Heart Of Arts

Women, Democracy, and Politics – By Toyin Falola

Toyin Falola

Africa’s history changed in the wake of the European and Arabic invasion of the continent, where the strategic preference that the Europeans, for example, placed on males became the foundation for the installation of a patriarchal social system and corresponding male-centered political pyramids. Perhaps, because of the nature of the relationship that various African civilizations and nations kept with these different invaders, there was minimal resistance to the political structure in some places. Also, the culture that they were confronted with in the hand of their unceremonious visitors ineluctably forced them to adopt a system that would eventually polarize their gender unity. This appears to be one of the reasons why African women may have been slow to meet up with their contemporaries in other parts of the world in terms of their contributions to society. With the termination of the colonial structures, however, came the motivations and aspirations of women to reclaim their political positions in society so that they would be once again respected in the social hierarchy. To be candid, this is an inevitable condition because women are important in different socioeconomic positions hitherto assigned to males and because they are redefining democracy, gender, and politics in a global context.

During the recently concluded Toyin Falola Interviews, Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor responded to the question Ms. Ireti Bakare Yusuf asked about how she felt about the topic of engagement, “Women Speak,” by reminding the audience that women have been speaking across time and ages, generations and epochs because they have something important to contribute to the society and would be uncomfortable to remain silent on critical issues. But then, she ends with a rather incisive question: “women have been speaking; is anyone listening?”, meaning that even when women speak, is society genuinely ready to listen to them? From a very keen observation of her tone, the remark revalidates the earlier position that colonization and invasion had affected the politics of Africa in some ways. The idea that women’s voices in topics that directly impact them, particularly politics, are not heard should be enough reason for re-engagement. Ms. Ayisha Osori would also be very practical in her response to the same question. To her, women have constantly become a central focus for social and political discussion, which invariably compels them to speak so that they would appropriately offer their perspective, as opposed to the biased ones. The women panelists seemed to have no contention about this as the third speaker, Ms. Nseabasi Ufot, concurred with the opinions of the previous speakers on this question.

However, the gravity of this intellectual enterprise is to understand the context of Nigerian and global politics and how it restricts women’s participation and contributions. Women’s voices, which would have been in their highest decibel given the appropriate conditions, have not been considered central in the Nigerian political engagements, particularly from the Fourth Republic. Ms. Osori stresses that the marginal positions appropriated for women in Nigerian politics within the highlighted timeframe do not reflect women’s deficiency in or apathy to political participation. Instead, it reflects an extremely patriarchal system that makes it difficult for them to be represented. This will, however, come with its devastating effects on the general development of the people. Ms. Osori explains that exclusionary politics has been the foundation of women’s challenges in participating equitably in the country’s political landscape. To be fair, while women have been hard hit by this political atmosphere, everyone who does not belong to the status quo has also been exposed to the damaging results of such practice. Primary in the destructive downsides of this exclusive politics is that policy development continues to suffer from bias because women’s voices are not well-represented there.

Without necessarily taking the current topic of engagement outside the purview of the panelists, the moderator again asked Ms. Ufot where she thinks Nigeria is in the comity of nations, with relation to how they engage women in their political and democratic experience. The justification for this question finds strength in the understanding that women are expected to fight back through different means to be appropriately included in the country’s political process. She certainly understands the complexity of the question by her informed responses and established that movements have been formed to mobilize public support for women’s collective struggles.

If people are not made aware of the immeasurable disadvantage it is to them to be excluded from the political decisions of their environment, it would be difficult to make them see why resistance is a profitable progressive measure. Therefore, women have taken to online and offline mobilization and information platforms to educate the people about the activities of their political actors and how exclusionary politics impedes their general progress and development. Among the useful online platforms are the social media outlets used in most cases to educate, encourage, and enjoin citizens to give necessary moral and spiritual support for women’s emancipation movement.

For Nseabasi Ufot, communication through digital information and media awareness is one of the key strategies for changing the political culture to advance women’s interests in society and in political institutions. s important as these information sharing platforms are to the reformation of our general political system, they could be misused at will. On several occasions, there have been reasons for doctoring information to be circulated to the people, which instantly mislead and misdirect them. Therefore, information poisoning is one of the drawbacks of what we have in contemporary times, especially concerning the question asked. If these happen in the global context, the possibility of having women even on the international scene is slim. Enabling the free dissemination of information between and among groups ensures that they are educated on the current conditions that hamper their freedoms, and are sensitized towards how and what to do to remedy the situation. Where there is no freedom of the press, for instance, the psychological effect is that some people, especially women, would be disinterested in politics, which would further jeopardize their interest as a group.

Ms. Ufot was pragmatic enough to respond to the question that although the government continues to show its aversion to protests and public resistance, the people are not throwing in the towel in their fight against injustices and pervasive repression of their voices. To ensure that they have a voice, they have engaged different social media platforms to amplify their interests in the country and how they want it to be run. They achieve this by intelligently analyzing their situations and then draw to themselves a growing audience that also takes their messages with keen interest.

Dr. Nwankwor comes in with a compelling and stimulating insight into this issue. She responds that civic responsibility begins with awareness. Being aware of one’s political system and what can be done to advance it to an envious point helps to channel one’s energy in the right direction. Of course, all these can be sustained in a world where the democratic culture is itself advanced. When democracy is not properly formed, it becomes an agent of imposition and repression where the institutions in the polity work for the benefits of the bureaucratic powers.

Still, Dr. Nwankwor sees some promising future in Nigerian politics, noting that the process of transformation involves endurance and persistence. She remained steadfast in her conviction that in the wake of Nigerian democratic engagement, which began in 1999 with the Fourth Republic, the fact that citizens are challenging the country’s power structure through their engagement on various social media platforms indicates that the country is evolving, although at a very slow pace compared to the expectations of the people. Through available social media platforms, citizens now have increased confidence in challenging the government to the extent of organizing series of protests primarily through social media mobilization. In this particular trend, women feature prominently and have successfully deployed these tools for achieving their goals.

Naturally, one would expect that a follow-up question to this is to ask about the attitude of the Nigerian government towards alternative perspectives, knowing that leaders in the country have continuously found extreme difficulty in transforming from their totalitarian values to a democratic culture. It is never out of context to ask this question, knowing that citizens have faced state antagonism whenever they develop plans to challenge the government through protest, which is a democratically accepted means of engaging the government in contemporary times. However, the Nigerian government has always reacted with lethal force whenever there is a nationwide demonstration, because they are well aware of the potential damage that protests might do to their reputation and image, and more importantly, in order to protect their ill-gotten privileges and to maintain the status quo.

For Ms. Osori, she stressed the points already strengthened by the previous panelists who had responded to the same question. Among other things, she emphasized that inclusive politics in Nigeria is under serious prognosis, but this does not mean it is all generally negative, as different narratives have suggested. By the understanding that the women demographic is now being engaged, they have shown through determination that they would always make their voices count, regardless of the circumstances that continue to repress their voices. Without creating an atmosphere for women, it would be difficult for a country to build a civilization worthy of being transferred from one generation to another. She, however, included that it would be misleading if one does not put into context the circumstances that has similarly emboldened the young generation to engage the older generations in power, to ask for their right, as in the recent #EndSars protests in November 2020 in Nigeria.

Many of the #EndSars activists however seemed insufficiently aware of previous activists’ efforts and of state responses of civil repression that have psychologically limited potential protestors or activists from considering confronting the state. Nevertheless, according to Ms. Osori, we must not be distracted from the truth that Nigeria has not actually built a viable and veritable democracy that can be benchmarked for the level of development that the forthright ones can picture.

This pathetic political situation is aggravated by the apparent lack of creativity in building systems and institutions that can help transform the society or people. To take for granted the fact that institutions are the foundations for enhancing an accountable government that is not founded on patronage is to pay inadequate attention to the issue of democratic importance. This, in itself, incubates an insinuation that the government is not necessarily developed by strategies and philosophies but by some unforeseen luck. Without overstating it, this would eradicate the thinking that a country needs appropriate systems to help in its transformation and meteoric improvement. This thought manifests in Nigeria’s institutions, for example in the electoral system where there is no evidence of improvement from what happens in the modern time and the events of the 1960s. This aversion to creativity has affected the polity negatively in that it ordinarily rejects the possibility of attracting the necessary minds who would help improve the system. Elections are conducted with similar experiences as they had in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with ballot snatching, massive electoral fraud, and the use of thugs and violence, among others, for election purposes.

Meanwhile, the beauty of any intellectual engagement is that people of different professional or career paths can view things from perspectives that align with their academic or professional background. In this case, opinions are meant to differ, and as such, it would help to stimulate a very interesting conversation and engagement. For this reason, the moderator wanted to seek the opinion of Dr. Nwankwor about the position held by the two panelists. Surprisingly, she gave a position that complemented the stand of Ufot and Osori. She reiterated that the democracy of the country is in the Intensive Care Unit because it has not been strong enough to ensure upward mobility of the people, as it enriches only a select few and because it has not always entertained alternative perspectives in most cases. Thus, one would understand that these Nigerian women, irrespective of where they are, are intricately linked to their homeland politics by demonstrating that they not only understand the challenges that are inhibiting the system from attaining a greater height but by also showing that they are aware of the corresponding solutions which they can give for the raging problems. Despite this untoward retrograde, there are some positive and encouraging lights about the situation as there is no cloud without a silver lining. The younger generation has shown that they are capable of changing the narrative. Women’s groups have also become proficient in mobilizing and seeking reform.

Actions that are reflective of a weak democracy are not only demonstrated by the Nigerian or African people, for instance. It is a common challenge in the global political community as there appears to be a wave of governmental repression of people and infringement on some of their fundamental rights. Following the just concluded US general elections, laws are being passed by which some citizens are being disenfranchised for reasons that are not always justified. These disenfranchisements are being challenged as well as adjudicated, as they should be.

Non-governmental organizations, important groups, and intellectual communities have not refused to lend their voices to confront such level of rights abuses, and it is contextually encouraging that one of our guests, Ufot, is making commendable efforts for the interrogation of the situation so that sanity would be returned to the American polity. The very first way to confront a debilitating situation is to know the background to the said challenge. This would make one have a better and objective view of the situation and make informed decisions on how to contain the possible outcomes. In a bid to control the activities of the people, the former American leader builds a narrative that can sway the people from what actually matters, but it is obvious that such would not sail through in a society where markets of information are shared now and then.

According to Ms. Ufot, having failed in misleading the people, the other way is to manipulate the system. She openly declared that the most insensitive thing that anyone would do is to consider fighting a movement whose time has come or to make efforts to downcast an idea whose maturity has germinated. She argued that demographic changes and the sweeping interest they showcase in the political affairs of the community is not something that can be silenced by individuals, groups, or gatherings against its evolution. She jokingly alluded to the age-long conversation of slavery and antislavery narrative when she said that some members of the American public should not consider antagonizing the inclusionary government that factored the multiracial system, or that condoned multicultural temperament in the current system, as it would not lead the white racial community to experience enslavement, the type that their ancestors subjected the Black community to in recent history. While this would not happen for whatever reason, it cannot be argued that the changes it would bring may disallow the preferential treatment that some members of the society have enjoyed to the detriment of innocent others.

The strategy used by these women of value is to leverage the institutional power of the country to challenge individuals or government agencies who decided to use them for their provincial intentions. The litigation process, for example, was considered important in fighting these wars. While the trilogy of litigation process, communication strategies, and direct action are usually very effective in correcting political anomaly in America, these erudite African women have looked into the different ways by which they can be replicated in the Nigerian political terrain so that the country’s politicians would understand that the responsibility of hiring and then firing anyone who is in a political office lies exclusively with the masses. This means that the people would be informed of their untapped power left to suffer unimaginable abandonment because the people have been oppressed and defeated in their spirit.

These outstanding women are evidence that gender oppression or exclusion in political engagements would generally work against the country. This is consolidated by the understanding that they have not only been equipped with the necessary skills and systems of leadership but have also been very pragmatically strategic in their political tactics. We continue to underplay women’s potential and their possibility to rescue the country from imminent danger of destruction because we have not considered aggressively engaging them in our political system. In all seriousness, they have shown how indispensable they are in intellectually marshaling their points and drawing systematic means of rescuing any civilization known to man.

(This is the first of two reports on the interview on “Political Reforms Nigeria Needs—The Women Speak”on July 11 2021) For its entire recording, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbkjm59oRdw&t=6s


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