Taking women and youth participation in politics beyond legality and rhetoric has been receiving robust intervention of late in Nigeria. Built around a University of Abuja webinar on the topic, “Enhancing Women and Youth Participation in Politics: Beyond Legality and Rhetoric”, the upswing has the university’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, gender voices in academia and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (West Africa) in a combined effort to assess the space of the two categories of women and youth. This is with a view to expanding that space, politically. It was a women affair although present at the webinar was also Professor Yusuf Zoaka, the Dean Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Abuja.
Firing the first salvo on the topic in a Goodwill Message, Angela Odah, Programme Manager for Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (West Africa) contended that women and youth have been on the fringes of politics and governance processes since the current democratic dispensation which started in 1999. Her verdict is that the impact of twenty one continuous years of civil rule in Nigeria has been less than satisfactory as far as it concerns the place of the youth, students and youths, women and other civil society stakeholders in the democratic process.
Within this context, Mrs Odah is commending the UNIABUJA Politics Department for organizing the Webinar at a very difficult time of COViD-19 pandemic, arguing how it couldn’t have come at a better time. “There is no doubt that there can never be sustainable growth and development in the absence inclusive and participatory governance where citizens, irrespective of age, gender or creed, actively participate in politics as voters and candidates and have opportunities to air their views and perspective on governance issues and policies”, she said.
As far as she is concerned, organizing and protecting the integrity of Nigeria’s young democracy is the ball “in our court” today, adding how well Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (West Africa) fits into that task.
According to the Foundation’s Programme Manager, the German Political Foundation which has been active in the West Africa region since 2010 is committed to working with civil society organizations to strengthen democratic participation, rule of law and the social state. And it does that within a larger framework of a more just world, through national, regional and international debates as well as scientific research.
Presently, she said, the Foundation is working under three themes in West Africa, the themes being youth and politics; work and social justice, natural resources vulnerabilities and alternatives. The themes all fall in the spirit of the Polish German theorist, revolutionary and activist whose leading roles in the struggle for revolutionary political action, international socialism and democracy have remained enduring.
Specifically in Nigeria, the Foundation has supported series of debates on political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of development, stretching from supporting selected higher institutions; non-governmental organizations and trade unions. Mrs Odah is thus happy for the Foundation to work with and be part of this year’s Webinars organized by the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Abuja. “It is our hope that these discussions would be engaging and the recommendations will be widely disseminated among relevant stakeholders for the sustainable growth, peace and development of our dear country Nigeria”, she added
Two women academics who presented papers at the webinar pushed a consensus that women are still far from being at the centre of democratic politics even as “the number of women who walk the halls of power has been described as a democratic imperative, and activists question the legitimacy of polities that tolerate political inequality” as posited by Naomi A. Phinos (PhD) Department of Political Science and International Relations University of Abuja, One of the two.
According to Dr. Linda Kwon-Ndung of the Department of Political Science, Federal University of Lafia, women’s participation and representation in the electoral and political process has changed from near exclusion to some level of inclusion, this inclusion level still remains far below national and international benchmarks. That is to say that although there has been what could be called an unprecedented increase in the numbers of elected women and women political appointees than at any time in the nation, including appointment into positions considered strategic or hitherto the exclusive preserve of men, it is still the case that “women gradually crept in to political recognition”
In endorsing this contention in the literature, the presenter cited how the outcomes of the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections demonstrated the claim, adding for effect how “The 2019 elections recorded the worst in terms of women that showed up for elections and actual victories at the polls” Drawing further on existing literature, she argues on how the 2019 outcome is the poorest since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in Nigeria, saying it demonstrates a clear case of lack of inclusiveness.
She presents no better report on the case of youths, believing as she does that beyond the 2018 “Not Too Young to Run” law, nothing tangible has changed other than the visibility of youths in election management as ad hoc staff and for mobilization of votes through the social media. “Nigerian youths are negatively mobilized for electoral violence rather than being actively engaged in politics in terms of standing for elections as candidates”, she said, insisting on the imperative of deliberate steps being taken to maximize the potentials and ideas of the youth in this 21 century as “only politics with ideas can propel and guarantee development and deliver on the dividends of democracy and deepen democratic principles”.
Drawing on history, Dr Kwon-Ndung cites the role of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro as student union activists who dared colonial rulers, mentioning how Anthony Enahoro was about twenty-one years old when he moved the motion for the Independence of Nigeria. her list then extends to Yakubu Gowon who became military ruler at 32; Isaac Adaka Boro who, fresh from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in his thirties, formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force and later fought for the emancipation of his people and for contemporary Nigeria.
Dr. Naomi A. Phinos (PhD), her counterpart from the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the University of Abuja did not disagree with any of these views. Starting from the poser on why the world need more women and youth involvement in all aspects of the political process, Dr. Phinos answers with the opinion that women and youth political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and a more sustainable future. “Women and youth participation in politics helps advance equality and affects both the range of policy issues that get considered and the types of solutions that are proposed”, she added, approvingly quoting Kofi Annan’s 2004 statement that “study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and youth. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.”
Both agreed that women and youths do better when the system is based on proportional representation as “this will ensure equal representation of women, youths and men in both elective and appointive positions in the country”, according to Dr. Phinos.
It remains to see what comes out of the recommendations pushed in the presentations by the speakers and how the momentum might be sustained.