On the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan to replace the late President Yar’Adua, the new president had to nominate someone to the National Assembly for endorsement as vice president. It was generally expected that by Nigeria’s ‘unwritten agreement’ the nominee must necessarily be from the North and a Muslim, since Jonathan is a Christian from the South.
Most Nigerian adults being ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ on every issue of national importance, from minimum wage to the choice of the national football coach and in fact, what the president should wear, plunged into permutations. In the midst of the political permutations and public commentaries by the clichéd ‘all and sundry’, I posted on facebook that it was a rare chance to appoint a woman as vice president. The reactions were, predictably diverse: agreement, query and sarcasm.
With the new season of elections here again (starting from party primaries to the general elections), there have been calls to vote in more women. Although women constitute 50 per cent of our population, apropos, voters, their representation in government is far less than that, even lower than the 30 per cent benchmark set by the international community.
I have been asked a number of times if and why I would vote for a woman in an election. I consider such question as misguided because nobody has ever asked me if and why I would vote a man in an election. To ask me the earlier question is to presume that a man is the preferred candidate to be voted for in an election and that voting for a woman is an exception or aberration. And why is that so? Simply put, it is patriarchy at play.
Thus, when a man stands for election, whatever quality he possesses: a man of integrity or a well-known crook, a decent person or a drunk, a principled family man or a notorious philanderer, nobody talks about his sex. But if the politician is a woman, her sex suddenly becomes an issue. If she is involved in corruption or other forms of official misconduct, just as her male counterpart, the patriarchal society sexily points to the errant public officer as a woman, just so that we are told why we should not support another woman for public office.
I recall the sneers that went round during the scandal involving Rep Patricia Etteh as Speaker of the House of Representatives. On her eventual exit, many thought, “oh, well, the women have been given an opportunity which they have bungled, so enough of the talk about women in leadership”. That was so spurious and pathetic an argument. Did anyone remind us that Rep Salisu Buhari who was disgraced out of speakership and membership of the same House in 1999 was a man and had blown away the chances of other men?
More recently, we are being reminded that Sarah Jubril contested the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential primaries and got away with a solitary vote (presumably hers) and so they question why no woman voted for her, at least out of solidarity. Truth is the mere fact that Jubril is a woman does not mean she necessarily went there as ‘consensus candidate’ of women, the way Atiku Abubakar was packaged as ‘consensus candidate’ of the North. And yes, Jubril was simply not saleable. Her address to the delegates was so horribly poor that even a rabid supporter of women in government would be at pains to vote her. Need we even talk about the peculiarity of the delegates breeding, grooming and capturing that ensured that the voters were mainly there to vote according to the whims of the party bigwigs (read state governors), who had bought them wholesale? And for that reason, Jubril had no chance.
Sarah Jubril is not the only politician to perform abysmally in an election. I recall a certain House of Representatives member in 1983 in Cross River State who similarly scored one vote in the primaries where he sought a fresh mandate. For a long time, people used to deride him as ‘one man one vote’. Did his failure rub off on other men? Not at all.
So now, will I vote for a woman in the election? I will vote for anyone who knows his/her onions, who displays a high sense of integrity, who has the brains to understand current issues and can solve problems. I will vote for someone who, when faced with the dilemma of doing what is honest and in the best interest of Nigeria, would do so, rather than buckle under the pressure of ethnic, religious or partisan political interests and sentiments. I will vote for someone who can stand up to his/her superior in the political hierarchy such as president, state governor, head of the legislature or party leader and godfather (when will we have godmothers?) and say, ‘you are wrong’ and mean it.
I will not vote for someone who would do what is clearly contrary to what s/he believes and mouths and then tells us s/he was obliged to do what his/her party or party leadership mandated. I recall how many politicians of otherwise wonderful intelligence and pedigree so easily fumbled during the ‘Third Term’ debate, telling us they must support the tenure elongation in line with their party’s wish.
In line with my arguments above, yes I will vote for a woman, because I know of many such women (and men), who fit into those standards. I have related closely with many of them as friends, associates, my line managers or superiors in office, professional colleagues, tutors, classmates etc. I have also observed some of them in public life and public office. So if some of them present themselves for office, I certainly would give them my vote.
But I will not vote for the woman who, when sitting with her colleagues in a meeting thinks herself only worthy of being made to chair the ‘welfare’ committee and then saddle herself with the responsibility of caterer for the meeting. That isn’t my idea of voting for or empowering a woman. Such a woman would only go to deepen patriarchy. But then, I could still vote for such a woman if I am only concerned with the numbers of women, not necessarily their quality in government. After all, who says men alone must have and display a monopoly of failure in government? And if I vote against a woman, it would have nothing to do with her sex, just as I would never vote for a man merely because he is a man.
*This piece is on http://free2runonline.com.ng/?p=1 where I contributed as guest columnist.