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Women queue to cast their ballots in Nigeria's parliamentary elections in the northern city of Kano, April 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Joseph Penney)
Women queue to cast their ballots in Nigeria's parliamentary elections in the northern city of Kano, April 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Joseph Penney)

Under attack

Women shut out of Nigeria’s poll by violence, fraud and sexism

By Nellie Peyton and WITW Staff on February 15, 2019

Experts predict the number of women who win seats in Nigeria’s Saturday elections* is likely to fall below the existing 6 percent — already one of the lowest rates in the world.

U.N. Women said only 51 women are standing for Congress with the four biggest parties, down more than a third on 2015’s historic poll, when Muhammadu Buhari became the first Nigerian to oust a sitting president at the ballot box.

Women were attacked, threatened with violence and forced to give up their places to men during the party primaries last year, said Mufuliat Fijabi, head of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, an advocacy group seeking to boost women’s leadership.

“It’s worse this year because the conduct of the political parties’ primaries is not the type that we’ve ever seen before,” Fijabi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Some of the parties clearly stated that they feel that women cannot win the elections for them.”

Some party leaders pressured women to step down, while others irregularly removed winning women’s names from their lists of candidates submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Fijabi said.

INEC said it must accept candidate lists as presented by the parties, but that it is working with them on the need to open up political space for women.

Women make up about 12 percent of the 8,878 total candidates for national and gubernatorial elections and 7 percent of the 71 candidates running for president on February 16.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, ranks 181 out of 193 countries for the percentage of women in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the international organization of parliaments.

The presidency is expected to be a race between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, both men in their 70s.

Zainab Sulaiman Umar, a 26-year-old running for a seat in the Kano State House of Assembly, said she was attacked by a group of men with knives while campaigning last year.

“They wanted to scare me, but I didn’t give up,” she said.

“I believe it’s something that women will look up to … and I hope that more women will come into politics.”

Having the means to finance a campaign is also a significant obstacle for women seeking office, said Umar, who took part in a training program for female candidates organized by U.N. Women, the United Nations agency for gender equality.

The agency is pushing for the adoption of a bill that would introduce affirmative action for women in politics.

Obiageli Ezekwesili, a co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, as well as Nigeria’s former education minister and a former vice president at the World Bank, announced last October that she would join the presidential race, but withdrew her candidacy in January. She had been the front-running woman candidate. Her focus, instead, will be on building a coalition aiming to defeat the ruling All Progressive Congress.

“I have decided to step down from the presidential race and focus on helping to build a Coalition for a viable alternative to the #APCPDP in the 2019 general elections,” she announced on Twitter.

Ezekwesili has appeared at numerous Women in the World events over the years, often talking about the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, and the struggle to rescue the hundreds of Chibok girls, kidnapped from their school dormitories by Boko Haram in 2014.

Below, watch video of Ezekwesili’s most recent appearance on the Women in the World stage at the New York Summit in 2016:

*Update: Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections have been rescheduled for Saturday 23 February. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made the announcement just five hours before the polls were due to open on Saturday.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Katy Migiro, Thomson Reuters Foundation. Additional reporting by Women in the World, BBC and Al Jazeera.)

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