You would have had to be living under a rock, if you did not witness the 2008 Democratic Primary battle between the now President, Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton. If any political battle came close to mirroring the clash of the titans, that was the one. The whole world tuned in to watch two representatives from two minority groups, a woman and an African American, contest for the most coveted seat in public office. At the end of the day, it was Obama who not only won the ticket, but went on to become the President of the United States of America. Regardless of loosing to Obama, Hillary Clinton has gone on to be an effective Secretary of State under the Obama regime.
In Nigeria, our own version of this Primary Party struggle lacked much luster in comparison. The recently concluded PDP primaries where Sarah Jubril, Former Vice President Atiku and President Goodluck Jonathan vied for the presidential ticket has left many wondering about the potential role of women in Nigerian politics, particularly when contesting for the office of Madam President.
When it was time for Sarah Jubril to give her speech, a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell her Party and fellow Nigerians her vision for the country and convince all doubters that she was the woman for the job, she used this opportunity to sing, dance and hail various chants at the crowd and TV audience. At the end of the night, her effort gained her one solitary vote from almost four thousand delegates. She is quoted as saying, “That vote was of me, by me and for me”.
While the jest and ridicule from securing only one vote from the thousands available has now quietened, perhaps it is time to reflect critically on the reason behind the lone vote. If we are to believe Sarah Jubril, women are responsible for her loss. In an interview conducted on the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja, the female presidential aspirant is quoted as saying, “I sympathise with the ignorance of the women which is till now affecting the conscience of women in Nigeria. Why are the womenfolk trying to use the media to call me a serial contestant sarcastically? I have forgiven them. The political class should stop hijacking the conscience of Nigerian women who constitute the engine of the nation,… their conscience would haunt them”.
Nigerian women have tried for a long time to break through the male dominated world of politics, and we have made some progress in some respects. We recorded the milestone of the first female governor in the person of Dame Virgy Etiaba, who in a serendipitous turn of events was thrust with the responsibility of leading Anambra after Peter Obi, the former governor was ousted. We already have women representatives and senators, but unlike countries like Liberia we are yet to have our first female president. I would argue that the problem with Sarah Jubril’s candidacy, and perhaps other female presidential aspirants, is that they tend to show up just when it is election time and expect everyone to know who they are and support them simply because they are women.
For example, while discussing PDP zonal arrangements in Abuja, Sarah Jubril advocated that the exalted seat be zoned to women in 2011. Personally, I believe this “vote for me because I am a woman’ mentality has got to stop. Such feminine based arguments lack merit because free and fair elections are not based on gender, religion or ethnic bias. Instead, such sexist patronage belittles our feminine sense of worth and ability to achieve success based on merit. The only reason why anyone should ever vote for a woman over a man, should be because she is the most capable for the job. Such capability should not be attached to her gender but rather should follow from her proven track record gathered in previous official positions over a number of years. After all, the elections that put the German Chancellor and the Liberian President in power were not won by clamors for gender inspired confidence and Nigerian female presidential aspirants should not expect otherwise. For example, it was Sirleaf’s Harvard degree and resume which boasted senior jobs at Citibank, the U.N. and the World Bank that ensured her success in the heated Liberian Presidential battle against the soccer star, George Weah.
The substance of the candidate must take precedence over any gender arguments. The sooner Nigerian women stop flashing the gender card, the sooner the unhealthy preconceptions firmly rooted in our national psyche about women and their roles in society would be erased. I dare say, we are the ones allowing it to fester by conveniently hiding behind the shadow of being a woman when it suits us.
So while many are quick to join the clamour for more women in politics, perhaps we should instead be addressing what we intend to contribute to the Nigerian political process. Do we have worthy female candidates who are both capable and politically sound? Do such female candidates have a proven track record of delivering sound, accountable and transparent governance practices? Or are our efforts simply to create more jobs for the girls so that the alleged benefits of corrupt practices filter into female purses? If the answers to these questions are anything but positive then perhaps we are not ready to have any woman as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.