FEMALE PARTICIPATION IN ONDO STATE ELECTIONS NIGERIA
In this study we examine the democratic participation of women prior to and on October 10, 2020, in the elections conducted in Ondo State. In the backdrop were compounding factors which include previous experiences of election day violence and campaigns, as well as the organizational capacity of the electoral commission – INEC. Expectations of violence predictably reduced female participation. Paradoxically, despite the absence of violence, distance of travel to polling units rather affected female participation.
Dr. Akinyinka Akinyoade, Victoria Manya and Tracy Keshi
Contact: [email protected]
In this study, we assess the women’s democratic participation by using the Ondo State elections of October 10, 2020, as a marker. The study deployed opinion polls in 12 out of the 18 local government areas (LGAs) of the State utilizing a questionnaire survey. Survey sites included: Ondo East, Ondo West, Okitipupa, Ilaje, Ese-Odo, Akure South, Ile-Oluji, Owo, Ifedore, Ose, Akoko NW, and Akoko NE. The questions elicited responses to pertinent issues as; ownership of voters card; impressions about female candidature in electable positions; the place of men and the family in deciding the women’s vote; fear of violence; the impact of the COVID-19 on election campaigns; and whether women could vote for candidates of their choice. In the charts & tables below, we illustrate the outcomes of the study.
The proportion of accredited female voters in Nigeria has usually been lower than males. Data obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) show that in the 2015 general elections, females represented 44% of all voters. In Ondo State, 48.8% of all voters were females (INEC Database, 2015). Despite these seemingly high and relatively favourable numbers, women occupy only 5.8% of the political offices in the country. In 2015, there were only seven female senators out of 108 total senators, and six female deputy governors out of 36, while all State governors were males. Only six women were appointed to the federal cabinet, and only one female contested for the office of president and four for vice president. These statistics reveal a dire situation in the participation of women in Nigeria’s governance and potentially in the voting process.
In eight randomly selected LGAs, a contact person associated with OPA (One project Africa) administered questionnaires (containing both open and closed-ended questions) to randomly chosen females living in her street of residence. The economic activity of the respondents is depicted below in Figure 1.
Table 1: Percentage distribution of respondents according to socioeconomic background
|Background profile||Frequency||Proportion %|
25-34 (young adults)
35+ (older adults)
Source: Fieldwork Ondo State, October 9, 2020.
Table 1 above indicates an almost evenly split proportion of single and married female respondents; the largest proportion of respondents were young adults aged 25-34 years, followed by adolescents aged 18-24 years, and the largest proportion (87.1%) of female respondents stated being Christians.
Ondo State elections: the fear of violence
Election Day violence as well as preceding fierce disturbance of campaigns work together to induce apathy in election participation. Ondo State has historically experienced its fair share of election-related violence that have often resulted in loss of lives and property. For instance, during the 1983 elections of Nigeria’s Second Republic, certain distinguished persons were slain on the basis of their real or perceived support and party affiliation (Jide Awesu, 2020) .Ondo State was later split into Ondo and Ekiti States to improve administrative governance and contribute to yielding the dividends of democracy.
However, in the ensuing decades, the re-run 2009 gubernatorial election in Ekiti state became known as one of the most controversial elections conducted in Nigerian history due to electoral malpractices in some wards and local government. “Prior to the re-run election, the atmosphere was tense as the major political parties saw the election as a do-or die- affair. President Obasanjo had said in a PDP meeting with stakeholders in February 2007 that the elections were a do-or-die for his party.” It appeared that the declaration instigated violence at various phases of the election and the re-run. Rife were the allegations that fake soldiers and police had been recruited, trained, and deployed to intimidate voters and for the rigging of the elections (The Nation, April 27, 2009:51). Election observers were also not spared harassment, intimidation, bodily injuries and were not allowed to carry out their role, for example in Ifaki ward of Ido-osi Local Government Area, on election day. This created doubt on the authenticity of the result from this area. The level of political violence on the day of the re-run election and the tense post-election phase led to a delay in the announcement of election result, which affected its credibility.
In terms of voting status, responses obtained show that while a near-universal (97.1%) of respondents indicated that women must vote in Ondo State, the proportion of women with a voter’s card is over ten points lower at 84.3%. Despite numerous campaigns elucidating the importance of women’s vote and informing about the need for women to vote, around half (55.7%) of the respondents stated that women participate less than men in active politics. Nearly 20% believe that women are equal to men in terms of political participation. In contrast, about a quarter of the women express that female participation is overtaking men in politics. The later response has been attributed to peculiarities in some cultural settings within the State.
Despite the stated importance of women’s civic right and duty to vote in elections, barely two-thirds (62.9%) of the women expressed interest in the conduct of elections in Ondo State; respondents reported the expectation of electoral violence as the main fear factor in the conduct of Ondo State elections (71.4%).
Table 2: Percentage distribution of respondents’ responses
|Important for women to vote
Owns a voter’s card
Comparing the political participation of women
More than men
Less than men
Equal to men
Interested in Ondo elections
To some extent
Utmost fear in Ondo State elections
Vote will not count
Few women candidates
Source: Fieldwork Ondo State, October 9, 2020
Consequently, electoral violence is a key stumbling block to women’s participation and a global scourge that marginalizes women’s rights in politics. According to the extant literature on hegemonic masculinity, it is a tactic used to reinforce entrenched patriarchal values and undermine the integration and representation of women’s experiences while suppressing their perspectives in governance, political processes, and institutions (Sesan, 2015 citing Raewyn Connell, 1987). Violence against women in politics and elections often goes unreported and unmonitored but remains a troubling issue with far-reaching implications for democracy, human rights, gender equality, and security. If women cannot fully participate in the political future of their country, democracy is at risk. Women’s ability to exercise political voice as citizens, activists, leaders, and public servants will be the ultimate test of whether real progress has been made to conduct free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria. Therefore, this report’s findings indicate the need to strengthen programmatic implementation of progressive policies to further raise women’s profile. This will require collaborative and extensive efforts with stakeholders across the spectrum towards achieving gender equality and equity in Nigeria. According to the World Economic Forum, Nigeria ranks 149th in gender parity among politicians as only 3.4% of parliamentarians are female, and 8% of ministers are women (124th) (Global Gender Gap Report 2020).Without a history of having a female head of state, it is not surprising that the most deficient performance indicator in the gender gap report is about political participation.
The analysis of Ondo State (October 2020 election cycle) provides a springboard for understanding whether this low report card is based on the political apathy on the part of women or exogenous inhibiting factors. In this report, with a total of 84.3% respondents owning a voter’s card and 61 of 70 respondents indicating that their choice to vote is self-driven, these responses indicate a high interest of the female populace in the Ondo elections. However, 71.4% of respondents expressed their fear of violence targeted at women during the election while 21% indicated fear that their votes will not count. In comparison, 4.3% indicated the challenges of having few women candidates as inhibiting factors to political participation.
Accordingly, majority (77.1%) of the women stated that their choice predominantly affects voting for their preferred candidates. According to the indicated response on whose instruction matter for deciding how their votes are cast, the female respondents’ percentage distribution is presented in Figure 2.
A small but modest number of women also indicated that male voice – husband & other male family members – matters for candidate choice. This is more striking across religious lines where it is shown that this practice may exist more among Christians than among Muslims in this Southern State. See Table 3 below.
Table 3: Percentage distribution of women according to independence of voting choice
|Voting influence||Religion||Total (#)|
|Christianity %||Islam %|
Male family member
Source: Fieldwork Ondo State, October 9, 2020
At the organizational level, INEC acknowledged the criticism of its organizational capacity especially that the preceding elections of 2003 and 2007 did not meet the minimum standards of organizing national elections. This predictably gave a negative perception of Nigerian elections and placed a burden on the Commission to improve within and between election cycles (INEC, 2011). The Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner’s report on 2011 elections indicated that the Commission encountered major challenges such as: inadequate supply of election materials; insufficient funds for logistics support; abduction and maiming of election officials; inadequate security in the volatile riverine areas of the state; and insufficient time allotted for effective training of election personnel (see page 106 INEC Report on the 2011 General Elections). “There were reports of irregularities such as disruption of accreditation and voting process by hoodlums, snatching of ballot boxes, ballot papers, election results forms and other election materials, mutilation of election results, forceful relocation of polling units, collation of election result at unauthorized centres, assault and abduction of election officials.” All these factors combine to dampen voters’ enthusiasm for participation.
Consequently, after the October 10, 2020 elections, our research team was deployed to measure any considerable changes in women’s expectations and experiences. The result of women’s actual practice on Election Day, October 10, is presented in section two of this report.
SECTION 2 Women’s participation in Ondo State 2020 elections: Analyses of Election Day behavior
In this second part of our exploration of democratic practice in the inter-regular cycle of election conduct in Nigeria, we further examine factors influencing women’s participation, using the Ondo State-level elections held on October 10, 2020. Though Nigeria’s four-year cycle of national, gubernatorial and other State-level elections effectively began on May 29, 1999, Ondo State fell out of sync in the backdrop of the result of an appeal court’s decision in February 2009. The new governor that was sworn-in began a new four-year cycle, which has since been maintained.
In this snap survey, a short questionnaire was administered to 47 women, spread across the townships of Ondo, Akure, Owo, and Okitipupa. The socio-economic background of the women is presented below in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1: Distribution of respondents according to Marital status, Religion, and Occupation
Source: Fieldwork, Ondo State, October 10, 2020.
Slightly more than half of the women are currently married, about 10% have experienced marital disruption (divorce, separation, widowhood), while the remaining one-third are single. (In the pre-election findings, marital status presented as crucial to seeking partner influence on candidates’ choice in favor of whom the women’s votes were cast on Election Day). Also, about 80% of the women are economically engaged as self-employed persons, employees at other businesses, and civil servants. These engagements gave them a measure of autonomy in income-earning, which empowered decision-making at the polls. Lastly, more than half of the women are Christians, with Muslims coming in a close second.
Table 2.2: Distribution of respondents according to Election Day behavior
|The observed improvement since the last election
Voted in October 10 elections
Noticed female discomfort on election day
Source: Fieldwork, Ondo State, October 10, 20
It is instructive that nearly three-fifths of the women expressed that they observed improvements in the October 2020 election’s conduct over the last elections into State offices held in 2016. Reasons proffered for these improvements include more orderly conduct at polling stations occasioned by better security arrangement. More respondents believed that INEC appeared to have improved on its election organizing capacity. This improvement is more noticeable in the expression where only 4% of respondents reported that women had a disruptive experience on Election Day 2020. The two instances cited were about disrespectful behavior, where women were not given preferential treatment in the voting queue. Despite the relatively peaceful atmosphere for voting, the proportion of women that voted reduced slightly to 51.1% of eligible female voters.
Voting behavior according to the age of respondents
The voting behavior of respondents in this survey is now presented according to their ages. Overall, the respondents’ average age is 34 years, with the youngest aged 19 years, and the oldest at 61 years old. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the minimum age of voting at 18 years (Chapter IV:1999). The distribution of the women, according to actual voting behavior, is presented in Table 2.3.
Table 2.3: Percentage distribution of respondents according to actual voting by age group
|Age group||Voted on October 10||Total (#)|
Source: Fieldwork, Ondo State, October 10, 2020
Following the above, of the three broad age groups, just over half of the women interviewed voted. Voter apathy was more evident in the age group 25-34 years, where slightly over one-third of the women voted.
Nevertheless, the October 2020 elections have gone on record to be more peaceful than the others in recent history. Given that the relatively calm atmosphere may spur women to participate in future polls, respondents were asked about the factors considered relevant for casting votes in future elections. The reasons that may guide their eventual choices are presented in Table 2.4.
Table 2.4: Distribution of women according to stated important factors to voting for candidates
|Reasons for candidate choice||Age group %||Total %|
Candidate’s political party
The candidate has a better manifesto
The candidate has more money
The candidate is community choice
Source: Fieldwork, Ondo State, October 10, 2020
For women in the youngest age group 18-24 years, which falls under the UN classification of adolescence, three factors stand out. The first among these for the candidate they might vote for is community choice, followed by a candidate’s personality and a candidate’s political platform. In the age group 25-34 years, a better manifesto candidate has the most significant chance of being voted for. Among women aged 35 years and over, a candidate’s political platform, which may be an indicator of ideological leaning, is the most significant appeal; one-third of the women in this category highlighted this factor. For the older generation, this may be well connected to previous republics’ experience where party ideology was relatively strongly projected to the public. For instance, the conservative-leaning of NRC (Ibrahim Babangida era), NPN (Shagari era), and the NPC (immediate post-independence in the 1960s), or the social welfare directions of the AG (1960s), UPN (2nd Republic), SDP (military imposed two-party system under IBB 1992-1993).
Spousal influence and violence did not sway or limit women’s participation in the Ondo State in October 2020 elections. Instead, the respondents identified two main obstacles as limitation for their participation namely; the relatively long distance to polling stations and the fact that they had to trek unexpected distances if they were desirous of exercising their enfranchisement. These inconveniences point out the need for improvement in the logistics of INEC towards ensuring that citizens are not denied voting rights; more polling booths closer home to voters would improve the inclusivity of the democratic system.
Female traditional agency
Women are not defenceless or perpetual victims of Election Day violence. While women may shy away from voting, history shows women deploying their bodies as statements of war and power for the enhancement of quality democratic ethos and development. This has been depicted by the Yoruba women of Southwestern Nigeria, the Ibibio and Ijo women of Southern Nigeria, the Kikuyu women in Kenya and the Kom women of Cameroon. In recent era, the contexts of women’s political struggle have been analytically documented using the 2009 Ekiti women’s nude protest to theorize the dynamics of power relations in Yoruba women’s nude curse vis-à-vis socio-cultural and political developments in Yoruba land. “Women’s nude curse” was a predominant socio-cultural practice and ritual performance in Yoruba land that preceded colonial contact. Agbalajobi’s study in Ekiti State sought to know why constitutionally established and approved mechanisms of seeking redress for democratic injustice have remained less appealing in Nigeria; and the contributions of the nude curse to the current state of democratic ethos in SW Nigeria. In Ekiti State, “Yoruba women broke away from the religious strictures on nudity and reclaimed their nude protest performance as a check to socio-political malaise perpetrated by corrupt and oppressive rulers.” It has been surmised that the female body is both a spiritual and material body capital in the process of socio-political mobilization and strategic vigilante.
In Ondo State therefore, this study opens another research vista to, in the future, examine the ways in which trado-local conflict resolution mechanisms for governance or electoral mishaps contradict, attenuate or enhance legal pathways of seeking redress in the face of perceived or real electoral injustice.
The implication for women’s participation in politics and social policy in Nigeria
The importance of voting as a woman’s civic obligation (right and duty) to achieve gender equality and empowerment cannot be overemphasized. In Nigeria, women’s right to vote has had a checkered history due to colonial rule and subsequent military regimes. With several exogenous factors impacting participation (to vote and be voted for), women have not (been able to fully) exercise this right as a privilege in many instances compared to men. However, the right to vote is a fundamental means to defending, emphasizing, and expressing a plethora of other rights, which in turn determine the gender equality rate within Nigeria. With proof that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development, the United Nation’s sustainable development goals aim to end all discrimination against women and girls as a crucial element to guarantee sustainable development across the globe.
This report’s findings therefore suggest the importance of evidence based civic education to all political stakeholders in eliminating the root causes of discrimination that restrain women’s rights in private and public spheres of the Nigerian political and economic scenery. We stresses for an urgent need to intensify efforts towards women’s participation in Nigeria as a prerequisite to strengthening democracy, accountability, adequate political representation, and concerted effort towards fighting wicked developmental problems (climate change, terrorism, conflict, poverty, etc.) in Nigeria.
While the number of women sampled is relatively small, the results are foundational indicators on more extensive assessments to be conducted in the future.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This intra-regular national cycle potentially serve as a yardstick to measure institutional preparedness of the nation’s electoral commission, indicator of potential election disruptors and evolving voters’ attitude and behaviour. For our survey, it helped to measure the place of women as voters in Nigeria’s elections.
Our study on Ondo State Election Day (October 10, 2020) indicated:
- Potential voter apathy due to expectations of violence on October 10.
- Only 51% of eligible female voters participated in actual voting on October 10 despite the ‘near absence’ of violence
- Longer distance to polling units was more of a problem than violence on October 10
- In this part of Nigeria that has been prone to election day violence, sustaining gains made on reduction of violence is key in post-COVID era
The findings are therefore instructive for deepening Nigeria’s democratic process and making the participation of women as well as gender parity efforts count in Nigeria. Therefore:
Monitoring and Tracking Women Representation
- There is need for more comprehensive and regular reliable data on women’s representation prior and after different interventions.
Entrenching further reduction in Violence against Women in Politics
- Against fears expressed prior to Election Day, violence did not materialize. Added to this is the observation that INEC operations appear to be better organized. In order to ensure that these positive developments continue into Nigeria’s regular election cycle, it is recommended that:
- Election monitors/observers receive more training on tracking and reporting on violence especially against women
- Establish an emergency telephone system for women candidates and voters for real time reporting of actual or perceived threats and a tracking system to monitor police response to such calls.
Political Mentoring and Capacity Development of Women Candidates
- While improving the environment for political participation, simultaneous organisation of trainers programmes are recommended to be launched for mentoring and training women on political systems and women’s right to participation.
- Beneficiaries from this training are thereafter logistically equipped to organize local programmes so as to increase the impact of the training and prepare women for political work and enhance their political capacity at the sub-national levels.
Enhancing Political Party Platform Support for Women
- Campaign for meetings at convenient and friendly places and at times when women can attend.
- Advocate for internal party quotas and oversee the implementation of these quotas.
- Organise gender audits to generate gender action plans for politics.
- Promote women’s visibility in campaigns by partnering with media houses to provide media exposure.
Damilola Agbalajobi. 2019. The Female Nude as a Symbolic Tool for Social and Political Mobilization among the Ekiti Yoruba. African Studies Centre Leiden (ASCL) Visiting Fellow Research Draft. Leiden University.
Independent National Electoral Commission. Report on the 2011 General Elections, INEC.
Sesan, A.A., 2015. Hegemonic Masculinity and the Quest for Sustainable Democratic Governance in Nigeria: Achebe’s Arrow of God as a Paradigm. Ibadan Journal of English Studies, 11, pp.283-307.
Victoria Manya is currently undertaking a postgraduate programme at the International Institute for Social Studies – Erasmus University, where she majors in Governance and Development Policy. She is a seasoned Lawyer and human rights activist with over 8 years post call. She has conducted social science research with a core interest in gender equality and women participation in governance, local development, human rights, and Entrepreneurship. She collaborates with local and international organizations and observer groups for the peaceful and fair conduct of elections in Nigeria. She also participated actively in the engagements that led to the successful #NotTooYoungToRun campaign to reduce the age at which you can run for elective office in Nigeria.
Tracy is a good governance, accountability, social justice, human rights and gender equality advocate. She has over 7 years’ experience as programs coordinator on governance, development, anti-corruption, human rights and gender inclusive campaigns working to raise a socially conscious citizenry in Nigeria; She has led successful campaigns such as #BounceCorruption, #Upright4Nigeria and #SayNoCampaigns in this regard . She is an alumna of the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education and Advanced Human Rights and peace building Courses in the University of Pretoria and the Institute of Security Studies in Nigeria.
DR AKINYINKA AKINYOADE:
PHD (2007) International Institute of Social Studies Den Haag, is Senior Researcher at the African Studies Centre, of Leiden University. He conducts social science research and has published articles and books on Entrepreneurship in Africa, Migration and Human Trafficking (African Roads to Prosperity), Food and Water Security (Digging Deeper: Inside Africa’s Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Dynamics), and contributed to policy advice important for public services delivery in fragile and conflict-affected settings (Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation).
Field Coordinator- Juventus Stanley