President Buhari’s actions speak louder than words: He doesn’t think women in Nigeria are qualified to lead

After the long wait that preceded the ministerial list and the eventual appointment of President Muhamadu Buhari’s cabinet, Nigerian women should have the greatest share of disappointment. Based on the president’s campaign promises about fair representation in positions of power, it is beyond disappointing that only six women were deemed fit for the President’s cabinet.

During Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign he often reiterated his intentions to push gender inequality and honor the National Gender Policy which was put in place to ensure that women are fairly represented in high ranking governmental positions in the country, specifically that women should be represented by 35% in political appointments. To further drive home his point and refute claims of being a chauvinist, Buhari reportedly said that he respects women because he was brought up by his grandmother, who is a woman, therefore, he would not be gender biased in decision making. However, the cabinet says otherwise.

On the 11th of November, the 36 ministers were sworn in and only 16 percent of women were represented. In addition, Buhari showed some regional bias, with five out of the six women he appointed, hailing from the north. This is a sharp contrast to Jonathan’s administration, where the 13 women in his cabinet were selected from all the geopolitical zones in Nigeria. Four women were picked from the South East (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani Alison-Madueke, Stella Oduah, Viola Onwuliri), Sarah Ochekpe and Ama Pepple represented the South-South region, three women from the Southwest (Olajumoke Akinjide, Omobola Johnson and Olusola Obada), and last but not least four Northern women (Zainab Kuchi, Ruqayyatu Rufai, Hadiza Malaifa and Zainab Maina).

Some suggest women from the southern parts of the country are being sidelined in Buhari’s administration. According to Yinka Odumakin, the spokesperson of Afenifere who voiced his concern over the President’s act of relegating some tribes to a local newspaper, “it is not healthy for a plural society,” “There are competent people across the nation. When you do this there can’t be a balance. We need constructive surgery, not bulldozing.” However, the bigger question still remains – when will Nigerian women be allowed a free rein in political participation?

Up until the 2015 elections, Nigeria ranked 133rd in the world for women’s political participation which suggests that the political future of the country is bleak and democracy could be jeopardized. Real progress cannot be made in democratic governance if women’s ability to exercise political voice is impeded. The significance of women in government has been further buttressed by Ifeoma Fafunwa, the founder of iOpenEye who believes that “nations that strive for progress with a comprehensive and sustainable approach make a concerted effort to place women in positions of leadership. It is important that we seek out the most qualified and patriotic Nigerian women available and convince them to take up positions of leadership at all levels including the ministerial ones.”

Yet, President Buhari must think otherwise and has defined the (little) value he places on women in roles of leadership. The realization of a ‘new Nigeria’ is much more than the chants of ‘change’, it requires promoting women’s voices (which are not lacking in Nigeria) and their inclusion in decision making at the highest level.

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