“Mommy, are we ever going to have a female president in Nigeria?”

Two days ago, my daughter jolted me out of my reverie, with this question. We were watching a television programme about the Edo governorship elections at the time. In that moment, I asked myself how I would answer this simple yet very complex question.

I mumbled an unsure ‘yes, why not, someday, soon” in reply. After a while I asked myself the same question introspectively, to see if I could find a logical answer or at least make a prediction. Instead of an answer, I got another very pertinent question?

Is Nigeria ripe for a female president?

First, a little background. The political relevance of Nigerian women is not questionable. Over the years you will find hundreds of womenfolk gathered at every political rally. They sing, dance, offer support to their male counterparts. On the Election Day, you will see them, old and young alike, faithfully queuing up to cast their ballot for their preferred candidates (who are mostly males).

To put this in perspective, women account for approximately 40 million of the 84 million registered voters nationwide in the last national election. This means that they make- up 47.14 percent of the total eligible voters – a potently powerful force to be reckoned. Why then can’t a female presidential candidate emerge and win an election in this nation?

So, are we going to have a female president in Nigeria anytime soon? Why not? There are, however, many questions needing answer before a definite ‘’Yes’ can be offered. I asked myself many:

What do women lack? Is it expertise? Knowledge? Goodwill? The crowd? The financial backing? What bottlenecks exist to cripple their ambition? Is it their gender? Financial strength? Family life? Government policies? Themselves? What really is the obstacle that has prevented Nigeria from producing a female president in almost 60 years of independence? What is the political environment like? Is it favourable to women? What default discriminatory settings need to be adjusted, e.g. political night meetings? Expensive nomination forms?

After this internal monologue, I decided to assess how women have even fared in their quest for the nation’s number one job in the past.

Mrs Sarah Nnadzwa Jibril was Nigeria’s first female presidential candidate. She aspired to the presidency several times and all fell through, losing to both former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo twice and Goodluck Jonathan. She got only one vote when she slugged it out with Goodluck Jonathan to become the party’s flag bearer. As usual, she was compensated with appointments.

In 2015, Oluremi Sonaiya, the only woman in that contest, also ran for Nigeria’s topmost office under the KOWA Party. This attempt too didn’t get too far.

In 2019, 55-year-old Oby Ezekwesili was one of the 73 candidates that were in the presidential race. The former World Bank Vice-president, co-founder of the anti-corruption group, Transparency International, and leader of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign contested on the platform of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria. Sadly, however, on January 24, 2019 in a series of tweets, Mrs Ezekwesili expressed her decision to step down and focus on helping to build a coalition as alternative to the dominant political parties in the nation.

Former Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reviewing a guard of honor at the National Palace during her official visit to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, February 28, 2017.
Former Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reviewing a guard of honor at the National Palace during her official visit to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, February 28, 2017.

I remember how Oby’s announcement shattered me then. Her tenacious participation in the race for Aso Rock had fanned the embers of hope in my heart as a woman. Her withdrawal cut deep. This was 2019, the year after Singapore and Vietnam elected their first female presidents. This was 2019, when Ethiopia elected Sahle-work Zewde as her first female president to lead a 50 percent female cabinet. Rwanda, a country still bearing the scars of genocide has 61 percent female legislature, hugely contrasting Nigeria’s 5.6 per cent female representation, the lowest in an African country included in the UN’s women in Politics map.

On a parting note, I would like to ask, how did Liberia beat Nigeria to having a female head of state in Africa? Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the 24th and first female president of her country from 16th January 2006 to the 22nd of January 2018, and it was 12 good years of commendable leadership. One would have thought that Nigeria, being a trail blazer in African politics would have been the one to lead the way in the continent.

Nigeria, a leading voice to be to be reckoned with in advocacy and policy making regarding issues of gender equality and women empowerment, should have championed this mission for full female participation and representation in the continental politics. Alas! She is the one having to queue behind smaller countries who have achieved this feat ahead of her.

It is not too late. Nigeria is ripe for a female president. If it doesn’t happen in my life time, I pray it happens in my daughter’s lifetime.

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About the author: Adejoke Stephanie Henry is a school Administrator, writer, and media content creator. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication, with a major in Television and Radio Broadcasting from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. ADEJOKE is a wife and a mother. She writes from Abuja.