Will Nigeria’s Women Win in 2019?

In my new book, I explain how Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party lost to a new opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, in 2015. This is the first of several blog posts previewing findings in my forthcoming Nigerian Party Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror (Cambridge University Press) and linking the research to the upcoming 2019 presidential elections.

In Chapter 3, “Voting Against Violence? Insecurity and Economic Uncertainty in the Presidential Election,” I conduct a content analysis of the campaign rhetoric of Muhammadu Buhari (APC) and Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) as well as two top officials from each party. One unexpected result, which I highlighted at a very informative panel today organized by the International Republican Institute, is that out of five categories of issues discussed by the candidates, gender and social issues received the fewest mentions. Only 7.4% of the 929 coded references discussed gender, which I grouped with other “social issues” including health and education.

Panel on women in Nigeria’s 2019 elections. L-R: Jackson M’vuganyi, Ayisha Osori, me, and Sentell Barnes of IRI.

Even more importantly though, the parties clearly campaigned on different issues. The APC mentioned social issues twice as often as the PDP. Was this a mistake by the Jonathan campaign? While issues such as insecurity and the economy were perhaps a more difficult sell for President Jonathan (in light of an increase in Boko Haram’s violence in late 2014 and a decline in oil prices), his administration had made some important gains on gender. For example:

  • The UNDP report assessing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 noted declines in infant mortality and increases in immunization rates. Maternal mortality declined and the access to skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) increased.
  • The gender disparity in education at the primary and secondary level virtually disappeared (at least in aggregate national terms), prompting the UNDP to conclude that Nigeria achieved the MDC target by enrolling one female for every male.
  • According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 2014 also reported a slight increase in women’s literacy and in secondary school attendance rate.
  • Access to higher education in the north increased with the construction of federal universities in nine states that did not have one. “For you to liberate any group of human beings, whether they are from the Southern creeks or from the North, it is education,” Jonathan said in 2013.
  • In terms of political empowerment, some academic studies similarly concluded that women made important strides under Jonathan, crediting affirmative action and inclusion of gender in Federal Character (Gberevbie and Oviasogie 2013).

Yet the PDP just did not make women’s issues a campaign priority. I suggest in my book that this was a mistake.

This data is based on a content analysis of 929 coded comments by the top three officials in each political campaign, based on a sample of 2,390 articles from This Day, Daily Trust, and Vanguard. PDP officials: Goodluck Jonathan; Doyin Okupe, the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to President; and Adamu Mua’zu, former PDP National Working Committee Chairman.  APC officials: Muhammadu Buhari; Lai Mohammed, National Publicity Secretary; and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Director-General of the Presidential Campaign.

How might gender be relevant in the 2019 presidential election?

This question was the focus of a panel discussion today at IRI. Looking beyond the 2015 elections, I presented evidence that women have gone backwards under the Buhari administration. As promised during the campaign, Buhari abolished the Office of the First Lady in August 2015. “All that ostentation, ubiquitousness and arrogance we have come to expect from the office are over and done with,” said a statement from Aso Rock. Buhari also infamously scolded his wife for expressing her political views, saying “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”

The rhetoric has unfortunately correlated pretty well with other indicators of women’s status under the Buhari administration. According to the Global Gender Gap Reports for 2015 and 2017, there has been a slight decline in the percent of women enrolled in tertiary education, and a steep decline in the number of women ministers – from 24 to 12. It appears that women’s income has actually gone up under Buhari, but it has done so at the expense of men. A decline in the purchasing power parity of men, in this context, is a scary recipe for a backlash against women. These figures should not be taken as the consequence of any specific government policy. But such data do often point to a deeper social sentiment, much like racial and class animosity that played out in America’s 2016 election.

Buhari and the APC still have a chance to turn things around. They could start by recruiting more women to run as APC candidates, as Aisha Osori, author of Love Does not Win Elections is urging. The APC could also coordinate an effort to get states to pass implementing legislation for the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015, which provides a protective legal framework for women and girls. With the possibility of a backlash against women, this seems especially important.

At the moment though, the picture looks bleak. Buhari is repeating some of the mistakes made by President Jonathan with the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls movement as his administration grapples with the schoolgirls recently kidnapped from Yobe State.  My next post will detail those public relations blunders.

1 thought on “Will Nigeria’s Women Win in 2019?

  1. newsedge

    Can”t see any sane APC governor, senator or house of rep joining this gang up. Nor can I see any pdp governor doing so. The movers of the new movement lost their states- adeniran lost EKITI to fayose, Ditto oyinlola. Ditto Duke Their main ex military leaders lost ogun, niger, taraba their states of origin etc. The hangers on around them, have no base at home except around the ex military leaders. Wen you sum it all up, the gang up is doomed. Splitting south west votes tru SDP is a non starter. It will weaken only pdp not Apc. Head or tail Buhari is heading the nxt govt and it will be an APC led federal govt. professional writing

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