How gender discrimination robs North of more quality female lawmakers

Many analysts have blamed the dwindling female representation in elective positions, especially the legislature, on religion and cultural factors, in addition to the monetised nature of politics in Nigeria, our correspondents write about this trend in northern Nigeria

Years ago when she served in the hallowed chambers of the House of Representatives, Aisha Dukku was no doubt a voice to be reckoned with. She was admired by many as she represented the Dukku Constituency in Gombe.

While at the Green Chamber, Aisha was described as a performer, and she helped in no small measure to sponsor a bill known as the Federal College of Education for Girls. It was an all-important bill that could have answered the cry of many girls in the North as well as bring to a gradual end the problem of child marriage in the region.

She had the ambition to return to the House in order to give further push and fine-tune the bill to address one of the major challenges bedeviling her constituency and her region. Alas! Her return bid failed, a development many tied to the dominance of the political terrain by men. She was knocked out at the party primary level, thanks to the male dominance.

A gender expert, Amina Haruna-Abdul, said, “Look at my sister, Aishatu Dukku, former House of Representatives member from Gombe State. She was doing well, a vocal person and she sponsored a bill on the Federal College of Education for Girls while in the House, but they conspired against her because she’s a woman. The men had their way.

“Women are only to be seen, not heard. That’s what we face here. We are sad that she could not return to the House.”

Generally, whether for those who want to return or those making their first attempt for elective offices, there are concerns that men are becoming increasingly dominant in the political space. While it is believed that a decline in female representation is a nationwide challenge, the situation seems worse in the North.

In the February 25, 2023 National Assembly elections, out of the 469 members of both chambers, only seven out of the about 19 female members are from the North.

While Ireti Kingibe is the only northern female senator, representing the Federal Capital Territory, only six out of the 13 female members of the House of Representatives are from the North.

The six female members are  Akume Regina (Benue), representing Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency; Onuh Onyeche Blessing (Benue), representing Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency; Beni Lar (Plateau), representing Langtang North/Langtang South Federal Constituency; Khadija Abba Bukar Ibrahim (Yobe), representing Guluba, Gulani, Tarmuwa Federal Constituency; Fatima Talba (Yobe), representing Nangare/Potiskum Federal Constituency; and  Zainab Gimba (Borno), representing Bama/Ngala/Kala-Balge Federal Constituency.

At the state level, however, out of the 988 state Assembly seats across the 36 states, there are only 48 female lawmakers, out of which only 17 are in the North.

Some political analysts told Sunday PUNCH that the dwindling number of women elected into the parliament since the Fourth Republic began in 1999 continued in the 10th National Assembly, a situation a political observer, Abdul Haruna, referred to as “deplorable and appalling, considering the rise in the agitations for increased female representation over the years.

Many political analysts from the region told Sunday PUNCH that considering Nigeria’s diversity and the struggle to nurture its fledgling democracy, women deserve more representation in policy-making for the betterment of the country.

Interestingly, the Independent National Electoral Commission disclosed that women constitute about 47.5 per cent of the 93 million registered voters in the just concluded 2023 elections, which implies that they form a chunk of the voting population, but this rarely translates to victory for them.

Our correspondents’ findings indicated that during the 2023 polls, women secured seats in 21 state Assemblies, out of which northern women had eight seats while they failed to win a single seat in 11 across the 19 states in the region.

Those who won secured seats in Adamawa, Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Kogi, Kwara, and Nasarawa states, while they failed to register their presence in Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe and, Zamfara states, which are often referred to the core North.

At the national level, the female representatives are from Benue, Borno, Plateau and Yobe states.

To further break it down, in the North-West, which comprises seven states, only Kaduna produced two female lawmakers in the state Assembly, while the North-Central produced 12 female lawmakers across five of the six states that make up the zone, excluding Niger State. The North-East also produced three female lawmakers out of the six states in the region. Taraba produced two, Adamawa has one, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and Bauchi have no female lawmakers in their various states Assemblies.


The state produced only one female lawmaker. She’s Kate Raymond Manuno, representing the Demsa Constituency at the state assembly. She’s a two-term lawmaker, having first been elected in 2019 and re-elected in 2023.


Sunday PUNCH findings showed that at the state House of Assembly, there are two women out of the 30 seats in the House. They are Mrs Becky Orpin from Gboko/East state constituency who contested for speakership but lost narrowly while the other female lawmaker is the Deputy Speaker, Lami Danladi, from Ado state constituency.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, a former first lady of the state and wife of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mrs Regina Akume,. The second female lawmaker is the daughter of David Mark, a former President of the Senate, Blessing Onuh, representing Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency.


In Borno State, there is only one female lawmaker, Zainab Gimba, a former Commissioner who headed the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation and Youth Empowerment in the state. She also served as a commissioner at the Ministry of Water Resources.


Out of the 24 members at the Taraba State House of Assembly, Taraba State has two female members. They are: Hajiya Batulu Muhammed from Gashaka constituency of the APC, while Borinica Alhassan in Bali constituency won the election under the platform of the PDP.


Nasarawa State has one female lawmaker out of the 24 seats in the House; she’s Hajara Ibrahim, representing Nasarawa Central Constituency.


Sunday PUNCH also confirmed that there are currently three female lawmakers in Plateau State, elected on the platform of the PDP. The situation is an improvement on the 2019 general elections where the state produced only two female lawmakers; one at the House of Assembly and the other at the House of Representatives.

Of the three female lawmakers in the state, two were elected into the state House of Assembly – Happiness Akawu representing Pengana Constituency and Salome Wanglek, representing  Pankshin South, and the remaining one, Beni Lar, elected into the House of Representatives for the fifth term to represent Langtang South/Langtang North Federal Constituency.


In Kogi State, out of the 25 seats in the House of Assembly, there are only two female lawmakers. They are Mrs Comfort Ojoma Nwuchola, representing Ibaji Constituency and Mrs Omotayo Adeleye-Ishaya, representing Ijumu Constituency.


Out of the 24-seat Assembly in Kwara State, there are five female lawmakers. They are Aishat Babatunde-Alanamu, representing Ilorin North-West Constituency, Mariam Aladi, representing Ilorin South Constituency; Rukayat Shittu representing Owode/Onire Constituency; Arinola Lawal, representing Ilorin East Constituency; and Medinat AbdulRaheem, representing Lanwa/Ejidongari Constituency.


In the case of Kaduna State, out of the 34-seat House of Assembly, there are two female lawmakers – Mrs Comfort Amwe, representing Sanga Constituency; and Munira Suleiman Tanimu, representing Lere East constituency.


There are two female lawmakers in Yobe State. They are Khadija Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, a former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who is representing Damaturu/Gujba/Gulani/Tarmuwa Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives; and Fatima Talba, representing Nangere/Potiskum Federal Constituency.

Findings indicate that gender discrimination, religion, finance are some of the major factors responsible for the poor outing of women in the elections, including primaries, a development experts believe would require legislation to address. They noted that there might be a need for a certain percentage to be reserved for women, backed by law, in the spirit of fairness.

This was the agitation by the female lawmakers in the ninth National Assembly, which however did not succeed during the constitution amendment. All the five bills that sought to enhance more opportunities for women failed. In fact, they were not part of the 44 bills passed to the state Assemblies for concurrence. Specifically, one of the bills sought to create special seats for women in both national and state Assemblies.

Speaking on the matter, a former Commissioner for Social Welfare in Sokoto State, Prof Aisha Madawaki, described the situation as discrimination.

The two-time commissioner noted that although the discrimination against women was not peculiar to Nigeria or Sokoto State, she had yet to see any country that had got rid of gender discrimination.”

She added, “Coming back to Sokoto State, there is gender discrimination in our politics or governance. Although there is nowhere it’s written in our constitution that a woman should not hold a certain position.

“As far as the Nigerian constitution is concerned, it has given women every opportunity to contest and be appointed, but the big question remains: have the various political parties provided that enabling environment for the women to participate? That is our major problem, especially in northern Nigeria. You see that we have so many women that show interest but before the main election comes, they would have silenced them. You cannot even be allowed to win the primaries.

“Look at the composition of all the political parties, how many women do they have in the executive? The only position you will mostly see a woman is the women leader, the same with the state level. Look at the structure of the state executives, how many women do you have? And if women are not there when decisions are being taken, how on earth do you think women will not suffer the repercussions?”

She also argued that even when a woman is involved at the committee level, they sometimes put the meeting at odd hours that might not be convenient for women. “How do you expect a married woman to stay outside her matrimonial home till 3am or 4am in the name of politics?” she queried.

She however added, “Things are planned in a way that a woman edged out. It’s not stated that let us edge them out, but things are being done intentionally to make it very difficult or inconvenient for a woman to fully participate.

“That is why in Sokoto, I can count the number of women that have shown interest. Some have produced posters that they want to contest but they get thrown out at the first elimination stage, which is the primary. It is at that stage that they wait and set the first trap to eliminate them.”

To the northern Zonal Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Davou Mang, the low representation of women in elective positions is as a result of their economic situations.

He told one of our correspondents in Jos, the Plateau State capital, that the Nigerian political space had been so ‘monetised’ against women, and as a result “women who are economically disadvantaged find it difficult to raise the kind of funds needed to effectively prosecute a campaign.

Mang added, “For instance, to contest an election into the House of Representatives or the Senate, you need millions of naira. How many women can afford that? That is the problem.”

Miffed by the prevailing system, a political analyst in Benue State, Mr Simon Terna, said only four female lawmakers in the state was grossly inadequate, considering the 35 per cent affirmative policy for women’s participation in politics.

The transition to the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999 ushered in democracy and with it a new constitution, under which the current National Gender Policy was promulgated. The policy recommends that women should be represented by at least 35 per cent in both elected and appointed public service positions. Till date, however, the situation has yet to change.

Terna stated in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, “I think when compared with other northern states, the number of women is a bit better, but if we are to place it by the 35 per cent affirmation of women in political office, the state has not fared any better.

“Imagine that out of 11 Federal House of Representatives seats, Benue has two females and out of the 32 state Assembly members, there are two females, which is grossly inadequate.”

When asked about some of the reasons for such low representation in the North, Terna blamed it on religion and culture, adding however, “In Benue, we are predominantly Christians, which gives room for women to participate in politics. So, you cannot compare Benue in the Middle Belt with the core North.”

Many women politicians who were interviewed by our correspondents decried the inequality, saying the situation was worrisome.

The Project Coordinator, Adolescent Girl Initiative for Learning and Empowerment, a non-governmental organisation, Amina Haruna-Abdul, decried the dearth of female lawmakers in the region, while expressing hope that the situation would change for the better someday.

She added, “Look at my sister, Aishatu Dukku, a former House of Representatives member from Gombe State. She was performing, she was also a vocal person and she sponsored a bill on a Federal College of Education for Girls while in the House. We are bitter but we are still working towards getting more positions. We have been talking about affirmative action, and we are still following the men. One day, we pray that it becomes a reality.”

Describing the situation as unfortunate, an All Progressives Congress’ chieftain, Zainab Zakari, decried the low representation of women in the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly.

She stated, “Actually, it is unfortunate that there is no female lawmaker in Gombe State. Even the chairman (House Committee) on women affairs is a male, and that’s because politicians in the state don’t give the females the chance to succeed during the primaries. These are all forms of gender inequality that we are experiencing in Gombe State politics.”

Also speaking, a gender expert and chairman of the civil society organisations in Katsina State, Mallam Abdulrahman, blamed the declining number of female representatives in the North on religion, culture and the huge finances involved in politics, among others.

According to him, since the dominant religion in the North does not encourage married men and women to mingle, many women who would have come out to openly campaign and mingle with others could not do so.

He added, “There is no way you want to contest an election without coming out openly, and at times, you have to mingle with others, which our religion frowns at. So, this is a setback.”

Also, Speaking on the development, the Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party in Bauchi State, Yayanuwa Zainabari, attributed the situation to religion and culture.

He stated, “This is more pronounced here in the North, that when a woman comes out to contest any position, it is most likely she is a woman who has no husband. What happens is that religion and culture have come into the issue. These are issues that stand in the way of giving women opportunities in politics.

“If you observe Bauchi, things are changing because we have six female commissioners and Special Advisers. Even at the local government level, we have a woman as the caretaker chairman of Bauchi LGA. We also have about three deputy caretaker chairmen. With this, you can see that we are making progress, and I believe that by 2027, more women will come and contest various positions.

“The problem is that men don’t allow their wives or women to contest elections; but if they are given the opportunity, they will work hard because they are more compassionate than men and they are mostly more honest. But like I said, the major problems with this are religion and culture. However, I believe that with time, things will change because in the past, it was very difficult for a woman to be appointed as a local government chairman. You can see that people are beginning to speak out that women must be included.”

Another gender expert and Executive Director, Leadtots Development Initiative, Nicholas Afeso, lamented that the Nigerian women’s numerical strength, especially in the North, failed to impact the nation’s political landscape and decision-making structures positively.

According to him, World Bank development indicators show that women make up 49.32 per cent of Nigeria’s population, implying that almost half of the Nigerian population are women, but despite that, female representation in decision-making has been abysmally low since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.

He said reports reveal that 97.81 per cent of the 328 contestants in Bauchi State in the 2023 general elections were males, while only 2.19 per cent were females.

Afeso observed, “For the three senatorial district elections, only two women contested against 20 men while for the House of Representatives, only four of them contested against 73 men.

“For the State House of Assembly, only three women contested against 215 men. In all of these, no woman won in any position. There is no doubt that the political terrain is getting fierce for young people and women. Political parties have also raised the cost of acquiring nomination forms, making it tougher for young aspirants and women. This also tightened their chances.”

He called on political parties to create a clear roadmap and avenues where young women would be mentored and that they should be lobbied to introduce a quota system that would permit women to also partake in elective offices.

A female political activist and campaigner for the Rights of Women in Niger State, Hajiya Hadiza Abdul, also touched on the “money politics” being a factor militating against women participating in elective offices in the North.

According to her, most of the female politicians are dependent on their husbands for sustenance. She noted that many of them do not have the money the men have, but that the narrative would soon change in the state, especially with the “women friendly policy” of the Governor Mohammed Bago in which he deliberately appointed women into offices.

“Since the return to democracy in the Fourth Republic in 1999, in Niger State, we had only one person at the state Assembly, Hajia Fati Abdullahi, from 1999 to 2003. From 2003 to 2007, we had no female lawmaker at the state level. We also did not have at the national level,” she added.

Speaking further on the cultural and environmental factors, she stated, “Niger State is situated in the North, it’s a typical northern state where our culture inhibits the potential of women in politics. It really limits their participation. This arises mainly from religion. Their religion enjoins women to remain under the shadows of men and to seek permission of men before they even go out, let alone participate in politics. And politics mostly involves time, interactions, connections and even staying away from your family for a long period which many women cannot do.”

On the way forward, Hadiza called on men to begin to understand that “if a woman, be it your wife or sister, they should be allowed and given the opportunity so they can protect the rights of women because they will understand their issues better than men. I call on men, especially leaders, to give women the opportunity to handle their issues by themselves, especially if they are well educated, of good character and have knowledge of religion.”

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