Nigerian women in politics and boardroom: prospect, challenge and solution

*Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party (ACP) appearing at one of the presidential debates in Abuja. Photo credit: Channels.

While some say it’s straight forward enough; others believe it’s all complicated.

Women from the foundation of the world seem to have had their work cut out for them as natural homemakers.

As real or allegorical it may sound the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden comes handy here because there and then the woman was assigned a supportive role.

The man was the sole lord of the boardroom and outdoors activities. He wins the bread, protect his family from predators human and animals alike and his decisions cannot be faulted or questioned.

Henceforth, conflicts and competitions you may say were in many ways minimized or absent.

And women by design are the most nature smart set of people you can think of, brimming with a bundle of intuitions and wired primarily to care for their husband and children; and never to venture into the rugged and rough and maybe dangerous terrains fit and reserved for the men naturally.

This does not necessarily portray it as a man’s world as many would argue; but a world where God has apportioned responsibility in many ways along with gender and not ability rightly or wrongly.

How times have changed.

We now live in a world of many remarkable evolvements and adjustments that keep challenging the status quo.

In the beginning, for instance, it was about human dignity and right; then mutates into gender right and equality advocacy especially in the west the more human beings have grown beyond just being able to count on their fingers to knowing infinitesimal numbers and capacity for existential solutions becomes laser edged.

Over the course of time, therefore, womenfolk have made a series of bold attempts and incursions to transit from being just natural homemakers, inner room empresses and queens or tent dwellers if you like booming and grooming babies to the economic boardrooms and political foregrounds where key decisions and battles for social well being are made and fought out.

This is as a result of more and more women getting the necessary education and training that could enable them to take up roles that were hitherto reserved for men. And there was an instant paradigm shift the world over.

They assertively argue that unlike men, they were natural or born managers of human and material resources including men themselves, a thought aligned with one of the many theories on leadership.

So much that behind every successful man, there’s a good woman. The saying goes.
They made it clear what a man can do; they can do better. And nobody can dispute they’ve achieved great successes and incrementally too over the decades if not centuries.

The first ever of such women of sterling quality was Debora, the mother-in-Israel to the Jewish nation. She judged Israel. Judges 4:4

Since then, we’ve had many. Their modern-day shining lights include Margaret Thatcher the two times British prime minister popularly nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ for her steely grasp of British and global political dynamics, Corazon Aquino and  Violeta Chamorro being heads of government of the Philippine and Nicaragua respectively either blazing or trailing the blaze of political glory.

Today, we still have them in governments with the likes of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister Theresa May to mention a few.

And they can also be found in boardrooms of Brentwood institution like the current world bank's president Kristalina Georgieva.  And the list keeps growing as well as their influence and power.

But it’s not entirely a western world’s affair.

In Africa, and Nigeria especially, long before the European colonialists’ incursions, there was the warrior Queen Amina at Zaria in the present day Kaduna state whose exploits are well documented.

There was Moremi Ajasoro at Ife, who put her life on the line when a mysterious tribe from the east regularly come raiding to helping her people snatch victory from the jaw of death as she plays the Trojan horse.

Chief Mrs. Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan who was notorious for her no-nonsense stance also comes to mind. She will always be remembered as a woman of remarkable wealth, connections and power.

Worthy of mention too is Madam Efunroye Tinubu, the first Iyalode of Egbaland; and another political firebrand equally from Egbaland, Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti whose memorable political activism guaranteed Nigeria’s first universal adult suffrage.

Lately, there was Dora Akunyili of blessed memory; and are Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ibukun Awosika, and billionaire businesswoman Mrs.Folorunso Alakija to mention a few immensely educated, successful and professional women representing the modern force of change, style and exemplary leadership in politics and institutional boardrooms in Nigeria and on the global stage.

Mention also must be made of Grace Alele-Williams holding the record of being the first woman to ascend to Vice Chancellorship of a Nigeria University.

But down the years, the number of Nigerian women in representative as well as appointive politics has continued to decline notwithstanding the conviction they warehouse equal leadership qualities just like their male counterpart.


Clearly as students of history would know, all the examples given above represent a groundswell of impeccable success Nigerian women have achieved with a few trials they had through a dint of hard work and commitment to professional ethics, and optimism going into the future is that they can do more if increased opportunities are made available to them.

Each of them was and is a stand out profile in excellence both in public and private life.

And they would dwarf their male counterpart in a fair contest of core competence and intellectuality so much that today they are held both in high esteem and easily suggested as a rallying point and benchmark for women aspiring for public and private service in Nigeria.


The Scorecard of women participation in the just concluded general elections in Nigeria revealed that there’re only seven of them elected into the ninth national assembly; the same number present in the outgoing eight national assembly.

Six of them came out in the last general elections in Nigeria, especially at the presidential level.

But guess what? They all pulled out on or before the eve of the day of presidential and national assembly elections after the first postponement for various reasons.

In turn, except for one which in this case was Oby Ezekwesili, the five others ended up endorsing either the incumbent or his main challenger.

None till date has been elected as a state governor in Nigeria. The best is being deputy governors.

What does this say of a country teeming with not only a high population of women but one with remarkable intellect, grace and deployable?

The obstacles in the path of Nigerian women prospecting or aspiring to a greater height, whether in public or private sector are multifaceted.

Perhaps a quick and brief outline of some would suffice here. There are cultural, financial, religious and educational factors militating against the chances of Nigerian women with political or leadership ambition.

Like a sore thumb that cannot be covered or gloss over, the Nigerian society is one in which male-dominated world view still predominates.

The average Nigerian man sees the woman of ambition as a threat, a dangerous rival not to be supported. They hold that she would not be submissive to her husband and the home front will suffer if she becomes the public figure.

But these have proved to be false in many cases. Indeed, we’ve had women in the past who hold powerful public and private offices and were still good mothers and responsible housewives.

Besides, the religious belief which holds that she was created to support the husband and cared for her children is still rampant and may likely not go away anytime soon.

There’s also the challenge of huge capital outlay in Nigerian politics which women by the virtue of their low economic status simply cannot keep up with.

Another is the issue of rivalry and petty jealousy among the women themselves. Many of them would rather their husbands get political positions than their fellow women.

If not, how is it that a people with the largest population cannot muster enough support for one of their own to emerge as a political leader? Women are a fractious lot and don’t always believe the other is any better so the commitment is not there to themselves.

Another fact is that Nigerian politics is nocturnal a lot at times involving traveling outside of their family place of residence and at short notices too. Therefore, some men and husband are averse to these political arrangements which may necessitate their wives not being around to perform their roles as mothers even if they wanted to.

Violent environments of Nigerian politics can also be a reason discouraging many of its women from active political participation.

And last but not least is the problem of education. While it could be said a lot of Nigerian women have an education; many more still needed to be sent to school to increase their chances of success in life.  


In spite of the not too good narrative of women participation in Nigeria so far, a lot still can be achieved.

In no particular order, the increasing number of Nigerian men would have to have a paradigm shift in their belief system which currently sees the women of ambition as a threat to the social order where they are supposed to be the head and not the tail.

Women must take it upon themselves to get an education and not accept stereotypical roles the society has assigned for them with destructive aggression.

They must also make sure they’re positioned for leadership as partners in progress and not allow themselves to be perceived as rivals or competitors to the men.

Affirmative action in form of legislation can also help to lessen some of the high thresholds for women participation in Nigeria’s politics like financial outlays or fixed percentages of positions is set aside for them especially in the legislature.

This clearly is following in the footsteps of some advanced societies of the west, especially who have successfully brought more of their women into both elective and appointive politics thereby putting a check on the selfish human nature.

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