LAGOS — A women-focused organization is seeking to increase funding for Nigerian women who want to participate in politics. In a country with only 6.4 percent of women taking active roles in public office, the organization understands the challenges are steep and multifaceted, especially as Africa’s most populous country gears up for general elections on Feb. 25.
Women in Successful Careers, or Wiscar, launched an initiative just as 2022 was rounding up, to raise money for competent women vying for offices across all political levels in Nigeria. This occurs as Nigeria is preparing to elect a new president this week as well. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is banned from running for re-election because of federal term limits.
Chichi Ojei, the only presidential candidate whose name made it to the final list of the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, was dumped by her party, the Allied People’s Movement (APM), seven days before the elections. The party has since adopted Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Ojei blamed the party chairman for “allowing his personal interest” to supersede that of her and her party.
Eight months ago, the only woman among the 23 people jostling then for the presidential ticket of the All Progressive Congress (APC), stepped down in favor of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the septuagenarian contesting for Nigeria’s presidency under the APC, Buhari’s party. Tinubu is a top contender so far, despite a range of allegations of corruption lodged against him.
“Our goal is to build women up, to build that pipeline of women and get them ready for leadership, where they will sit at the table where decisions are being made and can influence the kind of change we want to see,” Amina Oyagbola, a 61-year-old lawyer who founded Wiscar 15 years ago, told PassBlue in an exclusive interview on Feb. 13.
An inaugural fund-raising conference to support women politicians was held in January in collaboration with the globally acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “We are not supporting any particular party,” Oyagbola said. “We partnered with ElectHub” — a nonprofit promoting electoral knowledge — “to identify credible political candidates across party lines. We created a platform for these female candidates to make their pitches and explain why they are running for office.”
About half of Nigeria’s 200 million-plus population are women. Going by the data from INEC, 84 million people are currently registered to vote. Women account for 47 percent of this number.
Oyagbola said that her organization found several factors contributing to the data skewed against women: socialization and finance being the most prominent problems.
Joyce Daniels is running for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chair in a community in Edo State, in the south. PDP is the most prominent opposition party in Nigeria. Until 2015, it was the ruling party for 16 years. Daniels said that getting people to believe in her candidacy was one of the greatest challenges she has ever had running for a post. Nigeria is still very much patriarchal, like many other countries around the world. Culturally, women are expected to nurse the home or take less-prominent jobs. In rural communities, like the one Daniels is contesting for party leadership, the traditional expectations for women are even more pronounced.
But with Wiscar support, Daniels said her campaign has received more visibility.
“The reach of Wiscar’s gesture opened doors to people who did not know about our candidacy,” Daniels told PassBlue in an interview. “Funds and more awareness have come through Wiscar. More people are willing to be our influencers and learn their voices for me, and for this, I am very grateful.” Daniels was contesting against four men, but three dropped out, leaving her with just one male opponent. A date for this election is not firmed up, but it could happen in May.
Hawwah Gambo, who got 35 percent of Wiscar’s initial financing, about $3,000, is running for the House of Representatives, in the Kajuru/Chikun constituency of Kaduna state in the north.
“I am always the only woman running for the senatorial seat with all these men that have godfathers, but I don’t give up,” she said in her speech as she defended her manifesto before Wiscar.
In an interview with the BBC, Gambo urged Nigerians to give women a chance at leadership. “All my life, I’ve always seen men contest and get elected to political offices. So this year, I said to myself, Let me contest to show people what a woman can do,” she said.
Buhari has only seven women in his cabinet. In the legislative arm of the government, the National Assembly, only four women out of 109 sit in the Senate, and only 11 out of 360 sit in the House of Representatives. It’s only a few days to the general elections in Nigeria and, as always, the number of women on ballots are abysmally low. Only 25 of the 418 contesting for the governorship seats are women; only 92 women are among the 1,101 contestants for the Senate; and 286 of the 3,107 vying for the House of Representatives. In total, only 10.2 percent of the candidates in the 2023 general elections are women.
Increasing women’s participation in political leadership is a focal issue for the United Nations, too. Beatrice Eyong is a UN Women representative to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States, based in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. She said the UN continued to work with relevant organizations in Nigeria to raise awareness about women entering politics.
“We will also make sure that women’s movements are strong enough to cause stakeholders to include the most vulnerable persons in society,” Eyong said in a conversation at Wiscar’s event in January.
Oyagbola of Wiscar said that successful women like herself must make concerted efforts to bridge this gap by creating opportunities for more women to emerge and set up a women’s version of a “boys’ club.” Wiscar’s fund-raising initiative is one way her organization has sought to create a girls’ club, so to speak.
Nevertheless, she said the initiative has not been easy. When she launched the idea alongside Adichie and other women on Wiscar’s board, they couldn’t help but have high hopes to raise a “meaningful amount” to support candidates. Yet they did not meet their goal.
“The process has been impactful,” Oyegbola said. “But the sum raised did not meet our expectations because we did not hit the target.” The first tranche of donations — about $9,000 — went to candidates in January, she told PassBlue. More than double the initial amount has been raised since the first disbursement. Oyegbola said that she and her team will review the strategy for the fund-raising initiative while they continue to mentor and train more women for leadership roles.
Damilola Banjo is a reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.