By Precious Werner Ahiakwo
Rivers women serving as local council vice chairmen have expressed concerns over the roles they said they have been subjected to.
Some of them who spoke to our Correspondent on condition of anonymity said they were not being carried along in governance by their respective council chairmen who they see as their bosses.
One said: “They just bought personal cars for some of us, and it ends there. It’s their political associates that represent them in events, instead of us as Vice Chair.”
Another said: “Most of us are not even officially invited to events that concern the Local Government where we are supposed to be serving. Even if we attend on our own, we are not recognized.
“Only when it comes to mobilizing women to gather and fill events that I’m remembered as a Local Government vice chair here. I don’t even understand again whether it’s part of our responsibility as vice chairs to gather women with uniforms and cheer the men, responding to their chants of ‘women oyee.’”
Reacting, however, the Executive Director of the Gender and Development Action, Nengi Irima believes that the former Governor Nyesom Wike’s self-styled policy to have women occupy the Vice Chair position at the Local Government levels is commendable and a very important forward-march in the journey to increasing the number of women involved in active politics in the state.
“The fact that they are occupying that position is very important. Their representation on that position is key. This will increase the number of women active participation in politics in the state.”
“They may not be active now, but will be active later. Look at Bonny, a woman is the Council Chairman and she is doing well. That’s why we are advocating that they give women more active roles at the political party levels, even outside the grassroots level.”
While many hailed the past governor’s gender sensitive style of female placement as the vice chairmen of the Local Governments in the 23 LGAs, many of the beneficiaries are subjected to inglorious experiences as second fiddles.
The Executive Director, Arise for Gender and Livelihood Initiative ALIVE, Debby Effiong, said it is unfortunate that women had been relegated to welfare officers, and sharing snacks and water during campaigns.
She decried the underrepresentation and marginalization of women saying that it was time for women to change the ugly narrative.
“It is sad that women have been wrongly sensitized that the only way to be in politics is to be by the sideline cheering the men. Women have been wrongly sensitized to wear uniforms, act as welfare officers and share meat-pies and water.
“Till today we are still struggling: we don’t have women heading political parties or secretaries of political parties. Women who managed to come out as Presidential candidates don’t believe that they can win. Some women have sold out their rights/roles because of money. A whole lot needs to be done in terms of sensitization,” she said.
On October 4, 2021, the leader of the Etche Local Government Area council’s legislative Assembly in Rivers State, Mrs Cynthia Nwala, was attacked and stripped half naked by political thugs sent by her male political colleagues.
In the course of this interview, Mrs Nwala said that the incident didn’t deter her from still participating in politics, instead it opened her eyes to how to play the game of politics especially as a woman in the midst of men.
“I learnt a lot after that incident, and I learnt how to follow the rules of the game (politics) well. Since that incident I know the right things to do and the right way to go. No such incident happened in the council again and everyone has understood themselves, and we work in harmony. My advice to women is when you join politics, be determined, know what you want and respect yourself. Don’t just wake up and join politics, have a mentor!”
Recent statistics of women in politics revealed that of the 991 persons in the States House of Assembly in Nigeria, 44 are women, positioning women’s participation in politics at mere six per cent.
In Rivers State, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) revealed that there is a slight increase in women participation in the just concluded 2023 general elections in the State.
Head of Gender Relations, INEC, Rivers State, Beauty Ibiama, explained that 85 women contested as candidates in various positions.
Some gender activists thus believe women representation in politics and governance in the state still falls short of the goal set by the National Gender Policy in 2006, which demands 35 per cent of women involvement in all governance processes.
With this goal looking bleak, the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Rivers State Chapter, has however raised hope that Rivers State will top the chart in achieving the goals set by the National Gender Policy of 35 per cent of women involved in all governance processes.
The chairperson of Rivers NAWOJ, Mrs Susan Serekara-Nwikhana, said NAWOJ will continue to be at the fore-front with other sister organizations, supporting and encouraging women to boldly participate in politics.
She said; “With the slight increase of the number of women involved in the 2023 general elections and the state governor’s personal gender policy, more women are realizing the great role they play in the society and getting involved in active politics and governance in Rivers State.
“We have been on different media platforms organizing programs to encourage women to participate in healthy politics, and we will not relent in these efforts. We urge women to come out during any election and vote wisely and desist from selling their votes for measly fee.” She stated.
In the same vein, the Rivers State chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has expressed high hopes that the new administration of Gov Siminialayi Fubara, will fulfill his promise of ensuring women are given befitting roles, equal opportunity and a level playing ground in politics.
The State chairperson of FIDA, Mrs. Adata Bio-Briggs, said; “We are happy that we have some women from Rivers State going to the National Assembly and become deputy governor, after the general election. We call on female politicians to step up their games so as to match their male counterparts “, she urged.
A former gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 election in Rivers State, and a clergyman, Pastor Ezekiel Warigbani, while speaking on the implementation of the 35 per cent policy and appointments in politics in Rivers State, said the state especially under the former governor embraced and implemented the policy. He said the former governor carried the women along, gave them appointments and made it compulsory that women must be involved in all political process in the state.
Warigbani said it’s high time the women showed what they were worth by coming out and making good use of the opportunity, instead of crying foul.
Mrs. Gloria Boma Harry, a publisher and a politician, after stepping down to contest as a chairman of her local government (Degema), House of Representatives, and being the former Administrative Secretary of the South-South of her former political party, she said the myth around female gender is a bane of women getting involved in politics.
She said the Local Government chairmanship was finally given to a male because they felt a female would not handle the security issues in the area. As the former South-South Admin Secretary of her former political party, she said she was being looked down upon by the male politicians while her fellow gender politicians felt she slept her way to the top.
“Being in politics as a female comes with a lot of guts. You need to be strong and you need to have strong will and confidence because sometimes you will feel like you are losing your mind,” she said.
The former aspirant advised women already in politics or aspiring to be in politics to up their game by developing themselves academically and other wise and also always have something to bring to the table.
She didn’t leave out mentioning the need to have a political mentor as they will go a long way to fight your cause and always have your back.
“I was given the position in my former political party because of my background as a publisher and a journalist. Even when some men in the party were fighting me to get the position, my media background gave me an edge over them. If we develop ourselves, when they try to talk or fight us down, what we have will help us stand out. For women to survive, they should not just sit down and bring nothing to the table, they should bring everything to the table”, she said.
She said to encourage more women to embrace politics and to carry along those already in politics; the political parties should rewire their mindsets to the point of seeing every woman as qualified to occupy any political positions.
“If they can see and believe in us to occupy any political positions, like being chairmen of political parties, then we can even be governors and Presidents”.
The cheering news is that the 10th Rivers State House of Assembly currently has six females occupying the seats at the State House of Assembly. This is the highest number of females the state has recorded in the Assembly.
The Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Rivers State Chapter, and an academia, Ike Wigodo, described the development as commendable for women in the state. He said it’s an indication that more women are now coming out boldly to contest elections unlike before.
“Nothing about leadership is not freely given; you must show interest and capacity. If the women were not bold enough to come out and contest, the 35 per cent will not be realized. My encouragement is that more women should show boldness and capacity and come out and contest and vote. I see women contesting and coming governors in this state”.
Observers say Rivers State is looking good on the implementation of 35 per cent Affirmative Action for Women Participation in Politics, despite the challenges these women face in the process.
Hopefully, it is believed, this development will encourage more women to boldly embrace this paradigm change by getting involved in politics and decision-making in governance. They believe that this development when sustained will close gender gaps in Rivers State thereby putting the State in the front row for achieving gender-related SDG commitments in Nigeria.
(This event is part of AWiM/Luminate Young Women in Politics programme)