increase the proportion of women in governance and decision-making so that Nigeria’s democracy is more reflective of the make-up of its society.

This includes considering the implementation of the National Gender Policy which recommends that at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public service positions are occupied by women, enacting the affirmative action laws for women in governance as has been done in some other African countries (e.g. Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa) and dismantling the structural barriers that prevent women’s participation in politics at the highest levels.