The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Ms. Mufuliat Fijabi, has stated that constitutional amendment is key to an effective participation and representation of women in politics and governance. Ms. Fijabi said this on Tuesday, 22 October 2019 while speaking at a two-day conference in Washington DC. The event themed ‘Nigeria’s Democracy at 20: Reflections and Reform’ was organized by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in partnership with Ford Foundation and YIAGA Africa, with the aim to further discussions on twenty continuous years of democratic practice in Nigeria and reflect on the journey for democratic consolidation.
During a panel discussion anchored by Christopher O’Connor, a Senior Program Officer for West Africa at NED on “The 2019 Elections, Inclusion and Moving Forward”, Ms. Fijabi emphasized that the current reflection of the Nigeria’s ’s democracy is neither inclusive nor representative. She also added that the insensitivity of political parties to gender issues in Nigeria is s the major cause of the ill representation of women in politics and governance. In summary, the CEO drew-in the importance of mentorship and women activism in promoting political participation of women and raising their voices for democratic and participatory governance.
Speaking at the event also, a United States diplomat, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, pointed out that although the Nigerian constitution does not provide for zoning of political leadership, key political offices at the federal and state levels are zoned for fairness within regions and ethnic groups. In her words “zoning of the Presidency has remained a norm with powers constantly rotating between the North and the South regions in the country’s two-decade electoral process”. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield also lowered the standard of the just concluded 2019 elections due to the level of violence recorded, describing it as a huge step backwards for Nigeria’s democracy.
As a voice for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu stated that elections cannot be separated from the cultural and infrastructural set ups in Nigeria. On the cost of elections, the INEC Commissioner projected an estimated cost of N250 Billion Naira due to the current polarization of political parties and various stakeholders in the electoral process in Nigeria. Professor Ibeanu regarded this as simply unsustainable. He however noted the need for a framework that encourages a level playing field for all stakeholders during elections with an accountability mechanism at the end of the process.
While making statements for the youth movement in Nigeria, Cynthia Mbamalu, Program Manager at YIAGA AFRICA reiterated that the #NotTooYoungToRun Campaign has demonstrated that young people have the power to drive political change if coordinated, supported and focused. To this end, Ms. Mbamalu emphasized that due credit should be accorded to young people for the sacrifices they are making for the nation’s democracy either as election administrators, election observers or mobilization agents. She added that Nigeria currently needs vast political party reforms that engender internal democracy, political inclusion and democratic accountability
The Chairman of Partners for Electoral Reforms, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu stated during the panel discussion that the delegate system is a mischief in our democratic process. Mr. Nwagwu further pointed out the lack of ‘equality of opportunities” as a cause that breeds the lack of interest in our electoral system leading to voter apathy and other unpatriotic dispositions from citizens. According to him, these sustained forms of inequality has given rise to “demi heroisms’ which has endangered mobilization and organized activism that effectively demands accountability and transparency from government. He urged citizens to continually organized themselves to have an oversight on the country’s democracy.
Other notable speakers at the event were foremost protagonist of the modern civil society movement like Barrister Clement Nwankwo- a leading Nigerian human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr. Hussaini Abdu- Country Director of Plan International, Barrister Ayo Obe – former President of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Mr. Samson Itodo – Executive Director of YIAGA AFRICA and others.