Iye Omozavbie voted during the 2023 general elections. As she sits in her living room, her voice clear and firm, the octogenarian says voting was crucial. Her age nonetheless, on election day, she had dressed up and gone to the election venue to do what she described as “community duty”.
She says “ We may live far away from these people we have elected but they can bring to us things that make our lives better. When we vote for people we want, we can call to them to improve our community. In time past some of the elected officers have brought empowerment to the community. Some of the women here were assisted with equipments for their farm work and their businesses. So, it is important that we also position ourselves rightly and we do that by voting. People came here before the elections to tell us to come out that day and vote. The reminder is important. So whether old or young, you are a member of this community.”
Iye Omozavbie pictured/ Photo Credit : Oviasuyi Glory
Women Political participation has been developing. Aili Mari Tripp in a report opined that one of the most fascinating developments in African politics has been the increase in women’s political participation. The executive arm of Government in various countries in Africa have seen a representation of women holding seats. Rwanda, currently has a 61 percent representation of women in parliament. In Nigeria, only a few number of women actively participate in the political process in Nigeria. Although the 35% affirmative action is in place but much remains to be seen on its implementation. In recently years, datapyte submits that this has been less than 6%. In a bid to increase the participation of women in the overall electoral process, awareness has to be established for a clear course. This has led to the mobilization of women at the grassroots level. Politics in Nigeria is said to be “local”. What this means is that, politics starts at various local communities and wards. This has led to the mobilization of women at the grass root.
Sr. Chinyere Obinna is a network champion at the Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI), Abuja. She states that grass root mobilization is crucial because without the active participation of women in politics, decision making and their equitable representation in all tiers of Government, the goal of development and peace cannot be achieved. She further says ; Grass root mobilization of women helps to increase the knowledge of women on their rights and to participate in decision making. It also helps to garner support for women aspirants and politicians and to establish a network with other women’s groups.”
Nigerian women political activists and groups have been active in leading grass root mobilization of women who will cast their votes and also reach for political offices. The overall campaigns of these women activists has been all encompassing in the 2023 General elections towards ensuring active participation of women in the electoral process.
Pre – Election Campaigns
In the lead up to the 2023 General elections, women campaigners in a bid to garner awareness took their campaigns to the grass root. This was done to encourage women to go out and register for their Permanent Voters cards (PVCs) so they will be eligible to cast their votes. In different parts of the country, women groups were at the forefront of this, leading the charge to increase voter turnout. Mentoring Individuals Dream Initiative (MiND) is an NGO in Edo State that aims to enhance active civic participation that will bring about good governance. The organization was actively involved in campaigns before the general elections. During the voter’s registration exercise they were at the forefront urging citizens, women inclusive to register for their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs). In various wards in Edo State, the organization embarked on a grass root sensitization campaign in a bid to encourage high voter turnout. When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that PVCs where ready for collection, MiND began a grass root campaign to various wards to create awareness on the various points of collection and how they can be located. Igbon Blessing, is the program Manager, Mentoring Individuals Dream Initiative (MiND). She states that women are a marginalized population and it is important that they register so they can be active in the election process. She states that the grass root campaign was crucial because it was important to meet them at their niche. She says; “ Grass root means going to meet intending and registered voters in their niche. Information at the grass root may not get to the intended parties because they are going about their day to day lives, and may be caught off from the sources where they can get vital information from.”
Mentoring Individual’s Dream Initiative (MiND) on a Grass root campaign in Edo State / Photo Credit : MiND Inititative
The organization also partnered with various stakeholders towards achieving an increased number of women vying for political offices. This led them to paying advocacy visits to various political stakeholders in a bid to have a lot more women included in internal parties primaries as that would determine to a large extent who will become party candidates. The campaigns for women electorates to come and vote was a continuous process as the organization continued to go out to the public even few days to the elections. Igbon says it was important to do this because there were prevalent issues that threatened voter turnout. The naira scarcity and fuel scarcity were issues that had the potential to lead to voter apathy. She says ; “ Before the build up to the elections, we were faced with the new naira redesign and fuel scarcity. A lot of these issues could have made citizens become bothered about their survival forgetting about the elections at hand. We had to go out again because it was important that they be reminded that having credible leaders actually goes a long way in affecting the quality of lives of citizens.”
At a Grass root campaign by Mentoring Individuals Dream Initiative ( MiND) / Photo credit MiND Initiative )
This view was shared by Madame O, a mother of six. She had encountered mobilizers who drummed on the need for women to come out and cast their votes. Though it was a period of naira scarcity, where citizens were undergoing varying hardships, she was convinced that women had to come out and elect representatives who will serve their interests. She says; “ So many things were going on in the country. There was a shortage of cash and so many complains. It was very difficult for everyone. As women we have a lot of issues that affect us. These people were coming around to campaign and they were saying we had the opportunity to actually vote people we choose who can make our lives better. These kinds of opportunities do not come every day. Election is not every day. We can elect people who can solve our issues. Why sit at home then.”
Mrs O, Pictured at her home in Ugbekun Community, Edo State. Photo Credit/ Oviasuyi Glory
Nigeria women groups were also very vocal in calling for more representation of women in political offices. Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) is an NGO that seeks to strengthen the voices and capacity of female politicians, organizations and individuals working to influence and advocate for women’s participation in politics. The group had also led active grass root campaigns across various states in Nigeria. It also created profiles of female candidates contesting for various political offices across the country. This helped to create visibility for these women. These campaigns were aimed to reach and appeal to the consciousness of prospective voters, especially grass root voters.
At a grass root Campaign In Jos by Women in Politics Forum (WIPF). Photo credit/ WIPF
Ebere Ifendu of the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) says grass root mobilization of women is crucial in achieving increased women political participation. She noted that the organization noticed the power of grass root mobilization when the five gender bills failed at the National Assembly because there was really no ownership of the bills by Women at the grass root. She says; “ Seeing this, WIPF and other women groups decided to empower Nigerian women at the grass root to engage with their representatives at the National Assembly on the gender bills through the women constituency lead structure. When grass root women are politically enlightened and empowered, they are able to make better informed political and electoral decisions. This will reflect on the quality of decision makers and electoral officers as we have as many votes emanate from the grass root.”
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) had partnered with various bodies in a bid to solidify the interests of women. Ifendu says; Our organization in partnership with inclusive Friends Association and Youth Hub Africa engaged candidates across Nigeria with the GAIN document which contained demands of women, youths and persons living with disabilities. The leaders of these organizations at the grass root met with candidates across Nigeria and secured commitments from the candidates to act favorably regarding the demands presented if elected.” She further states that having a network of grass root women helped WIPF in reaching grass root women on voter education and their civic responsibilities contributing to Nigerian Women as 47% of registered voters despite political limitations faced as women.
A cross section of women pictured at a strategy meeting of community and women leaders in Abia State. Photo Credit: Women in Politics Forum (WIPF)
Ede Emakhionta , a Tailor was unsure if she would vote in the lead up to the 2023 elections. However this soon changed on a certain evening on her way back from the market. She had seen posters being put up on a wall and she had leaned in closer to take a better look. It was a poster of a female candidate contesting for a seat at the state house of assembly. This had stirred something inside of her. She says; “like so many other people there really was not much interest to vote. People will say votes do not really count and I was not sure I would vote. However seeing that poster of that lady just changed something inside of me. I told myself these women were taking a step and it is only right that they are supported too. As women, we also have to rally round other women who are into this politics. So I went back home and started looking for my missing PVC.’’ Her determination paid off and she found her PVC. She was able to cast her vote. She further submits that it is important to vote so there can be people who will represent the interests of women and deliver good governance. She says further ; “listening to these women urging us all to come out, I realized that it is important that as women, it is a very important thing to vote. We want good governance and we can elect leaders who will give it to us. We cannot keep folding our arms thinking miracle will happen.’’
The rigorous work put in is commendable but not without its challenges. Projects like these require the financing to back it up. Igbon echoes this thoughts; “ One critical aspect of these is funding. We couldn’t move around to all the LGAs and this was due to funding as we needed so much to get things done. However what we got we were appreciative of it and made judicious use of it.” She states further that they would have hoped for better support from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). She says; “ We raised a number of issues with them from what we had encountered on the field in terms of registration and collection of PVCs and the possible solutions but INEC on its part were not forthcoming. The tendency of them addressing issues as it was brought to them was quite discouraging.”
In spite of the challenges, notable success was recorded. Igbon says there was an increase in the number of registered voters collecting their PVCs after the various sensitization and town hall meetings. She further submits that the town hall meetings with intending candidates and the electorate, further strengthened the knowledge of the voters. For women in Politics Forum (WiPF), Ifendu states that having a network of grass root women helped WIPF in reaching grass root women on voter education and their civic responsibilities contributing to Nigerian Women as 47 percent of registered voters despite political limitations. She says further; “WIPF utilized her network of grass root women to properly observe the 2023 general elections as they fed information to the WIPF situation room which was used to analyze the success or otherwise of the electoral process in relation to various issues.”
The 2023 elections may have come and gone, but the participation of women has been recorded. The tireless efforts of Women’s groups and their contributions are notable. All three female senators-elect are first timers in the senate. Latest available data of the outcome of the states house of assembly elections put the total number of women representation at a 4.47 percent as against the 4. 44 percent recorded in 2019. Although still a low number, state houses of assembly are closer to the grass root and this can become a very pivotal path. This shows that there is an increase in the political awareness of women at the grass root. Nigerian women have the numbers to actually turn the tide . Aggressive mobilization of women at the grass root level can bring forth numbers which can be of significant importance to female candidates vying for political offices.
The 2023 general elections may have come and gone, but grass root mobilization of women, continues. For with continuous work will the much needed results be achieved.
This article is part of the African Women in Media (AWiM) /Luminate Young Women in Politics Programme.