Nigeria: Cross River – Giving Women a Voice

The Peoples Democratic Party in Cross River State is fast changing the face of politics in the state by encouraging more women participation in the September 21 local government elections.

The women are coming and in full force too. Growing global consciousness of feminism has given rise to agitation for 35 per cent affirmative action for women in elective and appointive positions. Put succinctly, women empowerment is now a global movement. Like a moving train, it cannot be stopped. Though women still suffer discrimination in some countries, others are taking steps to right the wrong.

After suffering oppression for too long, the rhetoric of anger is defeaning. A restless feminism movement has come to stay in Nigeria heading campaign for equality at the work place, home and in politics.

Backed by education, feminists in the country have continued to collaborate on issues of common interest but with a firm commitment to know where they stand in politics, business, the professions and other fields of human endeavour. All these have sharpened women’s perception of themselves and their future.

It has become common in the light of agitations for gender mainstreaming for speakers at public events to offer lyrical attributes to the ability of some women to contribute positively to the development of the society. Not oblivious of the ability of some ladies to deliver the goods whenever given the opportunity, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State has decided to embrace the womenfolk by giving them the opportunity to vie for elective posts at the grassroots level.

Yes, education more than anything else has exposed women to the patriarchal nature of the society. Armed with good certificates and jobs, women so empowered are at the vanguard of liberating others. In this country, politics and power answer all things. Power as an elixir of life holds the key to almost everything. Since authority and influence are major determinants of who gets what at whatever level, women are fighting for a place at the right place. They also want to be president, governors, senators, local government council chairmen etc.

For too long, there’s been a vilification of the slave master- the male chauvinist. Now the women want to take their destiny in their own hands. It’s no more time to blame anybody. Every woe of the female gender is blamed on man-made rules and regulations which restrict women’s participation in decision-making and glorify their participation in domestic chores.

The PDP burst onto Nigeria’s political scene in 1999 with the energy of a rambunctious upstart. As its membership over the years continues to swell, observers began to think of the party as an impenetrable and invincible entity due to feeble challenge from the opposition. It has clung to the presidency, dominated the National Assembly, produced more governors and controlled leadership at the local government level. Cross River State is in this league.

In 1999, the PDP won the state’s gubernatorial election with a reasonable margin and shared the state House of Assembly seats with the opposition almost evenly.

It captured 13 constituencies and ANPP 12. The 2003 elections came but the opposition performed poorly as it had not a single voice at the legislature. And with the PDP sitting comfortably in the first arm of government, Cross River became a one-party state thenceforth. The massive participation of Cross River women in politics today did not come overnight.

It’s a function of years of persuasion, identifying with their plight and selling women mission in politics to men. But since 1999, no woman has participated more in politics than the wife of the governor of the state, Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke. She is one lady whose voice has become synonymous with women empowerment. Through her pet projects such as Partnership Opportunity for Women Economic Realisation (POWER); Mothers against Children Abandonment (MACA); Destiny Child Centre (DCC) and Giving Life Opportunities to Widows (GLOW) amongst others, she’s been able to galvanise women to realise their potential. Through her, women in the state have woken from their slumber and there’s no stopping them. In the 2007 and 2012 governorship elections in the state, Mrs. Imoke was beside her husband soliciting votes from women for him. She would mount the rostrum preaching the virtues of playing politics according to the rules and why women should participate in it if they want to have a voice in the society.

As a result of this, she was able to arouse the consciousness of women hence their growing interest in politics. She is lucky to have a husband who listens and identifies with women issues. Some of her associates said Mrs. Imoke does not impose ideas on the husband. She takes time to study his mood and make her suggestions. Thus, she has been able to have her way. Luckily for her, Governor Liyel Imoke is also gender sensitive. It is on record that his administration has appointed more women as permanent secretaries in the state civil service than any of his predecessors. He also has a reasonable number of women in his cabinet, as well as on boards of parastatals. But the first lady is not done yet. Getting women to be at the driver’s seat or second in command at the local government level is her next goal. Her mobilisation of Cross River women into the PDP helped to boost the support base of the party and bolster its membership. And now that the chips are down, it’s only natural that women be compensated. This might be the reason the party is parading no fewer than 75 candidates in the forthcoming council polls in the state. The women have never had it so good. If the PDP sweeps the elections, the state will go into records as leading the pathway to women empowerment in Africa.

The local government houses the bulk of the country’s population. If women who are mothers by nature gain a foothold at that level, it is believed that they are likely to govern better. Secondly, they would not want to bungle this opportunity as it would be the first time that they are being trusted with such power. They will do everything within their power to excel.

The Cross River State chairman of the party, John Okon, in a recent interview said his party was taking the lead in women empowerment because it values the contributions of women to governance at whatever level, more so as those in the state were proven to be good partners. He therefore confirmed that 75 female candidates would fly the flag of the party come September 21 under a new regime seeking to give women equal opportunity in elective public offices. A breakdown of this number shows that four women are candidates for council chairmanship, 15 for the office of vice chairman and 56 for councillorship.

The state has 18 local government areas and 196 council wards. He said the decision this time to accord women more opportunities in political offices was in line with the policy thrust of the party which is “to institutionalise gender sensitivity and equality in all party elections and appointed officials.” According to him, “this magnanimous gender representative percentage is the highest any state has offered in elections both in and outside Nigeria,” adding that what the PDP was doing is to motivate the womenfolk and take them along to put an end to complaints of gender discrimination and marginalisation. Okon said the PDP was not worried if the opposition parties decide to field all male candidates in line with their stereotype orientation. To him, the time has come for women to be carried along.

On the allegation of imposition of candidates, the chairman said no candidate was imposed by Imoke or any other person as the party’s standard bearer except that the zoning arrangement stopped some persons from realising their ambitions hence some murmurings in some corners.

None of the incumbent council chairmen succeeded in his second term aspiration because of the zoning formula adopted by the party. “Our leader (Governor Imoke) did not impose any candidate in any of the constituencies.

The party’s leadership did not too. Zoning is not imposition. The primaries were rancour-free and freest in recent times. Zoning cost incumbent council chairmen second term.

This is because our people want power to rotate for peace to prevail,” he said. He ruled out any anti-party activity by those aggrieved because they were told that zoning had to be respected so that power could go round the wards that make up that local government area and by extension, peace. Apart from zoning, Okon said the party deliberately barred known cultists from picking its tickets as the PDP was not ready to patronise those who kill or maim in order to realise their political ambitions and advised politicians to play cool rather than resorting to violence to show their frustration. “We know those who bought guns, machetes and other dangerous weapons to foment trouble before, during and after the elections. We decided to deny such persons our ticket. They should go and sell those guns to other states.

Cross River has no place for them. We’re a peace loving people,” he said. The chairman countered insinuations that his party conducted the primaries outside the deadline, saying everything took place within the given time frame, noting that “in our meeting with CROSIEC it was agreed that the deadline for the primaries should be July 7, while parties have up to September 8 to replace candidates. On where the next governor of the state will come from, Okon said based on the zoning formula of the PDP, Cross River North Senatorial District would produce the successor to Imoke in 2015 since that zone is yet to have a shot at the Government House. No doubt the PDP is the party to beat in Cross River. It has everything going for it.

The opposition is not strong enough and poorly coordinated to pose any serious challenge. With the spunk of a David attacking Goliath, opposition parties in the state may at the end of the day console themselves by going to the election petition tribunal after slinging mud at the PDP and the State Independent Electoral Commission.

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