Friday, March 8, 2019

Women in Nigeria brace for local election upsets

Nigerian women are hoping to use Saturday's local elections to change the country's political dynamics by triggering an upset in the polls.

Women's groups have been mobilising support for female candidates seeking office, appealing to women voters to utilise their numerical strength to support their own during the governorship and state house of assembly elections.

"Women have to rise up and now that some of us are here to challenge the status quo, it should be an encouragement," Adebisi Ogunsanya, who is running for the first time, told Al Jazeera.

"I encourage them to vote for me because I understand what their problems are," Ogunsanya said on Thursday as campaigning ended.

She is seen as a dark horse in the race to become the governor of Lagos state because of her minimal political experience. She's also contesting under a new political platform, the Young Progressive Party (YPP), in the commercial capital, Lagos.

Ogunsanya will be up against 38 male and six other female candidates.

A total of 80 female candidates will be vying for state governorship positions across 29 states. They will face a total of 987 male candidates, many of whom are well-funded and grounded in political history.

However, what female candidates lack in financial muscle is compensated by their voting power as they constitute 47 percent - 39.6 million out of 84 million eligible voters registered by the electoral commission.

Breaking barriers

Women's groups such as the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) are providing support to ease the burden of female candidates as part of its commitment to growing the pool of women in the political space.

"We are providing technical support to our women seeking elective positions. We encourage our women to vote women and we also encourage the women to pay attention to the manifestos of the various candidates," NWTF spokesperson Mufilat Fijabi told Al Jazeera.

The group, established in 2011, aims to address "growing concerns about gender imbalance in elective and appointive positions", according to a statement on its website.

'All-boys club'

Some political analysts, however, are not convinced women can pull off any major upsets in Saturday's elections.

"The top of the tickets for the major parties is basically an all-boys club. There will be a couple of female deputy governors but that won't be an upset," Stanley Azuakola, founder of vote-watchdog Civic Monitor, told Al Jazeera.

"Frankly, women are yet to collectively see the lack of female voices at the table as a serious issue," says Azuakola.

February's presidential and legislative elections were marred by allegations of violence, vote-rigging, and voter suppression.

This resulted in low voter turnout across the country with voters and electoral commission officials killed and injured.

The scale of the election violence, especially in Lagos, has left Ogunsanya and other candidates worried about security for Saturday's vote.

But she's confident women will turn out despite the risks to support female candidates.

"Barring any threats and violence, I expect the women to vote for me," said Ogunsanya.

By Mercy Abang

Al Jazeera

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