Politics, the world over, is a male-dominated enterprise, and it is more so in Africa where violence is almost sine qua non with politics.
A few years ago, our darling Onyeka Onwenu commented on how the political arena is rigged against women with meetings held mostly at night.
Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw also had choice words for the political process. After her failed bid to represent her Calabar South Federal Constituency of Cross River State in the House of Representatives, in December of 2014, she said money was a big issue against female participation in politics.
“We need to be able to support women. Women are over 50 per cent of the Nigerian population and we have 200 million, so let’s just say we have 100 million women. You heard what that House of Reps guy was saying? He said don’t give women too much power. He has already told you. Look at Rwanda. Over 60 per cent in the House are women. Cleanest country. Cleanest. Safest. Because women are there,” Henshaw said.
While Rwanda seems an outlier in Africa, the story of female marginalisation in politics is not a peculiarly African phenomenon. It is a worldwide problem.
In July this year, American politician Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is Hispanic and female, was verbally assaulted by a fellow representative, Ted Yoho, who is alleged to have called her a “f–king bitch”.
Ocasio-Cortez, popularly known as AOC, denounced the attack; she was miffed, not just because of the personal nature of the attack, but on account of what she described as a culture “of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”
In August this year, in an intervention titled “Are male ministers getting away with murder?”, I had tried to call attention to what appeared to be double standards in how male ministers and political appointees are allowed latitude while their female counterparts are given short shrift, even by fellow appointees, the media and the general public.
The catalyst for that August piece was a supposed human rights organisation’s harangue of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Sadiya Umar Farouq and the virulent attack on NIPOST Chairman Maimuna Abubakar by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) media handlers during which she was called a “a privileged young lady who happened to be appointed to high office”.
In that piece I had noted that “I feel a pattern of harassment of female ministers seems to be emerging in Nigeria and I will provide a few examples. Where women ministers have been accused of some malfeasance, the reaction of the horde is almost mob-like. The cries for crucifixion are very loud and there is always that unspoken – doesn’t she know she is a woman?”
A report last week reminded me of that August article and what I believe is a negative fixation against female politicians and appointees in Nigeria.
In the report with the headline “Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Farouq, Weeps as Communication Minister, Pantami, ‘Disgraces’ Her at Federal Executive Council Meeting”, the online paper reported a supposed verbal altercation between Umar Farouq of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and her Communications counterpart, Dr. Isa Pantami.
The incident, as reported by the online paper, involved a presentation by Pantami of the “ministry’s planned activities for approval, which included the mapping and registration of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) across the country. Immediately after the Communication Minister’s submission, a furious Farouq raised her hand to speak and express objection to the approval for such activities pending review and approval from her ministry.”
I would have read the report and filed it away as one more evidence of men and women of power engaging in power play until I read the end of the piece where the online paper had written: “Farouq, who had always used her closeness to President Buhari to intimidate, manipulate and harass her fellow ministers, was humbled.”
Reading that bit I was immediately reminded of a comment I had made in my aforementioned August piece where I had said: “The vilification of women in politics is just one of the many injustices the female folks face in our country. It is so bad that when a woman is doing well many of us believe she must have used the ‘bottom power’. Brilliant women abound and even when we acknowledge their brilliance, we still find a way to rubbish their records by attributing their rise to extraneous factors.”
Here in an otherwise balanced report, a culturally-biased view is being espoused to wit – whatever Umar Farouq has achieved is not because of her brilliance or acumen, but because of a perceived closeness to the president.
The second reason I paused was because of the dramatis personae involved. Dr. Pantami seems to be developing a penchant for getting into spats with his female colleagues. In May this year, in a public show of shame, Pantami had allegedly evicted Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) Chairman Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and her staff out of a space offered to them by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which is under the Ministry of Communications.
Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa, in a social media post, insinuated that Pantami disrespected her because “she is a woman” by bringing armed security personnel to chase them out.
While I do not wish to hold brief for Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa, I believe the issue could have been better handled since both work for the same government.
The same applies to the Pantami vs Farouq imbroglio. If a letter written to a fellow minister was not replied, it would have been a simple courtesy to put a call through and remind her, especially in a country with a lax civil service and bureaucracy. What if Sadiya Umar Farouq was not aware of the letter?
My final take: The online medium sees the Pantami and Farouq altercation as a proof of “division among top aides of President Muhammadu Buhari” but I prefer to see it as a culturally-influenced inability to see women as equal partners in steering the ship of state and it is regrettable.