by Esther Tawiah
The presence of political parties is a healthy element in a democratic nation. A multi-party system therefore gives people the choice to make more evolved and effective political decisions. Political parties do not only exist for the sake of elections, but also as a means of strengthening democracy. Internal political party democratic processes represent a platform for involvement, learning and preparation to those with political interest, and must therefore be transparent and open to all, especially young women. Unfortunately, the political party structures of Nigeria have over time become very undemocratic in political participation, elections and inclusion of young women in internal party processes. As an activist working with young women in political parties in Nigeria, I wish to explore how internal party politics can serve or affect young women’s inclusion in politics and leadership in Nigeria.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and ranks the 7th in the world with a population of 200 million. More than half of the population is below the age of 30 with the median age of 18. Although women compose about 45% half the total Nigerian population, they still suffer intense marginalization and relegation. In a male-dominated world of Nigerian politics, young women have little opportunity to influence the political, economic, and social processes which control and shape their lives and keep them trapped in a cycle of isolation. They are discriminated against in virtually all spheres of life; in the home, public institutions, workplace, and in political appointments. The current generation of young people in Nigeria is the largest the country has ever known and studies have shown that young people especially young women are restricted from running for internal party positions. We believe that young women deserve the same rights to run for office in their political parties as their male counterparts.
With the passage of the not too young to run bill which has reduced the age of elected office from 40 to 35 years, an enabling environment has been created for young person’s to be able to run for president and other governorship positions in Nigeria. It was anticipated that the passage of this bill will push political parties to include more young people especially women in their internal political processes but that is not the case. Young women still face stern hurdles in the journey to political participation. These young women deal with not only societal suspicion and patriarchy but also rigid Nigerian cultures just like the rest of Africa which has created specific roles for the genders. Practice have shown that winning elections in Nigeria is a herculean task and therefore need a solid internal political team to run the day to day business of the party. There is a notion that men can play this role best compared to women. Most internal party positions are therefore regarded as a preserve of men and not a place for young women.
Although the ‘not too young to run bill’ has been passed, young women are even at a worse disadvantage because of their age. There is a general perception in Africa that young persons are immature, inexperienced and irrelevant when it comes to politics. These are entrenched positions young women in politics have to deal with. Beyond that, Nigeria’s political party structures are also very patriarchal and undemocratic with young women who want to run for office having to attach themselves to male senior politicians and god-fathers before they can have any chance of running for elected office.
Endorsement from these senior men or god-fathers seems to be the only easy way young women are assured success in Nigerian political space. Those without endorsement by political godfathers are left on their own without tickets to contest for their parties. According to a graduate of Young Women Political Leadership School (YWPLS) in Nigeria, she was threatened and told not to participate despite her campaigning simply because her opponent had been endorsed by the governor of her state. She further exclaimed that, this happens in major political parties; APC (All Peoples Congress) and PDP (Peoples Democratic Party). She added that affected aspirants fought for their inclusion through petitions to party heads and organizing press conferences but their grievances fell on deaf years. In order to secure their political inclusion and participation almost all the young women candidates from the major parties have defected to smaller parties. This is an indication of how unfair the internal party playing ground is.
There are many factors that hinder young women participation in internal party politics. These factors have become blockages to internal party participation of young women in Nigeria.
Violence and Radicalism: Since party primary elections for local government candidates began in mid-2002, hundreds of people have been killed as a result of political violence in Nigeria, and left thousands displaced. Not all of this violence can be directly linked to the elections, but the heightened tension created by competition for public office has exacerbated existing conflicts and created new ones. Nigerian party politics is characterized by radical and fierce violence. It is said to be very violent that those with the hearts and minds of stone are the ones that can withstand such violence. We have heard about violence that marks every election season. A young woman anticipating politics will most likely not want to get involved with such an atmosphere. If this radical and violent political current persists, there is no way young women will want to participate in Nigerian politics or allow any family member of theirs to partake.
Economic Obstacles: Fundraising for the campaign is a crucial issue for young female candidates. Many male candidates will resort to a loan from the bank to finance their campaign, but young women tend to concentrate too much on the risks first before committing themselves. One of the main features of this stage of internal party democratization process in Nigeria is the institutionalization of corruption and vote buying at the grassroots’. The fittest been the candidate who can canvas for votes showers all sort of gifts on voters. This tends to influence the decision of voters.
Unfavorable Party System: Political parties have failed to create an enabling and favorable environment for young women within their parties. They have failed to promote and implement internal structures favorable to boost young women participation in party politics. A major learning platform for young women in governance and political processes is getting involved at the party level. In order to get more young women involved at the party level, it is appropriate that Nigerian political parties strengthen their internal party structures to include young women.
As we noted early on, political parties are gatekeepers of democracy and must therefore create a leveled playing field for all candidates, particularly young women, in the selection of candidates or other party positions. Quota systems can be integrated in electoral mechanisms to ensure an adequate representation of all groups, close the generational gap between the young and old and to allow party members to welcome and accommodate the political participation of young women. Quota systems will also destroy the entrenched patriarchy and the god-father system in political parties.
We call on political parties in Nigeria to strengthen their internal democratic practices in the areas of candidate selection and campaign financing in order to ensure the full participation of these young women who only have a desire to serve their country.