Are Women Held to a Higher Standard in Politics in Nigeria?

When news first broke of Senator Aisha Binani’s supposed victory at the Adamawa State gubernatorial election, social media erupted into a frenzy. While some, including myself, jubilated at a landmark moment in Nigeria’s history as Binani was thought to be our first elected female governor, others insisted that her simply being a woman was not enough to warrant the celebration. Are women held to a higher standard in politics in Nigeria?

“As for me, I do not celebrate a criminal just cause [sic] she’s a woman…You’re all the same to me as long as you’ve done badly & selfishly in such a manner that has affected Nigeria,” said renowned female visual artist Chigozie Obi in a tweet.

Obi’s comment, which several people echoed, was in reference to Binani’s controversial political history

It was later revealed that Binani actually lost the election and it was speculated that she bribed INEC officials to declare her winner, though she vehemently denied this.

Politics in Nigeria

A Tale of Corrupt Women Leaders

Before I found out about Binani’s questionable track record, I was beyond elated. After reading about her impressive background and legacy, I felt an immense amount of pride over the feat she had achieved. Binani had established herself as a political force to be reckoned with in a Northern state, a region of Nigeria that is widely considered to be completely opposed to the idea of female leadership in such esteemed positions.

Several other Nigerian women, as well as men, felt this way. However, as a flurry of congratulatory remarks went around, some that particularly caught my attention were the ones that were punctuated by an extra layer of caution.

“Please don’t be like Patricia,” one man added. 

He was referring to the infamous Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was forced to resign due to a huge corruption scandal back in 2007.

Etteh would soon become a cautionary tale against women occupying major leadership positions, but this only became worse when Deziani Alison-Madueke, the first female president of OPEC, came into the picture in 2016. 

Etteh’s scandal was basically child’s play besides Deziani’s. While Etteh had allegedly carted away $5 million of public funds, Deziani’s alleged theft was to the tune of over $100 million.

Patricia Etteh and Deziani are often cited as fierce reminders of why women in power will only do worse than men, as if there haven’t been hundreds more male politicians who have pillaged public funds to a disgusting degree.

I mean, our former Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha graciously sends us a millions of dollars from the grave every now and then. Nearly 25 years have passed since his death and we are still picking up pieces of looted treasure he dispersed across foreign banks—reportedly up to the tune of $3.65 billion.

Yet, the public has not made such sweeping statements against men in leadership.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to absolve Etteh, Deziani, and several other corrupt women in power of their wrongdoings. No. I am simply saying there is no just reason why women, in totality, should be canceled or restricted on that basis, when men have not been doomed to the same fate.

There will almost always be bad apples amongst a bunch, but perhaps if the sample were larger, we would have the chance to see more good ones in play.

I am also not saying this notion is the sole reason why more women are not in power. There are numerous other societal factors that stacks the cards against women, but perhaps by tackling this as a society, we can knock one of those cards down.

Women Have to Prove Themselves More All Over the World

Globally, reports have shown that women leaders are indeed held to higher standards than men. Whether in the political sphere or in the business world, women are constantly having to prove themselves more than their male counterparts.

As presidents, women struggle more with gaining the public’s approval as they are often placed under more scrutiny. And in the event of the slightest corruption-related allegation, the public’s support tends to plummet far more than their male counterparts, who may remain unstained or only slightly stained.

This is tied to the erroneous belief that women are inherently morally superior to men. Women are expected to be better, likened to beacons of honesty and purity, as if women are not as human—and thus fallible—as men are. 

In the professional world, women have to battle the general perception that they are more emotional than logical and are thus less decisive than men are. Similarly, women are often expected to be less assertive and let their male counterparts talk over them. 

Otherwise, a woman who dares to have a louder voice may be seen as abrasive rather than assertive. In the workplace, women are often expected to be more passive or diplomatic than bold or direct. A woman who falls on the opposite side of these dictated lines is often met with hostility, but a woman who falls within these exact lines often finds it harder to reach the top quickly.

Moreso, women are often overlooked for promotions while their equally or less qualified male counterparts get ahead. This is a chicken-and-egg situation that means women rarely pursue promotions or better job roles until they feel they have stacked up enough accomplishments and even then, they might not be confident enough to negotiate their worth. 

In fact, women tend to avoid negotiating their pay so as to avoid being seen as too pushy, a perception that comes with a social cost in the workplace. This circles back to my former point about assertiveness being seen as abrasiveness in women.

These unconscious, or conscious, biases need to be tackled head-on to give women a more level playing field.

Women should be allowed to be leaders, not because they are always morally superior or always more competent, but because they are equal to men. Different, but surely equal.

Oyindamola Depo-Oyedokun

Oyindamola Depo Oyedokun is a seasoned writer who's passionate about telling authentic African stories and making complex concepts plain. Her portfolio spans everything from news to opinion articles to novels.